Something big is happening in the small country of Uruguay (with a population of approximately 3.5 million, it comes in at number 134 in comparison with other countries – remember, China has 1.3 billion inhabitants!) But Uruguay has always ‘punched above its weight’ – think football, music etc, and in the world of English language teaching, it’s doing it again.
Many of you will know about OLPC (one laptop per child) in which the government (backed with large charitable dontations) has given every child in the country a free little laptop which is hooked up (for free) to broadband all over the country. The heartwarming intention behind this initiative is to remove, at a stroke, inequality of access to information; to ensure that no child – even those from less economically prosperous rural areas – is left behind in the modern world. I have blogged about this before.
Now, under the Plan Ceibal, English teaching has taken an extra leap with the provision of ‘distance teachers’ who teach English remotely, their faces appearing on big screens at the front of the classroom as they interact with children in rural schools. The distance teachers may be sitting in Montevideo, Bogota, Buenos Aires or the Philippines, but for the children there they are there, right in their classrooms.
There’s another crucial feature of this Plan Ceibal – Inglés; the distance teachers interact with the classroom teacher who is right there in the room – but really there! And the special thing about her (or him) is that she probably doesn’t speak much – or any – English. So the classroom teacher is learning English along with the children. A win-win situation (you can watch a video clip about it here)!
Or is it?
I had the privilege of attending a Plan Ceibal lesson when I was in Uruguay a week ago – that’s where the photos in this blogpost come from. I loved the charisma of the onscreen distance teacher and the engaged and engaging participation of the classroom teacher. The children were lovely and eager and everything seemed fine. I had a great time sitting in that room, and I admired both professionals doing their very best in a new and exciting environment. I should say that the children receive a distance (big screen) lesson once a week and then the classroom teacher follows it up with two more English lessons.
The English lessons in Plan Ceibal look (as far as I can see) pretty much like most Young Learner English lessons. They include monsters and songs, basic grammatical patterns, the sort of vocabulary you’ll find in most general English coursebooks, and scripts (with quite a lot of Spanish thrown in) to guide the distance teacher.
I want to be very clear here! I admire hugely the ambition, the sheer scale of what is being attempted – bringing English (and world-beating technology) to places which have, up until now, had neither. What a fantastic project.
But (and this, for me personally, is the best bit because what is left of my brain needs constant stimulation!), Plan Ceibal raises a whole lot of issues which go to the heart of what education is, from the content we offer children, to the manner in which we deliver it, and the purposes to which it is put. Here, for example, are some of the questions which I have been pondering since that visit:
1 What kind of content should children be offered in the kind of scenario I have outlined? Is the replication of a ‘normal’ face-to-face based grammar-based syllabus enough? Or does this amazing context (distance teacher + classroom teacher) actually call for something entirely different (precisely because it IS different!)? For example, would a CLIL-type syllabus – marrying both teachers’ distinct strengths – be more appropriate?
2 How do you manage a class remotely? Distance teachers in the Uruguayan programme do a training course which offers them management hints and tips, but/and everything depends on the relationship between the distance teacher and the classroom teacher. Is there/could there be a special set of management ‘protocols’ that are especially appropriate for this kind of situation? What is the best way to use this technology in terms of classroom behaviours?
3 What could (or should) be the role of this technology? Is it best used by having a teacher being beamed in like some kind of ‘Deus ex machina’ (quite literally in this case)? Or is there some other special way of using this amazing – and very expensive – technology? Sugata Mitra, for example, talks about SOLEs (self organized learning environments) in his technological evngelising. Is that a better model than (sometimes) wall-based transmission teaching? Or is that asking too much for the context I have described?
So many questions. I’m a ‘new boy’ to all this; many people have thought a lot longer and harder about it than I have. But still I can’t help asking the questions!
I’d love to know what you thought!
Glad to read you! I guess future is now! I have seen scenarios similar to this before, but not for language learning (I guess thre exist but I hvent experienced thaat), I mean meetings and other classes where the purpose of the broadcast is to refine minor issues. Or like in webinars, but the audience is not interacting. I guess it is a pretty good attmept at easing the language teaching process itself; the remote teacher lowers its stress and other demands of a ‘physical’ teacher. Since there is the classroom teacher present, the interction would be much better for the three parties of the plan, because classroom mangement issues could be left for the classroom teacher, and more linguistics aspects would be left for the remote teacher.
I believe that this amazing program is an excellent option for school where it results difficult to bring an English teacher to the classroom (physically). Of course there would be many issues to refine, but I guess this resource solves parts of the problems of not being able to have an English teacher in the classroom. Since classroom managing in general has been big issue for me as a teacher, I see this connection between teachers very positive; however, as you mentioned, they should construct a very good team in which each one of them can benefit from each other, learn simultaneously and improve children’s learning! Apart from everything, I think that they enjoy the experience anyways, and let’s just hope this actually results in awesome learning outcomes!!
thanks for ‘coming along’. I think you have completely identified why this program looks (to this outsider) so attractive!
I’m thrilled after reading your comments and I must say that what you’ve mentioned is food for thought! (The use of this type of technology on distance teaching is a whole issue!)
