Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Here’s a selection of links I compiled for our teachers following up on a workshop I ran on Friday 27th March. I showed them around a few online dictionaries and corpora, and we briefly talked about how students could make use of their notebooks to record language. I know there are many other useful resources, but this is what we managed in 60 minutes. Feel free to add them to the comments!

BYU corpus word feature screenshot

Dictionaries

http://www.oald8.com – Oxford. Good for having a really short link (!), clarity of information and layout, checking levels of words, finding out if words are academic (they have academic word lists), depth of information

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/ – Good for checking levels of words (3* = most common, 0* = not common at all), really new words (people can suggest additions), the ‘red words’ game

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ Good for the Essential British English dictionary, some bilingual dictionaries, checking levels of words, the grammar reference

https://bab.la/ Polish-English bilingual – good for seeing example sentences in both Polish and English, starting to expose students to reading definitions in English (not just translations)

https://www.wordreference.com/ bilingual dictionaries in a range of languages – has some example sentences (though bab.la has more). The forums can be quite useful, though students should use them with caution as there are occasionally incorrect explanations.

Corpora

https://www.english-corpora.org/ has a collection of corpora. When choosing, think about the date the language was collected (how recent is it?), the sources (spoken/written/internet/balanced?), and the language varieties (British? international?)

Some of the functions are hidden behind the ‘more’ button on the search page.

  • List = examples of the language in use (these are called ‘concordance lines’)
  • Collocations = write the example word, then click POS to select the part of speech. The numbers tell you the positions before or after the word you want to search in. e.g. ‘depend’ + ______  PREP    L 0 + 2 R     gives you a search for prepositions that appear in the first and second position after ‘depend’. You can also put a specific word in the second search box, e.g. ‘depend’ + ‘on’    to only get results with that pair of words.
  • KWIC = Key Word in Context. The one that goes multi-coloured depending on what part of speech the word is.
  • Word = the one that I love 🙂 This function isn’t available in all of the corpora. It shows you everything: definition, synonyms for different meanings, topics, common chunks, collocations, and concodance lines. It also links you to the pronunciation of the word in different contexts on the three sites below:

http://playphrase.me/ clips from film/TV containing your word/phrase (though can’t see wider context) – good for comparing how a word/phrase sounds in different accents/voices

https://youglish.com/ pulls from YouTube videos. Gives link to whole video with phrase highlighted. Speed adjustable. Gives you pron tips below.

https://getyarn.io/  Pulls out the key phrase and enables you to see the next/previous clip to give you more context. Shows you more links below with the same phrase. Has a ‘next line’ quiz which could be addictive! But no clear content filter!

Another great corpus for language learners is SKELL: Sketch Engine for Language Learning. I like the Word Sketch and Similar words functions.

Find out more

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/iatefl2016corpora/ – including links to activities using corpora, and guidance on SKeLL, which is another easy-to-use corpus to explore, specifically designed for language learners

https://eflnotes.wordpress.com/ for Mura Nava’s blog and free ‘Quick Cups of COCA’ ebook which teaches you how to exploit the COCA corpus.

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics for a free online course in how to exploit corpora and make your own (they’re also used in the social sciences, history and all kinds of arenas!)

https://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/03/02/helping-language-learners-become-language-researchers-wordandphrase-info-part-1/ about wordandphrase.info – another corpus to explore. Good for checking how difficult the sample text you’ve just written might be for your students, and for finding out whether a word is more common in spoken/academic/newspaper/etc usage.

Using notebooks – examples

Maria’s notebook: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/when-i-teach-fce-again/ (link in the flo-joe section)

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/howtolearnalanguage/ (the ‘think about colours and layout’ section)

https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/russian2/ (the ‘writing’ section’)

This story of how one Spanish school moved online was originally written in the ‘Language school management in the time of COVID-19‘ facebook group on the 21st March 2020. I asked Alex Fayle if he would like to share it here, and he kindly consented.

When the nearby city of Vitoria was the first Spanish city to close schools, we knew it was only a matter of time before the San Sebastián schools would close as well. As Academic Director, my first reaction was panic. I run half the academy and I was terrified that my teachers would find themselves on the street in no time. Given that our tag line is “It’s the people” I couldn’t let that happen.

Not to my teachers, and more importantly, not to our students and their parents. If students were suddenly without class, they would have no social contact, and no structure to their days. For the sake of their parents’ sanity, I knew we had to be prepared before schools were actually closed.

Many people recommended Zoom, but we went a different route. We already use Google Drive and Google Docs, so we looked into Google Meet. And since our initial desire was to create a straight substitution for face-to-face classes with online classes, Google Meet provided us with a tool that offered everything we needed.

So, we wrote messages to parents, created 64 recurring “meetings” (one for each group) and got teachers set up with technology to be able to work from home. On the first full day of cancelled classes, we had an 85% attendance rate. The same the next day. And on the third day when the Monday classes had their second weekly class, we were up to our usual attendance rate.

The amazing thing wasn’t organizing all that. Many of us have experienced that pressure, the extra hours and the satisfaction of completing the challenge of getting up online in such a short time. What left tears in my eyes were the responses from parents, from students, and from teachers.

I knew I had a great team before this crisis happened, but as the academy owner said to the teachers (via our shared WhatsApp groups): “In hard times, we show who we are, and I can see only beauty here.” Every single teacher stepped up, overcame the huge learning curve and continued to give class. Actually no, they even managed to give what I believe are better classes, geared to engage and educate students.

Students who hated English a week ago are now asking their parents if it’s time for English yet.

And parents are sending message after message thanking us for giving structure to the suddenly chaotic lives of their children.

Looking back at these hectic two weeks, I ask myself how we did it, and I realize we did it because we didn’t have a choice. Our passion for what we do made it one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. And it’s that passion that is going to make us infinitely stronger when we come out the other side of all this.

