PPP as a framework for teacher training

In 1990, when I first took some training to be a teacher of English as a foreign language, we were strongly encouraged to use the PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) framework for planning lessons.  Here’s a reminder of how it works…

Presentation: The teacher presents an area of language to the learners. The language area is contextualised through a written or spoken text, and typically involves clarification of meaning, form and pronunciation.

Practice: The learners practise the area of language. This is usually tightly controlled in two ways; firstly in that it is only the target area of language that is being practised, and secondly in that the teacher is available to provide assistance and feedback throughout.

Production: The learners produce the language in context. Here a situation is set up where the learners can experiment with using the language naturally. Along with the target area, they can also produce other areas of language which fit the context. The teacher monitors and may make a note of language issues which arise, but typically does not intervene.

 

Like many ideas which have become widely used, PPP has come in for a lot of criticism from different corners of the ELT community. Some of this criticism, has unfairly linked PPP to behaviourism. I don’t have space here to go into much discussion about this, but would just like to mention how much I learnt from reading Jason Anderson’s (2016) article, in which he strongly defends PPP, especially for more challenging contexts around the world where classes are large and where opportunities to use English are limited (like those places in which The Hands Up Project works). Jason traces PPP back to its origins in Teaching Oral English by Don Byrne (1976) and its interesting that, even then, Byrne was suggesting that the stages didn’t necessarily need to be followed in that order, and that starting with production could inform what is later presented and practised.  This emphasis on natural, free use of language at the production stage negates any links with behaviourism.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about frameworks for teacher training, and wondering whether PPP might be an appropriate paradigm for planning training sessions. If we replace ‘language area’ with the content of the teacher training programme, then perhaps PPP could provide the necessary stages in order for teachers to take on board new ideas. Two weeks ago I had the chance to try this idea out in practice when I was invited by Relief International to do some face to face training on the Stories Alive material with Syrian teachers of English in the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps in Jordan. I only had about four hours training with each group of teachers so chose to just focus on activities that could be done before telling the story with the big versions of the pictures, and on ways of telling the story.

Presentation:  I demonstrated the material with the teachers in role as learners using one of the stories – The jackal and the crow. I also showed videos of real learners in Zaatari doing the same activities in our online classes.

Practice: The teachers worked in small groups. They picked a different story from the Stories Alive collection to work with and planned a lesson using some of the activities I had demonstrated. They tried out the activities as micro-teaching on each other. We all gave the teachers feedback on how we thought the activities would work with a real class.

Production: We were given a real class of learners for the teachers to teach using the material and ideas they had practised during the previous stage. The teachers team taught the class.

Of course, it won’t always be possible, in every teacher training context, to have a production stage where teachers try out ideas with real students. But if a class is available, it does address a problem we encounter regularly as teacher trainers, where teachers can be sceptical about whether things we demonstrate would work in a real classroom.

I also made a video showing short excerpts of the activities they used with the students which I think other teachers working in similar contexts could learn from.  Huge respect to all the teachers in the video. You did a great job!

 

So what do you think? Is PPP a useful way of organising English classes in the context in which you work? And is PPP a viable framework for training teachers?

References

Anderson, J (2016) ‘Why practice makes perfect sense: The past, present and potential future of the PPP paradigm in language teacher education.’ ELT Education and Development 19 http://www.elted.net/uploads/7/3/1/6/7316005/3_vol.19_anderson.pdf

Byrne, D (1976) Teaching Oral English; Longman

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20 thoughts on “PPP as a framework for teacher training

  1. Thank you very much Mr Nick for your valuable article .What i want to say that the name ‘ppp’ is new for me .but when i watched the video i realized that i do all of the three ps method during my lessons without recognizing the idiom …….
    My regards.!

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    1. Thanks Confident for your comment. I think that English for Palestine is organised in a PPP way but, as you say, teachers don’t necessarily know that. The good thing about PPP in my opinion is that it shows that learners need different things to happen in a lesson. They need to be told/shown things about language, they need opportunities to use language in controlled ways, and they need opportunities to try to communicate. Of course these different elements don’t necessarily need to happen in that order.