As a Ceibal teacher I feel really enthusiastic even though I admit that there are areas to be ‘fine tuned’. There are many positive and motivating aspects for the kids (songs, the use of technology, short lessons, attractive visuals/materials/topics (pets/friends/family), just to mention some) and they do get involved in the tasks proposed. On the other hand, it is true that the immersion of this programme in primary schools syllaby seems a bit too much sometimes, and classroom teachers have to adapt their plans bearing in mind English lessons through Plan Ceibal. The area that concerns me most is students’ pronunciation and intonation. As they are exposed to the language with the remote teacher only once a week, it’s difficult to control their pronunciation and not all classroom teachers have basic knowledge of the language so as to help learners from one lesson to another. In spite of this, I truly believe distance teaching/learning is possible! I always enjoy the lessons and can’t wait to see the children the following week! Especially the ones from rural areas for whom accessing English lessons is their very first experience and they couldn’t afford if it wasn’t made through state schools.
Thanks a bunch for commenting on this experience in Uruguay! It’s an honour that you have taken part of your time to reflect on it! 🙂
Warmest regards from Uruguay,
Jeremy, sorry for taking so long to reply here. It was great that you and Enrique had time to come and visit the school and observe a lesson with me and Gabriela. We’re still talking about the discussion we had in the car and your follow-up email, and now this blog post. I’m also very interested reading the comments people are writing too (I should point out that as the British Council’s project manager for Ceibal English, I have a vested interest in making the programme work). I agree with you that there is much to be learned from this experience and this is what we are all working hard at trying to do. I sincerely believe that what’s in place allows for much more than the ‘transmission teaching’ that has taken place when TV screens have been introduced into classrooms, in Ethiopia, for example. The key, as I think you realised after observing the class is getting the classroom teacher (CT) and what we call the remote teacher (RT) working together in partnership. If there’s successful coordination between the two and a healthy rapport, then what happens in the classroom can be very fluid and it can create the right environment for learning to take place. I’m also keen to investigate some of the ideas of how best to take advantage of this very different teaching dynamic too – I’ve only observed a handful of lessons myself and have seen how very different teaching styles can affect what actually happens in the classroom. I think everyone involved in the programme feels we still have a lot to learn and nothing is set in stone – there is so much we can learn from this and we all feel that things can be changed as we go along to improve the learning that can happen in the classroom. After reading your post, I’ve decided I’m going to start blogging regularly about this as I think a lot can be learned from sharing more about what is happening with Ceibal English in Uruguay and from encouraging others to comment on the programme too.
Thanks for coming along to the blog, Graham.
As you know I enjoyed that morning immensely -a nd the conversations surrounding our visit to their school.
I worried about blogging about it because I am not ‘in’ Plan Ceibal, but still what is happening (and which you now have a large responsibility for!) is truly (and/or potentially) groundbreaking, I think. That’s why it’s so good to talk about. Even for an outsider like me!
I completely accept (welcome) the view that co-operation between teachers (in-class and remote) is they key to success. And then the methodology! That’s where I (of course) get very interested!
Thanks again – and I can’t wait to see how this all turns out!
Jeremy we are also teaching remotely from Córdoba in Argentina. The experience has been more than moving and exciting!
Just being able to enter the class of groups of children eager to learn the language every class is really motivating, not only for the remote teacher but also for the classroom teacher that in many cases is learning the language as well.
So so happy to have formed a group from Córdoba and being part of this project! And so happy that you share it with colleagues from all over the world so we all learn from a small country with BIG energy to do HUGE things!!
Hurray for CEIBAL and British Council!!
Hello Maria Paola,
how wonderful to hear from you – and to catch something of your enthusiasm for the work you are doing. Wonderful!
How do YOu feel about two of the questions which interest me: are there special management techniques that distance teachers need to master, and what, in your methodological view, is the role of the distance teacher; transmission teacher? facilitator? Performer? Motivator?
We are also teaching remotely from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cultural Inglesa de Buenos Aires, CIBADIST, We are forming Teachers of English as a Foreign Language and Translators . Both careers approved by the Ministry of Education, Both in the modality (Distance) To learn more about our plans and curricula, please go to our site: http://www.cibadist.edu.ar .
Our institution has been active since 1960 , teaching English as a Foreign Language and since 2022 with both programmes: Profesorado and Traductorado (A-1301).
I think that your initiative is very positive for all of us..and we could share our experience wwith you and learn abour yours as well.
thanks so much for coming along to comment. I am so impressed about what I have seen about the distance teaching at the Cultura in BA.
However, unless I am mistaken, your lessons are mostly online? Or one-to-one? That makes them (for me) somewhat different from the Plan Ceibal concept – where the distance teacher is a kind of ‘extra’ classroom teacher. Have I got that right?
I wonder what you think about the characteristics that make distance teaching (whether via skype 1:1 or into classrooms – as in Ceibal) special and different….
First of all, this sounds like a great thing for classes who would never have access to a teacher with (fairly) fluent English and/ or specific training in language teaching otherwise. However, it sounds like it could be developed further. If the children have their laptops with them in the classroom, it is a bit of a wasted opportunity if they are looking up at the front of the classroom the whole time. Rather than CLIL, the obvious think to add for me would be interacting with kids elsewhere.
I’d love to see a new version of the great book Teaching with Bear taking this kind of technology into account.
I am so pleased you have come here to leave some comments.
You kind of articulate some of my feelings about all this: that connectivity should lead to interactivity rather than transmission. How could that be done? Well I am not absolutely sure right now, but I do think that having students investigate things rather than receive things is tantalisingly attractive.
