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

What I offer

As a freelance ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer, and experienced teacher and manager, I can work with you in a number of ways.

If you have other projects in mind which you think I might be a good fit for, please feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you. Please note that I am unlikely to accept work which does not have a fee attached to it.

You can find out more about my experience by exploring this blog, including the About Me, Presenting and Writing pages.

I look forward to working with you!

The research-practice gap

I’ve just read an article called ‘The role and value of researchers for teachers: five principles for mutual benefit’ which was shared on Twitter by Masatoshi Sato. The article was written by him, Shawn Loewen and YouJin Kim and published on 30th August 2021 in the newsletter of the TESOL Applied Linguistics Interest Section.

As I was reading, I felt like I wanted to respond to various points, and decided it would be best to do this in a blogpost, as then I can take the quotes and add my responses beneath them. It’s late on a Sunday evening and I’m writing as I read the article, so I hope it makes sense! Please read the full article yourself to give you the context for the quotes I’ve selected and to form your own opinions.

For example, L2 researchers have been recommending for the past 40 years that L2 classes be communicative where students use the L2 for meaningful purposes. If you looked around, however, many classes follow traditional teaching methods which often emphasize explicit grammar teaching, and, at best, students develop receptive and decontextualized linguistic knowledge.

This quote seems to assume that teachers access research directly and are able to apply it to their teaching, but this brings up a number of questions:

  • How do teachers get access to the research?
  • How do they know what research to choose to read? How do they know it will be applicable to their context?
  • How much of a ‘critical mass’ does research need to reach before teachers should pay attention to it? How do they know when it has hit this point?
  • How do they extrapolate from the research to work out how to change their practice?
  • What constraints do they have to their practice that might stop them from being able to apply the research? For example, institutional requirements?
  • How much time and money does this process require?
  • What happens when another piece of research comes along which contradicts all the hard work they put into adapting their practice to accommodate the findings from the first area of research?
  • How much of a role does the training teachers have received play in the methods which they use in the classroom?
  • What about the materials? How much does the approach of the materials contribute to the methods teachers can/do use?
  • Is it, therefore, the teacher’s fault if they are not following the research?

After 12 years in the profession, and a huge amount of professional development, including currently doing an MA, I’ve only come across minimal research in journals which is accessible (financially and academically) and/or relevant to my context. I’ve seen many other things at conferences, in methodology books, or in blogposts which I assume have been informed by research, but I wouldn’t necessarily know where to go to look at that research first-hand, even if I did have the time or the inclination to do so. There is so much to teaching that even just learning about one tiny aspect of it, for example how to best teach listening skills, can and does take entire careers. How do you know where to start?!

To be fair to the writers, the article is designed to suggest a way to overcome that gap, at least a little, but I feel this is an unfair stab at teachers who are not using research-based methods in their teaching – I don’t think the blame lies with them in the majority of cases, unless they are willfully choosing to ignore research they know about.

Most problematically, the gap can result in students not getting closer to their learning goals. 

I feel like this is somewhat exaggerated. In some situations, yes, students may not be getting closer to their learning goals, but I don’t feel that this is due to teachers and/or researchers not accessing each other’s work. Instead, this could be due to poor/ineffective/outdated/no teacher training, a lack of supportive management structures, ineffective management of wellbeing, precarity, weak classroom management, or any number of other issues. Research may inform any of these areas, but that’s unlikely to be the teacher’s first concern.

…the focus of this article is on research that is intended to impact classrooms.

Useful narrowing of the focus.

The term “practitioner” involves different professions and roles, such as policy makers, program directors, textbook writers, educational bloggers, and media content producers. 

Nice to see ‘educational bloggers’ on this list 🙂 They then go on to say that their focus for the article is on teachers.

They go on to talk about…

…a framework in which knowledge exchanges between the two professions are facilitated, regardless of teachers’ ability to conduct research themselves.

…acknowledging the role of action research if teachers have the time and motivation to do it, and the fact that some people are both teachers and researchers, rather than having separate roles.

They also acknowledge that support is necessary, both from universities for researchers and schools for teachers.

…if a school (or even a university) does not subscribe to research journals, teachers do not have access to research even when they are interested in approaching research.

This is true, but I don’t know of any schools I’ve worked in that would be able to afford to subscribe to research journals. There are also so many of them out there – how can you know that the one(s) you’re subscribing to are the most useful ones for your teachers? I don’t think this is achievable in the majority of schools.

…some researchers have the ultimate goal of contributing to student learning. Acknowledging the shared goal—student learning—would help researchers and teachers sit at the same table to engage in a dialogue with a common language.

I think the aim here is for researchers and teachers to be equal participants in the endeavour, though it’ s not completely clear even later in the article where the balance of power lies, and whose agenda will be followed. Also, do teachers really not believe that some researchers might have this shared goal with them? Is this actually an issue?

 Researchers and Teachers Hold Different Types of Professional Knowledge

I like this idea – that’s definitely important, and we can definitely learn a lot from each other if the pathways are open.

With [a teacher’s] responsibilities, it is unreasonable to expect teachers to spend extra time looking for, reading, dissecting, and incorporating research for their lesson planning and teaching.

Amen to that!

Knowing each other’s professional lives would help develop a dialogue in which researchers and teachers take distinct yet equally important roles.

I wonder why this knowledge is lacking? What aspects of each other’s professional lives might we need to know more about in order to develop this dialogue? I would like to see this point expanded on.

Research Can Be Both Scientifically Rigorous and Practically Relevant

It’s worth reading this whole section (point 5 on the framework) – I’m not going to copy the whole thing here.

It sounds like an interested way of approaching research, and of keeping teachers involved along the way. However, I still wonder about a few things:

  • How much extra work would this kind of work require of teachers?
  • What kind of compensation would they get for this?
  • Who would be responsible for this compensation? Would it come from the researchers’ budget? The university? The school?
  • What happens if institutions require teachers to participate in research in this way, but don’t adjust their workload to accommodate it?
  • Who decides on the intervention? The researcher? The teacher? Both?
  • Where are the results of the research shared? How accessible will they be? How many other teachers are likely to be able to learn from each individual teacher-researcher partnership?

We believe that it is largely researchers’ responsibility to take action in initiating and facilitating a dialogue with teachers. We need platforms to engage in a dialogue as well.

I’ll be interested to see where this discussion goes, and whether this kind of research is already happening out there somewhere. It’s interesting to see that researchers are being pushed to initiate and facilitate the dialogue, but again, I have questions:

  • How much time do researchers have to set up this kind of dialogue?
  • How much communications training do they have, so that they can speak to teachers who might not be fully able to follow academic language?
  • How will they make contact with the teachers to set up the partnerships? Will they have some kind of database? Or they approach them one by one? Or teachers apply to work with specific researchers (if they have time for the application process!)?

The article suggests that researchers and teachers could work in closer partnerships. I’m not currently teaching, but I am doing training – if any researchers are interested in working with me, please let me know.

It’s a little while since I wrote anything about teaching online, mostly because I haven’t been doing much of it! Having said that, I’ve still been able to experiment with a few tools and techniques which I’d like to share with you.

Renaming participants for grouping

I found this to be a useful technique when trying to organise breakout rooms, especially for big groups. When I wanted to differentiate a CELTA input session, renaming allowed participants to select which activity they preferred. It was also helpful when I’d decided on the groups before the sessions – I read out the list of who was in which group, with instructions for how they should rename themselves. In both cases, I told participants to add the extra information before their name, which meant my participants list was organised accordingly, making it much faster to set up manual breakout rooms.

White text for answers

This works especially well with shared documents. When setting up a document, you can add an extra column to a table, or an extra page at the end of the document, where you put all of the answers. Change the font to white. In the session, either change the text to black so everybody can see the answers at once, or tell participants to highlight the text without changing the font colour to be able to see the answers themselves without revealing them to anybody else.

Mentimeter for surveys and sharing slides

Mentimeter is a presentation tool which allows you to include interactive content. In the free version you can share two interactive slides within a longer presentation. Examples might include scales, word clouds, ranking, multiple choice, or open ended questions. Results are then displayed on the screen immediately. Here’s an example from a CELTA session on CPD, with participants grading each area out of 5. Mentimeter then displayed the average:

To participate, people go to http://www.menti.com and enter the code which appears at the top of the slide (not shown here).

Apart from the interactive tools, you can include (very cleanly presented) content slides. Anybody looking at http://www.menti.com on their own devices will see the next slide automatically as you move through your presentation. This could be an efficient way of sharing resources without people having to take screenshots all the time. It does mean they’re locked into only moving to the next slide when you move on, and they can’t interact with the content slides, only the interactives, but it could still be useful in some situations.

ActivInspire as an online whiteboard

A huge thank you to my most recent bunch of CELTA trainees for introducing me to this, and showing me a whole range of ways to use it in my TP. ActivInspire was originally designed as software for interactive whiteboards, but it is freely downloadable for anybody to use, even without the IWB hardware. All you have to do is tick ‘personal’ at the relevant point in the download process.

You need to do a little playing around with it to find where everything is, and you can’t use the in-built poll feature as this requires the hardware, but generally it’s a very flexible tool as an online whiteboard. The main things I saw the trainees do effectively was having information prepared at the side of the ‘slide’ and gradually adding it to the board as they elicited it from students. They were also quickly able to flick to a pen, drawing or highlighting tool to draw attention to important features – much faster than you can in PowerPoint for example, and it’s got much more functionality than the Zoom whiteboard had last time I looked.

There are templates already available with the software, and there are many tutorials out there. Here’s are 20 steps to using ActivInspire and here are a set of video tutorials.

A new name!

Thanks to Katie Lindley for finally giving me a name for a technique I’ve used from the start in online lessons: waterfall chat. This is where all participants write their answers in chat, but they don’t press enter until you give the signal. When you say ‘go’, all of the answers appear at once in a kind of upside-down waterfall. This stops them from being able to copy each other’s answers. It works especially well for short answers, maybe multiple choice, true/false, or one- or two-word answers.

A bonus idea…

This is one I haven’t tried out, but came up with when chatting to a friend about possible warmers to get sleepy teens moving in online lessons. Each student suggests one thing to find in the chat, based on e.g. collocations, or with a relative clause (or whatever other grammar point they need to revise), then they have 3 mins to find as many as they can. Student-generated, revision, and movement all rolled into one – what more could you want?!

How about you? What have you been playing with in online lessons recently?

Blog updates

Over the past two days I’ve done a bit of an overhaul of the pages on my blog.

I’ve updated these pages:

I’ve also added new pages:

The other recent addition to my pages is my new course: Take your time Delta Module One.

In fact, the only pages which hasn’t changed is My books – really need to write another one 😉

Take a look around, and let me know what you think. Are there any pages you think I should add?

Delta Conversations: Martin

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.

Martin Hajek works as an English teacher in the private sector in Colombia. He moved into TEFL in 2017 when he did his CELTA at CELT Athens. He fell in love with the profession and decided to focus on his professional development. You can read about his journey on his blog teflincolombia.com and follow him on Twitter @martinhajek_ELT. [Note from Sandy: Martin has lots of useful information about Delta on his blog – I’d definitely recommend it!]

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

II took the Delta Module One exam at the British Council in Bogotá in June 2019 after individual preparation. I got a Pass with Merit and decided to do Module Three on my own as well. It proved to be a rash decision because I had to resubmit the assignment. I asked for marker feedback and rewrote the essay according to it. I passed the module after submitting it in June 2020 through NILE, whose tutor read my assignment and told me that it was good enough to pass. Finally, I took IH Mexico’s online Module Two course from January to March 2021 and received a Pass with Merit.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

The first decision was kind of an accident, really. I actually wanted to take a preparation course with one of the distance course providers, but my payment kept getting rejected for no apparent reason, so I gave up and decided to prepare for the exam by myself. I couldn’t do Module Two immediately afterwards because online courses weren’t approved at that time. There are no course providers in Colombia and I couldn’t find a local tutor in the city where I lived, so I chose to do Module Three instead. I was then ready to travel to Mexico to do Module Two in person in 2020, but we all know what happened that year. When the option to do the module fully online was approved, I decided to do so because I didn’t want to keep waiting any longer.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

A huge confidence boost! When I did my CELTA, there was a Delta course taking place concurrently at the centre. We mingled with those teachers and even observed one of the lessons, and I found it all very inspirational. I loved my CELTA experience and from that moment I knew that I would do a Delta at some point in the future. I managed to reach the goal four years later, which brought me a sense of achievement, and I hope that it will allow me to have a long-term career in TEFL. In practical terms, I feel that the Delta has helped me make principled decisions. I enjoy going beyond the coursebook and designing my own activities from scratch, and I found all three modules beneficial in that regard.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The biggest issue was doing Module Three before Module Two. I think it makes sense to do the diploma in the conventional order because the first two modules prepare you for the extended assignment. In addition, doing Module Two online is probably more challenging than the in-person course because many things can go wrong teaching through Zoom. It’s also more difficult to build a sense of camaraderie with other candidates. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to meet amazing people from around the world and we did have fun in our Module Two group, but it wasn’t the same experience as studying together in the library and discussing lessons, essays, and books over lunch.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Since I did Module One and Three independently, it helped me discover many helpful resources. I became very organised and improved my strategies for studying autonomously. My approach also helped me save money, particularly by taking Module Two online. I didn’t need to stop working and travel to another country to take the course there. 

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

  • Take advantage of free online resources. There is a lot of useful information on blogs and various websites. The Delta handbook is very helpful, but reading practical advice from those who have completed the diploma is even better.
  • Take notes when you do your background reading so that you know where to find key information. You also need to bear in mind that it’s necessary to have access to a lot of books and articles to pass the Delta. This is particularly important when you take a distance course, so you need to make sure that you’ll be able to do your reading.
  • Learn how to use relevant features of Microsoft Word or another similar program. Knowing how to create a table of contents, cross-references, or footers will help you save time. It will also make your documents easier to mark for the tutors and assessors.
  • When your tutors tell you that you should improve in a specific area, take their advice seriously. They want to make you a better teacher and it’s their job to give you negative feedback when you make mistakes. Nobody enjoys being criticised, but reflecting on your teaching practice is an important element of professional development, so it’s necessary to take the feedback on board.
  • Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to experiment. There isn’t just one way to teach, so it’s a good idea to explore other methods and approaches. For example, you need to pass only one of the internal LSAs in Module Two, so I think it makes sense to try something new in one of the observed lessons instead of relying on tried and tested methods and materials. Delta shouldn’t be only about confirming what you already know; it’s also an opportunity to teach challenging lessons that you haven’t done before.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

In hindsight, I should have asked someone to read my first Module Three essay and give me feedback. I wasn’t ready to submit it on my own without having done Module Two. There are a lot of criteria to pay attention to, and I underestimated how strict the marking is.

Many people working towards the Cambridge Delta can find it quite stressful, particularly the demands on your time as you try to fit it in around your job and your life. This course is designed to try to reduce the stress you might feel as you prepare for Module One, the exam. [Note: this post is also available as a page!]

Feet wearing flipflops, crossed in a hammock. 
Text reads:
Why should Cambridge Delta Module One be stressful?
Relax!
Take your time on a Module One course with Sandy Millin.
Find out more and apply at: 
https://bit.ly/takeyourtimedelta
Image by Roseli Serra from http://flickr.com/eltpics – used commercially with Roseli’s permission

What is Delta?

The Cambridge Delta is an advanced practical teaching qualification designed for people who:

  • have a minimum of 1 year of teaching experience, covering a range of levels and contexts – the more levels and contexts you have worked in, the more experience you can draw on during the course;
  • have a minimum English level of high C1 or above;
  • would like to develop their teaching practice to a higher level, and learn more about the theory behind English language teaching;
  • would like to progress into more senior roles with confidence, such as management or teacher training positions.

Ideally you will already have completed a CELTA or CertTESOL qualification, or equivalent 120-hour course with observed teaching practice. However, this is not a requirement and if you can prove that you have received regular in-service training and observation, and have engaged in regular continuous professional development throughout your career, you may still be able to complete the course.

The Delta course is divided into three modules:

  • Module One: Understanding Language, Methodology and Resources for Teaching
    This is theory-based. You prove your knowledge by taking two 90-minute written exams in one sitting, with a 30-minute break in between. You can study for this module independently, through a course, or with tutor support. I cannot currently provide this. My course will help you to learn this theory and prepare for these exams.
  • Module Two: Developing Professional Practice
    This is classroom-based and highly practical. You teach four observed lessons, and in preparation for each of them you need to write a detailed lesson plan and a background essay. You also complete ongoing reflective assignments as part of your portfolio of coursebook. You must have Cambridge-approved tutors for this module. Find a teaching centre.
  • Module Three: (1) Extending Practice and ELT Specialism OR (2) English Language Teaching Management
    You write an extended assignment detailed (1) a course programme or (2) a change proposal based on a specific context you have detailed in the assignment. You can complete this module independently or with tutor support. I cannot currently provide this.

The three modules can be taken in any order and at any time, though it can help to complete Module One first to give you the theoretical knowledge to help you with Modules Two and Three.

Find out more about the modules and ways to take the Delta on the Cambridge website.

What knowledge does Delta Module One test?

  • Knowledge and use of ELT terminology
  • English language knowledge, including of pronunciation features
  • Ability to identify language and genre features of spoken and written texts
  • Analysis of spoken and/or written learner language, including ability to identify learner errors, reasons for them, and priorities for further study
  • Testing and assessment concepts, and their applications to specific contexts
  • Ability to analyse ELT materials, including identifying their purpose(s) and how the materials fit together
  • Teacher roles
  • Second language acquisition
  • An awareness of different ELT methodological approaches, including their history

Format of Sandy’s Delta Module One course

  • 90-minute live group sessions on Zoom, once a week for 30 weeks. You can attend from anywhere in the world, providing you have a reliable internet connection, a microphone and (preferably) a webcam. Sessions will work better if you are on a computer.
  • Approximately 90 minutes of homework/preparatory work accompanying each session: these tasks will be directly related to your current teaching context and how the theory behind Delta Module One connects to your own teaching, and will also draw on your previous experience.
  • Your own optional reading/research – the more of this you do, the more prepared you will be when you go into the exam!
  • One complete mock exam to be completed in your own time a month before the end of the course, with feedback from me on your performance, and personalised tips for how to improve.

Why take Sandy’s Delta Module One course?

Most Delta Module One part-time courses are 10-12 weeks, with a few lasting for 20 weeks. However, by completing the course over a full academic year, you can take your time with background reading, and consider carefully how the theory which you are learning applies to your teaching. You should be able to process information in more depth and retain it for longer. While it might not be as relaxed as the hammock shows, it should be a lot more relaxed than a traditional short course, or trying to study by yourself.

The obligatory time commitment is only 3 hours per week, which you should be able to fit around even a very busy schedule. Of course, the more time you can dedicate to reading and further study, the more likely you will be to pass the exam! 3 hours per week for 30 weeks is approximately 90 hours – most Delta Module One courses recommend a minimum of 100 hours of study (10 weeks of at least 10 hours). The exact amount of study time you need will depend on your background knowledge and prior experience. I will share tried and tested tips to help you fit your extra study around your life, while still maintaining the more relaxed pace of this course, as well as personalised recommendations of what to read and how you can research areas you need to focus on for your development based on my wide-ranging ELT knowledge and experience. There will also be regular exam practice throughout the course, as well as at least one full mock exam.

