Finding the right continuing education course Honing one’s teaching skills
Teachers around the world look forward to embarking on a continuing education course, as it gives them the chance to get out of the classroom for once, learn something new themselves and give their own lessons new impetus. It is not always easy to find the right course, however, as there are so many different ones on offer.
One important motivation for engaging in continuing training is the desire to keep abreast throughout one’s career with developments in one’s subject and its methods, says educational science expert Professor Frank Lipowsky in our interview. Furthermore, teachers are keen to get to grips with the changing framework conditions for German teaching, with new curricula and exams, or with changes in the way their students learn. Teachers of German who come to Germany for continuing training from abroad look forward in particular to discovering another side of German-speaking countries and their language and culture. But how are they to find the course that will suit them best?
Assessing competencies and defining goalsYou generally know exactly which competencies you still lack and what you wish to achieve. If you are not quite sure, however, why not use the European Profiling Grid (EPG) to assess your teaching competencies yourself. The tool provides “can-do” descriptors in various competency areas. This allows you to compile your personal competency profile and thus to identify which competencies you wish to build upon.
When it comes to assessing your skills, you can also ask your colleagues for help. | Photo (detail): Woodapple © Adobe Stock Or you can ask a colleague or your educational manager to give you feedback about your lesson, or better still about one particular aspect of your teaching approach which you believe has scope for improvement – for example regarding the following key question: How can I use digital media effectively to present learning content? Take an active approach to your continuing education by determining and recording your specific goals: What knowledge do you hope to acquire? What do you want to be able to do better after the course? Which of your personal attitudes do you wish to review?
Examining the content and learning goals of the courses on offerOnce you have identified your current situation, you can start looking at the continuing education courses on offer. Read the description of the contents, and especially of the learning goals, of the individual courses very carefully. Try to determine whether the course in question will give you the opportunity to improve at all three competency levels (knowledge, ability, attitude).
Obtaining information about the continuing education conceptProviders of continuing education courses tend to publish information on their websites about the concept and structure of their courses and about how participants will reach their goals. Such transparency is an important quality indicator, as it allows you to assess in advance the activities and work approaches that the providers will use to achieve their continuing education goals:
- Will you be listening to lectures and reading current specialist texts? Will you be able to follow up on questions that have arisen during your teaching practice and answer them yourself in consultation with experts?
- Will the town in which the continuing education takes place or the institution that provides it be a “realm of experience” that you can actively explore and in which you can forge genuine contacts?
- Is the classroom-based course accompanied by online phases in which you can complete activities at home and while you work?
- Do you already have access to the learning material? Is it up-to-date, wide-ranging, motivating?
- Are there opportunities for reflecting upon, discussing and testing what has been learnt?
Analysing the practical relevance of the continuing educationA good continuing education course has direct relevance to what is happening in the lesson. This may be achieved by means of a simulation, for example: one group of participants presents a lesson simulation, while the others observe and then comment on it. Or a video is used, allowing you to analyse specific aspects of the lesson with the aid of an observation sheet and discuss them with your colleagues.
Lessons take on a particularly tangible form in continuing education courses when participants present videos of their own lessons: a teacher may for example have her colleague film her as she formulates working instructions in German for a group of A1 learners. Another might present how she works with learning posters.
Putting what you have learnt to the test in your lessonsIs it also your experience that short, one-off continuing education courses rarely lead to changes in your own lessons? If so, that confirms the findings of Professor Lipowsky. He advises courses that extend over a longer period of time: this allows more intensive work to be carried out and makes the effects of changed teaching methods on learners more visible.
It is not only the duration of the continuing education that is important, but also its structure: courses will be effective if they encourage you to try out something new or to change something in your lessons. After such a trial phase you should then have the opportunity to talk once again with colleagues about your experiences. This “something new” may be learning material, an effective work approach such as a group puzzle, or indeed the way in which feedback is given. During this kind of cyclical continuing education course, participants already work on how to implement the new idea in their own working environment during the classroom-based phase. The actual practical trial is followed by an online phase during which it is presented to the other participants and the conclusions and findings that can be drawn from it are discussed.
Coaching or advice from teaching colleagues are other possible ways in which to supplement a continuing education phase and thereby increase its effectiveness.
We recommend that you use the aforementioned criteria to compile a checklist with which to assess your next continuing education course, adding your own criteria to it. This checklist will make it easier for you to find a continuing education course that meets your individual needs.
Ziebell, Barbara/Schmidjell, Annegret (2012): Unterrichtsbeobachtung und kollegiale
Beratung (= Fernstudieneinheit ;32).