A very well-balanced and important post, Jeremy. Like Alex, I share some of your misgivings about the use of the available technology primarily for the purposes of delivery – a rather pre-Web 2.0 kind of paradigm (and one that is not unique to Plan Ceibal, it should be said). I was reminded of an initiative by the NZ Board of Education to broadcast programs directly into classrooms when I was at primary school. I think we listened to about one, before someone (our teacher?) decided that our lack of engagement was such that the exercise was never repeated.
yes, that’s it. I mean that’s what has perturbed me.
But I should say that the enthusiasm for the project (based on the tremendous amount of work that has gone into all this) is fantastic. If commitment could move mountains, the cordillera would move over to Montevideo!
Plan Ceibal people will answer better than me about all of this (if they want to) of course. Maybe this is the first stage of something bigger, something more interactive. But even as it is, it has (currently) high interest levels. Maybe that’s enough? Maybe it isn’t.
But I just have some kind of a (perhaps) more idealistic view of what this fantastic ‘gear’ could be used for – though I have no idea whether it would be practical.
Scott, the project is very much NOT designed along the lines of a delivery or transmission model. The RT is very much encouraged to interact with the kids – a lot of emphasis is placed on learning their names and getting them to speak, and this is built into the lesson plans too. Obviously, what actually happens in the classroom is another matter. I think the fact that ultimately there is a large screen on the wall that resembles a TV and most people’s experience of this is as a passive viewer (i.e. you sit and watch it) has to be countered. I am happy to say that I have observed some very active classes, with the students singing and dancing and working in pairs performing dialogues, etc. When it works well, it is just as you’d hope a regular young learner class to be. If you’re ever in Montevideo, then please come and observe a class!
—‘inequality of access to information; to ensure that no child …. is left behind in the modern world’—. The modern world has come and we have to face it: old educational systems are not working at all. TV/Media have won a long time ago. It’s clear that there are flaws in this new system, these things take time. On the other hand, I believe that omitting certain aspects in order to achieve a more general and ambitious goal -fighting inequality, JUSTICE- is legitimate, (it should not be sought, though! don’t get me wrong here). Uruguay is doing it now, fighting real inequality. At least they are trying to do something. I firmly believe this is provides a model that the other countries should take into account, both the ‘developed ones’ and the ‘developing’ ones.
you have put your finger on exactly why so many people (including me) are so excited about the underlying beliefs that inform OLPC!
But how would you use the technology to answer those beliefs?
They are indeed using technology in order to accomplish those beliefs! That’s Plan Ceibal! I don’t see the lack of connection here. There may be different opinions about this social plan, either positive or negative, and I’m not an expert, -just a remote watcher- but we can’t deny that this is a real attempt and things are not going badly…..
Thanks for your second comment, Mike.
I agree wholeheartedly that Plan Ceibal is a ‘real attempt’. That’s why it is worth (even for us remote observers) discussing! I have (I think I am repeating myself here) the greatest admiration and respect for the aims and dreams of the whole project.
What’s interesting and different for me about the Ceibal English project is not the OLPC part of it, but getting the English teacher into the class via video-conferencing. There’s been a lot of talk recently in learning technology about the importance of one-to-one (i.e. one laptop per child) in the classroom, but when teaching Primary classes, I think a teacher interacting with the kids is much more valuable than the kids interacting with computers. It’s also been interesting for me to see the RT making use of IWB software (ACTIV Inspire, for example) for presenting language.
Alex Case’s comments are very apposite. All the children have OLPC laptops, and the lesson plans very much encourage their use, especially in the two lessons each week which are facilitated by the class teachers and used to practise and follow up on what was taught in the remote lesson. The availiability of the laptops compensates for the class teachers’ ownlack of knowledge of Englsh – they are in most cases learning alongside the children. It also means a SOLE approach is perfectly viable.
It would be crazy not to incorporate links via the laptops with other learners, but we took a decision early on to add this element in the third year of the project, and to concentrate in the first two years on getting the basics in place and very rapid expansion to cover the entire country.
thanks so much for commenting here. From the ‘horse’s mouth’!!
I think your comment about interacting with other kids (later, not now) makes absolute sense. I absolutely understand the need – in a project with such ambition – to start from ‘somewhere’!
I wonder if the ceibelitas are best used as a follow-up – or maybe for preparation, or in the middle of lessons, something more integral? I’m just thinking aloud here, considering if there is any other way of using them – I mean not just as follow-up electronic workbooks, but taking advantage of their interactive potential.
But you might well give the same kind of answer, I suspect? ¿Paso a paso?
What fun you must all be having! Excuse me for having the temerity to become involved ‘from the outside’!!
Your blog reminds me of my first visit to Uruguay which included a night time coach trip across country from Montevideo to Paysandú. During the outward journey, I appreciated, for the first time, the beauty of the southern star scape. In Paysandú, I encountered Jose Luis Morales for the first time. On the return journey, in daylight, I saw the emptiness of vast areas of the country.
Uruguay has some superb teachers and trainers, but they are all based in Montevideo. The Plan Ceibal allows the talents of Montevideo based teachers to be exploited countrywide. The content and style of these lessons reminds me of the BBC Radio and later TV lessons, which I used with my primary school classes in the late 1960s.
The style of lesson is presentation without immediate feedback from the learners. I remember that the BBC supplied materials and guidance for class teacher follow up, to accompany [for example] music lessons. As a non-musician, I found these BBC lessons immensely valuable for my classes.