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      1. My view is that this is great since the teacher can focus on more than one or two skills at the same time which we label as’ integrated skills ‘ !
        But I think part of the problem is that teachers may find it difficult to apply it during all lessons ……

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        1. Yes, good point Confident. I think there is scope for using a range of all four skills within the PPP framework. It could involve listening or reading to notice the target language (Presentation) and speaking or writing at the Practice and Production stages. If we follow Scott’s reframing of PPP as Modelling – Rehearsal- Performance (see below) we can also see that working with the scripts from Stories Alive can fit really nicely into this framework. The students work with a model (the script), they have lots of opportunities to rehearse it with support from the teacher, and then they perform it. You’re right too about PPP not being applicable for teaching everything. In fact I think there isn’t any framework which is suitable for every occasion. This, in my opinion is what makes teaching challenging, but also immensely interesting – we can never really know what is going to work to teach a particular area of language to a particular group of learners.

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  2. Nice post, Nick. If PPP has negative connotations, maybe it could be re-formulated as modelling – rehearsal – performance, which has a long history as a way of developing skills, whether playing an instrument, riding a horse, or learning how to teach. Just a thought!

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    1. Thanks for the comment Scott. I think this emphasis on PPP as skill building is something that Jason is emphasising in his article (see his comment below) but I love your reframing of it as modelling – rehearsal – performance. I know you don’t mean performance in this way exactly, but a feature of classes in this part of the world that I’ve noticed (and really started to appreciate) is that there is much more of a performance culture than in similar contexts elsewhere. You can see this in the way that learners sometimes stand up to answer questions and the fact that applause is used very frequently. If the communicative approach is in decline, perhaps we should be moving towards a performance approach to language teaching?

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  3. Hi Nick,

    Many thanks this interesting blog and the video – teachers and students all doing an amazing job. Thanks also for reading the PPP article – In case you haven’t seen it, there’s also the ELT Journal piece, due out next year (see here and click through to PDF: http://www.jasonanderson.org.uk/articles_and_talks.htm), which focuses more on the history, linking it back further to Julian Dakin model that inspired Byrne and even Pit Corder.

    Regarding the idea of using PPP in teacher education, one of the models I mentioned in the ELTED article is Hagger and McIntyre’s (2006), from their book ‘Learning teaching from teachers’, in which they emphasise the importance of school-based teacher education especially in preservice UK contexts (e.g. PGCE). They propose a three-stage model that also links clearly to skill learning theory, from which PPP essentially derives. Their 3 stages are Modelling, Practice and Feedback, the third being really important in teacher education for obvious reasons. Here’s an interesting quote that shows this link very clearly:

    “It is helpful to think of the learning of these complex, socially skilled activities as being dependent on the same three basic processes that are involved in learning any skills. Just as in learning a simple skill like driving a car, learners need models, to establish helpful symbolic or concrete mental pictures to guide all or part of their activities. They also need practice, repeated opportunities to try out activities for themselves, to try to get them right. And they need feedback, reliable evidence that tells them how far they are getting the activity right and in what respects they are getting it right or wrong.” p.51

    The idea of trying it out in real classes is something that has had success in work we’ve done on the UNICEF Child-friendly schools project in several countries in Africa as well as Bangladesh, and has reaped some good results, at least in terms of demonstrating ability to implement… but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the impact is sustained, or that the training sustainable, as I’m sure you’re aware.

    I think that skill learning theory-based models work well in some types of teacher education, especially preservice, or where training is involved in a specific technique, or ‘micro-method’ (e.g. use of synthetic phonics in L1 literacy, introduction of continuous assessment, etc.), but they tend to be less effective when teachers are experienced, and socialised into the specific practices and culture of one teaching context, an issue you touch upon in the article. I tend to feel that as experience increases, the importance of teachers describing and reflecting on their practice as a more sustainable tool for teacher development gains importance – moving from the ‘what and how’ to the ‘how and why’, as Freeman puts it, in a process of ‘thinking heuristically’ in his latest book ‘Educating second language teachers’ (p. 138-9; 2016). Although he’s talking more about the historical shift over the last few decades, I think that this shift is also relevant to our development as teachers.