Alex Fayle, the DELTA certified Academic Director at Well & Will, has – apart from his passion for English – a drive to organize and streamline. With a Masters in Library Science and as a former President of Professional Organizers in Canada, he has worked in many organizing-related fields, from records management and business process engineering to personal coaching.

Academy Description

Well & Will Language Academy, based in the city of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country, is more than just a language academy. We are a learning institution built on trust and personal responsibility that inspires students to expand themselves and their horizons through the medium of English. We focus on the delivery of language and on transferring the passion for English from teacher to students, making English an integral part of their lives.

The week started with a discussion with the school Director in which we decided to switch to working from home. Our teachers had been working from school for the first week of online teaching, and Poland is not (yet) on full lockdown, but it’s safer for all of our teachers to make that shift. Tuesday was about getting everybody set up at home, including me.

Management

I don’t think I’ve ever used my phone as much as I did on Thursday – 7 or 8 calls, none of which was shorter than 15 minutes, plus texts, WhatsApp messages, facebook messages, emails, and a Zoom call. It was really hard to know what to focus on! In between all of that, I did manage to update everybody’s timetables and get them sent out, but it took all day. It made me appreciate how much I benefit from being able to just pop to the staffroom or reception to pass on messages or ask questions when we’re at school. Thankfully on Friday things had settled down somewhat. We ran our weekly meeting and workshop via Zoom, looking at examples of online dictionaries and corpora.

I feel like the biggest management challenge for me in the coming weeks will be loneliness and a lack of balance in my interactions, missing informal chats in between bursts of work, as most conversations I have during the working day will inevitably be problem solving. That’s something I’ll need to actively seek out. On the plus side, it was nice to eat lunch in my own kitchen 🙂

Yet again, I’m incredibly grateful to the rest of the management team (Grzegorz, Ruth, Emma) and the office staff (Mariola, Sandra) for all of the work they’ve put into making the transition smooth and keeping lines of communication open. And to the teachers for all of their hard work!

My Zoom lessons

This week, we practised weather phrases and introduced comparatives. I’ve stuck to using the chat box, screen sharing, audio and video this week. That’s enough, I think, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself or the students too much.

I taught my first Polish lesson online too. There were three students and we did parts of the body, making use of teddies to show the parts of the body that are more challenging for the camera to get to, like ‘back’, ‘foot’, and ‘legs’! It was pretty entertaining 🙂 After every few words, the students predicted the spellings in the chat box, so we did more work on sound-spelling relationships, and looked at some plurals in the process too.

I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot more focussed correction than I can in the physical classroom, and my teen students have definitely had a lot more writing practice in the last two weeks.

I started using nomination chains, with each student saying who the next one to speak would be. This is something I generally avoid in the face-to-face classroom – I’d always associated it with feedback stages that go on for too long and in which students lose interest and the pace drops. In Zoom it worked really well for creating prompts for activities that everybody could participate in, as in the two examples below.

Drawing activity on Zoom

To test what weather students knew, they looked at a weather map of Poland and wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then filled in a couple of gaps by referring them to their coursebook and checking problem phrases.

Once I knew they had the basics, they all got a piece of (real) paper. I said a kind of weather and they had to draw it. We then had a nomination chain of what to draw next, and I joined in. After each one, they put their paper to the camera once they were done and I helped anybody who didn’t understand and commented on any similarities, for example “Look, N, we’ve both drawn a sad flower for ‘It’s dry'”. If their camera wasn’t working, they just had to say they’d finished.

I elicited the questions ‘What’s the weather like?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ by drawing a gapped sentence on my paper and getting words from the students. They copied it to their paper and again showed me when they were finished.

Equipped with the question and their pictures, students went into breakout rooms. They showed each other pictures and asked the two questions. If they didn’t have a camera, they asked ‘What are you doing?’ and the other student guess the weather ‘Is it sunny?’

This worked quite nicely for an activity I made up on the spot, but could probably do with a clear communicative purpose if I did it again.

Comparatives challenge

I choose two things, for example ‘summer’ and ‘winter’. The students wrote their ideas for ways to compare them in the chat box. I praised their attempts, especially if they tried to write more complex sentences, and corrected those who needed it, mostly using prompts: ‘W, how do you spell ‘than’?’ ‘T, you need an extra word.’ The students wrote the corrected sentence in the box without prompting. Once everyone had a couple of ideas, a student chose the next two things to compare.

This also worked well, with students being quite creative with their ideas. It was a good game to focus on the form of the comparative structure, but didn’t really have a clear communicative purpose again. Definitely something I need to focus on in next week’s lessons.

Zoom learning and tips

In breakout rooms, students can share their screen with each other. (Thanks Jude!)

Last week, Ash mentioned putting all of the Google Docs your students may need into a single folder and sending them one link. This week, he’s updated that to suggest numbering them in order to help you and the students work out what’s next. It seems like such a simple thing, but hadn’t occurred to me!

Useful links

If there’s one thing we’re not short of right now, it’s links to further development (sorry for adding to them!) Anyway, here are a few you may want to explore.

Activities

Tips and advice

  • Susan Lee Scott works in Vietnam, where she’s now been teaching online for 8 weeks. Here’s her advice.
  • Russell Stannard has a full set of Teacher Training Online videos connected to using Zoom, including a 12-minute guide to using breakout rooms.
  • Julie Moore has tips on ergonomics when using a laptop to work from home, helping you to reduce the aches and pains which I know I’m already feeling.
  • I shared Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post last week, and will continue to share it – so much useful advice here.

To finish off, here’s an infographic from Angelos Bollas about how to plan and run activities in breakout rooms:

Our school, IH Bydgoszcz, has successfully completed a week of teaching teen and adult groups using Zoom. We’ve made plans (largely facilitated by Ruth and Char – thank you!) to move our young learner classes online, with a staggered start – half from Monday 23rd, the rest from Monday 30th. Our teachers are still able to go into the school building, which has made it easier for us to support them with problems throughout the week, and to continue to share ideas.

