What are you hoping to accomplish when you teach someone something? Do you want that person to know more about the subject because of your teaching? Or gain a greater appreciation for the material? Or take what they learned and apply it in the real world? How you define success is critical.
When Kenan Foundation Asia trains teachers, our goal is to transfer content knowledge and pedagogical skills to such a degree that teachers will be able to take what they learn directly to the classroom for the betterment of students. The key here is the application. Knowledge alone will not make a teacher effective; they must develop the skills necessary to convey that knowledge to their students.
The surest route to application is learning by doing. That is why hands-on learning is the centerpiece of our teacher-training program. In fact, we place teachers in the role of student, where they carry out the same activities they assign to their kids.
COVID-19 has made the delivery of hands-on training more complicated. We can no longer convene teachers in a large room and work on techniques and experiments together, as we have done for more than a decade. We had to adjust, and so we migrated our training program online. In doing so, however, we promised not to sacrifice our hands-on approach – the special ingredient that propels teachers from knowledge to application. Kenan is fortunate that many of our education donors, such as Boeing and Caterpillar, are allowing us to use their donations to conduct virtual training.
We officially launched our “virtual teacher training program” on May 4th. If the 31 teachers who logged on to Zoom that morning thought they were in for a long-day of passive learning, they were in for a big surprise. A short time into the workshop, each teacher was shepherded with four of her peers and one facilitator into a breakout room. There, the hands-on learning began.
In the breakout room, each teacher performed an activity using Kenan’s Enhanced Project-based Learning (E-PBL) approach, a teaching strategy that connects the Thai curriculum to the real world. With every teacher doing the same module, each had the opportunity to ask questions, share solutions, and consider the activity from the students’ perspective. If a teacher wanted to discuss a problem in detail, he asked his peers to look at his screen, and then everyone saw what he was doing and could step in to help. The format resulted in highly interactive sessions, chock-full of peer-to-peer learning under the guidance of an experienced facilitator.
“When we divided into breakout groups, we learned from other peoples’ perspectives,” said Ms. Natthaya Issarangkoon Na Ayuttaya, a fifth-grade teacher, who participated in the training. “Many people are afraid to speak in large groups, but in the breakout groups, everyone had the opportunity to present their ideas.”
In reflecting on our first virtual training, we recognized that some specific factors contributed to the smooth and successful reconfiguration of our hands-on approach to the online world.
• Small Groups: With a ratio of one facilitator to five-six teachers, all participants had the opportunity to do activities and receive customized support. Furthermore, the small size spurred interactive learning and vibrant discussions.
• Defined Roles: In the breakout rooms, the teachers chose a different role they would be responsible for, such as note-taker or presenter. The defined roles helped gain buy-in from the participants and ensured that each contributed meaningfully to the group dynamic.
• Time-bound Modules: As simple as it sounds, having a pre-defined time limit for each session with an accompanying ticking clock in the corner of the user interface nudged the groups to jump immediately into action. Again, liveliness and dialogue are critical to a successful breakout group. In the online world, it’s easy to be lenient with time constraints. That’s a mistake. Efficiency is paramount to virtual training.
• Equipping Participants: Nothing derails hands-on learning as fast as having the wrong materials for the activities. It was a top priority to synchronize the teachers’ resources, and so we physically mailed each participant a package of materials days ahead of time. On training day, teachers weren’t scrambling to find materials lying around the house; instead, they placed their undivided attention on the lesson.
If you’ve ever observed a Kenan training, you’ll know that we emphasize engaging, practical, and, most importantly, hands-on learning. We don’t use hands-on learning just because it’s fun. We do it because it works. It elevates teachers passed understanding concepts and pedagogical skills to the higher rung of application, in which they can actually use this knowledge to improve student learning.
We’ve used this approach to empower more than 10,000 Thai teachers. Rather than risk losing our momentum in transforming education in Thailand during COVID, we’ve adjusted, ensuring that teachers in our program have access to the same high-quality training online as they’ve come to expect offline. The pandemic is no excuse to shortchange education, but rather an opportunity to explore new methods of empowering teachers to deliver on their mission of providing a first-rate education to Thai students.
Want to learn more about Kenan’s Virtual Teacher Training program? Check out www.kenan-asia.org/hands-on-learning-digital-world