    But then we move into an area that is poorly documented in theory on teacher education, and that is how we try to orient teacher education between these rough notions of ‘training’ and ‘development’ when working with teachers who may be experienced, capable professionals, but may have lacked the preservice education that many of us take for granted – esp. those working in low-income countries. This is an area where there is so little research, either in language teaching or mainstream teaching. So several questions came to me as I read your blog:
    1. How much prior experience did the teachers have? They seemed to be experienced teachers in the video.
    2. What kind of feedback did they receive and how was it conducted?
    3. Will there be any opportunity to assess long-term impact?

    Thanks again.

    Jason Anderson

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  4. Thank you Jason for your very informative comment and for the references and suggestions. In answer to your questions – 1) the teachers were all experienced but, as far I could gather, not very experienced in the idea of staging a lesson around a story, which is what we were focusing on. 2) They didn’t actually receive any feedback at all during the production stage (apart from the feedback that inevitably comes from doing things with real learners) but they received a lot during the practice micro-teaching stage – both from me and from the other teachers. It’s interesting that the same dilemma about when to give feedback is present in both teaching and in training. Is it better to give feedback during the relative safety of the practice stage when in a sense it doesn’t really matter, or better at the point of need when there is the huge danger of losing face in front of the learners? What do you think? 3) Not sure about the long term impact. One of the reasons for me going to Zaatari was to establish more face to face connections with teachers there to facilitate online connections later through the Hands Up Project. Ideally I’d love to be able to continue working with the same teachers but there are very few places in Zaatari and Azraq with reliable internet at present so not sure how feasible this will be. They do have the Stories Alive book and lots of big pictures to use in class, and more importantly lots of ideas for things they can do with this material, so I like to think they will continue experimenting and sharing ideas with each other.

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    1. Hi Nick,

      Thanks for this. Regarding the feedback question, in a context like this I would definitely aim to do feedback after the teaching has finished and the students have gone (definitely not in front of the learners). Something similar to the CELTA/CertTESOL type feedback might work well, with each teacher talking first about how their teaching went, followed by peer feedback, and then you adding anything if you feel it necessary, but only in small groups. In-service teachers, in my experience, can often be quite critical of each other on such occasions, so it’s good to emphasise that they pick up on strengths, and, rather than criticising, to talk about alternatives.

      With regard to the long-term impact, although it may not have been possible in such a challenging situation, identifying and involving a line manager (e.g. headteacher) or stakeholder (perhaps someone from Relief International) can help with making it more sustainable. One simple idea in this regard is that such a person (or potentially the teachers themselves through their own agreement) could get the teachers together in a few weeks to discuss questions such as:
      • Have they tried similar story-based lessons since the training? How did they go?
      • Did they make any changes to how they did the stories? Why?
      • Did they face any challenges? What?
      • Etc.
      Such discussion is likely to raise important questions and enable them to develop solutions to challenges together. As you say, it will hopefully encourage them to experiment and share ideas …

      However, I’m very much aware that this is so difficult for the teachers to do when they are working in temporary conditions, probably overworked, and have very little support or oversight. So I’m very impressed with what you, they and the kids have done with just 4 hours’ training. Well done again!

      See here for an interesting study from earlier this year that may help to explain the universal appeal of stories and storytelling, especially as oral tradition: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/1/150645

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      1. Thanks Jason for those great ideas regarding follow up. Actually one of the participating teachers is my partner on the ground for the online sessions that we do with her class. She has taken on a kind of leadership role among the other teachers and provides them with lots of support and encouragement. I think this will continue despite the challenging circumstances they are all in. I think we have also both learnt a lot through the team teaching that happens in our online sessions. There’s a lot of negotiation about how we will do things that happens between us when we’re team teaching – ‘Shall we do this in groups?’ ‘Is this too difficult?’ etc. I know what you mean about the advantages of providing feedback after the session, when the learners have gone but, in the same way that I’m sceptical about the value of delayed error correction on language during production stages, I also wonder whether it’s too late for this in teacher training. I used to feel this a lot when I worked on CELTA courses. Hence the importance of the safety provided by the practice (micro teaching stage) prior to doing it with a real class – with plenty of trainer support and feedback.