This week has truly demonstrated the power of a supportive team, as we all simultaneously became beginners again in our move to online teaching. Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, have worked tirelessly to support teachers in their planning (often more so than me as I’ve often been coordinating other things). Grzegorz, our Director, and Mariola and Sandra, our office staff, have helped it all to come off smoothly. But of course, without the teachers’ willingness to try this, we couldn’t do anything – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve had generally good feedback from our students so far, and attendance has been pretty high. This is testament to everyone’s planning and hard work to make it all happen.

This post has various sections (click to go straight there – this function isn’t fully working yet!):

Reflections on my Zoom lessons


I’ve now taught three lessons on Zoom (you probably have more experience than me!), two with one group, and one with another. They were all with high beginner/low elementary (A2.1) teens, aged 11-13.

I really enjoyed them 🙂 It’s been a fantastic chance to get to know my students better. We’ve had visits from a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and a sister. 😉 One student spontaneously played her piano and violin during the break – I had no idea she was musical. We’ve also had a toy sword, spontaneous dancing, putting on make-up, and rather more eating than I would have liked!

Lesson 1 was an introduction to Zoom. We then played a guessing game. Students went to their kitchens for 3 items of food or drink (our most recent topic in class), which they had to keep secret. In breakout rooms they asked ‘Have you got a…?’ ‘Have you got any…?’ to guess what they others had. If they were right, the student had to show it on the camera. When they came back to the main room, they typed what they’d found out in the chat box. For example: ‘Sandy has got some oranges.’ ‘Sandy hasn’t got any cheese.’ This activity went down really well, lasted for about 15-20 minutes, and was a great opportunity to use their homes.

Most of the students adapted to Zoom pretty quickly, though two students still struggled to find functions at the end of lesson 2, and one student missed the Zoom tutorial in the first lesson. Another had huge connection problems in the first lesson, but this was much better in the second.

Lesson 2 was a continuation of our book (Project 2 from OUP), planned mostly by Jude (thanks!) After revision and a homework check, I screen shared a Quizlet set to introduce country vocab, with students calling out the words on their microphones, or writing them in the chat box. We stopped every few words for them to call out what they could remember. They matched the words in their books. To prepare for a short listening, I asked them to type what these measurements could be: 1000m, 6km, 10,000m etc e.g. a river, a bridge, a road. We listened to the audio – they filled in the correct number. We checked them one at a time using the chat box. I then introduced them to ‘high’, ‘wide’, ‘long’ and ‘deep’ from the listening by using gestures and asking them to draw different arrows next to the words in their books, e.g. an up arrow for ‘high’, a down arrow for ‘deep’. I set up the homework (the reading from the next page of their book) and did the first example with them. For the last couple of minutes they typed all of the new words from the lesson in the chat box.

If I taught the lesson again, I’d skip me introducing the vocab through Quizlet. Instead, I’d send them the code quizlet.com/491240605 and get them to play Quizlet match and learn modes – they’re used to doing this from classroom lessons. I’d then do a quiz, showing them three or four pictures at the same time and getting them to write all of the words. The listening and adjectives were fine, but there wasn’t much time left by this stage. I’d like to have something creative in every lesson, and I assumed we planned this but 5 days later can’t remember what it was! There certainly wasn’t time for it in the lesson.

Overall, I think my students have done more writing this week than in the entire proceeding month, and they’ve spoken to students in the breakout rooms that they wouldn’t dream of talking to in class, both without any complaints. Classroom management has been fine, because I can switch off microphones and videos if necessary – often the threat of this is enough to get students to concentrate again. If students consistently misbehave, you can put them into the waiting room for a minute or two to calm down, or speak to them individually in a breakout room (thanks for that idea Jude).

Let’s see how long the novelty of online learning lasts!

Zoom troubleshooting

  • Do a sound/video check at the start of each lesson. Get students to switch on their sound and video to make sure it’s working. If they’re having problems, put them in the waiting room (three dots in the top right corner of their video = move to waiting room) and let them come back in again. They may need to restart their computers/apps.
  • When one student is having lots of technical problems, give the others something to do while you help them out. You could put them in breakout rooms, with the ‘tech problem’ student in a room by themselves for you to help. Or give others something to do in their books. Make it clear to the other students that you’re helping the person with technical problems and how long this might take. If the technical problems are coming and going, make sure that student is in a 3, not a pair, when put into breakout rooms.
  • It’s better to have your computer plugged in or not at all through the lesson – it might not cope with the transition between two different battery settings. (Thanks Connor!)
  • If you’re having problems with the internet connection, switch off the video. If you’re at home, ask other people not to use internet-heavy apps at the same time as the lesson, like streaming.
  • If students are using Zoom on their phones, they need to be looking at the video (not the chat/participants list/screen share) when you put them into breakout rooms. That’s where the message pops up to invite them to the room. Alternatively, tick the option that says ‘Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically‘ and it doesn’t matter what they’re looking at!
  • If you’re kicked out of the meeting, one of the students will become the teacher with host privileges. Log back in, and (I think!) you’ll automatically become the host again.

 

Zoom tips

 

  • With small groups, prepare a piece of scrap paper with all of your students’ names before the lesson. Write C for computer/M for mobile/T for tablet – check what device they’re on as they come in. Don’t assume it’s the same as the previous lesson. That way, if they can’t find something, you know what instructions to give them to find it (the menus are different on different devices). I also used my list for noting which groups I’d put students in, tech problems they had, and how many K points (classroom management points) the group had got, plus reminders to myself about problems with Zoom/things to consider next time.
  • Recurring meetings: extend the date on your meetings for ages. If you let the last date pass, you’ll have to resend new links later. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • When you’re on mute, hold down space bar and speak – students will hear you only while the spacebar is depressed. (Thanks Emma!)
  • Make sure you remind students how to find functions – don’t just assume they remember.
  • In some browsers (Android phone?), the participant menu is a speech bubble with three dots in it. This is almost the same as the ‘more’ button, so students may be a little confused. (Thanks Ruth and Jude!)
  • Students can use the chat while in breakout rooms, but only they can see it. Nobody from another breakout room or the main room can see it. If you join the breakout room, you can’t see what’s come before, only what’s added after you join. A student without a working microphone can therefore still participate in the activity. (Thanks Connor!)
  • You can make the chatbox text bigger/smaller when you’re on a computer (not sure about a phone). Click into the chatbox. Press CTRL and + to make it bigger (CMD + for Mac), CTRL and – to make it smaller (CMD – for Mac), and CTRL and 0 to make it the default size (CMD 0 for Mac).

