Selecting and adapting learning resources for teachers: Ensuring relevance to context

In this article Claire Ross looks at how teacher educators can ensure that the resources they use are relevant to the context.

If you are asked to give a workshop or recommend relevant resources for teachers or teacher education providers (e.g. a school director or university department coordinator), you need to ensure you select resources that are relevant and useful to the specific teaching context. To inform your decision, you will need to gather data and analyse it. The following steps illustrate how to do this:

1. Build a teacher profile

This is important in order to understand the background of your teachers, their education, experience and availability to ensure you select appropriate and realistic resources. This is all part of understanding the teaching context.  

A good way to get this information is by sending a brief questionnaire to teachers. Consider using an online data gathering tool like Google forms which also helps you collate data. Then you can meet with teachers to ask for more information, and develop your working relationship. The table below details information to gather and questions you could ask in a questionnaire or interview.

What you need to know Examples of questions to ask
Education What qualifications do you have? How would you rate your language ability? This is a useful self-assessment tool.
Teaching experience

How long have you been teaching?
What ages/levels/subject have you taught?

Current position How many classes do you teach now?
Which ages/levels/subjects do you teach?
Availability What days/times do you teach?
When is the best time for you to work on your professional development? (e.g. a specific day, morning, afternoon, weekends)

What areas of teaching are you interested in? Why?
What would you like to know more about?

Goals What would you like to change in your teaching? Why?
What would you like to achieve?
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time? 5 years’ time? 10?
Learning preferences How do you like to learn? (alone/in groups)
Have you ever taken part in an online learning activity? e.g. an online course, webinar.
What helps you to learn? What makes it difficult?

2. Build an institutional profile

This is important to understand opportunities and constraints within the institution that would influence the resources you select. In all cases you will need to ensure the resources you select follow the institutional policy and standards and fit within their professional development scheme. To get this information, it is best to talk to your point of contact or ask them to direct you to the relevant person to answer your questions – perhaps a supervisor, coordinator, director or other decision maker. This is better than emailing as it will help you to ask follow up questions and build a relationship with the institution.

What you need to know Examples of questions to ask
Policies Is there an induction programme for new teachers?
What teaching policies do teachers have to follow? (National/local)
Teaching standards What teaching standards are teachers supposed to follow?
How is this assessed? By whom? How often?
Professional development What professional development activities are new/experienced teachers expected to take part in? What time is available for this?
Is there regular training? How often? On what? Wo delivers it?
Is there an observation scheme set up? Who observes, how and why? How does it work?
Learning resources What resources are available to teachers in the institution? (digital, audiovisual, published)

Consider asking these questions to teachers too, when you meet them, to discover their perception of how standards and policies are applied. It is sometimes the case that a policy exists but is not enforced, or the reality of professional development is different from the institutional vision. All this will help you to decide what resources to recommend.

3 Identify the learning needs of the teachers and institution

This may have been identified by the teacher, in which case you can talk to them to find out more before deciding what resources might help. You need to know what exactly they want to change or develop in their knowledge or practice, and why. Again you can use a questionnaire, ideally followed by an interview. You can add the questions below to those in step 1.

Needs Where do you feel you need to develop? Why?
How did you identify this need?
What action have you taken to do this? What was the outcome?
What else would you like to try?

If the request comes from the institutional level, you should ask them the questions above and also make it your business to research the background to the learning need. Again, do this through an interview with your institutional contact or decision maker. You will need answers to these questions, and maybe more:

  • Who identified this need? (e.g. teachers, the director, parents, supervisors)
  • How? (e.g. feedback, observation, consultation with teachers)
  • Why is it considered an issue? (e.g. is it affecting teaching standards?) 
  • What steps has the institution already taken to start to address this need? What was the outcome?
  • Is this the same or different to the stated needs of teachers?

There may be conflict over which needs the institution sees as most important and those described by teacher, and this can be very difficult as your influence may be limited and you need to respect the decision makers within the institutional culture. However, you can add your professional opinion based on the information you have gathered about teachers’ needs and may be able to negotiate.

4. Establish the expected outcome

An outcome of teacher learning could mean a change in teacher behaviour which could be evidenced through observation; or increased knowledge, demonstrated through discussion or assessment.

Establishing realistic and measurable outcomes will help you, the teachers and the institution to focus on manageable success criteria for the resource(s) you recommend or use to address teacher learning needs. Unrealistic outcomes lead to dissatisfied teachers and institutions because their expectations have not been met.

Teachers and institutions may have a clear idea of what they want to achieve or you may need to help them to shape this. For example, institutions may want to improve the English level of their teachers. You could help to define this by analysing the data you have gathered (e.g. current English levels, how long teachers have to spend time on professional development) and agreeing with the institution what level they could attain in the time available and how you will know they have achieved this e.g. by working towards a particular proficiency exam. Present a proposal based on the evidence you gathered. You may need to meet several times or send several proposals until you reach an agreement with an institution. This requires careful negotiation skills on your part, to ensure that your suggestions will meet needs within the time and limitations.

Following the suggested steps in this article will enable you to select and adapt appropriately, based on context and the needs and expected outcomes of teachers and the institutions where they work. Read my next article Selecting and adapting learning resources for teachers: Case studies for examples of how to apply the steps above to different teacher education scenarios.

About the author

Claire Ross (@ClaireRossELT) researches and develops face-to-face and online training for English language teachers. She has developed the Teaching for Success suite of MOOCs and is a Lead Educator on the courses. She has been working in teacher education since 2005, mainly in the Middle East, training trainers and teachers. Her interests include pluralistic approaches, multilingualism and inclusion.

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