You will be working with the same small group of teachers throughout a full academic year, allowing you to build up strong professional relationships and learn from each other.

Although I’m not a qualified Delta trainer, I have completed the Delta course myself, and I remember how stressful it was! I have many years of experience as a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, and have helped other teachers to successfully prepare for Delta Module One in the past. I cannot guarantee that you will pass the exam (nobody can!), but I will do my best to make sure that you are fully ready for it with this course.

Dates

  • October 4th 2021 – May 30th 2022 (one academic year, ready for the Wednesday 1st June 2022 sitting) – Zoom meetings on Mondays
  • Exact dates to be confirmed for February/March to December 2022 (one academic year, ready for the Wednesday 7th December 2022 sitting)

Please note that these dates include breaks for UK Christmas, Easter and bank holidays and the IATEFL conference.

You may be able to join a group up to 6 weeks after the start date if there are still spaces available.

Depending on my availability, I may be able to arrange closed groups with alternative days if there is sufficient interest.

Times

Exact session times will be arranged according to the group members’ and my availability to provide the best fit around our timetables. Sessions will be recorded if one or more group members cannot attend that specific time.

Course size

Minimum 4 trainees, maximum 8 trainees. If there are fewer than 4 trainees, I may be able to arrange a reduced course with fewer contact hours over the same time period, or you will be able to defer your payment to a later course date.

Taking the exam

My course fees do NOT include the exam, nor does the fee include the price of the exam.

You will need to arrange to take the exam yourself in a Cambridge approved centre. You can find a full list of centres on the Cambridge website. You will need to arrange the exam directly with the exam centre, and you will pay them the exam fee. Depending on availability at your chosen exam centre, you can take the exam on the first Wednesday of June or the first Wednesday of December each year.

Course fees

  • £520 = Early bird (sign up and pay minimum 21 days before the course start date)
  • £570 = Full price (sign up and pay by the course start date)
  • There is a £20 discount each if two people sign up together, or £30 each if three people sign up together.
  • There is a £20 discount for current or former staff of IH Bydgoszcz or IH Torun – please tick the relevant box on the application form for further details. This can be combined with the multiple sign-up discount.
  • If you need to pay in 2 instalments, please tick the relevant box on the application form – you can pay 50% before the course, and 50% after session 15 for a small additional fee of £20.

I must receive your payment before you will be able to join the course.

You can pay via PayPal, Revolut, international bank transfer (please check any fees first – you are responsible for these), or card payment. I will send exact details regarding how to pay once you have been accepted onto the course.

Materials for individual sessions and one full mock exam will be included during the course, but note that you will probably need to buy some extra books to make the most of the course. The two main books I recommend are:

The cost of these books is not included in the course.

Cancellation and refund policy

  • If a trainee cancels in writing 21 days before the start of the course, they will be refunded the full amount, less administrative costs of £50.
  • If a trainee cancels in writing less than 21 days but more than 7 days before the start of the course, they will be refunded 50% of the full amount.
  • If a trainee wishes to cancel their course less than 7 days before the start of the course they are not eligible for a refund; however, in certain exceptional circumstances (grievance, medical conditions) they can defer their payment to a later course.

Applying for the course

If you’ve read this far, and you’re interested in joining my course, complete the application form. It should take around 20-45 minutes to complete, depending on the depth of your answers.

If you are suitable for the course, I will send you a pre-course task to check the level of your written English. I will also arrange a 20-30 minute spoken interview with you to discuss the course and your suitability for it. If these are both satisfactory, you will be offered a place on the course. The place is provisional until I have received your payment.

I will consider applications in the order of application, and places will be allocated until the course in question is full or until the start date of the course, whichever is first.

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things whic h I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here are the posts for week one and week two.

Unit 5: Exploiting texts

  1. If you need a text (written or spoken) for your materials, where do you usually look, or do you write your own?

It’s a mix. I’ve learnt that it can often be faster to write my own text if I have a very specific idea about the type of information or language I want to be in it, rather than going down a rabbit hole. Otherwise, the majority of the texts come from the internet now, but the exact source depends on the learners.

2. What factors do you consider when choosing a text?

Learner interests and needs, linguistic complexity, cultural context, engagement, how much modification it might need, how much planning time I have, what kind of activities might work well with the text…

3. What are the pros and cons of writing your own texts?

Pros:

  • You can include the language you want.
  • You can direct the topic and content to what you need / what learners are interested in.
  • Personalisation is easy – sharing information about the teacher, or including references to learners or local culture.

Cons:

  • Language level can be challenging to maintain.
  • It’s easy to get carried away.
  • It can take a long time.

4. How do you feel about using authentic texts in the context you write for?

They can be very useful, depending on the learners’ needs. But copyright can be a pain! I’m quite used to adapting activities and texts if necessary (though thereby reducing the authenticity), so it’s fine.

5. How do you feel about the reading and listening activities in a coursebook you know well?

The reading and listening activities in Project 1 4th edition, which I’ve been using this year, were sometimes way above the level of the learners I was working with, and only the strongest learners could understand them. The listening was often very fast and contained a lot of information close together. The Mut and Millie stories worked really well – there was enough time to process the information and it was spaced out. We skipped the majority of the end of unit extra reading and listening because the students were quite demotivated by how hard they found it.

Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom

These are my notes based on the article of this name in ELT Journal Volume 55/4, October 2001, pp. 347-353, by William Guariento and John Morley.

Authentic texts

Reasons to use them:

  • Helping learners improve their “receptive competence in the target language” (p347)
  • “To bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and ‘a student’s capacity to participate in real world events’ (Wilkins 1976: 79)” (p347)
  • Maintaining or increasing students’ motivation, because they’re interacting with ‘real’ language. (p347)

[This need to bridge the gap is an important one to fill, since many coursebook texts are still quite divorced from examples of real-world texts, particularly regarding listening. That’s why workshops like this one are needed!]

It is generally possible to select texts that will stretch the learner in terms both of skills development and of the quantity and range of new language.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

They describe the fact that this is possible at post-intermediate level, but that at lower levels, learners may feel frustrated, confused and demotivated using authentic materials unless there is very careful selection of the text and tasks. (p348) However, it can be challenge to “seamlessly” execute simplification of texts, for a range of reasons (p348):

  • Technical and sub-technical words are removed from writing, therefore removing clues to context.
  • Listening texts are shortened and redundant features which could provide useful repetition are removed.
  • “The co-ordination of natural speech gives way to subordination” [I think this means that where two speakers might work together to arrive at meaning, it becomes more like two monologues slotting into one another, with little repetition or overlap – a pattern of question > answer > question > answer for example. Please correct me if I’m wrong!]

Partial comprehension of text is no longer considered to be necessary problematic, since this is something which occurs in real life.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

The emphasis can shift to helping students to develop “effective compensatory strategies for extracting the information they need from difficult authentic texts” and to “make the most of their partial comprehension”. (Guariento and Morley (2001: 348).

[I agree with this – I think one of the most useful things we can for our students is help them to learn to deal with the fact that they will be unlikely to understand everything they read or hear. Especially at lower levels, this can make some learners feel quite stressed, and can be demotivating. If we help them to focus on what they can understand, and what they can do with that knowledge, it can be a real confidence boost.]

The text can stay the same, but the task can change. Having said that, we might want to consider how much comprehensible input learners therefore have exposure too, how authentic the tasks are which we ask them to do, and therefore how authentic their responses are. (p349)

[For me, this is a very important area to consider. We want to help learners to realise that they can work with real-life texts, but if those texts are always going to be above their heads, they need to very resilient. Therefore, we need to work with a mixed diet of authentic and simplified texts, with the balance between the two varying by level. We should use at least some authentic texts, even with low-level learners, to given them that connection to the real-world that makes them feel like what they’re learning is real language, but without overwhelming them with how much they can’t understand yet. By providing simple, achievable tasks to go with the authentic materials, we can aim to give them that sense of achievement.]

Task authenticity

Guariento and Morley identify “four broad schools of thought regarding task authenticity” (p349):

  • Authenticity through a genuine purpose (p349-350)
    Is there real communication for a genuine purpose? Is the focus on meaning?
  • Authenticity through real world targets (p350)
    Does it have a clear relationship with real world needs, for example buying a train ticket or taking lecture notes?
  • Authenticity through classroom interaction (p350)
    “Breen (1985) argues that the most authentic activities exploit the potential authenticity of the learning situation.” For example, discussing the usefulness and appropriateness of teacher feedback or of different homework tasks.
  • Authenticity through engagement (p350-351)
    Is the student engaged by the topic and the task? Do they understand its relevance and purpose? Did the students have any say in the selection of the task?

They acknowledge that these four schools of thought might not have much in common at first glance, but that it might be possible to “devise learning situations in which the four can operate in conjunction” (p351)

Authenticity and task difficulty

Skehan (1998) identified the elements of task difficulty as:

  • Complexity of the language
  • Cognitive load
  • Performance conditions [which I think means how the task is actually set up e.g. interaction pattern, scaffolding etc.] (p351)

They list a range of ways in which even relatively simple tasks can still be authentic, and therefore used with low-level students (p351-352):

  • Playing bingo
  • Remembering items from a picture
  • Playing verbal hide and seek
  • Finding the odd word out of a series
  • Surveys
  • Buying a train ticket
  • Ordering a coffee
  • Booking a hotel room
  • Asking for directions
  • Completing questionnaires or surveys, including as part of course evaluation

One common theme of many of these is a game-like quality. They mention Willis (1996) as a “useful source of genuinely communicative activities which can be used with beginners and young learners”.

Conclusion

The separation between text and task maintained thus far is a rather artificial one; in the real world, language input and language output usually occur as part of an integrated process of communication.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 352)

Integrating input and output, reception and production, mirrors real world communicative purposes, and therefore moves towards authenticity. (p352)

Issues in materials for developing receptive skills

These are my responses to questions we were asked.

  1. Why do we use listening and reading texts in class? Try to think of several reasons.
  • To engage learners.
  • To provide exposure to language input.
  • To develop reading / listening skills.
  • To act as model texts for students’ speaking / writing production.
  • To stimulate discussion.
  • To introduce different viewpoints into the classroom.

2. Do you think we can really teach reading and listening, or only give practice? Why?

I think it’s possible to teach students to become better readers and listeners. We can develop their knowledge of skills and strategies for approaching reading and listening texts, and increase their tolerance of situations when they don’t understand every word. We also need to show learners how to get huge amounts of exposure and practice themselves – with that kind of practice, they are likely to acquire the language much faster.

3. What are some of the differences between working on reading and listening in class?

Reading allows students to go back over the text, whereas listening is ephemeral. Students can read at their own speed, whereas they have to listen at the speakers’ speed. In reading (what Cauldwell calls) the sight substance remains constant regardless of the context, whereas the sound substance can be different depending on a huge variety of different factors, many of which students are generally unaware of. In reading, it’s easier for learners to answer questions without fully understanding what they are, lifting stretches of text from the original, whereas with listening this is generally more challenging.

4. Do you use literature in your materials or classes? Why or why not?

Very rarely, not least because for the last few years I’ve only had one group a week and have had a coursebook to work with! When I taught a lot more, I’ve used Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Good Omens, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It took a while to create the materials, but the students generally enjoyed the results and found them to be motivating and engaging.

My beliefs about using texts and developing reading and listening skills

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing reading and listening skills. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! [Note: I’m very sleepy right now, so not sure how coherent these are!]

  • The meaning of texts should be focussed on as a priority, before they are used for language work.
    Why? We process the world by seeking meaning. If we skip this step in materials, learners will be trying to find the meaning anyway, so won’t be concentrating on any other tasks we might give them.
    What does it entail? Having meaning-focussed activities before any language work.
    But…? I don’t think you can argue with this!
  • We should teach listening and reading, not just test them.
    Why? Exposure is not enough to improve listening and reading skills. Learners need to know about strategies they can use to improve their comprehension, and to reflect on what went wrong if they didn’t fully understand a text.
    What does it entail? Inclusion of activities focussing on listening and reading sub-skills, such as micro-listening, or understanding discourse markers and how they can help you navigate a text. There should also be opportunities for developing metacognition, and for learners to share strategies they used to understand – not just what was the answer, but how did you work it out. This should also build confidence, as learners realise that it is possible to improve their skills, and they are not just a ‘bad’ listener/reader.
    But…? How do you decide what sub-skills to focus on for each text? Different learners will be at different stages of reading/listening development – how do you cater for these different levels? Are some of these skills transferable from L1, so do we need to spend time teaching them?
  • There should be a range of different types of text and activities.
    Why? Because this is what learners will encounter in the real world. They need strategies to deal with different text types. This is also more likely to keep learners engaged.
    What does it entail? Different genres, different voices/accents/dialects/ages, different layouts, different lengths. Varied activities include confidence-building activities, comprehension activities, skills training, authentic tasks which reflect the real world.
    But…? How do you decide what to prioritise? Should all activities be authentic? There is a limited amount of space in materials, so how can you provide extensive listening/reading practice too?
  • We should respect copyright when selecting texts.
    Why? It takes a long time and a lot of effort to produce materials. We are also demonstrating ethical and legal behaviour to our students. It’s also a legal requirement in many places.
    What does it entail? Being aware of local copyright law, especially regarding educational fair use. Getting permission to use texts, preferably before you create the materials which go with them. Perhaps creating our own texts from scratch, for example by recording friends and family, with the necessary permissions from them to share those texts more widely (though issues of audio quality may come in at that point).
    But…? What if we don’t have the money to pay copyright fees? Should texts be free for educational use?

Reading and listening activity types

We were give some interesting links to help us to find other ways of working with texts. A few activities which were new to me and I particularly liked included:

  • Reduction: Turn a poem into an advertising slogan.
  • Interpretation: What questions would you wish to ask the author?
  • Creating text: Use the same title, but write a new text.
  • Analysis: Work out the ratio of one-word verbs to two-word verbs.
  • Analysis: List at the words to do with (the sea, movement, ecology, etc) in this text.

Listening comprehension

As optional further study, we were given this 5-minute video to watch about listening comprehension:

It’s a useful brief introduction to how listening comprehension works, including the concepts of bottom-up v. top-down processing and the idea of schema, if you’re not already familiar with them.

Text-driven approach

[I came back to this once I’d finished unit 8, as I felt like I couldn’t fit everything in during the week. I managed it in the end, but definitely felt better for deciding to leave this until later!]

These are my notes based on the section ‘A text-driven approach to materials development’ in the chapter ‘Develoing principled frameworks for materials development’ by Tomlinson on pages 99-114 of the second edition of Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013, Bloomsbury) [Amazon affiliate link] Note: I highly recommend you read this yourself if you can, as my notes below are very opinionated and you may want to see the original first! In my week two post, I shared a table summarising the stages of this approach, though it seems to only have six stages, whereas the chapter describes eight, and they seem slightly different.

Tomlinson says that he found his text-driven approach “helped writers (mainly teachers with little previous experience of materials development) not only to write principled and coherent materials quickly, effectively and consistently but also to articulate and develop their own theories of language learning and language teaching at the same time” (p100)

Stage 1: Text collection

Find texts “with the potential for engagement”.

By engagement, I mean a willing investment of energy and attention in experiencing the text in such a way as to achieve interaction between the text and the senses, feelings, views and intuitions of the reader/listener.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The aim is to “achieve the affective impact and the deep processing which can facilitate language acquisition.” (p100)

[This sounds all well and good to me, but seems to put a lot of pressure on the person sourcing texts to find something which seems transcendent in some way, as well as on the materials writer not to mess that up!]

There is a caveat that reflects my point somewhat:

Obviously, such texts cannot be easily found and certainly cannot be found quickly in order to illustrate teaching points. […] It is much easier and much more useful to build up a library of potentially engaging texts and then to let the texts eventually selected for target levels determine the teaching points.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The library development stage is ongoing and context free. Its purpose is to create a resource with the potential for subsequent matching to particular contexts of learning.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

[Still not 100% convinced by this idea. I think we inevitably keep texts which we think might be potentially interesting at some point in the future, but you’d still need a massive bank covering a wide range of different contexts / topics / text types etc. to draw on if you want to narrow it down at the next stage. Of course, all of this also assumes you can get the permission to use the text from the copyright holder!]

Stage 2: Text selection

Select from your library: one text for a lesson, or a number of texts for a set of materials / textbook. Because the materials are text-driven, Tomlinson emphasises that this should be criterion-referenced. He lists a possible set of criteria on p101.

[While the criteria look like they could be very useful, it does seem very ambitious that he would only use a text which had achieved a 4 on all of the twelve areas. Again, it feels unlikely that you’d find many texts which managed that, if you’re working as an individual. Maybe if you’re part of a large group you might find some texts like this?]

One note which he makes is:

Usefulness for teaching a particular language feature is a dangerous criterion as this can tempt writers into the selection of texts which do not engage the learners and which, therefore, do not help them to achieve durable learning of the teaching point.

Tomlinson (2013: 101)

He also highlights that even on EAP and ESP courses, we should include some variety of materials, not just focussed on the subject matter – he mentions the example of including poetry on courses for pilots, and for diplomats. (p102) He comes back to the importance of affect, and avoiding having learners whose brains are “focused narrowly on […] low level linguistic de-coding”, saying that “This means that the learners are not using their whole minds, that a multiplicity of neural connections are not being fired and that meaningful and durable learning is not taking place.” (p102)

He advocates the use of literature:

[not the “classics of the literary canon, but] well-written texts which narrate, describe, argue or evoke in ways which encourage the reader to respond in personal and multidimensional ways, and which leave gaps for the reader to fill in

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

I find the following suggestion to be very narrow and to limit the learners’ possible uses of and exposure to English, linked also to my agreement with Gadd in unit 6 below, even though it is for the well-meaning reason that the aim isn’t to engage all learners with one text, but to engage most of them in a class and all of them over a course.

The best way I have found of achieving this is to make sure that many (but not all) of the texts relate to the basic universal themes of birth, growing up, going to school, starting a career, falling in love, getting married and dying (though this is a taboo topic in some countries).

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

While I believe this could potentially be a fruitful approach in a short course or a single set of materials, I don’t see how this could work long-term over a number of years to create a fully-rounded English language user.

Stage 3: Text experience

Experience the text (read/listen to it) again to reflect on your experience with it and “try to work out what was happening in your mind during it.” (p102) If you can’t re-engage, perhaps choose different materials.

[This is the point at which I got particularly frustrated with reading this chapter. It all sounds lovely, but really not practical at all!]

Stage 4: Readiness activities

Come up with activities which “get the learners ready for the reading experience.” (p103)

You are aiming at helping the learners to achieve the mental readiness which readers take to L1 texts and to inhibit the word fixation and apprehension which L2 readers typically take to texts (Tomlinson, 2000b).

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The aim is to get learners to think, to “open and activate their minds”. (p103) He lists a variety of ways to do this, which seem like fairly standard pre-reading activities to me, with the possible exception of mime, which I’m not sure I could persuade the majority of my students to engage in.

The important point is that the lesson starts in the learners’ minds and not in the text and that the activities help the learners to gain a personal experience of the text which connects it to their lives.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

OK, that wording is quite interesting – to some extent, it echoes the questions Why should they care? which I’ve previously written about.