 

Google Docs tips

 

  • If you’re coupling Zoom with Google Docs, make the files directly on Google, rather than on Word then uploading them. If you have pre-existing Word documents to upload, make sure you save it as Google Docs if you want students to edit them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes things a little smoother.
  • If you’re using lots of Google files during a lesson, put them all into a single folder and send students the link to this before/at the start of the lesson. Then tell them which file you want them to open at the right point in the lesson. You can change from can view to can edit during the lesson if necessary. (Thanks Ash!)
  • Create designated sections of the document for students to write in. For example, we used red team/blue team/green team/purple team in the lesson I described above. (Thanks Jude!) Once students have accessed the document, ask them to write their name next to their team colour – this helps you to check instructions. (Thanks Connor!)

 

Lesson planning tips

 

  • Plan for a 60-minute lesson, not a 90-minute face-to-face one – everything takes longer! However, if you often spend a lot of time dealing with classroom management, you may find that your lessons are faster thanks to mute/stop video buttons. 😉
  • Keep the lessons simple. If you’re going to try something new, stick to a maximum of one new tech tool per lesson to avoid overwhelm.
  • Have a couple of zero-prep revision games to play at the end or discussion questions where they can go into breakout rooms, e.g. Pictionary, define the word and guess it (from anywhere in the book).
  • Put students into breakout rooms for the amount of time that you have groups. For example, if you have 3 breakout rooms, put them in there for a minimum of three minutes. If you have 5 breakout rooms, 5 minutes. 10 rooms = 10 minutes. That gives you time to check them all. It’s probably not really worth putting them in there for less than 3 minutes though as it’s a lot of faff and time, and sometimes the tech breaks!
  • Include breaks in the lesson. We normally have one 10-minute break in our 90-minute face-to-face lessons, but with my students I changed this to two 5-minute breaks. Even if you don’t normally have a break, it’s good to include stretching time and eye breaks to reduce muscle pain and eye strain. If you’re having problems with your neck or back because you don’t have an ideal position/posture, consider raising your computer. For example, put a couple of reams of paper under a laptop, or even put a chair on the desk and stand up during the lesson.
  • Include time when students don’t need to interact. For example, a drawing activity. They could switch off their video/audio while they’re doing this, then switch it on to signal that they’ve finished. You can switch off yours too.
  • You can ask students to do grammar controlled practice at home because they have grammar references, then use the lesson for problem solving, rather than trying to present the grammar from scratch.
  • For vocabulary, supplement with Quizlet sets – students can hear the pronunciation and practise the spelling.
  • Reading can be done for homework. You can check reading in class, or students can email you the answers to use it as an assessment. You can also do listening this way by emailing the audio to students (though be aware of copyright rules).
  • At the end of the lesson, consider sending an email summarising the content of the lesson, and including the homework, especially for teens e.g. Today we learnt some Zoom vocabulary from this Quizlet set quizlet.com/xxxxx. We practised how to use Zoom. The homework is WB p39 Ex 6. See you on Wednesday!

 

Activity ideas

 


Here are some activities that (might?) work via Zoom, some of which we’ve tried, some of which we haven’t. If you want more, take a look at Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

  • At the start of the lesson, display a puzzle, a Where’s Wally image, or an Every Picture Tells a Story ELTpic on the screen. Students write what they can see in the chat box – higher levels could imagine what’s happening, or what people are saying (reported speech revision?) This gives time for you to help people with connection problems. (Adapted from Lisa Wilson’s idea to display a wordsearch.)
  • Show an album from ELTpics that is connected to your lesson topic. Students brainstorm what they can see in the chatbox. Give them a sentence frame if you don’t want them to just write single words, e.g. There’s a… / There aren’t any…
  • To get students (of all ages!) moving, play run and touch. (Thanks Rosie!) e.g. run and touch something blue, green, red, new, old, wooden, metal, complicated, funny…
  • Ask students to make things out of the objects around them. For example, make a person, a house, etc. Other students have to guess what they’ve made. If planned with the responsible adult in advance, this could work particularly well with children – they could have a plate of e.g. pasta to make pictures out of (not rice – it’ll get stuck in the computer!)
  • With smaller groups, experiment with all of the students having their microphones on simultaneously at certain points in the lesson. For example, this worked really well with the homework check and drilling in my lessons. Students can also drill without their microphones on – they can practise repeating, then come on the microphone when they’re more confident.
  • Use Jazz Chants for drilling. Your students can make them too. They can say them with the microphone on or off.
  • Total cloze: before the lesson, write a sentence on a Word document. Set the text to white, but the underlining to black. Share the screen. Students guess what words are missing. If they guess correctly, you change the text colour to black for that word. (If you have a less fiddly way of doing this, please tell me!)
  • Organise for remote guests to visit the lesson. Students can prepare to interview them, or to listen to a short speech/presentation from the guest. There are lots of people looking for things to do right now!
  • Ask if you can observe other teachers remotely by joining their class as a student – this is much easier now. Make sure that schools and students are OK with you doing this if you’re the observed teacher before you invite anyone else in. (Please don’t ask me for the moment – I’m not quite ready!)
  • Fast finisher idea: students can build up a single picture using all of the vocab introduced during the lesson. For a few minutes at the end of the lesson, or as a warmer at the start of the next, they hold up their picture to the camera and describe what’s in the picture. You may need to demo this is a whole-class activity in a previous lesson.
  • Get students to write emails to their future selves using FutureMe. These are incredible times we’re living in right now, and it could really help them to consider that this is not how life will always be. (I hope!)

