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

These are the slides from my IATEFL 2021 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on how to present at an international conference, whether that’s face-to-face or online. It’s an updated version of my IATEFL 2019 How to session.

Slide 8 has icons. These are the associated notes:

  • Eye contact – friends around room / Online = odd presenting to yourself sometimes. Ask somebody to stay on video so you can talk to them if possible (the moderator?) / switch off self view if you can?
  • Microphone – where to hold it. Use it? / Online = headphones stop echo
  • Pace: Deep breaths – ask somebody to indicate if you’re rushing
  • What you say – not a script/reading from slides! Index cards? Slides + notes, presenters notes…as natural as possible
  • Reactions aren’t just based on what you say – also the time of day – 8:15? After lunch? End of the day? / Nobody writing in chat online = don’t worry / invite them

Here are potential solutions to the problems on slide 11:

  • Slides – USB x 2, Google Drive, email, Slideshare – check compatability. Alternatively, don’t use slides!
  • Audio – have transcript, play it as a file outside presentation rather than embedded into it
  • Video – summarise content
  • Attention – like in class? hands up, countdown
  • Empty room – ask people to come closer
  • Too long – decide before what you can cut, underplan!
  • Too short – more time for questions, what will you take away?
  • Overall = stay calm 🙂 Ask them a question e.g. what have I told you so far? What do you still want to know?

Here’s an explanation of the images on slide 11:

  • Reward yourself
  • Relax
  • Reflect on how it went
  • If it’s IATEFL, consider writing up your talk for the Conference Selections – there’s a How To talk about that too 🙂

Here’s a recording of the talk:

Zhenya Polosatova has a list of tips for coping with presentation preparation anxiety.

Tim Thompson has written a pep talk which you should read immediately before your presentation starts, and probably a few times before that too!

What other tips do you have?

This was originally going to be the topic for my IATEFL Manchester 2020 talk, so the ‘this year’ referred to in the title is 2019-2020. Although the IATEFL conference moved online and to 2021, it’s still relevant and still true, and serves as a good reminder to me about what I was thinking a year ago when I first presented it at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference in January 2020. If you’ve read that post, you’ll find that this is the same thing again but with a few minor tweaks for online training 🙂 I gave this version of the talk on Saturday 19th June 2021.

Here is a video of the session which I recorded before the big day in case of technical problems:

Background

Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, 2019 gave me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I did for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.

Working with humans

Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In the live version of this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Online, you could use the chatbox for a similar activity, or put people into breakout rooms. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues. 

Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s (still!) something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.

Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in summer 2019. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course. This served as an interesting way to reflect on the week.

Start where they are

This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.

Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen at school so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session. Online, you can use tools like Google Jamboard, Mentimeter or AnswerGarden for a similar activity.

Experience-based rather than information-based

We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.

I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual. 

I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.

As we shifted online, I moved to completely the other extreme content-wise. I ended up having almost no content as I thought that teachers had far more first-hand experience of the online classroom than I did and would therefore appreciate being able to share their ideas with each other. After a couple of workshops which fell flat, I realised I still needed to include content which came from me, and I’ve hopefully moved towards a better balance now.

Increase impact

I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.

In most of my workshops I now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, teachers choose two or three to try in the next week and (ideally) their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. I aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.

I’m still thinking about how best to do this on CELTA courses, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them. I always try to make explicit connections in input sessions to particular lessons I know trainees are going to teach, as well as referring back to input sessions and handouts when doing assisted lesson planning, but I’m not sure how successful this is.

Learning through dialogue

Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others. 

Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.

As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that teachers should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and realise that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.

Model

Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. This was something else I had trouble with when we moved to online workshops, as I fell into a trap of always having experience sharing sessions with ideas pooled in a Google Doc – this got old very quickly! I feel like I’ve been able to move past that now with a lot more online workshops under my belt. Walking the walk means that teachers/trainees are more likely to respect your advice, not least because they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending. 

Having said that, trainers need to make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode. 

Evaluate

Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:

  • What do you need more help with?
  • What will you take from this session into your lessons?
  • What should we keep the same?
  • What should we change?
  • Anything else you want to tell us?

This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback. I realise I haven’t carried this through to online workshops, but we’re done with them for this year!

I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.

[During the session, Rachel Tsateri shared the idea of MSC: Most Significant Change]

Follow up

Does your training follow similar principles? Will you reconsider anything in your training based on anything here? 

If you’re interested in developing as a teacher trainer, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code ZX79U until 17th July 2021).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:

This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂

These are my summaries of the talks.

How to present at an international conference – Sandy Millin

You can find a summary and video of my talk here.

Plenary: Embedding a culture of empathy in English language teaching – Kieran Donaghy

Where Kieran’s interest in empathy comes from?

Kieran grew up in a multicultural close-knit community. He had to spend a little time in hospital as a child, lost confidence and came out with a stammer. He had a teacher who taught him to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without a stammer – this really helped him. One of his first teaching jobs was with multicultural students. He came across Jill Hadfield’s Classroom Dynamics and Earl Stevick’s book, where he saw this:

success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom…

I have begun to suspect that the most important aspect of ‘what goes on’ is the presence or absence of harmony – it is the parts working with, or against, one another

Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)

After this he lived and worked in different countries and learnt different languages.

However, he’s considered leaving the profession at some points due to low pay and poor working conditions. He because frustrated with not being as patient or empathetic with students as he could have been.

His children went to school somewhere with lenta educacion, slow education – where they work at their own pace, have projects, and there is a focus on values and inclusion.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.

Roman Krznaric (2014: x)

There are three parts to empathy highlighted here:

  • The cognitive part: stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, taking perspectives
  • The affective part: understanding their feelings and perspectives
  • Empathic concern: using that understanding to guide your actions

How do we develop empathy?

Children must experience empathy to learn to express it themselves.

Having said that, research shows that we can continue to develop empathy throughout our lives. With practice and by exercising it, we can become more empathetic [definitely something I’ve experienced myself!]

Experience, but not brilliance, improves empathy.

Carl Rogers (1975: 5-6)

The neurological foundations of empathy

Phineas Gage was a railway foreman in the 19th century. One day there was an accident, where a pole went through his brain. Amazingly he survived the accident. Before it, he was empathetic, but afterwards he was unable to judge what was socially appropriate. 100 years later, his brain was put through an MRI scanner to find what part of his brain was affected, identifying a specific part which was related to empathy.

In 1990, mirror neurons were discovered. A monkey’s neuron fired, even when it saw somebody performing an action rather than doing it themselves. (Here you can see Jade Blue’s fantastic drawings from throughout the talk)

However, there is no single empathy centre in the brain. There are 14 different, but interconnected brain regions. When we empathise with another person, this network is activated.

Why is empathy important in society?

It’s our genetic nature to have social connections with others – it’s important for both physical and social wellbeing.

Empathy becomes the thread that weaves an increasingly differentiated and individualised population into an integrated social tapestry, allowing the social organism to function as a whole.

Jeremy Rifkin (2009:26)

It is vital for a functioning democracy. We need to listen to each other’s perspectives for democracy to work.

When empathy wanes, democracy is diminished. The erosion of empathy robs us of our humanity, without which any sense of community, shared interests and shared fate is lost.

David Howe (2013: 201)

However, there appears to be a dramatic decline in empathy. This survey shows results with college students over time:

There is a range of possible reasons for this:

  • More people living alone and spending less time engaged in social and community activities that nurture empathy.
  • Increased use of technology and rise of social media.
  • Hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success.

Why is empathy important in education?

Emotional intelligence goes hand-in-hand with moral development.

Schools have a central role in cultivating character by inculcating self-discipline and empathy, which in turn enable true commitment to civic and moral values. In doing so, it is not enough to lecture children about values; they have to practice them, which happens as children build the essential emotional and social skills. In this sense, emotional literacy goes hand in hand with education for character, for moral development, and for citizenship.

Daniel Goleman (1995: 286)

It’s essential for successful learning, to create quality relationships.

An extensive body of research suggests the importance of close, caring teacher-student relationships and high-quality peer relationships for students’ academic self-perceptions, school engagement, motivation, learning, and performance.

Furrer, Skinner and Pitzer (2014: 102)

To teach children, we must first reach them.

Mary Gordon (1994: 214?)

What are the characteristics of an empathic teacher?

These three characteristics are based on the work of Bridget Cooper (2011: 59-88):

  • Functional empathy
  • Fundamental empathy
  • Profound empathy

Functional empathy

What are the characteristics of it?

  • Group empathy and whole class relationships: understanding how the group works
  • Rules, fairness and manners
  • Mental groupings

Conclusions about functional empathy:

  • It’s absolutely essential in the classroom.
  • It provides cohesion and security, creates understanding and a positive group climate.
  • A teacher who only uses functional empathy does not cater to the needs of individual students who do not conform to the group stereotype.
  • It’s needed to create relationships, and can be observed in daily life.

Fundamental empathy

Characteristics of fundamental empathy:

  • Acceptance and openness – you can learn more about them
  • Giving sole attention
  • Listening and valuing individual students – hearing their perspectives
  • Being interested
  • Positive and affirmative – providing direct praise, this is especially important for students from minority backgrounds or SpLDs who may have received little praise elsewhere in the educational system
  • Enthusiasm

How is fundamental empathy communicated?

  • Clear facial expressions
  • Eye contact
  • Watching facial experessions to gauge responses
  • Gesture
  • Body language
  • Movement
  • Consider height and distance and how this affects relationships – physical closeness can promote emotional closeness [Keiran said this is only possible f2f – I disagree – consider a tiny lecturer far away, versus all equal on Zoom)
  • Language/Voice tone

Conclusions about functional empathy:

  • Fundamental empathy initiates the focused interactive relationships that support engagement, interaction and learning.
  • The active listening and interest of the empathic teacher begins this engagement with the other person.
  • The enthusiasm of these teachers begins to engage students at an emotional level in learning.

Profound empathy

Characteristics of profound empathy in teachers:

  • Act to create positive emotions and interactions, including before and after class
  • Understanding of self and others – teachers remember their own reactions and their own children’s reactions to teachers
  • Appreciation of all relationships
  • Breadth and depth of empathy – across a wide range of students
  • Act and take responsibility
  • Integrated and adaptive
  • Sense of self and others
  • Moral aspects – try to be good people, do the right thing and support others. This moral behaviour is mirrored by students.

Conclusions about profound empathy:

  • Profoundly empathic teachers are considerate, unselfish, caring, kind and pleasant
  • Their empathic and caring behaviour engenders similar behaviour in their students
  • Profound empathy helps to produce the ‘constant human dialogue’ necessary for learning to take place

Why is empathy particularly important in language education?

It’s necessary in all kinds of classrooms, but in language education communicative competence is key, with highly social and interpersonal classrooms.

In this (freely downloadable) book by Gkonou and Mercer (2016), their research showed English language teachers generally scored highly on emotional and social intelligence. One possible reason could be because many Engilsh teachers are bilingual, and research has shown that bilingualism also leads to higher empathy.

On page 8, they said that teachers pointed to four main characteristics of quality relationships with their pupils:

  • empathy (by far the most commonly mentioned)
  • respect
  • trust
  • responsiveness

As classrooms become ever more multicultural and multilingual, empathy becomes increasingly important.

Fostering empathy, which is a key component of EI [emotional intelligence] and SI [social intelligence], can mediate intercultural understanding, increase self-awareness and an awareness and appreciation of other cultures, and make learners open to others.

Gkonou and Mercer (2016: 8)

Confidence in classrooms in your own language and in a foreign language can be very different:

Empathic teaching is vital for students with a non-native language in large classes. Not least in terms of emotions, is the embarrassment of suddenly feeling inadequate after having been competent in school in their native country and finding communication impossible, because the whole curriculum is taught in this new, inaccessible language.

Bridget Cooper (2011: 182)

To boost self-confidence in students, teachers in EFL classrooms, need to have a deep sense of empathy.

It strikes me that empathy is especially relevant to language learning, with its focus on communication, cultural diversity and the centrality of social interactions.

Sarah Mercer (2016: 106)

Is there an empathy deficit in language education?

Language teachers are aware of a sense of empathy in language education and want to be and try to be empathic. One of the things they do is to act as role models to their students, but there are many factors which may make this more challenging.

  • Over-emphasis on curriculum, assessment and competition, leaving little time for empathy based activities
  • The exclusion of certain groups of people from coursebooks

A one-size-fits-all approach will bring some in, but it will exclude others. By not representing them on screen, it denies individuals’ experiences, life choices and entire belief systems. It perpetuates glossy, censored soundbits that ultimately all boil down to the same small set of approved personalities and safe stories. By catering so carefully for some, we ‘other’ many more, claiming their lives as somehow extreme. PARSNIPs means perpetuating an abstract hierarchy of experience – and this will ultimately have a negative real-world impact.

Amir Garmroudi (2018)

One initiative to counter this is Raise Up! Find out more.

  • Native speakerism (see Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary)

For years students have been told that only ‘native speakers’ can teach them ‘correct’ English. but let’s have the courage to acknoeldge the fact that we’ve been lying to them all along. both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ can be equally good teachers, and our students can benefit from beign taught by the two groups.

Marek Kiczkowiak (2017) TEFL Equity Advocates
  • The undervaluing of teachers (see also Paula Rebolledo’s IATEFL 2019 plenary)
  • Long hours, low pay and precarity

More than ever before, teachers who want to have any kind of influence on the way that marketization and industrialization are shaping their working lives will need to do so collectively.

Philip Keer and Andrew Wickham (2016: 78)

One successful example of this kind of collective is the SLB Co-operative in Barcelona.

  • Poor mental health

This data was a survey of teachers in general, but it may be even worse for EFL teachers.

  • 31% of teachers said they had experienced a mental health problem in the past academic year.
  • 84% of teachers described themselves as ‘stressed’ or ‘very stressed’.
  • 74% of teachers have considered leaving the profession this year due to pressures on their health and wellbeing.

Keiran mentioned the work of Phil Longwell and the research he has done into mental health for EFL teachers, some of which you can find here.

  • Education reimagined and the new normal – we should consider people first, and technology second. Technology allows many affordances, and teaching online works well, but we should also remember what works best in face-to-face classrooms, particularly the importance of social interaction, which is more difficult to achieve online.

The question right now for educations should not be ‘what technology do I need to move my class online?’ The question should be ‘what am I doing to support my students (and my colleagues and my family)? Start there – not with tech but with compassion.

Audrey Watters (2020)

There are lots of articles about reimagining education, but often from technology companies or organisations like OECD and the World Economic Forum, or consultancy firms like McKinsey or banks like Credit Suisse. They see this as an opportunity for experimentation. These organisations may see online learning as incredibly successful, but Kieran reminds us that we should be critical of this.

An ‘education is broken, tech can fix it’ narrative can be traced back decades.

Ben Williamson (2020)

Potentially this might lead to more privatisation and fewer physical classrooms.

It’s a great moment…all the red tape that keeps things away is gone and people are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see … Real change takes place in deep crisis. You will not stop the momentum that will build.

The current wave of school closures offers an opportunity for experimentation and for envisioning new models of education.

Andrea Schliecher (2020)

We may have to work with students who have experienced COVID themselves or in their families, and whose learning has been affected by it. But teachers are dealing with this too. Teachers need the right conditions to be able to do this, and the physical classroom is a key part of this.

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility.

bell hooks (1994: 207)

How can we develop empathy in the classroom?

  • Keep an empathy journal: reflect when you notice moments with teachers and students, with a diverse range of viewpoints
  • Drama and roleplay – but we must give students time to prepare, including empathy prompting questions, for example:
  • Reading fiction about people different from them, and from different backgrounds
  • Show films about people who are different from our learners, and about marginalised people, for example Ali’s story
  • Look at art and give perspective taking instructions
  • Use visible thinking routines:

Concluding thoughts

If we provided conditions which were conducive to empathy and allowed it to flourish, we would probably see happier teachers and students, and see more inclusive and more effective language learning.

Post-pandemic education will require huge amounts of empathy. Teachers need the right conditions to provide this empathy.

When reimagining post-pandemic education, let’s reimagine inclusivity, let’s reimagine entrenched underfunding and let’s reimagine teachers’ pay and conditions.

Coming back to the Earl Stevick quote from the beginning:

success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom…

I have begun to suspect that the most important aspect of ‘what goes on’ is the presence or absence of harmony – it is the parts working with, or against, one another

Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)

Maybe the only way we can achieve this is through empathy.

Harry Kuchah-Kuchah mentioned at the end that teacher education tend to focus on the technical aspects of teaching, rather than the human aspects of it, and that Kieran drew attention to this.

Only connect: beyond the coursebook – seven types of connectivity – Jill Hadfield

[There were some slight technical issues at the start, so there was not as much.]

The title of the talk comes from a quote:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

E.M. Forster: Howard’s End

In the novel there is a connection between the materialist, wordly Wilcoxes and the idealistic, artistic Schlegels. Jill used this to inspire her structure for the talk:

  • Connection between ideas reconciling viewpoints and world outlook (World)
  • Connection between people, across race, class, nations (Others)
  • A sence of wholeness: of life and the Self (Self)

World

We seem to be entering an increasingly antagonistic and divisive age. Why is society becoming more polarized?

Jill’s abstract was written before the pandemic. What has happened since? How has this affected us?

It’s increased social isolation, but paradoxically has made people realise the need for connection and given us the feeling of ‘all being in the same boat’. On the other hand, it has increased connection – Jill mentioned far more Zoom connections with friends and family, and I’ve found this too.

During the pandemic, Jill reread La Peste by Albert Camus and found this very timely quote:

Throughout the day the doctor was conscious that the slightly dazed feeling that came over him whenever he thought about the plague was growing more pronounced. Finally he realized that he was afraid! On two occasions he entered crowded cafes. Like Cottard he felt a need for firendly contacts, human warmth. A stupid instinct.

But once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, int he same boat, and each wold have to adapt himself to the new confitions of life. Thus, for example, a feeling nofmrally as individual as the ache of separation form those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike.

World: connecting through celebrating our environment:

Problems

  • Often debate or discussion
  • Can be depressing as people feel powerless

Solutions

  • Find inspiring stories (like this), look at ELT Footprint
  • Celebrating the environment, like ‘Octopus’s Garden’:
  • Use the ‘I have a dream’ speech as a framework:

Find lots more activities in this free book from the British Council Teaching English website.

  • Take positive action, like the ‘Picker pals‘ initiative

World: Connecting through art, music and literature

Problem: we all have different tastes.

Solutions:

  • Secret thoughts of modern art 1:
    Show pictures of people, for example in cafes.
    Give out cut out speech bubbles.
    Students take the speech bubbles and walk around looking at the pictures.They should choose one and write in the speech bubbles the secret thoughts of the character they have chosen.
    Collect the bubbles and redistribute.
    Students stick the thought bubble on the picture they think it belongs to.
    Then they look round again and put their own bubbles on the character they intended it for, if misplaced.
    Follow up with a discussion on who they think the character is, why they are thinking that etc.
  • Secret thoughts of modern art 2:
    Number the pictures.
    Give each student a number.
    They should look at that picture and write who they think the person is, what they do, what kind of a person they are, what their dreams, hopes and fears are, why they are in the cafe and what they are thinking about.
    Put students in pairs.
    They should share informatin about their characters and then imagine a conversation between them.
  • Using music: film shots. Use music excerpts and they image the clips
  • Use short poems as frameworks for students to write their own poems:
  • Vary the short poem activity by giving students a ‘lucky dip slip’ of who the poem should be to and from

Others: Humour

Problems:

  • Humour can differ across cultures.
  • Jokes need to have universal appeal.

Laughing Matters by Peter Medgyes is excellent as the source of jokes which can work in the classroom [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link], Jill told a story of passing it around a railway carriage when her husabnd was laughing at the book after the IATEFL after it was launched, and everybody in the carriage ending up laughing 🙂

Solutions:

  • Tell a joke and ask students to write a similar one for themselves.
  • Fishy stories (from Writing Games) – turn over a time card and say what you were doing at a particular time. If the other students agree, they can through away their picture card. But the pictures are a little crazy and funny, introducing humour.
  • Murder mystery (from Interaction OnlineAmazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link) – introducing crazy reasons why things might have happened, not just proastic ones

Others: intercultural communication

Problem:

  • Cultural differences can be a source of misunderstanding and even hostility.
  • How can we find ways of sharing and appreciating other cultures?

Solutions:

  • Experiences in common: all cultures have some common characteristics: festivals, special food, coming of age, houses, greetings, dancing. Begin with differences and find similarities:
    Construct a questionnaire to get the students in your class to find out about customs such as greetings, coming of age, in their different culture.
    They mingle, finding out about different customs.
    In small groups, they discuss what differences they found.
    Ask what similarities there are across the cultures, e.g. we all have a midwinter festival.
  • Create a country:
    As a follow up, put students in small groups of different nationalities. Tell them they live in an imaginary country that has characteristics of all their nationalities. Get them to make up a name for their country.
    Get them to a design a travel advert, brochure or guidebook entry, describing the higlights of their country, e.g. food, festivals, scenery, etc. Each highlight should share attributes of all their countries.

Others: group dynamics

Problem with communicative activities:

  • They often focus on differences between students as a means of generating speaking.

So we should focus on finding similarities rather than differences.

Solutions:

  • It can be very bonding to create something together. Start with a matching activity like the first image. Then they match things up themselves to create a poem, as in the second image.
  • Empathy activities: ask them to complete sentence stems and compare their answers:
    I like the colour…because…
    My favourite time of day is…
    When I was at school I used to…
    I sometimes worry about …
    People like me because…

Self: creating a vision

The self…or selves?

The postmodern view of identity is not as single and fixed but as multiple, complex and a ‘site of struggle’

Norton, 1994

Selves for language students:

  • L1 vs L2 self: how can we help our students to develop a sense of connectivity to the foreign language through creation of an L2 self?
  • Creating the ideal L2 self: imagine yourself in the future, you have studied (L2) and now you can speak it well. Imagine…
    How old ar you? What do you look like now? Where are you living? What job are you doing? What makes you happy about your life?
    How is (L2) useful to you now? Do you use it in your work? Do you use it to study? Do you have (L2) friends?
    Do you travel a lot?
    Imagine the situation that is most important to you. Where are you? …in an office, a meeting, with friends, in a university, in the foreign country…
    Imagine you are speaking (the L2) very well…how do you feel? What does this give you?

[I had to leave to moderate at this point.]

The flourishing school: cultivating wellbing for teachers and leaders – Kate Brierton and Christina Gkonou

[I moderated this session.]

Kate and Christina are co-authoring a book which will be published by Cambridge in March 2022 called Cultivating Teacher Wellbeing.

Cultivating wellbeing

Kate is a clinical psychologist. She rarely talks about mental health issues, but rather mostly about ‘balanced minds’ (Gilbert, 2010). When we’re suffering from poor wellbeing, we’re suffering from unbalanced minds.

Our brains weren’t designed for 21st century living. There are lots of pressures that can unbalance our minds. A typical pattern is that we tend to work harder and harder from a place of fear, afraid of failure, afraid that we’re not good enough in some way – it’s a vicious circle. Sometimes the harder we work, the more afraid we get.

Relationships are key to wellbeing, contrary to a possible feeling that we need to be fully autonomous and don’t need anybody else.

Compassion is fundamental to wellbeing and made up of five factors:

  • warmth
  • kindness
  • strength
  • courage
  • wisdom

Educators are often very good at giving this to everyone around themselves, but do we do this things for ourselves. Often we give too much to others, but not to ourselves.

Wellbeing for managers

  • Put on your own oxygen mask first! Without having balanced minds ourselves, we can’t support other people.
  • Many stresses and strains on leaders and managers
  • How balanced do you feel your mind is on a rate of 0 (you can flow with life and don’t feel overwhelmed) to 10 (very overwhelmed, anxious, stressed)? If the score is above 5, you really need to focus on your own self-compassion and self-care.
  • Self-compassion: support yourself in the same way that you would to a good friend. Be warm, be kind, ask how you can help. Quite often we’re quite critical to ourselves when we’re struggling. How can I help myself today?
  • Self-care: sleep, food, exercise

Key components of a supportive school culture

Courageous challenge: knowing when we need to challenge, not just accept.

Servant leadership

As a servant leader, your role is to serve the people who you lead and the students in your organisation. These are characteristics you can employ:

  • Empowerment of the people around you: training, resources, showing and telling staff that you believe in them (this can instil a tremendous amount of confidence in people)
  • Standing back: you believe in people, and accept other ideas – letting people take a risk and feel safe enough to do that
  • Humility: for Kate, this is the quality to focus on. The humility to admit when you get things wrong, and to be open to feedback to the people in your team. If you’re open to feedback, other memebres of your team will be too: you’re a role model.
  • Accountability: people need and like to be held accountable – everybody wants to do their job well. But in a positive and constructive way
  • Authenticity: this is the basis of relationships. if you’re authentic, people will trust you. Though it can be a challenge if you’re asked to do things you may not want to.
  • Courage: feeds into all of the areas above.
  • Acceptance of the human condition: people are human, we don’t need to be perfect, we all need relationships, we’re shaped by what’s around us, we don’t always get it right, but it’s the will to do it well that counts.

Teacher wellbeing

Why is this important?

  • Teachers lead busy lives, and need to balance a number of personal and professional commitments (Day and Gu, 2010)
  • They are the central hub in the classroom – they decide what’s happening throughout.
  • They influence students’ learning and psychologies > emotional contagion (Frenzel and Stephens, 2013; Williams, Mercer and Ryan, 2015). It works the other way too – students can influence teachers’ feelings.

What challenges do teachers face?

  • Excessive workload/demands
  • Interpersonal relationships – with colleagues, students, parents
  • A lack of support from other teachers or management
  • A lack of autonomy and control – they have to follow particular syllabus or content
  • Their professional role or identity – where is their career taking them?
  • Disengaged students, students misbehaving
  • Salaries and often precarious contracts
  • A pandemic!

Who’s affected by low wellbeing?

  • All teachers are likely to be affected.
  • Some teachers are immune to stressors, while others are more vulnerable (Hiver, 2017)

How does can wellbeing affect teachers at different career points?

  • Newly qualified teachers: high rates of attrition (Guarino, Santibanez and Daley, 2006; UNESCO Institute for statistics, 2016)
  • Mid-career teachers: longer term, chronic stress and burnout (Kyriacou, 2001; Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter, 2001)
  • Leaders/managers: managing their own and others’ wellbeing (Bristow, Ireson and Coleman, 2007; Leithwood, Steinbach and Jantzi, 2002)

Within language education

Wellbeing has only started being discussed relatively recently, for example in Kate and Christina’s upcoming book, and Teacher Wellbeing by Mercer and Gregersen (2020) (Amazon affiliate link).

Areas focussed on so far include:

  • Emotions (focus on anxiety)
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Burnout

Taking a whole school approach

  • Improving wellbeing requires a whole school cultural change.
  • Educational managers influence teachers and other staff influence students.
  • Compassion among members of school community.
  • Don’t forget about self-compassion!

What can teachers do to improve their wellbeing? How can managers help?

Focussing on the teacher:

  • Increasing teacher self-awareness > the ‘self-critic’
  • Being reflective – this tends to be informal and happening e.g. on the bus, between classes
  • Being personally and professional effective and efficient, for example time management skills
  • Journalling and/or action research projects – focussing on an area they find particularly challenging

Focussing on teachers working together:

  • Encouraging teachers to ask for help
  • Peer dialogue
  • Sharing good practice
  • Encouraging caring and healthy relationships with colleagues – co-teaching, peer reviews of teaching, sharing of good practice
  • Making a list of people they could ask for help, not just colleagues but from people outside the profession [there’s an ELT Playbook 1 task which could frame that for you if it helps]

Focussing on relationships with the students:

  • Building and maintaining a strong and supportive relationship with students (Gkonou and Mercer, 2017)
  • Classroom management techniques: One activity might be to make a list of classroom management techniques they find in methodology books. Reflect on which strategies they use, and which they don’t use yet, then reflect on how they could use them.
  • Encouraging teachers to be effective communicators, both verbally (for example, humour), and non-verbal (eye contact, gestures) (Gregersen and MacIntyre, 2017)

The future is plurilingual. Let’s make teaching qualifications plurilingual too – Ben Beaumont

Ben is the head of Teacher Education at Trinity College.

Ben says that monolingualiam is the past with regards to education. Trinity aim to help learners to meet their goals as well as possible, and therefore to ensure that teacher training meets teachers’ needs.

Terminology

Multilingual: “the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different languages in society” (CEFR, CoE 2001) – identifying languages as separate languages, which you might switch between

Plurilingual: The ability to apply a ‘communicative competence’ of languages, developed through knowledge and experiences (CEFR, CoE 2001) – not just being perfect at multiple languages

Translingual: Using all one’s language resources to interact across a variety of ‘languages’ with the concept of language being an artificial construct. (Canagarajah, 2013) – actually we have different types of ways to communicate, but all of us have a different resource, rather than necessarily having separate languages

The talk will focus on plurilingualism and how we can support teacher’s with working on communicative competence.

Teaching and learning reflecting understanding of language use

Some areas where our use of language is now longer monolingual in the real world:

  1. Consider our context and not demand a monolingual (e.g. English-only) environment, unless there is a clear reason for this.
  2. Allow learners to use their L1/Lx when there is not a specific English language learning point, e.g. conducting initial research for a presentation (Garcia et al., 2017 researched this and found teachers do this)
  3. Use direct translations, where helpful, to build awareness of literal and pragmatic equivalence between languages (Cook 2010)
  4. Encourage notetaking in one language and reporting back in another, teaching realistic life skills (Anderson 2017)

Why do we have English only? Assessing discrete skills is fine, but if we’re assessing communicative competences, then it may note be.

Teachers CPD needs

Traditionally there has been a dichotomy in qualifications between teachers who have English as an additional language (and may have a lower English language level)/state sector and those who have English as a first language.

Questions about these:

  • ELT-focussed or general pedagogical learning outcomes? State sector often more general.
  • Content decided by a central assessment organisation (like Trinity or Cambridge) or a state authority?
  • Assignments assessed in one language (e.g. English) only or different languages? State sector ones are more likely to be assessed bilingually.
  • Qualifications requiring a minimum B2/C1 level of English? Of about 1.5 million English teachers worldwide, probably about 1 million have a language level below C1, and many of them below B2, so cannot access these qualifications.

Iterative training and certification, relevant to the context, is needed.

  • Professional routes vary greatly after an initial teaching qualification.
  • what is decided as being helpful in one context, may not be in another.
  • Teachers and centre managers know their own / their teachers’ needs.

and their students’ needs.

The Certificate for Practising teachers (CertPT) overview

This is new in-service qualification to support teachers relevant to their local gontext.

trinitycollege.com/certPT

It’s a level 6 qualification, equating to a final year undergraduate qualification. Initial qualifications generally site around level 5 (CELTA/CertTESOL). It looks at specialist TESOL professional development.

There are four tasks, all of which are context-specific:

The criteria to assess these assignments on should be different depending on the context e.g. for a high school teachers, versus a business English trainer. So Trinity take a step back to say trainees provide the criteria and show whether they can evaluate work, rather than it being evaluated against Trinity criteria. They aren’t assessing whether a particular use of grammar can used in a particular way for example, they’re looking at whether pedagogical outcomes are achieved. There is also a language contextualisation too: English, Spanish, Mandarin, and they’re hoping to add more languages as it grows.

This means they need multilingual support for teacher development. The rating scale for the qualification is freely available in all of these languages. They want to demonstrate best practice with how they provide support, for example bilingual information – theory in Spanish, practice (application) in English for example, to show how teachers could do this in the classroom.

You could do a CertPT in a range of different areas. For example:

It’s possible to do it in different areas, because they’re assessing pedagogical skills not language skills. The transcript will explain which type of CertPT they did.

Washback effect

The aim of all of this is to have a ‘washback effect’ to reflect the needs of teachers as learners.

  • Having bilingual/plurilingual trainers
  • Promoting the value of languages other than English int he ELT classroom
  • Establishing plurilingual environments as the norm: ‘one of the bsic skills that all Europeans require’ (EC 2003: 3)
  • Recruiting bilnigual/plurilingual internal and external assessors
  • Helping to remove and English-first-langauge dominance in ‘traditional ELT’ environments

References

Teaching and learning English in immersive worlds: GUINEVERE project – Letizia Cinganotto and Heike Philp

[I moderated this session.]

The project is a way of learning English in a virtual environment, funded by the EU.

The European background

In the 2018 EU report on improving the effectiveness of language learning, there is a strong focus on digital literacy and mentioning CLIL.

The European Council recommendation in 2019 also recommends CLIL, as well as using digital technologies, game-based learning, and different platforms.

Methodologies for language learning and CLIL which can be effective in interactive worlds (IW):

  • task-based learning
  • project-based learning
  • phenomenon based learning (which has come out of Finland)

Language learning interactive worlds

Engage the body:

  • movement in the environment
  • interaction and control of objects
  • rapid feedback
  • SEL: social emotional learning – they are involved emotionally with the game

Collaborative virtual environments involve:

  • multi-participant
  • integrated skills (text, audio, video)
  • embodied avatars, reducing the affective filter

The Italian background

Letizia uses Edmondo, an open sim which is for teachers and students in Italy. Heike is the consultant.

There is an English village specifically dedicated to learning English.

I wonder who invented the term ‘social distancing’? Seems totally wrong to me. It’s ‘physical distancing’ we need to be practising. We need social solidarity, not distancing, at this time.

David Crystal

Some Italian teachers used Edmondo to recreate social environments to recreate virtually the physical classroom during the pandemic.

Previous EU funded projects

They are all connected to language learning at a distance in real time.

  • Lancelot: in a virtual classroom in 2005, like Zoom or MS teams
  • Avalon
  • Camelot
  • Guinevere

Heike hopes that by about 2025 virtual worlds for language learning will be normal, as those growing up now playing Minecraft or Fortnite, and those working on VR may normalise this more.

Guinevere ran from 2017-2019. It stands for Games Used IN Engaging Virtual Environments for Realtime Language Education. You can see version of the project here.

Second Life and OpenSim support Voice-over IP, allowing real-time voice interaction.

Outcomes and deliverables

They introduced teachers to Minecraft and OpenSim for a week, then after that teachers could choose one or the other. 23 chose OpenSim, 2 chose Minecraft. There were lots of different games they created during the Guinevere project: board games, role play games. mazes, rollercoasters in Minecraft. Show and tell worked well as an activity too.

They introduced the theory of game design:

  • Categorising of games
  • Global simulations
  • Guidelines for language teachers

They demonstrated best practice in games:

  • App development
  • Gamification database
  • Games production for field testing
  • Video games/Minecraft and language learning

A teacher training course was also introduced to show how to build a game within the environment.