Stage 5: Experiential activities

These are activities which are designed to help the learners to represent the text in their minds as they read it or listen to it and to do so in multidimensional ways which facilitate personal engagement.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The activities should be mental, “contributing to the representation of the text.” There should be no writing or discussion, as this risks interrupting the processing of the text or making it more difficult to process it. Examples given include:

  • “visualise a politician as they read about him, using inner speech to give their responses to provocative points in the text”
  • “trying to follow a description of a journey on a mental map”
  • “thinking of examples from their own lives to illustrate or contradict points made in a text” (all p103)

The activities can either be given through concise instructions just before reading/listening as part of a more participatory approach, with learners contributing to the text. For example, the teacher reads the text, pauses, and learners shout out predictions of the next work or phrase; a similar approach with dictation (especially for poems) – write, pause, compare next line; the teacher stops before the end of a text and the learners write the endings (all p104 – there are more there)

[There are some interesting ideas here, and ones which I haven’t seen before, but I’m not sure how well they’d work with some text types. I can see them connected to literature, and some more story-like non-fiction, for example descriptions of processes, but not with texts which don’t follow that kind of story structure.]

Stage 6: Intake response activities

These are activities which help the learners to develop and articulate what they have taken in from the text.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Learners reflect on the mental representation they created in stage 5, rather than returning to the text. These activities don’t test comprehension.

[Learners] cannot be wrong because they are not being asked about the text but about their personal representation of it. However, it is possible that their representation is only partial (or even superficial) and the process of sharing it with others can help to extend and deepen it.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Suggestions include visualising, drawing or miming what they remember, summarising the text to somebody who hasn’t read it, or asking clarifying questions to somebody who knows the text well. (p105)

[I think you’d really have to manage learners’ expectations throughout this whole process. They’d need to know why they were doing all of this, why it will benefit them, and why they haven’t paid any attention to the language in the text yet. That could say something about the general way in which we use and approach texts in the classroom, but it also seems to me a question of efficiency. If you only have 90 minutes in a lesson, this seems like a lot of time with not much happening – there haven’t been any opportunities for upgraded language by this stage in the lesson, for example. It could work well as a one-off, but I’m really not sure about it as the basis for a series of materials.]

Stage 7: Development activities

‘These are activities which provide opportunities for meaningful languag eproduction based on the learners’ representations of the text’ (Tomlinson, 1999c, p. 63)

Tomlinson (2013: 105)

Examples given include writing part 2 of a story when they’ve heard part 1, rewriting a location-based story so it’s set in their own town, or creating a new advertisement based on one they’ve seen.

[These activities seem quite engaging and reflect task-based approaches quite closely, as the focus is on meaning, but learners have the opportunity to draw on the source text if they want to. However, it relies on teachers noticing opportunities to input new language, and learners being able to draw new language from texts and each other, rather than only sticking to what they know already.]

Stage 8: Input response activities

Learners return to the text, doing closer study which helps them “to make discoveries about the purposes of the language of the text.” (p105)

Interpretation tasks

Learners consider the author’s intentions, and develop critical and creative thinking skills. (p105) On p105-106, Tomlinson gives the following examples:

  • Deep questions
  • Debates about issues in the text
  • Critical reviews of the text for a journal
  • Interviews with the characters
  • Interviews with the author

[Most of these seem to imply that learners have a relatively high level of L2, or conduct these activities in L1. They would need a lot of scaffolding to be able to participate in many of these tasks, though I don’t deny that they could be engaging and fruitful with the right teachers and students.]

Awareness tasks

Learners might improve their awareness of:

  • language use
  • communication strategies
  • genre characteristics
  • text-type features (all p106)

They look both at this text and other, equivalent texts for their research.

The important point is that evidence is providing in a text which the learners have already experienced holistically and then they are helped to make focused discoveries through discrete attention to a specified feature of the text. That way they invest cognitive and affective energy and attention in the learning process and they are likely to increase their readiness for acquisition (Pienemann, 1985; Tomlinson, 1994b, 2013)

Tomlinson (2013: 106)

Tomlinson suggests that learners can revise the product of stage 7, based on the findings of stage 8. [Definite TBL influences here.]

Using the framework

Tomlinson says you can use it flexibly, though some stages probably need to precede others. You don’t need to use all of the stages, and you can decide on the weighting of the stages based on learners’ needs.

It is useful, though, for the materials developer to include all the stages in the actual course materials so that the teachers (and possibly the learners) can make decisions for themselves about which stages to use and what sequence to use them in.

Tomlinson (2013: 107)

Tomlinson describes using it to quickly create materials for a cover lesson, and to help teachers to produce an effective unit of material. [I wonder whether he’s used it to create whole coursebooks or even series of books.]

The sequence of activities on p107-109 for a 90-minute lesson based on a poem about an old lady are quite nice, and I could see myself picking and choosing from them for a one-off lesson. The news articles / online example on p111-114 also seems interesting for self-access or independent study, or for some kind of longer project with learners on an intensive course – it looks engaging and motivating, but again you’d need to justify it to the learners and train them in this approach. Still not convinced this approach is useful for larger materials writing projects though…

Unit 6: Affective factors in materials

These are my ideas to start the unit.

  1. What do you understand by ‘affect’ in language teaching?

These are the emotional and human factors which can influence learning, for example whether a learner is feeling stressed, excited, bored, hungry, cold, etc. When they are dealing with too many of these issues at once, it makes it harder for them to learn (their affective filter is up). Some aspects of affect can help learning though, for example if they are motivated, they will be likely to study for long and take more in.

2. Why is affect so important? Can you think of any personal anecdotes that illustrate this?

Because it takes up space in our brain and influences our attitudes to learning.

For example, right now I’m really tired and struggling to concentrate because I was very hot last night and didn’t sleep well (the heatwave has arrived in the UK!) This means that I’m not really sure how much I’ll retain from what I’ve done today on the course, and I’ve skipped some of the more cognitively challenging parts like reading a chapter from a methodology book. I’m aiming to come back to them when I’m feeling more awake!

3. What is the materials writer’s role in regard to affect?

A writer needs to consider what kind of support/scaffolding learners might need to complete tasks, reducing the likelihood of learners feeling stressed or anxious. They need to include activities which encourage learners to reflect on their learning, boosting their confidence and making plans for their future learning, again reducing stress levels and helping learners to feel they have some kind of control over what they’re doing. Writers also need to include good quality teacher’s notes, so that the teacher feels prepared and knows how to deal with different issues, and is also slightly less likely to feel stressed going into the lesson and transfer this to learners.

4. How affectively engaging do you think most of the materials used for your context are?

It depends on how well we’ve chosen our coursebooks! Generally I think they are quite engaging and encourage personal responses, but to some extent that’s due to how we train our teachers to use the materials. As a rule, materials are becoming more intrinsically engaging, at least as far as I can remember.

5. Do you know anything about gamification? If so, what do you think of the concept?

Yes, I’ve read a fair amount about it and attended conference talks connected to it. I think it’s one possible tool we can use to engage learners, and it can work really well for some learners, but it depends very much on the way it is used. If it creates a lot of extra work for the teacher or the students, or if it is just used for the sake of it, it’s not worth it. But if it’s incorporated in a principled way, it can prove very motivating.

6. Note down three elements of successful speaking materials and three elements of successful writing materials.

Successful speaking materials:

  • Promote extensive speaking, not just short answers.
  • Engage the learners and make them want to speak, not just do it because the teacher told them to.
  • Provide support for the learners, for example planning time, reflection on their performance, etc.

Successful writing materials:

  • Have a clear audience and communicative purpose.
  • Provide support for learners, for example through genre analysis or providing a model.
  • Incorporate achievable tasks for all learners, not just the strongest/most confident in the group.

A definition of affect

Aspects of emotion, feeling, mood or attitude which condition behaviour.

Arnold and Brown, 1999. Affect in Languag Learning. CUP

Humanising the Coursebook

We read an interesting article by Brian Tomlinson from the September 2001 HLT Mag. No notes, as I could highlight the Word document 🙂 Reminds me that I should go back and look at my copy of Humanising your Coursebook by Mario Rinvolucri [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Gamification in education

I’ve read and heard a bit about gamification already, but it was interesting to explore it in a little more depth and think about how I might want to incorporate it into my own materials.

This was a fun introduction to different kinds of reward (2 minutes), focussing on piqueing interest rather than extrinsic rewards:

This TEDx talk by Gavin Pouliot had some interesting ideas:

  • Include different levels of choice: legendary is the highest level he mentioned.
  • Personalise learning: let learners be whoever they want.
  • Let students make their own world, for example through a digital portfolio.
  • Allowing cooperation and competition, though not assuming all learners want to work in the same way. For example, giving XP for completing certain tasks.
  • Gamificiation requires teachers to really know their learners and requires learners to know what works for them.
  • Allow learners to retry when needed to build mastery and competence, not just rushing them on to the next thing.
  • Assessment can be done in different ways, for example through badges.
  • Be clear where pathways/skills lead so students know why they’re doing activities.

This infographic provides a particularly useful summary, including this clear definition of gamification:

The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.

The key elements of gaming which the infographic suggests we could use for educational purposes include (please look at the infographic for full information – this is just a quick reference for me!):

  • Progression
    • Levels
    • Points
  • Investment (pride in your work)
    • Achievements (public recognition)
    • Appointments (challenges)
    • Collaboration
    • Epic meaning (sublime or transcendent)
    • Virality (involve others)
  • Cascading information (unlocking more)
    • Bonuses
    • Countdown
    • Discovery
    • Loss aversion (avoid losing what you’ve gained)
    • Infinite play
    • Synthesis (multiple skills needed)

This article from TESOL by Deborah Healey mentions lots of game mechanics which could be useful. These ones extend the list above:

  • Behavioral momentum (tendency to keep doing something you’re already doing)
  • Ownership (publishing work, autonomy/learner choice)
  • Blissful productivity (we like working hard and feeling productive)

We were also given a one-hour webinar by Elena Peresada on how gamification works, which is worth watching for all of the examples of gamification Elena has used in her lessons (the first few minutes are missing):

She talks about game components as the first level of gamification:

  • XP points
  • Leaderboard (can be divided into smaller segments so it’s not just bottom v. top, for example going up through ranks)
  • Badges
  • Progress bar
  • Goal
  • Avatar
  • Levels

Class Dojo can be a useful tool for this, but you can’t divide your leaderboard into segments.

Learners became more engaged, nobody was a loser, and learners started to ask for extra assignments to keep up with their classmates and get more XP. However, it was short-term motivation and the learners focussed on points, not English, with some learners cheating to get more points. There is purely a focus on extrinsic motivation, so it doesn’t work in the long term. It’s therefore important to move to higher levels of gamification.

The second level is game mechanics:

  • Meaningful choices
  • Tries and fails

When you play a video/real-life game, this is what keeps you going. These make gamification different to school. For example, we don’t read instructions before we start a video game: we start and see what happens. At around 20 minutes, Elena gives an example of a haunted house game she used with her students. Learners could remember a lot of vocabulary after the game because they were emotionally engaged. They repeat the activity multiple times willingly.

She uses a framework of different activities with different point values, where learners can decide what they want to do – this can be as simple as allocating point values to activities you are already using.

You can turn activities into games by adding small mechanics to them, for example Find Someone Who becomes a game if there is a goal and a time limit [though I’d be wary of the competition element that might generate].

The third level is dynamics, often through storytelling:

  • Emotions
  • Narrative

One way to create a narrative is through a simple framework, like this:

Empire, Friends, and Reddit: Once upon a time there was a lonely orphan..
 Who was friends with two social outcasts...
 The trio lived happily until the evil...
 Tried to take over...
 The
 Muggle/ Gotham Galactic
 The
 The
 Middle
 The
 Pride
 Wizard
 City
 Empire Xingdom Earth Jungle
 Lands
 Worlds
 Thankfully [hero] defeats [villain] with a...
 AND EVERYONE
 LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
 pleated jeans
Every epic movie.
Original by Pleated Jeans (though I can’t find the link!)

Elena uses a lot of RPGs in her lessons – I’ve seen examples of her talking about this at IATEFL, and they seem great! Her learners are very engaged and talk a lot in lessons. These are examples of the games Elena and Studycraft have produced (site is in Russian).

She recommends exploring https://yukaichou.com/ for more information. He has a framework called Octalysis covering many different elements of gamification.

Speaking and writing materials

We were asked to look at supplementary materials to see how writing and speaking are dealt with and answer a range of questions.

For speaking, I thought it might be interesting to look at materials I’ve previously posted on my blog. I chose something from 2011 for working on FCE Speaking part 3 (in the old version of the exam – can’t remember if it’s still the same part!) The activity was designed to practise the format of that part of the exam, encourage students to converse rather than monologue (though I don’t seem to have explained how that aim should be met), and practise holiday-related language. As written, it is product oriented, because there is no explicit strategy development – I may have included it in the lesson, but I didn’t in the blogpost – it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember! (Note to self: include strategy development in activites you post on your blog, where relevant!) Possible ideas for strategies which could be explicitly practised would include turn-taking strategies, interrupting, and asking follow-up questions. I also didn’t explicitly mention what preparation they had for the practice tasks, though I suppose by creating the pictures themselves they at least had some level of input into the task, thinking about the language they might use to describe this kind of picture. Overall, the activity is fine, but the teacher’s notes could be a lot more useful!

For writing, I chose a Learn English British Council resource for B2 Upper Intermediate on writing an informal email to a friend. The activity is designed to focus on phrases which you might use in an informal email – it’s language focussed, rather than really developing writing skills. The focus with the phrases are formal v. informal, coming up with appropriate replies, and prepositions (mostly) in informal email phrases. There is no strategy development and the learners don’t actually write an email as part of the activity – instead they write a comment about the best way to stay in touch with friends you don’t see often. It is kind of a product-oriented reading activity more than a writing activity, although the main focus is on functional language. These activities could be useful language preparation for writing an email, but they would need to be supplemented by content preparation activities, and an actual writing task, along with (ideally) some writing strategy development. Examples of strategies you could include would be identifying what to reply to in an email you receive, drafting and editing an email, or checking an email for overly formal language.

My beliefs about speaking and writing materials and making materials affectively engaging

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing writing and speaking skills and recognising affect. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Speaking and writing materials should include opportunities for learners to develop their skills, not just practise them.
    Why? We need to help learners to develop strategies to become more fluent communicators, building their confidence and supporting them in producing better quality, richer speaking and writing.
    What does it entail? Including specific activities focussing on strategies such as turn-taking, interrupting, planning and editing writing, and using useful chunks of language. Also, including reflection on the success of speaking and writing to develop learners’ ability to notice what works and doesn’t in specific contexts.
    But…? How do you decide which skills should be developed in what order? How do you fit strategy work into the limited space available in published materials? How do you ensure that reflective questions home in on the most useful aspects of the strategy being developed?
  • Speaking and writing activities should be as authentic as possible, with a clear aim, audience and communicative purpose.
    Why? If learners can see the point of activities, they are more likely to be engaged by them. Changing the audience for speaking and writing changes how that speaking/writing might happen, for example, the level of formality, so we need to include this in the activity. Having a communicative purpose gives learners a reason to speak, listen, read and write, rather than just because the teacher told them to.
    What does it entail? Ensuring the aim, audience and communicative purpose are clear to the learners. These should reflect real-world tasks whenever possible, but if that’s not possible (for example in exam preparation courses), they should at least be clearly engaging for learners, thinking back to Guariento and Morley above and the four schools of thought regarding authenticity.
    But…? How do you make sure that tasks are achievable for (especially low-level) learners if they are real-world? What do you need to include in the teacher’s notes to give teachers flexibility when adapting the materials, rather than dictating how to set up the activities? How do you help teachers to personalise and localise tasks?
  • There should be an opportunity for learners to prepare the content and language of what they are going to say and write.
    Why? Their output is likely to be richer if they have had time to consider it first. It could also reduce their stress levels, and help their communication to be more fluent, especially if they’ve had the opportunity to ask about useful language.
    What does it entail? Including explicit preparation stages in materials, with a specific focus on content and on language. Making sure teachers know the usefulness and importance of these stages through including information in the teacher’s notes. This could also be tied up with strategy development, as mentioned in my first belief above. It could also include rehearsal stages, visualisation, or use of the inner voice for speaking. For writing, it might include brainstorming ideas and writing a plan.
    But…? Will learners always have preparation time when speaking or writing in the real world? If not, how will this approach prepare them to produce language when they’re put on the spot? How much does this approach balance accuracy and fluency of production?
  • Affective factors should be taken into consideration within materials.
    Why? If learners are disengaged, feeling stressed or anxious, lack confidence, or feel demotivated, learning is unlikely to take place. They are less likely to want to or be able to push themselves to speak or write, particularly at length, and may drift off when reading and listening. Learning English may feel like a chore or a stressful experience, particularly speaking/writing, and learners are likely to try to avoid it in the future.
    What does it entail? Choosing engaging topics, encouraging learners to personalise and/or localise topics when they want to, providing scaffolding and support, including opportunities for reflection on performance, introducing strategies to help learners deal with challenging situations, focussing on what learners can do/produce, and helping learners to see their strengths when speaking and writing. In materials, this can be done through carefully staged activities, the use of clear aims and reflection activities, and the inclusion of strategy training, as well as the choice of topics.
    But…? To what extent is this the materials writer’s job v. the teacher’s job? What happens if learners want to keep some kind of emotional distance in their language learning? How do we teach teachers and learners to reflect effectively on speaking and writing performance? How do we overcome the fact that many learners may be reluctant to write (or, less commonly, speak) in their language, and therefore might carry over those emotions to English?

Adapted speaking materials

I have decided to adapt the FCE speaking activity I wrote about above. My evaluation criteria are:

  1. To what extent do the materials develop the learners speaking skills?
  2. To what extent is the aim, audience and communicative purpose of the speaking activity made clear to the learners? [Note: This should potentially be 3 separate criteria as it covers 3 areas.]
  3. To what extent do the learners have the opportunity to prepare before they speak?
  4. To what extent are learners likely to be affectively engaged with the activity?

They should be graded 0-3, with 3 being the best.

Based on my criteria, this is my evaluation:

  1. Grade = 1
    There is some repetition built into the activity, but otherwise there is no skills development.
  2. Grade = 2
    The audience and communicative purpose are clear – it’s FCE speaking, so the audience would be the examiner, and the communicative purpose is to answer the two questions selected. The aim is less clear, other than repeating the activity – there’s no specific learning/skills upgrading/language upgrading aim, just getting practice.
  3. Grade = 1
    They drew the pictures, so may have thought about some of the language. There’s no specific preparation stage for either language or content.
  4. Grade = 2
    Because the learners drew the pictures, they are likely to be engaged in discussing them. However, the questions come from the teacher. Learners could also be more engaged if they knew there was a clear aim and some form of upgrading of their language, boosting their motivation.

Possible adaptations:

  • Include an aim or can do statement at the beginning of the materials, for example ‘I can interact successfully with a partner when making decisions related to holidays.’
  • Ask the learners to generate the questions discussed.
  • Include a preparation stage at the start of each activity cycle, where learners can ask for any vocabulary or phrases they might need.
  • Include a reflection stage at the end of each activity cycle, where learners reflect on their interactive communication by answering a few short questions. In the teacher’s notes, suggest ways of improving learners’ interactive communication depending on their self-assessments, for example functional language phrases which could be fed in, or the use of a visual reflection tool like conversation shapes. These act as strategy work and shift the materials to be more process-oriented.

Towards less humanistic teaching

These are my notes based on an ELT Journal article by Nick Gadd (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 223–234, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.223). My partner on the course read the article this one was responding to: ‘Towards more humanistic language teaching’ by Jane Arnold (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 235–242, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.235). They’re from the Point and Counterpoint section of the journal.