 

Useful links

 


Here are a handful of the many, many resources that have been shared in the past couple of weeks. Feel free to add others in the comments:

As more and more people are forced to work online due to Coronavirus, how can you make sure that you look after your mental health and create clear boundaries between home and work life, especially if everything happens in the same room? I’m particularly thinking about English teachers in shared flats who don’t have a living room or another space to escape to.

  • Create a very clear area that will be dedicated to work. If you are lucky this can be a desk. If not it might just be a chair that you only sit on for work or a part of a table that is for work. Be consistent and disciplined about using the space for work and nothing else.
  • When you’re not working, cover this space with something so that you can’t see it, for example a blanket or a spare bed sheet. If you have something nice to decorate it with, why not add that? This might be a plant or a teddy or a cushion, something to make it a bit less obvious that it’s a work space that you’ve covered with a sheet!
  • Create signs for yourself that say what you’re doing at each part of the day. This might be teach, admin, relax, chat. Put the sign somewhere obvious so that you can see it regularly to help you remember which phase of your day you’re in. Use your down time to make the signs look pretty.
  • Create a routine for ‘going to work’. For example, walk backwards and forwards in your room 10 times, ritually remove the sheet from the workspace, and then sit at your chair. If you have a slightly larger living space, for example a separate kitchen or living room, walk out of your working space and back into it a few times before you start your working day. Reverse the routine for ‘leaving work’.
  • Other routines could also be useful. Include routines for breaks, exercise, and regular meals. If you have the possibility of going outside, think carefully about when to incorporate this in your routine so that you got the maximum benefit from it. If you have options about when to do this, Crowdscience says that an hour of daylight in the morning is the most beneficial. You could also get this on a balcony if you have one. Daylight is enough, sunshine is a plus!
  • Include social contact that isn’t work-related in your daily life. Put a call out your social media to find out who would like to have a video chat (if your internet is up to it). I’m sure that you will find other people in the same situation as you and not everybody will be brave enough to ask for people to chat with. Get back in touch with those friends that you haven’t spoken to for years. This is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with people.
  • If you’re working online and screen time is a problem try to keep your computer for work only and look for other things to do to entertain yourself when you’re not working. Read a book, do some sewing or repairs of your clothes, do some drawing even if you think that you’re not very good at it (this is an excellent opportunity to start practising and getting better, from somebody who also isn’t very good at it!), learn to play cards, do puzzles, build funky things out of the things in your flat and share pictures of them on social media…
  • If your computer or phone are your only source of entertainment when you’re not working, clearly delineate your computer time between work and home life. At a minimum close and reopen your computer in between working and using it for home, and get up and move away from it in between too. If you can, set up different desktops with different backgrounds on your computer, one for work and one for home. Do something completely different on your computer: many places are streaming operas, plays and concerts for example. Try something you wouldn’t normally consider. Or stick to comfort films: write a list of all the things you’ve been meaning to rewatch for years and work your way through them.
  • If you like music, have work music and home music. You could also use music as part of your ‘going to work’ and ‘leaving work’ routines. Have a song that gets you going before you start – listen to all of it attentively and mindfully, really focusing on all of the words. Then have another one at the end of the day which can transition you into your home time.
  • If you’re not doing it already, find out about meditation and mindfulness. If you are doing it, keep on doing it! Meditation is another thing that you could use at the boundaries between home and work and also if you want to take a break during your working day.
  • Start a journal of your experiences during this time, which will be very interesting for future historians and for you and your family in the future. You could also write a gratefulness journal of all of the things that you are happy are still happening or that you can still do during the quarantine period.
  • During your work time, arrange some kind of staff meeting with colleagues. This will help to retain some of the benefits you get if you have a good staff room. It allows you to let off steam with people who are in the same boat as you.
  • If you don’t have a staff room at the moment, there are hundreds of teachers in online communities who I suspect would be interested in meeting and talking to you. This is a way to have contact with other people, including perhaps meeting some new people. This gets different voices into your space that aren’t only your students or worried family members.
  • Give yourself periods of balcony time or, if you don’t have a balcony, window time, when all you do is stare off into the distance and look at what is around you. Pay close attention to all the details that you don’t normally notice in your daily life. If you’re at the window, open it as far you can. Get some deep breaths of fresh air. Appreciate the reduction in pollution because there are so many fewer vehicles on the road!
  • Have stretching breaks. Look up stretches that you can do to help you reduce potential pain in your neck, back and hips due to too much time sitting down. Plan which stretches you’re going to do during each break you take during the day. This could be one of the things you do in your routines before and after work as well.
  • Have some paper next to your bed so that if you’re feeling anxious in the night or you’re listing things for the next day you can easily write it down and empty your head to help you try to get back to sleep again.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene.
  • Find things to laugh at. Watch stupid videos on YouTube or whatever it takes to make you laugh. Stand up when you’re laughing as well – this will vary your posture and help you fill your space with laughter more effectively.
  • Make a star chart or some kind of way of recording when you have been good and stuck to your routines. Give yourself a star or a 🙂 every time you complete your ‘going to work’ routine or take a proper break or sleep for 3 hours without waking up. Whatever it is that you want to be able to do, reward yourself for it. Make the targets super achievable so you get tons of stars. Reward yourself for everything that you can and search for opportunities to be positive.
  • Listen to Tom Hanks (from 12:32).

Good luck. And well done: you are doing this to help your community at large.

Spring flowers in Bydgoszcz

If you have any more ideas, please share them in the comments.

As has happened in much of Europe, Poland has now closed schools, universities and other places where people might gather in the hope of reducing the spread of coronavirus. Our school had its last normal lessons on Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday dedicated to training our teachers how to use Zoom. We start teaching on Monday 16th, so my total experience with Zoom so far has been in the training process. However, I wanted to share what we’ve done and some of the ideas we’ve had for our adapting our standard EFL face-to-face lessons, in the hope that others will be able to build on this.