  • Self-study course
  • Teacher-led course
  • Pilot test
  • Field testing

Heike gave us a tour of OpenSim and it’s pretty beautiful:

I also liked Heike’s fairy avatar!

It’s also possible to go to a ‘dressing room’ to put on the correct costumes to match your role play, or choose different characters to find an avatar to suit you.

You need a good graphics card, and teachers and students need basic technical skills, but many people already have these through playing video games.

A creative approach to learning and teaching spelling – Philip Haines

[I joined this session 15 minutes in]

A five-step approach to helping students with spelling:

Every strategy is personal. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand it. Different strategies might work for different people. Strategies have to be something which is well known.

Examples of strategies

If you have a spacial thought process, try this (with v. whit):

One activity you can use is matching words to shapes, for example colours to each shape.

‘business’ – can you count from one to two? First one, and then two ‘s’.

conscious ‘iou’ – order of the letters in the alphabet

light – consonants in the order of the alphabet

position / possible – ‘one position, but two possibilities’ was the sentence Philip used to remember which had 1 or 2 ‘s’.

responses (responces) – strategy: say the sound /s/ /s/ /s/ to remind himself it’s not a ‘c’

forty (fourty) – counting letters can help: ‘forty-five, not forty-six’ is his reminder = there are five letters in forty. He can also say ‘U are not forty’ as a sentence that reminds him.

parallel (paralell) – there are parallel lines in the word parallel – you can extend the two Ls n the middle to make them

balloon – you can turn the ‘o’ into balloons and extend them into the strings for the Ls:

bed – looks like a ‘bed’

dog – can also be a picture:

extension (not extention):

visible (not visable): two eyes for the dots

tomorrow (not tomorow): sets of words with the same rhyme and the same spelling pattern e.g. tomorrow, borrow, sorrow – if they know how to spell one of these words, they can use this to spell the others. should – could – would and enough-tough – rough and weight – freight – either are other sets. You could also make a sentence ‘The weight of the freight is eight kilos.’

catalog (the American spelling):

Say it as it sounds:

  • friend: break it down: fri-end. end is at the end
  • Wednesday: sound out the spelling: wed-nes-day. What is the best day to have your wedding?
  • know: I K-now, my K-nee hearts
  • available: a-vai-la-ble
  • foreign: fo-ray-i-gn
  • measure: may-ah-su-ray

Active approaches to teaching Shakespeare in the EFL classroom – Conny Loder

[I moderated this session.]

Conny’s website is www.shakespeareexcusion.com.

Prejudices against using Shakespeare

  • Too boring: topic and themes. My students rean’t interesting in Shakepeare.
    No! Murder, love, sex, magic, genrational conflicts, witchcraft, betrayal = universal
  • Linguistic complexity
    No! Iambic pentameter is the natural rhythm is English
    Complexity of vocabulary: a good, critical edition pre-empts vocabulary problems
  • Non-availability of adapted editions
    No! New Cambridge School and Globe editions exist
  • Time-consuming lesson-preparation
    Only if you run a whole play, but you can do a 20-minute workshop
    Numerous resource books exist
    Online materials too

Aims

  • Take away the barrier of desk-bound study – allowing for the text to be used in a dynamic way.
  • Allow for individual access to the text by our learners.
  • All activities have been tried and test – you can see the video at the end of my notes.

But first: a pre-Shakespeare activity

This gets them on their feet. They should mime what ‘it’ is, without saying it (though there’s always somebody who will relate it to sex or violence!)

A: Have you got it?

B: What?

A: It!

B: Ah, it! Yes.

Decode Iambic pentameter

Use a modern example: ‘I wish I were down in the pub instead.’ – 10 beats = iambic pentameter

Shakespearean examples:

  • If music be the food of love, play on. (TN)
  • Think not I love him, though I ask for him. (AYLI)
  • A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. (R3)

10 beats = iambic

But there are exampes outside the norm, show that something is not right – there is a conflict, and something is happening with the character:

  • To be or not to be: that is the question. (H)

11 beats = not iambic = conflict > if you can decode the text, you can decode the character.

Decode specific scenes

‘Shared lines’ can help you to decode a scene and what emotions/motivation characters undergo.

Macbeth: Macbeth just murdered Duncan. He stumbles into his wife. It’s the middle of the night. How do both characters feel? Which atmosphere prevails? Are both in a hurry?

Lear: King Lear just heard that his older daughters love beyond words He now asks Cordelia how she can top her older sisters. She can’t and remains silent. Lear is shocked. But since Cordelia is his favourite daughter, do you think he will give her another chance to explain herself and win his love?

Here you can see how those shared lines work in the plays themselves:

They can read it in a fast pace and that creates the atmosphere. Or they can use the beats and pause after each and that intreprets it in a different way – finishing the 10 beats in each line. Learners can decide how they want to present the conflict by choosing the pace to use.

Decoding longer speeches

For example, a Hamlet soliloquy. Walk the line means the learners get the text as a printout. While they read aloud, they walk. There are three progressions, changing what they do each time they read:

  1. Every punctuation mark, change of direction in walking.
  2. Every end of a line, change of direction in walking.
  3. At the end of each thought, change of direction in walking.

The effect: learners own the text and ‘think’ like their charactesr while literally walking in their shoes.

She showed us this video of the activities in action (worth watching to see how much the students got into the performances):

They had about 15 minutes of going through the text to look at unfamiliar language, then they were on their own. They were low-level learners – I think this is fantastic!

Scaffolding and assessing undergraduate Trinity Certificate students’ reflective writing – Helen Thompson and Alice Oxholm

Context

  • Intensive teaching practice module on various BA course (20 crediets of 120 credits/year) e.g. BA Education Studies, BA English, BA English language
  • Typically 30 final year students each year, doing TP at the same time
  • Assess students’ writing using university and professional body (Trinity Cert) criteria – meaning potentially more of a focus on academic writing and referencing than on a standard Cert
  • Some students who were successful in TP, but struggled with reflective writing – this had an impact on university assessment and the class of their degree.

Learner teachers’ issues with reflective writing

Previous journal format:

  • Post-lesson themed summaries: draw on experience, observer feedback and background reading – for each of the 6 lessons. There was a specific focus for each summary section, e.g. lesson planning, relationship with students.

Here’s an example:

They felt it was quite depersonalised, quite general, with good academic writing and referencing, but they weren’t seeing the voice of the teacher. They wanted to encourage teachers to include their own voice. This means changes in the way they assess.

Trinity Cert Unit 1 is a teaching portfolio. They assess the observation journal as part of the university course. TP documents are lesson plans etc, and are submitted to Trinity. They then encourage teachers to draw on both of those to create their reflective journal.

Changes to assessment criteria and journal

They had to be clearer about what to assess and how teachers would demonstrate that.

These were the criteria. The QAA overseas higher education in the UK. Level 6 is final year undergraduate. TCL is the Trinity criteria:

They then had to decide what students needed to do to get 40% (a university pass) and then higher grades. They decided to work on the idea of levels of reflection:

  • Descriptive reflective: a bottom level pass would be to describe something that happened and say how they did it.
  • Comparative reflection would be what they could do differently and where they could find out more.
  • Critical reflection would be applying that to learners: did this help my learners? Where’s my evidence?

They encouraged trainees to draw on a range of different books, Trinity resources, coursebooks, and teachers books.

Here’s an example:

They tried to make the criteria as measurable and transparent as possible, including what sort of things they need to write about. The aim was to be as explicit as possible about what they needed to do. They then used the criteria as prompts in the journal pro-forma and as part of sessions when they were teaching.

Activities and resources to scaffold reflection and reflective writing

Overall changes:

  • Recurring themes across the lessons, rather than a separate theme for each one. 3 key themes: lesson planning, design and use of learning materials, classroom teaching skills.
  • Signalling to look back and forward: making it explicit that they should refer to previous and later lessons. For example:
    Which aspects of your lesson planning ar eimproving? How exactly?
    What helped you to improve?
    Which aspects of your planning do you intend to work on next?
  • Prompts needed to be explicit. These included referring back to tutor feedback, post-lesson reflective comments, find examples of practice, resources to develop practice.

After three TPs (halfway through), they did this activity:

  • They then had to draw on what they’d read to create an overview.

They wanted to scaffold reflection before teaching practice started. Here’s an example of one task they did before beginning the journalling:

They did this individually, then compared what they’d realised. They were all connected to the criteria.

They also had online resources, like this:

There were also introduction screencasts with reflection questions for each of the three main areas. There were also screencasts about practicalities like what to expect from observations, how to do lesson planning etc. which reduced repetition for the tutors.

In their teaching teams, after TP2, they had to identify particular aspects in their TP groups:

Here’s an example of what they produced:

Impact

They all passed the course. The external examiner mentioned that it positively impacted on student achievement. There was an overall improvement in reflective writing though variation remains.

There was positive feedback about the use of screencasts from the trainees too.

Here’s an example of the journal with the new criteria, with highlighted sections showing how it’s a more personal reflection, with sources added to support her thinking:

References

Frame the fragment: enhancing students’ critical thinking – Nanna Freeman and Wypkje van der Heide

[I moderated this session.]

Both of them started out with teaching business English and business communication at The Hague university, but now teach a lot more explicitly about critical thinking.

Research: chapter, key findings

Wypkje went to a film festival at the university, and was asked to introduce ‘Margin Call’. She used to think film and busienss English couldn’t go together, but realised at this point that it did. They were using documentaries and asking students to write about it, but they weren’t happy with how the students were demonstrating critical thinking skills.

They started to investigate their course, film education, and critical thinking education. Their research showed:

  • Documentaries engage the student audience.
  • First-year International Business students tend to see the selected documentaries as the truth, not a construction that is being manipulated by editing etc.
  • Boundary crossing of school and cinema is complicated. Writing an essay was challenging!

How they apply key findings in teaching

Every 10 years or so, there’s a group in Netherlands that decides what needs to be demonstrated within the curriculum. They were told that within International Business, they had to demonstrate 3 levels of critical thinking, but not what these levels should be. This was a good opportunity for research and an overhaul in their curriculum.

Their tagline became ‘Thinking we do together’. They use this in their first and second year courses in 7-week modules:

  • Thinking in action 1 (first year – 90 minutes per week)
    Explicit teaching of argumentation (Toulmin, adapted), biases and fallacies
  • Thinking in action 2 (second year – 135 minutes per week)
    Introducing framing, Focus on students explaining reasoning

There is also integation of critical skills in other modules, for example a public speaking module.

This was based on research by Abrami et al. metastudy (2015), that instruction + infusion or instructions + immersion and dialogue + authentic materials + coaching leads to the best results with learning critical thinking.

Notably, the opportunity for dialogue (e.g. discussion) appears to improve the outcomes of CT skills acquision, especially when there are both whole-class teacher-led discussions and teacher-led group discussions. Similarly, the exposure of students to authentic or situation problems and examples seems to play an important role in promoting CT, particularly when applied problem solving and roleplaying methods are used.

Abrami et al. metastudy (2015: 302)

They start by asking students to recognise things in quite a structured way, with students becoming more autonomous over their time at the university.

Clips – an activity

Nanna and Wypkje asked us to listen to two scenes from the documentary Food, Inc. and to think of colours, sceneries or environments, feelings or whatever else might pop into your head. Mine…

  • Clip 1: industrial sounds, metal clanking
  • Clip 2: rural, calm, fields

Now we will watch the same clips to see whether what we imagined match up to what we see. [They did, pretty well!] How does the documentary maker frame these images with sound? What is their intention?

Afterwards, we discussed:

  • What if they used different sound?
  • What if the sound was flipped? With the clips the other way round
  • What if there were no sound?
  • What choices did the director make re: the sound and why did they make them?

Supporting claims with evidence

Here’s another example looking at why evidence might or might not work to support a claim, from Sherlock and from Friends:

#

The one from Sherlock:

The one from Friends:

The results

Students used to directly say what they saw in the documentaries, but now they are critically engaging with what they have seen. They used to assume that a documentary they were shown was just what they had to learn if a teacher showed it to them. Now they realise that everything is framed, and that they frame themselves too. They also have to write an essay and consider how they will frame their fragements.

Wypkje has written a chapter for a Routledge handbook, which is paid at the moment, but she may be able to share the chapter in a year or so.

She has also created an e-learning course which will be available in about a month called ‘How to teach critical thinking with film – an introduction’. This QR code or survey will allow you to sign up for updates about the course:

Module evaluations

This is what the students thought about the course:

Q & A

They aim to use freely available documentaries. They are also working with a ‘Movie Learning’ platform, where they can use clips to create courses. You have to be careful with licenses.

They’re building it up gradually, getting teachers on board.

Fiction clips work well too.

If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day one, and day two. Watch this space for reflections on the conference as a whole.

This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂

These are my summaries of the talks.

Plenary: Integreating teaching, testing and technology: where angels fear to tread! – Thom Kiddle

Thom grew up in a travelling circus, which is where he had his first experience of teaching, showing people how to ride a unicycle. As he said, the testing there is inbuilt: when you stop falling off, you can do it!

Why is testing so challenging?

…trying to describe complex phenomena in a small number of words on the basis of incomplete theory.

North, 1996

We then have to feedback on the results of this to a wide range of stakeholders.

‘Language testing does more harm than good’ was the debate at IATEFL a few years ago. Diane Schmidt said that tests and assessment are one of the most powerful tools we have, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this allows us to have a meritocracy – through exams, we have the chance to prove what we can do.

The challenges of aligning teaching with testing

In a teaching space, we can support our learners. In a testing space, we need to create very clear instructions, in order to avoid creative interpretation of tests (though the results can be quite entertaining).

Each student has a different teacher, as we all treat them differently. In the same way, each student has a different test: they all interpret them in different ways.

We try to stimulate creativity in learners, but don’t necessarily allow this in testing.

What else don’t we test necessarily?

  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Digital search literacy

In a testing situation, we fear that these things might lead to cheating, and might not give a true representation of a student’s ability.

Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts.

If we’re forced to reduce testing to discrete items and numbers, then what do we lose?

Thom shared a video of Brian Patten reading The Minister for Exams. You can hear and see the poem here (I recommend it!)

Another potential issue with testing is that the way we choose to teach doesn’t always match the way we assess. Thom showed a video of his son being introduced to yellow and green, then being asked ‘What colour is that?’ – a whole new concept.

The stone age did not end because people ran out of stones.

Pinker (2018) Enlightenment Now

We should look at what technology can do for us, but consider whether technology has facilitated the way we test in the same way that it has the way we teach. Does technology actually reduce teacher empowerment in the way that testing is run and how the results are processed? To what extent have testing platforms actually empowered teachers and allowed us to bring assessment into our teaching and learning, or have they just given us new ways to ask multiple choice questions? Are we missing an opportunity in how we can align teaching and testing?

What should / could digital approaches to assessment offer to teachers and learners?

  • Multimodality – including images, videos, etc.
  • Allowing test takers to control the pace of the test, rather than it being in the control of the teacher.
  • Learner choice in texts and tasks – we do this for teaching, why not for testing?
  • Repeat administrations for ‘true score’ – avoids the problem of the issue of how learners perform on a single day
  • Collaborative tasks.
  • Asynchronous tasks – allowing for open-book, bring in digital skillls, source materials etc.
  • Recording for feedback and review – allowing learners and teachers to look back at what they’ve done.

Elephants in the room

The power of AI sounds attractive, but if they’re only powered by discrete points, we go back to an atomised progress model, rather than a holistic, co-constructed model of language learning. There is also a huge demand on environmental values, and it’s based on algorithms which have values behind them. There are also potential ethical questions. Thom referenced The Ethical Framework for AI in Education.

There is also the issue of automated marking. What can machines actually measure in terms of the quality of language that is produced? There are a lot of measures of language competence which a machine may not be able to assess (for example those on the right in this image):

The areas on the right are the area of teacher expertise, though we that’s not to say we couldn’t be supported by the technology.

Thom compares the idea of technology-mediated teaching and how empowering that has been over the past 20 years, and particularly the last 15 months, with technology-mediated testing. Integrating teaching, testing and technology should put the teachers and learners at the centre.

What we (could/should) test and how

One of the major features of the traditional language teaching paradigm has been the separating out of the so-called four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing into pedagogically convenient units of learning.

Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (1999)

By separating these areas out in testing, this differs from the integrated use of skills in the world and in teaching.

The new companion volume to the CEFR moves back towards integration, and highlights mediation. How can our testing reflect this?

Thom questions whether we should have separate listening, reading, speking and writing assessments. He suggests that we should be testing whether learners can use the information they learn, whether they can transfer knowledge. This would reflect a communicative classroom more. Perhaps papers could be rearranged, for example:

We should be revisiting the work done on integrated skills assessments over the past 30 years.

Thom finished off by demonstrating how challenging integrating these three areas is by juggling for us 🙂

Learning from interactive reflection – Jason Anderson

You can download Jason’s slides, read the paper he was reporting on, and see the tools he was referring to.

[I’m afraid I’m feeling quite sleepy due to the heatwave here – so I’ll let Jason do the ‘talking’ through those handouts rather than making my own notes!]

I really liked the idea of ‘reflection literacy’ which Jason mentioned.

He also differentiated between evaluating a lesson and reflecting on what was actually happening in the moment as we were teaching – we often focus on the former in post-observation meetings for example. In future, Jason is interested in comparing how this kind of reflection might differ or be similar for early career teachers and more experienced teachers.

Flipping training: is there a (flipping) difference? – Melissa Lamb (International House London)

The question: is there a difference between a flipped CELTA course and an unflipped CELTA course?

How does a flipped course work?

The idea is:

In an unflipped course, they generally have two blocks of input in course hours and the lesson preparation happens at home. By flipping the course, the aim is for trainees to have more support from peers and trainers during the higher order parts of the process.

How can they find out the difference?

They interviewed 12 trainers because they have a point of comparison. They had 170 years of experience between them! This includes 78 flipped courses between them. They asked what differences if any they noticed in terms of:

  • how CPs experienced the course
  • how CPs processed the course content
  • the quality of lesson preparation and planning
  • the quality of teaching
  • the quality of reflection

They were semi-structured interviews, and they didn’t always get through every point with every trainer, but themes did arise.

Themes

  • Better atmosphere and more cooperation
  • Deeper processing of input
  • Positive impact on lesson preparation and teaching
  • Differences in group feedback and reflection

Trainers generally mentioned there was a lot less stress, and trainees were generally calmer. Trainees are getting sleep, rather than being up all night trying to plan a lesson themselves. They’re not as mentally tired either because they don’t have to process two big chunks of input. This means they’re potentially ‘more present’ during the day.

One trainer said ‘because the contact hours that we spend with them are more targeted, the approach is more individualized […] we address more personal needs‘.

  • More cohesive
  • More collaborative
  • There’s more sharing
  • They create a community of practice

Nobody is sacrificing their own time to help – it’s built into the course.

There is more availability and more headspace in general – they don’t have to focus solely on themselves.

For example, one trainee does a listening lesson, so they look at that flipped content. They become the ‘expert’ on listening and other trainees ask them about it. By helping, they become more invested in others’ lessons.

When they watch TP, trainees really want it to work because they have a positive inter-dependence on each other. It becomes normal to share.

Does this work for everyone? No, not necessarily, but this tended to be hypothetical. There were only a handful of trainees who tended to shut themselves off. Some of them needed an adjustment time to appreciate the virtuous circle of this kind of course.

Did trainers notice any difference in the way course content was processed?

Participants read the knowledge on the site.

They have the coursebooks open in front of them.

They’re talking about the theory in direct relation to the course materials.

Trainers reported that these discussions were different on a flipped course. Also, having to explain to other trainees changed how they processed things – they gained ‘a deeper understanding’.

By rehearsing and enacting and re-enacting lessons, they could also reflect and improve on their performance, feeling more confident when they entered the classroom.

Participants tend to notice things more because they’re not under the same pressure to notice everything at once and put it into action. Trainees are able to hold theory in their minds as they process and re-process. When they ask questions, they’re much more able to process answers.

Some trainers commented on the quality of questions trainees asked: deeper, more sensible, below the surface, confidence to question the coursebook and the tutor (because of peer support behind them).

Melly feels that the iterative nature of the training has the greatest impact.

What impact, if any, does this have on the lessons?

One trainer didn’t notice much difference in the lessons, and one said it would be hard to say, but the rest of the trainers commented on these areas:

Confidence was ascribed to the rehearsals. It gave them the confidence to do things they wouldn’t normally do at that stage in the course. They’d already had feedback telling them that it was good. There were fewer trainees so worried about one stage of the lesson (for example grammar clarification) that they weren’t attending to other parts of the lesson. TP felt less confrontational and was less of a test. One trainer mentioned that the lessons were smoother because of the rehearsal, and another said the trainees were more cognitively at ease because they’d practised a challenging area. The net result is that they come out of the course as more confident teachers.

Most trainers said that trainees would probably still end up in the same bracket as on an unflipped course, but that weaker participants probably had the opportunity to learn more.

Impact on reflection and group feedback

On an unflipped course, there’s sometimes a feeling of ‘What just happened?’ ‘I shouldn’t have done that!’ On a flipped course, they’ve got something to compare their lesson to and can therefore see the progress they’ve made. They can pick up on areas which are more useful and more relevant in their reflections. In the reflection after the lesson, they may have a Eureka! moment when the penny drops and they are better able to understand what happened and why.

The quality of reflection was generally higher, and more specific – saying how they would make changes, not just ‘I’ll change my plan’ but ‘This is how I’d change my plan’

The dynamic of group feedback was much more peer led. Many of the trainers said there was very little they had to do in group feedback.

Overall

Agency, ownership and autonomy are much more present on a flipped course than an unflipped one. Trainees were more independent in their decision making.

If you’d like to find out more about flipping training, there is a facebook group called Flipping Training and an article in English Teaching Professional issue [not sure what number! Can anyone help?]

My questions for Melissa which I didn’t have time to ask

What if trainees don’t look at input?
Melly said that one trainee didn’t actually do much at home outside the course, but still managed to pass the course, raising the question of whether we need to have input in the traditional way on unflipped courses.

How can trainees carry this over to the real world? Do they continue doing rehearsals? Have you done any follow-up research on this?

Teaching patterns in context: uncovering semantic sequences in writing – Amanda Patten and Susan Hunston

[I moderated this session.]

They are talking about academic English and patterning in English.

  • Grammar patterns – how words are used
  • Semantic sequences – what patterns are made

To demonstrate the importance of patterns in our understanding of English, Amanda asked us to create sentences from these words:

To make it easier, they then colour-coded the sentences – you should have one piece of each colour in your sentence:

It was much easier to do this once the pieces of the pattern were colour-coded, because we can see that these sentences follow the same patterns of the language.

You can then display patterns like this:

The nouns behave in similar ways, the verbs do too. Native English speakers know this kind of information about the language, but learners might not.

What do learners need to know to write like this?

An example of academic writing:

However, informal observation of language teacher education suggests that teacher educators still tend to adopt transmission approaches.

Bax 1997: 233, shortened

They need to know:

  • Technical vocabulary
  • The grammar of words e.g.
    Observation + of + noun
    suggest + that-caluse
    tend + to-infinitive
  • What is often said – not the language itself e.g.
    research activity + causes + conclusion

Words in a dictionary

We can find out about the grammar of words here too, often with bolded phrases within definitions or examples.

Online dictionaries can give you lots of examples allowing learners to observe patterns. For example:

They tend to shorten these e.g. ‘VERB + noun’ becomes ‘V n’.

Activity: from pattern to meaning

Examples might be:

  • discover
  • establish
  • determine
  • find (out)
  • work out

They all have the same grammar patterns as each other.

Learners may also identify verbs that can only fit one or two of the patterns. These verbs prefer one structure and would sound odd in other structures:

  • V that: conclude, infer
  • V wh: analyse, assess, investigate

So why that might be? Maybe the patterns have meaning too, not just the words.

You can find more information about grammar patterns on the Cobuild website [this website looks incredibly useful]. There are about 200 patterns altogether, under the categories of adjectives, nouns and verbs.

Pattern and sequence: form and meaning

Patterns are part of the formal grammar of a language e.g.

  • The verb TELL is used with the patten ‘Verb + noun + to-infinitive’
  • The verb SUGGEST is used with the pattern ‘verb + that-clause’

Semantic sequences account for ‘what is often said’ e.g.

Here’s an example of a table you could build:

The ones at the top suggest that we’re very confident about the conclusion, and the ones at the bottom imply that we’re less confident about it.

Another example:

As Susan said, it can get quite complicated sometimes, though this isn’t always necessary. You can also add the patterns:

It’s important to point out that these are not simply synonyms of each other, and they all have their own meanings, but rather that the overall sequence is the same.

Showing the patterns allow learners to manipulate language. For example, we can flip it to: CONCLUSION + comes from + RESEARCH ACTIVITY. Which one is preferred would depend on the new and old information in the paragraph. Learners still need to think as they can’t use all the parts interchangeably, but at least they can see the patterns:

Why teach patterns and sequences?

  • There is a link between form and meaning.
  • This provides a rationale for the grammar – the word has meaning, but so does the pattern.
  • It makes sense to the learner – it motivates an attention to form through meaning.

In a follow-up question, Susan discussed the fact that different disciplines with academia might favour different nouns/verbs and the associated patterns. Amanda talked about prioritising noticing as a way of stopping learners from becoming overwhelmed – they don’t necessarily need to be able to produce all of these patterns.

Is my mind full or am I mindful? – Melek Didem Beyazoglu and Cansen Asuroglu

[I moderated this session.]

When they chose this topic in 2019, it seemed quite fresh, but now it seems that lots of people are talking about it.

Cansen mentions that living in Istanbul means that her mind is busy all the time, even when her body isn’t. She said that silence, laughter and happiness are all contagious. They shared this video, which demonstrates that point perfectly (you should definitely watch it!):

When you are in a silent environment, you will feel awkward when there is noise, especially if you are the one making that noise. It becomes necessary to adapt to silence.

Didem shared a beathing activity with us to help us to be silent. When we able to keep silent, we stay calmer and become more aware of the moment we are in.

  • Find a comfortable position, maybe on a chair, maybe lying down.
  • Keep your back straight, so that the breath can flow through your spine easily.
  • Be aware of your breath.
  • Put your hands wherever they are comfortable.
  • Relax your tongue in your mouth.
  • Close your eyes if you’re comfortable. If not, try to maintain a soft gave with your eyes partially closed.
  • Try not to squareeze any part of your body. Just be aware that your body is comfortable and let you body relax. Let your body relax.
  • Feel the natural flow og your breath. There is no effort here. Do not try to make it long or short. Just let it be in it’s own natural flow.
  • Notice the entry and the exit of the breath.
  • You may start thinkgin abotu toher things – that’s OK. just gently redirect your attention back to the breathing.
  • Notice your breath without an effort.
  • When you’re ready, gently open your eyes.

[This made for a lovely mid-conference break. Happily, I can touch type 😉 ]

Think about:

  • What were you thinkgin about during the process?
  • was it possible to fight the voices in your mind?

Mindfulness needs time and regular practice.

What is mindfulness?

  • Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.
  • It involves acceptance.
  • It is returning to the present moment.

What does your mind look like when it’s not calm?

They showed us this video. [It’s not possible to embed it.]

When we are stressed it is difficult to focus or to learn.

The key is to be patient, especially towards your impatience. It’s normal, understandable and manageable – we need to remind ourselves of this.

In the classroom

They decided to try a mindfulness activity at the beginning of their lesson with their students. They started this in 2019, but the pandemic stopped some of their research.

What makes students stressed?

  • Family
  • Exams
  • Relationship
  • Future
  • Failure
  • Traffic

Most of them said they always feel stressed.

What happened?

They did mindfulness for a couple of minutes in each lesson. The teachers felt a little odd, some students couldn’t keep their eyes closed or stop laughing, but they said this was OK.

After a month, 64% of the students said that they felt better in a questionnaire.

Another activity

  • Make a list of words that are related to positive feelings, such as happy or happiness.
  • Close your eyes or lower your gaze.
  • Listen to a list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: terrific, admired, jolly, fun, hopeful, free, confident, lively, friendly, happy, strong, joyful, satisfied.
  • Keep this feeling in mind.
  • Make a list of words that are related to negative feelings.
  • Listen to another list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: afraid, regretful, coward, embarrassed, sad, lonely, displeased, terrified, frustrated, lost, helpless, disgusted, impotent, confused, unhappy, troubled.
  • Focus on your feelings. You probably don’t feel very positive feelings.

Now watch the video and think about how the power of words can affect you:

If young people can do it, we can too!

The body scan

[There are lots of different body scan meditations available – it’s worth doing a search to find one that works for you.]

Factors behind the construction of identity of EFL pronunciation instructors – Lena Barrantes and Joshua Gordon

Studies about pronunciation have demonstrated that teachers may feel uncomfortable teaching pronunciation due to:

  • Limited training in different areas (Baker and Murphy, 2011)
  • Pronunciation is not addressed systematically (Couper, 2016, 2017; Foote et al.
  • Pedagogical pronunciation training improves teaching practices (Baker, 2014; Baker and Burri, 2016, Burri et al., 2017)

There’s been a shift to analysing teachers’ identities over the past few years too [definitely obvious in IATEFL programmes over the past few years!]

There have only been limited studies of identity formation of pronunciation teachers who come from other language backgrounds than English. Here are two:

  • Insecurities about teaching pronunciation because of accent (Golombek and Jordan, 2005)
  • Identity formation of pronunciation teachers (NS and NNS) goes hand in hand with their own cognitions of teaching (Burri et al., 2017)

The study

They investigated the professional identity of non-native speaker pronunciation teachers because of the number of non-native-speaking teachers around the world at present.

The research questions were:

  1. What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
  2. How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?

They did a descriptive single case study, focussing on identify in L2 pronunciation, with a small geographical area and a small group of teachers, aiming on providing a rich holistic description of this small group.

Data collection methods [side note – I really like this slide theme!]:

The study was done in a public rural university in southern Costa Rica. The campus has five different campuses with about 1000 students. Teachers participating in the study either taught a stand-alone pronunciation course for English majors, or English for other majors. Both of the researchers were faculty at the time, and participants were their colleagues.

All 5 of the participants were mid-career teachers who had settled in as English teachers (i.e. not early career and still finding their feet), with advanced degrees in teaching or TEFL, with a lot of experience at university, elementary and secondary levels.

They used the conceptual framework from Pennington and Richards (2016):

Foundational Competencies

  • Language related identity
  • Disciplinary identity – their identity within the field, often through qualifications and expeirence
  • Context-related identity
  • Self-knowledge and awareness
  • Student-related identity

Advanced Competencies

  • Practiced and responsive teaching skills
  • Theorizing from practice
  • Membership into communities of practice and profession

They see identity as a combination of personal, professional and contextual (?) identities.

In this study they wanted to see how their identities influenced their teaching of pronunciation

Findings: What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?

  • Their teacher education has been shaped by adjustments as responses to their contextual particularities and opportunities.
    Most of these teachers originally wanted a different career.
    They didn’t receive training for pronunciation pedagogy. Because of this, they explored other opportunities to develop.
    They felt confident asking other colleagues for help about pronunciation teaching, from exchanging materials to collaborating in research projects and presenting at conferences. There is a clear desire for them to become better to help their students better achieve their goals.
  • Awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their students’ success drive their teaching beliefs and knowledge.
    They were aware of their own strengths and weaknesses as teachers. They knew that they were never going to sound like native speakers, but knew that they had knowledge that the average native speaker does not have about pronunciation.
    They knew that they had pedagogical knowledge to implement effective teaching.
    There is constant reinforcement given to them by student success – they can see that their pedagogy is effective. They know that sometimes their students end up with better pronunciation than they have.
  • A sense of expertise and belonging to a community of language teaching professionals.
    Despite not having receiving training on pronunciation pedagogy, they managed to learn more in a variety of ways. This stemmed from a professional commitment, knowing that other people may see them as role models and experts in the area.
    They are aware that the decisions they make in class are influenced by their background knowledge – they seemed aware that intelligible pronunciation is just one part of what they need to know, not just what an average speaker with native or native-like pronunciation may know.

These teacher’s professional identity is an amalgam of interrelated factors that go from their awareness of being L2 speakers of the language (with an accent), to belonging to a community of professionals who have not only language expertise but also knowledge of what their students need in the context where they work.

The areas the participant teachers demonstrated align with the competencies of what Pennington and Richards mentioned:

Findings: How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?

The professional identity of these teachers makes their teaching of pronunciation more contextualized and focused on the needs of their students, based on their learning challenges as well as challenges they may encounter outside of the classroom.

Suggestions for teacher training programmes

These suggestions are for both native and non-native teachers, both of whom may be reluctant to teach pronunciation and not know how to approach it. The references in brakcets are others who support these ideas.

More opportunities for teacher training connected to pronunciation (Baker 2014; Burri et al., 2017; Murphy, 2017):

  • Phonetics, phonology, L2 speech learning theory
  • Pedagogical implementation of content
  • Space for reflection on previous teaching and learning experiences

Ongoing training to empower in-service teachers to improve their pronunciation teaching:

  • Reflective practices – how do they do this? (Murphy, 2014)
  • Peer observations (Hattie, Masters and Birch, 2015; O’Leary, 2014; Tenenberg, 2016; Wiliam, 2016)
  • Book clubs and professional reading on your own, connected to pronunciation literature and journal articles for example (Brown and Lee, 2015; Hedgcock, 2009)
  • Action research (Bailey, 2004; Burns, 2010, 2011)

Non-native speakers can and should teach pronunciation. We should be implementing intelligible, comprehensible, non-native pronunciation models in class (Murphy, 2014, 2017) This is supported by:

  • World Englishes (Jenkins, 2015; Kachru, 1986)
  • Number of NNS teachers around the world (Crystal, 2003)
  • Effectiveness of NS and NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction (Levis et al., 2016)

The grammarless syllabus. A road to utopia? – Bruno Leys

[I moderated this session.]

Bruno started by sharing this piece of art by Jan Fabre called ‘Searching for Utopia’:

File:Skulptur Searching for Utopia von Jan Fabre in Nieuwpoort (Belgien)  2020-3.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Bruno originally planned to talk about this while he was in the middle of writing the book, but the first book has now appeared – it’s called Fast Break.

Background

A new curriculum in Flanders (Belgium) was rolled ou in Septembe 2019

There were no explicit grammar goals for the first two years, and in years 3-6 it was based on procedural grammar knowledge.

It was a new coursebook.

Can we teach/learn English without explicit grammar teaching?

Context

It was for vocational secondary education, aged 12-18.

The focus was on learning a specific profession.

The English they need is survival English, working towards A2 level.

Why even consider grammarless teaching?