Gadd starts off by charting the history of the term humanism, moving from the “outwardly directed humanism of the Renaissance” to the “inward-gazing humanism of the twentieth century.” (p223) He refers to Hunter’s historical survey of how English teaching (in secondary education) has developed in England since the 1800s:

He points out that the teaching of English in schools has frequently involved three separate elements: linguistic and grammatical knowledge, aesthetic and literacy appreciation, and ethical or personal self-knowledge.

Gadd (1998: 223)

The interesting question here is:

Why is it, for example, that maths or science teachers rarely feel that they have a duty to undertake any kind of operation on their students’ feelings, or to improve their souls, in the way that many English teachers do?

Gadd (1998: 223-224)

[I wonder to what extent this is still true, with movements like mindset theory encouraging teachers to consider attitudes to learning across all subjects.]

One problematic idea connected to humanism from the early 20th century was an example Hunter/Gadd gives of “moral training designed to reform the personalities of problem populations and make them easier to control” (p224).

In TEFL, Gadd mentions Stevick (1980) as an advocate of humanism:

For Stevick, its basis is the desire of every student and every teacher to be ‘an object of primacy in a world of meaningful action’. He therefore believes it is essential for teachers to take into serious consideration what goes on inside and between their students.

Gadd (1998: 224)

Elements of Stevick’s work Gadd mentions include students developing and exercising initiative and co-operation, and increasing learner empowerment. There is also the idea of reconciling the ‘performing self’ and the ‘critical self’ [I’m not entirely sure what this means]. (p225) Some potential problems with humanistic teaching which Stevick identifies include (p225):

  • “Teachers who abdicate responsibility for structure and input, leaving it all to the initiative of their students.”
  • “Too much focus on the students’ own experiences and inner selves is unhelpful.”
  • It becomes “an excuse for the teacher to dazzle students and colleagues with their educational originality and virtuosity.” (cf. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society)

Gadd describes Stevick as a ‘pragmatic humanist’, as opposed to a ‘romantic humanist’.

A common view is that it is the primary task of the English teacher to encourage and advance the development of the students’ inner selves, and that to this end the greater part of the work done in the language classroom should be devoted to the students’ feelings, experiences and ideas.

Gadd (1998: 225)

The teachers’ role in these cases appears to be that of a kindly confessor or therapist.

Gadd (1998: 226)

The principles of this more romantic humanism are summarised like so:

Students should draw predominantly on their own feelings, ideas, and experiences in order to learn English; some forms of expression are more genuine than others because they derive from the true inner self; English teachers should not limit themselves to language but should teach students to be better, nicer people, power in the classroom can be devolved from the teacher to the students. To sum up, this kind of teaching focuses attention on nurturing the student’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 226)

[I think this is the problem I’ve always had with what I previously understood about humanistic approaches – it all felt overly touchy-feely and far too personal, sometimes invasively so, limiting the world down to the people in the room and their experiences, rather than reaching out into the world and learning from external sources. I’ve seen that it can be more than that, connected to dealing with issues of affect and engagement, engaging the whole person rather than students being depersonalised language learners, but it’s still something I need to learn more about to be truly comfortable with incorporating these aspects in my work and materials.]

Gadd points out that these ideas of romantic humanism are predominant in supplementary materials, rather than mainstream coursebooks or EAP/ESP texts. (p226)

Gadd’s counterarguments are (I think) strong (p227), and seem to some extent to reflect my comment above:

  • “It is based on a view of the English teacher’s role as a monitor and nurturer of the student’s inner self which, while well established, is presumptuous and of doubtful value.”
  • “It leads to the students being taught an inadequate number of registers of English, and thus hampers their progression towards independence as language users.”
  • “A focus on the inner self as a source of learning does not encourage or permit the students’ intellectual and cognitive development.”

Gadd goes on to contrast humanistic approaches with the ‘rhetorical tradition’.

They emphasized the skills needed to be an active member of a public community, rather than a mere communer with oneself, or passer-on of one’s private feelings to select individuals.

As Hunter says, it is a grave mistake to imagine that these skills, which make students active and powerful in the public sphere, are any less ‘human’ than those which focus on the private self.

Gadd (1998: 227)

It is this position [of moral and ethical surveillance] which romantic humanist teachers still desire to occupy today, hoping to shape the learner’s personality and impart values education. Leaving aside the question of what gives English teachers the right to impose their moral and ethical values on their students, it is certainly disingenuous: for while this moral training is going on, humanist educators contiune to deny their own power and claim that it is the students, not the teachers, who are in control.

Gadd (1998: 228)

[I’m very grateful to Gadd for putting into words some of the vague feelings I’ve had about this kind of teaching before!]

Other potential problems with romantic humanism:

  • It’s a product of western tradition, and therefore may not be appropriate in other cultures. (p228)
  • It results in an extremely limited used of language, focusing only on the private self. (p229)
  • It relies on a limited range of register: “friendly, informal, even intimate”. (p229)
  • They limit the learners to “being able to chat with friends and commune with themselves. They are not of much use in training students to participate in public or academic spheres.” (p229)
  • Learners may have different levels of educational experience or come from quite different cultures, meaning they cannot rely on learner-based teaching and they may get frustrated if the teacher refuses to give instruction. (p231)

[These are summarised much more concisely as just three main points in the conclusion on p232-233 of the article.]

He contrasts the process approach to writing to the genre approach, emphasising how the latter seems to have become dominant in English teaching in Australia (note: this article was written in 1996). He talks about how at lower levels, writing texts are “completely personal and based on the immediate world of the learner” but that they become more abstract at higher levels.

This is an acknowledgement that the learning process involves a movement beyond oneself […] and underlines the need for us to lay aside the notion that the purpose of speech and the written word is to express one’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 231)

Gadd believes that he has a responsibility for more general education, not just English, partly because he teaches a lot of adult migrants who may not have had much school learning in the past.

This involves factual knowledge about the world but also intellectual skills. It involves developing the ability to reason, interpret, synthesize knowledge, evaluate and critique different points of view, and construct an argument. Little of this can be achieved if the students remain trapped within the prison of the self.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[This seems to closely reflect the modern focus on critical thinking, and higher-order thinking skills.]

He talks about an example of working on advertising, based on a humanist activity from a supplementary book, or a serious unit of work on the topic drawing on lots of different input.

At the end of this our students are gong to be able to produce much more informed opinions by drawing on knowledge outside themselves.

Gadd (1998: 232)

If our sole aim is to fill thirty minutes with uninformed talk, then it may not be necessary for them to be encumbered with much actual knowledge. If, on the other hand, we seek to educate in the much broader sense, then there are no short cuts. We have to move beyond the self, and explore the great world which lies beyond it.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[A much more erudite way of expressing what I mentioned in my earlier response to this article!]

In the conclusion, Gadd mentions that the need for teachers to understand their learners’ psychology, as advocated in Stevick’s pragmatic humanism, “enables the teacher to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most effective”. (p233). [I agree that this is useful, and that’s why I’m so interested in the work of Sarah Mercer and co.]

Unit 7: Visual design and image

Elements of design

These are my ideas of what contributes to design:

  • Colour
  • Layout
  • Font
  • Text size
  • Use of images
  • Other stylistic features such as quotes, stylised headings, etc.
  • Space (is there any?!)

The NILE list was longer (of course!) They are listed below, along with my ideas for good design criteria for each of them.

  • Headings and icons
    Consistency in the use or omission of icons
    Transparency in the meaning of icons – I shouldn’t need to look at a key to work out what they mean
    Headings should indicate the function/aim of each section
    Headings should be a different size (font?) to the main text so they clearly stand out
  • Sequencing and Numbering
    Numbering should be used for all activities
    It should follow across the whole spread, rather than restarting in each section/for each new skill – there shouldn’t be multiple Exercise 1’s on the page for example!
    The sequence of activities should be clear from the layout
  • Text
    The font should be clearly legible, preferably sans serif to help learners with SEN.
    The text size should be large enough to read easily, and suitable for the target age group of the learners (for example, senior learners may benefit from a larger font).
    The amount of text should be suitable for the level and age of the learners.
  • Colour
    SEN-friendly, with useful contrasts (for example, dark text on a light background)
    Consistency in the use of colour, for example one unit = one colour, or one type of spread = one colour (reading = green, listening = blue, etc.)
  • Page layout
    Space should be available on the page – not too cramped
    Use of columns if applicable/appropriate
    Texts clearly separated from other elements, e.g. instructions
  • Consistency
    Different pages of the same materials should clearly belong to the same resource!
    Icons, colours, use of headings, and layout should remain consistent, so I know where to find things on the page.
    When consistency is disrupted, this should be for a clear reason, for example a different kind of unit.
  • Back of book reference pages
    Should be easy to find
    Should be clearly laid out
    Audio scripts should be legible – not so tiny that you need a magnifying class!
    Activities should be clearly differentiated from information, for example in a grammar or vocabulary bank
    If applicable, an index should be included
  • Cover
    Needs to tell me the level and target audience of the materials
    Should include a short blurb telling me what’s different about these materials
    Should include information about other components of the course
    Should have the book’s name, author, publisher etc. clearly visible
    Age appropriate
  • Images
    Should be included as a resource for the materials, not just to make it look pretty
    Should appear throughout the materials, breaking up large blocks of text
    Shouldn’t appear behind texts – this makes the texts harder to read, especially for learners with SEN
    Age appropriate
    Culturally sensitive

It’s just occured to me that ‘Contents’ / ‘Scheme of work’ should be added to this list. This should be clearly laid out, with the main aims of the book in earlier columns. Page numbers should be referenced for each of the elements, not just the first page of the unit.

We were referred to this critique of a coursebook page by Jason Renshaw (I miss Jason’s blog – it was very influential on me when I was first starting out!) It demonstrates really clearly how important design can be to learning, and includes this quote:

But if you feel, as a teacher, that my analysis and objections to the layout here go beyond simple fussiness to an essential understanding of how important content and layout can be for practical classroom application as well as independent learning efficacy, you may be asking yourself how and why it happens in coursebooks.

(and then I scrolled down to the comments and realised the first one was by me, in 2011!) 🙂

Why do we use images in materials?

These are my ideas:

  • To support vocabulary learning.
  • To clarify the meaning of grammar.
  • To create/set contexts.
  • To illustrate texts.
  • To prompt discussion.
  • For prediction or summarising activities.
  • To make texts seem more realistic, for example mocking up an email.
  • As part of diagrams – to show sequences.
  • As design features, for example the icons for a chapter heading.
  • To create image-based activities, particularly for YLs, for example colour XYZ red, colour ABC blue, etc.
  • For decoration / To break up the page.

Using images in language teaching materials

We read this blogpost by John Hughes about visual literacy in the language classroom.

John starts by defining visual literacy, then describes three levels of visual literacy and how we can use them in the classroom:

  • Basic comprehension and understanding
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘What does it mean?’ Students see pictures to understand and remember words, or predict what’s in a text based on an image.
  • Critical thinking
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘Thinking beyond the frame’ Using ambiguous images, or speculating on the thoughts of people in the image, or thinking about what happens next – images like this encourage the viewer to ask questions.
  • Creative thinking
    Students ‘write’ or ‘create’ their own images: They can talk about images using Fotobabble [though the old site seems to have disappeared], create an animated movie using Dvolver, or take photos connected to the theme of the lesson.

John says that he won’t suggest that we should ‘teach’ students how to be visually literate, but that an awareness of some of these concepts can help us to exploit images in a wider range of ways, including for higher order thinking skills. [I agree with the fact that as English teachers, it isn’t our role to teach visual literacy, but that’s not to say we can’t use concepts connected to it, and introduce some of them to our students too. It’s as good a topic as any for the classroom, and useful beyond lessons too.]

Next, we listened to an interview with John to follow up on his article.

He starts by describing how much easier it is to access and produce images now, and therefore how much easier it is to exploit them in the classroom.

John describes examples of visual literacy (reading/writing images) in daily life:

  • Clicking on icons on our phones and knowing where it will take us.
  • Sharing images on social media.
  • Understanding road signs.

Some people say that it’s becoming more and more important in our daily lives. There are also new text types, like infographics, which combine texts and images in different ways. Design choices like the use of font and colour are also connected to visual literacy. Because it’s a feature of everyday life, John believes that many students arrive in our classrooms already being quite visually literate. He says that we can take advantage of students’ visual literacy skills. He also says that because it’s so important in our students’ lives, the classroom should reflect that and we should include images and video in our lessons. Having said that, there should always be a linguistic aim because we’re teaching English, not visual literacy.

Choosing interesting images, like advertising, artistic images, or an image where it isn’t clear where is was taken, they can generate discussion and engage students, apart from the critical thinking activities mentioned above.

A 30-second video with just images can be an interesting prompt too: introducing a topic, picking out images and describing them, engaging learners. It doesn’t have to be a long video to be useful.

John mentions one activity from the Hands Up Project, where Nick Bilsborough asks students to draw images and then describe them, as a simple way of encouraging students to create/write their own images. This gives them preparation time and thinking time before they speak, as they can consider what they want to say. Using images in a range of ways like this can make lessons much more memorable and motivating.

It’s important for us to consider the design of our materials, as poor design can distact learners. For example, having images with a listening or speaking activity can gives learners a way into the activity and help to set the context.

John thinks that there are very few lessons that wouldn’t include at least a little visual literacy: diagrams in EAP, charts in business English to communicate visually…

When asking students to create and share images, we need to be aware of rules connected to the images. As long as we keep the images within the classroom, we should generally be safe, but it’s important to check with parents if we want their children to take photos to share.

With technology, there are extra layers of visual literacy too – for example, thinking about virtual environments, augmented reality, or virtual reality headsets.

John tends to set creative image or video activities for homework, rather than in class, as they can be challenging to set up and be quite time-consuming. If they’re done in English, it can work well, but it often works better outsides lessons.

He mentions the Visual Arts Circle as an interesting site to explore if you want to know more about visual literacy and visual thinking.

Finally we looked at John’s ETpedia blog list of 10 visual literacy activities for language learning. I’ve never tried using memes in lessons (idea 5), though I’ve been to an interesting talk about it (here’s a version of the same talk), and seen examples of memes created by teacher trainers (go to the bottom right of the page on a computer to see more!). I also like idea 7, getting learners to guess the question from the answers in a video.

My beliefs about design and layout

These are some of my own beliefs about materials design and layout, both print and digital, and using images. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Layout should be easy to understand and should aid in the use of the materials.
    Why? Bad layout is distracting and frustrating, and requires extra mental effort, which could be dedicated to better teaching or learning.
    What does it entail? Clear headings, numbering which works across the spread (not multiple exercise 1’s on the same page!), images which are close to the activities they correspond to, lines to separate off different sections, boxes and columns used as appropriate, large enough gaps for completing activities, white space for thinking and processing (not having lots of things crammed on a page), icons as appropriate. This should be consistent across the materials.
    But…? What happens if you need to include a lot of information/activities on a page? How much time / money do you have to dedicate to design?
  • Materials should be SEN-friendly.
    Why? What generally helps learners with SEN often helps learners without SEN too. It creates a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Minimal clutter, space around and between text, contrasting fonts and backgrounds (though not stark contrasts), sans serif fonts, lines and boxes to create clear divisions between parts of the text, no text directly displayed on images, minimal use of italics (bold is preferable) – I’m sure there’s a lot more I’ve forgotten!
    But…? What if this makes print materials take up much more space?
  • Images should be varied and representative.
    Why? Varied images allow for varied activities and materials. Considering representation is important, as it reduces the potential distance between learners and materials. If all of the images are stereotypical, only taken from Western culture, or only relate to middle-class lifestyles, they could create distance or dissatisfaction for learners. It also makes for a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Drawing on diverse, age-appropriate, sources for images. Having a checklist of factors to include / check for, for example a balance of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages, body types, building and landscape types, etc.
    But…? How can you possibly include everybody in your materials?
  • Images should be exploited within materials.
    Why? Decorative images are fine, but there are so many ways in which images can be exploited to benefit the learning process. These can often be particularly motivating and engaging, as well as memorable.
    What does it entail? Including activities which exploit materials in a range of ways throughout the materials, both for more basic activities like clarifying the meaning of language, and for higher-order activities, like suggesting possible contexts for ambiguous images.
    But…? Nope, can’t think of a counter-argument.

The interpretation of illustrations in ELT materials

These are my notes based on the article of this name by Martin Hewings which originally appeared in ELT Journal Volume 45/3, July 1991, Oxford University Press, pp. 237-244. It looks at how learners from different cultures perceive illustratoins in language teaching materials. The learners in question were Vietnamese students of ESL in Britain, with the article received by the journal in August 1990. To me, it very much feels like an article of its time, and I wonder how differently the opening paragraphs would be framed it if was written today. Here’s an example:

For those learners who come from an educated, European background, divergence between how publishers and textbook writers intend illustrations to be perceived and how they are actually perceived may rarely be problematic. For those learners with a limited exposure to ‘Western’ conventions of illustration, it may present a barrier to language learning.

Hewings (1991: 237)

While I realise that not everybody has been brought up in the same illustrative tradition, I feel like the advent of the internet and the spread of various aspects of culture globally may mitigate some of this today. It’s not something I’ve ever come across, though it has to be said that the majority of my teaching has been done in Europe and/or in private language schools. The only time I think I’ve heard it might be a problem is with cultures with a different perception of time, who may not interpret a left to write timeline in the same way as I might.

Some of the problems with interpretation identified in the article included:

  • Representation of roles (p238): how people are shown in roles which are challenging to illustrate (for example, criminal, bank manager, lover). The lessons the article draws are “if students are not able to make the connection between the cues (age, dress, etc.) and the particular stereotype or role, they will get the answers wrong; and secondly, the even if they do make a connection, it may not be the connection that the teacher or materials writer intended.” (p239)
    [I feel like we have moved on a long way from the kinds of illustrations which might have appeared in materials in the 1980s, as well as the kinds of activities based on stereotypical roles described in the article, so I would hope this would no longer be a problem.]
  • Representation of situations (p239): how pictures are used to establish locations or situations, including if people are in the image too.
    [Same point as above]
  • Representation of topographical space (p240): plans or maps.
    [The question asked by researchers seems odd here – they ask which rooms are upstairs and which are downstairs, which seems designed to prompt misinterpretation when no stairs appear on the plan in question. I would sincerely hope the second example given would never appear in modern materials, not least because the question is so generic.]
  • Symbolic representations (p241): symbols, speech/thought bubbles in cartoons.
    [OK, some of these might cause problems, but many of these symbols feel fairly international now from my experience of travel. This would depend more on the learner’s world experience I think – there may be a point here for modern materials writers.]
  • Graphic representations (p242): charts, graphs, diagrams, visual organisers, tables.
    [I think learners from all cultures could potentially have problems with this – it’s not just the difference between the materials writer’s culture and the learners’. We spend a lot of time learning how to interpret this kind of representation during our schooling, particularly in maths lessons, and inevitably some people find it more challenging than others. All teachers/materials writers should bear that in mind when using this kind of illustration.]

