Teacher Training Course at SOL in Barnstaple

Written by: Stefka Ileva, stefkaileva@mail.bg

What is SOL (Sharing One Language)

At the BETA Conference in Plovdiv, 2006, I was the lucky winner of the prize to attend for free the Teacher Training Course at SOL in Barnstaple, North Devon, UK.
SOL is a non-profit organization, set up in 1991, by its present Director, Grenville Yeo, (who will attend this year’s BETA Conference and draw another prizewinner). The need to help provide access to English in Eastern Europe is the driving force behind SOL.

My benefit from the course was really great! Mr Yeo met us (the teachers from Hungary, Poland, Croatia, the Czech and Slovak Republics) at Heathrow Airport and took us to Stonehenge. On arriving in Barnstaple we were welcome by the friendly host families who offered warm hospitality and time in the evenings for relaxed conversation. This was really an excellent opportunity to develop confidence in communicating in English naturally. SOL’s families are very much part of the organization, giving a lot to their guests, but also themselves enjoying their company. They provide all meals, including packed lunch on course and departure days, and transport to and from the centre of town each day.

The main emphasis of the fully organized 8 ½ hour Programme of the course was put on language development through cultural experience. North Devon is REAL England, where people have time for guests. Barnstaple and Bideford are close to the Atlantic Ocean with fantastic scenery. The temperature in July was the same as in Bulgaria, so we could swim in the ocean several times.

The first day of the course was a “discovery” of the fascinating history of Barnstaple by following the town’s heritage trail – starting at the Barnstaple Heritage Centre. The Town, said to be one of the oldest Boroughs in England, is the commercial heart of North Devon. The historic Pannier market offers crafts, antiques and fresh local produce. We also followed the town’s floral trail and enjoyed Barnstaples’s wonderful display. The town has won more awards for its floral displays than any other town in the country.

Our amazing tutors were Geoff Hardcastle (teacher of English and Drama, geoffnhardcastle@yahoo.co.uk), Victor Lahai (music teacher) and Simon Parker (simonparker01@yahoo.co.uk) who visited the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in February and had seminars with English language teachers.

They taught us: psychology of learning, marketing strategies, the importance of formative assessment, student self assessment, everyday life and culture in Britain, questioning strategies including direct questioning, thought showers, buzz groups, assertive questioning and pair checking, word games, teaching human rights, teaching British history, teaching social skills, active teaching strategies, lesson planning using the “Present, Apply, Review Model”, teaching colloquial English: modern idioms and slang, use of songs, music and noise in English teaching and improvisation; the use of practical drama conventions in the classroom in order to give students the confidence to use the English language; how Shakespeare can be introduced to students through direct contact with the language, mask work and their own interpretations. The use of a variety of techniques in order to get students to talk and develop their language skills.

The programme included a day trip to Exeter with visits of museums and the famous Exeter Cathedral which is almost 1,000 years old. It is one of the finest examples of decorated Gothic work in England today, including the longest unbroken stretch of Medieval Gothic vaulting in the world. Exeter is on the South Coast of Devon and inspired some of the teachers to use our free Sunday for sunbathing in Torquay and Tor Bay which are part of the so called “English Riviera”.

Great Torrington, known as the Cavalier town, was another part of our cultural experience. It had a significant role in the English Civil War, specifically, the Battle of Great Torrington in 1646 which marked the end of the Royalist resistance in the West Country and led to the eventual defeat and execution of King Charles I. People in the town are proud of their heritage and we could see them dressed in 17th century costume for re-enactments or as volunteers at the popular “Torrington 1646” visitor attraction.

We were inspired by the 2,000 years of history in the glorious setting of one of England’s most stunning coastlines. As we climbed the path to Tintagel Castle, we could see Atlantic breakers crash against the cliffs and into Merlin’s cave. We explored the ruins of the 13th-century fortress of the Earls of Cornwall and experienced the breathtaking views at the place where, the legend says, Arthur was brought up by the beautiful Queen Igraine. An introductory video presentation recreated the story of the castle and its inhabitants over the ages.
One of the most exciting visits was to the time honored fishing village of Clovelly where we could see things as they had been for centuries. There aren’t any cars in the village – transport is by foot or by donkey. The steep cobbled streets and ancient harbor give the village a very special atmosphere. It’s so evocative of times gone by you can almost feel the past – and it’s easy to imagine the daily catch being carried ashore through the steep cobbled streets.

What made me remember Lynton and Lynmouth forever was the spectacular combination of sweeping moorland with high, rugged, tree-clad cliffs and enticing sheltered bays. It was the Victorians who made holiday centres of these twin towns, the quiet charm of which lead them to name it “Little Switzerland of England”. The famous Cliff Railway was officially opened in 1890 and offers an unusual trip with fantastic views. The Railway covers a vertical height of approximately 500 feet and each car has a 700 gallon water tank which is filled at the top and emptied at the bottom, thus causing the lower car to be pulled up to Lynton, while the heavier car from the top descends to Lynmouth.

All the trips were with an experienced guide who provided plenty of information and answered questions. This allowed us to see a lovely part of England that was likely to be new to us and gain an insight into the way of life that is much more typical than the bustle of big cities. This is so important for a teacher!

On one of the evenings there was an unforgettable folk concert where a local band gave a splendid performance and the Hungarian teachers also sang their folk songs.
On the last day the tourist guide of SOL accompanied the group for a walking tour in London including a performance at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.
I enjoyed my stay there so much that I will be glad to assist teachers who want to bring students to SOL (sol@sol.org.uk) to experience the hospitality of Devon. What is more – they are entitled to discounts (with small groups) and to a free of charge visit (with bigger in number groups).

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