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        1. All interesting stuff, although I’d be cautious about drawing a link between corrective feedback (see this recent research, which finds both types useful, and immediate feedback little bit more useful: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/modl.12315/abstract) and reflective feedback on teaching, where I think very different internal and social processes are involved.

          Interestingly, this latter type of feedback is an area I’m currently researching, with a paper due to come out soon that indicates that at least for some experienced teachers on preservice type training courses such as the CELTA/CertTESOL, the teaching practice followed by feedback element is one of the most useful areas of the course, at least in their own evaluation. I’ll send the link soon!

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          1. This is very interesting Jason and I look forward to reading your research on this. They are different processes of course but perhaps feedback at the point of need can be very useful in both learning a language and learning to teach. I can’t think of a satisfactory way of providing this as the trainer with teaching practice without trainee teachers losing face, but there are two ways which I’ve been experimenting with it in other contexts which I think have worked reasonably well. The first is from my experiences running trainer training programmes. When I first did this I used to just watch the trainee teacher trainers doing micro-training on their peers and then organise a feedback session at the end. I still do this but I’ve also now started taking part in their training sessions in the role of trainee. This means that I can make suggestions as to how to do things from within (‘Could we do this activity in groups?’ ‘Can you explain more about the advantages of concept checking?’ for example). I don’t have any data to back this up but I don’t think it was too disruptive for the trainers and, on the contrary, enabled them to reflect in action and actually experience what it was like to do things differently. The second example is from my current part time job in London training teachers of Arabic. I’m training them from the position of being a low level learner of Arabic myself. So the teachers prepare materials and activities to teach me Arabic and I’m able to give them feedback on how it worked from the position of the learner. Of course I realise that both these examples are not really applicable for most people working in a training context, so for teacher training this is why I’m so interested in the controlled practice micro-teaching stage, prior to teaching with real learners. If teachers make mistakes at this stage and receive feedback on them, maybe they avoid these same mistakes when it comes to the real teaching. Oh dear! I’m starting to sound like a die-hard behaviourist 🙂

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  5. Putting the cart before the horse? I don’t think that starting with production would be a good idea. Why do things in the wrong order?! We are mentally prepared to understand things which are put in a logical order. It’s the ‘first’,
    ‘next’, ‘then’, and ‘finally’ thing. That’s how our minds are programmed. Starting with the production stage would open the door widely to unnecessary mistakes.

    As for the PPP framework, I would guess that most of teachers in Gaza, if not all of them, use the 3Ps in planning lessons. We introduce the subject which students are required to master, then students are engaged in activities to practice the target language under the guidance of their teacher. After that they use the language much more freely. It works very well with students.

    Thank you for the informative post and touching video, Nick! Thanks for making those kids and teachers happy. What you are doing here is deeply appreciated and amazingly beautiful.

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    1. Hi Amal, Thanks for your interesting comment and your support of our work. I know what you mean about PPP making sense in the Presentation – Practice – Production order. There’s something very satisfying about it from the teacher’s perspective. We model something, the learners try it out with lots of support from the teacher, and then we see if they can do it on their own. With good reason, as you say, it’s a popular framework for teachers and materials writers to use in Gaza but also all over the world. I would just like to say that, as a learner of languages, I also appreciate the opportunity to try to to do things on my own from the beginning sometimes. This can help with my confidence because it gives me a sense of ownership of the language even if I make lots of mistakes, and sometimes it makes me realise where the gaps in my knowledge are, and this can be the impetus I need to learn more. I’m sure there are other learners like me out there too, no?

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      1. It may work better with adults, but not with beginners. To be honest I thought I might apply it on one of my classes ( starting with the production stage I mean) but I still think order is great. It minimises mistakes, and puts students on the right track which eventually would make students much more
        confident. I’m wondering how I would start with the production stage in a grammar lesson. That’s very challenging and chaotic also. Hmm…we need chaos sometimes, though. It’s not good in itself yet it may lead to nice things. Well, sometimes! I don’t know. Thanks for the chaos you’ve just created in my mind!