Having disagreed with a lot of the first part of the article, the reminders in the second part are quite useful (p243). They can be summarised as:

  • Be aware of your cultural bias when interpreting an illustration.
  • Remember that not everybody sees illustrations in the same way you do.
  • Students may not have the skills to interpret an illustration in the way that is needed to complete a task. Be aware of this, and be prepared to provide extra support if necessary.
  • Problems of perception should be differentiated from problems with English language. When checking answers, check which of the two has happened. [Not the point Hewings made at all here, but the one I’ve chosen to take from it.]
  • Ask questions about the illustration itself to check interpretation, before using it to introduce the context or practise language.

Unit 8: Teacher’s notes / Trends in language materials / Course review

Teacher’s notes

These are my answers to questions we were asked.

  1. How do you use teacher’s notes in the published materials you use?

I rarely use them now when working with coursebooks. I might refer to them to double-check answers, or if I’m feeling particularly uninspired and am hoping the teacher’s notes might prompt some ideas. If it’s a new coursebook series, I might flick through the pages at the front to see if there are any useful ideas, such as a page of flashcard activities in a YL teacher’s book. I’m more likely to read teacher’s notes in supplementary materials, where the activities are often not as transparent on the page.

2. How do you think less experienced teachers use them?

It depends on whether they’ve realised/been shown that they might be useful. I’ve found teacher’s books to be quite hit and miss. As a relatively new teacher, the Straightforward Pre-Intermediate teacher’s book by Jim Scrivener was fantastic – it was full of ideas for exploiting activities, and included lots of methodology tips. English File and Speakout teacher’s book have often been quite useful in terms of potential grammar problems, cultural notes, and some ideas for extension activities or extra support. The Outcomes teacher’s books are like a mini teacher training course and are potentially very useful for new teachers. Other teacher’s notes are glorified answer keys, and not necessarily that useful.

3. What is a Teacher’s Book for? How many reasons can you think of?

  • Providing answers
  • Providing inspiration
  • Activities for extra support, fast finishers, extension activities, alternative warmers etc.
  • Identifying potential problems with activities, especially with grammar or vocabulary areas, but also with skills tasks. Even better, suggesting solutions for how to deal with them!
  • Homework ideas
  • Professional development for teachers
  • Justifying the methodology/beliefs of the materials
  • Links to other resources, e.g. extra activities in the TB / online

4. What else might a Teacher’s Book include besides notes for the teacher.

  • Supplementary activities
  • Answers
  • Tapescripts
  • An explanation of the thinking behind the book (beliefs, etc.)

5. Look at some teacher’s notes. [I chose the English File Intermediate 3rd edition Teacher’s book] What do you notice about how the instruction to teachers are written? Do you have any reactions to this? You might like to consider:

Consistency of wording? Generally quite consistent.

Sentence length? Relatively short, generally connected by ‘and’ if there are multiple clauses.

Imperatives or descriptions? Descriptions to introduce each unit, with imperatives in the activity notes themselves.

Use of metalanguage? Only metalanguage that students might be expected to know too, with the occasional word like ‘elicit’. Otherwise fairly minimal.

Layout of stages? Very clearly broken down. Each stage is a new point in the instructions.

Current trends in language teaching materials

This is a word cloud I made based on some of the comments we were shown connected to trends that various materials writers noticed:

21st~century~skills
emotional~intelligence
cross~cultural~communication
developing~the~whole~child
creativity
imagination
leadership
citizenship
higher~order~thinking~skills
problem~solving
digital~literacy
collaboration
communication
enquiry~based
multiple~literacies
visual~literacy
intercultural~awareness
lexical~phrases
discovery~learning
meaningful~visual~support
cultural~diversity
CLIL
projects
video~based~narrative
author~teams
inclusivity
adapted~for~learners~with~dyslexia
texts~only~used~for~language~focus
little~critical~reading
little~reader~response
exam~and~assessment~focus
tied~to~official~exams
measurable~progress
global~standardised~curricula
digital~practice
assessment~software
flipped~classroom
Made using http://wordclouds.co.uk based on materials from NILE

Another trend I’d add to this list is a move to include more strategy training connected to skills, particularly listening, in general English coursebooks. Pronunciation is now being treated for both listening and speaking in some materials.

If you’re interested in possible current/future trends, the closing plenary from IATEFL 2019 might make interesting watching for you, particularly Katherine Bilsborough talking about materials.

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things which I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here is the post for week one.

Unit 3: Cognitive Demand

Interested to get some proper theory on this, as that was the topic of a recent couple of posts (one, two) on my blog 🙂

My answers to a sentence completion task:

  1. When I give my learners material that is too difficult for them, they get depressed and demotivated. Some of them give up. If I’m lucky, they ask for help, but only once they’ve already struggled for a while.
  2. When I give my learners work that is too easy, they either (a) get complacent, (b) get bored, or (c) mess about, the last one particularly so if they’re young learners or teens.
  3. Somebody once said “Every class is a mixed ability class”. My class is a mixed ability class! (Because I completely agree with that statement – not thinking about any one particular class)
  4. When it comes to working things out for themselves, most of my learners are able and willing to try, especially if they’re older. For young learners, young teens, lower levels, those with prior history of problems with education (particularly connected to dyslexia and other working memory problems), this may be more challenging though.
  5. For my learners, critical thinking is something I don’t specifically talk about – I’ve learnt more about it over the past few years, but have mostly worked with very low levels over the last couple of years, so it’s been a challenge to incorporate it.

How cognitive demand affects learners

These notes are based on videos we watched on the NILE platform.

If the cognitive demand is too high/the materials are too difficult, there are high levels of frustration which means there’s no learning and demotivation. The effects include learners speaking L1, getting anxious and stressed, a drop in confidence. With adults who are paying for their lessons, they might be particularly frustrated.

If materials are too easy, learners are not challenged or engaged. Again, they’re not learning. Sometimes it can be a confidence builder if learners feel they have achieved something, but only when used in moderation. It can seem patronising for learners, as well as boring. Parents and learners might be annoyed that they’re not learning.

In mixed-ability classes (all classes!), materials which can be used flexibly and/or which include suggestions for differentiation in the teachers’ notes can be particularly useful. Tasks which can appeal to a range of levels work well: scaffolding for lower levels, and providing extension tasks for higher levels. Tom Sarney gave the example of reading questions which start easy and get more cognitively challenging, and Carole Robinson suggested providing a glossary or images to help learners understand a text.

Materials requiring learners to work things out for themselves can be good if it provides learners with a push, but if they work things out too easily then it might not be motivating for them. Claudia Rey mentions working within the ZPD, helping learners to work things out for themselves with a little guidance. For teens, it’s helpful to push learners to work independently – this doesn’t just help them with their English, but with life skills too. Tom Sarney mentions an enquiry-based approach. Adults may be more likely to want to work independently in their studies, though we may need to give them the tools to do this.

Critical thinking is important at all age groups and levels, not least because it’s in such demand in work. The challenge is the balance between language skills and critical thinking. In some contexts, there may be resistance to critical thinking activities. Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a useful way to incorporate a range of different thinking skills. With young learners and teens, you need to develop these skills. With adults, you can consider critical thinking skills to help you make materials more interesting.

We could learn from video game designers, who need to create the correct level of challenge to keep us playing.

Questions in language learning materials

These are my ideas about characteristics of good questions in language learning materials:

  • They need to be answerable! Or lead to some form of meaningful discussion about possible answers if they’re questions which are more philosophical in nature.
  • The language of the questions should be at or below the current language level of the students.
  • The language learners need to use to answer the questions should be available to them, for example language they have previously been introduced to. If they need new language to answer the questions, it shouldn’t get in the way of smooth communication.
  • Discussion questions should motivate a genuine exchange of information, rather than being pure display questions.
  • Comprehension questions should require responses spaced throughout the text, rather than being bunched too closely together. They should also not be answered by information in the first sentence or two.
  • You should include a wide range of different types of questions.

We were asked to look at a double-page spread in a coursebook, find the questions, and identify the reasons for them.

I looked at the sample unit for the student’s book of English File Intermediate third edition on the OUP website. These are the questions I found on pp. 4-5, and the reasons I think they’re there: (Note: I only selected things which were phrased as grammatical questions – there were lots of other things for learners to do)

  1. Vocabulary: Can you think of…ONE red fruit, ONE yellow fruit, ONE green fruit? (etc. – a quiz with 6 questions)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To assess prior knowledge.
  2. Vocabulary: Listen to these common adjectives to describe food. Do you know what they mean?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  3. Pronunciation: Look at the eight sound pictures. What are the words and sounds?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To stimulate learnes to remember (if they’ve used a previous book in the series)
  4. Pronunciation: What part of the symbol tells you that a sound is long?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  5. Listening and speaking: questionnaire with 5 questions (I’ll call these 5a when referring back to it)
    (before listening) To engage learners in the topic (they’re about to listen to people answer the same questions)
    (before listening) To activate schemata related to the listening they’re about to do.
    (after listening) To stimulate language use. (they answer the questions themselves)
    (after listening) To encourage personalisation.
    (after listening) What do you have in common? (I’ll call this 5b) To improve group dynamics, as learners learn more about each other and find out what they might have in common.
  6. Reading: Are the foods in the list carbohydrates or proteins?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  7. Reading: What kind of food do you think it is better to eat…for lunch if you have an important exam or meeting? (etc. – this is one of 4 endings to the question)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To share ideas.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
  8. Reading: Look at the title of the article. What do you think it means?
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To stimulate learners to think.
    To activate schemata related to the reading they’re about to do.
  9. Reading: Find adjectives in the article for the verbs and nouns in the list. What’s the different between the two adjectives made from stress?
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  10. Reading: Three questions following the text, for example How often do you eat chocolate? Does it make you feel happier?
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
    (final question only) To stimulate learners to think more deeply

This was an interesting process to go through!

We were referred to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Diana Freeman’s Taxonomy of Reading Comprehension Questions, and the idea of moving from conrete to abstract questions Mike Gershon as ways of checking that you have included a range of questions in your work. (Mike Gershon has a resource called ‘The Bloom Buster‘ with hundreds of question stems.)

I find Bloom’s Taxonomy to be pretty abstract, and often struggle to work out which category particular questions or activities might fall under. I feel like it could potentially be pretty overwhelming when used as a way of generating questions too, though The Bloom Buster I’ve just mentioned could be a useful tool if you’re feeling writer’s block. Diana Freeman’s taxonomy is the most useful of these categorisations for me, as it’s specifically connected to EFL, and the three main categories of content, language, and affect seem like they are the most useful way of breaking down questions I’m likely to be working with. The way they are sub-divided incorporates some of the complexity of models like Bloom’s Taxonomy, but in a way which I find to be much more accessible. Of the ones we’ve been introduced to, this is the model I’m most likely to use when checking questions/instructions I have produced or looking for inspiration for my materials. The downside is that it’s specifically aimed at reading comprehension, though I think the main categories could be adapted to other areas of materials.

Looking at the same coursebook double-page from English File as before and attempting to use Freeman’s taxonomy, I think I can see the following types of questions:

  1. (not sure – doesn’t really map onto this taxonomy – probably a Language question?)
  2. Language: Lexical
  3. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  4. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  5. 5a: Content: Textually explicit (if memory serves! I don’t have access to the transcript/audio now)
    5b: Affect: Personal response
  6. Language: Re-organisation (matching)
  7. Affect: Personal response
  8. Content: Inferential
  9. Language: Lexical
  10. Affect: Personal response

Based on the prompts we were given about problems with questions, these are my tips for writing good questions, some of which are still the same as when I started this section, and some of which are more specific 🙂

  • Use display questions with caution – don’t overdo them.
  • Aim to convert closed questions into open questions when appropriate, to increase thinking and language output.
  • Limit memory testing questions to testing memory! If you want to teach and you want learners to learn, use a wider range of question types.
  • Make questions specific, so it’s clear what kind of answer is appropriate.
  • Keep question wording/structure simple, so that learners have cognitive space left to give complex answers, rather than struggling to understand the question. (this refers back to the language level in my ideas)
  • Make sure that if a range of answers are possible, you don’t rely on learners getting one specific answer for the next stage of the materials. Avoid ‘guess what I’m thinking’. (this refers back to ‘make sure they are answerable’ in my ideas at the start)
  • Have a clear pedagogical purpose in mind for questions you include in materials.
  • Check that questions require genuine understanding, not just lifting of information.

Effective instructions

These are my ideas for what makes for clear instructions in materials:

  • Use imperatives.
  • Keep sentences short and language simple.
  • Have one idea per sentence in the rubric, or, if necessary two which are linked by a simple conjunction, like ‘and’.
  • Break down stages of activities into separate instructions or parts of the task as needed. (Stage instructions.)
  • Include all of the instructions that a learner would need to complete the task. Don’t leave them guessing or struggling to work out exactly what is needed. For example, tell them where to write the answers.
  • Include parameters where appropriate, for example time limits or an indication of the number of items learners should think of.
  • Wherever possible/appropriate, supplement instructions with a worked example of what learners are expected to do.
  • Design : Make sure that instructions stand out from the rest of the text.
  • Design: Avoid having instructions run over to a new line wherever possible – this can make it easier for learners with dyslexia to follow.

There were a few extra points in the materials we were given on the module, but this was a pretty good start. I’m afraid you’ll have to do the course to get the full list!

Think globally, act locally

We watched this talk by Alan Pulverness.

Before watching: When and why do you usually adapt materials?

I adapt materials all the time – I rarely use materials exactly as they are in class, even if that’s what I planned to do when I started the lesson. I adapt them for a wide range of reasons (in no particular order):

  • To be more engaging for learners (I hope!)
  • To make them longer/shorter
  • To add/decrease challenge for the learners
  • To change the presentation style, for example pulling out images to work with them separately without the text to distract the learners
  • To localise them, for example adding references to Polish culture
  • To match my teaching style
  • To change the structure of the lesson, for example reordering the stages to fit my learners’ needs more appropriately

Before watching: What kinds of adaptations do you make?

I might adapt/add to/change:

  • The layout
  • The presentation
  • The content
  • The questions asked
  • The task
  • The amount of support provided
  • The examples given
  • The language covered
  • The instructions

And probably more!

While watching: Why adapt materials?

Materials adaptation can span a range of procedures from adding carefully contextualised role plays with the objective of providing more opportunities to communicate to not finishing a pronunciation drill because of time constraints.

Islam and Mares (2003)

…to make material more suitable for the circumstances in which it is used; to compensate for any intrinsic deficiences in the materials.

McGrath (2002)

From conscious (designing extras) to less conscious (making decisions in the lessons), we all do it, to a greater or lesser extent. No coursebook is ever perfect.

What are the limits of the course book? These are possible answers according to Alan Pulverness:

  • Fail to provide: choice, variety, topicality, phonology
  • Not provide enough of: practice, assessment, productive skills work
  • Course books expected to provide: texts, language information, visuals, structure
  • Should be provided by the teacher: warm-up, presentation, practice, consolidation
  • Could be provided by the learners…

Clarke (1989) in an ELT Journal article called something like ‘Why leave it all to the teacher?’, says that the learner can play a role in adapting materials too:

  • Learner commitment: enlist them to take a fuller part in the lesson
  • Learner as materials writer and collaborator: as consolidation or extension exercises, use in revision, maybe with other groups
  • Learner as problem solver: give learners a materials design task as a problem which they can solve, for example adapting it for stronger or weaker students (not sure I agree that this is a good idea)
  • Learner as knower: put them in a position of authority for example about a particular area of language
  • Learner as evaluator and assessor: can peer review, suggest further adaptations

Alan suggested some ways that learners could adapt materials:

  • selecting texts
  • extending texts
  • creating tasks
  • constructing activities
  • constructing texts

He told us about some research by Yan (2007) published in HLT Magazine about trainee teachers and their adaptation of materials. They did this for a range of reasons:

  • Integrating traditional and communicative methods.
  • Catering for students’ needs.
  • Integrating listening and speaking skills into lessons based on reading.
  • Meeting teachers’ own preferences and needs.

Cunningsworth (1995) gives the following reasons for adapting materials in Choosing your coursebook [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]:

  • Classroom dynamics
  • Learner personalities
  • Syllabus constraints
  • Availability of resources
  • Learners’ motivations and expectations

Alan gives the following suggestions for when you might want to adapt materials:

  • To provide more systematic grammar coverage
  • To provide more practice activities
  • TO make texts more accessible
  • To provide more challenge / more support
  • To make tasks more meaningful
  • To devote more attention to phonology
  • To replace inappropaite content
  • To provide greater visual impact
  • To provide more authentic language input
  • To provide variety, topicality, engagement

Islam and Mares (2003) give these reasons for adaptation:

  • To add real choice
  • To cater for different sensory learning styles (!)
  • To provide more learner autonomy
  • To encourage greater use of Higher Order Thinking Skills (according to Bloom’s taxonomy)
  • To make language input more accessible
  • To make language input more engaging

Alan lists various problems with materials:

  • Mismatch with curriculum goals
  • The textbook as de facto syllabus
  • More material than time available
  • Dependence on technology / supplementary components
  • Written for the widest possible audience
  • Culturally inappropriate

While watching: So what can we do about it?

This was Alan Pulverness’s summary:

  • Extension: How can I augment it?
  • Modification: How can I change it?
  • Supplementation: What can I bring to it?
  • Substitution: What can I replace it with?

Alan Maley (1998) suggests the following:

  • Omission
  • Addition
  • Reduction
  • Extension
  • Rewriting/modification
  • Replacement
  • Re-ordering
  • Branching

McGrath (2002) has the following principles motivating change:

  • Localisation
  • Personalisation
  • Individualisation
  • Modernisation
  • Simplification
  • Complication
  • Variation
  • Extrapolation (taking what’s there, following the logic and adding more)

Check that your adaptations are:

  • Principled rather than ad hoc, when possible
  • Informed by evaluation
  • Responsive to learners’ needs (and wants)
  • Proactive or reactive (what fits in this situation?)

While watching: What can you adapt?

Language:

  • Instructions
  • Explanations
  • Texts
  • Exercises
  • Output

Process:

  • Classroom management
  • Modes of interaction
  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Learning styles

Content:

  • Topics
  • Contexts
  • Cultural references

Level

  • Linguistic demands
  • Cognitive demands

Everything basically!

While watching: How do you approach materials adaptation?

Ideally, there should be some kind of flow…

  1. Textbook evaluation.
  2. Identify strengths and shortcomings.
  3. Consider principles for adaptation.
  4. Decide on specific adaptations.

While watching: Caveats

  • Don’t adapt or replace too much! Otherwise you become a materials designer [I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it could lead to overwork, stress, a loss of continuity, learners/stakeholders who are frustrated at wasting money on materials they never use…]
  • Make sure that adaptation is principled.
  • Avoid replacing one routine approach with another – be creative.
  • Don’t be self-indulgent – be self-critical.
  • Be congruent…

Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving ‘congruence’…The good teacher is constantly striving for ‘congruence’ among several related variables: teaching materials, methodologies, students, course objectives, the target language and its context, and the teacher’s own personality and teaching style.

McDonough and Shaw (2003)

i.e. take into account all of the variables when deciding on adapting your materials…no easy job!

Advice to a new or inexperienced teacher who is unsure how to adapt coursebooks

This is a short email I wrote as a forum task:

Dear new teacher,

You’ve been given a course book which doesn’t work for your students. What should you do? Ask yourself:

– Look at the pages. What do my learners most need to practise/learn?

– What should therefore be the main lesson aim?

– How will I prove learners have improved their performance connected to the lesson aim?

– What activities on the page could I use unaltered? What small tweaks could I make to engage, support or challenge learnes more?