Useful links

International House World arranged a live session run by Shaun Wilden on Tuesday 10th, in which he introduced us to Zoom. He has summarised tips for moving to online teaching in these two blogposts on the Oxford University Press blog:

I’d also recommend Ceri Jones’s posts on the Cambridge University Press blog:

Other useful posts:

On 20th March 2020, Lindsay Clandfield and Carol Rainbow will run a webinar for Teaching English British Council on using your coursebook online and ideas for breakout rooms (see below for a definition and our ideas).

There’s a very active hashtag on Twitter called #coronavirusteaching, which you can view without having a Twitter account. It’s full of ideas and experiences, and is a rich source of information.

I posted this tweet:

There are lots of great replies, with more being added – see this thread for access to all of them.

Technical arrangements

We’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to joining Zoom for our students (in English and Polish). Teachers will email meeting links and join IDs to each of their groups, with student emails in BCC so that we’re not sharing their contact information with each other. Students can email the teacher if they’re having technical difficulties during the lesson and can’t access Zoom.

We’ve signed all of our teachers up for individual Pro accounts so we don’t have to worry about the 40-minute limit on free Zoom accounts. If you have a school domain and teachers have school emails, Zoom have temporarily removed the 40-minute limit on the free account, but this doesn’t work for private emails such as Gmail or Yahoo.

We’ve also suggested that teachers using Google Docs to complement Zoom, so we’ve asked students who plan to use their mobiles to download the Docs app in advance.

The rest of this post is an adapted version of our guide for teachers, including lots of activity ideas which we came up with/found as we were writing it. Please feel free to share more! Thank you to Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, for helping me put it together, and to all of our teachers for being amazing at suggesting ideas and trying to work out the kinks in the system so that we’re ready for things to run as smoothly as possible on Monday.

Zoom functions

Managing participants

As the host of a class/meeting, you can manage participants such as renaming, muting, stopping video and other controls for participants. For more, visit this page. 

If somebody joins the room late, or has been kicked out (e.g. due to connectivity), a notification will pop up for you to allow people to join the group.

The participants list also has options for students to give you simple messages:

These appear next to their name in the list. You have a ‘clear all’ button to switch them all off.

Students also have raise hand/lower hand options. A hand will appear on their video.

Participant video

As students join the room, a box with their name will appear. Once students click to give Zoom permission to access the camera, this will change to a video. 

This shows you the range of possible video layout options on Zoom.

  • If you want lots of people to speak at the same time, ‘gallery view’ is much less chaotic. I’d recommend telling students to generally use this view.
  • We don’t think there is gallery view on mobiles.
  • If you’re using ‘active speaker view’, whoever is speaking will jump to the top of the column. This can get very distracting if lots of people are talking as it changes all the time. If you want students to show work they’ve produced on paper, ask all students to change to ‘active speaker view’, then ask the relevant student to unmute their microphone and start talking – their video will jump to the top.

As the host, you can switch all of the videos off if you want to. This reduces bandwidth (and is better for the environment!). 

Tip: Switching your own video off when students are doing individual work gives you a breather and allows you to check what’s happening next. It also means students aren’t looking at your funny faces while you figure out what’s next 🙂 It will also mean there is less to distract them!

Tip: In the first lesson, we recommend keeping the videos on so that students know this could happen, and so you can make your expectations clear about this online classroom environment.

Tip: Having all students with their videos off makes the room much more smoothly as it uses a lot less bandwidth.

Participant audio

When students join the room, their microphones will be on mute. (We recommend our teachers choose this setting when they set up their Zoom meetings.)

It’s best if you only unmute microphones for students who need to speak – otherwise it can get quite chaotic.

For drilling, you could unmute all microphones at the same time, but warn students before you do this!

Allow silence during your lessons – don’t be afraid of it, and don’t feel like you need to fill it. It’s a little strange initially when you feel like you’re not talking to anybody because you can’t hear them responding when students are on mute, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

Tip: Mute your audio when you’re typing/opening up the next bits of your lesson. 

Sharing your screen

Tip: make sure you have everything you want to share open and ready before you start the lesson.

You can use the screen share function to:

  • Show powerpoint
  • Show a picture
  • Show a document/gapfill
  • Show the coursebook software
  • Share computer sound (to play a listening, or background music before the lesson starts)
  • Share a video (see below)

You can share the full desktop, a particular window only, or a portion of the screen (i.e. part of a picture). Here’s how. To share a portion of the screen, click on ‘advanced’ in the ‘share screen’ menu.

Screen sharing a desktop DOES NOT share any Zoom windows that are open.

If you give them permission to, students can also share their screens. Teachers can take remote control of students’ screens. Teachers can annotate students screens as well. Once this feature is enabled, all students can annotate whoever’s screen is being shared. 

Playing audio

  • Put the audio on your computer.
  • Use the ‘share screen’ function. Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear it as normal.

Audio activities:

  • Normal comprehension questions. A gist could perhaps be done as a poll.
  • Listening dictation. 
  • Write the next word. 

Tip: switch off your audio when playing audio from the computer, otherwise the students will hear you and the listening.

Playing video

  • Click on ‘share screen’. 
  • Choose the window where the video is playing.
  • Tick the ‘share computer sound’ box. 
  • Tick the ‘optimise for full-screen video clip’ to make the video smoother on students’ computers.
  • Press play on your computer and students should be able to hear and see it as normal.

Tip: Streaming Youtube videos takes up less bandwidth than playing a downloaded video.

Video activities:

  • What’s my line: write three lines from a short video clip, two which are really there, one which isn’t. Students write the number of the line which isn’t there in the chat box.

Chat box

There is a chat box in every Zoom meeting. Participants can send public messages to everyone, or start private chats. Here’s how

In teen classes, change the settings in the chat so that students can only chat with everyone publicly or privately message the teacher. It’s better for them not to be able to chat privately as you can’t monitor their communication. See ‘Changing in-meeting chat settings’ on this link.