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        1. You write “I’m wondering how I would start with the production stage in a grammar lesson”

          So here’s one possible way of doing this, using an area of grammar from ‘English For Palestine’ – language for talking about future plans.

          1) The teacher talks briefly with the class about what she is planning to do on the coming Friday when there is no school.
          2) The students talk in pairs about the same topic. Here they are likely to be making lots of mistakes. ‘I go my uncle house’, ‘I sleeping’ etc (PRODUCTION)
          3) The teacher asks about five or six people to report to the whole class about something they found out about their partner (Lots of mistakes again) The teacher listens to what people are saying, tries to scaffold things a bit but without going into a heavy grammar explanation, and chats with them about what they said ‘Where does your uncle live?’ etc. She also makes a note of the things people said. (PRODUCTION)
          4) The teacher writes a reformulated version of each person’s utterance on the board. “I’m going to visit my uncle’ ‘I’m planning to sleep a lot’ etc. She asks the class to try to remember who said each utterance. (PRESENTATION)
          5) The teacher checks the class understand the meaning and the form of what is on the board. She practices the pronunciation of the sentences, and elicits a few more examples. (PRESENTATION)
          6) Everybody writes down five sentences using the forms introduced (Going to/ Planning to etc). Some of the sentences should be true and some false. The teacher monitors what they are writing carefully. (PRACTICE)
          7) The students work in small groups. They read out their sentences to each other and they have to say which ones they think are true are which are false. (PRACTICE)

          Could this work in your context?

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          1. I don’t think I can ask students to give me sentences of a new structure. Instead, I can present a poster charting some pictures of actions intended to be done next friday. Students can give the names of the actions which the teacher use to present the new structure. I prefer things to be controlled at the beginning.

            As for the practice activities, don’t you think that asking students to write down five sentences using the forms introduced should be the last thing students should do at a grammar lesson? Creating free sentences is a free activity and it should come last in a lesson. Students should graduate from controlled practice to free(semi-controlled) practice to freer practice. In the controlled practice, students are given some prompts or scrambled words to form the target language in groups or pairs. The teacher knows the answers that the students will produce. After this (controlled) activity, students will be much more confident and familiar with the new structure which means that they’re ready for the next semi-controlled activity. With the semi-controlled practice, students have the chance to use what they’ve learnt in more complex situations. For example, the teacher writes “Imagine that next week is your mother’s birthday and your preparing for a party. What are you going to do?” Students work in groups to create related sentences. Here students have limited number of answers but some freedom and that’s why their teacher can’t guess all the possible answers. Now students can move to a freer activity, just like the one you present above, “write down five sentences using the forms introduced (Going to/ Planning to etc)”

            That’s how things shoud go I think.

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            1. Hi Amal, Thanks for your comment and your suggestion for another way of doing things. To me that sounds like a good idea. Pictures are a great way to introduce meanings and useful for avoiding the problem of everyone saying the same thing – ‘I’m going to sleep’ or ‘I’m going to watch TV’ 🙂 It seems that Presentation – Practice – Production comes very naturally to you as a teacher and, as the old saying goes ‘If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!’
              On the other hand, as we’ve said in this thread before, I think that there isn’t really just one way of doing things and many different things can work with different students at different times. The way of working you’re suggesting is what Lightbown and Spada (2003) refer to in ‘How languages are learnt’ as a ‘Get it right from the beginning’ approach, but they also talk about ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say’ approaches, which is more like my suggestion above. Who’s to say which is the ‘right’ way? All we can do as teachers is what Adrian Underhill suggests, which I think is very sound advice…. ‘See what’s going on, try something different and learn from it’

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              1. Not my suggestion. It is what we learn from educators and books. I’m not strict, by the way, but I don’t like risks at teaching. However, I’d love to try your suggestions with some students. Let’s see! Thanks for taking the time to reply and thanks for your patience 🙂

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  6. Hi Nick. I guess the order of PPP as presentation practice production is sensible and affective as well. I am an English teacher, and I often follow this pedagogical style in my teaching strategies. It always works!

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