– How long are those activities likely to take? What stage of the lesson are they best suited for?

– What other stages are needed to ‘glue’ the course book activities together? For example, do you need to add preparation before speaking? Or extra language clarification? Or feed in functional language before pair work? Is there anything on the page you could adapt or re-write to help with this?

– Look at your plan so far. Does the lesson flow? Is there a clear context tying activities together? How will you introduce the context? Using the coursebook, or supplementing from elsewhere?

– Look at the whole lesson. Is there enough practice of the language or skill the aim focusses on? Can you exploit the activities you’ve already selected in other ways to add practice? For example, adding post-listening activities to focus on connected speech.

– Go back to the aim. Does the plan really fulfil it? Will you definitely know that learners have improved?

– After the lesson, ask to what extent did the adaptations I made benefit my learners?

By repeating this process of experimenting and reflecting, you will get better and better at adapting coursebooks successfully. When you’re ready, you can also research the theory behind coursebook adaptation, but until then, good luck!

Sandy

Differentiated learning

In the feedback on an assignment I did, our tutor referred be to the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiation, and particularly this interview with her.

These were quotes which I found particular interesting.

Differentiated instruction assumes a more positive mindset: Let’s assume they can all do good work, and let’s attend to the ways that they need us to teach them in order to get there.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

It’s really important for kids to come together and understand and appreciate their differences, and to be willing to help one another succeed—as opposed to the cut-throat competition that sometimes goes on in schools.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

If what you differentiate is boring enough to choke a horse, you’ve just got different versions of boredom.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

These are some of the principles of differentiated learning which Carol Ann mentions:

  • Respectful tasks: “everybody’s work needs to be equally engaging, equally appealing, and equally important” with every students having to “think to do their work”.
  • Flexible grouping: systematically moving kids into different groupings, so they can see “how they can contribute in a variety of contexts”, not just arbitrary groupings or at the same skill level. Examples of grouping types given are:
    • similar readiness groups
    • varied readiness groups
    • mixed learning-profile groups
    • interest groups
    • mixed interest groups
    • student-choice groups
  • Teaching up: start with “high-end curriculum and expectations” then “differentiate to provide scaffolding, to lift the kids up”, rather than starting with “grade-level material and then dumb it down for some and raise it up for others”.
  • Ongoing assessment: “continually checking in on who’s where with the knowledge and understanding I’m trying to teach”, not just through formal quizzes and tests, but also by “systematically watching kids, taking good notes, checking work regularly and closely, and asking good questions”

I’m sure there are more! Her book The Differentiated Classroom, looks like a good place to go if you’d like to find out more [Amazon affiliate link].

Unit 4: Language input and output

Language input

How do you feel about the way grammar is dealt with in the books you use?

It’s good enough, though formulaic in many ways. Learners will only pick up the grammar when they are ready to, regardless of the order in which it’s introduced in the books, though having grammar in materials can help them with this. The rules vary in quality, truthfulness (i.e. how fully applicable they are to any example of that language point), complexity and accessibility – for example using lots of metalanguage in a book aimed at beginner 10-12 year olds. There are generally plenty of different types controlled practice, and some freer practice and/or personalisation opportunities. Over the time that I’ve been using coursebooks, I’ve noticed that it’s generally become much better contextualised, and there is a shift in some books to move slightly away from a fully traditional grammar syllabus, such as in the Outcomes books.

How do you feel about the grammar syllabus in one coursebook you use?

I don’t have any particular feelings about the grammar syllabus. If I’ve chosen to use a coursebook, it’s because I think that the grammar syllabus has the potential to work wirth my students.

Can you think of some different approaches to teaching grammar?

Task-based learning – working on grammar as the need arises.

Grammar reference tools

We looked at three different grammar reference tools which we might want to refer to when developing materials. The pros and cons are related to materials development and are my responses.

British Council – Eaquals Core Inventory for General English (2010)

Pros:

The core inventory table is available as a single page, and therefore very easy to refer to.

The appendices map a range of different areas: written and spoken text types (p36-37), functions/notions (p38), discourse features (p39), grammatical forms (p39-41), lexis (p42), topics (p42). These are all potentially useful reference points.

p43 onwards contains a comprehensive list of exponents which were considered core, and which appeared less often – this would be a great starting point for example sentences in materials. There are also some short texts showing how some features can be used in context, for example ‘describing places’ at A2 on p47.

It summarises common practice in the industry in a descriptive way, so materials created could be slotted into industry standards.

It shows the “extent of agreement between the different types of sources” and “the broad agreement” across the profession regarding consensus on when particular language points might be introduced to learners, so a materials writer would be more likely to introduce level-appropriate language points, if creating a grammar syllabus is an important factor for them in materials design. (quotes from p18)

The scenario on p14-15 shows an interesting structure for considering how to approach planning lessons and/or materials for a given situation, in this case a business meeting. There are more scenarios from p26-35. Each scenario shows an overview (what is needed to succeed in this situation) and implementation (one way in which this might be transferred to the learning process).

It is aware of its own limitations (p20), emphasising that it can act as a point of reference but that needs analysis should “give the basis for actual teaching”:

Cons:

It implies a somewhat linear study of grammar, vocabulary, topics, etc. though it does specify that “the language point appears at the level(s) at which it is considered of most relevance to the learner in the classroom.” (p11)

There is some overlap in levels. A2 covers elementary and pre-intermediate. Elementary is included in A1 and A2.

Although there is a lot of consensus in levels A1-B2, there is less consensus for C1. The consensus which does exist throughout may well have been influenced by previous editions of similar documents (such as the Threshold Level, 1976), meaning it’s potentially somewhat self-perpetuating: learners are taught those items at those levels because people have previously decided that’s what they should learn, and they decide what they should learn based on what is taught to them at those levels.

C2 is not included – consensus was only shown regarding preparation for the CPE exam. (p20)

It’s based on a range of sources, but this doesn’t included learner language (I think).

Some items appear in multiple places on the summary page on p10-11, such as collocation and colloquial language (B1, B2, C1) or leisure activities (A1, A2, B1) – this makes it seem very generic.

There are numbers throughout the list of exponents, but no clear information about what those numbers actually refer to (at least, not that I could find!)

English Grammar Profile 

Pros:

It’s very comprehensive.

It includes definitions and examples of each item to make it easy to understand what grammar feature is being referred to.

It was compiled from learner data. There are learner examples, both corrected and uncorrected, for every item. The learner examples are taken from a range of different language backgrounds, and include information about when they were collected and what level the learner was.

It can be searched and filtered by level.

It allows you to see progression across levels in terms of how a single grammatical item might be used.

The levels are colour-coded, making them easy to pick out from a longer list.

The grammar spotlight posts analyse the database in an interesting way to show what kinds of language learners are likely to use at different levels, including how this might differ depending on their language background, if relevant.

Lists can be downloaded.

It’s free!

Cons:

It could be quite overwhelming to navigate due to the amount of information included.

There’s potentially far too much information for any single level. For example, filtering by A1 gives 109 items, so it might be hard to select which could be the most useful to include in materials.

It only covers grammar items, or very fixed lexical expressions containing grammatical words, for example ‘might as well’. (The English Vocabulary Profile also exists – we’re focussing on grammar in this unit of the course though)

The data was compiled from exam scripts, so the conditions learners produced the language in was controlled. I think they may also be written scripts (though I’m happy to be corrected) so it doesn’t feature examples produced when speaking.

Global Scale of English Teacher Toolkit 

Pros:

It breaks down levels more than the CEFR does, including pre-A1. It also includes A2+, B1+ and B2+, which the other two resources we’ve looked at don’t.

It can be filtered by language skills, rather than only grammar or vocabulary.

It can be filtered for academic learners, adult learners, professional learners or young learners (6-14) for skills. Grammar and vocabulary have fewer options in this case.

The GSE allows finer grade filtering than the CEFR due to its use of numbers.

Lists can be downloaded.

There are resources linked to some of the grammar can do statements, which might provide inspiration for materials design.

Grammar can do statements come with a sample structure, examples, and related learning objectives which are functional, for example “Can form questions with ‘what’ and ‘who’ and answer them.” is connected to 20 different possible learning objectives.

It has a text analyzer you could check your writing with, which could be useful for rewriting or selecting what to include in a glossary.

Cons:

It could be quite overwhelming as there is so much possible information.

It could imply a very linear ‘first learn this, now learn this, now learn this’ approach (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this, but can’t think of it now!) which might seem somewhat mechanical.

Overall

I think if I’m writing materials for a specific level, and especially if I decide that having a grammar component is important, I would potentially use the BC/EAQUALS core profile as a starting point, then supplement it by referring to the other two databases, comparing what I found in each to help me decide on my grammar syllabus. This would obviously also be connected to a needs analysis and my own predictions of what language learners might need in given situations.

What is practice?

(My ideas)

  • Why do language learners need to practise?
    Without practice, learners will never activate their knowledge. They also need the opportunity to experiment, and to get feedback on their efforts. The more practice they do, especially if it is accompanied by useful feedback, the more likely they are to remember language they are trying to learn. Without feedback, they may remember this incorrectly though.
  • What are some elements of an effective practice task?
    It has a clear pedagogical purpose.
    It’s engaging.
    It’s motivating.
    The instructions are clear and achievable.
    It practises what it is supposed to practice. Anything else it practises is within the learner’s skillset.
    There are clear opportunities for feedback, and the feedback provided will enable learning.
  • What is the difference between an activity for practising language and testing it?
    Activities for practising language include feedback on performance, and the opportunity to repeat the activity again. Learners would ideally get support while they are completing the activity if they need it. Activities for testing language are far less likely to include feedback. Support is not available during the activity, and it’s much less likely that repetition will be built in.

Review and recycling

(My ideas)

What do we mean by recycling language?

Reusing it in different contexts within materials so learners get multiple exposures to the language. Encouraging learners to recall and reuse language in later practice activities covering a range of contexts.

What are the benefits of recycling?

  • Learners get more exposure to the language, making it more likely they will be able to recall it later.
  • Learners see the language in a range of contexts, building up their awareness of possible collocations and co-text.
  • They are able to get feedback on attempts to use the language in a range of different ways.

How do we incorporate recycling into our materials?

  • Building in a spiral syllabus.
  • Including revision activities.
  • Providing opportunities for learners to reuse language in later tasks.

[I feel like I should definitely have more ideas than this, but I’m out!]

Yep, there were a lot more ideas in the unit, though some kind of overlapped with what I said.

Quotations about teaching grammar and my reactions to them

Despite the advent of the Communicative Approach over recent years, and despite the daily evidence offered by learners that the difficulties they encounter in using another language to encode their own meanings to do with lexis and (in the spoken mode) with phonology, the dominance of grammar in teaching materials remains high, to the point of obsession.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 329

I agree with this. Most teaching materials I’ve used seem to prioritise grammar, with the grammar syllabus forming the core of the book. There is a fair amount of discussion about this within the teaching and materials writing community as far as I’m aware, but it’s a challenge to shift away from this due to the expectations of many different stakeholders. Some minor attempts have been made, such as the local coursebook Bruno Leys spoke about at IATEFL 2021.

input + output (interaction) + affect + cognition > meaningful purposeful interaction > language acquisition

Mishan and Timmis 2015 p. 25

That seems like a reasonable sequence of events and set of parts in the formula. The challenge for a materials writer is making sure that affect, cognition and meaningful purposeful interaction are all referenced in the activities.

Many people involved in ELT – and that includes learners – have considerable difficulty accepting exercises which do not have clearly demarcated right or wrong answers. Unfortunately, however, language – and that includes grammar – is frequently not a matter of correct or incorrect, but possible or not possible.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 337

I think some learners may have trouble with understanding that grammar is not always correct or incorrect – they struggle with the idea of language as choice. To some extent, I think this is due to them having done lots of activities in the past which are correct/incorrect, and therefore relatively easy to administer and mark. Our challenge as teachers and materials writers is to help learners to move away from this, and to feel comfortable with the uncertainty of language, while still building their confidence in their own ability to understand and produce ‘acceptable’ language in a given situation.

Why is ‘grammar’ equated so much with verbs?

Buckmaster 2001

(I’m really happy that this source exists – I’ve never seen it before. It seems to build on ideas from The English Verb by Michael Lewis, one of the books which has most influenced my thinking about language.)

Tense, aspect and voice seem to be a huge part of the way which languages carry meaning, and each language seems to have a different way of approaching their verb system to a greater or lesser extent. These systems rarely map cleanly onto each other, making it challenging to directly transfer knowledge of one language to another language. The verb system also influences the way in which we perceive actions and how they might be divided up: for example, in English we might perceive actions as factual, remote, before but connected to a later event, or in progress, whereas in Polish we might perceive actions as complete or incomplete. Because of these differences, we therefore focus a lot of our grammar teaching on verb forms to help learners to see how the languages differ. This is not true to the same extent in other areas of grammar, or it can be much easier to clarify how differences work between languages, for example in the system of comparatives, or the use of adverbs.

The exercise format should reflect the objective of the exercise […]. Worksheets which do not necessitate language production or which closely control what students produce will have at best an indirect effect on their ability to produce language fluently in less controlled situations.

McGrath 2002 p.94

To some extent this is true, but control over production can be useful in the early stages of understanding a new language point, or attempting to produce the form correctly. There should be a range of different types of practice activities, including ones which encourage learners to “produce language fluently in less controlled situations”.

Research on methodology is inconclusive, and has not shown detectable, lasting and wide-ranging effects for implicit versus explicit instruction, for inductive versus deductive learning or separated-out study of structure versus incidental focus on form during communicative activity.

Swan 2006 quoted in Mishan and Timmis 2015 p.153

This doesn’t surprise me, as it would be very difficult to tease out any of these variables in long-term research. Each of learn differently and have so many different opportunities to get input. Ultimately each person has to find what works for them, and that may be different for different people. What we really need is instructions and activities which engage learners and keep them coming back. For some learners that might be listening to somebody else explain language and processing that explanation for themselves, for others it might be picking things up as they go along. For some it might be experimenting with language in real life, for others it might be completing practice activities and getting a confidence boost when they realise they’re right. Each to their own! As materials designers, we need to include a range of activities and types of instruction to appeal to a range of learners, and to cover our bases when it comes to SLA research.

Beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! The principles are numbered so I can refer back to them in the section below, rather than to imply any particular order – I think they’re all equally important.

  1. Language should be clearly contextualised, and the context should be exploited to support understanding.
    Why? Decontextualised grammar or functions involve learners trying to figure out when or where the structures might be applicable. By providing a context, you are already helping them to see how the language can be used in longer discourse, rather than only seeing individual sentences.
    What does it entail? The context needs to be understood before any study of the language can be effective. This can be done in two main ways: by providing the context, through supplying a reading or listening text, or by creating a space for the language to potentially be produced, through a speaking or writing task. In the former case, you can work with the text for comprehension, then highlight the language. In the latter, learners can focus on the task, then teachers can help them to notice gaps in their language and how to fill them. The context also shouldn’t be abandoned or lost once the language study starts – there should be references back to the context, and it should continue to be a part of the activity sequence.
    But…? How do you deal with the fact that grammar or functions can appear in a wide range of different contexts? How do you balance understanding the context and understanding the language?
  2. Learners should be engaged in the language clarification process.
    Why? I believe that learners are likely to switch off or miss key information in pure lecture-style/text input language clarification. By providing opportunities for some level of interaction, they are more likely to process the input they are being given regarding the language.
    What does it entail? This could be done at a low level by creating gaps or options in rules. At a deeper level, it can be done through more detailed guided discovery, asking questions to help learners to find the rules themselves. At the deepest level, it could be through asking learners to formulate rules for themselves, as Danny Norrington-Davies suggests in From Rules to Reasons [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link].
    But…? Just because learners have participated in formulating a rule for the use of particular language, how can you guarantee that they actually know it or will remember it? If they are formulating their own rules, how do you check that the rules are ‘correct’ or applicable to other contexts? How much support do learners need to be able to create rules themselves? How do you make sure this process is engaging rather than intimidating or off-putting?
  3. There should be plenty of opportunities for learners to practise the language and to get feedback on this practice.
    Why? Without practice, input is just information. It won’t be transferred into long-term memory, nor will it become automaticized as part of the skill of understanding or using English. But practice without feedback is just testing – they need to happen together.
    What does it entail? Practice opportunities should be varied, including opportunities for a focus on different areas of the language (meaning/use, form, pronunciation), different levels of control and support (controlled, semi-controlled, freer – not necessarily in that order!), different activity types (spoken, written, games, etc.), different interaction patterns (individual, pairs, groups, teams, whole class). Obviously not all of these can be included for every grammar item or function mentioned in the materials, but there should be suggestions for how activities could be tweaked in the teacher’s notes, and a range of activities across the materials. Feedback suggestions should be built into the teacher’s notes, with ideas for how to make the most of the learning opportunities available in feedback stages, rather than simply giving information about what was and wasn’t correct and moving on.
    But…? How do you decide what practice activities to include in the main materials, what to suggest in teacher’s notes/other supplementary materials, and what to leave out? How much space and time is available in the materials to include all of these different practice opportunities?
  4. Language should be revised and recycled.
    Why? Once is never enough! Learners need multiple exposures to new language, both receptively and productively, for it to be available to them for understanding and use. Multiple exposures also mean building up a better awareness of when it is and isn’t possible/appropriate to use a given grammatical structure or functional exponent.
    What does it entail? Including opportunities for revision or recycling in materials, using a range of different techniques. Some of the ones mentioned on the course include end of unit reviews, self-assessment activities, writing personalised questions, useful language boxes, task repetition and revisiting texts.
    But…? There is a limited amount of space in materials and a lot of language ground to cover – how do you balance these two issues? Is recycling and revision the responsibility of the teacher or the materials writer, since different students will have different needs?

Evaluating digital activities

We were asked to think of a grammar or functional area that we are likely to teach or write materials for soon, find three different resources, and evaluate the activities according to the beliefs we noted.

I selected ‘English for travel’ as this is an area I’m interested in writing for, and decided to particularly focus on checking into hotels. I did a Google search for English for tourism: checking in at hotels and found three resources from different websites of varying quality and for different audiences. The numbers refer to the principles in the section above in this post.

The first resource is two gapfill pages from Learn English Feel Good, which I’ve never come across before. It’s designed for self-study, and I think it would probably be best for intermediate due to the types of phrases included. There are two pages with short gapped written conversations between a hotel clerk and a tourist. The first conversation has somebody turning up at the hotel and selecting a room during the conversation. The second conversation has somebody with a reservation who wants to see the room before they pay.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used within a conversation. There is not other support for understanding the context, for example pictures or a video.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Each sentence is a 3-option multiple choice activity – learners could guess if they don’t already know the phrase. There is no language clarification at all, much less any which might involve cognitive processing of the meaning of the phrases.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There is only one practice activity, and it is the same format for both conversations. Learners could do it as many times as they want to, but they would have to create their own supplementary activities, for exampe by looking at the phrases, hiding the window, and trying to write the phrases elsewhere. Learners are probably unlikely to know this kind of activity or do it if they do know it. The feedback only says whether something is right or wrong, not why, so learning is likely to be minimal – learners can just try again until they get it right, but won’t necessarily know why.
  4. Revision / recycling
    This is not present in the materials.