On the one hand…

On the other hand…

A book and two talks from this year’s IATEFL:

Some more research:

Lesley Piggott did PhD research:

This is research from Canada:

Traditional coursebooks

There are topics, with grammar items attached to them. Scott Thornbury calls them ‘Grammar McNuggets’

In their coursebook

They tried to have a blank column. They phrased the topics as the functions, for example ‘Invite people and react’ and highlighted functional language students needed for this. This approach actually introduced a very wide range of grammatical structures, but if you don’t approach it from grammar you focus on this language as chunks/useful phrases:

If you look at it from the perspective of grammar, present continuous might pop up in 6 of the 9 units with this approach within the functional language.

One area they were challenged by was something like ‘this’ or ‘these’ – did they need the metalanguage of singular and plural? They decided to use colours to visualise it without using the terminology.

What do (some) teachers want?

Some teachers want grammar.

  • A necessary evil
  • tradition (backbone of a language)
  • Feels safe
  • Frustratino about language mistakes / errors

What the market wants, the market gets!

To satisfy this, they included a brief grammar focus at the back of the book, based on sample sentences, with the tense name written much smaller next to it. There is a visual and avideo where the language is used. They continue to use colours, for example blue for regular forms, red for irregular forms. If teachers want to focus on grammar, they can use these pages, but they can decide when and whether they feel there is a need.

There are exercises too, but these are meaning focussed:

They give them the form. (This reflects Leo’s talk at the end of yesterday)

The form exercises are more receptive:

There are also extra exercises availables online. They’ve met market demands bit tried to do it in their own way.

In conclusion

  • A grammarless or grammar light approach can be useful for learners at lower levels or who are not going to need university-level language.
  • Focussing on language as chunks and idiomatic phrases can be useful.
  • You can focus on meaning before form.
  • You can provide visual support through images and colours.

BUT…

  • There is a need to challenge traditional beliefs.
  • We need to invest in materials development.

References

Interpersonal skills for better communication! – Chia Suan Chong

Chia wrote Successful International Communication [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Why teach interpersonal skills?

  • Improving our interpersonal skills is a lifelong journey and starts with the ability to reflect.
  • Good interpersonal skills are essential for the workplace and for career success.

The Big Six of Business English

These are the main areas normally covered by business English courses:

  • Presentations
  • Meetings
  • Negotiation
  • Social English
  • Emails
  • Telephoning

In Chia’s opinion, the bix six deal with very specific scenarios. They are events.

Interpersonal skills

By talking about interpersonal skills, we’re looking at the bigger picture. The skills cross boundaries. We do these things both within and outside business.

  • Communication skills
  • Trust-building
  • Collaboration
  • Influencing
  • Conflict management
  • Active listening skills
  • Giving/Receiving feedback
  • Intercultural skills

Building relationships

Building trust takes time.

There are different kinds of trust:

  • With close friends or family
  • With your postman or a shop assistant

When we build trust:

  • Why should I trust you?
  • Do we understand trust in the same way? (this could be a style, a preference, an intercultural issue…)
  • What are the implications of not trusting?
  • Which communication strategies can help develop trust?
    We may think these are transferable, but we can also use these areas as a basis for discussions. Students have stories to bring to the table, and can prompt a lot of emergent language and fluency practice, as well as awareness of discourse.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

Stephen Covey

Relationships and Results are a bit like Yin and Yang. Sometimes we’re more focussed on one or the other at a particular time, or sometimes we have preferences, but there’s not necessarily one size fits all: it’s very context specific. Telling stories (like the ones from Chia’s book – see top) allow students to discuss different reasons.

Ways that we build trust:

  • Establish competence – I’m competent in this area, you can trust me
  • Finding common ground (commonality)
  • Empathy
  • Openness (information) – what you see is what you get, I don’t have a hidden agenda
  • Reliability – you can trust me because I’m reliable
  • Openness (emotion) – showing vulnerability, you have to be genuine about it!
  • Willingness to trust first – we trust people who trust us

How many of these strategies are we talking about with our students? How many of these do we practise with them? Does this practice go beyond useful language? Do they have the chance to take part in the discourse that leads to building trust?

For example, you could give each student a strategy on a different piece of paper. If you know them well, give them a way that they’re not so used to doing. Put them into a simulation or a roleplay and they have to build trust using one of these methods.

In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, very precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.

Stephen Covey

This shows just how important it is to include trust building in our teaching.

An activity

Show students pictures of a selection of famous people. Students say who they trust and who they don’t, and (more importantly) why. That promotes reflection.

The Trust Equation

Intimacy in business could be about how much you share with each other. Can you share future goals and plans? Problems you face in your company?

Self-orientation is about selfishness, talking about yourself all the time, constantly dominating the conversation, having the focus on our self.

You should have a particular person in mind when you do this activity, as the answers will be different depending on the person you choose. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how they might feel about you. Give yourself a score of 1-10 in each area, then do the equation.

  • Somebody who knows you well.
  • Someone who doesn’t know you well.
  • Someone who you think likes you.
  • Someone who you think doesn’t like you.

By doing this a few times, you will find very quickly that there is one item that dominates: self-orientation. Regardless of how high your credibility etc are, your self-orientation will make a difference.

So perhaps we should be teaching students how to be less self-orientated in conversations. That means we need to teach them to become better listeners.

Active listening

The power of listening: How much listening can there be, with so much disruption and distraction?

What does active listening involve?

  • Paying attention.
  • Asking questions.
  • Clarifying and repeating back what was said.
  • Listening to understand and not to respond. (particularly hard when you’re speaking a second language)

Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves to stay in their world just a little longer.

Bob Dignen

In a classroom, we often find that students might not be listening to each other. Chia enforces interactive dialogue. For example:

The blue ones are speaker one, the red ones are speaker two. ‘Surface value’ = That’s interesting / I’ve never thought of that before.

This creates a truly interactive dialogue.

If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day one, and day three.

This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂

These are my summaries of the talks I attended.

Plenary: Engaging students with specific learning difficulties: Key principles of inclusive language teaching in a digital age – Judit Kormos

[This was a fantastic start to the conference, putting inclusion front and centre and offering useful tips for teachers of all learners, not just those with SpLDs.]

Judit was involved in the DysTEFL project and is a lead educator for the MOOC Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching, along with many other projects.

Note: SpLD = Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences

What is inclusive education?

It is NOT integration: it is the individual’s task to accommodate to the characteristics and demands of the institution. ‘You can join us, but it’s your job to change to fit us.’ There are many problems with this.

Inclusion: it is the institution’s responsibility to adapt to the student’s needs. This should be proactive.

What do we need to do to investigate and remove barriers in the learning and teaching process to help the student to be able to achieve their full potential?

It’s a cyclical process – we remove some barriers, investigate more, then remove more.

It relies on teacher awareness and expertise on diversity.

It involves making adjustments and giving specialized support when necessary.

Recognize and understand

What type of SpLDs are there?

  • Dyslexia and reading comprehension problems
  • Dyscalculia (numeracy problems)
  • Dyspraxia 9fine and gross motor co-ordination) – included in most country’s definitions
  • Dysgraphia (handwriting, spelling, writing) – can overlap with dyspraxia in some country’s definitions
  • Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder – depends on the country
  • Autism spectrum disorders – depends on the country

SpLDs overlap. They are placed on a continuuum: there are no clear cut-off points. They have different degrees of severity. Anne Margaret Smith uses the metaphor of melting ice cream – you might be able to recognise the underlying flavours, but you won’t necessarily know where one starts and another ends. This means we have to experiment as teachers, because a strategy that works with one student may not work with another.

What are the underlying cognitive causes of SpLDs?

  • Phonological processing problems – how we hear, differentiate and manipulate sounds. This can cause problems with reading because you can’t make connections, especially when learning a language like English and especially if you add a new script on top of the sound-spelling challenges. It can mean that some students with SpLDs give up at the early stages of learning a new language.
  • Short-term memory – how much information you can keep in your memory at one time. Students with SpLDs tend to be able to store less information. For example, this can mean getting lost when there are lots of pieces of instructions in one go. It’s not a lack of attention, but rather that your instructions exceed their memory capacity.
  • Speed of processing – not just reading, but writing and other areas too. It can be especially difficult to adjust the pace of a lesson in a big group.
  • Executive functions (attention) – their attention may wander.
  • Visual memory and motor co-ordination – this may not affect students with dyslexia, but may affect students with other SpLDs.

Impact on second language learning

  • Reading – not the only problem!
  • Remembering information through listening
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Accuracy and cohesion in speaking
  • Vocabulary, especially learning a lot of words in a short period of time

Affective aspects of SpLDs (if we don’t provide support)

  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Loss of motivation
  • Empathy (especially students with Autism Spectrum Disorders – you generally need to be able to put yourself into the shoes of somebody from another culture when learning another language)

Social aspects of SpLDs

  • Social communication
  • Perspective taking – changing roles, or imagining yourself as a speaker of the foreign language
  • Collaboration and co-operation – including not being able to pay attention to the partner
  • Following rules and norms – for example, sitting still for 45 minutes

Strengths related to SpLDs

  • Peripheral vision
  • Holistic thinking
  • Creativity
  • Originality
  • Spatial knowledge
  • Problem-solving

A lot of these overlap with 21st century skills which employers want. We can capitalise on these strengths. This is why neurodiversity is such a useful term – we all think differently!

Universal design and individualized support

What is universal design?

It’s a relatively new concept in education, introduced with the advent of online materials. Here are three of the nine principles:

  • We should give learners different opportunities and choices for accessing information. For example, read, read and listen, watch a video without/with captions, and many, many more. The emphasis is on choice, not on deciding for students.
  • Multiple means of action and expression should be offered when students practise what they learned or demonstrate their knowledge in tests. These different means for expression can involve physical action, or choices between writing and speaking. For example, offer different options for the results of a project.
  • We should use different ways of engaging students, arousing their interest, maintaining their motivation and helping them with regulating their own learning, i.e. with appropriate learning strategies.

An example of options for expression

Options for expression: Learners have the option of choosing whether to write a message to their mum or record it on their phone.

Graduated levels of support: There is a written text, and recording students can listen to.

From the EnGage task bank

Advantages of online learning for students with SpLDs

  • More flexibility with timing and tasks.
  • More assistive tools available.
  • More project-based learning.
  • Fewer timed tests – alternative assessment formats.
  • Fewer demands on complex social interaction skills.

Disadvantages of online learning for students with SpLDs

  • Less structured learning environment.
  • Lower level of teacher control.
  • Higher level of autonomy and self-regulation required.
  • Potentially long screen time.
  • Fewer social clues on screen, and much easier to misinterpret them.

Supporting students with SpLDs in online learning

Assuming that they have access to the technology and a quiet environment, there are still other barriers:

  • Explore/discuss barriers with students
  • teach the use of assistive devices, for example speech to text, text to speech, day planners, etc.
  • One-to-one meetings or small group meetings iwth students with SpLDs, as they may fall behind quickly.
  • Peer mentors or a buddy system – especially if you have a large group.
  • Dedicate special tasks, online forums, and hold online discussions on how to learn at home

Self-regulation of learning

Planning the learning process

  • What? What do you need to do?
  • When? When do you need to do it by? When do you work best?
  • Where? Where do you work best? Where can you find what you need to complete the tasks?
  • How? How can I break down the task?

Regulating attention

  • Using the Pomodoro technique
  • Helping students to realise that nobody expects them to study for a long period of time, that they can and should take breaks

Regulating feelings and motivation

  • Visualise success
  • Rewarding success – students with SpLDs often tend to foreground their failures, especially if they feel they are more prominent than for other students. It’s important to help them notice their successes. Help them to decide on rewards for small successes, and that those rewards can be to yourself, not just from external sources.
  • Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process

Self-evaluation

  • Test yourself – how do students do this? For example using apps, or asking parents or siblings to test them.
  • Diary / journal

Bite-size online learning

  • Break down tasks into smaller steps, for example dividing an essay into multiple days.
  • Stagger instructions – wait after each step
  • Adjust tasks to attention span
  • Include periods of physical activity in the online session

Accessibility of online learning

  • Use multiple modes of presentation (auditory, written, video, pictures, etc.)
  • Allow students alternative response formats.
  • Make sure instructions are short, concise and clear.
  • Use a file format which is easy to convert into accessible mode. Microsoft Word has a text to speech function. pdf isn’t always adjustable in this way, so perhaps better to avoid this format when sending out files.
  • Give students choices and options in tasks and how they want to complete them.

What can we adjust in our classrooms?

  • Classroom management (groupwork, pairwork) – allow learners to choose
  • Presentation and access to material (multiple channels, handouts)
  • Environment (light, termperature, seating arrangements – for example where students sit in relation to the teacher, and whether there’s a quiet corner)
  • Pacing (slow down, revise, recycle)
  • Level of support (teacher, peers)

Learning strategies and teaching techniques

Spelling and pronunciation

  • Look for regularities – there are more of them than you might expect in English! [Examples]
  • Find word components (achieve-ment)
  • Visualise, use colour
  • Using songs, gestures, clapping
  • Say it forward and backwards
  • Use moveable letters
  • Use online dictionaries to listen to how words are pronounced and repeat pronunciation
  • Games and apps [I love Quizlet Spell, and students with dyslexia in my beginner group this year came on leaps and bounds when they started using them regularly]
  • Orthographic and phonological awareness training
  • Training in word recognition
  • Explicit teaching of spelling and pronunciation regularities

Vocabulary learning strategies

Questions to ask:

  • What strategies do you use?
  • How do they work?
  • Does the strategy depend on the type of word? (abstract/concrete, short/long…)
  • Is there anything within the words or the wordsets that make learning difficult? (length, multiple meanings, lots of words within the word set…)

Students can sometimes get stuck with a single strategy, rather than drawing on a range of different ideas.

  • Drawing
  • Acting out
  • Mnemonics
  • Keywords
  • Rhyme, songs, rhythm

Reading

  • Activate background knowledge based on the title, sub-title, headings and visuals
  • Use prediction and visualisation
  • Monitor comprehension, make inferences – teaching students to regularly stop and ask themselves ‘Have I definitely understood this point correctly?’
  • Reread
  • Subvocal reading
  • Reading while listening (text to speech software)
  • Annotate text, highlight, notes, charts, mind- and concept maps
  • Using comics, for example CIELL – Comics for Inclusive Language Learning – they have lots of benefits
  • Reciprocal reading: Students read the text section by section and at the end of each section, they have roles:
    • Summariser: highlights key ideas
    • Questioner: asks questions about the section (e.g. unknown words, unclear meaning etc.)
    • Clarifier: answers questions
    • Predictor: makes preductions about what the next segment of the text is about
  • Directed Reading-Thinking activity
    • Start by making predictions about what the text segment will be about.
    • Read the relevant part of the text to check predictions.
    • Discuss to what extent their predictions were confirmed.
    • Summarise the key information from the text segment.
    • Repeat in cycle after each text segment.

Writing

  • Include planning activities such as brainstorming, creating mid-maps, outlines
  • Make planning multi-sensory, e.g. organise ideas by manipulation of shapes and colours
  • Break up the tasks into smaller sub-tasks
  • Give enough time for writing
  • Use aids for writing (e.g. spell checker, speech to text function, electronic dictionary)
  • Check0lists to guide learners and assist in self-evaluatin
  • Set a specific linguistic focus in the writing task (e.g. students to pay attention to the use of past tense
  • Share and make writing purposeful (e.g. Padlet)
  • Collaborative writing (Google Docs, Etherpad, Microsoft Word online)
  • Multi-modal writing tasks

8 steps (from Marc Fabri, Leeds Beckett University)

  1. Think: What changes can you make?
  2. Adapt: Make regular small changes to your own practice
  3. Involve: Bring in neurodiverse students as true partners in planning and decision making
  4. Invert: Ask the people your previously supported what else they needed at the time
  5. Translate: what can you learn from other colleagues/ institutions/ teacher training events/ materials?
  6. Break down silos: Talk to others and raise awareness
  7. Share: Train others in the things you know well, share your knowledge
  8. Be persistent

One size doesn’t fit all: learner differentiation in trainer training – Briony Beaven

The focus here is on trainer trainers, with teacher trainers as the learners.

Why differentiate?

It represents harmony amongst divergence. Without harmony, training courses are unlikely to achieve their aims.

Differentiation needs and wishes as shown in a survey of teacher trainers

22 surveyed teacher trainers from 14 countries, in an opportunistic sample of people whose contact details Briony had

Two weeks for your own training needs, with pay, in one block, or broken up into other units of time

What kind of training needs emerged?

Practical:

  • Observation: learning from observation of peers, teacher trainers or trainer trainers
  • Technical or micro-skills training for planning and running different training courses
  • Digital skills training for research and to use in training

Cognitive:

  • Learning from or about academic research
  • How to pick out useful things to read
  • How to evaluate the validity or reliability of what they read
  • Publishing their own research

Interactive

  • Emphasis on international peer interaction – being part of a wider community

Affective

  • Psychological matters such as coaching for teachers, giving negative feedback, ‘awkward’ participants, mindfulness

Teacher trainers’ jobs cover a huge range of areas:

Their jobs were a complex mix of the pedagogical

They may also have other roles as administrators, managers, teachers, and much more.

Principles

  1. We need to base training for teacher educators on authentic situations that arise in their training rooms or in thier other work with teachers. (Bayer, 2014)
  2. This will necessarily involve differentiation in the training, which requires flexibility and attention to teacher trainers’ needs and wishes.

Differentiation in practice – ideas for how to meet the varied needs of teacher trainers

Differentiation can be done in a variety of ways:

  1. Content
  2. Process
  3. Outcome
  4. Affect
  5. Learning environment
  6. Interests
  7. Learning preferences
  8. Professional knowledge landscapes (Clandinan and Connolly) [Amazon affiliate link]

The numbers below show which methods of differentiation are addressed with each technique in the training room.

How can we achieve differentiation?

Outside training hours for individual hours:

  • Shadowing
  • Mentoring
  • Observing
  • Peer coaching (technical or collegial)
  • International visits

In the training room:

  • Critical incidents (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8)
    Relate a story about a training experience, with questions added at the end. Without the questions, it’s just an anecdote. For example:
    What did the actions reveal about me?
    What would you have done instead?
    How did my actions reflect what you know about me?
  • Arrows (1, 3, 4, 8)
    Take one teacher and one goal (box one)
    Take one characteristic that might make it challenging (box two)
    Then work out the strategy (box three = personalisation, authentic, differentiated)
    Here’s an example:
  • Peer reteaching in mixed experience groups (3, 4, 5, 6, 8)
    1. Give input.
    2. Make groups of three.
    3. Collaborate to re-teach each other the keys points in a workshop so far. Produce one short summary – they must all have the same summary.
    4. Assign roles: A, B, C.
    5. Regroup with the same letter. share summaries. Choose the most accurate one.
    6. Plenary. What are the benefits of this approach to information input?
  • Articulation by trainers of practical theory or ‘maxims’ (1, 2, 6, 8)
    For example, a beliefs questionnaire which can then be discussed.
  • Planning workshops / courses (1, 3, 5, 6, 8)
  • Role play (1, 2, 3, 7, 8)
  • ‘Folk’ stories (3, 4, 6, 7)
    1. Listen to the story.
    2. Think how you might use the story in teacher training or trainer training.
    These stories could be urban myths or anything you like – discussions of how these stories could be used in teacher training. they can be used to challenge habits and to question procedures or to challenge assumptions and belief systems. Briony shared a story about ‘we’ve always done it that way’.
  • Minimalism: providing space and time for reflection – a lot of busy teachers or trainers don’t have time. Providing a training course with plenty of space in it, with the relationship between session and spaces as the most important thing, often more so than the content. ‘They may have quite enough content in their lives’ [that’s true!]
    • Establish long pauses.
    • Consider a ‘no new content’ day.
    • Defend the boundaries of empty space. Don’t just rush to include the rest of the content.

Extra reading:

Not the ‘poor relation’: the impact of online teacher development – Susi Pearson (Norwich Institute for Language Education – NILE)

Susi has been involved in the NILE online project since 2014, creating content and supporting tutors and participants.

Background to the study

Online and distance education is very likely the fastest growing area of education in the world today, in both the developed and developing world.

Simpson (2012) in Murray and Christensen (2018)

But we must always ask ‘Where is the pedagogy?’

NILE took what was good about their face-to-face courses, and considered how to shift this online: short courses, manageable amounts of work per week, small groups, fully tutored, clear assessment.

Completion rates can be quite low on MOOCs, but on NILE courses they are 90.5%. NILE supports participants and tries to find out why they aren’t completing courses.

Looking at:

  • The developing teacher (manager, test writer…)
  • Their students (trainees…)
  • Their colleagues
  • Their institutions

The study was:

  • In 2019
  • Quantitative and qualitative study
  • Designed and piloted
  • 1000+ NILE Online course participants (2014-2018)
  • 150 repsondents, 42 countries, many different contexts
  • Teachers, trainers, publishers, writers, managers, testers

Results

The impact on participants:

  • There was a greater impact on professional knowledge rather than beliefs, but there was a considerable impact on both as well as on professional practice.
  • Experimented more in their professional practice.
  • Read more about the course topics.
  • Presented to other teachers on the course topics.
  • Took on new responsibilities at work.

The impact on students:

  • 72% of participants said that the course has had an impact on their students’ learning. (18% said not applicable)
  • There was an impact on both the learners’ attitude to learning, and their progress in learning.
  • This was evidenced by student feedback, feedback from colleagues, feedback from parents, their own impression, and achivement marks and grades.

The impact on colleagues and workplaces:

  • They shared learning with colleagues
  • As a result of the training, there were changes at different levels, including some in the institution as a whole.

What created these positive results?

These are the top 6 reasons selected from a list which NILE provided (with some extra notes):

  1. Tutor feedback and unit summaries. Quite conversational in style. Summaries could be in different formats: text, powerpoint, short videos, etc.
  2. Input: readings, videos and presentations.
  3. Course assignment and feedback. Assignments are context based.
  4. Synchronous interactions. This was especially true early in the course to bond with the group.
  5. Learning from other participants.
  6. Asynchronous discussion tasks.

Implications for the industry

  • High level of tutor involvement – prompt feedback and support
  • Skilled online tutoring
  • Pedagogically sound use of technology
  • Exploit multimedia affordances
  • Participant output relating content to context
  • Synchronous and asynchronous tasks
  • Opportunities for co-constructed learning

Reference:

Murray D.E. and Christison, M. (2018) Online Language Teacher Education: A Review of the Literature. Aqueduto, Norwich.

What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year – Sandy Millin

You can find full details of my presentation here.

English in the primary school in Venezuela: a case study – Wendy Arnold, Juana Sagaray and Maria Teresa Fernandez

[I moderated this session.]

This was part of the YLTSIG showcase.

Wendy was the consultant for the British Council for the project. Juana and Maria Teresa ran the case study.

English is mandatory only in public secondary education. There are not enough trained speciality English teachers. English has been in the primary curriculum since 2007, but this demand cannot be met.

In 2013, the first opportunity to try the project in some states. In 2016, they implemented the project in all 24 states. They trained teachers to get them from A0 to A1 level.

They developed books for the teacher and the students, in conjunction with the consultant. There were manuals for the trainers too, and booklets for the students. The teachers book had the same materials, along with lesson plans. The step by step language was written in Spanish, but the delivery language was written in English. The lessons were divided into 15 minute sub-lessons to give the teachers flexibility. The teachers were mentored by their facilitator. They attended the training on Saturdays from 8 to 4.

In 2018, they started a case study to evaluate the impact of the programme. They used a profile to select the teachers to take part in the study:

  • teachers in a classroom
  • In 4th, 5th or 6th grade
  • At last five years of experience
  • 25-40 years old

They collected data in a variety of ways, including surveys, interviews, and observations.

The impact on the teachers:

  • Strategies also work with other subjects, not just English, for example introducing more pairwork and groupwork.
  • They learnt new games, songs and fun activities.
  • Teachers were proud of learning a new language.
  • They felt that they were doing something useful for their students.
  • Their own self-esteem increased despite all the challenges.
  • The teacher’s family was involved too – their own children learnt English, they made resources for the English classes, and there was pride and admiration from family members.

Challenges – even pre-pandemic:

  • Students don’t come to class regularly.
  • Hours of class were reduced to 3 horus a day.
  • Blackouts (no electricity)
  • Transportation (cash/gasoline)

The impact on the children:

  • “The children love it. They want more and more. They want ENglish classes every day.” (Reina)
  • Behaviour improved thanks to this programme, especially if they knew they wouldn’t get their English lesson.

The impact on the community:

  • The whole school was curious and enthusiastic if teachers were participating in the programme.
  • Support
  • Recognition
  • Approval
  • Willingness to participate
  • Parents were very supportive, and recognised that their children would be more prepared when starting secondary level.
  • Parents wanted to have English across the whole school, not just 1 or 2 teachers per school.
  • Principals were very proud and supportive.
  • Parents wanted their kids to go to the schools with the English lessons.

Reflections

  • There is a dual learning: both the teachers and the students were learning. The teacher was part of the group and this made children feel better. Children were also able to help the teacher.
  • Emerging cooperative learning.
  • The teacher was empowered:
    • Sense of achievement
    • Gaining status
    • Doing something for others
    • Recognition by their family, school authorities, colleagues, children
  • The students were empowered:
    • Gaining status
    • Confidence
  • Rising facilitator:
    • Some of the first cohort of teachers stayed in the programme as facilitators for the next level.
    • First hand experience of the programme
    • Creative
    • Highly motivated
    • Good at strategies
    • Still need more language
  • Transition towards a communicative class
  • Classroom environment triggers learning
  • Integration between the school and the community

The programme in numbers:

  • 289 tutors and facilitators trained since 2016.
  • More than 78,651 public primary school students introduced to English.

During the pandemic, they created an app which can be used via phone and computer to continue learning from home. As not everyone has computers or internet access, they also developed a radio programme using the same content as the book – 70 radio programmes, broadcast by local radio stations across the country. This allows more acccess.

Because of the monitoring and evaluation, they have been able to show the impact. PNFA is Programa Nacional de Formacion Avanzada. They ran the programme (I think!) and it’s now accredited by the Ministry of Education and they are now running the 4th cohort. It’s an annual programme.

(Re)-shaping teacher selves: an exploration of teacher identity and development – Josie Leonard

This was part of the ReSIG showcase (Research SIG).

This is particularly connected to some doctoral research Josie did.

Background to her research

There’s been an increase in research connected to teacher identity in recent years (Barkhuizen, 2017). This means that there are multiple definitions, and it’s quite a challenging concept to define.

Becoming a teacher of English: there are many diverse worlds of TESOL and becoming a teacher can take many different routes.

Josie worked in overseas contexts, with teachers from many different backgrounds. This prompted her to reflect how her assumptions and her identity seemed quite different from people she worked with. She wondered how identities as teachers and trainers became shaped in particular ways. This developed as she worked in the UK with students on MA programmes.

What does becoming a teacher mean?

We know that teaching is complex, and there is a lot of personal investment into it.

  • The concept of ‘being’ a teacher implies something stable – a state of attainment, a fixed sense of how a teacher should be and act (Mulcahy, 2011)
  • There is a belief that it teachers are shown the ‘right’ tools and techniques they will teach accordingly (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)
  • Identity is a process of becoming – teachers are not technicians applying particular methods they have been assigned; they are significant actors shaping teaching and learning (Varghese et al., 2005)
  • Becoming a teacher conceptualizes identity as more complex – it recognises continual change, ambiguity and instability (Gee, 2000); it involves teachers’ interactions with others in their social and professional environments (Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009)
  • Becoming a teacher is a continual process of negotiating identity options (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)

The part Josie highlighted in the definition below emphasises how identity is formed through interaction and material things, all over time.

Outline of the study

  • Two UK universities offering postgraduate TESOL programmes.
  • 15 teachers from different countriess.
  • All had teaching experience, from a range of different contexts.

Research questions:

  • What factors have played a part in shaping participants’ professional identities as English teachers in past teaching experiences?
  • What factors have shaped participants’ identities as English teachers engaged in postgraduate study programmes in the UK?
  • What kind of professional identities do participants imagine for their futures?
  • In what ways (if any) has postgraduate study been influential in shaping participants’ imagined future professional identities?

Josie focusses on who and what influences identity formation. This includes people, the syllabus, the coursebook, the spaces and environments.

She looked it through a lens of social materialism:

Socio-materialism: social practices such as teaching involve both human and non-human actors; these practices are produced, ordered and disordered through relations and interactiosn between both humans and non-humans.

(Michael, 2017, p. 5)

As Josie put it:

  • The ways in which social and material acrots interact and function together produces different effects – forms of knowledge, routines (ways of doing things) and identities.
  • In other words: how might people (supervisors, fellow teachers, mentors, students, parents) and material resources (such as technologies, clsssroom tools such as whiteboards, coursebooks, syllabus texts, exams and tests influence teacher identity formation?

Becoming a teacher is a relationship process guided by interactions with both social and material actors in teaching environments.

Mulcahy, 2011

Identities become shaped through interactions with people and material things; they can be ascribed by others, resisted, negotiated and adapted. These relations are significant in processes of becoming teachers.

Mulcahy, 2011

She used a narrative framework for her methodology. The data was gathered through face-to-face interviews and focus groups. She was interested in the kind of stories and short stories which teachers told about their experiences. The researcher is involved in the construction of the stories, but she wanted to make it as participant-centred as possible. She gave them a set of themes based on identity literature to think about before the interview, then bring a mind map or other visual to discuss during the interview, to help them to direct the interview. In the focus groups, she had questions but didn’t restrict other lines of discussion.

Short extracts from the findings

This is a small sample across time.

From past experiences:

  • Mentors – often discussed as a support
  • Supervisors – often mentioned related to control, referring to the syllabus or the tests – coordinating with other factors below
  • Syllabus texts
  • Coursebooks and teachers guides
  • Workshops, for example on language learning games
  • Fellow teachers
  • Whiteboards
  • Visuals – digital
  • Students – motivation
  • Presence of exams and tests

Factors shaping identities in postgraduate study:

  • Experiencing different assessment practices
  • Becoming a student again
  • Self-reflection, and connecting this to the experience of their students
  • Learning about different methods
  • Seeing things from other perspectives
  • Questioning beliefs
  • [there were more but I missed them!]

What about imagined professional selves?

  • Becoming teacher-researchers
  • Becoming teacher-educators
  • Becoming materials designers
  • Becoming assessment designers
  • Becoming teachers (continuing to work on this area)

Summary

She concluded that post-graduate study seemed to play a role in identity formation in the following ways:

  • Re-shaping identities teachers brought to post-graduate study programmes.
  • Re-becoming a student: awareness of self as student and seeing own students (and their challenges) with renewed empathy
  • Participants linked the theoretical and pedagogical knowledge they were introduced to their past experiences: deepended critical awareness, understanding from different perspectives.
  • Becoming more adept at academic writing skills, developing research skills
  • Considering identities which had not previously been feasible, like teacher researcher or publication: feeling empowered and confidence in themselves to consider becoming someone other.

For Josie, she learnt a lot too:

  • Giving teacher-students more opportunity to talk about their histories, their ideals, challenges and possiblities, though reflective activities, and comparing teacher-selves at the beginning and end of their studies.
  • Integrating more ‘identity’ work into activities and discussions.
  • Recognising the functions of both social and material actors in relation to institutions and classrooms, and the significance of both for pedagogy.
  • Learning about other worlds of TESOL and making sure these are represented in her teaching.

What does supportive trainer talk look like? – Simon Smith and Martyn Clarke

[I moderated this session.]

Simon and Martyn worked together on a Trainer Development course in 2019, and discovered a shared interest in how trainers talk. They decided to investigate it.

What is supportive trainer talk?

Talk which intends to support a teacher’s construction of knowledge or thinking.

Why are they interested?

Simon read Vygotsky and Bruner in the late 1990s when working on an MA programme. He realised that learning is related to the company we keep and what we say and do together.

Martyn experienced trainer talk while studying it as a learner on an M.Ed. in Training over an extended period. In his reflective journal, he found himself constantly coming back to how people were talking within the sessions.

They believe trainer talk is a Cinderella topic in ELT. There’s a lot about teacher talk, learner talk, but not much about trainer talk apart from a little connected to observation feedback.

Research methodology

  • Convenience sampling: variety in trainers, groups – working with different types of groups
  • Standard ethical procedures
  • 6 sessions x 90 minutes from NILE 2019 summer courses recorded and transcribed
  • Ethnographic approach to transcript analysis: solo analysis, highlighting and annotation, leading to shared categorisation
  • Cross-checking and refining

What were the main findings?

3 main categories to emerge:

  • Content support
  • Process support
  • Group support

Trainers have talk tendencies, though all 3 categories appeared in the talk of all trainers.

Content support

The term is adapted from Neil Mercer (1995). This was related to the content of the training session.

  • Eliciting knowledge or views from teachers, for example their opinions on particular topics.
  • Responding to what teachers say, for example answering their questions.
  • Describing or providing content.

Process support

This was related to the understandings of the learning processes within the training session, possibly more prevalent in training than teaching.

  • Providing a commentary on the intended training/learning process: an explicitness about the learning processes that are planned within that session.
  • Commenting on the learning process as it happens: highlighting when a learning process happens.
  • Reflecting in action: the trainer thinking out loud in the moment to share the experience and model reflection openly and transparently. [Jason Anderson shared an article he has written where he called this ‘acknowledgement’ – he’s talking about this tomorrow and I’m planning to be there, so watch this space for a summary!]

Group support

This was related to creating a cohesive group and fostering the environment which allows a co-constructed course. They found this was a quite a strong process for many trainers.

  • Creating a group discourse: inviting participation, and acknowledging that ‘we have a group culture and we understand each other’
  • Making the pedagogical natural: interacting as a person, not just as a trainer.
  • Sharing personal experience: giving a personal human touch.

Conclusions: what does supportive teacher talk look like?

  • These were one-off snapshot visits, which generated more questions than answers. They know that this is just an overview.
  • They found audio recordings practical and there were advantages to this.
  • They’d want to have more follow-up, for example by speaking to participants, or adding research into the context of the training event – they were treated equally here.
  • What they’ve learnt:
    A lot of the trainer talk had an emotional, supportive, affective function, designed to support the trainees. Simon would like to research this more.
    Martyn would like to research more about the difference between what the trainer thinks they’re saying (intention) and what the trainee actually received. He’d also like to investigate sequences of how talk can be structured more.
  • Next time:
    • More on supportiveness as seen from participant and trainer perspective
    • More than a one-off visit
    • Better mikes for participants

As a result of this, they’ve added an assignment to the NILE MA module connected to teacher talk.

Martyn and Simon kindly gave me permission to share the handout, which includes a full reading list.

Mind the ______: rediscovering gap-fills – Leo Selivan

Leo’s blog is here. He wrote Lexical Grammar [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link] and Activities for Alternative Assessment [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link].