In the Plan Ceibal, I would imagine the Listening Comprehension and pronunciation would be fruitful areas for lessons. As you say, the centralised resources would allow for CLIL related lessons but these would be more difficult because of the differences in life experience of distant learners making it harder to relate lessons to the learners’ life experience.
One of the potential risks in projects like Plan Ceibal is the difference between urban and rural lifestyle. If the lessons are all broadcast from a central location, usually the capital city, the lessons will reflect an urban lifestyle, rather than the rural lifestyle of the intended learners.
Uruguay is very good at starting initiatives like Plan Ceibal but being willing to make minor changes in response to feedback from teachers. It is very important that Plan Ceibal should include channels for local teachers to report on their classes’ reactions to the broadcast lessons. These channels will allow the Montevideo-based teachers to tweak their lessons and make them more suitable for the learners.
These channels will also generate requests for lessons to complement the work of the local teacher.
thanks so much for coming here and leaving your comments.
Ah, the old days!!
Actually, Plan Ceibal differs from some of the BBC stuff you mention precisely because the distance teacher CAN interact with the students. She (the distance teacher) can see the students and they can see her. There is a mircrophone in the classroom so students can talk back. They can show the teacher what they are doing (a huge benefit I imagine) etc etc
I like your comments about urban vs rural. I imagine (I have no evidence for this) that the designers and writers of the material have thought about this very carefully. But your comments on this blog will help that process (I hope), and especially what you say about feedback gradually moderating the experience.
Hi Nick, apart from Uruguayan teachers based in Montevideo, the project is also using teachers from Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. This aspect of the project is interesting as for many of the kids it will be the first time they will have met anyone from outside of Uruguay. As far as relating to the life experience of the kids outside of Montevideo is concerned, built into the programme is this idea of ‘coordination’ – 30 minutes a week for the RT and CT to connect to each other (synchronously via the VC equipment or Skype if possible: otherwise via multiple emails). The teachers are very much encouraged to get to know each other, build a rapport and for the CT to share relevant information about the kids to make the actual classroom learning experience as useful as possible.
Hi!! I’m an Uruguayan English teacher and preschool teacher. I’ve been a teacher in the “regular” English teaching program in public schools (that has the aproach of the content based teaching) for many years.Now I am working as an English teacher in two technical schools that are also public with teens and adults and with my group of four year olders (I don´t know in other countries, but in Uruguay we teachers need many jobs at the same time to have a decent salary). The CEIBAL thing is a complicated topic for us, Uruguayan techers, not because the idea per se but the practical aspects and other implications. In my school we are very worried because they brought the big screen and so forth because the building and the electrical system is suitable for the big screen. The school has had two excellent English teachers working with all the levels in the school inside the classrooms with a content based approach for more than three years . Are they going to be relocated in another school because of the big screen? Our Principal is trying to have answers about this. Uruguay has gone through many “educational experiments” in the last three decades… experiments come and go without too much evaluation or at least evaluation that is public. Why? I think it´s because of the money, the differents experiments are very expensive and create a lot of temporary jobs with huge salaries….. the “experiences” last three, four years and after that they disappear……. as I said these topics very complicated.
thank you so much for your heartfelt comments. We can start by agreeing that teachers just don’t earn enough money (hence the need to work in 4 different places!). It’s a crazy world (this is not a comment about Uruguay at all, but about all countries where teacher salaries are low) when we ask people to educate our children so that our country runs better – only one of the aims of education of course – but we pay them very little!
But to come to you main points: I don’t think I have the right to comment on the educational policy of the government in Uruguay – nor would I wish to without invitation. But I do understand the concerns about the status of teachers once bright shiny technology is introduced. Can it (IT) be a replacement for teacher roles or an adjunct to them. Is it worth the money? Only time will tell of course, but technology on its own is rarely a solution for anything it seems to me.
I am also sympathetic to your concerns about that endless repeated cycle of initiatives trumpeted and then abandoned. This is emphatically NOT a Uruguay issue!! It happens everywhere. It would horrible if that was the fate of Plan Ceibal.
I can’t tell, of course; I am not ‘in’ Plan Ceibal and nor have I had anything to do with it. I’m just an outsider looking in – but an outsider who really cares. At the moment my instinct is that this is going to last a lot longer than the kind of ‘failed’ experiments you so rightly describe. For example, the people I DO know (that’s only a few people, however) who are involved in this project are highly committed professionals who, I am sure, will do everything in their power to make this approach work, grow and prosper.
My ‘methodological’ interest/curiosity is all about how this initiative can best/most appropriately be executed. That would be very worth while discussing – and for that I kind of wish I WAS ‘in’ the plan!
Yes, you are 100% right. These topics are ‘very complicated’
I think this is an amazing project, because being an English teacher in a country that has many remote zones and lack of english teachers iI thaink that it wolud be the solution to the problem we are dealing with every day. I’m from Chile, and I want to know what kind of methodology are they using?
I share your ‘amazing’ reaction to the Plan Ceibal. I wouldn’t, of courts, have blogged about it otherwise!
As for Ceibal – Inglés methodology, well, as an outside observer without very much real knowledge, the methodology seems fairly straightforward YL ethnology. My question (one which interest me a lot) is whether that is the most appropriate methodology for this kind of project.
(t’s a question because I don’t know the answer!)
Plan ceibal is great, isn’t it? I mean, it’s amazing to travel around the country and see kids with the green little machines in a square or sitting on the kerb. It’s moving to see children who wouldn’t be able to have a computer were it not for Plan Ceibal have access to the world like this.