The second resource is a podcast from British Council Premier Skills English. It’s designed for self-study, but could be used by teachers as the basis of a lesson plan. It would probably work best for pre-intermediate and above as it’s fairly straightforward but there’s quite a lot of input. It’s the first in a series of four podcasts on the topic of English and Tourism. There is a transcript to accompany the podcast, as well as a vocabulary activity and a description of some key phrases and how they’re used, divided up to correspond with the four sections of the podcast: introductions, problems at reception, resolving problems, and costs and changes. There’s then a gapfill to practise the key phrases, a quiz, and a hotel review writing task which learners can respond to by writing in the comments.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used in a clear context: a conversation between a customer and a hotel receptionist. The conversations are somewhat buried in the rest of the podcast, but they clearly follow the football theme of the website, and listeners are likely to be familar with the format of the podcast. The context is introduced clearly, including listeners being told that the role play will be in four sections. After each section, the language is dicussed. There is a question to answer when listening to each part of the roleplay to help learners focus on comprehension. The context is very rich, and contains a lot of potentially useful language. It is referred back to in the clarification.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    The language clarification is all described, with no pause or questions for learners to think about their own answers. Learners are passive during the language clarification process. They can hear the clarification in the podcast, read it in the transcript, and read a slightly different version of it on the webpage.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There are no practice opportunities in the podcast, and the written task of describing a hotel stay is connected to the vocabulary rather than the functional language of checking in. There are two written practice activities on the webpage. The first is a gapfill, with each sentence missing one word from each sentence, though sometimes these are functional language, and sometimes they’re vocabulary. The second is a quiz, but you could only see if it you log in. I imagine it’s possibly multiple choice, but I don’t know.
  4. Revision / recycling
    The hotel review allows revision of the vocabulary, and learners could read each others’ reviews to see the vocabulary used in multiple contexts. They could listen to the podcast or read the information as many times as they want to, but there are no opportunities for retrieval practice.

The third resource is a lesson plan from One Stop English and is available at elementary and intermediate – I looked at the elementary plan. It’s a complete lesson plan with teacher’s notes, and also covers checking in at an airport. The plan is aimed at learners who are 16+ years old and should take 90 minutes. There is a warm up to elicit vocabulary, a mime to introduce the topic and elicit more collocations, whiteboard work to focus on the vocabulary in more depth, revision of numbers, eliciting questions hotel reception staff might ask (the first stage of the actual functional language), a running dictation of a conversation / an ordering task (depending on the teacher’s choice), dialogue practice with the option of changing the dialogues, and a role play.

  1. Context
    By the time the phrases are introduced, the context of checking into a hotel is clear. They are within a short dialogue, and a sample answer is provided with a longer version of the conversation (in one of the pdfs – slightly confusingly, there are two very similar pdfs!) There’s no clear language clarification in the notes, so it’s not clear whether the context would be referred to again for this, though the dialogues are reused in stage 7.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Before they see the dialogue, the learners are given the opportunity to come up with their own possible questions, meaning they will be processing the meaning themselves. It’s not clear from the teacher’s notes in stage 5, but presumably the assumption is that the teacher will upgrade any language they produce to ensure that the questions are correctly formed. The ordering task involves the learners in processing the meaning, although again there doesn’t seem to be any feedback or meaning checking included in the teacher’s notes to ensure that the learners have got it right.
  3. Practice opportunities
    The main opportunity to practice comes in the dialogue (stage 7), with learners repeating the task multiple times and reducing the amount that they look at the dialogue as they go through. They also change roles. There is then a freer practice activity (stage 8) consisting of a role play with learners switching roles multiple times. To some extent the running dictation (stage 6) is also a form of practice, as they say and/or write the phrases, though if they don’t know what the phrases mean this stage may not be particularly useful in fixing the language in learners’ memory. There is an extension activity for stronger students related to including requests in the check in conversation.
  4. Revision / recycling
    There are lots of opportunities for the learners to revise the language through the task repetition in the dialogue and the role play.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (1)

These are my notes notes based on a chapter by Tomlinson (2013) in the book Applied Linguistics and Materials Development [Amazon affiliate link]. He also edited the book and it was published by Bloomsbury.

Some terms defined at the start of the chapter (p11):

  • Second language acquisition: “the process by which people acquire and/or learn any language in addition to their first language. It is also the name of the academic discipline which studies that process.”
  • Acquisition: different definitions depending on the researcher: “the informal, subconscious process of gaining a language from exposure and use”; Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the initial stage of gaining basic communicative competence in a language”
  • Learning: “the deliberate, conscious study of a language in order to be able to use it”
  • Development: Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the subsequent stage [after acquisition as defined above] of gaining the ability to use the language successfully in a wide range of media and genres for a wide variety of purposes”

Most researchers seem to agree that learning is insufficient and needs to be at least supplemented by acquisition.

Tomlinson (2013: 11)

What we know about the process of SLA

It is facilitated by (headings lifted directly from the chapter):

  • A rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
    Rich = “contains a lot of implicit information about how the language is actually used to achieve communicative effect and that it provides natural recycling of language features (Nation, 2011)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    Meaningful = “relevant to the learner and the learner is able to understand enough of it to gain meaning from it” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Affective and cognitive engagement
    “Learners who are stimulated to laugh, smile, feel joy, feel excited and feel empathetic are much more likely to acquire communicative competence […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Positive emotions seem most likely to stimulate deep processing (Craik & Lockhard, 1972) and therefore to faciliate language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Negative emotions […] are much more facilitative than no emotional responses at all.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Self-confidence and self-esteem are also important aspects of affective engagement, as is feeling positive about the learning environment.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “If they do [use high level mental skills], they are much more likely to achieve deep processing and to eventually acquire language and develop language skills […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Put very simply, in order for learners to acquire a second language they need to think and feel in the process of acquiring it.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Making use of those mental resources typically used in communication in the L1
    Examples include our inner voice, visual imaging, motor imaging (“to recreate movements which are described”) – collectively “multidimensional mental representation” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “L2 learners rarely make use of these mental resources at all. [For a range of reasons, they engage in] linguistic micro-processing which takes up all the brain’s processing capacity.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Tomlinson and Avila (2007b) has suggestions for activities to help with this.
  • Noticing how the L2 is used
    “Noticing linguistic features in the input is an important facilitator of language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “One way of doing this is to draw the learner’s attention to language features in use either through direction of through making the understanding of that feature important for task completion. This does not lead to instant acquisition of the feature but it does contribute to and can accelerate its eventual acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Two approaches are suggested to help learners achieve what Pienneman (1985) calls “psychological readiness”: learners “respond personally to the content of an engaging written or spoken text and then go back to make discoveries about the form and function of a particular feature of that text” / “a form-focused approach […] in which learners first focus on the meaning of a text and later focus on the form and function of a specific linguistic feature (through instruction and or consciousness raising)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
  • Being given opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
    Output = “producing language for communication” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “It can provide learners with contextual feedback, it helps to automatize language, it constitutes auto-input and it can elicit further comprehensible input too.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14) [I’m not sure what ‘auto-input’ is.]
    Pushed output = “communicating something which is not easy to express” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “[Pushed output] can be particularly beneficial as it stretches the learner’s capabilities by making them make full use of their acquired language and of their strategic competence, as as providing opportunities for new but comprehensible input from their interlocutors who are helping them to negotiate meaning.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “This would suggest that setting learners achievable communicative challenges is likely to be more useful than providing easy practice.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being encouraged to interact
    “It helps to make input more comprehensible, it provides meaningful feedback and it pushes learners to modify their output.” especially when communication breaks down (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “Such communication is contextualised and purposeful, it is relevant and salient, it is generally comprehensible and it promotes meta-talk about the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being allowed to focus on meaning
    “Learners are more likely to acquire forms if their primary focus is on meaning rather than form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “However it does seem that more attention to form is needed as the learner progresses to advanced levels.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    Possible approaches suggested are an “experiential approach”: “learners first experience an engaging text holistically, respond to it personally and then return to the text to focus discretely on a salient feature of language use”, what Long (1996) calls a “form-focused” approach, rather than a “forms-focused” approach (on a “predetermined, discrete form”); “language awareness approaches”: “learners first experience a form in use and are then helped to make their own discoveries about it”; “consciousness raising approaches”: “learners are guided towards finding out how a form is used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14-15)
  • Other generally accepted features (all taken from Tomlinson, 2013: 15):
    • being relaxed
    • being motivated to participate and to learn
    • being help to develop an emerging interlanguage which gradually moves closer to the target language
    • developing hypotheses about how the language is used for communciation
    • being catered for as an individual
    • making full use of non-linguistic means of communicating
    • being ready to acquire a focused feature “which can be powerfully influenced by materials which create a need to ‘know’ a language feature in order to complete a motivating task and by materials which help learners to notice a particular feature being used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 15)
  • On the same page, Tomlinson also says there are other features which he discusses in other literature (Tomlinson 2008, 2010, 2011a):
    • Allowing for the inevitable delayed effect of instructions
    • Impact
    • Self-confidence
    • Relevance
    • Self-investment
    • Positive attitudes
    • A silent period at the beginning of instruction

SLA and published materials

So many areas to consider! In the next part of the chapter, Tomlinson analyses a number of global coursebooks to see how their practice matches up to this theory.

I found that none of the coursebooks focus on meaning, that they are all forms-focussed and that the majority of their activities are language item practice activities. Some of the coursebooks provide some opportunities for noticing and most make some attempt at personalization. None of them, however, offer a choice of content, route or activities.

Tomlinson (2013: 16)

The mismatch between SLA theory and practice is demonstrated in a number of ways on p16-17. By implication, any materials which want to match up to SLA theory should:

  • Include more use of literature
  • Use longer and more complex texts
  • Include activities which focus on use, rather than practice
  • Choose topics and activities which stimulate affective responses
  • Ask learners to think for themselves and be creative
  • Aim to vary approach, not only using conventional practice activities like T/F, matching, gap fills, sentence completion, role play, working in pairs to compare ideas
  • Recycle language in use
  • Encourage learners to speak or write at length
  • Encourage learners to interact for a communicative purpose and at length
  • Focus on form, not on forms

Some ideas for ways to vary materials from p17 which I might want to include in materials I create for this module are:

  • Visual imaging tasks
  • Inner speech tasks
  • Extensive / creative writing with an audience and a purpose
  • Tasks offering choice
  • Different versions of texts for learners to choose form
  • Thinking tasks
  • A meaning focus

On p17-18 Tomlinson lists various reasons why this mismatch between SLA theory and materials might exist, the biggest of which I think is the “massive mismatch between typical examination tasks and SLA principles”.

Unanswered questions in SLA research

One question he asked is “Is there a natural sequence in langauge acquisition?” (Tomlinson, 2013: 19) This answer appeals to me:

One plausible explanation for similarities in sequences of acquisition is offered by MacWhinney (1987; 2005). His competition model claims that what learners can pay attention to at any one time is limited and that they filter out features of language when they listen to a second language. Learners gradually get better at processing sentences and mental resources are freed up to focus on more complex features of the input. […] What is essential for communication is learned before what is perceived as redundant.”

Tomlinson, 2013: 19

Another area discussed was text enhancement (TE) “(e.g. colour coding, boldfacing, audio repetition) as a means of drawing [learners’] attention to salient features of their input”, as proposed by Sharwood Smith (1993) (Tomlinson, 2013: 19). “Lee (2007) found that only when input has been understood can learners attend to form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

I foudn it very interesting that three of the questions included in Tomlinson’s list demonstrate that three things which feature in a lot of materials and which I personally find to be useful don’t necessarily have any SLA research behind them:

  • Do controlled practice activities facilitate acquisition?
  • Does memorization facilitate language acquisition?
  • Do repetition derills facilitate language acquisition? (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

It would seem that many coursebook procedures have become accepted as dogma to be followed, even though there is little research or even anecdotal evidence to support them.

Tomlinson, 2013: 20

Suggestions for applying SLA theory to ELT materials development

  • Task-based materials “provide the learners with a purpose and an outcome […] which can only be achieved through interaction in the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)
  • In problem-based approaches “learners communicate with each other in order to solve a problem.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)

There is an example from task-based materials of instructions Tomlinson wrote for learners, where the first time they listen and visualise what they’ll do, and the second time they listen and do (making use of mental resources…)

  • Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approaches “help learners to acquire an L2 by teaching them a subject, topic or skill they are interested in through the medium of the L2) (Tomlinson, 2013: 22)

Some examples of wording I think might be useful from CLIL instructions Tomlinson wrote:

Visualize your idea in action and talk to yourself about its potential applications.

In your group help each other to understand any ideas which were not completely clear.

Reflect on your presentation. Decide how you would make your presentation even more effective if you had to give the presentation to another company.

Tomlinson, 2013: 22-23
  • Text-driven approach (Tomlinson, 2003): “Text-driven materials are determined by potentially engaging written and/or spoken texts rather than by language teaching points. The learners’ interactions with the texts drive personal response activities, thinking activiites, communication activities, creative writing activities and language awareness activities, as well as often inviting supplementation with other locally appropriate texts.” The table below outlintes a “flexible text-driven framework” (Tomlinson, 2013: 24, based on Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2004)
(Tomlinson, 2013: 24, based on Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2004)

Overall

This was a very useful summary of SLA theory, and has really got me thinking about the materials I have created in the past and might create in the future, and how they (don’t!) match up to this theory.

My answers to some of Tomlinson’s 2013 questions

Is SLA primarily implicit or explicit?

I’ve learnt lots of languages in lots of ways, but I’ve always felt that until I was actually using the language myself and getting lots of exposure, I wasn’t making progress. In Polish, I’ve done almost no explicit study and I’ve never had lessons, but have reached B2 level over a period of 6 years. I had a largely silent period for the first year, and I have only done explicit study when I felt that I was ready to learn a particular feature, for example looking up how to form conditionals or comparatives in a grammar book. I’ve never completed a grammar exercise. In Mandarin, I’ve done only explicit study over a period of about 10 years, but can say almost nothing and am possibly at A1 level, but probably still pre-A1. Based on this experience, I would say that SLA is primarily implicit, but that explicit study can provide a boost which helps with noticing and to make leaps in progress.

Is there a natural sequence in language acquisition?

Yes, I think there is, though I really like the explanation given by MacWhinney for why this might be. Again, having learnt various different languages, I tend to find I learn different structures at similar levels. For example, comparatives and superlatives at about A2, conditionals come at B1 – though I can’t produce them until B2 and higher. This is because of their importance in what I’m trying to communicate (I don’t really need them earlier, and/or I don’t have enough other language to think of trying to build them myself). I’ve noticed a similar process in the first language acquisition of friends’ children, and in the problems learners have at different levels.

Are the factors which determine the effectiveness of language acquisition variable?

I think that individual learners will learn in different ways for a huge range of reasons, including educational background, culture and engagement. I think these factors might be variable between learners, but not within an individual learner, if that makes sense!

Does text enhancement facilitate language acquisition?

I find it quite distracting as a learner, and find it much more useful to notice features of a text myself, focussing on the areas which I feel are important for me at that point in my study, or on something which I find interesting about a text. I think it might help some learners to find their way around a text when it comes to a specific focus on the language, but I believe it’s better for learners to enhance the text themselves than for it to be provided by the writers.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (2)

These are my notes based on Tomlinson’s 2008 chapter ‘Language Acquisition and Language Learning Materials’ in English Language Learning Materials (Contiuum 2008) [Amazon affiliate link].

One of my arguments is that many ELT materials (especially global coursebooks) currently make a significant contribution to the failure of many learners of English as a second, foreign or other language to even acquire basic competence in English and to the failure of most of them to develop the ability to use it successfully. They do so by focusing on the teaching of linguistic items rather than on the provision of opportunities for acquisition and development. And they do this because that’s what teachers are expected and required to do by administrators, by parents, by publishers, and by learners too.

Tomlinson (2008: 3)

That’s quite some statement!

He goes on to share a slightly different list to the one in his later chapter (above) of what is required to facilitate language acquisition, “a rich experience of language in use” whereby:

  • “the language experience needs to be contextualized and comprehensible
  • the learner needs to be motivated, relaxed, positive and engaged
  • the language and discourse features available for potential acquisition need to be salient, meaningful and frequently encountered
  • the learner needs to achieve deep and multi-dimensional processing of the language” (Tomlinson 2008: 4)

He suggests the use of extensive reading and extensive listening to provide exposure to language.

It is my belief that helping learners to notice features of the authentic language they are exposed to can facilitate and accelerate language acquisition. […] This is particular true if the learners are stimulated and guided to make discoveries for themselves […] and to thus increase their awareness of how the target language is used to achieve fluency, accuracy, appropriacy and effect.

Tomlinson, 2008: 4

It is also my belief that helping learners to participate in meaningful communication in which they are using language to achieve intended outcomes is essential for the development of communicative competence. […] Practice activities which have been designed to give the learner frequent opportunities to get something right make very little contribution to language acquisition because they don’t add anything new and they make no contribution at all to language development because they focus on accurate outputs rather than successful outcomes. What the materials need to do is to provide lots of opportunities for the learners to actually use language to achieve intentions and lots of opportunities for them to gain feedback on the effectiveness of their attempts at communication.

Tomlinson, 2008: 5

There is a long list of conjectures Tomlinson has arrived at from his experience as a language teacher (2008: 5-6). Ones which particularly stood out to me were:

  • Learners gain from sometimes being allowed to hide and from not always being put under a spotlight. [makes me think of this]
  • Those learners who participate mentally in group activities often gain more than those participate vocally.
  • Reading should be delayed in the L2 until the learners have a sufficiently large vocabulary to be able to read experientially rather than studially and then extensive reading should be introduced before intensive reading. [Not sure I agree with this – I think that reading is one of the ways they will gain this vocabulary, and you can start with short texts. Extensive reading is definitely highly beneficial though.]
  • Learners should be encouraged and helped to represent language multi-dimensionally. [makes me think of this]

Tomlinson implies that the following are desirable for ELT materials to promote language acquisition and development (2008: 6):

  • Using different genres, text types and multimedia to provide a rich experience
  • Provide an “aesthetically positive experience” through illustration and design
  • Help learners to make discoveries for themselves
  • Help learners to become independent learners
  • Provide opportunities for extensive listening/reading
  • Help learnres to personalise and localise their language learning

Some of the problems he mentions connected to the fact that many ELT books are selected by adminstrators, and none by teachers, are (2008:7):

  • Colourful photographs in the top right-hand corner to pass the flick test
  • As many words as possible on a page “to achieve optimal coverage at an acceptable price”
  • Uniform unit length and format = makes timetabling, teacher allocation and teacher prep easier
  • Tasks replicating conventional test types = facilitates exam prep

Many of them [educational publishers] try to add as much educational value to their products as possible but for all of them the main objective it to make money. […] What this situation means for writers of commercial ELT materials is that they can at best try to achieve a compromise between their principles and the requirements of the publisher.