If you send students to breakout rooms (see below) they cannot see anything that is sent to the chat box. You can only send them written messages to the room.

Also, when students return from the breakout rooms their chat box may have been wiped clean (especially if they are on a mobile). However, the host can still see everything that was in the chat box. 

You can use the chat box to:

  • Chat!
  • Have students complete a statement you give them e.g. ‘I really like using Zoom because…’
  • Elicit answers to questions in feedback stages.
  • See what questions students have.
  • Play vocab revision activities like binomials (see number 5)
  • Spelling tests. Students can also go on the video to choose the word to spell or the sentence to complete.

Annotating a screen/whiteboard

This allows you or the students to annotate a blank screen (whiteboard) or whatever you’re sharing at that point. You can annotate in the following ways:   

  • Draw – insert lines, arrows and shapes
  • Text box – including copying and pasting text from elsewhere
  • Stamp – e.g a star or a tick
  • Arrow – click to make an arrow with your name on it stay in one place. Each time you click, the previous arrow will disappear and a new one will appear.

Here is a fuller description of annotation tools and here’s how to share a whiteboard.

You can use this function to:

  • Display a controlled practice activity using a text box.
  • Draw a timeline (if you want something more permanent than holding up one on paper to the camera)
  • Copy and paste a gapfill or similar from elsewhere for them to write into (though this is probably better as an activity on Google Docs or as a Powerpoint for them to handwrite the answers to).

You can download whiteboards and send them to students.

To stop students from being able to annotate the whiteboard, i.e. to make it so you are the only person who can write on it, there is a setting in the ‘more’ menu called ‘disable participant’s annotations’. (Thanks Shannon!)

Breakout rooms

A breakout room is a way to put your students into small groups or pairs. 

Watch this 2.5-minute video to see what a breakout room is, how to set it up, what it looks like for the teacher (host) and the students (participants). You can assign students manually or automatically, and you can move students around before you send them to the rooms.
If you want something more technical, here’s Zoom’s written guide to how breakout rooms work.

You can use this function to:

  • Do the homework check.
  • Create discussion groups.
  • Divide the class into two teams e.g. to make a decision/plan.

Tip: Students cannot see any of the materials from the main room while in a breakout, or do any type chatting, so ask them to take a photo of the task or write it down. 

Tip: Remind students of breakout room etiquette before you start those stages each time.

You can’t monitor all of the breakout rooms simultaneously. You can only join one room at a time. Students can request help from inside the breakout room and invite you to join them. This pops up on your screen with a direct link to the breakout room. Your video will join the students – it’s very obvious that you’re there!

From your master breakout room list, you can broadcast a written message to all of the rooms which appears as a banner for all of the students.

  • If breakout rooms aren’t visible on Zoom, you need to go to your main settings and switch them on. This video shows you how.
  • Students may have trouble having a conversation if there are connection issues.
  • It might be a challenge to have more than 3 students in a breakout room because of sound problems/noise, but it could work for a game if there is clear turn-taking.
  • If you set a timer for breakout rooms, the timer starts regardless of whether or not the participants are in the rooms. When you close the breakout rooms, you can choose how much of a countdown the students get. 

Hands up (and other non-verbal feedback)

Students can put their hands up to draw your attention to them. To do this, they:

  • Click on ‘participants list’.
  • Click ‘raise hand’.
  • When their question has been answered, they click ‘lower hand’.

As a host, you will see a ‘hands up’ icon appear on their video. If you’re using active speaker view, ‘hands up’ should push their video to the top of the list.

You can also see a summary of how many people have their hands up by looking at the complete participants list.

There are other options for non-verbal feedback, such as ‘clap’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ etc. Find out more or see the participants list section above.

You can use this function to:

  • Find out which students want to speak on audio/camera.
  • Check understanding of a particular term/concept/instruction.

Using Google Docs

Before the lesson:

  • Create your Doc.
  • Click on Share (a blue button in the top right or go to the ‘file’ menu).
  • Click ‘get shareable link’. Make sure that it says ‘anyone with the link can edit’ – not just view!

During the lesson:

  • Check that all students on mobile phones have downloaded the Google Docs app.
  • Paste the shareable link into the chat box.
  • Students click on the link and can edit the document simultaneously. This should be fairly smooth (we hope!) as we’ve asked them to download the app before the lesson.

Tip: if you want to have students work on different specific parts of the same document at the same time, put their names at the points you want them to write/specify ‘group 1’ ‘group 2’ etc in the document. Here’s a (view-only!) example.

You can use this to:

  • Get feedback after a discussion task – students can all write their answers in the Doc simultaneously.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something (like we did in the session)

Using Google Sheets

Students might not have the Google Sheets app. If you want to use it in your lesson, please ask students to download it when you send them the link to the lessons.

You can use this to:

  • Get students to complete a table when they have proved they can do something – for example, a list of can-do statements.
  • Do a ‘board race’ using a Google Sheet with columns that small groups need to add their ideas to.

Advice for planning your lessons

Start with activities you’re familiar with from the face-to-face classroom and consider how to adapt them. Look at the activities throughout this post for ideas of how you could do this. Be creative, and ask for help if you’ve spent more than 5 minutes trying to figure something out!

Best practice

Students recording lessons or taking screenshots (our advice to our teachers)

In the invitation email that we send for every lesson, students will be reminded that they may not record any part of the lesson without first asking the teacher’s permission, to keep in line with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, RODO in Polish) which is EU law. 

During the lesson, if any students ask to take a screenshot, you may NOT give them permission if any other students are on the screen. If only you are on the screen, it is your decision. If it is only the work (e.g. the whiteboard) then it is your decision. Unless the work is incomplete or there is a particular reason you do not want them to take a screenshot, then it is probably OK to say yes.

Other tips

Include a summary of the lesson right at the beginning – I think this is more important in online lessons so that students know what to expect.

Always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out. (quoted from Shaun Wilden)

Give time for activities, especially if they have to switch between apps and views. Everything will take longer, especially if things have to load. Aim for simplicity in the plan in general – fewer chances for things to go wrong! 