As for the CLIL lessons, what I believe might be a problem is that English distance teachers are that, English teachers, their level of English is very good but they are not primary school teachers. But what worries me goes beyond that, my concern is that in Uruguay we are very creative, we have lots of ideas and when we do, we put them into practice rightaway; but there are stages missing, like PLANNING, for instance. Wouldn’t it be better to prepare teachers for those projects? To include English as a subject in the training course? To include information technology in the training course? Some years ago there was a program for primary schools which was the “partial immersion program”. It was developed in full-time schools (remember that in Uruguay children usually go to school for 4 hours, but there are also some 8-hour schools) where every group had two teachers, the “Spanish” teacher and the “English” teacher who planned together, assessed together, wrote reports together, etc. It was GREAT. But what happened? The program grew and ran out of English teachers! You see what I mean?
Hi Ana! I don´t know if you could read my comment…. I was a teacher int the program “Inglés por Contenidos curriculares” and I watched the “agony and death” of the “partial inmersion program” in each “elección de cargos”. It´s not just planning what we are lacking but assesment and evaluation of the successful experiences and the “not so successful experiences” . When you go around the different schools in Montevideo you can see the “debris” of old plans, materials that re mained in the school of the old MECAEP projects, “las aulas de informática” abandoned, los “JICI”, etc. What is worst for me as a teacher is that WE made and make certain projects possible, going to the “never ending capacitaciones (seminars) ” in Asilo street, the implementation of the CEIBAL project almost with no info of how to do things because we were given the XO at the same time than the children, the hours entering info in the “Guri” platform without been paid, the stress of been “flasheando” (formating the XOs) in the classroom at the same time we were teaching…… and then “projects” dissapear without an explanation. It’s painful for me because we teachers give our efforts, extra time and even money to do things better. At least we deserve an explanation. Saludos desde Montevideo
Exactly, Lucía! That’s what I mean! I am a primary school teacher and an English teacher; I worked in the immersion program, so I know what you are talking about!
Wow, Lucia, that sounds like a cry of pain!
I am not making fun of you at all. I suspect that every teacher – not just Uruguayan teachers – who reads this will nod their heads in anguished agreement. Plans that come and go. Government initiatives (I’m talking about my country now) which pressure teachers into action but are then abandoned; politicians who are not educators telling professional educators how to do their jobs etc. Sometimes, most teachers I know just want to run for the hills and live in a tent – and abandon the whole thing!
But they – you – don’t. Why? Because teachers (usually – but not always!) care and are dedicated to what they do. In which case they just have to hope and pray that the people who make decisions are going to stick around, are going to carry through their plans.
That’s what (if I were a Uruguayan teacher) I would hope for Plan Ceibal. Tengo mis dedos cruzados!!!!!! Well some of them, anyway…
thanks for your comments – and yes, I share your feelings about seeing the kids with their little ceibalitas. It DOES seem like some kind of genuinely inspiring project, doesn’t it.
As I said in my reply to Lucia above, I have no right (or enough knowledge) to comment on the policy issues that surround Plan Ceibal. I can’t say how much planning and training was involved.
However, what I DO respond to well in your comments is the idea of the primary and the English teacher working TOGETHER. As far as I can observe that is a feature of Ceibal-Inglés, but a question that occurs to me is whether it is all one way only – from the distance teacher via her lesson scripts to the maestra (classroom teacher). In some translangauge CLIL project I can think of the subject teachers is an equal – or even the main protagonist – in the collaboration. I wonder if that’s replicable in this situation.
Answering your question about if it’s one way or not it’s all about teamwork. The most important thing to establish is good rapport with the classroom teacher. I am lucky that I work with 5 amazing teachers that not only share the groups but when it’s time for English they takes a step aside and let me have control. Both of us are required to coordinate before each class and this is where the teamwork takes place. I decide the content as I am the English specialist if you could call it that and some ideas on how to go about it. Then she selects the best ways and I send her my final plan via e-mail. This way she knows all the steps of the lesson and she is able to do the practice in her class time. Kids are learning, maybe not at a speed in which they would have 3 45min lessons a week with an English teacher but they are still learning. The classroom teachers have learned to accept that they are not the holders of all the knowledge (which is something difficult to accept), at times students correct them.
I am so proud of my classroom teachers because they have let me into their classrooms and share their students with me.
Of course there is still a long way to go and Ceibal itself needs to work out some of the kinks but the aim is still being reached and I feel it is because of the great teamwork of Remote Teachers and Classroom Teachers.
I’m very encouraged by Majo’s comment, and the way that she is in continuous consultation with the classroom teachers. This would seem to be a key component in the success of the scheme. (It occurs to me that the interaction between the off-site teacher and the on-site one, both before, during, and after the actual teaching, would make a really fascinating study. Graham?)
yes, that research would be absolutely fascinating!
My instinct is to say that this can/should be really interactive technology (and with some of the teachers working in Plan Ceibal so far, so it is). I can’t wait to see how it develops!
Loved you post… I teach at a rural area and I’d love to try this remote teaching. Unfortunately We don’t have internet access
but access WILL come one day, ¿no? Where do you teach?
From a technological or pedagogical point of view I suppose there are still a lot of questions to be answered, but there’s a fact, students feel someone cares about their future, cares about them enough to give them such an unreachable gift, and that alone can make all of the difference in a community fighting against the rise of crime like never seen before. It is a statement: we want a better future for you all.
thank you so much for coming along and leaving a comment.
