One of the most interesting sessions I attended at the recent IATEFL conference was by a Chinese trainer called Jun Zheng. Unfortunately her session was not filmed and so is not online (but there are many other fabulous presentations and interviews available here) She talked about ‘Moke’ – or ‘polishing’ lessons. She showed us pictures of the public teaching competitions that are a feature of educational life in China (but which many westerners find ‘peculiar’).
I first met Ju Zheng when she attended a pre-conference event which I ‘ran’ with Penny Ur (a huge privilege for me to work with her – you can watch an interview with Penny here). The day was organised by the Teacher training and Education Speciaql Interest Group). In that session she (Jun Zheng) briefly mentioned the idea of lesson ‘polishing’. In brief, the idea is that a teacher is observed teaching a lesson and is then given feedback. Result? The teacher then teaches the same lesson again, and the lesson is again commented on. Then the teacher teaches the SAME (but modified in the light of feedback) lesson again. And again. And so on.
People in our workshop group expressed surprise at this. It sounded to most non-Chinese ears a bit ‘weird’. Later, however, in conversation with coursebook-writer, teacher and fellow-presenter Hugh Dellar , it turned out that he was Jung Zheng’s mentor (as a first-time IATEFL speaker) and that he was very interested in what she was going to say in her talk. He (Dellar) wondered if teachers, especially at the beginning of their careers, do exactly the same thing when they teach a lesson from a coursebook, say. Each time they do the same lesson again they will, if effect, ‘polish’ it in a way that is very similar, perhaps, to what Jun Zheng was describing.
Maybe. But, in contrast, most of our training (pre or in-service) doesn’t go in for polishing. On the contrary we ask teachers to do a range of different lesson-types, and observers would probably be bored by going back to the same lesson.
In her talk Jun Zheng went beyond the original polishing concept to something she calls MSBTT (Models for school Based in Service Teacher Training). In her iteration of the repeated lesson concept, a teacher’s colleagues all watch the lesson and are drawn into a discussion about it, and it is on the basis of that discussion (rather than just the feedback from a trainer) that the lesson is repeated and repeated.
And here’s the scary bit! Well-polished lessons mean that the teacher may well enter a teachers’ competition – an X-Factor, Pop idol kind of event, quite common in China. In front of a large audience a few teachers teach real lessons. A panel of judges chooses the winner. Jun Zheng says that the winners feel great – and go on to better things – and the non-winners feel good to have taken part. The nearest ‘western’ equivalent I can think about are the Spanish Oposiciones (literally a competition for civil service – include teacher – jobs)
I wonder (in passing) whether the one area where people like me really do ‘polish’ our lessons is when we prepare and then give new presentations. Most of my presenting colleagues say that it’s about the 3rd time that a talk ‘settles down’.
So – and many thanks to Jun Zheng for this (and for conversations with Hugh Deller) – I am left with two or three questions:
1 Are teaching competitions a good thing? And if so, for whom?
2 Could lesson polishing be a good approach to pre- or in-service training in your environment?
3 How we feel (= presenters) feel about polishing? A good idea? Or something we do anyway?