To Motivate Students—Nothing Better Than Teamwork!

The one principle that has helped me the most in my career as head of the language department at three different French engineering schools is “TEAMWORK”. The success of the both the 3-year and the 2-year compulsory ESL university courses at INPG (Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France) that I elaborated over the years with different colleagues has been largely due each time to “OUR EFFORTS TO WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM”.

I explain all this in great detail in QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book available on a DVD (complete version €29) or in a download (lighter version €14.99). To purchase these products or some of our packs go to the store.

Extensive collaboration

Collaboration has extended far, all the way to a core curriculum for each year of study, the same activities scheduled the same week for all the groups of each year, the same homework, the same number of tutorials and classroom presentations, the same intensive pair work and even the same exams. What revolutionized the English program in each of the different institutes of higher learning was the fact that we approached our course the same way the science professors did with theirs. In other words we started with an explicit syllabus printed in our booklets. We explained the specific requirements needed to pass the course, and we put together a blend of English for international communication with English for special purposes. We devised practicals to apply what had been learned in lab and invented oral activities intended to enhance creativity. Most of the course was elaborated based on a survey we had done with our students about their real needs. They all said that the priority should be “oral expression”.

The students’ reaction to the program: Their goal was to be in the best groups

As for the exams students liked the idea of everyone taking the same exams
just as they did in the other subjects. Before I took over as head of department, exams were given by individual teachers based solely on their own courses. Consequently, students would try to get into the lower levels to have easier exams and get better grades. With the “common exams” everyone strove to get into the highest groups and worked very hard to get the best results. Of course we elaborated exams where everyone could manage to show what they had accomplished. At the end of the year we would have a big film festival uniting all the students and their teachers. The students watched on a big screen in the auditorium all the films they had written, directed and produced on their own in groups of 5 or 6 outside of class with help of course from their teachers, who had corrected the English of their scenarios.

Advantages for the students

Teachers reading this may think, “How boring! With everyone doing the same thing the same week, what is there in this for me, the teacher?” But I can assure you intense collaboration leads to a totally different ambiance and is extremely motivating for both student and teacher alike.

Here are some of the advantages:

  • students can work out of class with friends from different groups;
  • students look forward to activities that others have told them about;
  • students often tell others about what they did and what they said in their respective groups;
  • students all get the same beautiful workbooks put together by the team of teachers (work by the students themselves is published in these workbooks, which makes them even more precious);
  • students no longer evaluate the individual teacher – instead they talk about the value of “the course”;
  • students think it is fair that all students take the same exam and are graded according to the same criteria by a group of teachers and not only by one single teacher.

Organizing the collaboration

How does this teacher collaboration work? We have meetings where colleagues submit their “best activities” and explain to the others how they are to be used. Then we program these activities and make up a schedule depending on how many class hours we have during a term generally between 18 to 26 hours. For each 2-hour slot for instance we determine what will be the exercises for the lab hour and what activities we will use for the hour in the audio-visual room. We make sure that there is enough time for all these exercises and activities. We have noticed though that students work much faster and get through many more exercises and activities, if there is a set program. We also decide on the number of presentations the students will make either alone (tutorials) or in front of the class (talks, debates, seminars etc.). As coordinator, I generally put together the workbooks from the documents my colleagues send in, and I make up the tapes/mp3 program for the lab hour. Of course this takes time, but in actual fact we change i.e. “update” only about 10% of the course every year; and we look for exercises or activities that are timeless. On my web site I have put four such timeless listening comprehension texts that lead to much discussion in sessions following the assimilation (fill in exercise and essay writing).

Advantages for the teachers

As for teachers they find numerous advantages from working as a team:

  • teachers do not have to enumerate the homework at the end of the class since there is “an assignment page” in the booklets that explains everything;
  • students do not “compare” teachers, they only speak of “the course”;
  • teachers know precisely what the team expects from them (they have elaborated the course together) and thus they spend far less time preparing than when they worked alone;
  • teachers feel more confident since they know the chosen activities have worked for others and that they can always ask colleagues for advice.
  • since teachers work in a team they can switch groups in the middle of the year,
  • if a teacher has a problem with a student, it is easy to discuss what to do with the other teachers and/or with the head of department.

Testing is organized by the team of teachers

Moreover, all the tests are elaborated together. Each teacher submits one part of the test and then corrects only that part. Students take the written exams (grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension) the same day all together in an auditorium. We work very hard putting together the different parts, but we only need one version of the written exam, which saves a lot of time. Only the oral “expression” is evaluated by individual teachers, but then again there is a standard grid of questions and from that grid we make up 8 or 10 versions that all the teachers use. Finally, we often compare our evaluation criteria to make sure we are not being too subjective. And it is extremely enjoyable to share experiences from class time or during exams with colleagues.

Teamwork is the best policy

Our collaboration tends to make us more sociable and open to others. And as a “team” we have a very strong position both as regards our students and in the juries at the end of the year where the professors in all the subjects decide together on the final marks we give our students. I explain all this in great detail in my digital resource book on a DVD entitled QualityTime-ESL.com available in the store. Let me add that many other English departments at nearby French engineering schools have recently adopted the same type of core curriculum. That is one of the main reasons why I decided to put together my digital resource book.

Two is already a team!

All in all I can say that what you might lose in the way of “freedom” as a teacher to do as you please in your class is compensated at least five times over by the response of your students and your colleagues. Discipline is no longer a problem, nor is motivation. I admit that it is time-consuming particularly in the beginning to put together a mutual program, but in the long run there are only advantages. And you don’t have to be numerous when you start. You just need to find one other person and begin collaborating in a team of two. Others will soon ask to join your team. If you are the head of department, you can suggest collaboration by giving others the exercises and keys that have worked well for you and explaining to them how you use these materials in class. Colleagues will soon come with their own contributions and then the synergy will begin. So let me make one last wish: “ Long live teamwork!”

Marianne Raynaud

Marianne Raynaud has written a digital resource book on a DVD for English teachers entitled "QualityTime-ESL", which is available in the store. This digital resource book contains over 1,500 files in a Document Annex with course descriptions (syllabi), advice to students, exercises with keys, both written and oral exams plus many examples of student work including ten-minute films. This digital resource book is intended to help teachers, who wish to work together on elaborating an effective program. It is also intended for university level students wishing to perfect their knowledge of grammar or improve their listening and speaking skills.

Marianne Raynaud recently gave a presentation at the 41st annual TESOL convention in Seattle, Washington, USA on “Student Films as a Memorable Linguistic Experience” based on her work with students at INPG (Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France). Her PowerPoint on this topic and the films she showed at the convention can to be found on the "QualityTime-ESL" DVD.