And what a comment! Yes, I think you are absolutely right. It IS a statement, and it is a visible sign that someone ‘out there’ is interested in the whole business. For that alone, applause is a very good response!!
I guess my questions (to myself, mostly) are how best to use this ‘gift’!
Hi Jeremy we met here in Uruguay in your course and I’m a RT for Ceibal. In fact today I went to meet one of my groups as I had the morning free. It was an amazing experience! let be know if you would like to know anything more. You can see the photos with me and my students in this link. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=451360944979149&set=a.369368639845047.1073741825.100003157416628&type=1&theater
Hello Maria José…Majo…
Thank you so much for leaving your comment (though for some reason the photo link you sent/posted doesn’t seem to work – at least not for me).
I am so pleased you had such a great time with that group. It must be so exciting for them and for you.
Yes, I am sure co-operation is the key to it all, and when it works it’s magic, I bet.
Who knows which the best methodology could be? But , if we believe , it is the student´s desire to understand and use the content what motivates him or her to learn the language, then he or she would profit the most from integrating content and language ; and there are two experts in the classroom , the language expert and the content expert and if we added the massive potential of technology to the picture, then the learning experience would be much richer indeed. Maybe the resources available are not being used to the full….
Thanks for your reply!
As María José was saying teamwork is crucial. Some of us may be/have been lucky enough to work along with colleagues who were eager team mates and that, obviously, shows in the kids’ results or atiitudes to work, etc.
And I truly believe Plan Ceibal is great, unbeatable!!
Thanks so much for this reply Ana.
And I am sure you are right. When teachers work together for the benefit of their learners – when they enter into a real partnership – there’s nothing they (= we) can’t do.
It does look like this project is using technology “primarily for the purposes of delivery” as Scott put it. It is still great, I agree. But I have to say that it is easy to get most children excited and engaged when using any kind of technology (I remember how excited I was the first time I used LOGO).
I wonder when we will see the remote teacher interacting with learners individually through their devices. And what would make it even better is to have children in Uruguay work together with children in the UK in content-based projects (combining and expanding both OLE and CLIL). Again, I am not saying we do not need teachers. Good teachers are essential in any kind of learning, but I do wonder when we are going to start using technology in the classroom in a more learner-centered way.
thanks for coming along and for your comments.
I am very interested, like you, in the future possibilities for this kind of interactive technology. I found Paul Woods’ comments (above) interesting – that they want to get the basics in place first before expanding outwards. I can see a logic in that certainly.
But in the future? Wow! The sky’s the limit!
Plan Ceibal, wow, what an issue! I strongly believe it is an incredible idea, if it had been implemented in the right way and for the right reasons. I would love to believe the purpose was to provide a better education, but I´m afraid it was just intended to get a better look on us and fill in statistics. How can you put into practice such a plan without training teachers first? Does it sound serious to you? I think teachers in Montevideo are better prepared than in the provinces. In my town most teachers do not use the XO or the Magalhaes just because they don´t know how to use it.
Iris ( Piano Piece), haha
I am sure (to agree with you) that teacher training is the key to everything – well, I mean to every educational change. But to make it work you need to have the teachers ‘buy in’ to the new development – to embrace it and love it. When you have that (it seems to me) you can move mountains.
If that’s the test, then Plan Ceibal seems to be on the ‘right side’ since many teachers (but not, from what I understand, all) seem to be very enthusiastic. That’s only my ‘outside’ impression, you understand.
But, to take up your point, teachers and kids will only take up their XOs, their ceibelitas if/when they see the obvious benefit of such a thing (which is another way of saying that they have to ‘buy in’). So if provincial teachers (the maestras) are convinced and enthusiastic, then there’s nothing that cannot be achieved (it seems to me). And I take heart from the huge enthusiasm and dedication of many people in the project. If anyone can make this thing work, they can! i can’t wait to see how it all plays out!
As for the poem ‘Piano Piece’, well, it’s about ageing. and love and the way partners give each other presents that they hope will rekindle something, and about how we try to hang onto things we thought we knew. Well, that’s what it’s MEANT to be about!!
So glad the remote English classes are working! We heard about the plan for this when I spent three weeks last summer in Uruguay on a Fullbright exchange visiting liceos all around Montevideo and we also visited Plan Ceibal for a day. I would like to point out that in my experience of three weeks in high schools, I only ever saw a Ceibalito one time, being used by a student, and she was using it to check Facebook. The teachers did not yet have a computer and had not been trained on how yo use them. I do know that the maestros in primary had received theirs, but still had received little training. One laptop per child is a wonderful idea, but proper implementation and training is essential for success!
I know I’m coming to this discussion a bit late but I thought I would share my experiences as I have been doing something similar over the last two years in Turkey. The school I work at has branches across the country but some struggle to attract native speakers so I have been giving remote English classes for a few hours a week to one school in the city of Isparta. The main difference between my situaiton and the one you describe is that the teacher who is actually in the classroom is also an ENglish teacher and we have an ‘onsite-offsite’ team-teaching scenario.
We connect via Skype and use a shared Google Doc as a kind of virtual whiteboard. We have had plenty of problems in implementing the lessons, mainly technical but there is not much we can do about power cuts or getting disconnected…
There were also a few issues initally about the format. There was an expectation in the beginning that I would just deliver a regular lesson using the same materials and activities as they would in a regular English class. However, unsurprisingly, that didn’t work very well. When referring to a book page or worksheet, it was impossible to tell if the students were able to follow me or not and communicaiting with individual students was difficult, especially if they were at the back and out of range of the microphone.