Include breaks for students: decide with the students what they want. You may decide to have a couple of shorter breaks, e.g. 5 minutes each after 30 minutes.

Look for as many student-to-student interaction opportunities as you can – not just student to teacher or lecture-style. It’s worth putting interaction patterns on your plan to be aware of this. Plan for every student to be on camera taking to the group at least once during the session. 

Include movement in the plan – chances for students to get up. Tell the students why you’re doing this (it is better for your brain to move regularly, and you’ll remember more English). This is also a change for you to move around and take a break from looking at the screen. Ideas include:

  • Stand up and mime the actions/ verbs.
  • 30-second stretch break. 
  • Brain gym
  • Simon Says…
  • Run and write: put books on the other side of the room. Look at a sentence, remember it, run and write it in the chat box/ on a Google doc. (A kind of individual running dictation) 
  • Run and write in pairs: as above, but with the runner dictating to the other student, who has their book hidden.
  • They’ve done an activity in their books. You say a sentence – they stand up if it’s right, sit down if it’s not. Or a little more complicated: stand up and jump, stand up turn around and sit down again.
  • After a breakout room: students stand up if they agreed / turn their back if they disagreed. Teacher can turn on their mike and they can say what they thought.
  • If all students are on phones, they can walk for 2-3 minutes from their seats, then switch videos on and comment on where they’ve ended up/describe where they are/display it on the front camera/write about it. Could also be used for modals of speculation: other students guess where they might be, then turn on the camera and find out whether the guess was correct.

Other considerations

  • On the mobile phone, students can only see a super tiny whiteboard and can’t do much except draw on it. If they need to type, it should be on a Google Doc as they can still hear Zoom but can’t see anything. 
  • Chat box activities should be focussed on only the chat box, not while doing something else (e.g. watching a video). Students on mobiles can’t look at two things at the same time with Zoom.
  • If you disconnect and reconnect, the chat refreshes and you lose all previous messages. If a student has lost the connection partway through a task that you’ve written in the chatbox, you need to copy it back into the box again.
  • Some students might not have their coursebooks in front of them. Make sure you have another way to show them the activity.

Other activities

  • Flashcard games
  • Draw pictures and hold them up to the screen
  • I can… statements on the whiteboard for students to annotate/add to the chat
  • Dictation: email half the group with something to dictate to their partners in breakout rooms, using a Google doc. 
  • Kim’s game: show a picture with various objects or various things happening. Take it away. Students list what was in the picture. Chatbots, docs, breakout rooms all work for this. 
  • Quizlet flashcards: share the screen, students write the words they see in the chatbox. With smaller groups, put the microphones on and use them for drilling. Also works with normal flashcards when you have them.
  • Students write a selection of words in the checkbox. You can take suggestions then choose one to display on the whiteboard. They then create sentences using the grammar structure. Then challenge them to add the context around the sentences: who says it/ where is it written, what comes before/ after it. 
  • Remove/ replace/add: give students a starter sentence. They have to change/add/ replace words to make new sentences. Students can also suggest the original sentences. 
  • A tour of my favourite website. Students would need to prepare this before, or have something and time in the lesson. You could also use it as a lead in to a topic, showing them around a website linked to the lesson theme. Aim for 2-3 minutes maximum four presentations like this. Alternatives: my favourite app, my favourite game, my favourite book, my favourite room where I am now. Note: this should be on a voluntary basis.
  • Research time: students have 15/20 minutes to find out about a topic and prepare a mini presentation, which they then report back to the group as a live listening. This could work really well in a breakout room.
  • Picture dictations: as a whole class, followed by students dictating to each other in breakout rooms.

Warmers

These activities are also good to maintain the group dynamic/connections between students, something which can very easily be lost if the primary communication is with the teacher.

  • What can you see: describe your room, the view from your window, a photo. Alternatives: what you can hear, what you can smell. 
  • First lines: open the first book you can find in your house and bring to the screen. Type the first line into the chat box/ Google Doc. Choose a favourite and write the next line/ continue the story/ say what happened before/ describe the character. 
  • Tell students three adjectives. They write a noun which connects them in the chart box. Ask students to come on camera to justify their choice. Alternative: three nouns, they say a verb. Three verbs, they say a noun or adverb. 
  • Odd one out: Write a list of six words on the board from a lexical set. Students have to decide which one is the odd one out. They must explain this. Once they have, then challenge them to nominate another one which could be the odd one out for different reasons. Great for lateral thinking. The variation is great too, where every time they argue one is the odd word out you cross it out and they repeat the activity with the words left until there are only two words.
  • My neighbour’s cat is… page 54 of 5-minute activities by Penny Ur. This activity is great for eliciting adjectives from A-Z. You write up all the letters of the alphabet on the board and then you begin by saying “My neighbour’s cat is awful”, and write awful next to the letter “a”. Give students a timed limit eg 5 minutes, for them to add more adjectives in any order. For online purposes, challenge your class to get from A to Z, either in the chat or on a Google doc, or in breakout rooms as a competition. Variations: My neighbour likes… with verbs (adding up) or nouns (apples)
  • Taboo: email a student a taboo card. They have to define the word, either on the video or typing in chat. Or they create their own. 
  • Display a picture, then take it away. Students write the dialogue, list what they can see, describe what happened before/afterwards… should work well in breakout rooms.
  • Students choose an object in the room with them. They share them in breakout rooms and say why they chose  that object/ the story behind it/ who they would sell or give it to. 
  • Messages to the world/ the group: questions can promote discussion. Breakout groups can discuss, then one iteration can report back in the chart or on the video to the group. What’s the best thing in the world? If you could change one thing about school, what would it be? I’d you could day one thing to the world, what would it be? Also works with Thunks
  • Mind reader (I’m sure there’s a way to adapt this!)

The online teaching activities index has loads more ideas, though not all for live classes.

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂

EdTech

Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?

Burnout

Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

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I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

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