Like John Hughes yesterday, Leo started by showing historic gapfills. In Leo’s case, this was from Developing Skills by L.G. Alexander from 1967. He says they became much more common in the 1980s, in part at least due to Headway.

What’s the difference between a gap-fill and a cloze?

According to British Council TeachingEnglish:

A gap-fill is a practice exercise in which learners have to replace words missing from a text. These words are chosen and removed in order to practise a specific language point. Gap-fill exercises contrast with cloze texts, where words are removed at regular intervals, e.g. every five words.

…but researchers often use the terms interchangeably, as below!

Criticism of gap-fills

From Luis Octavio Barros (April 10, 2014): Life beyond gap-fill?

  • Not authentic
  • Suitable for testing – not for teaching
  • Learners do not have to create sentences – only manipulate them
  • Learners should be putting meaning into words, not the other way around

Research

Zou compared the effectiveness of a gap-fills (called cloze exercises in her research), sentence writing and composition writing for vocabulary gains. She found that cloze exercises gave a post-test score of 8.3, sentence writing 12.3, composition writing 15.9. She said that this was because of the need to create meaning. [Zou, D. (2017) ‘Vocabulary acquisition through cloze exercises, sentence-writing and composition-writing: extending the evaluation component of the involvement load hypothesis’. Language Teaching Research, 21 (1), 54-75

However, if you look closely at the original sentences from Zou’s experiment, Leo points out that the sentences students produced don’t necessarily demonstrate that learners have properly acquuired the language.

On the other hand, Keith Folse supports the use of gap-fills rather than sentence writing:

Student original sentences with new vocabulary often resemble a word heap.

He says that gapfills are easy to design and correct, and that students will always end up with a correct English example sentence to study. In his study, he found that when the learners had to repeat the gap-fills 3 times with slight modifications, they had the highest vocabulary gains. [Folse, K.S. (2006), ‘The effect of type of written exercise of L2 vocabulary retention.’ TESOL Quarterly 40 (2), 273-293

Unfashionable though it is, repeated practice testing is known to work. In vocabulary learning, a gap-fill repeated a number of times is likely to lead to more learning in the same amount of time than a more creative or imaginative exercise.

Vocabulary gap-fills: from testing _____ teaching Philip Kerr (March 10, 2016), OUP English Language Teaching Global blog

Modifying vocabulary gap-fills

Note: you can get very high quality example sentences from dictionaries if you’re creating your own gapfills.

  • Add distractors / red herrings.
  • Provide two blanks e.g.
    The authorities closed public access to the _____ historic building after it was declared a safety ______. [fragile – hazard]
    Sometimes the words might be reversed within the pair in the list of options you give.
  • No blanks – students have to work out where the adjectives belong in the sentences. This only really works with adjectives.
  • Without a ‘word bank’
  • Multiple sentences: three sentences all missing the same word (as some Cambridge exams used to have) – you can use this to revise collocations. Alternatively all missing the same chunk of language – Leo says students find this easier when they have the right number of lines for the gap, e.g. 3 lines for 3 gaps.
  • Provide a first letter clue – one or two letters for each word. http://www.lextutor.ca/tests has examples of receptive and productive level tests which use this approach.
  • Collocations: you can gap one of the key words in the collocation e.g. meet, make, pay.
  • Collocations: you can gap the whole collocation e.g. make a suggestion, do business, pay attention – this is more effective when first learning a collocation as it minimises the risk of error, and they’re less likely to remember the wrong collocation.
  • Definitions: as in the example below, Leo prefers definitions following style C. ‘A’ is from a dictionary for native speakers, not language learners. ‘B’ is from a learner dictionary. ‘C’ is best because it gives examples and co-text, not just a definition.
  • Definitions: you can use it as recall practice, by sharing the definitions again later on.

Grammar gap-fills

The main problems according to Leo:

  • Tend to focus on producing the correct form, the opposite of vocabulary gap-fills which tend to give you a word bank without retrieval practice.
  • Very often of the ‘open the brackets’ variety.
  • They don’t necessarily need to read the sentence as they’re told what form to use.
  • The target form is usually blanked.

Variations:

  • Pairs of words – either ‘don’t’ or ‘didn’t’ across the whole exercise, or pairs of words to match as in vocabulary. This practices receptive grammar.

…the recognition of grammar as a receptive skill, and exercises need to be devised and which encourage the perception of different of meaning.

This is an area which is hardly touched on at all in contemporary language teaching, which too often equates grammar with the students’ ability to produce correct sentences.

Michael Lewis (1993) The Lexical Approach: the state of ELT and a way forward, Hove: LTP
  • Why do we always gap prepositions? Why not give them the correct preposition and ask them to provide the content? They have to really process the language. e.g. The museum is usually closed on ___________.
  • Ask learners to replace a word in the sentence with their own.
  • Ask learners to place a whole clause with their own idea e.g. I was in a hurry so I didn’t call. > I was in a hurry so…

Other ways to spice up gap-fills

  • Oral gapfill – read them out and gather suggestions
  • Round the room cloze
  • DIY gapfill – learnesr craete their own
  • Sticky board gapfill – the word bank is on the whiteboard, and students have to stick the sentence where it belongs.

For more ideas, see TEFL Geek and Leo’s blog.

If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day two, and day three.

This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. Pre-conference events (PCEs) were run at different times depending on the Special Interest Group (SIG). The Materials Writing SIG PCE was the day before the main conference, on 18th June 2021, and was run via Zoom. This meant we had the opportunity to hop around breakout rooms for a little networking at certain points in the day.

These are my summaries of the talks I saw. There were so many useful things in there, from the perspective of writing, design, freelancing, mental health, editing, and lots more useful little tips.

Covert syllabuses: How to avoid them, how to include them – Jill Hadfield

What is a covert syllabus?

Jill’s definition is:

Usually used with a negative connotation: ‘the unwritten, unofficial and often unintentded lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school’ from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum/

Some examples

First example: from a Ladybird series called ‘Peter and Jane’, used to help 1960s children learn to read. The example was Jane helping mummy to make cakes for daddy and Peter. The covert syllabus is helping (desirable) and the other is females doing the domestic/cookery work.

Second example: A book from the 1970s showing a man being drunk at 3 in the morning, then coming home and being spoken to by his wife: You’ve been drinking whisky. Only one, dear. You’ve been smoking cigarettes. Only one, dear. You’ve been kissing girls. Only one, dear. Another covert syllabus: that this is acceptable behaviour and acceptable reaction to it [my interpretation of it].

Third example: An English coursebook from 1978 with a discussion of Steve and Anne. Anne uses a new shampoo which makes her hair soft and shiny, and therefore Steve likes her. Covert syllabi: Men are shallow. Women need to be attractive to be liked.

I think you get the idea!

They’re not just a thing of the past though – they’re everywhere, and something we should be aware of.

Undesirable and desirable covert syllabuses

Some examples now are consumerism, everyone can afford holidays, heteronormativity, lots of stereotypical images (though some of these are thankfully starting to change).

They can be desirable too though: confidence, self-believe, sustainability, awareness of others and the environment, empathy, non-stereotypical roles and images.

There can also be a covert syllabus by omission, for example by avoiding PARSNIPs:

  • Politics
  • Alcohol
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Narcotics
  • Isms
  • Pork

One question is who decides what is ‘desirable’ – that could be biased and highly culturally specific.

Jill’s first use of a covert syllabus was to include cognitive activities to raise awareness of aspects of learning in a group and affective activities, which had an overt language learning aim, Classroom Dynamics. The teacher is covertly building group dynamics while overtly working on language. So why should this be covert? Teachers have a busy syllabus so there might not be time for separate activities, but also it seems somewhat counter-productive to start that’s why you’re doing an activity.

Using checklists and self-evaluation to avoid undesirable content

Before writing

  1. Be aware of possible undesirable agendas: regarding pictures, task types, topics.
  2. Be aware of your own possible bias, e.g. topics you like, depth vs ‘the unbearable lightness of ELT’ (Scott Thornbury), ‘core energies’: Jill’s term for the forces that drive a writer and give colour to their writing making them unique – for example Jill’s are affect, creativity and play.

During writing

[I missed a little of this!] Core energies should be grounded in theory/knowledge, though they are are based at the level of passion. Passion may lead you astray though – they could lead to bias. Will it appeal to all of the students you are writing for? Writing with a partner or a team can lead to a balance of core energies.

After writing

  1. Checklists to ensure coverage, variety and lack of bias. For example
    Gender bias
    Cultural stereotypes
    Inequality
    Racial bias
  2. Ensure there is a variety of activity types, and that you haven’t been led in a single-minded direction by your ‘core energies’. Another checklist:
    Modality: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile
    Grouping: self/intrapersonal, other/interpersonal
    Structure: single-minded (e.g. competitive), co-operative
    Reaction time: immediate/reflective
    Mood: serious, playful
    Outcome: open-ended, closed task
    All in a grid against: Thinking/Feeling/Creative/Practical
    [note: This looks useful for my materials writing MA module 🙂 ]
    She published it in RELC Regional English Language Journal 37 – Teacher Education and Trainee Learning Style
    Changing any factor from this grid creates a different kind of activity.
  3. Build in positive checklists for yourself, based on what you created at the start.

In conclusion

As materials writers we need to have strategies in place to guard against unintentional bias and undesirable covert syllabuses creeping into our work, and also plan to include desirable covert syllabuses.

Side note: Jill’s latest book (with Lindsay Clandfield) is Interaction Online [Amazon affiliate link].

50 ways to avoid gap-fill fatigue – John Hughes

(There might not be 50!)

A definition of gapfills by Scott Thornbury (because as John says, no ELT presentation is complete without a quote from Scott!):

John visited the ELT archive at the University of Warwick. He searched for the earliest examples of gapfills he could find: C. E. Eckersley: A concise English grammar for foreign students from 1933. Low level gapfill with is, are, has, have, was, were, but vocab like congregration, and herd of cattle!

Here are some of the methods of avoiding gap-fill fatigue which John shared:

  1. An activity from Simon Greenall: You walk into school. The DoS says a teacher is off and you need to teach their group in 3 minutes. A simple solution: find the last reading or listening task the students used in the book. Copy it and fold it up. Cut it up in a similar way you might to a snowflake. Instant gapfill! That gives you 15 minutes of your cover lesson at least! It’s interesting because it’s not just words missing, but letters and bits of letters.
  2. Divide the group by birthdays. First half of the year: why is it a good thing? Second half of the year: why is a bad thing?
  3. Gapfills can be visual too: what is in the picture? Not just sentences with gaps.
  4. Gaps can have a broader definition too: information gaps, opinion gaps. Gap-fills aren’t just removing a word – there’s an art to it too!
  5. Pesonalisation by finishing a sentence stem (John found the first example of these in Streamline in 1975.
  6. Technology means we’re writing more gaps than ever. John showed Lyrics Training and Quizlet Gravity. They allow us to add tweaks like time pressure.
  7. In 2006, John wrote an article for English Teaching Professional called ‘Over to you: Gap-fills’ as a checklist of different kinds of gap-fill. There are 20 ideas on there.
  8. Potential problem 1: all first person – ‘I’ sentences. Mix up the subjects.
  9. Potential problem 2: all positives, no negatives or questions.
  10. Potential problem 3: no numbering for the answer key or classroom management.
  11. Potential problem 4: no context or very loose, creating gap-fill fatigue. Can connect them together into a single text.
  12. Potential problem 5: no example completed for students to scaffold the instructions.
  13. Potential problem 6: no sub-heading or title to guide students on the page.
  14. Potential problem 7: a rubric which is more complicated than the task. Break them down.
  15. Potential problem 8: the questions are all closed and impersonal. Introduce a couple of examples at the end for the opportunity for personalisation, e.g. creating two extra questions for other students to complete.
  16. Remember that the idea of a gap-fill can be quite hard to read for learners. Jon Hird recommends putting the verb in brackets before the gap to reduce the amount of cognitive processing needed. This is especially useful for learners with dyslexia. There’s an interview with John and Jon is here.
  17. You can read more about making materials dyslexia friendly in Jon Hird’s MaWSIG blogpost.
  18. MadLibs are a fun variant on gapfills. Students put their words into the gaps, then decide which words sound right and which ones they need to change to make it more logical.
  19. Make gapfills communicative using information gaps, for example information about the members of a family tree – not just the names, but ideas like hobbies.
  20. Crosswords, and half a crossword.
  21. Information gap of different kinds of pictures: spot the difference (classic ‘what’s in your fridge?’) but also the idea of time shifts, like an updated fairytale.
  22. Making them student-centred: get students to write their own gapfills. For example, they have 5 sentences with furniture to choose from a box. Then they are given 5 more words which they write their own sentences for – the students are far more likely to remember those words than the first 5.
  23. Making them memorable: give a gapfill with the same text students have already seen. Gradually remove the words over a series of lessons, and students are likely to memorise structures and key phrases – John gave the example of presentation phrases.

John does teacher training connected to materials writing if you’d like more tips. There’s a lot of information on his excellent blog too.

Scope and sequence design: A top-down or grassroots approach? – Frances Amrani

This talk is based on Frances’ own thoughts and opinions – it’s not meant to be definitive.

Scope and sequence: a definition

Interrelated concepts that refer to the overall organization of the curriculum in order to ensure its coherence and continuity.

Scope refers to the breadth and depth of content and skills to be covered.

Sequence refers to how these skills and content are ordered and presented to learners over time.

Definition from International Bureau of Education, UNESCO

Scope and sequence in ELT

Typically the map of the book:

  • Topics
  • Skills
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Pronunciation
  • CLIL
  • Recycling
  • Functionality
  • Extras

Top down scope and sequence

Publishers typically see new books as a hole to fill in their list of books – a top down approach. This means the scope and sequence might be prescriptive, for example:

  • Using CEFR Can do statements
  • English Profile – graded vocab and grammar
  • Topic lists, for example from exam topics
  • Exam syllabus mapping
  • Meeting requirements of the National Curriculum defined by ministries
  • 21st century skills
  • Competitors’ products – differentiation or cloning of them
  • Influenced by market expectations and what sales tell the publisher is needed

This results in:

  • Matrix-driven writing
  • Predictable content
  • A risk that it limits personalisation
  • A risk of it being too generic or too specific (for a very narrow market)
  • A risk that it may not match students’ real needs, only perceived needs
  • Can be seen as a big boring
  • May be seen to guarantee an expectation of ‘standards’ – a known quantity for standardisation, and adding a comfort level. It can make coursebooks interchangeable
  • Similar products, but every publisher still needs to find a USP (Unique Selling Point)

Grassroots

The author may see writing a book a bit like designing a garden, considering all of the exciting elements of the project. They’re putting all of their efforts into one special project a season. The outcome is more personal and needs to be creative. The aim is a less prescriptive syllabus as the author wants to make it special.

This results in:

  • No pre-determined scheme of work from the author
  • A risk of a pick and mix / scattergun outcome – not thinking about the task or topic in a holistic way
  • Enabling personalisation
  • Supports differentiation (for levels, different interests, different abilities)
  • Can address a real learning need
  • Creative and exciting content
  • Something which is ‘seen as’ hard to sell, and therefore risky
  • Making you think beyond ELT

The reality of current ELT publishing

Very few unsolicited ideas are published these days. Most are commissioned and there is often a tendering process with samples conforming to the brief. Most of the scope and syllabus is top down and there’s not much scope for creativity and grassroots materials. Small publishers might be more likely to take a risk.

Here are examples of grassroots projects and materials from the past which might not get published today:

  • Mario Rinvolucri using psychology materials and unorthodox humanistic activities – he might be able to do that still, but aspiring authors might find that a lot harder.
  • Hancock McDonald Pronunciation – too niche for big publishing houses now
  • Penny Ur’s problem-solving activities e.g. zoo layout in Discussions that work
  • Richard Cauldwell’s pronunciation projects

These would all have to jump through a lot of hoops nowadays and therefore be less likely to be published.

Jill Hadfield reminded us that you can right resource books on any topic you want, but Frances mentioned that because the market is very small publishers are publishing a lot fewer resource books.

Tensions and finding the sweet spot between top-down and grassroots

There’s a tension between wanting to be innovative and wanting to conform. Frances believes there’s a sweet spot in between. How do you find it?

Commercially viable i.e. checks all the boxes

Yet fresh and new:

  • Move away from character stories in text books
  • Move towards authentic photos Discovery / National Geographic
  • Demand for more technology
  • Move towards skills-based syllabus
  • Move towards CLIL based syllabus
  • Move towards 21st centry skills: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration

Try to understand the other’s perspective:

  • Authors: How can I make my brilliant grassroots ideas fit the matrix / brief?
  • Publishers: How can I make my market0driven brief receptive to innovative ideas?

Questions to think about

What makes a good brief for an author?

How can grassroots innovation be included?

How do you persuade the publisher to include some creative ideas that weren’t on their radar?

How do you do unbiased market research for scope and sequence design?

Who are the gatekeepers beyond the publisher and what are their agendas?

Breakout room hopping

This was a super useful feature: three 15-minute opportunities to ask questions about areas connected to materials writing. I asked lots of questions about editing, and was reminded of the existence of the Publishing Professionals website. Thank you for everybody who answered my questions!

Bring your ideas to life using mood boards – Colin Morton

Colin is a freelance designer and illustrator, working as part of Morton Design and Studio Spirit, working in ELT projects. This talk was particularly interesting as it’s a key aspect of ELT publishing which I’ve never heard discussed before.

What is a mood board?

They’re designed to create the feel of a project before it exists, a collective of references, colour palettes and images to give an idea of the direction or feeling of the concept between the actual design work is done. It can help you spark other ideas and think around a problem. Lots of ideas should tie together into a single concept. 5-15 images is the sweet spot.

Designers might produce several mood boards to present to the publishers and decide which way the project might go, for example for a project on street food it could be more authentic and around the world, or connected to the hipster movement.

‘But I’m not a designer!’

Why use it?

  • Planning an event
  • Planning a project
  • Thinking about a blog post you’re writing
  • Considering your personal branding and how you want to sell youself
  • Before you do a talk
  • A character for a story you’re writing
  • An idea for a book you’re writing

Tools you can use

  • Miro
  • Canva
  • Milanote
  • Word
  • InDesign (ID)

Where to get inspiration

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • TV and film
  • Google Images
  • Shutterstock
  • Getty Images
  • Pinterest
  • [I added ELTpics]
  • Absolutely anything you see!

If it’s going to be published, make sure you track the copyright!

Col’s top tips for mood boarding!

  • Set yourself a limit – a time limit helps you to be more creative
  • Cast your next wide – think about lots of different ideas to enrich materials
  • Don’t fear the cliche – they can create a common visual language and get other people to the idea you’re considering very quickly
  • It’s OK to get a little weird – if it’s helped you get into the headspace you need to be in, it’s fine!
  • It doesn’t have to be just images – it can have key words that you hadn’t thought of before, sounds clips etc. if you’re working online
  • Curate, curate, curate – it’s not a load of images just because you like them, it has to fit together somehow and create a single concept.
  • Use them throughout a project – for inspiration at the start, but also great as a reminder part way through of what you got excited about in the first place.
  • Keep them safe! – you never know when you might want to use them again. Keep the images you discarded and where you got them from.
  • Vary the sizes – you can draw the eye around the image and highlight what is more or less important.

Strategies to survive overwhelm – Rachael Roberts

Rachael’s website is life-resourceful.com

One problem with being a freelancer is feast or famine: we’re either overloaded or we’re worried about not having enough. This means we might take on too much in case we don’t get anything else. However good we are at managing our workload, deadlines are going to slip, something unmissable is going to pop up, and things will overlap. The outcome of either situation is higher stress.

The impact of stress on the brain

It’s not always a bad thing. The body releases stress hormones to help us deal with the situation. It’s meant to be a temporary situation and we’re meant to go back to normal after this. Imagine raising your voice to shout, and continuing to shout for the next three or four weeks. This kind of chronic stress has serious impacts on us physically and mentally.

Cognitive fatigue includes:

  • forgetfulness
  • easily irritated
  • tasks that should be simple feel difficult
  • difficulty in prioritising
  • avoidiance or procrastination
  • sleep issues
  • disconnected from others and the world
  • brain fog

When we feel like this, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. We often don’t see the things that might help us to get out of the hole that we find ourselves in.

Why do we take on too much in the first place?

We’re worried that we might not get work in the future. We’re not necessarily making this up, but sometimes the fear of scarcity can blind us to the bigger picture.

If you’re offered longer term work, look carefully at the amount of money – what will your hourly rate work out at? Is it actually worth it? Or will you end up earning very little for the sake of a couple of years of work, and not be able to take on other better paid work?

Tips

Opportunity cost means that we have to consider the time, energy and money involved, and comparing it to the benefit we would have got from the next best alternative. For example, break down your earnings over the past year to see what you’ve earnt from each area e.g. fees, royalties, training, etc. How much work did you put in to get each area of earnings?

The planning fallacy is under-estimating how long it should take to do something. It’s a natural human bias which we all suffer from. Rachael uses Toggl to keep track of how long projects take. Once you have a better idea of how long things actually take, you might be better able to estimate more accurately how long things might take in the future.

Make sure you allow time to work ON your business as well as IN your business: emails, marketing, writing samples, admin, invoices, chasing invoices, taxes, accounting, meetings, etc. You also need to factor in areas like sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, etc. You need to step back and see the bigger picture, rather than engaging in magical thinking about how much time we actually have available.

Time management strategies

To do lists provide a ‘second brain’. You have a system where you know something is safe in another place, rather than getting stressed by remembering things again and again. On the flip side:

  • Can feel overwhelming, especially if you just have one list.
  • Some tasks are tiny, others are massive.
  • Tendency to do the quickest, easiest tasks first – even if they’re not the most important thing to do.
  • No sense of priority.

We can get stressed because we never finish the to do list, and we might feel that we should.

A quote:

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

Eisenhower

The Eisenhower matrix means you can display a to do list in a different way:

Based on Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Covey says we spend a lot of time in the top left box, feeling like firefighting. However, we should spend more time in the top right box – this includes things like exercise. If you focus more in the top right box, you’ll have fewer things int the top left box. In the bottom left box, think about what point in our day you do things – for example, don’t reply to all of your emails when you’re best at concentrating, or consider what could be delegated, or when you might have lower energy levels.

Consider time blocking, especially for things which require deeper focus:

https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/time-blocking

Eat the frog! Do the things you’re resisting doing first thing before you do anything else.

Break down larger tasks, rather than getting overwhelmed by looking at the whole thing you need to do.

Gamify: for example by using the Pomidoro technique or Forest App.

The discussion at the end of the day reminded us to have a clear start and end point to your day, including perhaps a walk or a swim.

The Compassionate Mind – Paul Gilbert

We have three systems:

  • Thread system: to react to threats and self-protection
  • Drive system: motivation to survive and succeed
  • Soothing system: to make us feel safe

If we spend too long in the threat or drive system, and not enough time in the soothing system, we’ll suffer for it.

We have to do three things:

  1. Rest – more work without rest doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be more productive
  2. Go outside – if you go outside and get exercise, your brain continues to work in the background.
  3. Stop – if you’re struggling with something, stop and do something else. Go outside or indulge in some deep play, where you’re in flow: puzzles, gardening…

These will help your brain work better.

In conclusion

  1. Consider WHY you may be taking on too much
  2. Develop strategies to manage your time more efficiently
  3. Learn to manage your energy, not just your time

Self-publishing in ELT: ensuring quality through the editorial process – Penny Hands

[Penny edited both of my self-published ELT Playbooks, so I was particularly interested in this talk to see what I might have missed out, since I’m fully intending for the series to get a lot longer!]

Why self-publish?

Topic seems niche

Experiment with writing things that publishers might not be interested in

Having control

Faster than finding a publisher

Self-publishing has a quality problem.

Nick Robinson, ELTJam

So what can we do to compete on a quality level with publishers?

What does a developmental/structural/content editor do?

You can work with them:

  • to develop the structure and content of your book
  • to express the essence of your message
  • identify disparities in style and tone
  • ensure you remain focussed on your target audience
  • help to make your book more marketable

[As Penny said, this is a very helpful process – it really helped me!] It’s a collaboration. They don’t usually check your spelling and grammar.

What does a copy editor do?

A copy editor:

  • ensures that your manuscipt does not contain errors
  • is easy to read
  • fulfils its aims
  • ensures it doesn’t contain unnecessary parts
  • identify mistakes
  • alert you to possible legal problems
  • analyse the document structure
  • checks whether the language is pitched at the right level (of language/knowledge) for the target readers
  • whether any terms or abbreviations need to be explained
  • whether the tone, style and vocabulary are appropriate,
  • whether things like jokes or anecdotes add authority or undermine the writer.

Either of these kinds of editor has to put themselves in the shoes of the reader to help you make the book as good as possible for the reader.

What does a proofreader do?

  • They read the ‘proof’ for typos, punctuation, etc. The proof is post design.
  • Look for consistency in presentation and corresponence between text and images.
  • Checks the table of contents against the headings.
  • Check or insert cross references.
  • Check that everything looks right and is logically arranged.

As a self-published author, it helps to be clear about which of these roles the editor should fulfil at any point, and you need all of them. This may be in separate rounds.

Why does an author need an editor?

  • Writing which may seem clear to you could be confusing to the audience. You need somebody with distance.
  • It can feed in new ideas.
  • To help the author get to where they want to, without the author being there to explain it!
  • They can recommend how to rewrite in various ways: pruning, reining you in, noticing holes in your arguments.
  • Having a second person who cares about the project as much as you, but can see it from a different angle, can be really useful.
  • Adds an extra layer of quality.

Summarised from http://writing.stackexchange.com/questions/1716/why-does-an-author-need-an-editor

How can I find an editor who is a ‘good fit’ for me?

Narrowing it down

Once you have a list of possibles, look at their LinkedIn profile and their credentials.

  • What’s their experience?
  • What sort of books have they already worked on?
  • Do they keep up with current methodology?
  • Do they have a blog/website?
  • Do you think you might like them? (tone of email, Skype call?)

First contact

  • Find out a bit about the editor
  • Ask about their rates
  • Agree on the scope of the work
  • Establish expectations
  • How will the work be done (software, drafts, tracking quesries)?
  • What are you style preferences (e.g. spelling, vioce)?
  • How will you communicate?
  • When is each part of the work due?
  • When will payment be due? How will you pay?
  • Does this editor understand your aim?
  • Do they know what the audience needs?
  • Do they have the appropriate background and experience?
  • Can they do the work within the timeframe and within your budget?

What to tell the editor

  • the subject area
  • the number of words
  • the format it is written in (Word, pdf, etc.)
  • when the file is likely to be available
  • your preferred deadline for completion

How much will it cost?

CIEP minimum hourly rate (2021)

  • 29.90GBP for copy editing
  • 34.40GBP for development editing

Average of about 30 GBP an hour according – freelance editing

How long will it take?

Copy-editing: around 1000-1500 words/hr

Development editing: 500-1000 words/hr

According to https://scieditor.ca/2011/07/productivity-rates-in-editing/ – there is an estimator on the page, but it might be quite high

When do you get in touch?

If you have an idea, you can speak to a development editor to brainstorm ideas, but generally most editors would prefer you to have finished your manuscript.

You may want to have a beta reader look at it first, for example running it by a colleague. It has to be somebody who want just say ‘yes, that’s great’. Having a list of questions can help them to know what you need the answers to.

Preparation

  • Create files
  • Craete folders
  • Establish naming protocols

How can I nurture a quality relationship with an editor?

  • Respect deadlines
  • Respect the target market
  • Write for the reader, not yourself
  • Welcome constructive criticism
  • Communicative
  • Expect the editor to be prompt, clear and positive
  • Treat the relationship as fundamentally collaborative

[I’ve definitely missed some things in Penny’s talk here – there was so much useful information there!]

Here’s an activity I did in the final lesson with my beginner 10-12 year olds today.

First, we each drew 2 animals, 2 people and a room:

Then I put some possible questions and answers into the chat:

Them I put the students into breakout rooms for 10 minutes with a partner to ask and answer questions. They enjoyed it so much, they repeated it with another partner.

Super simple, super effective, and practices those tricky question structures. And it shows them just how long they can speak in English for after only 9 months!

For almost half of my professional life, I’ve been working as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz: six years here, out of a total of thirteen. To say it’s hard to leave is an understatement, but it’s time for the next person to take their turn, and for me to go on to new adventures.

Most of the teachers finished their contracts a couple of days ago, so now we just have the last few lessons to finish, and a few days to prepare for next year before our summer break. I’ll be back briefly in August and September for the last part of the handover, but my full-time management of a team of 20 teachers has come to an end.

TL;DR: the word cloud shows some of what my job has involved over the past few years, and just how much I’ve learnt 🙂

A list of all terms in the word cloud (repeated to show relative size):
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
creating~teams
management
teaching
training
workshops
meetings
Google~Drive
online~registers
continual~assessment
creating~tests
choosing~coursebooks
recruitment
interviewing
communication
IH~CAM
induction~week
timetabling
teaching~Polish
teaching~teens
teaching~young~learners
advising~students
dealing~with~complaints
dealing~with~mental~health~issues
organising~cover
problem~solving
Zoom
responding~to~COVID
teaching~online
classroom~dynamics
observations
drop~in~observations
video~observations
tracking~development
professional~development~interviews
choosing~groups
choosing~teachers
tracking~student~progress
contacting~students~and~parents
streamlining~processes
motivating~teachers
encouraging~teachers
training~senior~staff
supporting~staff
making~decisions
being~inspected
mentoring
managing~performance
dealing~with~difficult~people
letting~staff~go
tracking~overtime
managing~pay
updating~contracts
cooperating~with~other~schools
organising~social~events
sharing~what~we~do
Teacher~Training~Days
references
placement~testing
level~meetings
SEN
guiding~professional~development
offering~advice
calming~people~down
letting~people~cry
crying
responding~to~staff~feedback
answering~emails
speaking~to~publisher~reps
managing~resources
checking~reports
writing~reports
managing~my~time
scheduling~meetings
managing~remotely
attending~conferences
representing~the~school
bringing~back~ideas
creative~thinking
chatting
socialising
maintaining~a~positive~environment

Coming to Bydgoszcz

In January 2015, I was at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference, representing IH Sevastopol. A few days earlier, we’d decided that I wouldn’t be returning to the school full time as there weren’t enough students to justify it. I was a DoS without a school. Then I sat next to Tim, who changed my life in one sentence: “We’re looking for a new DoS next year.” A couple of weeks later I was in Bydgoszcz for a long weekend. I shadowed Tim for two days, during most of which I wondered how he managed to juggle so many things and thought I wouldn’t be able to do that. Thanks to his confidence in me, and that of Luke, Sam and Lisa, I was persuaded to take the position, and after that initial wobble I’ve never regretted it.

The Director

Grzegorz Chruszcz started IH Bydgoszcz in 1992, and the school wouldn’t be what it is without his vision. He cares so deeply about every aspect of the school: the teachers, the students, all of the other staff. He’s easily the best boss I’ve ever had, and I feel very grateful to count him as a friend too. He’s been by my side during all of the ups and downs of the past six years, professional and personal. Together we’ve celebrated successes, made difficult decisions, and striven to maintain the best quality school we can, while caring for all of the people involved. Grzegorz has been particularly amazing during the COVID pandemic, driving all over the city to drop off things we needed to keep on working from home, and bringing us Easter gifts along with the less exciting masks and disinfectant we needed to stay safe.

The senior teams

Luke and Sam were my first senior team. They had been working at the school for a few years before I came along, and gave me all the support I could have wished for to learn how the school worked and to settle in.

Helen, Rose, Sarah and Nick were my next team. They joined the school while I was here, and really helped me to grow and refine the systems that make the school run.

Emma and Ruth have been my senior team for the last two years. They have helped me to deal with so many challening situations during that time, including but not limited to the pandemic of the last 15 months.

I know that the school is in safe hands as Emma takes over as DoS next year, and Ruth stays on as ADoS. They’ll have the support of Connor and Ash, our two new senior teachers, staying at the school to take the next step in their careers.

The teachers

Whether they’ve stayed for one year or far longer, the teachers I’ve worked with over the past six years have been professional, caring, enthusiastic, and willing to learn. They’ve dealt with all kinds of different things being thrown at them, and provided the feedback and support we needed to keep on improving the school. Many of them I now count as friends, and I’ve really enjoyed continuing to see what they do after they leave the school.

Watching brand new, fresh-off-CELTA teachers come into the school, and turn into confident, competent, flourishing teachers over the course of their time at the school has been one of consistent privileges and pleasures of working at the school, and is one of the things I’ll miss the most.

The important people!

Mariola, Sandra, Marta, Monika: running the office of such a thriving school isn’t easy. Dealing with all of the admin of managing hundreds of students across four locations, contacting parents and students, running a Cambridge exam centre, and dealing with paperwork and the random questions of a team of twenty plus teachers, many of them foreigners, is really not easy, but the ladies in the office have always supported us and kept everything running smoothly.

Ania manages the accounts and accommodation for our teachers, and Marek manages the IT sides of things, both dealing with my random questions and last-minute requests admirably and with a smile on their faces.

Pan Wlodek, and the sadly missed Pan Piotr, the caretakers, greet students with a smile as they come into the building. Pan Piotr ran a mean barbecue for the end of year school social, and Pan Wlodek fixes everything which goes wrong in the school flats, apart from all of the things they do around the school. They may not speak much English, but they always find a way to communicate with the teachers, often prompting much hilarity 🙂

The school

We are lucky to have the whole school building to ourselves. Grzegorz has created a lovely environment for us to work in, with well-equipped staffrooms, and a wonderful office for me right next to them. The classrooms all have their own personalities, some including original features from the building like ceramic stoves, while others have balconies. There’s a garden area at the back, and a conference room and ‘club’ area for socials and other events. I’ve also had the chance to travel out to other schools in the area where we rent classrooms, and companies where we teach too.

The overall environment in the school is one of support. Questions fly around the staffroom, and there is always somebody to answer them. Feedback runs in every direction, including upwards, and we all improve as a result. As Emma put it so well, there is a lack of ego. I will miss being part of such a strong team at the school, year after year.

So what have I learnt?

So, so much!

I think the biggest area I’ve developed in has been my ability to manage my emotions, especially during challenging situations. When I first came to the school, if somebody got angry, I would probably be likely to raise my voice back and argue at a similar level. I’ve learnt to stop myself from doing that, to stay calm, and to know when to walk away from a situation and come back later when we have both calmed down. I also used to get very emotional when we received staff feedback. I’ve worked with our staff reps over the last few years to move towards more balanced feedback, but have also learnt not to take things to heart so much. Many of the most useful changes I feel I’ve been able to implement have come as a direct result of the feedback staff have shared with us.