After much persuasion, I convinced my onsite colleagues to give me more of a free reign with the lessons and started to design activities more suited to the format of the lesson. I started to post reading passages or video clips ahead of time on a class blog which we would then discuss in class. I also designed the lessons so there would be short bursts of me presenting something, them working/discussing in groups and then a group spokesperson engaging in a post-task feedback session. We also started to rotate the students’ seating places each lesson so different students would sit at the front nearer the class webacam and microphone.
Working that way, we were able to have much better lessons together. As always, it is all about adapting to the circumstances and finding a way to work round difficulties rather than just going with a standard lesson plan…
The main problem that remains is lack of monitoring. Although I have a colleague there in the classroom, I physically can’t circulate while they are on task, listen in, make suggestions or see what they are writing. We partially solved that by having the students post written assignments and lesson summaries on the blog but I still can’t get involved in the process of their work muchç
Can’t Uruguay pay to train their own teachers? Can’t believe it’s so poor?
Most EFL teachers over in Spain don’t get much more than 1,400 Euro a month excluding private students , coming from the UK who’ve done CELTA’s.
Wouldn’t the British Council be better served helping to train local teachers? Surely that would be better than watching some teacher on the telly?
I understand what you are saying but (and it’s not my place to comment) Plan Ceibal people commented to me that training teachers/teaching them English would take a lot longer than this – and wouldn’t have the advantage of hooking kids up digitally.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it, Philip? Unfortunately, the reality here is different to the reality in Spain, and the local situation requires a different solution. First of all, Uruguay IS training teachers – this is part of the programme. It’s just not the only part of the programme. Why? Well, 90% of primary teachers in Uruguay have an A0 level of English and they have no experience or training in language teaching – in fact, part of the problem is (as stated in today’s el Observador – http://bit.ly/1bLzjHd) that “45 % de los docentes de educación media básica ejercía sin título”. I’m also told that in the past, those that have received intensive English training on left the profession. As for your last comment, the British Council won a tender issued by the Uruguayan government to provide classes via “the telly” (as you put it), so that’s why we are doing what we are doing. Plan Ceibal is more than just English – it’s part of a socio-cultural transformation in the country. Ceibal English is all about providing access to English to those who have never had the chance before, AND about narrowing the digital divide in the country. The primary teachers are also being given English lessons online (for free), but it’s proving difficult to persuade many of them to take us up on this offer. As I said earlier, it’s not as simple as you make out and we’re dealing with a different country and a different culture to the one you are used to.
And just to add to what Graham just say, it’s not the British Council paying for this, it’s the government of Uruguay. The Plan Ceibal project is not exactly uncontroversial, especially with an election in the offing next year – the entire project i(not just the English part, which is only a very small element ) – is costing Uruguay US$50 million a year, which is a lot for a small country – but it levels the playing field between rich and poor and gives every child the same opportunity to become a digital native. And it is training English teachers, but on the job, alongside the children, rather than via a formal teacher training course. Essentially, the class teachers’ role is changing from being the knower who passes on their knowledge, to a facilitator who enables the children to learn by themselves and with the remote teacher providing a good model to follow.
I have every respect for your passion Graham in what you do and I’m very grateful you’ve taken the time to enlighten me. Still I ultimately feel the only way in the long term you’ll crack this, is when local heroes go into these areas prepared to work for lower salaries. At the moment your work seems to be a very effective stop gap.
First of all, I appreciate your opening question “How do you react?” since I believe you are opening up a space for reflection here. As you know, as an Argentinian EFL teacher who works at state-run secondary schools, I’ve “reacted” to this project before because it affects something I really care about that is public education. I have nothing to say about Plan Ceibal itself, in fact, I think that it’s great that all primary school students have their own netbooks to learn in and beyond the classroom. However, what really worries me is the underlying educational policy of
“Ceibal en Inglés” and the way it is presented as an “innovative model”. History has shown us that many policies in our Latin American countries, economic policies for example, have reached a regional level and were imposed from external organizations, and unfortunately, I’ve read enough to understand that this is not an idea that emerged from the Government of Uruguay, but a model that will be tried to be “sold” to the whole region. I am aware of the fact that the British Council has won a tender issued by the Government of Uruguay, but I’ve seen similar types of research are being carried out by the same organization in other countries in the region reaching the “unsurprising” conclusion that there aren’t enough teachers for primary schools. That’s why I do not consider this to be just a Uruguayan problem.
I’ve tried to read and watch almost everything that’s been published on the topic, Ceibal’s website, online newspaper articles, blog posts, an academic paper, videos, etc. My main concern is not only about the methodology, which there’s certainly a lot to discuss about, but about the underlying educational policy, that is, outsourcing a part of the public education system. As I understand, the main aim of a national education system is to educate the country’s citizens not just good language speakers, so if the lack of teachers is really a problem, national teacher training should be the priority. By training, I certainly do not mean delivering language courses to class teachers, but training EFL teachers. According to some application forms for remote teachers I’ve seen, remote EFL teachers are hired by the British Council and not by the Ministry of Education. It is the BC who sets the requirements in terms of qualifications, for example. I’ve seen that remote teachers in most cases come directly from non-formal educational settings (language centers) from different countries, including Uruguay and Argentina, who may or may not have any type of experience teaching at schools. Again, the underlying idea here seems to be that EFL teachers should know English but not necessarily about national curricular guidelines or the complexities of the actual school context? I wonder if that is a thorough concept of education.
