Reflections on the CIAPS International Tutor Certificate Programme – Georgina Phidd

The recent CIAPS training programme provided timely and relevant material as it reminded participants of the essential and enduring focus of instruction, which centers around individual learner needs. Unfortunately, this can sometimes get lost or de-emphasized as instructors face the daily juggling act of planning lessons, managing large class sizes, grading assessments, and handling administrative tasks.

Firstly, a central component of the CIAPS training programme is the shift from the traditional role of teachers into learning coaches or tutors. The tutoring approach involves a more horizontal structure, where instructors work side-by-side with learners rather than to function as top-down authoritarian figures in the classroom.

Secondly, Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a complex model that also includes the notion of instructors acting as coaches or tutors to facilitate learner progress (Swain et al., 2011). The ZPD model describes students at three different levels in their learning. The first level is what students can do on their own without help. Another level is what students can do with some help from others. Finally, the last level involves the things they cannot do themselves. This is where they need the greatest instruction and support. The role of the tutor is to try to identify which level students are in, and to provide opportunities for scaffolded support so that learners can continue to develop and improve. Students should only get the assistance that they need, so it is therefore personalized. The greatest benefit is when students can identify a gap in their learning, so they are motivated to gain this particular knowledge or skill. Actually, according to the ZPD model, either an instructor or a capable peer can function as a coach to provide the needed knowledge and support that moves them forward. Over time, technological tools will also be able to provide some of this support to students to help them identify and bridge gaps.

Building on the tutoring role of instructors, the CIAPS training programme has also served as an important reminder that it is essential to re-focus on students’ learning styles, individual development, and motivation. Transitioning from a traditional teacher role into a tutoring or coaching role is definitely what is needed both at this moment and in the future. Despite its initial challenges, the virtual learning environment will help to facilitate the learning process by providing interesting opportunities for feedback delivery, including instruction, diagnosis, correction, and prognosis.

Now, let us apply the constructive feedback elements provided in the CIAPS training programme to the academic writing course that I typically deliver to learners, including the goal, receiver, tools, focus, timing, and quantity of feedback, as well as the feedback loop.

Considering the goal of the task is important. Students need to know how to be successful and have strategies for bridging knowledge and skills gaps related to their writing.

The focus of the feedback is indeed on the task and not on the learner. Feedback centers on meeting the goals of the task and following certain writing norms. There is a clear rubric which is helpful when coaching students about which areas need development. This keeps the focus on task completion and away from comments about the learner’s abilities.

The timing of feedback on full essay drafts is typically delayed as it is a time consuming task. Though the training programme recommended that difficult tasks should have immediate feedback, this is often not possible with full essays and large class sizes. However, Google Docs was used this semester to see quick samples of short student writing during class time. This allows for immediate feedback on things like thesis statements and paraphrased sentences. I plan to keep doing immediate feedback on short writing in the future.

It can be challenging to find the right quantity of writing feedback. While students want feedback on everything, including content and form, it can quickly become overwhelming for both students and coaches.

In sum, underlying all of these elements of constructive feedback are both the need for learner improvement and strong motivation. When learners know what is expected of them and get clear, personalized, timely and manageable feedback, there should be definite improvement in their work. Identifying and addressing gaps in their skills will also greatly help the learner to develop. Using language that is easy-to-understand and give feedback that addresses specific areas in their work will be more beneficial than overly complex language or vague comments. Furthermore, as mentioned throughout the training, feedback needs to be encouraging and motivating. Mentioning many honest and positive things about their writing will greatly boost motivation levels as well as make learners more receptive to the areas that actually do need improvement.

In conclusion, the CIAPS training programme was a valuable experience that served as an important reminder that a more collaborative and consultative role for instructors as tutors is the best approach moving forward. One must take learning styles and individual needs into careful consideration and actively involve students in their own learning journey.

Identifying knowledge and skills gaps and finding ways of bridging them using timely and effective feedback will move learners forward in their development. Maintaining an ongoing and positive dialogue with learners with strengthen the interpersonal relationships between the coach and the learners. This will improve performance and engagement on all sides.

*Georgina Phidd is a CIAPS Graduate of the International Tutor Certificate she is a lecturer at the Qatar University.

This essay is an abridge version. The full version will be available in 2021

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