Those who’ve been with me at the school for a while know that I still cry, but it’s pretty much always happy tears now. One of my happiest memories was during the craziness that was the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We had decided to close the school for two days to give us all time to learn how to use Zoom. Watching the whole team rise to the challenge and support each other made me realise (yet again!) just how privileged I was to work at this school with this team of people, and I ended up crying while I watched them all working together.

My communication skills have developed hugely. I choose my words more carefully, and slow down and reflect on the potential effect of what I’m saying or writing much more than I did when I first became DoS. I’ve also improved my ability to share information effectively in meetings and emails, and to keep everyone who needs to know in the loop with information. We’ve strengthened systems to communicate with students and parents across the school, and to share relevant information about students within the school. Thanks to the hard work of the teachers and the office, I feel like as I leave we’re in the best position ever with regards to everybody knowing what they need to know about student progress, and about the needs of students in their groups.

Introducing Google Drive is probably the biggest change I’ve implemented over the past few years. We moved from paper to online registers in my second year. The registers have been refined since then to meet the needs of the teachers and the school, making it ever easier to complete admin requirements, track progress, and write reports…though I still have to remind myself to stay calm when asking teacher X or Y to complete their registers for the umpteenth time! We use Google Forms to collect information about various things across the school, and as a key step in teachers communicating information to parents and students – it’s something of a running joke that I create a form whenever I need to know something 😉 My ability to exploit the functions of Excel and Google Sheets has grown exponentially, and there are all kinds of functions and formulae that I can work with now, but had no idea even existed six years ago. We also use Sheets to track things like report writing and checking, information about struggling students, and who needs to create tests by when. We’ve also introduced online placement testing, thanks to the support of Barrie at IH Seville.

When I started at the school, there was already a very strong focus on professional development, particularly on supporting early career teachers. There are weekly workshops, collaborative planning meetings, regular developmental observations, and the chance for returning teachers to do the IH Certificate in teaching Young Learners and Teenagers (IHCYLT). To that mix, I’ve added mentoring and video observations (somewhat accidentally!) I’ve become much better at understanding how collaborative planning meetings can be organised to best scaffold teacher development. We now get regular feedback on the success of our workshops, though there’s still work to be done on evaluating the long-term effectiveness of our workshops. My workshops are tied much more strongly to what actually happens in the classroom, including time for teachers to consider how they can apply what they have learnt rather than just throwing information at them.

Interviewing potential new teachers was one of the biggest challenges for me when I first arrived. I didn’t really know what questions to ask or how to structure an interview. Thanks to other IH DoSes and Josh Round, we now have a much clearer process, including a pre-interview lesson plan task, and a consistent set of interview questions. As I became familiar with the kind of questions it was and wasn’t useful to ask, I also became more comfortable with personalising interviews to each applicants. All interviews are now conducted by two members of the senior team, which has removed some of the issues with recruitment we had earlier on in my tenure as there is always somebody else there to discuss things with.

I’ve learnt how to manage the puzzle that is the timetable, aiming to provide teachers with the most friendly timetable I can. This includes carefully considering the levels they teach, the double-ups they have, the one-to-ones they work with, the hours they work within a single day and across the week, and many other factors. I’ve become more efficient at this over the years, and I don’t think I’ve had any complaints for at least three years, so hopefully I’ve been doing something right!

I have tried to introduce more standardisation across the school, with clearer guidelines for teachers and senior staff about different processes they are involved in. For new processes, this has generally created two or three years of teething problems – you know that the process is working when people don’t remark on it any more! These have included standardising continual assessment and testing, how information is communicated outside and within the school, and how information is recorded. We also have a bank of ‘how to’ documents which any of us can refer to. This maintains institutional knowledge, meaning that it isn’t lost when staff leave the school. Hopefully it makes things easier for teachers working with new kinds of classes (for example, conversation classes or exam clubs) and senior staff joining the management team.

My time management has gone from strength to strength. I’ve always been pretty good at juggling things, but the challenges of managing a team like this have really pushed me. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different ways to track the tasks I need to complete and the meetings I need to have – it took about three years to settle on the system that works for me. My weekends have also become much more clearly delineated, and I’ve learnt to say no to things outside school at challenging periods of the year, choosing when is best for me to take on extra responsibilities – I’m looking forward to having more flexibility to choose how I manage my time as I move to freelancing!

The last thing I’d like to highlight is just how supportive the wider International House community is. IHWO have always been on hand to answer my questions, as have other DoSes who I’ve got to know from the online community and by attending the IH AMT conferences. Many of the changes I’ve made within the school have been inspired by what they’re doing, from big things mentioned above to much smaller things like Monica Green mentioning how important it is to say positive things to people too. I hope I already did that, but until I heard her say it, I wasn’t conscious of how often I did it. Since then, I’ve tried hard to keep my communication as balanced as possible, and encourage teachers to come to me with positive things too, not just when they have problems (I need balanced comments coming my way too!)

What’s next?

Having developed so much over the last few years, I’m really looking forward to passing that on to others as much as I can. Once the handover to Emma is complete, I’ll be fully freelance from October. I’m aiming to work on a combination of projects, including training for others and on my own courses (watch this space!), CELTA tutoring, materials writing, methodology writing, working on my own books, and consultancy work. I’m also planning to complete my NILE MA. If you’re interested in working with me, please contact me via Twitter @sandymillin or on my Work with me page.

Farewell IH Bydgoszcz! On to the next adventure…

On 4th June 2021 I did a presentation as part of IH Bucharest’s regular series of webinars. I did a version of a talk I first presented at IATEFL 2014, sharing activities you can use to train students to understand real-world listening, not just coursebook audio.

Bridging the gap between classroom and real-world listening

“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from students I worked with in the UK. Inspired by their problems and the work of John Field and Richard Cauldwell, this workshop aims to introduce you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English.

Here is a recording of the talk, including more information about IH Bucharest and the teacher training they offer:

Here are the slides:

The books I recommended are:

(These are affiliate links, so if you buy them or anything else after clicking on these links I will get a little money. Thank you!)

I also recommend showing your students how to make the most of podcasts. I wrote a post on my Independent English blog which you can use as an introduction or to find links to some podcasts I recommend.

I’ve previously shared resources related to weak forms, including more word clouds like the one in the presentation.

The audio tracks are not included in the presentation, so I’ve uploaded them to Audioboom so you can listen to them and/or use them in class. No copyright infringement is intended.

New English File Intermediate, CD 2, Track 13

Kermode and Mayo anecdote from 20th Sept 13 programme

Ibiza holiday disaster paragraph NEF Pre-Int U2A

Today we’re looking at a lot of listening activities

I’m here for a conference

If you’d like to find other resources connected to listening skills, beyond the ones shared in the presentation, I would also recommend:

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

Following my post about staging activities in which I mentioned cognitive load, Rose Lewis got in touch with me. We worked together at International House Bydgoszcz for three years, and she is now doing a PGCE in primary school education in the UK. She kindly agreed that it was OK for me to turn her email into a blogpost – it’s a great collection of links which you might want to explore.

I read your recent blog post and it made me think, so I thought I might as well share my thoughts with you! I’m fascinated by cognitive load theory and am slowly getting my head around it all.

I don’t think the amount of cognitive load should be considered only, or especially, for low level pupils. It applies to anyone who is learning anything! Just the amount of prior knowledge which they have changes. I think it would actually be really interesting to touch on during the CELTA – things like Rosenshine’s principles provide a useful, accessible guide. 

Retrieval practice is one of the interesting things in Rosenshine’s principles and I know I definitely didn’t include this in my EFL lessons much beyond warmers. Something I’ve seen in my teaching placements during my PGCE is “morning work” – as the pupils all arrive at different times, they have tasks to do while they wait to practice stuff learnt weeks/months ago. If I were to teach again at IH Bydgoszcz, I’d definitely include this! I’m sure you could even make something universal that could be used for every lesson – 4 tasks to chose from like writing sentences with vocabulary or grammar structures, or writing about your day. OK, it might make some students hang out in Focus Mall [next door to school!] until the lesson starts (when you have live lessons again) but it might give others something more useful to do than just sit on their phone! 

Back to cognitive load theory…

I don’t know if it’s still a popular thing, but back when I did my CELTA, the stage aim of our warmer was always supposed to be “activating schemata”. I understood this as just getting the students familiar with the topic before learning how to talk about it. Now, I realise that it’s about reducing part of our cognitive load – it’s the idea of balancing the demands of ‘what to say’ and ‘how to say it’. The theory is that schemas work as one item in the working memory, so there are fewer elements being stored in the working memory. Although critics say that schema theory can be used to explain anything!

There’s a huge focus on “I/We/You” scaffolding for tasks in primary school. It’s basically the “I do, we do, you do” that I learnt about at IH Bydgoszcz. Whiteboards are very popular – every pupil in every class I’ve been in has one, and it’s used in nearly all lessons. Pupils have to show that they’re confident with it before they go off and work independently. It’s both a confidence boost for the pupils, and it allows you to assess their understanding of the task. From a differentiation perspective, there’s also a strong emphasis in primary schools of moving the pupils on with their learning as soon as they’re ready. So, if you use the whiteboards and see that some pupils have got it, they can go on with the independent task. Then, you form a smaller group to work with those who still need support. 

Dual coding is also a really interesting theory, but I think I’ve written enough for now. I’ve also learnt a lot about modelling writing which I think could be really interesting in the EFL classroom, especially when we want pupils to use certain grammatical structures and get frustrated when they don’t. Oliver Caviglioli has written a useful book called Dual Coding With Teachers [Amazon affiliate link] if you’re interested in finding out more.

I found Steve Garnett’s CLT: A handbook for teachers really interesting [Amazon affiliate link]. Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand was also super helpful. Teacherhead by Tom Sherrington is a blog I’ve enjoyed (and I’ve just bought his book) and here is a blog all about cognitive load. Both their twitter feeds are really interesting too: @teacherhead and @olicav.

Graphic organisers might also be interesting to explore, especially with upper-int/advanced classes where you have the change to explore long reading texts.

Finally, I recommend rewatching Inside Out – I watched this while writing up my action research and it got me thinking all about memory and the connections we make! Probably not very accurate, but fun anyway 🙂 

Anyway, there are my assorted thoughts! Like I said, I’m definitely no expert, but I enjoy talking/thinking about cognitive load theory! It’s been interesting reflecting on the things I’ve learnt on the PGCE which were missing in my EFL practice. Hopefully I make it back to the English teaching world one day!

Five emotion characters from Inside Out: Disgust, Fear, Joy, Sadness, Anger
The five main characters from Disney Pixar’s film Inside Out

This was my response to Rose’s message:

Thank you so much for that – so many interesting things there. I’d come across a few of them before, mostly from the Learning Scientists, but I’ve struggled to find the time or mental space to apply them to my own teaching. I also haven’t really been able to do in-depth research or reading on it beyond the bits and pieces I’ve picked up from blogposts, podcasts or the psychology in English teaching book I read (really need to go back to that!).

Your message adds so much depth to that – I think there’s so much opportunity for cross-pollination between state and private schools, and it’s good to see some of that in action.

I’m guessing you’ve seen the ReadWriteThink resources? They’re the main source I have for graphic organisers, and I use KWL charts fairly often but not much else. I also agree with you that cognitive load isn’t just for low-level students, but I do think that that’s where it can make the biggest long-term difference if teachers understand how it adds to the stresses of a task.

Inside Out is one of my favourite films – I think I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times. Everyone should watch it!

I’ll definitely be coming back to this post and this topic in the future I believe – lots of interesting things to explore here.

This is a super quick activity I suggested to a teacher last week which I haven’t tried out, so please do let me know if it works! I also haven’t created an example because I’m feeling lazy today, so I hope it makes sense; let me know if you need one to help you understand how to set up the activity.

We were talking about how to practise reported speech patterns in a fun way when you can’t play Chinese whispers/telephone, which I think would be pretty hard to transfer online (I’m happy to be corrected if you’ve made this work somehow).

It goes like this:

  • Set up a Jamboard with a 5 or 6 stickies of direct speech, all in the same colour. This could be before the lesson (easier to ensure all patterns you want to include are covered), during the lesson (using real things students have said so potentially more motivating) or in a follow-up lesson (using real things from a previous lesson and ensuring all patterns are covered – win-win!). Duplicate the frame so that different pairs/groups can work on the same set of sentences simultaneously. Put a different number in the corner of each frame for ease of reference.
  • In the lesson, demonstrate the activity on frame 1 (your frame!) Choose one of the direct speech quotes. Ask students to help you change it to reported speech – type this version onto a sticky, choose a different colour to the original speech, and move it on top of the direct speech. It’s important that students can’t see the direct speech any more once they’ve written their original version.
  • Share the link, telling students which frame they should work on. With their partner(s), they write reported speech versions of all of the quotes, hiding the direct speech with their new versions.
  • To extend the activity/For fast finishers, add an extra stage (or two or three) where students look at the reported speech and try to reproduce the direct speech. They can compare their version of the direct speech to the original version to see what problems they had with tense shifts etc. They can do this flip-flop for as long as you think it will be useful / to give slower finishers more time to complete the activity.

I think the most important thing to point out in any activity incorporating reported speech is that while there are some common patterns, it’s not an exact science. There may be multiple possible versions of the reported speech depending on what the imagined speaker is trying to emphasise when they reproduce the speech.

I saw Fari Greenaway presenting activities to use with proficiency students at the IH Online conference in May 2019.  Since it’s hard to find good ideas to use with such high-level students, I asked her if she’d mind sharing them with the readers of this blog.  Many of them can be adapted for other levels too. Thank you for agreeing, Fari! (Yep, this post has been a while in arriving! It was also written before any of this COVID malarky happened, hence the fact that online teaching isn’t mentioned, though most of the activities should be pretty easy to adapt online.)

My experience with teaching C2 Proficiency classes is that the materials tend to be very dense and lack communicative or interactive ideas. As a result, teaching C2 often means creating your own activities. I’d like to share some of the activities I use in class.

As with all students C2 level learners can gain from the benefits of interactive work: helping memory, promoting practice and providing motivation by making lessons more fun.

Presentation

Extreme adjective mingle

1) List adjectives and their extreme versions on the board ask students to match the two, e.g.:

hot                                                       exhausted

cold                                                     boiling

tired                                                    furious

interesting                                          starving

angry                                                  freezing

hungry                                               fascinating

2) Elicit the differences between the two lists (the extreme adjectives on the right are non-gradable and take different adverbs – you may want to go through some examples)

3) Give each student a regular adjective on a card and ask them to write a statement on the card with the adjective e.g.: “It’s hot in here”

4) Students should mingle and read their sentences to each other, the listener should answer with the extreme adjective in the correct intonation e.g.. “Hot? It’s boiling!”

Here’s a ready-made extreme adjective activity to give you an idea, but I prefer that the students make their own sentences https://www.eslprintables.com/grammar_worksheets/adjectives/Extreme_adjective_mingling_act_607982/ (retrieved on 15/05/19)

Peer teaching memory test

If your book comes with grammar explanations that you like to use or think are useful: give students a set (short) amount of time to read the information. Ask them to close their books and reconstruct as much they can of the text / rules whilst speaking with their partner.

Reported speech and reporting verbs

  • Students brainstorm reporting verbs.
  • Display a list of reporting verbs on the board and ask students to work together to organise them into groups according to the structure that follows them, this can be done with the verbs written on cards or on a board (ideally an IWB). There is a good table at: https://de.scribd.com/document/136102001/Reporting-Verbs-Table-pdf (retrieved 15/05/19).
  • Check as a class.
  • Give each student a reporting verb and ask them to come up with a sentence that illustrates that verb but doesn’t use it (in direct speech) e.g.: you give them a card saying “apologise” and they write “I’m sorry for being late”.
  • Students mingle and say their sentences to each other.
  • Put students into small groups, they should now report on what the other students in the group said using the structures revised previously, e.g.: She apologised for being late.

Passive/Causative structures

The TV show How it’s made is great for passive and causative structures.

  • Choose a video to show e.g.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1VfdXmqjN8 and then ask students to recall.
  • Ask some introductory questions about the topic, e.g.: in this case: Have you ever tried Japanese noodles? How are they different from Chinese noodles etc…
  • Watch the video and ask students to make notes on what they see.
  • Elicit the structures used in the video, e.g.: “This factory was formed in…” “433 tonnes will be used every year.”
  • Display key words and ask students to reconstruct the procedure, speaking in pairs.
  • Feedback as a class.
  • Students work in pairs to write about the manufacturing process of the product of their choice.

This is also a great video for ellipsis and provides lots of vocabulary and examples of collocations.

Practise

Jigsaw activities

  • Choose a fairly long grammar practice activity (I use activities from Destination C1 and C2) [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Make two copies of it and complete half of the answers on each page i.e. the odd numbers on one page and the evens on another. Label the pages “Student A” and “Student B”. Sit students in A/B pairs and ask them to tell each other what they think is the correct answer
  • They should help each other to find the answer by giving leading responses rather than giving them the correct answer immediately if they get it wrong.

Grass skirts (a race!)

  • Copy sentence transformations and cut them into fringed tear off strips.
  • Tape the pages to the board or door so that students can tear off one transformation at a time.
  • Put students into pairs or small groups.
  • One student from each group at a time should come and tear off a strip from their page (you may want to mark the pages with team names or letters) and take it back to their team.
  • When they have agreed on an answer they write it on the paper and show it to you. If it is correct they tear off the next strip and repeat. If not, they go back to their group and try again.
  • The winning group is the one which finishes their sentences correctly first

Revise

Peer teaching

  • Put students into pairs or small groups.
  • Write structures you have covered and would like to revise on cards for students to randomly select.
  • Supply students with reference material to research their structure.
  • Give students 15 minutes to prepare a short presentation for the rest of the group: it must be presented without prompts, they must provide examples and other students should make notes.

Structure bingo

Create a short grid of structures you would like to revise and a list of 6 topics on the board. Students roll a dice to select the topic and try to be the first to correctly get bingo whilst discussing their topic.

Phrasal verbs / verbs with dependent prepositions

  • With a reading text from the book, do the reading in class or for homework.
  • Give students a list of verbs to find and to underline which preposition they go with.
  • List the prepositions on the board for students to complete with the correct preposition (books closed!)
  • Display gapped sentences on the board or around the room.

Recommended resources

Total English Advanced: Teacher’s Resource Book, Pearson Longman, 2007. Will Moreton [Amazon affiliate link]

Destination C1 and C2 Grammar and Vocabulary, Macmillan, 2008. Malcolm Mann and Steve Taylore-Knowles [Amazon affiliate link]

Devilish Dilemmas game [Amazon affiliate link]

Bio

Fari likes baking.

Other than that she is a linguistics graduate, DELTA qualified and DELTA tutor. She has written numerous EFL articles for different journals and has written teaching material for Edelvives. Fari has spoken has spoken at a variety of provincial, national and international conferences and is a great believer in promoting learner autonomy.

BBC World Service’s CrowdScience is one of my favourite podcasts, as the listener questions are fascinating and it features experts from all over the world.

BBC World Service CrowdScience logo

One recent CrowdScience episode was particularly relevant:

Why is learning stuff harder as you get older?

Have you taken classes to learn a new sport or musical instrument or a language? It’s hard work! Why is it that as children we effortlessly absorb new skills and we don’t as adults?

That’s what 50-something listener Gary Grief wondered about playing guitar. Do you need to play more frequently as an adult to attain the same level of expertise? Does the 10,000-hours theory still apply?

Presenter and budding tabla-player Anand Jagatia embarks on a musical journey to discover what neuroscience can tell us about muscle memory and learning. Do musicians and sportsmen share the same challenges? By understanding what’s happening in the brain, can we learn how to learn better?

With tabla-teacher Satvinder Sehmbey, neuroscientist Dr Jessica Grahn, viola-player Dr Molly Gebrian and sports scientist Prof Yannis Pitsiladis.

CrowdScience episode page, retrieved 15/5/2021

The whole 30-minute episode was fascinating, and I’d recommend all teachers listen to it. My favourite part was the metaphor about learning being like creating tracks in a very deep snow field, that you have to keep going over the ‘correct’ route again and again for it to stand out and become easy to follow, and that when you first start learning something it’s hard to work out which of the single sets of footprints is the ‘correct’ or most efficient one to follow.

CrowdScience is also a good podcast for learners to listen to because there is a wide range of different accents, and because it’s for the World Service the speech is generally a little slower and clearer than programmes intended for home service stations. There’s also normally clearer signposting of topics in the programmes.

Best blog for ELT thought leadership
Sandy Millin

Sandy Millin

Who should read it? ESL teachers interested in keeping up with the latest conversations happening in ELT, including information about using technological resources, book reviews, Delta resources, news about conferences, and more.

It was lovely to see my blog featured on Bridge Education’s list of best EFL blogs. Although I knew the article was being written because I was interviewed for it, I had no idea what the final results would be. ‘ELT thought leadership’ isn’t something I’ve ever considered I do, but I’ll take it!

The other 5 blogs on the list are all worth checking out – there really is something for everyone: they cover ESL, pronunciation, working with refugees and immigrants, business English, young learners, and technology tools, just as a starting point. It’s also worth looking around the Bridge Education website, for example the Professional Development section. (Please note: I don’t know anything about their courses at all, and this should not be taken as an endorsement of them – I have no connection with Bridge other than my blog appearing on the above-mentioned post!)

Thank you Catarina and Bridge Education for including me!

I’ve known Ben Naismith online for quite a while now. I’m sharing this request to help him along with his dissertation research – please complete it if you’re a current or former IELTS examiner.

Dear IELTS examiner,

I would like to request your participation in my dissertation research by completing an online questionnaire.

The purpose of this research study is to determine which quantitative features of writing correspond to expert assessors’ ratings. For that reason, you have been asked to complete this survey based on your own assessment expertise as either a current or former IELTS writing examiner.

If you are willing to participate, in Part 1 you will rate three learner essays and provide reasons for your ratings. In Part 2, you will be asked background information questions (e.g., about your teaching experience and education). In total, the survey should take approximately 20 minutes to complete. Please complete the survey on a computer rather than a mobile device. There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project, nor are there any direct benefits to you, and you will not receive any payment for participation. All responses are confidential, and results will be kept under lock and key. It is optional whether or not you provide your name. Participant names will only be used to ensure that there are no duplicate submissions. Your participation is voluntary, and you may withdraw from this project at any time.

Here is the link to the survey: https://pitt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cYCXODEEMESPYGy  

If you have any questions, please email me at bnaismith@pitt.edu, and I would be happy to answer them. In addition, I would also ask that you share this request with any other current or former IELTS examiners in your professional network.  

Thank you for your consideration,

Ben Naismith

Ben is originally from Victoria, Canada and has been involved in language teaching for nearly 20 years. In this time he has worked in numerous countries and contexts as a teacher, teacher trainer, materials developer, assessment specialist, and researcher. Currently, Ben is completing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh to help bridge the gap between academics and practitioners and to promote evidence-based practices. To this end, Ben’s research interests relate to lexical development, teacher pedagogy, second language acquisition, and learner corpora. His dissertation focuses on learners’ collocational proficiency and the impact of statistical lexical features on experts’ ratings.

I’m on the ‘About Us‘ page now, so it must be official! I’m very happy to say that Ceri Jones and I will now join Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor as part of the TEFL Commute podcast team. In season 13 you can hear Ceri and I co-presenting the episode ‘Women‘, and I join Shaun and Lindsay for ‘Young‘. You’ll also hear me do a few drop ins throughout the series based on the (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas blog, and taking part in the round table discussion about podcasts at the end of season 12. I’ve really enjoyed our discussions so far, and I look forward to many more.

If you’ve never listened to The TEFL Commute Podcast before, here’s the full list of previous episodes: I’d recommend the ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ episodes as a great starting point. Enjoy!

This post is based on emails I exchanged with one of my colleagues last week. He gave me permission to turn them into a blogpost – thank you!

The lesson was revision of superlatives with elementary 10-13 year olds. They had 8 prompts like this: young / person / my family. For each prompt, students needed to individually create a statement, some true, some false. This was very challenging for most of the students in the group, despite the teacher demonstrating it to them first. Only two students out of eight were able to complete the task as it was originally planned. The others ended up writing only true sentences. The teacher emailed me afterwards to find out how to do the task differently next time. The rest of the post is a slightly edited version of my reply (I’m happy to be corrected on my understanding of cognitive load!)

Especially at this level, it’s important to think about the cognitive load you’re putting onto students, and how many levels they need to complete the task on at the same time.

“Cognitive load” relates to the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time. Sweller said that, since working memory has a limited capacity, instructional methods should avoid overloading it with additional activities that don’t directly contribute to learning.

Mind Tools – Cognitive Load Theory (accessed 5th April 2021)

For example, in this task students need to:

  1. work out what the prompts are/mean (i.e. what does the teacher want from me)
  2. create a superlative sentence (a new grammar structure they’ve only just encountered)
  3. decide whether to make it true or false
  4. add the information – either true or false

…so they’re dealing with the task on 4 different levels. It’s an achievable task if you break up each of those levels so students are attacking them separately. This helps students by staging the task for them carefully, enabling them to successfully complete something quite complicated. You can think of this as providing scaffolding or a staircase to help the students reach the high point of the final goal. For example:

  1. Have 2 or 3 examples completed already for reference, refer them to the references to show how the prompt turns into the superlative
  2. Do 1 or 2 of them in the chat box so all of them complete it, then they complete all of them as stems only + feedback
  3. Write T or F next to each piece of information with parameters e.g. 3 x T, 3 x F – check afterwards – have you got three T? three F?
  4. Add the true/false information depending on what letter they wrote before

Alternatively you can remove/change some of the levels – this reduces cognitive load and takes less time in the lesson. You can think of this as students joining the staircase at a higher point, so they’re already closer to the final goal. Any of the levels can be removed:

  1. Don’t use the prompts – make it free choice with a sentence stem e.g. The _______ in my ________ is….
    make it a gapfill e.g. The _______ (tall) person in my family is… (requires careful instruction checking so they don’t fill in the end of the sentence yet!)
  2. Supply the completed stem for them to just understand and complete with information (shift from a form focus to a purely meaning focus, but you don’t know if they actually understood how to form the grammar – you can get around this by asking them to write 2-3 of their own examples at the end)
  3. and 4. Do what you did in the lesson and take away the true/false element.
Image by Vicky Loras from ELTpics, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license

Mind Tools theorises this process like this:

Reduce the Problem Space

The “problem space” is the gap between the current situation and the desired goal. If this is too large, people’s working memory becomes overloaded.

This often happens with complex problems, where the learner needs to work backwards from the goal to the present state. Doing this requires him to hold a lot of information in his working memory at once. Focusing on the goal also takes attention away from the information being learned, which makes learning less effective.

A better approach is to break the problem down into parts. This reduces the problem space and lightens the cognitive load, making learning more effective.

Other methods of reducing the problem space include providing worked examples and presenting problems with partial solutions for the learner to complete. These approaches are particularly useful, because they demonstrate strong problem-solving strategies in practice.

Mind Tools – Cognitive Load Theory (accessed 5th April 2021)

If you’re interested in reading more about how to break down a task and provide scaffolding to help learners complete it, take a look at my idea for a scaffolding continuum.

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Claire Parsons started out in EFL in 2012 as a British Council Language Assistant in Chile. After a year, she decided she liked teaching, and took her CELTA in Strasbourg in 2014. She has since worked in Vietnam, Poland, the UK, Israel and Spain. She is currently based at IH San Sebastián in Spain, where she passed the IHCYLT in 2018, and the Delta in January 2021. She’s interested in teacher training and materials writing. When she’s not teaching, she can be found cooking, reading, hiking or knitting. 

Claire Parsons

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did my Delta part-time, through the Distance Delta for all 3 modules. I worked in the same school for the duration of my Delta. I started in 2018, and decided to do Module 1 first, to “ease” myself into the swing of things – I took a prep course starting in September, and took the exam in December. I started Module 3 in the following March, and completed it by June. I started Module 2 in September 2019, and the plan was to have everything done and dusted by April 2020… but you can guess what got in the way! I ended up deferring Module 2 until a later session because of COVID, and eventually completed Module 2 in October 2020, before the country went into partial lockdown (again). 

Why did you choose to do it that way?

In practical terms, it would have been difficult for me to get time off from my current job to do an intensive course. I had several friends and co-workers who had taken the Delta through the Distance Delta and they were really happy with the support they received. I also liked the idea that I could study and work at the same time, and not have to commit to an intensive course somewhere else (as full-time courses aren’t on offer where I am currently based). I also spoke to friends who DID take the intensive format, and I honestly think if I’d done it that way, I wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale! 

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

Loads! I remember my DoS in San Sebastián saying that her Delta comes in useful every day, and I have to agree. I feel like I got much better at evaluating what makes a lesson effective, and I think it opened my eyes to how many different ways there are to teach something. The Professional Development Assignment I completed over the course of Module 2 was probably the most enjoyable part for me, because I liked taking the time to really think about what I needed to work on to become a better teacher. I think it helped me think more critically about what my strengths are and exploit them, and what my weaknesses are to try and address them. It’s also come in useful as my school put me in charge of putting together assessment materials for some of our Young Learner levels, which meant that I could put my Module 3 knowledge (which focused on YLs) to good use. Not a day goes by where I don’t use something I learnt from the Delta. 

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It took over my life for the best part of 2 years, and at times it felt like there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t reading, meeting a deadline, tweaking a lesson plan, and so on. It was quite a lonely experience at times because there wasn’t anyone else at my school taking Module 2 at the same time as me. Although plenty of senior staff and other teachers in my school have taken the Delta, it’s very different when there’s no-one going through the same things as you at the same time! I think I was disciplined enough to stick to the deadlines set, and to do enough reading and research without being prodded and reminded, but this is definitely something you should be brutally honest with yourself about: if you’re not so good at organising your own time, maybe this method isn’t the best way forward for you. 

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Financially, it worked out well because I was earning my normal salary while I studied. It meant I also spared myself the stress of finding short-term accommodation in a new city! I also felt comfortable with the profile of students I was teaching, so I didn’t feel under pressure to get to know a new learning culture in a short space of time. Spreading the Delta over a year or two meant that I could experiment a lot more, and take my time to try out things I was reading about! I was really grateful for the Module 2 orientation course in London. There were only 4 of us, and our tutor was amazing, so I feel like we all received an incredible amount of support over the 2 weeks we were there. I got MUCH better at managing my planning time: because I was working a busy timetable throughout the courses, I had to really learn to prioritise and plan effectively. This has been a really important takeaway since finishing the Delta, as now I realise that I can plan effectively without agonising for far too long on a lesson plan!   

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Do the Delta because you WANT to be a better teacher. I think that people sometimes believe the Delta is the next logical step in an EFL career, but I think that’s only really true if you’re willing to put your teaching under a microscope and actively decide you want to make it better. Check if there’s an academic library in your school or city. Although the Distance Delta provides access to a lot of articles and reading materials, it’s helpful to have access to other books that are recommended on the reading lists. Make sure you have a decent break before you start Module 2. I had just done a 6-week summer school and went straight into the orientation course in London, then straight back to my normal job! I was exhausted before I’d really even started. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel in your LSAs. Tutors aren’t interested in how fancy your lesson is if you haven’t met your aims! Although there’s SO MUCH literature available, try to resist the temptation to read every single chapter/book that you hear mentioned during the course. Be selective with what you read, and ask your tutors for advice if you’re stuck.  

I’m a huge fan of Quizlet and use it in almost every lesson (here’s how), but recently I’ve been experimenting with a few other authoring tools (ones where you can make your own content) with my 10-12 year old beginners. I find that once they know how to use the tool this is the easiest way to create student-centred activities, because they don’t need my help to generate new prompts or to keep the activity going, and a lot of the tools are fairly intuitive so they don’t need too much explanation to understand how to use them. The ultimate sign of a good technology tool with this age group is when they ask to continue playing – how often do you hear your young/teen students ask for more drilling? Or more spelling practice? Or more time to speak to their partners? With these tools they do!

Wheel Decide allows you to create spinning wheels with text. I made one with a set of sentences based on Project 1 Unit 3. Each sentence had one, two, or three words inside * *. The students had to write their own version of the sentence in a Google Doc changing the words in the stars. For example, they see My monster has got *three arms*. and they change it to My monster has got two wings.

Wheel Decide spinning wheel with 12 sentences on it

Class Tools has a huge range of different adaptable templates. I used the Vortex template to create a categorisation game where students decided if verb phrases went with I/you/we/they or he/she/it, to help them get exposure to the third person -s endings. If you want to create your own, make sure you type the link somewhere else and check it opens before you close your beautiful creation because otherwise you probably won’t be able to get it back!

Flippity has a range of templates based on Google spreadsheets which are easy to adapt. The randomiser creates a kind of slot machine. I used something simliar to this as a prompt for drilling daily routine with times in a more student-centred way, but the randomiser tool is much easier to use – go to Flippity for a demo and full instructions.

I know I’m late to the Wordwall party, but I’ve definitely arrived now! I’ve found lots of resources which created by other teachers based on the book I’m using (see the list below). My favourite game is another categorisation one, based on daily routine phrases. It was originally made as a ‘group sort’ task, similar to the vortex above, but you have the option of making it into ‘whack a mole’ which I think is potentially more memorable. Students have to hit the moles which are ‘have’ and avoid the ones which are ‘go’. Each level has more moles. I haven’t actually tried this with my students yet, but I’m sure they’ll like it.

Here is a (view-only) full list of all of the online resources I’ve found or created to use with OUP’s Project 1 4th edition book. If you have suggestions for other specific resources for this book which I could add or simple authoring tools I should try with my students, please leave them in the comments below. I’ll be teaching this group until June 2021, so the list will continue to evolve between now and then.

TEFL Commute: Women

To mark International Women’s Day, it was a great pleasure for me to co-host an episode of The TEFL Commute Podcast with Ceri Jones.

In this episode, we celebrate International Women’s Day with a takeover by Sandy Millin and Ceri Jones. They look at the history of the day, talk about their experiences as women in ELT, reflect on representation in ELT, and maintain the TEFL Commute tradition by having not one, but two quizzes!

Here are links to a few of the things we mentioned during the episode:

Thanks to James, Shaun and Lindsay for handing over a whole episode to us – I hope you like what we did with it!

All change!

I came to International House Bydgoszcz in September 2015, having been Director of Studies in a very different, much smaller school (IH Sevastopol) for a year, followed by a freelance CELTA trainer for a year. When I came to Poland, I thought I might stay for 5 years. It’s now my 6th year, and my last.

I’ve learnt so much from the job and the people I’ve worked with, but now it’s time to move on and let somebody else take their turn. I’m very happy to say that my colleague will take over from me as the next DOS, and I wish her the best of luck with the position, in what is one of the best schools I’ve ever had the privilege to be in contact with.