It has really called my attention how the reason why there are “remote teachers” has been loosely stated as “a lack of qualified and experienced teachers”, a lack of “qualified teachers evenly distributed in all cities” or as it has been stated by Mr.Stanley in a previous comment, “90% of primary school teachers have A0 level”, evidently referring to regular class teachers and not to EFL teachers. Those quotes are definitely not referring to the same situation. The cause for the implementation of such a program is never devoted more than half a line in anything I’ve read and it really sounds more like an excuse to introduce this project than as a serious problem to be solved.
Now, as an EFL teacher in a neighbouring country, I understand that traditionally EFL teachers in our countries have been rather reluctant to work at schools. The same has happened in Argentina, although I feel things have started to change little by little in the last decade or so. A colleague has stated earlier in this thread “I believe that this amazing program is an excellent option for school where it results difficult to bring an English teacher to the classroom (physically)” and later referred to her difficulty with classroom management issues, which many of us could share. But, in my opinion, classroom management, however hard and puzzling it may be, is part of our job. Why would we consider ourselves a type of teaching professional who does not have to deal with it? Or as Mr. Stanley has stated above, “those that have received intensive English training on left the profession.” That’s exactly the problem, and a completely different one. I guess that raises lots of issues as to the ontology of our profession and the contexts for which we have been trained.
I firmly believe this situation calls for active debate and reflection in our region to redefine our role and rethink our commitment to public education.
thank you for this post 🙂 i have been waiting for someone to discuss this issue, since i have been conducting the same approach here in Malaysia. and it has been a very exciting experience both for me – the remote trainer – and the ESL students here in Malaysia. i have been going around to various places such as schools, universities and government offices to introduce this ‘exploratory’ approach to english – especially when the aim is to improve the conversational skills. i only use the FREE skype, and collaborate with some international teachers from England and Central Europe who are my friends on facebook. and yes – i pay them for the hour that they spent teaching online.
and for the 6 months that i have been involved in this project, most learners said that they LOVE this skype learning. they are able to engage in authentic conversations, where most of them say – if they speak to me – an ESL, non-native teacher myself – they will tend to switch to using the Malay language, their L1, since they know i will understand them. However, by talking to native teachers on skype – they have no choice but to force themselves to speak in English, no matter how difficult or embarrassing it is! 🙂
therefore, i believe skype teaching or any other method that use technology to invite native or international teachers to interact with the ESL learners should be promoted. of course, there needs to be some lessons plans – i use English Out There (englishoutthere.com) lessons plans, to save time. and the teachers need to know some technical stuff regarding using Skype etc, but overall – i would say, the cost of bringing the teachers to the classroom is really affordable as compared as bringing the teachers physically to the classroom. and teacher training can also be conducted using the same method. i am currently managing a training center, where we will be implementing this approach to train ESL teachers in Malaysia.
among the problems? i found that after half an hour, i had to stop the learners from asking too many questions – because they get too excited! i hope that sums up the kind of engagement that the learners experience 🙂
looking forward to sharing more issues on this topic. i am currently writing a book for teachers in Malaysia – about how to get involved.
ELT Consultant Trainer
I have been a remote teacher (AKA teaching from Mexico) since March and I would like to share some of my thoughts on the project.
You’ve asked about:
Content – while I agree that CLIL is probably what the project is heading towards, most students start as beginners, which justifies topics like: greetings, sharing personal information, family, food, etc.
I totally agree with Mike that a project like this one is the ideal vehicle to address inequality issues and promote awareness and diversity and the course content will hopefully contribute to this eventually, but I also know that these things don’t happen overnight.
Methodology – the first few classes felt a little odd. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and neither were the students or the classroom teachers. Strangely enough, the classes aren’t that different from a face-to-face class. There are two teachers: One teacher is on the screen and does most of the presentation of new language, drilling, asking questions and giving instructions, while the classroom teacher asks concept checking questions, monitors and manages activities by choosing which students will answer which questions, etc.
I would say it follows the communicative approach as there are many opportunities for students to interact with each other, and students have to create a portfolio about themselves, their family, pets, hobbies, etc.
Role of XO laptops – While you can ask students to bring their laptops to class, I normally ask them to use their laptops in the two subsequent classes they have with their other teacher. Generally this homework involves listening to songs, playing games, creating illustrated dictionary entries and working on their digital portfolio. So as you can see, we’ve got both elements: the guidance of a teacher who “comes into” the classroom, as well as the tools and technology needed for autonomous learning and discovery.
Classroom management – I can’t agree more about the importance of communication between the remote and classroom teachers! There are many other factors such as the classroom teacher’s English level, ITC skills and confidence that also come into play. Confident teachers = confident students! I personally try to get input from the teachers and students, not on how I should teach my classes, but on content. (E.g. getting them to vote on their favourite characters that we can talk about in class, or giving teachers a selection of activities to choose from) I do think that we should probably make more use of the classroom teachers’ expertise and experience., though.
There is so much more that can be said, but I should probably at least pause here 😉
Reblogged this on MercedesViola's Blog.
This is the link to a blog post with Paul Woods’ and my presentation at the IATEFL Conference this year