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Teacher Training Essentials by Craig Thaine, CUP

reviewed by Shaun Wilden

As a teacher trainer, I was intrigued when I first came across this publication from CUP.  It’s not often that sets of photocopiable material for trainers are published. Traditionally books aimed at teacher trainers are ones that give methods, ideas and suggestions.

Teacher Training Essentials is a resource book of 30 ‘lessons’ divided into three sections  – classroom methodology, developing language awareness and background to teaching. This means we have lessons on everything from promoting learner autonomy through to world Englishes.  As with most classroom photocopiable material, the user is given a set of tutor notes and two pages of material for trainees. The trainer’s notes provide procedural instructions, answer keys, reflection questions and information that can be fed into sessions for trainees.  The trainee handouts have standard worksheet activities i.e. gapfills and scenarios but also include snippets of coursebook material for reference and analysis. Opening the book at random, I am looking at lesson 17: Grammar: Tense, time and aspect. This lesson has five activities, starting with a team game before leading the trainees through key terminology, a discussion on tense and time and then the trainee equivalent of practice activities. By the end lesson of the 75-minute (lessons range from 60 to 90 minutes), trainees will have covered the key concepts, learner issues and thought about how to teach it.  This lesson typifies the approach found in the other twenty-nine.

Looking at the overall scope of the lessons you can clearly see the influence of the four-week training course, almost all of the lessons would be session titles on a course programme but this is not a criticism, in fact that makes it handy for cross referencing. Some sessions would also fit nicely into diploma courses particularly one such as SLA, and social perspectives.   A handy ‘map of the book’ lists each session, its aims and the target audience. However, the first thing it made me wonder is how many experienced trainers would go to the book.  People who have been training for a long time tend to have a staple bank of sessions and materials to draw upon already.  That’s not to say they won’t get anything from the book, I feel there are still things for such trainers to gain from it and perhaps rather than using a whole lesson, dipping into activities and ideas would give a fresh coat of paint to an existing session.   However, by contrast it is the sort of book, I wish had been published a decade or so ago when I first became a CELTA tutor.  Starting out and having to put sessions together for the first time always ranks highly as a stressful thing for new trainers. This book provides an excellent resource for them and certainly relieves the burden of getting together all the sessions needed for an intensive course and remembering just what the key terminology is.

The book is not aimed just at training courses and I think a place where it clearly has purpose is for the overworked DoS / Trainer who needs to provide in-service training to their teachers.   With so many lessons to use, there is scope for two or three years of monthly development sessions.  It also allows for the flexibility to react to needs  – teachers ask for a workshop on pronunciation, well this book provides two that can be used. Observers note that teachers could do with a reminder of how to teach reading skills, well to borrow a well-known advertising phrase, there is a session for that.

On the downside I was a little disappointed to see the book playing into safe territory. With only one lesson on historical perspectives there is no consideration of current hot topics such as Dogme or CLIL with none of the abstracts coming from a publication in the last five years.  It would also have been good to see more on evaluating coursebooks, which would benefit those beyond their initial training. As someone well known as a ‘tecchy’ teacher, I am equally disappointed to find no real reference to growth of technology in teaching especially in the lesson on authentic material and learner autonomy (bar a question asking to trainees to think of ideas for study outside the classroom).  My final niggle is that I would also have liked more on encouraging continuous professional development. While each lesson ends with reflection, building trainee autonomy and reflective skills is a key part to developing successful teachers and I felt the book missed the chance to more fully address this. 

However every book has it limitations and these personal criticisms should not detract from the uniqueness of this resource.   The back of the book blurb claims that this book is  “the essential resource for new and experienced teacher trainers”. While not every trainer might see it as essential, for what it tries to do and the time-saving it can promote, Teacher Training Essentials should find a deserving place on the shelves of most training departments.

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