As for me, I’ll be moving into the world of freelancing from October 2021. I’m aiming for a combination of teacher training (CELTA and non-CELTA), materials writing, and perhaps also some teaching and consultancy work. If you have a project you think I might be a good fit for, please do get in touch. I also plan to continue my work on the ELT Playbook series, so watch this space for announcements of new titles or subscribe to the blog or facebook page. I’m excited about taking the next step, and look forward to continuing to share what I learn with you.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

Delta Conversations: Harriet

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Harriet Lowe discovered her passion for teaching English in Italy, returning to London to complete her CELTA in 2016 and continued teaching English and EAP (English for Academic Purposes) at various institutions in London. She has attempted to bridge the gap between theory and practice, continuing teaching alongside her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Greenwich. Since completing the Delta, she has become a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and the Academic Manager for English Language Courses at the University of Greenwich, and a Dissertation Supervisor in Applied Linguistics and TESOL at UCL. She continues to use her research, which uses eye-tracking methodology to gain insights into the cognitive processes behind second language acquisition, and knowledge gained from the Delta to influence her teaching, teacher training and curriculum development. More information can be found on her website https://harrietllowe.wordpress.com

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I ended up doing my Delta in a rather jumbled way but I still found the modules really complemented each other regardless of the arrangement of them. I started with Module 2, attending a part-time course at Oxford House College in London, with Tuesday and Thursday evening classes and four full Saturdays spread over a few months. I followed with Module 3, which I did independently, with a private tutor just looking over the final draft. In general, the advice on the Cambridge website gave me sufficient support and direction to complete this module alone. Most colleagues who I spoke to told me that the paid courses were just access to links and books, but I was lucky enough to have full access to my university library and journals, which I was able to use as research and sources throughout the module. I ironically finished with Module 1, with the help of a private tutor, who provided me with materials, feedback on mock exams and a lot of intense studying!

Why did you choose to do it that way?

With working part-time and doing a PhD, I only had time to do one module at a time. I had heard how intense each module was and despite being encouraged to wait to complete module 1 first (to ensure my terminology knowledge was adequate) I happened to think about the Delta when a Module 2 course was starting, so it seemed most convenient to do it this way. I also knew how bad I was at exams so I wanted to make sure I had the time to be able to revise for this module (and I am pleased I waited to do this – because it requires hours of studying!)

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

I gained a lot from the Delta. Although I found some problems with the Module 2 course which led to me completing the final two modules independently, each module encouraged continuous reflection and consideration of my own teaching, my theoretical knowledge, and the future of my teaching. Reflecting on the individual modules…

Module 2 – I learnt so much from colleagues and conversations about my lessons, especially my background essays and plans. Completing these was not necessarily the bit I learnt from but discussing the ins and outs with colleagues and my mentor helped me consider the impact of my lesson materials, staging and approach on my learners. This was not just the CELTA ‘Can you teach a lesson?’; but this was ‘How does your lesson effectively encourage learning?’ and I really enjoyed and developed from these considerations. This module completely changed the way I envisage and plan lessons, focusing on my learners and the acquisition of the target language, and I have seen a real change in my learners since.

Module 3 – I struggled with this module, having to adapt the academic writing I am used to, but again learnt to adjust my perspective, bridging that gap between theory and practice. Being encouraged to look at course design from a student-centred perspective helped both my own English teaching and curriculum development.

Module 1 – Having taught theories of SLA at university, I had a head start on this section of the exam; however, I was thrilled to be able to fully focus on phonology and phonetics. I’ve never really been a grammar nerd, but I had a chance to really sit down and study this in more detail. 

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

It took a long time. Of course, the impact of COVID was completely out of my control and I had to delay Module 1 by 9 months which delayed job development opportunities. I felt like I was dragging by the end!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I had time to continue working alongside the Delta and put the knowledge into practice throughout the entire process. By the end (Module 1), I had spent nearly a year self-studying and continuing to develop my knowledge and understanding of the concepts from Modules 2 and 3. Spreading the modules out like this meant I could see the influence of the modules on my teaching as I completed the Diploma.

The modules are hard-core and require your time. Doing the modules separately was really beneficial as I spent around 2-3 hours a day every day studying for Module 1. Module 2 completely absorbed my life for the month of the part-time course, and I spent at least 6 full weekends of research and writing for Module 3. I’m not sure how much I could’ve processed and learnt if I tried to do all these concurrently.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

I found spreading the modules over time greatly beneficial to really see myself develop as a teacher. I would also encourage anyone completing the DELTA to not just consider it as the final step in your teaching CPD, but as a stepping stone to open the world of ELT research, L2 research, and the connection between these two for you.

Trainer Conversation

Zhenya Polosatova kindly invited me to take part in the series of Trainer Conversations she has been running on her blog for the past few months. As always with this kind of conversation, it made me realise new things about what I think about teaching and training – thanks Zhenya! You can read my conversation or explore the whole series (definitely recommended!)

On 18th and 23rd January I presented my talk on communication tips at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference. Here is the blurb:

Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. Clear, supportive communication is something I feel very passionate about, and have worked on a lot over the past few years. In this talk, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.

This was a variation of a presentation I originally did for ACEIA in October 2020. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post. You can watch the video from the IH AMT here (and links to other talks from the event in this blogpost):

Here are my slides from the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day, where I also did a 30-minute version of the talk:

What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?

I’m in the process of sorting through old photos on my computer ready to move over to a new laptop. This photo is from 4th August 2006, and I took it before my first lesson at the Anglo, a private language school in Asunción, Paraguay. Although I’d already volunteered as a teacher in Borneo, I considered this my first day of real teaching, hence the photo.

I thought I was quite well prepared – the lesson started at 7a.m., and I had everything ready 10 minutes before. What I didn’t have was a plan – I didn’t know you needed one at that point in time. On the board, there’s a selection of statements for a classic ‘true or false’ getting to know you activity (no idea what I did for the rest of the lesson!), on the desk is a very retro cassette tape player, and on the wall is the phonemic chart. A couple of months later, a student asked me what it was, and my reply was ‘I don’t know, I think it’s just a picture.’ I was mortified when I found out the real answer!

It was my year abroad from university (the third year of my languages degree) and I used it as a test to see if I really did want to do this teaching abroad thing. The answer was a most definite yes, I did my CELTA part-time in my final year of uni, and I started my first summer school two days after graduation. I’ve never regretted that decision, and I’m glad I took this photo right at the start 🙂 Here’s to many more years!

I’ve been meaning to read this for a very long time, and finally got round to it in 2020 after being really pushed towards the importance of group dynamics during my MA Trainer Development module in 2019.

KEY DETAILS

TitleClassroom Dynamics

Author: Jill Hadfield

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 1992 (note, there are two versions – the purple one above which I read, and an orange one with a photo on it, though I believe only the cover changed and not the contents)

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: Amazon

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

WHAT’S IN IT?

The book starts with a clear introduction and guide to how to use the book, including why Jill felt that a book like this is necessary for teachers. The rest of the book is a series of recipe-style activities divided into three sections and twenty chapters, covering every aspect of building, developing, and maintaining group dynamics, as well as how to deal with the inevitable problems which sometimes occur. These are the chapters:

  • Section A: Forming the group
    1 Breaking the ice: warm-up activities for the first week of term
    2 Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
    3 Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Section B: Maintaining the group
    4 Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
    5 Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
    6 Getting to know each other; humanistic exercises and personalized grammar
    7 I did it your way: empathy activities
    8 A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
    9 Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
    10 Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
    11 Group achievements: product-orientated activities
    12 Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques, and summaries
    13 That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
    14 Ensuring participation
    15 Learning to listen
    16 A sense of direction: setting, assessing, and resetting goals
    17 Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations; group solutions
    18 Coping with crisis: some group problems
  • Section C: Ending the group experience
    19 Ending with positive feelings
    20 Evaluating the group experience

The book ends with a self-reflection questionnaire to help you consider your own experience with a group.

Good points

The book is based on a clearly-defined need which Jill identified in response to ‘moaning and groaning’ from a questionnaire she conducted with Angi Malderez to invite teachers to share common staffroom moans. They were surprised to discover that the main issues seemed to be connected to the atmosphere in the class and the chemistry of the group, regardless of the level of experience of the teachers concerned. Along with replies from the questionnaire, Jill shares her own experiences of both good and bad groups to inform ideas of what makes successful and unsuccessful groups. She has written a highly practical book to address these problems, but in a very down-to-earth way, with clear caveats that the book is not a panacea, not will it solve all the problems teachers might have. She also shares her own experiences of trying out the activities, for example on page 85. Throughout the book, I felt like Jill was talking to me directly in a very accessible style, as if she was in the staffroom with me.

The list of characteristics of an unsuccessful group on page 11 and a successful group on page 12 would make an excellent starting point for a workshop I think, and definitely reflect experiences I’ve had in the past with both good and bad groups.

‘How to use this book’ suggests a range of ways of exploiting the activities, including the key point that “this book is not an emergency handbook” (p17) and that activities should be used throughout the course, not only when there are problems. There is lots of guidance about what kind of activities might suit different types of group, and clear information about how to integrate activities into the syllabus. Jill acknowledges that you may not have time to squeeze in extra activities to an already crowded syllabus. This is supported by a comprehensive index of topics and structures, showing that group dynamics activities can be tweaks on activities already present in your lessons, rather than add-ons. Most activities have information about which other activities could follow or precede them, so that you could build up a linked programme fairly easily.

For activities such as 2.2 What kind of language learner are you? there are guidelines about how to handle the discussion after a questionnaire to ensure the teacher helps to build a supportive environment between students, rather than rejecting difference.

The bulk of activities are about maintaining group dynamics, and this made me realise just how much I’ve neglected this – I think many of us believe our job is done if we’ve completed a few getting-to-know-you activities in the first lesson or two, but many of my worst experiences with groups have come from allowing groups to settle into negative patterns which are very difficult to escape from.

There are activities for situations related to group dynamics which hadn’t crossed my mind before, for example the group that knows each other too well (chapter 7).

The activities are very student-centred, and get them involved in reflection on what makes a successful group, as well as creating the conditions to build empathy and trust between the group members. They really feel like they could add a whole extra layer to what happens in the classroom.

The examples of conflicts and reassuring words in chapter 18 were particularly useful:

Finally, not all group problems are resolvable. While I do believe that most potential problems can be solved, or better, pre-empted by the use of techniques such as those in this book, the belief that the teacher is responsible for every group problem can lead to much unnecessary guilt and soul-searching. (page 148)

It may happen, though, that your best attempts to resolve the crisis fail and the group cannot be reconciled. […] you may feel guilty, inadequate, or demoralized: somehow as teachers we have the feeling that ought to be able to resolve all human conflict, and if we meet a problem that defies our best efforts to solve it we have failed in our job. Whatever gave us this idea? (page 157)

(reply to a questionnaire) This group at least helped me to realize that it is a kind of arrogance for me to think that I am able to handle every classroom situation that comes my way – or even understand it. (page 158)

Those three quotes really made me think and I’ve come back to them again and again since I read the book. There were other sections that made me think too: the discussion on pairwork on p110, the potential reasons for tensions in intermediate and above groups on p94.

Hmmm…

Most of the activities would be very easy to adapt to a classroom nearly 30 years since the book was written, but I think it’s possibly time for an updated edition. There’s a lot of scope for modern technology to be exploited to build on the ideas in this book, and I believe this is something that Jill has written about elsewhere. An updated edition might also make teachers more likely to pick the book up, as sometimes we neglect valuable classics (of which this is definitely one!)

Other suggestions/ideas for tweaks/improvements include:

  • how to work with groups with continuous enrolment (most activities seem focussed on a groups which have the same make-up throughout the course) or integrating students joining a group which has already formed
  • a balance of ideas for full-time courses and part-time courses (many activities seem to be aimed at groups which have lessons every day intensively, rather than than once or twice a week over a year, and some have the timing listed as e.g. 2 lessons on consecutive days)
  • removing the reference to learning styles and left- and right-brain thinking in activity 2.1
  • more guidance on the processes of compromise for activity 17.4 (timetabling priorities)
  • a mention somewhere of how long a lesson is (many lessons are described as taking 1 lesson/up to 1 lesson)
  • an acknowledgement of the amount of preparation some of the activities require, for example 10.4 (medals)

General comment

This book is practical and supportive, and really made me think. I’ve started reading more about and presenting on group dynamics as a result of reading this and a few other tings, and I’ve realised just how much of a keystone they are in successful language learning. Jill’s book has allowed me to recommend various ideas to teachers at our school. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to try many out myself yet, but I definitely intend to in the future. Watch this space for more related ideas on my blog in the future! It’s a must-read, and every staffroom should have a copy.

2020

It’s been quite a year. Sometimes it’s felt like hard going, but there have been a lot of highlights, and that’s what I want to look back on at the end of the year. Here goes…

January

I caught up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for 16 years, then went to the IH AMT conference.

I submitted my assignments for my first NILE MA module in Trainer Development, and got a distinction.

I travelled to the UK for a family christening. That week I managed to meet up with my best friend too (that’s important as it’s the only time I’ve seen her in person this year).

February

A birthday cake made of an open book with music notes at the front, and a 'pile' of two books at the back with 'Kate' and 'sixty' written on the spine
My mum’s 60th birthday cake, as made by Amber, my amazing cousin

The following weekend we all got together again for my mum’s 60th. I saw my mum on the morning of her birthday on February 3rd (hope it’s not too much longer before I see her again!)

The aviation museum in Toulouse

I got the train to Toulouse for a few days with a friend, my first time in that part of the world, then carried on to Barcelona for the IH Barcelona conference, where I presented a few ways to tweak speaking activities. The day I arrived I had time to visit Tibidabo for the first time.

The cathedral on Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona

I started gardening for the first time, with the aim of making better use of my balcony and perhaps growing something I could eat.

March

We managed to move our school fully online in two days, thanks to the help and support of IH World. I cried more than once at the amazing way that our staff pulled together to make it all happen so smoothly…just one of many times this year I was grateful to be at IH Bydgoszcz and part of the IH family.

I wrote the first post in my series connected to teaching on Zoom, and it’s been by far the most successful post on my blog all year. My blogging generally stepped up a notch at this point, as it felt like there was so much to process – writing about it really does help. Thanks to everyone who’s read and shared these posts this year.

April

I was a bit worried about my birthday, but I needn’t have been. One lovely friend organised a Zoom birthday party for me, and our teachers had a social that evening where we all played games. It was a lovely day in the end.

Our amazing school Director hand-delivered all of the teachers things to help us stay safe during the first lockdown, and a clockwork Easter chick and a traditional Easter biscuit to make us smile too.

A bottle of disinfectant, face masks, latex gloves, a  yellow clockwork chick, and an Easter biscuit in a box

I made my first hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns on a cooling rack

I organised games on Zoom for the whole family for Easter.

Two groups of old friends and one group of new friends started to meet regularly on Zoom – I’ve definitely grown closer to all of them this year.

I took part in my first panel discussion, an IATEFL online event about moving teaching online.

May

My baking experiments have continued all year, but these cinnamon whirls were a particular success 🙂

A tray of cinnamon whirls

I moved my garden outside and the first flower appeared on a courgette – I was so excited to know I’d grown this!

A courgette plant with one yellow flower

June

I bought a bike and used it to do a lot of exploration in the forest. I’ve spent more time in the forest over the last six months than I probably did in the 4.5 years before that!

My red bike on a path in the forest

At the end of the month I managed a couple of day trips with my colleagues as Poland opened up again, both to places I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. The first was to Inowroclaw, the site of this fascinating piece of architecture designed to collect salt from the local water.

Tall willow (?) walls supported by wooden pillars at an angle, with pillars at various points along the wall. In the centre of the structure is grass

The second was to Malbork, a castle built by the Teutonic knights, and the largest castle in the world.

Malbork Castle - a red-brick fortress with a wall in the foreground, a church in the middle and a tall central tower in the background

July

I did my first online CELTA, and blogged about it with Stephanie Wilbur. It was fascinating comparing our experiences of the course.

I got my first harvest from my little balcony garden – some tiny carrots, beetroot and courgettes.

Carrots, beetroot and courgettes - all very tiny with lots of greenery

August

I visited a local beauty spot and saw more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in one place outside a butterfly house. They posed nicely for photos too 🙂

An orange butterfly with black spots sitting on lavendar

I managed a short holiday to the Polish coast, including a trip on the ‘boat on grass‘ near Elblag…

A boat about to leave the water and be lifted up a grass slope on rails

In Frombork, I saw the grave of Copernicus. This is probably the closest I’ve ever got to having a spiritual moment (I’m not religious at all) – standing so close to a person who moved the world, in a place I know he had lived and worked and stood too. I also fulfilled a lifelong dream: I saw Jupiter and three of its moons, and Saturn and its rings, through a telescope – I’d always wanted to see planets up close.

The monument to Copernicus at his grave

I had a weekend away in this beautiful place near Bydgoszcz, dancing flamenco and eating amazing food with interesting people who were patient with my Polish 🙂

Three white timber-framed buildings surrounded by greenery with a blue sky. In the foreground is  grass with a bench and two tables

Most importantly, August was when I met my boyfriend online and we clicked instantly.

September

Our flamenco concert, postponed from June, happened – there were lots of restrictions (rightly!) but we managed to do it. Well done to Dorota, our amazing teacher, for pulling it all together.

An empty, blue-lit stage. The curtains are closed, There are seats spaced out at the back of the stage

We started off our new school year successfully, combining in class and online lessons in case of a second lockdown – it was so good to be in a classroom with students again! Socially-distanced teaching wasn’t too bad either.

My balcony garden was at its peak.

Flowering petunias

I got to actually meet my boyfriend in person 🙂 My first trip to the UK since February.

October

I managed another quick trip to the UK before lockdowns and restrictions came into force again.

Church and ivy-covered cottages in an English village

I celebrated my 10th blog-iversary – time flies!

November

Despite my flights being cancelled, I managed to spend a relaxing 5-day holiday apart together with my boyfriend.

I was a plenary speaker for KOTESOL.

December

I had fun joining the TEFL Commute team for an episode of their podcast.

Despite not being able to get on my planned flight to the UK, I managed a relaxed Christmas Day, and have had lots of love and support from family and friends.

Overall

I’ve spent more time outside, learnt to garden done more cooking and baking, spent more time appreciating my flat and balcony, chatted more often to more friends, presented at and attended more conferences, learnt far more about teaching in a far shorter period of time than I ever expected to at this point in my career, and met my amazingly lovely boyfriend. So yes, some things haven’t happened, and I haven’t been able to be in the same place as many people I love (soon, I hope!), but on balance, I have to say it’s been a pretty good year.

What good things have happened for you this year?

Queer as folklore

This is a lesson plan I put together about 18 months ago for a Proficiency group I was working with, so it’s designed for the face-to-face classroom but I think it would work well online too. I wanted to create something we could use as a reading assessment, hence the inclusion of marks for the reading questions. It’s based on selections from an authentic text from the BBC detailing various unusual traditions from England. It’s been sitting on my desktop since then waiting to go on my blog, and in the spirit of preparing for the new year, I present it for your use and enjoyment.

The lesson plan (also in the notes under the first slide when you download it) goes like this:

Lesson plan

Display slide 1

What does the badge mean? And the title of the article?

“There’s nowt so queer as folk” is a saying loosely translated as “there’s nothing as strange as people”. It’s said to emphasise the strange behaviour of people.

In the article, it shows that these English customs are strange (queer) but traditional (folklore)

Do you know any strange English or Polish customs? – quick discussions

Slide 2: look at the pictures. What’s happening? Why? Make predictions. Give them at least 3 minutes to do this to ensure they are actually creative and don’t just give up!

Have the four articles printed out. Gist = match pictures to articles. Look at rest of presentation to check (pictures follow articles)

Reading CA (continuous assessment): Answer the questions on slide 11. (Total = 12 marks) They mark it themselves (switch papers?) by checking answers on slide 12. Collect the answers for Sandy to check and put on computer. [Fast finishers = reread the articles to check answers, then again to see what language you can steal. What tenses do they use? What interesting phrasing could you steal? etc.]

Vocab: choose two words or phrases from each article to add to their word cards. Encourage them to choose things they might use again! Each pair should select, then work with another pair to reselect, then as a class (pyramid discussion). Make sure they use dictionaries (www.oald8.com) when writing out definitions!

Show pictures on slide 13. Tell partner what’s happening in the pictures now that you know from reading. Can you use any of the new vocab?

Slide 14: Work in pairs. Create your own strange tradition. Use the guidelines to help. Afterwards they read each others (gallery) and decide which one they would like to watch as a tourist.

I wonder how many of these traditions still happened in 2020? What unusual traditions exist where you are?

Colour-coding grammar

I had a 25-minute grammar tutorial with a teenage student who struggled with forms of the present simple. this piece of paper was the result of the that. I can’t remember the exact question I started with, but the sentences are from her and my lives, and are variations on the same basic structure, colour-coded as we went along so she could see what the patterns are in the grammar. The yellow was used to show that the auxiliary is the same in both questions and negatives.

Do you use similar techniques to help students to understand grammar?

Way back in April 2020, I wrote an article for the spring issue of the IH Journal talking about how we’d shifted IH Bydgoszcz online over the previous few weeks. What with one thing and another, the publication of the journal was delayed and it finally came out a couple of weeks ago. The editor, Chris, asked me to write an update on what had happened by the end of October 2020, and you can find both articles along with many others in issue 48 of the IH Journal. For those who read the second article where I say we’re hoping to get back in to the classroom before Christmas, we still haven’t made it and it looks like it’ll be February at the absolute earliest before we manage it.

I was interested in Claire Parsons’ article about error correction, in which she talks about using the acronym SPLAT to help her decide which errors to focus on with her students.

IH Journal Issue 48 cover

If you’d like to read more about our move online, there’s a whole series of posts on my blog from March to June, starting here.

The TEFL Commute Podcast is presented by Shaun Wilden and Lindsay Clandfield and produced by James Taylor. In each episode they take a theme and discuss it for around 30 minutes (apart from their excellent ‘Who’s Zooming Who?’ mini series, where each episode was 10 minutes and packed with useful tips and ideas). It’s a podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the topic always seems to come up, as they say in the tag line.

At the end of each series, they have a round table episode, with a guest joining the three of them to discuss a particular topic. For the end of series 12, I was very happy to be invited to talk about a subject close to my heart: podcasts. Each of us talked about three podcasts we enjoy: one about language, one about teaching, and one ‘anything goes’. You can listen to the episode here, and hopefully find something new to listen to as a result (I know I did!)

Thanks to Shaun, Lindsay and James for having me as a guest on TEFL Commute. I really enjoyed it and hope I’ll be back soon!

This week I’ve managed to have two engaging and useful lessons with my beginner teens – that doesn’t always happen online!

The first lesson was yes/no questions with ‘be’, which we worked on with a PowerPoint where we moved sentences around to make the questions. After that, the students saw statements which they turned into questions, before asking each other questions in the chatbox and writing short answers.

The beginning of the second lesson repeated the final activity from the previous lesson – I’ve found this to be a very successful pattern with this group as they feel comfortable repeating the same activity again. It meant I could focus on structures they’d had trouble with, like Yes, I’m. No, I not. or pairing the wrong short answer with the question.

But the reason I’m writing the post, and the thing which was the absolute winner for this group of 10-12 students was this song:

I’ve had it in my head for most of the subsequent three days! The students were varyingly super excited and cringing when they first head the song, but even the student who originally put a cushion over his face was bopping away by the end and got really into it. Most of the group knew at least some of the days before we started (I asked each of them), so I played the song, put them into breakout rooms and showed them how to share screen. They had 10 minutes to sing whatever they wanted – either focussing on the days, or the other parts of the song if they already knew the days.

After that, I went through Quizlet Spell in open class, highlighting funky spellings like Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The students then had about 5 minutes to play by themselves. In breakout rooms, they took it in turns to write the days of the week, then came back and had to write all of the days by themselves in the chat. Yep, that was 90 minutes! I’ll find out in two days whether they remember all of the days…

On 28th November 2020 I had the honour of being the opening plenary speaker for the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day. The theme of the day was ‘From the Heart’, with speakers discussing topics they’re passionate about. For me, that’s the importance of clear communication.

This was a variation of a presentation I did last month for ACEIA. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post.

Here’s the video, including a link to the playlist for the rest of the day:

Here are my slides from Bielsko-Biała:

What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?

Making the most of Quizlet

Quizlet is easily my favourite teaching tool – I use it in almost every lesson. It’s the only website that I pay for, and for the amount I use it and the number of classes I have, it’s definitely worth it for me. Nikki Fortova introduced me to it years ago and I’ve never looked back – thanks Nikki!

At first glance, it’s a simple flashcard tool, but the real reason I go on about it all the time is because of its versatility. I also like the fact that you don’t need an account to play the games, so students don’t need to log in to use it. If you do create an account, it allows you to create your own content, remembers the sets you’ve used, and displays your scores on leaderboards.

If you’ve never used it before, I recommend you pause in your reading, and go and try it out. Should you so choose, you can learn/revise some teaching terminology at the same time by choosing a set from my Delta class. Try out all of the different functions for a minute or two each, and hopefully you’ll feel yourself learning 🙂

Apart from using the functions as is, there are many different ways you can exploit them. Each section below gives you a link to the Quizlet introduction to that function, along with a series of ideas for exploiting it. These were written for the online classroom, but most of them work in the face-to-face classroom too. Remember to demonstrate what you want the students to do before you set them off by themselves.

Activities by Quizlet function 

Flashcards

You display a flashcard and…

  • …elicit the word/phrase verbally.
  • …students write word/phrase in chat.
  • …elicit a definition/example sentence.
  • …drill pronunciation.
  • …(for sentence halves) elicit the other half of the sentence.

Match

Students play alone. They can call out their times or not (up to them!), or write their times in the chatbox. (I often use this as a way of introducing a vocabulary set and seeing how comfortable students are with it before we do any exercises in the book.)

Learn/Spell/Write

Students play alone in main class.

Students play in pairs/groups with screen share in BOR [breakout rooms].

You display to the whole class and elicit answers. (I generally only use them this way if I’m introducing the words for the first time)

Test

Students do a test alone online.

You display the test and students write the answers in their notebooks.

Gravity

You display the game in the main room and type as students call out answers.

One student screen shares in BOR while others call out answers. (I’ll have played it as a whole class at least a couple of times before students work in pairs so they understand how it works.)

Type most of the word, but miss a letter/make a spelling error. Students say what the missing letter is/correct the spelling. (Thanks Mollie!)

Live: Teams mode (minimum 4 players)

Two tips:

  • You have to identify yourself as a teacher in your settings to get Live to show. You don’t need a paid account to do this.
  • If a student signs in with a stupid name, click their name to remove them – they’ll have to enter a new one to rejoin. If they’re going to BOR for Live, it’s better to ask them to use their real names

Keep students in the main room calling over each other, or assign them to BOR before you start the game. Give them functional language to play in English e.g. I haven’t got it. What’s this? I don’t know this one.

Review problem vocab after the game has finished by clicking through the flashcards which appear.

Play to 11. Teams stop when they get to 11 points, so that everyone gets a chance.

Live: Individual mode (minimum 2 players)

Play to 11 works especially well here.

Print

Set the options to small flashcards, double-sided printing. It will display a list of flashcards in a grid layout.

Show all of the pictures. Students write the words in the chat.

Show some of the pictures. Students write/say what’s missing.

Show some of the pictures. Minimise the screen. Students write what they saw.

(for sets with a sentence half in the term/definition e.g. I like going / to the cinema on Saturdays.) Students have 3 minutes to write the other half of as many sentences as possible.

Screenshot from the list of vocab/phrases in print view (small flashcards, double-sided) into another doc so you don’t have to type them all again, then: 

  • Students see the list of words and define them for each other.
  • Students write as many example sentences as they can.
  • Students contextualise phrases – step 1: what’s the conversation/text that this phrase originally appeared in? Step 2: remove the phrase, give the text to another group, they remember what the phrase is.
  • Students use as many words/phrases as possible in a story.

If you’re in a classroom, these activities from Leo Selivan show other ways of exploiting the Print function.

And then…?

After playing a Quizlet game or three, get students to write as many words/phrases/sentences as they can remember in the chat.

Any game which involves remembering/writing in notebooks from above can be paired with a trip to BOR so students can compare their answers with each other.

Tips for making a useful Quizlet set

  • Include lots of information in the title, so it doesn’t matter what people search for e.g.
    Word building – prefixes and suffixes which add meaning (English File Upper Int 3rd ed SB p163 Unit 9B)
    Name of section from book, book (+ edition), page, unit
    [This is a personal bugbear of mine – I get so frustrated when I do a search for a really popular book and can’t find a Quizlet set because the title is unclear. Please make me happy!]
  • You don’t have to start from scratch! Use the search to find existing sets, then copy and customise them. [This is where clear set names are vital!]
  • Include images whenever relevant – these really help students to remember the language.
  • Include a definition if the picture alone is ambiguous/no picture is possible.
  • Include gapped example sentences, where the gap matches the term as exactly as possible (sometimes tenses/articles make the gap and the term different).
  • Highlight collocations whenever possible, especially for higher levels.
  • Use bold or colours to pick out key features of a sentence if relevant. Italics changes the shape of the word, so isn’t great for learners with dyslexia. (I think these might be in the paid accounts only)
  • Remember that Quizlet is useful for grammar too, not just vocabulary. There are some examples of grammar sets for beginners in this class.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ is a good place to find definitions/example sentences if your book doesn’t help or you’re producing your own sets.

How many words should I include in a set?

I tend to go for smallest possible coherent set. For example, if a word bank page has three different sets of vocabulary on it, I’ll make separate Quizlet sets for each of them, then make a fourth set combining them all together.

  • Combine sets together, e.g. all of the language for one unit, all of the examples of one grammar point (maybe you had + – ? as separate sets). Here’s how.
  • Combine units together ready for a unit test.
  • Combine everything in the whole book together for bumper revision.

Here’s an example class for English File Upper Intermediate 3rd edition which my colleague Sarah and I compiled a couple of years ago which hopefully embodies all of these principles! You can see all of my classes here. Thanks very much to colleagues, friends and strangers who have added to these sets!

Note: I have no idea how copyright works with Quizlet sets, but if publishers made high-enough-quality Quizlet sets to go with their books I’d be very, very happy. That’s another reason why I think it’s so important to put the book title into the name of the set – I wasn’t the person who originally compiled that list!

Over to you

Do you use Quizlet?

What tips do you have for other teachers?

Which functions do your students most enjoy? Mine love Match, Live (in the classroom mostly), and Gravity (when I’m typing!)

How else can you use Quizlet?

Please share in the comments below!

On Sunday 21st November 2020 I took part in the 2020 KOTESOL Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter Thanksgiving Symposium. The theme was ‘Looking towards 2021’, with the idea of moving beyond the survival skills most of us have been working on in 2020 for the new world we find ourselves in.

My talk took a fresh look at a subject I’m passionate about, online professional development. This was the abstract:

In an increasingly online world, there are a huge amount of opportunities for teachers to access professional development via the internet, but it can be challenging to know where to start. I’ll introduce you to a range of online professional development resources which you can use, and offer you advice on how to decide which ones might be right for you.

I presented without slides, instead using the summary below as my guide and showing the relevant resources as we arrived at them. It’s a whistle-stop tour, with the idea that you can get an overview, then come back to this post as many times as you like to explore the resources.

Why?

This question is two-fold.

Firstly, why is online professional development generally worth exploring? I’ll answer this one.

  • It’s (mostly) free.
  • It’s available whenever and wherever you can get internet access.
  • It’s wide-ranging: there’s a plethora of resources to choose from.
  • It can fit around you: you can exploit it as much or as little as you like, at whatever time and location you choose.

Secondly, why might you specifically want to exploit it? You’ll need to answer these questions for yourself.

  • Do you want to only consume content, or create your own content, for example building up an online portfolio, or both?
  • Do you want to explore broadly and dip into lots of areas, or have a more targetted approach focussing on specific puzzles or questions you have?

When?

Because resources available online are limitless, it can be hard to know where to start, and you may experience a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the beginning – I certainly did! One way to combat this is to decide how much time you can dedicate to exploring, and how often you want to dive in. To some extent this will be determined by your answers to the second question above.

You may decide to set aside a dedicated hour or two a week, or five or ten minutes a day, to make professional development a habitual part of your routine.

Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer to set aside a few hours now and again to do a deep dive and really explore a particular area or resource.

Of course, this can change over time, but having an idea before you start can help you to decide what resources are most appropriate for you to explore, and/or whether it’s really worth starting that blog/podcast/Twitter account you’ve been considering.

It can also remove unnecessary pressure on yourself if you feel like you have to explore everything or produce the most amazing content ever seen in English language teaching – neither of these are likely, so accept it now and move on. You’ll be in a much healthier place if you go in with realistic expectations 🙂

How? What?

This list is in no way exhaustive, and if I wrote it again tomorrow, next week or next year it would certainly look different. Please comment if any of the links stop working or you have other resources to add to the list.

Consuming content: targetted research

If you have a specific topic or puzzle in mind, you have two options to find useful resources.

  1. Choose one of the general interest resources below, then search their website for keywords connected to your topic.
  2. Explore my bookmarks. I’ve been curating a list on diigo for 10+ years, adding anything which I think might be vaguely useful to anyone else, anywhere. You can try to read my mind and figure out which tag I might have used or do a general search in my bookmarks. Here’s a more in-depth introduction to what diigo is and how it works.

You might not find anything at first, but try different keywords and different resources and you’ll inevitably find something.

Consuming content: general interest

It’s very easy to end up down a never-ending rabbit hole with a list like this. Rather than trying to explore everything, consider your answers to the questions above, and choose the way in which you prefer to consume information, then select one or two resources to look at initially. As you explore, you’ll find that some types of development work for you, and others are less engaging. For me, I spend most time on blogs and blogging, and a little time on podcasts and Twitter, but I know there is so much more out there. As time goes on, you can return to the list and investigate other resources which take your fancy. Bookmark this page 🙂

Listen

Three TEFL podcasts I enjoy are:

  • The TEFL Commute – Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor present the podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the subject always comes up. Episodes are generally 30-40 minutes. In 2020 they did a series of 10-minute episodes covering a range of different topics connected to online teaching, including lots of ideas for the classroom.
  • TEFLology – Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner and Robert Lowe produce a range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too. Episodes are generally 40-60 minutes.
  • TEFL Training Institute podcast – Ross Thorburn presents ‘the bite-sized TEFL podcast’, originally with Tracy Yu, and now with a wide range of guests. Episodes are generally 15-30 minutes. I reviewed the podcast here.

Watch

There are lots of options in this category, but I’ll just explore three: webinars, lessons, and YouTube.

Webinars

A webinar is an online presentation, similar to a conference session. One example is the presentation at KOTESOL which this blogpost is based on. They can range in length from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours, and might be a one-off event or part of a series or event like an online conference.

You can either search for a particular topic e.g. ‘business English webinars’/’English reading skills webinars’, or find providers who have a large collection of webinars and explore their catalogue. For example, here are all of the IH Teachers’ Online Conferences (TOC).

Other providers include publishers like Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Delta publishing, teaching associations like IATEFL, TESOL or EAQUALS (though recordings tend to be available to members only), or schools who run training events online, like IH Moscow or IH Bucharest. It’s generally possible to subscribe to a mailing list to find out about upcoming events.

Here is my diigo list of webinars to give you a starting point.

Lessons

There are hundreds of lessons available to watch online. I compiled a list (warning – clicking on the link opens a very bandwidth-heavy page!) which you can choose from. This is a great way to observe other classrooms, pick up activities and techniques, and hone your observation skills.

YouTube

Apart from webinars and lessons, there are lots of ELT-related YouTube channels. Any large organisation probably has a channel. Publishers often share short tips, like these ones from Cambridge on ideas for teaching outside the classroom. International House has a series of Timeless Teaching Tips. I’d welcome links to channels from individuals which I could also recommend.

You can watch hundreds of grammar presentations on YouTube to get ideas for how to explain grammar to your students, though this comes with a caveat: just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a model you want to follow. Philip Kerr explains. This could be a good way to hone your skills by working out what not to do!

Read

Again, there are various options here. I’ll look at blogs, magazines, and journals.

Blogs

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, from light bite-sized activity ideas to lengthy in-depth research-based posts. They’re written by people from all walks of ELT: teachers, trainers, materials writers, researchers, lexicographers, and those who don’t fall into any one particular category.

You can find blogs in many different ways:

  • Search for topics of interest plus ELT blog, e.g. ‘young learner ELT blog’.
  • Look at the blog roll on somebody’s blog (mine is to the right if you’re viewing this on a computer) to see who they recommend.
  • Search for a big organisation like a publisher or teaching association, plus the word ‘blog’.
  • Explore my list of diigo links.

Once you’ve found a blog you like, you can subscribe to it, either by getting emails when a new post appears, or using a blog aggregator like Feedly to collect new posts in one place. I explain how Feedly works in a paragraph and a few screenshots in this post (press CTRL+F/CMD+F on a Mac and type ‘Feedly’ to find it quickly).

Here are four blogs which are currently active to start you off:

  • Kate’s Crate – Katherine Martinkevich links to articles she has read with a short paragraph explaining why she thinks they’re interesting. Good for business English, management and teacher training.
  • ELT planning – Peter Clements shares activity ideas and reviews of resources, plus concepts he’s learnt about in his own professional development. Posts vary in length. Good for young learners, teens, and learning about a huge range of concepts and resources across all areas.
  • What they don’t teach you on the CELTA – a group of bloggers covering a wide range of different topics, particularly relevant to private language school ELT. Many are aimed at relatively new teachers, but posts often make me think too.
  • TEFLtastic – Alex Case is probably the most prolific ELT blogger on the internet, constantly sharing new resources. His blog is a goldmine of resources covering every area of teaching you can possibly imagine.

Apologies to blogging friends who I haven’t included – there are so many great blogs out there!

Magazines

Most ELT magazines require a subscription, but some are free. Even paid magazines tend to have some free content, such as sample issues. They cover a wide range of topics in a single resource. Here are a few to investigate:

  • IH Journal – although it is called a journal, it’s more of a magazine in my opinion. Completely free, with articles available separately or as part of full downloadable magazines. Many articles are written by IH teachers past and present, but other writers are featured too. (Disclaimer: I’ve written a regular article for every edition for a few years now.)
  • English Teaching Professional (ETp) and Modern English Teacher are both published by Pavilion Publishing and Media. They feature articles from around the world and across the teaching profession.
  • EL Gazette – this is more news-based, so is a good way to get a sense of the wider profession. It also has a reviews section.

An alternative source of magazine-type content is newsletters if you are a member of a teaching association or special interest group.

Journals

Journals are generally peer-reviewed and edited, as opposed to blogs where the writers can publish whatever they want to. They are generally more academic and research-based than magazines. Some are behind paywalls, but KOTESOL have compiled a long list of ELT journals with free content available. LearnJam have a shorter list of 5 online journals, including some which are subscription-only, with more detailed information about each journal. Although the ELT Journal from OUP is subscription-only, the ‘Key concepts‘ section of each is freely downloadable, and is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about research.

Study

So far all of the resources can be accessed in under an hour, but you might prefer something more in-depth or structured, and the internet can provide this too.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free programmes which run for a few weeks. They generally involve you studying at your own pace and participating in text-based discussions. FutureLearn and Coursera both have various courses connected to ELT. I found the Coursera Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach course particularly useful, as well as the FutureLearn Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching one. Courses are free, but you can get a certificate if you pay.

The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) is a very active community run by teachers, for teachers. They run a variety of courses, from basic TESOL certificates to ‘Advanced Skills’ courses, with tutors from all walks of ELT. Their Teachers’ Room is open to all members to participate in discussions.

The Association for Quality Education and Training Online (AQUEDUTO) is an accreditation body for online teacher training. They have a directory of courses which have been checked for quality.

Producing content

Online professional development isn’t just about consuming resources created by others. You can also learn a huge amount by sharing content you have created. The act of preparing your thoughts for other people to see/hear forces you to reflect on what you want to say and how best to say it. It can also start conversations which take you in directions you’ve never considered before.

Write

Writing gives you the chance to take time over framing your thoughts, and go back and edit. Looking back over things you’ve written in the past is a fascinating way to track your professional development over time – I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would be now when I started my blog ten years ago.

Twitter

Writing tweets can be a great way to get started with writing your own content. You can join in discussion in Twitter chats like #eltchat, ask questions, or answer questions from other educators. To find people to follow, find out who is sharing on a hashtag like #eltchat, then see who they are following. You could also start by following me @sandymillin.

Blogging and commenting

Explore your ideas in writing, share activities, and build a portfolio. I’ve written a fuller post on making the most of blogs, including advice for how to start your own and what to write.

If you’re not ready to start your own blog, commenting on other people’s posts with your own thoughts is a good way to start writing too. I don’t think I’m the only blogger who really looks forward to conversations in comment threads on my blog.

Interviews and discussions

The internet gives you direct access to members of the ELT profession from around the world. A polite email with some questions or thoughts about their work, or even a request to interview them, might bear fruit for you. Or perhaps you could write to the author of a book you’ve read about how you’ve used their ideas? Or ask an academic some questions about their research? You never know where these conversations might lead.

Speak

If writing isn’t your thing, you can also use the internet to speak about your ideas. This could be public, for example by creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, or private, maybe by arranging to interview somebody who works in a similar context to you, but in a different country.

Podcasting

The book Podcasting and Professional Development: a Guide for English Language Teachers by the creators of the TEFLology podcast is a good place to start if you want to find out more about how to create your own podcast. A lot of this advice would also be relevant to creating a YouTube channel. (Disclaimer: my blog is mentioned in the book!) (Affiliate links: Amazon, Smashwords)

Reflective practice groups

These are self-selected groups of teachers who come together to discuss a particular topic as equals. The range of potential topics is limitless. All you need is at least one other colleague who is willing to meet you for an hour or two, and you’ve got a reflective practice group. Zhenya Polotosova and Anna Loseva have written quite a lot about participating in groups like this. You can find out more using this list of bookmarks.

So what?

Once you’ve put in all of this effort to start developing online, what can you do with what you learn?

Share

Once you’ve found or created something, share what you’ve learnt with somebody else. This might be in your staffroom, or on social media. There are active communities of teachers on facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It can take a little time to be brave enough to share in one of these communities (I lurked on Twitter for at least 6 months before I joined in), but if you take the plunge, you have the chance to learn so much.

Reflect

Ask yourself questions about what you’re reading and producing:

  • How will you apply what you’ve learnt?
  • What else do you want to learn about?
  • Who else do you want to learn from?
  • What biases might the people you’re learning from have? How can you get a fuller picture?
  • Are you satisfied with your progress with teaching puzzles? What other puzzles do you want to explore?

If you’d like more reflection questions to answer, I’ve written two books of them: one for relatively new teachers, ELT Playbook 1, and one for teacher trainers, ELT Playbook Teacher Training. You can find out all the information about how to buy them on my books page.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing
ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

What’s next?

I hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour through the world of online CPD useful. I’ll leave you with three questions for you to think about and comment on below if you like:

  • What area or resource will you explore next?
  • What have you tried above?
  • What else would you recommend?

Teaching complete beginner teens (well, 10-12 year olds) online is…a challenge. We had three lessons in the classroom before lockdown started again. We started with f2f, online, f2f, online, f2f, online, and now it’s all online.

I end up speaking lots of Polish to help the students work out how to use the technology and help them to chat to each other. That’s fine because life is stressful enough at the moment without stressing me and the students out over only communicating in a language they have almost no knowledge of so far. But of course, I want to maximise their English use. It can be a real challenge to set up a truly communicative activity when the sum total of student’s knowledge of the language is pretty much the 106 terms in this Quizlet set!

Here’s an activity I experimented with last week to practise irregular plurals and There’s a/an… / There are….

Step 1: students copy the following onto a full page in their notebooks.

Step 2: Dictate a list of sentences in a random order. It’s important that each sentence can be drawn, that there is one sentence/picture per box, and that the pictures can be in any box – they shouldn’t be drawn in sequence in 1, then 2, then 3. Here’s what my table looked like after these two sentences:

  • There are three women.
  • There’s a child.

I checked students were drawing in separate boxes after the first one or two pictures by getting students to show me their notebooks, then told them it was a secret after that.

This full list of sentences (dictated at random) resulted in the table below:

  • There’s a man.
  • There are two men.
  • There’s a woman.
  • There are three women.
  • There’s a child.
  • There are three children.
  • There’s a person.
  • There are eight people.

Step 3: I said a student’s name and a sentence about my table e.g. Franek, there’s a man in 8. Franek (not my real student!) looked at his table and gave one of two possible answers:

  • Yes, there’s a man in 8.
  • No, there’s a man in 6. OR No, there are three women in 8.

If we had the same thing in our boxes I ticked it.

Next students were meant to go into breakout rooms and work together to play the same game, but they were a bit unclear about how to do this.

Having the demo first was meant to clarify the task, but I made it too complicated by using a question form the first couple of times (Is there…?). There were two main problems with this: they don’t know any question forms and I wasn’t clear about what I wanted them to do as a result. We got there in the end with some Polish translation. This is a reminder to plan my language use very carefully with beginners, and include each structure I plan to use in my lesson plan. It would also have been useful to display a sample version of the conversation I wanted them to have before I started step 3. I did write the example conversation in the chat box eventually, but only after they’d stumbled over it for a bit!

I originally planned the activity for 10 minutes, but that was very over-optimistic – it actually took about 30 minutes, about 10 for drawing and 20 for speaking. I’m not sure it 100% worked because of the wonky set-up. But anyway, they got some practice, and it could be adapted for other language. This was also probably the most communicative activity we’ve managed so far – definitely still need to work on increasing speaking beyond drills with this group!

Let me know if you use this activity and whether it works any better with your students, especially if you try it with beginners!

Picture prepositions

I created this diagram today when helping a teacher work out how to clarify prepositions connected to describing pictures in English File Intermediate Plus, and thought it was worth sharing.

Can you match them?

  1. in the top left-hand corner
  2. on the right
  3. on top
  4. in the background / in the distance (happy to accept suggestions to differentiate these more clearly!)
  5. in the bottom left-hand corner
  6. at the bottom
  7. in the bottom right-hand corner
  8. in the centre / in the middle
  9. in the foreground
  10. at the top
  11. in the top right-hand corner
  12. on the left

Hope you find it useful!

A-B-C-D-E-F-no!

One of the early lessons with any group of beginners is the alphabet one. You know, the one where you teach them the song and they recite it back to you beautifully…

…but forever afterwards they have to go through the whole alphabet to work out what letter they need next, and there’s a bit of a mush in the middle because L-M-N-O-P is too fast and they can’t hear it.

That one.

I can’t remember the last time I taught that one.

Instead, I approach it as an exercise in de-confusing, not with the aim of teaching the alphabet, but of teaching the letters, so that students can spell and understand spellings. Today with my beginner teens it worked better than ever before, in part because they were teens and in part because we were on Zoom 🙂

Caveat: there are only 4 students, and I speak enough Polish to be able to justify what I’m doing with them sometimes.

I started by showing them the alphabet in the book. Cue rolling eyes and one kid saying ‘No’ loudly and repeatedly. Another kid started to immediately recite the song, so I got them to try that first. Two knew the song perfectly, one had the L-M-N-O-P problem, and the fourth one is generally pretty shy and said she didn’t know it at all.

I told them that was great because now I knew what was a problem. One of them said “No problem!”, so I asked them to write ‘A’ in the chatbox. Cue a series of E’s and I’s. “Not E, A.” I I I E E. “Not I, A.” Eventually we got there. I could then explain that for the rest of the lesson we’d be working on groups of letters and helping them to remember what the difference is. I already had the first group (A-E-I-Y) written in black on a mini whiteboard.

I pointed to each letter and elicited it, writing some prompts in green next to the letter to help them remember. For these four letters the prompts I normally use are:

  • A a (b c)
  • E eeeeeeeee [but drawn linked together, coupled with me ‘pulling’ the sound out of my mouth]
  • I like dogs [or in a classroom I’ll stand very straight and indicate my whole body, as in ‘I’, which compares to…]
  • Y Why? [or stand with my arms in a Y shape to compare to I]

We then worked out how these letters might be written in Polish ‘spelling’, and I wrote it in red on the board, something like this:

  • A /ei/
  • E /i/
  • I /ai/
  • Y /uaj/

They copied the black letters, green reminders, and red sounding out into their notebooks. I asked any student who had finished and was waiting to spell their first name, and helped them with the problem letters.

We then played a game in the chatbox where I said one of the four letters and they wrote it, then they took turns being the teaching and calling out a letter.

With revision of 1-100 and a homework check, that took the first half of the lesson. I wasn’t sure how interested they’d be when we came back after break and repeated the process with other sets of letters:

  • G-J-H
  • C-S
  • K-Q
  • U-V-W
  • X-Z
  • O
  • R

…but they absolutely loved it. This is mostly because they started racing each other to be the first person to get it right in the chat box, with no prompting from me. Then they started racing to show me what they’d written in their notebooks, to the extent that by the time we got to the final board (shown below), they wanted to copy the black letters immediately. Then when I was writing the red they were saying ‘Pani pisze’ (Miss is writing!) and were poised and ready to go as soon as I held up the board.

The whole lesson was very entertaining, and they really loved challenging each other on the particularly confusing combinations which they knew their classmates would get wrong because they were rushing. This forced them to think a little more.

I’m pretty confident that in Thursday’s lesson they’ll remember most of the letters because they know we’ll play the letter race game again, and they know I’m going to ask them to spell their names so they’ll practice that too.

The best kind of lesson: minimal planning, just enough variety to keep them engaged, lots of practice, driven by students, fun, and memorable for a long time!

Happy 10th blog-iversary!

10 years ago today I published my first post on this blog. In fact, I published five (!), all copied over from a fledgling blog I’d started somewhere else in the summer of 2010 and didn’t want to lose. I then didn’t really start blogging in earnest until just after Christmas of 2010, when I wrote my first #ELTchat summaries. As you can see, it was a bit of a slow start, but it soon took off, largely thanks to Ann Foreman at Teaching English British Council sharing various posts.

I was at the start of my third year of being a professional teacher. A few months earlier I’d discovered the amazing community of teachers on Twitter, thanks to a chance comment from Shaun Wilden. I’d noticed that a lot of those teachers had blogs and thought starting my own could be a useful way to share my ideas and create a portfolio for my teaching. There’s no way I could have imagined just how wide-ranging its effect on my career would be.

Blogging has allowed me to share my reflections on teaching, training, managing, and the general minutiae of living abroad and being me. The act of framing my thoughts for others to read forces me to consider what I think. It is also often cathartic. Every conference presentation I’ve ever done is on here somewhere (I think!), along with my progress through Delta, into training, materials writing and management. Looking back on those thoughts is fascinating (to me at least!), seeing how much I’ve developed and changed over the life of the blog, and realising what has stayed the same.

The posts got a lot more frequent and a lot longer…thanks for making it to the end of some of the mammoth ones!

Through my blog I’ve made connections with people all over the world, and some of them have become friends too. It’s my own small corner of the internet, a place where I feel like I’ve been able to making some kind of useful contribution to the profession. It never fails to astonish me how many people have made use of the blog and how much of the globe it seems to have reached. I particularly enjoy finding out about the people who use my blog, and reading the comments and stories they share in response to my posts.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my blog over the years, to everyone who has read and shared the posts, and particularly to all those people who have written guest posts for me. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

On Saturday 17th October I presented as part of the Asociación de Centros de Enseñanza de Idiomas de Andalucía (ACEIA) 1st virtual conference. It was a new management talk:

Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. While I can’t promise to resolve all your communication problems, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.

This is a topic I feel very strongly about, as my experiences of bad and good managers have largely centred around the quality of their communication. In my own management experience I’ve noticed that as my ability to communicate successfully and clearly has improved, I’ve gained confidence and I feel like the people I manage trust me more. They are also very open to giving me feedback on my management in general and my communication specifically. The tips in my talk are primarily aimed at managers, but many of them would be useful for teachers and general communication in life too.

These were my slides:

Listen

Before you do any broadcasting, it’s important to listen.

Don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or assume I know what’s coming next and start replying. A colleague once told me this was stopping him from speaking to me properly – he suggested I use my finger to stop myself from being able to speak! This really works: when I shouldn’t interrupt, I adopt a thinking pose with my index finger on my lips and it makes it much harder to start speaking.

Pay full attention. Stop what you’re doing and really listen. Make eye contact. Listen with your brain as well as your ears – don’t just spend the time working out what you’re going to say next or how you’re going to solve the problem.

What are they not saying? Notice body language and patterns of communication (or lack of communication) which may indicate hidden messages. Perhaps the person you’re speaking to is very stressed about something but doesn’t know how to communicate this. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed in general. Perhaps they really don’t like communicating with you and are avoiding it (not necessarily because they don’t like you – perhaps they don’t know how to speak to somebody they perceive as an authority, or perhaps they don’t want to interrupt you because they think you’re busy, or perhaps they don’t feel like they trust you enough to talk to you yet.) There’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ there, because we never really know, but be open to hidden messages, not just the ones which are explicitly stated.

General tips

Consider your medium carefully. What is the best way to communicate your message? Options might include:

  • Face-to-face conversation
  • Online conversation e.g. via Zoom
  • Phone call
  • WhatsApp call
  • SMS
  • WhatsApp message
  • WhatsApp voice recording
  • Facebook messenger
  • Email
  • Meeting with a group of people/all of the staff
  • (Regarding students) Speaking to/Phoning/Emailing parents

We have so many options for communication now. The method we use says something about how formal or serious particular communication is, whether a written record is required (either to track information or simply so information is easy to refer back to), how much (perceived or real) time we have available, and how we might want our interlocutor(s) to respond.

Be clear about what information doesn’t exist. If you don’t have information yet, make sure the other person knows this. Otherwise, they may assume you’re keeping it from them for some reason. For example, if you know that a one-to-one student is in a teacher’s timetable, but said student hasn’t confirmed the start date of the lessons yet, tell the teacher that you don’t know the start date.

Be realistic about when communication will happen. Following on from the previous point, ensure that people know when they are likely to get any missing information and what factors will affect this. For example, when will the school contact the student to confirm the start date? Knowing when you will get information can reduce anxiety, and mean you can more easily postpone worrying about something until later.

Remind people to help you with communication. As managers, we’re normally spinning a lot of plates, and inevitably we’ll lose some of them. Get your staff on board to help you. Ask them to prod you if you don’t reply within 3 working days for example, and be clear about what is their responsibility to follow up on and what is yours.

Be open about mistakes in communication. Apologise when needed. We’re humans. We make mistakes. This is just as true in our communication as it is in any other area. Sometimes the things we do or say (or don’t do or say!) can be stressful for somebody else, or make their jobs harder. If you realise that your actions have made this happen, apologise for it. This is far more likely to build relationships of trust than brushing such mistakes under the carpet or pretending they didn’t happen.

Timing

Consider the timing of your communication carefully. What messages are you sending out about…

  • response times?
  • working hours?
  • availability?

By instantly replying to every message you receive, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and probably interrupting your life outside work. You are also implicitly indicating that you expect instant responses from the people you work with, and are therefore adding unnecessary stress to them.

By replying to messages at unusual times, such as very early in the morning or late at night, you’re also implying that your employees should do this too.

By being available all the time, you’re losing the chance to have a life outside work, or at least drastically reducing that chance.

To help yourself to communicate more healthily, set working hours and consider what notifications you have, and pass this information on to your team. For example, our senior team have clear working hours which all the teachers know, WhatsApp notifications, but no email notifications. We have told teachers that we will respond to phone calls or WhatsApp messages as soon as possible within working hours (or I’ll respond to early morning phone calls too to arrange cover for sickness), but emails will be responded to when we get to them.

You can also make use of the scheduling function which most email providers have to ensure that your messages are sent at reasonable working hours or at the point of need, rather than when you wrote them at 6am, or 5 days before a teacher needs to see it.

GMail schedule send function

Meetings

Is it really an email? We’ve all sat in a completely pointless meeting which should have been an email. Only have meetings for things which require some form of discussion or Q&A.

What is the meeting for? Who is it (really) for? Know why you are requiring people to be in the same place at the same time. Make sure it’s not just for you, but that they are benefitting from the meeting too. Our school meetings happen every Friday for 30 minutes. They have two purposes. The first is to pass on information which is important for that point in the year and to ensure teachers know how to fulfil their responsibilities concerning things like writing reports or marking written work. The second is a social reason: it’s the only time in the week when we are a single school and a single team, all in the same place. This is why it was so important for us to continue these weekly meetings when we were all working from home too, to reduce the sense of isolation.

Do you need to say it all? At some points in a meeting, you may not need to read all of the information. Let people process information for themselves if it’ll be faster. For example, in our (deliberately fuzzy) agenda below you can see bullet points at the top. There are two sections: Please can you… for things they don’t need to hear me say, and Reminders for things like dates for their diary which I’ve already spoken about before. There is also colour coding, as suggested by our teachers at the end of last year. Orange indicates I’m telling you for the second time, red would be for the third time. [The document is titled ‘agenda’, but also acts as minutes – it’s edited during the meeting, printed out and put on the wall, and also available on Google Drive for teachers to refer back to as needed.]

Break up the info dump. As you can see, we share a lot of information during our meetings. They normally take the full 30 minutes allocated to them, sometimes a little longer. It’s impossible for somebody to focus on one person talking for all of that time and actually process the information. At one or two points in the meeting I normally have some kind of discussion, for example ‘What do you need to remember to do from the meeting so far?’ or ‘Have you picked up anything while teaching on Zoom this week which would be useful for everyone else?’ This gives me a little break, changes the pace, and allows teachers to process the information a little. It also creates a couple of extra beginnings and endings during the meeting, meaning information is a tiny bit more likely to be retained and acted on.

Are the next steps clear? At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody knows what they’re expected to do next and what the deadlines are.

Include positives/thank you. In a general meeting, include positive things too. I found that I used to feel like I just spent 30 minutes every week telling the staff off or nagging them. I still do sometimes, but ending on a positive note has reduced that feeling.

Emails

Clear subject line. Make your subject line as clear as possible to avoid guessing games and make it easier to find emails again later. If it’s new topic, start a new thread with a new subject line. Be selective about your use of the word ‘urgent’ in subject lines.

One big email? Lots of little emails? If you have lots of information to convey to the same people in a single day, it’s better to send out a single longer email than lots of short emails. This is less overwhelming in inboxes and easier to refer back to.

Signpost big emails. Use headings and highlight key points to help readers navigate the block of text. Put new topics into new paragraphs, and use bullet points to break down topics as needed.

Make it easy to use your emails. Don’t expect recipients to read between the lines. Be explicit about what kind of reply is needed and when. Include links to anything external so the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for them.

It may seem like it will take longer to write emails like this, but it will probably save you time in the long run as you’ll have to do less chasing, and won’t need to resolve issues like people filling in the wrong document because you didn’t include the link to the right one.

Here are two examples of emails I’ve sent recently:

Documents to check + creating Zoom IDs

Morning all,

Here are all of the documents you need to check your timetable against:

– Room timetable
– Level meeting timetable
– Cover timetable
– Register links (these will appear in your Google Docs later in the day – please don’t ask for them – I’ll put up a note on the door when they’re ready)

Your register links document takes you to various general links for teachers, including the Zoom IDs list. Please create meetings for all of your Zoom classes on Friday 18th. Make sure they recur until 30th June 2021 so you never have to change them through the year. Add the ID and password to the Zoom ID document so it’s available for cover and if the office need to tell a student.

When you have added all Zoom IDs to the list and checked all of your documents, reply to this email. Say ‘Fine’ if it’s all complete. List any problems if not – be as clear as possible. Please do not send the email separately – I want to keep it all in one thread so I can keep track of who’s replied.

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line;
  • clear instructions on how to complete the task;
  • information about how exactly they should reply and what information I need;
  • why I’m asking them to do things in this way.

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year (please reply by Monday 7th Sept 18:00)

[This email image is deliberately blurred.]

In this email you can see:

  • a clear subject line, including exactly when I need a reply by;
  • headings;
  • topics highlighted in blue;
  • all documents needed are attached;
  • all links to be followed are included in the email.

Keeping track

We’re managing a lot of communication, and potentially there are a lot of versions of documents flying around.

Date any documents you send out, rather than having the same file name or calling them 1, 2, 3, etc. Reverse order sorts them nicely: 2020.10.17. I normally keep all previous versions in a folder called ‘Archive’ and only the active version in the top folder to help me navigate. Here’s an example from the presentations on my personal computer:

Note any deadlines you set for replies in your diary or calendar. Follow up only with those who didn’t meet deadline, rather than sending out a blanket email to everyone. Don’t start following up until the deadline arrives – otherwise you are creating extra implicit deadlines, and causing yourself and your colleagues unnecessary extra stress.

Giving feedback

This can be one of the most challenging parts of our jobs, whether as teachers, managers or trainers, and can often be the cause of a lot of stress.

Use a feedback model (this one is from Manager Tools). This structure can help you to keep feedback neutral and ensure that the person on the receiving end is receptive to it (whether positive or negative). There are four steps:

  • Ask Can I give you some feedback?
  • Describe the behaviour: When you…
  • Describe the impact: …it makes me feel / …students find it difficult to… / …students are really engaged.
  • Discuss next steps: Keep it up! / What can you do about this? How can I help you?

It’s important to get the person you’re speaking to to say what the next steps are themselves, and preferably the ideas will come from them. They’re much more likely to act on the feedback if they say it rather than if you say it.

Focus on behaviour and actions, not personality. This keeps things more neutral and means feedback feels more constructive and less like a personal attack. It takes practice! If you’re not sure if your feedback does this successfully, run it by somebody else you trust and ask for help with rephrasing it as needed before you give it to the person concerned.

What expectations are teachers holding themselves / you holding teachers to? Teachers can often be their own worse critics, and beginner teachers in particular may not allow themselves to be beginners. Ensure that any expectations are realistic for the level of experience of the teacher, and that they know what you expect of them is fair.

Boost confidence and spot strengths too. Aim to give at least as much positive, confidence-boosting feedback as you do feedback on areas to improve.

Compassionate communication

Ask, don’t assume. Ask questions, rather than thinking you know why something happened or what somebody is feeling or experiencing at a given point.

Be patient and supportive. Aim for communication which helps rather than hinders or stresses out your colleagues. Keep this in the back of your mind, and don’t let your own stress or frustration at the fact this is the 18th time you’ve asked come through (easier said than done, but vital to remember!)

Provide training on your bug bears. To reduce your own stress levels, teach people how to do things which frustrate you when they do it ‘wrong’. For me this is the use of ‘Reply all’ rather than ‘Reply’ to group emails – you can also avoid this by BCCing all of the receiving emails, because then people can only reply to the sender rather than everyone!

Be on the receiving end of your own communication. Copy yourself into your group emails using your personal address, so you realise just how many emails you’re sending out. Record a meeting and sit through the whole thing without fast-forwarding it. You’ll soon send fewer emails and run shorter meetings!

Be a learning communicator

Reflect on particularly successful / unsuccessful communication. Why did that observation feedback run so smoothly? Why did that interview feel horrible throughout?

Seek out feedback. Ask for feedback on your communication. This includes when communication went wrong – wait until the emotion has gone out of the situation, then ask for advice on how you could have made the situation run more smoothly. If your staff trust you, they’ll be very willing to give you this feedback.

Choose an area to focus on. For me, this is currently all of the points in ‘listen’ at the start of this post!

Be kind to yourself 🙂 Your communication won’t always be perfect, but don’t dwell on it when things don’t work out. Model learning from problems and mistakes, seeking feedback, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.

What tips would you add to improve communication as a teacher, manager or trainer? Have you had any experiences of particularly good or bad communication which have helped you to become a better communicator?

Almost like a real teacher!

I’ve ended up teaching far more than usual this week due to various teachers being off sick. None of them had the dreaded lurgy fortunately – just the standard fresher’s flu that tends to hit at this point in the year!

Without cover I would have had two lessons with my beginner teen group this week, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday, and a Polish lesson on Friday. The rest of the my time would have been spent on my responsibilities as a Director of Studies: drop-in observations, level meetings (collaborative planning meetings), and ad hoc teacher support are the main things at this point in the year.

Instead I taught 7 lessons, covering a whole range of lesson types and group sizes:

  • Monday: cover A2.2 teens on Zoom (8 or 9 students – can’t remember!)
  • Tuesday: my beginner teens on Zoom (4 students), cover A2.1 young learners in the classroom (6 students)
  • Wednesday: cover A2.1 young learners in the classroom (11), cover FCE adults on Zoom (8 or 9)
  • Thursday: my beginner teens in the classroom, cover A2.1 young learners on Zoom (the same group as Tuesday)
  • Friday: no Polish because I had some DoSsing to do to catch up on the rest of the week!

I can’t remember the last time I did this much teaching in one week, and it was so good to spend so much time with students.

I don’t normally teach exam students because I wouldn’t have time to do the marking: I love how motivated they are. I found working with them on key word transformations on Zoom to be just as effective as in the classroom, if not more so as I could see all of their answers simultaneously in the chat and refer back to them as needed (there were 8 students I think).

I’ve never really considered myself to be a natural young learner teacher, but I’ve really enjoyed the lessons this week, and the enthusiasm of the kids both online and off. We worked on the seasons in the first lessons of the week and they wrote a little profile of themselves. One child got a bit worried that he didn’t know what month his birthday was in even in Polish – a lot of teaching English is reassuring students and building their confidence, especially with young learners. It was teacher’s day, and the kids who’d brought chocolates and flowers for their normal teacher didn’t quite know what to do with them, but handed them over at break so I made sure they got to where they needed to be 🙂 In the second lesson we worked on 8 verb phrases for free time activities and the structure Do you like VERBing? They so want to communicate and end up telling you all kinds of random information: I learnt about all their pets and the ages of their mums completely spontaneously from one group.

The teens were a little more of a struggle at the start, especially as they didn’t really want their cameras on. However, the creative nature of the project lesson we did on making your own invention to solve a problem was lots of fun. They came up with shoes that could fly, a magic pen that only writes the correct answers, and FriendlyCat 1, a robot who will keep your cat company if you have to go out.

My own group was also fun to teach this week. We worked on the numbers 1-20 and phone numbers on Zoom – the whole oh/zero thing blew their minds a little bit! In the classroom we did 21-100, and I started to introduce a little bit of spelling.

Overall, it was a nice mix of classroom and online lessons, and a really enjoyable range of lesson topics.

I do like being in the classroom.

And now that Bydgoszcz will be a red zone from tomorrow, from next week all of our adult and teen classes will be fully online. Only the younger learner classes will continue to have one of their two lessons a week in the classroom.

And I couldn’t have done it without the support of my colleagues – thank you so much to Paul and Emma, the level heads for these groups, who supplied me with lesson plans which I just needed to process, rather than having to come up with something from scratch. This is one of the fantastic things about working at IH Bydgoszcz: our level meetings/collaborative planning meetings mean that our group lessons are planned together, creating something that is more solid than what any one of us could do alone. In turn, I supplied other teachers with lesson plans for the cover lessons they were doing. And our teachers who were off sick were able to take the time they needed to recover and not pass on their germs to the rest of us, thanks to the cover system.

I do like working in a supportive school.

We’ll get through this together, and we’ll be stronger as a result.

I hope that you’re getting the support you need, wherever you are.

When I attended the Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) symposium on 12th September 2020, I found Kate French’s talk to be particularly useful. There is a recording here. Kate kindly agreed to write a guest post summarising what she shared.

The CETA Symposium was held online and brought together teacher trainers from over 49 different countries. It was an excellent opportunity to share knowledge and experience, particularly regarding teaching and learning during the pandemic.

As with all areas of life during COVID-19, teacher trainers and training courses in 2020 have had to adapt and react to the ever-changing circumstances and follow the sometimes contradictory guidelines emerging on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to save jobs and businesses and satisfy our ‘clients’ i.e. those wishing to complete and/or gain a teaching training qualification this year.

My own session at the conference was about the 100% online CELTA qualification and the aim was to synthesise the aforementioned guidelines and conclusions. The aim was not only to raise awareness for Centres that have yet to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity, but also to offer a review and possibly standardise delivery and ‘best practice’, which is what has always characterized the face-to-face and blended CELTA award, and which has led to its undoubted reputation as the ‘gold standard’ pre-service teaching training course. Therefore, I was very flattered to receive Sandy’s invitation to write a post for her blog to summarise the findings and offer them to an even wider public.  It was also very timely, as I have just started tutoring on our second full-time, 100% CELTA course and wanted to make adjustments and improvements to our own course in response to:

  • recent recommendations from Cambridge Assessment English
  • CELTA assessor suggestions
  • previous candidates’ feedback
  • results of a brief, facebook survey I sent to teacher trainers (60 responses)

but most importantly for the following reasons:

  • The certificate awarded at the end of the course is exactly the same as for the face to face and the blended formats – there is no mention of the delivery format on the certificate.
  • The same criteria have to be met by candidates in order to pass the course.
  • The candidates, although studying and teaching 100% online, need to be prepared to teach in both online and face to face contexts post-course.
  • Employers will expect candidates to have the essential skills to teach in both online and face to face classrooms.

You can find our conclusions and ideas for achieving these in this table I have compiled:

Note from Sandy: the table is incredibly comprehensive and is an excellent starting point for anybody planning a CELTA course from this point forward, covering as it does all of the Cambridge recommendations for online courses so far, and lots of tips and ideas from Kate’s own experience and research.

Kate French started her TEFL career in Poland, at IH Bydgoszcz, before moving to Argentina two years later. [Note from Sandy – I didn’t know about that connection before!]
She has worked at International House Belgrano in Buenos Aires since 1995 where she has been ADoS, DoS, In-company Coordinator, and Head of Teacher Training. She is currently DoS and Teacher Trainer, overseeing the online classes during the pandemic and tutoring on the institute’s full and part-time 100% online CELTA courses. Kate is also a Cambridge ESOL and IELTS examiner, and a CELTA assessor.

CELTA trainers, do you have anything you’d add? Change? Questions you have about the online format? It’d be great to get a discussion going!

Teaching in the new world

This week I had my first lessons with students for this academic year.

On Monday and Wednesday I was the cover teacher the first two lessons of a fully online course. There were 5 students, all A2.1 teens, one of whom I taught in the level below last year.

They were very quiet in the first lesson, but came out of their shells more in the second. I think it might take longer for a fully online group to bond than one which has previously met in a classroom.

One activity which worked nicely was an email with some words displayed only as first letters e.g. I’ve g a b. I like g t t forest. Students worked together to figure out what the full email said. They then wrote a similar email to me for homework, introducing themselves. I sent them the text and the homework instructions after the lesson. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had 100% success with teen writing homework!

Break time during an online lesson

On Thursday I met my own group for the first time. I have four beginner teens, two of whom I met last year when covering the group before their teacher arrived. They found things challenging and the move online didn’t help, so they’re repeating the year with the same book. Part of my challenge this year will be to keep them engaged with material they’ve seen before but didn’t fully understand, and balance that for the two students who are new to the level, one of whom was very shy and needed a lot of encouragement to participate.

We’ll have odd-numbered classes in the socially distanced classroom for as long as possible, and even-numbered classes online.

With only four students it was a bit of a challenge to vary interaction patterns, especially in a typical first beginner lesson where you focus on greetings and asking for memes. One dialogue which worked in a really fun way was:

Hello Fred.

No, no, no, my name isn’t Fred. It’s Bob.

Oh, sorry!

This also already introduced isn’t ready for later lessons.

We also worked on What’s his/ her name? including students sharing pictures from their phones.

The other group I taught was our Polish beginners class for teachers. We’d decided to run it online to demonstrate various techniques and give the teachers a student perspective on online lessons. Normally in the first lesson I’d focus on names and How are you?, but this time I worked on greetings, ways of saying goodbye, and a couple of other useful bits of functional language. I also highlighted various spelling/pronunciation features.

A chain drill that worked well was gradually introducing two-line dialogues through the lesson, then asking one person to say the first line of any dialogue and choose who should respond, e.g.

Bob, dzień dobry.

Dzień dobry. / Przepraszam, Fred.

Nic nie szkodzi. / Do widzenia, Jim.

Do widzenia.

(Yes, it was an all-male group – my first I think. No, these aren’t their names!) I did intensive correction, and I suspect that the group won’t forget those phrases for a while! There’s a Quizlet set for homework if they need it.

Overall it was great to be back in a physical classroom with real people in front of me, but I enjoyed the online lessons just as much.

On 3rd October 2020, I took part in the IH Kyiv online conference. [Update: I presented the same talk at the IH Torun Teaching Training Day on 7th November 2020.]

I presented on the topic of group dynamics, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since doing my MA module in Trainer Development last year. Although Jane Harding da Rosa introduced me to Barry Tuckman’s work a few years ago, I don’t think I was ready to take in the ideas. I wish I had been! There are definitely at least two groups I can think of which would have been a much pleasanter experience for both me and the students had I understood some of the concepts I mention in this presentation. Oh well – we live and learn!

Here are three quotes from Chapter 3 of Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho which set the scene:

The quality of the eventual outcome of the course will to a considerable extent be forged in the interactions between the members of the learning group.

It always takes some time, and considerable care on the part of the [teachers] to enable groups […] to ‘form’ and reach a stage where they are personally secure, and trusting of each other and the [teacher] enough to start learning.

Even if the group is already well formed, each new meeting requires attention to re-forming: re-entering the public world of the group from the more private world of family or workplace.

Although the quotes are about teacher training, I think they’re equally applicable to the ELT classroom.

My presentation was mostly about raising awareness of issues connected to group dynamics, rather than activities to help you deal with them. Those activities can be found in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book Classroom Dynamics, which I recently finished and will review on my blog shortly. Short review: every staffroom should have a copy! About 50% of the ideas in my presentation came from her book – thanks Jill! [Amazon affiliate link]

Here are my slides:

Thinking about groups

We started with an activity adapted from p39 of Classroom Dynamics.

EITHER:

Think about groups you have taught. Which groups were easy to teach? Which were difficult? Which were mixed?

OR:

In your life up to now, what groups have you been a member of? For example, family, sports team, colleagues at work, church… Did you have a good, bad or mixed experience as a member of these groups?

Think about the good groups.

  • Did they have anything in common?
  • What do you think these groups gave their members?
  • What did the group members give back?
  • What did the group members have to give up?

Think about a group you’re in now.

  • What do you think they will be able to give you?
  • What can you offer to them?
  • What might you have to give up?

We pooled the ideas into this mentimeter.

You can use this activity with classes to help them consider what makes a good group and what they can contribute to and get from a group.

Stages of group life

I talked through the 5 stages described in Barry Tuckman’s stages of group development:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing
  • Adjourning

You can see a full-sized version of the diagram I talked through here: http://bit.ly/tuckmangroups. It shows a lot more information about what each of the five stages involve. There are lots of sources describing these 5 stages (the final one is sometimes missing, or called ‘Mourning’).

These are typical stages, but some groups get stuck at a particular stage and never move forwards, others regress or move backwards and forwards, especially if new people join the group.

As a teacher, it’s useful to know about the stages to understand what you can do as a teacher to help a group to form successfully, and understand why some groups won’t work well together.

Causes of group problems

On p149 of Classroom Dynamics, Jill Hadfield has this summary of possible causes of group problems:

Three layer diagram:
1. Group problems
2. Teacher-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. conflict of expectations about progress
3. resistance to communicative methods
3. resistance to leadership style
3. rebellion against 'authority'
2. intra-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. different aims, levels of ability or motivation
3. an inharmonious mix of ages, personalities, sexes or nationalities
2. the indigestible group member, subdivided into:
3. misfits
3. the insecure
3. rebels
3. frustrated leader

I asked two questions, which you could think about now:

  • Have you experienced any of these as a teacher or a student?
  • What can you do about them?

We then looked at a bit of theory to pre-empt these problems, aiming to reduce the likelihood of them starting in the first place, or deal with the problems when you notice they start to manifest themselves. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s worth being reminded!

Teacher-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • the teacher makes it clear why they’re doing particular activities/using particular techniques – displaying clear aims can help.
  • the teacher compromises on approach/tasks in lessons, doing some of what the teacher wants and some of what the group wants.
  • the teacher listens carefully to students.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

To win […] trust, we have to be open about our objectives, and be ready to participate in activities on an equal basis whenever it is possible or makes sense for us to do so.

Students need to feel like you’re a participant in the group too, not just a dictator. If you expect them to share, it’s important for you to do so too. The same is true of being receptive to feedback, and giving constructive feedback.

Intra-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with a very problematic group: introduce less group work, use more individual/pair work, regroup students so it’s less explosive.
  • with a relatively low-level problem: use gap-bridging activities.
  • with a well-balanced group: confront the problem and discuss it.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted.

It takes time and effort for humans to trust each other, and sometimes a small action or a single word can be enough to break that trust. We need to help students feel comfortable with each other, building trust consistently, rather than just doing one getting-to-know-you activity at the start of the course and thinking we’re done with that (this is a reminder to myself too!)

The indigestible group member

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with rebels: get to know them and make sure they know you; providing clear limits/boundaries can help in some cases, but may make it worse.
  • with frustrated leaders: do individual interviews with all students; encourage everybody to say ‘I think’ not ‘we think’.
  • with insecure students: give them warmth and attention and help them integrate.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Participants frequently arrive with preoccupations relating to their work, their families etc. [which] prevent them from being fully ‘present’. [They often] gain least from […] courses and […] are most critical in end-of-course evaluations.

Helping students mentally transition into the classroom space, learn to put their preoccupations aside, and feel comfortable in the room are all important. Again, this takes time and effort to build up.

Chapters in Classroom Dynamics

These are most of the chapters in Jill Hadfield’s book:

  • Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
  • Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
  • Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
  • Getting to know each other: humanizing activities and personalised grammar
  • I did it your way: empathy activities
  • A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
  • Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
  • Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
  • Group achievements: product-oriented activities
  • Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques and summaries
  • That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
  • Ensuring participation // Learning to listen
  • A sense of direction: setting, assessing and resetting goals
  • Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations, group solutions
  • Ending with positive feelings // Evaluating the group experience

In the chat I asked:

  • Can you think of any activities which would serve these purposes?
  • How could they help your groups?
  • How could they pre-empt some of the problems we’ve discussed?

As Jill points out, a lot of the activities we already use can be tweaked to help work on classroom dynamics as well as the language or skills aim we want to use them for. Obviously reseating is a potential problem in a socially-distanced classroom, but could be adapted for activities online.

Final reflection

Having thought about the ideas I’ve introduced here, when working with groups from now on what will you:

  • continue to do?
  • stop doing?
  • start doing?

Last week was induction week for the 2020-2021 school year, and as with everything for everyone right now, it was different. Social distancing, masks, new ways of working.

But it wasn’t anywhere near as different as I thought it would be.

It was so lovely to hear the buzz of lots of people working in the school building again, for the first time since mid-March.

I forgot how much I enjoy writing on a whiteboard – that was a very satisfying feeling!

The meetings I ran involved me moving around to find a position where I could see everyone now they’re all arranged in rows, and I ended up standing up or perching with one knee on my chair (can’t work out how to describe it!) I also had to project my voice a little more to make up for the masks. But they felt pretty normal in terms of how much I felt like I was lecturing people and never like that feeling!

The one session I ran on the job description, IH promises and our expectations of teachers at the school allowed me to experiment with techniques for the socially-distanced classroom for the first time. And it was actually OK. There was lots of pair work and group work, people worked with various others, no paper was handed out, and (I hope!) everyone got what they needed to out of the session. I had an information gap task where teachers took photos of different PowerPoint slides, then kept their eyes closed when the other slides were shown, after which they compared the information on their photos. Another task involved a pyramid discussion followed by comparing answers to the job description I emailed them during the session. I had to be a little more creative when planning the session to avoid paper and consider groupings, but other than that it felt like running sessions in the classroom pre-COVID. I also used AnswerGarden in a classroom lesson for the first time.

I’m feeling pretty hopeful now, and excited about getting back into the classroom with students – that’s about 10 days away for me, fingers crossed. Numbers are going up here, but hopefully we’ll still be able to work in classrooms for a little while yet.

How about you? Are you back in the classroom? What does your updated classroom look like? If you’re online, what’s the same and what’s different about how you’re working now?

Good luck everyone, and stay safe!

The Cambridge English Teaching Awards (CETA) Symposium is another event which I would never have been able to attend face-to-face because of the timing and the location, but now it’s online I can go – yay! It’s aimed at trainers of Cambridge certificates: CELTA, Delta, CELT-P, CELT-S and TKT, though a lot of the content is relevant for all teacher trainers.

I talked about Life after CELTA. This was the abstract:

Even a Pass A CELTA graduate ‘will benefit from further support in post’. What might this support look like? What are the main areas that CELTA graduates continue to need help with? What can trainers do during the CELTA course to lay the groundwork? I hope to answer all of these questions in this session.

Here are my slides:

Here’s the recording:

Key areas for new teachers

When I employ an early career teacher, I know we’ll probably need to work on five key areas:

  • Time management
  • Teacher confidence/presence
  • Community membership
  • Reflective practice
  • Effective modelling

These are areas which many new teachers struggle with and need particular support in. I’ll look at each area below, with ideas for how CELTA trainers can develop these skills as much as possible during the course. Many of these things are already incorporated in courses, but it’s worth being reminded of their importance, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted!

ELT Playbook

For each area, I’ve suggested a task from an ELT Playbook which could be used with trainees or as a trainer. These are the current Smashwords discount codes, valid until 5th October 2020 [affiliate links]:

ELT Playbook 1 (for new teachers): TB33T

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher TrainingNH97T

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

You can find out more about both books, along with how to buy them, on the ELT Playbook website.

Time management

Materials preparation time: This is probably the biggest time sink for new teachers. This might be created a huge PowerPoint presentation, cutting up loads of bits of paper, or going down a rabbit hole to find the perfect image/video/text etc. I generally recommend that trainees do materials prep last, once they have a completed plan, with all of the documentation. I also try to show them how to teach lessons without PowerPoint, and challenge them to do at least one lesson like this during a course, especially if they’re a stronger trainee. Weaker trainees can aim for one or two activities per lesson without PowerPoint.

Simplify lessons: I recommend a maximum of one or two all-singing, all-dancing activities per 60 minutes. If trainees come to me with a plan with more than this, I’ll advise them to get rid of one or two, even if they can justify why it would be a great activity and incredibly useful for their students. Once I’ve told them this a few times, they start to listen!

Time-saving tips: Encourage screenshots/taking photos rather than retyping the whole exercise, even if it might look prettier! Show trainees hacks for the paper-based classroom, like putting a coloured dot on the back of each set of handouts.

Technology: Introduce multi-functional tools like Quizlet, which can also be used for printing flashcards in a face-to-face classroom. Show trainees how to find and copy existing sets, not start from scratch every time, and encourage them to save sets with the book name, edition, unit number and page number in the title so they’re easy for other teachers to find (like this). Create templates for documents on Word/PowerPoint which are reusable and easy to complete – show trainees/new teachers how to do this too if possible.

Exploiting activities: Emphasise as much as possible how to exploit single activities in multiple ways, rather than introducing new activities all the time. Demonstrate this during input sessions. You can also use One activity, multiple tasks from ELT Playbook 1 .

Teacher confidence/presence

Lesson planning: I strongly believe that trainers should intervene as soon as possible if planning documentation is not up-to-scratch and be explicit about what will help trainees in lessons. There’s normally somebody else in the TP group who’s understood how to write a useful lesson plan, so I normally ask their permission to share the plan with the person who’s struggling. This is better than a generic lesson plan as the trainee knows how the lesson went, and can see how having a solid plan helped the lesson to be more successful. As a trainer, we should also provide clear feedback on the plan, with one or two specific areas to focus on each TP to improve the plan, not the just the lessons. Generally, a strong plan = a successful lesson = teacher confidence. There’s plenty of time for teachers to move towards less detailed planning later, once they’ve got the basics under their belt.

Rehearsal opportunities: Encourage trainees/teachers to rehearse things they’re nervous about, preferably with their TP colleagues, but with you if nobody else is available. This is particularly true for complicated instructions – make sure the lesson isn’t the first time the trainee/teacher has ever tried to say those instructions out loud.

Lesson plan as film script: Emphasise the importance of trainees/teachers knowing exactly what they want from the students during the lesson. Imagine it’s a film script, where everyone needs to know where to stand, what to hold, what to do at each point in the lesson. This can help trainees to add more depth to their lessons, though sometimes it can go too far! If it does, remind them that improvisation is an important part of great film-making too – there needs to be space for the actors/students to breathe too; it can’t all be about the director/teacher. This can help them to understand the idea of handing over to the students more too.

Wait time: Give trainees/teachers tricks to increase the amount of time they wait after asking questions, for example counting ‘1000, 2000, 3000’ or putting a post-it on their computer saying ‘Wait!’ The pauses add natural breaks into the lesson, allow everyone to think a little, and can reduce anxiety. They also mean students are more likely to give answers of some kind, and maybe even successful ones 😉 All of this can increase teacher confidence, and help them feel more in control of the lesson with better teacher presence.

Provide necessary support: Don’t leave trainees/teachers to flounder or spend hours trying to figure things out themselves. This is particularly true of teaching grammar: show trainees/teachers how to do this the first time out. This will add to their toolbox, and give both teachers and students a better experience. A lot of our in-house training at IH Bydgoszcz connected to lessons is about supporting teachers to feel confident in grammar lessons. One useful tip is for teachers/trainees to do the exercises themselves as part of their lesson planning, and make sure they know WHY the answers are correct, not just what. Modelling this kind of scaffolding is useful for teachers to see how to help students too.

Self-talk: There’s a free bonus activity connected to ELT Playbook 1  looking at self-talk and teacher confidence. Download it here.

Community membership

Give guidance: Show trainees how to participate in communities within their course, for example by creating Whatsapp groups for everyone on the course, their TP group, and their 3 TP colleagues. Point out chances to use these communities e.g. it’s a good idea to discuss this part of the lesson…you could vent about this…

You are not alone: Remind them that there’s always somebody they can call on, both during and after the course. Emphasise how to work together during TP prep, and tell them never to spend more than 10 minutes trying to figure something out – after that they should ask for help. ‘The people around us’ in ELT Playbook 1  can help teachers/trainees to realise who can help them with what.

Wider communities: Show trainees communities they can join during or after their course e.g. the facebook CELTA or Teaching English British Council pages, #ELTchat on Twitter, or alumni communities for your organisation.

Reflective practice

Use metaphors: This can help with managing expectations and stress. My favourite metaphor for this is about learning to play the piano/tennis.

Exemplify reflection: As a trainer, be human! Own your mistakes and tell trainees how you have learnt/will learn from them. Show them that it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. Also highlight areas you’re particularly proud of, especially if you were experimenting with something new. Be excited 🙂

Strength spotting: I learnt about this from Sarah Mercer, and there’s a specific task connected to it in ELT Playbook 1.  Encourage trainees/teachers to learn from the strengths of others. Really emphasise this by making TP peer feedback focussed on strengths as much as possible and then telling them how other trainees can do the same thing. In your spoken feedback, highlight one thing each trainee did that you want the others to do in future TPs.

Specific feedback: Give specific feedback, including comments were possible, not just generic comments. For example: ‘Good drilling’ becomes ‘You used a consistent model with a natural stress pattern.’ This shows trainees/teachers what behaviour to repeat, in the same way that our (normally much more specific!) negative feedback shows them what behaviour to avoid/modify in future. Model this, but also encourage trainees to avoid the word ‘good’ in their own feedback to each other. Thanks to Kate Protsenko for highlighting this to me, and inspiring the task ‘What is ‘good’?’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training.

Effective model

Practise what you preach: Teachers should model effective language learning behaviour to their students, trainers should model effective teaching to their trainees. 😉 I think most of us do this already, but it’s still worth reflecting on what you do and don’t model to your trainees. Follow through on your advice in your own demo lessons and input sessions: vary activities, give concise instructions, don’t use too many ICQs, start/finish on time…sometimes easier said than done! The task ‘Practising what you preach’ in ELT Playbook Teacher Training could help with this.

Be human: Model compassion towards yourself, model taking care of yourself during courses, highlight when you need help or when you’ve found support somewhere (in a book, on a site, from another person). I’ve already mentioned owning your mistakes. Don’t try to be a computer, or to be perfect. We need to model this so that new teachers don’t feel that they need to be perfect either. Perfectionism is boring.

What’s not here?

The surface things:

  • TTT
  • ICQs
  • CCQs
  • pairwork
  • feedback techniques, etc.

These are generally considered to be the stuff of CELTA, but I think they’re less important than any of the five deeper areas above. Those deeper areas are universal: any teacher needs them, in any context, online or offline, wherever they are in the world. The surface things are all useful techniques to be aware of, but they’re context-dependent. A confident, reflective, practitioner who can learn from their community, manage their time well, and understand the power of modelling will learn how to do all of these bitty things sooner or later. Remove any of those five areas and the chances are much slimmer.

Do you agree? Are these areas you work on? What would you do to support new teachers with these or other areas during an initial teacher training course?

On 5th September 2020 I presented at the EFL Talks Poland online event. 10 Directors of Studies based in Poland presented 10-minute talks of 10 slides each. Here are my slides:

I’ll share the video when it’s available in a couple of weeks.

This is a shorter version of a 45-minute talk I’ve done previously at the ETAI Conference in Israel and the IH Barcelona conference. Here is a fully written-out version of the activities.

To find the full details of the richer activities, plus another 12 ways to extend speaking activities, get your copy of Richer Speaking from Smashwords or Amazon [affiliate links]. It costs around $1/€1, so shouldn’t break the bank! As always, I don’t claim that these ideas are original, but it’s handy to have them in one place and see how they can be applied to specific activities.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like more reflection activities, you can find all the links to buy ELT Playbook 1 at eltplaybook.wordpress.com. There is a Smashwords discount code for 10% off ELT Playbook 1 until 5th October 2020: TB33T. You can also buy a paperback or ebook version of ELT Playbook 1 from Amazon [affiliate links] or a paperback from BEBC (support this great bookshop!)

ELT Playbook 1 cover

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of these activities.

 

I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!

Key details

TitleLessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT

Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell

Publisher: Richmond

Year: 2016

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

What’s in it?

Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):

Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.

Written in accessible language.

Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.

There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.

Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.

Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.

Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.

Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.

The 12 main sections of the book are:

  1. Learning about our students
  2. Reflective teaching
  3. Observation: a learning tool
  4. Managing our classrooms
  5. Lesson planning
  6. Organizing language lessons
  7. Understanding and teaching language
  8. Developing literacy skills
  9. Developing oracy skills
  10. Integrating language skills
  11. Assessment and evaluation
  12. Mindful, corrective feedback

There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.

Good points

The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.

The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.

Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.

The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.

Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.

Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):

  • 159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
  • 175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
  • 181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
  • 184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
  • 242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
  • 271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
  • 384-385: the characteristics of a good test
  • 386-389: practical advice for writing test items

Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.

Areas to improve

It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.

Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.

One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:

For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)

Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.

Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.

Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.

Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.

General comment

It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.

Back in November 2019 I noticed this tweet from Grace Alchini:

I was intrigued so asked her to write a guest post about what the course involved. (Sorry for the delay Grace!)

Around 5 years ago, after almost 3 decades in ELT and an operation that made me bed-ridden for nearly a month, I decided it was time to start a new hobby or develop a new skill. That is how I joined an Introduction to wine tasting course, together with my husband. We both enjoyed wine and had been impressed by a sommelier who had once run a wine tasting session in a restaurant, showing expertise and the ability to help the client understand wine, and who was opening this course. That was the beginning of a series of around 10 modules of 15 hours each and several wine tasting sessions, which opened the door to a fascinating world in which our senses rule, and culture is present through the explanation of processes, geography, history, gastronomy, and the list goes on.

Aldo, the sommelier, and I became friends, and one evening over dinner he told me about one of his trainees, who spoke good English but had been unable to talk about wine in the United States because he lacked the vocabulary to do it. A few minutes later, we started imagining a course aimed at sommeliers who had to serve foreign clients or work abroad. The project materialized several months later.

The objective was clear: to train these Spanish-speaking professionals to provide their service in English. That meant being able to run a wine tasting session (which involves colour, smell, taste and mouth-feel description), suggest wine and food pairings, and speak about the winemaking process, among other tasks. The course took twelve 3-hour sessions, and each of them addressed a different topic: each of the stages in the wine tasting session, types of wine, the grapevine, the process at the winery, pairing, and service. A TBL approach was used. In the first part of the session, I provided the participants with the vocabulary and language they would need (making use of articles, videos, and infographics on which we worked), and then, there was the task: wine tasting in English, focusing on the topic of the day.

We tasted 3 or 4 different wines every session, and as there were around six participants, everybody could practise in front of an audience every class. The rest of the participants made comments, sharing their own perceptions, and I gave them feedback as regards language use. Aldo was present too, in order to contribute to the session with his experience and knowledge.

Needless to say, it was essential for me to have some knowledge in the field, and those 150 hours of previous training were more than useful. I knew what I had to include in the course, and I understood what the different specific terms referred to as I prepared the sessions (or else I asked my teacher somm). Also, I devoted hours and hours during several months reading specialised books and watching videos to make both my understanding of the subject matter and my vocabulary wider. At the same time, in every single class I became a student too because there was always some new concept to learn from the participants.

If you asked me what type of language is used in a wine tasting session, I would say it is mostly descriptive: adjectives related to colour (hues and depth), nouns that mention countless aromas (evoking fruit, herbs, flowers, spices, wood, leather and even unusual smells like horse sweat or a wet band-aid), a large number of adjectives to describe acidity in wine (zesty, tart, crisp, flabby, just to name a few) and expressions to explain mouth-feel sensations provoked by characteristics like astringency and heat (the presence of alcohol). When dealing with the growth cycle of the grapevine and the winemaking process, as well as the different types of wine, there is a wide range of specific terminology which led, in my case, to learning about the many procedures behind a bottle of wine. Also, there is the need to cover the functional language that is required in the performance of wine service. Last but not least, the creation of metaphor is a vital component of the skills a sommelier needs to develop. Many aspects of wine can be more easily understood when expressed in terms of a person, a painting, a moment of the day or a piece of music.

It was interesting for all of us to see how certain common words in English were a bit different in the world of wine. For example: flavour in general tends to be associated with taste. However, when referring to wine, flavour comprises taste, mouthfeel, and aroma, that is, what is perceived by the taste buds, the rest of the mouth and the nose respectively.

How useful was the course?

As I mentioned before, in each session participants put the language of wine tasting into practice, and in the last classes, when they had already dealt with the different steps and contents of a wine tasting session, they showed they were confident enough to do their job in English and communicated their passion for wine clearly and effectively. Furthermore, what has been a true discovery, at least for most of the participants, is the fact that doing their job in English is not just a matter of using a dictionary and translating. Words in any language may express perceptions, and these vary from culture to culture. Therefore, many participants could experience new ways of understanding and interpreting wine, which enriched their profession. Mine was definitely enriched too.

Grace Alchini is a freelance teacher of English, business communication and ESP trainer, and conference speaker based in Mexico. She has over 34 years ‘experience working at universities and providing in-company training. For the last couple of years, she has mainly focused on preparing pre-service graduate students, trainees and employees for the workplace.

ELT awards

What is the function of awards within a profession?

I’ve just asked Google that question expecting to find some kind of philosophical discussion on the topic. Instead I found links to all kinds of different awards schemes across a range of professions: engineering, medicine, project management, human resources, safety professionals, supply chain professionals, recognition professionals, and yes, even education.

The closest thing to an answer I could find came from the Wikipedia ‘award‘ entry, on page 3 of my search:

An award, sometimes called a distinction, is something given to a recipient as a token of recognition of excellence in a certain field.

Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Award on 21st August 2020

According to the references, this is a combination of definitions from the Oxford and Cambridge dictionary definitions.

I tried a new search: Why do awards exist?

That got me what I was looking for. Buried in amongst all kinds of discussions of film and TV awards ceremonies are a few interesting posts, starting with How important are awards anyway?:

We all apply with the same goal in our mind – to win. If we lose (and it has happened), we get irritated. Maybe we say: ”Heh, what do they know.” But then we try to figure out why we lost. We try to learn from each new contest, and we try to figure out how to be better.

Move on to page 2 of the search, and you get Awards: why you want them and how to get them. I’m not sure what an ‘Extension program’ is either, but there are some interesting quotes in there, like these:

Awards are the most conventionally accepted method for proving to others that your work is necessary, complete, and effective.

On the surface, applying for awards may seem self-serving, or even pretentious. Winning awards, however, does much more than bring attention to you as an individual. Documented proof that programs are of the highest caliber facilitates recruitment of external support and resources for future programs (Bradley, Driscoll, & Bardon, 2012). Administration, funding agencies, local governments, and even potential future employers acknowledge the value of peer recognition. Agencies with funding and in-kind resources tend to divert their efforts toward projects with the greatest potential for success. They often base decisions about who might be qualified to accomplish a task on prior successes of individuals or agencies under consideration.

How To Go After Awards And Recognition (And Win) and why it matters is from Forbes:

After all, if there’s one thing that can make us as women squirm uncomfortably, it’s nominating ourselves for awards and public recognition. Some may not be drawn to the competitive rivalry of a contest. For others, they may erroneously see themselves as not-strong-enough a candidate to apply in the first place. And yet, the effects of not self nominating can be far reaching.

Putting our distaste for self-promotion aside—awards, funds and recognition are a form of currency. In the world we live in, they matter. They are bargaining chips! They can help you demand a higher fee as an entrepreneur, reinforce your request for a higher corporate salary to your employer, and provide external validation of how you measure up against your peers.

Decide today, right now, that you are a worthy applicant for that interesting award, publishable article, or conference presentation. Then go for it.

Going after, and winning, awards makes you more appealing to employers and clients, yes. But it can greatly help you materially, and perhaps most underemphasized, it can permanently lift your confidence. […] By applying for recognition, you too will learn a lifelong skill – how to identify and speak about your value…and how to bet on yourself.

The last article I’ll quote from is The benefits of awards — even if you don’t win, which is full of lots of useful ideas and tips:

But recognition aside, merely applying for awards or seeking to be nominated also brings a multitude of career benefits. Putting together an award application can help you reflect on your skills and career progress. It may push you to become more competitive by filling gaps in your CV and increasing your visibility. Seeking out senior colleagues who will cheer for you can help you build a strong support base for the future. Competing for awards also creates an opportunity to receive useful feedback about your work and how you are perceived from those who nominated you or awards committees, Gomez notes.

Studying the award criteria and looking at past winners may help you get a sense of what you want to strive for and identify skill gaps. Trying to fill these gaps will not only increase your chances of getting the award, but also put you in a stronger position for your future career planning and progression, Maguire says.

Current awards in ELT

Philip Kerr recently wrote about Current Trends in ELT, including mentioning the British Council ELTons awards for innovations in English Language Teaching. This is one of the quotes which prompted this post:

You could be forgiven for wondering what is especially innovative about many of the ELTon award-winners, or indeed, why neophilia actually matters at all. The problem, in a relatively limited world like language teaching, is that only so much innovation is either possible or desirable.

The ELTons are one of only three awards schemes I can think of within ELT. The other two are both related to balance and representation at conferences. The Fair List was set up by Tessa Woodward to encourage gender balance at UK ELT events. Eve: Equal Voices in ELT recognises events for parity in gender, highly proficient speakers (not just native English speakers), and how representative they are of their local teaching community.

The ELTons has a glitzy awards ceremony (not this year of course!), with various categories recognising innovation and a lifetime achievement award. The Fair List has an awards ceremony at IATEFL each year (again, not this year). EVE has a calendar which they will include events in which meet the parity requirements, and award a badge recipients can display. All of them are useful for highlighting achievements of the ELT industry, and I think The Fair List and EVE have gone some way to starting discussions about and encouraging change within conference line-ups. Just being shortlisted for an ELTon can increase the profile of a project and (presumably) increase sales/buy-in/author profiles.

(Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any from this list.*)

Accreditation and inspection schemes, such as those from British Council, EAQUALS, AQUEDUTO (online training) and IH inspections for affiliated schools also fulfil some of the functions mentioned in the quotes above: they require data gathering, identify gaps and encourage applicants to fulfil them to meet requirements. The resultant badges that those who pass the inspection can display are a sign of professional recognition/recognition by the profession, though there’s no official awards ceremony for any of them.

Applying to present at conferences also prompts reflection and can lead to increased professional recognition too, and is open to individuals, thereby meeting some of the requirements mentioned in the first part of this post.

What’s my point?

I’m not really sure…this blogpost is more about thinking out loud than an actual point!

To my knowledge, the awards schemes which currently exist in ELT focus on innovation, lifetime achievement, and conference line-ups.*

Accreditation schemes are aimed at organisations.

Maybe there’s room for something else, awards which are more wide-ranging. Something which demonstrates the range and scope of our profession. Something which individuals can apply for, not just organisations. Something which can throw a spotlight on more than just the big names and recognise those unsung members of our profession who work away diligently year in, year out.

What could we recognise?

Here are some possible award categories:

  • Teacher
  • Trainer
  • Manager
  • Materials writer
  • Support/Administrative staff
  • Course
  • Course provider (school/educational organisation)
  • Employer
  • Methodology book/materials
  • Training course/event (including conferences)
  • Teaching association
  • Social media group/account

I’m sure there are many more I haven’t thought of!

How could it work? What are the problems?

Allow time for nominations. For example, nominations include 5 reasons why that nominee should receive the award, and what makes them unique/different compared to other possible nominees.
How long? Who nominates (the potential winner or a third party)? What needs to be included in a nomination? How are the nominations submitted? What about GDPR?

Anonymise the nominations. Remove any identifying features.
Who gets that job?! How long would it take?

Have a panel for each award, or one for all of the awards. Each panel member creates a long list of four nominations who they think should receive the award.
Who would be on the panel? How do you remove bias and ensure representation within the panels? How long would that process take? Who would pay for the time or would it have to be voluntary? 

Combine the separate long lists into a master long list. Each panel member individually comes up with their own shortlist of three nominees who they think should receive the award with reasons.
As with the previous point.

The panel meets to discuss the shortlists and negotiate who should be the award winner. One person from the panel is selected to check the votes and make a note of the eventual winner.
How long do you allow for this? How do you de-anonymise the nominations and ensure the winner remains a secret?

Run an awards ceremony. Glitz! Glamour! Awards!
Who pays for it? Who presents the awards?

Will it ever happen?

Unlikely!* Somebody would need to pay for it, and within ELT that normally means publishers sponsoring the event. Somebody would need to organise it, and that requires a lot of time.

But still, it’s interesting to think about.

What impact could an awards ceremony that’s more wide-ranging have on the profession? Would it make it feel more like a profession? Would it lead to any changes, as The Fair List and EVE already seem to have done? What do you think?

*Search first, write later (!)

I got to the end of this post and did a Google search for ELT awards. It looks like some of my questions are answered by these awards and my post is a little more pointless than it was before, but I’m not going to rewrite it now! Here’s what I found:

There are ELT Excellence Awards in Greece – it costs quite a lot to apply. Presumably that covers some of the costs I mentioned above, and public schools get one free entry each, but that still rules out individuals applying. It covers a wide range of areas, including a few I hadn’t thought of.

The Pearson English Global Teacher Award gives five winners the chance to attend the IATEFL or TESOL conference all expenses paid. It looks like it really does recognise individual teachers. I can’t find information about how to apply, but I think you probably apply yourself, doing the job of encouraging teachers to identify and speak about their value, as described above.

Oh, and there’s this post from David Deubelbeiss about teacher of the year/best teacher awards and how they’re a pet peeve of his, providing a useful balance to points above. You should definitely read that too.

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