Tomlinson, 2008: 7

Other generalizations he makes about problems with many coursebooks are (Tomlinson, 2008: 8):

  • Underestimating learners’ language level and cognitive ability, especially the treatment of low-level English learners as intellectually low-level learners.
  • Simplifying language presentation and therefore impoverishing the learning experience.
  • Using PPP > creating an illusion of language learning, results in shallow processing [I think this might have changed a little in more modern materials, though I’m not sure processing is necessarily deeper]
  • Ensuring most activities are easily accomplished > memorisation, script repetition, simple substitution / transformation
  • Trying to teach language features during listening/reading activities, and therefore confusing language learning and skills development [again, I think this might have changed somewhat now]
  • Bland, safe, harmonious texts and activities which don’t stimulate thinking and feeling [there’s more of an attempt to include critical thinking in materials now, but I’m not sure this has moved on much beyond what Tomlinson stated]
  • “Not nearly enough experience of language in fully contextualized use”
  • Focussing on comprehension over enjoyment in listening and reading [at least, that’s how I read it…a little unclear to me!]
  • Not exploiting what’s available outside the classroom
  • Decoding OR encoding, not multidimensional activities “involving the use of the full resources of the brain”

He describes some examples of locally produced materials which he feels have been developed in more principled ways, while acknowledging the need for “due consideration being given, of course, to the face validity and conformity to market expectation which is necessary to ensure profitability”. (Tomlinson, 2008: 9)

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (2)

These are my notes based on’Second language acquisition research and language-teaching materials’ by Rod Ellis (2010) in Harwood, N. (ed.) English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice (CUP, 2010).

Some definitions to start (Ellis, 2010: 33):

  • An “unfocused task” elicits general samples of language use, “although it may be possible to predict a cluster of features that learners are likely to need when they perform a task.” (Ellis, 2010: 36)
  • A “focused task” elicits use of a specific linguistic feature, often a grammatical structure
  • In any task, “the primary focus must be on meaning and achieving a communicative outcome”
  • Task-supported language teaching: “focused tasks support a structural syllabus”
  • Task-based language teaching: “the syllabus is specified only in terms of the tasks to be performed”
  • “Interpretation activities”: “aim to teach grammar by inducing learners to process the target structure through input rather than by eliciting production”, with the example given of bolding a target feature in a written text
  • “Structured input activities”: “force processing of the targeted feature by requiring a response from the learner”, with the example given of choosing a picture that correctly matches a sentence learners hear
  • A “consciousness-raising (CR) task”: assisting learners to discover how a grammatical feature works for themselves, focussing on understanding rather than the ability to use it.

Despite this activity and our growing understanding about what learning an L2 entails, doubts exist as to whether the findings of SLA are sufficiently robust to warrant applications to lagnauge pedagogy. […] The fact tha tmost teacher education programs include an SLA component is testiomny to the conviction that it has relevance to language pedagogy.

Ellis, 2010: 34

SLA and “tasks”

Ellis (2003) identifies various criteria for a task of which the main ones are (quoted in Ellis, 2010: 35):

  1. There is a primary focus on meaning.
  2. The students choose the linguistic and nonlinguistic resources needed to complete the task.
  3. The task should lead to real-world processes of language use.
  4. Successful performance of the task is determined by examining whether students have achieved the intended communicative outcome.

2 cannot be met if there is a model which learners are given and they substitute items in it.

3 requires some kind of gap (information / opinion / etc.) to lead to a negotiation of meaning.

4 must be met for it to be a task, and not a “contextualised grammar activity” (Ellis, 2010: 35) – Ellis gives examples of both on p36-37.

Focused tasks are different to contextualised grammar activities because the latter specifies the target feature to be used, whereas the former doesn’t. They have two aims, to “stimulate communicative language use” and to “target the use of a particular, predetermined target feature and provide an opportunity to practice this in a communicative context”. Ellis notes that learners may not use the targeted structure in focused tasks: “success depended on whether the target structure was one that the students were already in the process of acquiring.” (Ellis, 2010: 37) A dictogloss is an example of a focused task.

The rationale for using tasks according to a number of SLA researchers is that (Ellis, 2010: 39):

  • “Learners will only succeed in developing full control over their linguistic knowlege if they experience trying to use it under real operating conditions.”
  • “True interlanguage development (i.e., the process of acquiring new linguistic knowledge and restructuring existing knowledge) can only take place when acquisition happens incidentally, as a product of the effort to communicate.”

[I’ve never experienced TBL as a learner, but I definitely feel like both of these statements are reflected in my experience of when I feel I have made the most progress as a language learner, experimenting with the language and finding out the limits of what I can produce.]

Task-supported language teaching features tasks as the final step in PPP, acting as ‘text-creation’ tasks which follow on from ‘text-manipulation’ exercises (Ellis, 2010: 39). The idea is that you move from teaching grammar explicitly (declarative knowledge) to exercises (proceduralizing the knowledge) to tasks (automatizing the knowledge through real-life communicative behaviour). The problem is it implies language learning is sequential and ignores the time-lapse involved in language acquisition. It also encourages learners to focus on form, not meaning, during the task, so it ceases to be a task in the definition Ellis gave.

Task-based language teaching

Task-based language teaching features tasks as “the organizing principle for a course” (Ellis, 2010: 40). Attention to form can be pre-emptive (asking questions about form) or reactive (corrective feedback). It can also be done through posttask activities. There are various forms in which tasks can appear (Ellis, 2010: 40-41):

  • “humanisitic exercises” (Moskowitz, 1977) [one example was given, but I’m not 100% sure what these are – I think there ones focussed on information about the people in the room]
  • “procedural syllabus” (Prabhu, 1987): ” a series of meaning-focused activities consisting of pretasks, that the teacher completed with the whole class, followed by tasks where the students worked on similar activities on their own”
  • with a “metacognitive focus for learner-training purposes”

Some of the contructs and theories TBLT draw on include (Ellis, 2010: 41):

  • Teachability (Pienemann, 1985) – whether learners are actually ready to acquire the target structure. This causes problems as learners may not be ready for the same structure at the same time, and is contrasted with following their own “internal syllabus”.
  • “Implicit knowledge”: “linguistic knowledge that is intuitive, unconscious and proceduralized” which is “acquired incidentally as a response to the frequency of sounds, syllables, and words in the input that learners are exposed to – that is, it involves associative rather than rule learning”
  • “Focus on form” (Long, 1991): requiring learners to “attend to form while they are engaged in trying to communicate”, for example proactively seeding input with the target structure, or reactively with corrective feedback)
  • Noticing (Schmidt, 1994): “acquisition takes place when learners pay conscious attention to exemplars of a linguistic form in the input”, meaning that at least some of the process of acquiring knowledge needs to be conscious.

Although there’s no guarantee that learners will do what the task designer intended: “there is no necessary relationship between task-as-workplan and task-as-process” (Seedhouse, 2005), “to some degree at least, it is possible to predict the language samples that result from particular tasks” (Ellis, 2010: 41-42).

Task design

Ellis (2003) proposes a frameowrk for “distinguishing the design features of tasks”. This is an example, accompanying a task shown in the chapter:

Ellis, 2010: 42

Some of the terms are defined as follows (Ellis, 2010: 42-43):

  • “tight” organization: it “structures the interaction that the learners will engage in”
  • split information: the participants have different information
  • required interaction: “the task cannot be performed successfully unless both students speak”
  • “convergent”: “the aim is for the students to agree on a solution to the task”
  • “closed” scope: only one correct answer

What design features of tasks are likely to be effective in promoting L2 acquisition? (Ellis, 2010: 43) – with the caveat that SLA research so far (by 2010) shows the relationship between tasks and language use, NOT language acquisition:

  • Jigsaw tasks have the “greatest psycholinguistic validity” according to Pica, Kanagy, and Falodun (1993), drawing on Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (1996): “when learners engage in the effort to negotiate meaning as a result of a breakdown in communication, their attention will be direct to linguistic forms in a way that promotes acquisition”.
  • Tasks need to be varied “so that they induce learners to attend to different aspects of language use at different times”. (based on Skehan (2001), Cognitive Approach to Language Learning)

When designed tasks, you might choose to start from (Ellis, 2010: 43-44):

  • a task function, e.g. describing a person
  • a task genre, e.g. information gap
  • a task frame, i.e. “giving consideration to a cluster of factors such as the participatory organization, skills to be practiced, timing, and teacher roles”

SLA and grammar teaching

Interpretation activities

They are a type of comprehension activity in which learners process the target structure through input. They “require learners to process the target structure in order to arrive at the meaning of the text.” (Ellis, 2010: 45) with learners creating a kind of “form-function mapping” – they can’t avoid the target structure in the activity, they have to understand it to achieve success in the activity.

Input-enrichment activities include enriched input with frequent and/or salient examples of the targeted features. There is an example on page 45. It may be a simple listening or reading text, a text with features highlighted, or a text with follow-up activities “designed to focus attention on the structure” – “questions can only be answered if the learners have successfully processed the target structure.” “Input flood” through a number of texts is needed to have a real effect on their acquisition of the target structure, but this is ineffective for some structures according to the studies Ellis quotes. (2010: 45) For this to be effective, learners need to notice the target structure, though they don’t need to be intentionally focused on it – enriched-input tasks “aim to assist noticing by increasing the salience of the target structure in the input.” Ellis contrasts this with traditional grammar activities, saying that the latter “may result in explicit knowledge rather than implicit knowledge”. The benefit of input-enrichment activities may be that they “reinforce the learning that results from a more traditional, explicitly instructional approach”. (all quotes: Ellis, 2010: 46)

Structured-input activities don’t just present enriched input (the stimulus), but provide “some instruction that forces [learners] to process it (the response)”. (Ellis, 2010: 46)

  • “The stimulus can take the form of spoken or written input.”
  • The response is generally either completely nonverbal or minimally verbal, for example T/F, tick a box, select a picture, draw a diagram, perform an action.
  • A suggested sequence is attention to meaning > notice form and function of the grammatical structure > error identification.
  • Learners should be able to “relate the input to their own lives”.
  • There should be a focus on common errors, as well as correct usage.
  • Immediate and explicit feedback on learners’ response to the input is necessary. (Ellis, 2010: 46-47)

There is an example of an activity on page 47. The grammar teaching approach is called Processing Instruction, defined by VanPatten (1996: 2) as “a type of grammar instruction whose purpose is to affect the ways in which learners attend to input data.” (Ellis, 2010: 47)

Consciousness-raising tasks

These tasks “make language itself the content by inviting learners to discover how a grammatical feature works for them”, with grammar the topic to communicate about. The focus is on developing understanding rather than noticing. (Ellis, 2010: 48)

Characteristics of CR tasks include (Ellis, 2010: 48-49):

  • An attempt to isolate a specific linguistic feature for focused attention.
  • Data to illustrate the targeted feature, and maybe an explicit rule describing or explaining the feature.
  • Intellectual effort is needed to understand the targeted feature.
  • Maybe learners need to verbalize a rule describing the structure.

Data might be (Ellis, 1997, summarised in Ellis, 2010: 49):

  1. authentic v. contrived
  2. oral v. written
  3. discrete sentences v. continuous text
  4. well-formed v. deviant sentences
  5. gap v. non-gap (i.e. each learner has all of the information, or learners have different information)

Operations learners might perform on the data could be (Ellis, 1997, summarised in Ellis, 2010: 49):

  1. identification (find the TL)
  2. judgment (is it correct? is it appropriate?)
  3. completion (complete a text)
  4. modification (e.g. replace this with this)
  5. sorting (categorising)
  6. matching
  7. rule provision (“state the rule they have discovered”)

A CR task constitutes a kind of puzzle that, when solved, enables learners to discover how a linguistic feature works.

Ellis, 2010: 49

There are examples on page 50 and on page 54.

The justification for CR tasks is that explicit knowledge is needed to help learners “notice the gap between the input and their own interlanguage” and that “learning is more significant if it involves a greater depth of processing”. (Ellis, 2010: 50) One caveat is that “learners need sufficient proficiency to talk metalinguistically about the target feature” (Ellis, 2010: 51) [though the study which lead to this conclusion had learners from mixed L1 backgrounds – I wonder whether it’s necessary if they’re allowed to discuss the language in L1?]

Other limitations are that CR tasks may not work well with young learners, learners need a certain level of metalanguage [though Danny Norrington-Davies’ approach in From Rules to Reasons may counter this somewhat – Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link], and they may not appeal to “learners who are less skilled at forming and testing conscious hypotheses about language”. (Ellis, 2010: 51)

Ellis offers tham as a “valuable alternative to direct explicit instruction”. (Ellis, 2010: 51) He acknowledges that they are increasingly common in materials – I think that this is true too, though I think with only limited variety regarding the data and operations mentioned above.

That’s it for week two. Next week: Units 5, 6, 7 and 8. I spent a lot of time reading articles and a day doing other work this week, so didn’t make it to unit 5 as promised last week!

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week one of the course, things which I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provude. The notes are there for me, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests! I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course.

Unit 1: Introductions

My metaphor for coursebooks is that they can be a guidebook:

  • It shows you where you can go, but you can pick and choose.
  • There are lots to choose from – different styles suit different people.
  • Some people don’t bother with them and prefer to explore by themselves.
  • People use it in different ways: some read cover to cover, some dip in at random, some know exactly what they’re looking for.
  • You can pick up all kinds of interesting or unusual ideas from it.
  • They can inspire you to want to try new things, or tell you more about places (methods) you were already familiar with.
  • It can date quite quickly!

Initial beliefs about Teaching, Learning and Materials

These are some of my own beliefs about teaching and learning materials, compiled at the start of the course. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Teaching and learning materials should be engaging for both learners and teachers.
    Why? If teachers or learners aren’t engaged by the materials, they won’t want to interact with them, and they are less likely to be open to learning/teaching with them.
    What does it entail? This involves having a clear and transparent aim for the use of the materials, which both learners and teachers can see will develop the English level of the learners. It also involves choosing engaging topics, with clear reasons for learners to care about the topics and the aims of the materials. Those reasons are most likely to come from helping learners to personalise the topic in some way and/or connect it to their own experience. Good design is also an important component of engagement – we have to want to pick up the materials / open the website.
    But…? Who decides what is engaging? What role does the teacher play in bringing materials to life? What about self-study materials which need to be self-mediated? What about learners/teachers who feel uncomfortable sharing personal information?
  • Materials should enhance and support the learning experience for all learners.
    Why? If they don’t do this, then they’re making our jobs harder in some way! Materials which don’t support the learning experience add unnecessary barriers for learners and teachers, and can demotivate them.
    What does it entail? A smooth User/Learner Experience (UX/LX) is important – finding your way around the materials easily and with the minimum of stress. This should be true for every learner, not just those who are neurotypical. We need to make sure as many learners as possible are catered for with our materials. This can be done through design aspects, such as our choice of fonts or spacing, as well as through the types of tasks and the options we provide within materials.
    But…? How do we know that materials which work for one learner will necessarily work for another? Is there enough space in the materials to provide the necessary support? Or enough time to create materials with this level of scaffolding? Is it the materials job to do this, or should it be the teacher’s?
  • Materials should provide opportunities for interaction.
    Why? We learn better when we are actively involved, rather than passively receiving information. We retain new knowledge for longer.
    What does it entail? This interaction could be with other people, for example sharing or explaining ideas. It could be interacting with the materials themselves, through creating our own notes (as I’m doing now!), diagrams, or summaries of the information. Each of these methods force us to process the content of the materials in some way.
    But…? What if learners don’t want to interact with others or with the materials? What if they prefer to just be ‘fed’ information? What happens if you’re working with large groups? How can you manage noise levels during social interaction, or monitor effectively online, or check that they have processed information effectively when they interact with the materials by themselves?
  • Materials should not just be about language; they should also include learner training, and, where necessary, teacher training.
    Why? We often make assumptions that learners know the best way to learn, but this is rarely true unless they are very experienced language learners, and even then they might pick up something new. Teachers also benefit from support within materials – this is a very valuable avenue of professional development.
    What does this entail? Materials should be accompanied by teacher’s notes, explaining the rationale behind methods used, and feeding in variations and extra ideas to support teachers, as well as cultural or other supporting information as appropriate. Learner training can be highlighted by feeding in ideas directly in learner materials, or via teacher’s notes, showing tips and tricks to help them become more effective language learners, and encouraging them to reflect on the learning process and what does and doesn’t work for them. This is particularly true of areas like revision and memorisation, where our instincts might run counter to what science shows are effective learning strategies.
    But…? Is it the job of materials to teach teachers? How do you decide what assumptions you should have of learners’ language learning skills or teachers’ methodology knowledge in terms of what you decide to highlight/omit?
    Note: I believe this is to some extent what Allwright (1981: 9) calls ‘guidance’ [see quotes below for full reference].

What do we want teaching materials for?

I found this quote from Allwright thought-provoking, partly because of my interest in classroom dynamics, but also because of how many people I know who think they ‘can’t’ learn languages because, I suspect, of attitudes that were ‘available to be learned’ in the classrooms they studied in:

Attitudes

It is well accepted that one of the goals of school language instruction is to improve the attitudes of speakers of different languages to one another. However seldom this may be achieved, the development of positive intercultural attitudes remains important, but it is not often discussed as part of the content of instruction. Even where attitudes are not being explicitly ‘taught’, however, they are almost certainly ‘available to be learned’ in any language classroom, from the teacher and from everyone present. They include attitudes to learning, of course, and not just language or intercultural attitudes. To summarize, anyone involved in the management of language learning has necessarily to deal with attitudes as part of what learners may learn.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p8

Another quote from the same article:

‘What activities, or what learning tasks, will best activate the chosen processes, for what elements of content?’ A less deterministic version of this question might be ‘What activities of learning tasks will offer a wide choice of learning processes to the learner, in relation to a wide variety of content options?’ This amendment suggests, I think correctly, that we can neither predict nor determine learning processes, and therefore perhaps should not try as hard to do so as we usually do in our teaching materials.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p9

It’s interesting that this quote is nearly 40 years old, and yet the concept of learner choice with regards to processes or content is still not really all that common within materials.

Allwright also mentions the implications for teacher training of his views of materials. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Teachers, it appears, seem to do ‘all the work’ and exhaust themselves in the process. [Allwright goes on to describe the results of this, such as failing to present the language to be learned as clearly as intended]

If, however, we entertain the possibility that teachers are not just doing ‘too much’ work, but doing work that the learners could more profitably be doing for themselves, the immediate implication for teacher-training must be that teachers need to be trained not to do so much work, and trained instead to get the learners to do more. Hence the concept of ‘learner-training’, since it is unlikely that learners will be able to share the burden without some preparation.

Teacher ‘overload’ often entails learner ‘underinvolvement’ since teachers are doing work learners could more profitably do for themselves.

‘Involvement’ means something akin to Curran’s ‘investment’ (Curran, 1972 and 1976), which suggests a deep sort of involvement, relating to the whole-person. [including decision-making and management of language learning]

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p10

I think this is a balance many teachers, particularly those new to the profession, struggle with – they feel like they need to be seen to be teaching demonstrably to meet learners’ expectations. It’s a real challenge for them to let go. This reinforces my belief above about the importance of teacher’s notes and guidance in terms of how to use materials and how to learn effectively.

He goes on to suggest how teachers can share their expertise with learners, without imposing it on them, in order to make learners more independent:

I suggest that teachers, in addition to their role as ‘activities managers’ in the classroom, need to accept the roles of:

1. ‘ideas’ people, ready with practical advice about language learning strategies and techniques, both for classroom and for outside use;

and 2. ‘rationale’ people, ready to discuss language learning and justify their opinions and advice.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p14

For me, this demonstrates the importance of teachers being (language) learners themselves, as they can then share ideas and rationale that have worked for them. While it’s obviously possible to be an excellent language teacher without ever having learnt another language, I do think it can make a huge and very valuable difference (said as an avid language learner myself!)

This is the final sentence from the article:

The most important point for me is that materials should be related to the conception of the whole of language teaching and learning as the cooperative management of language learning.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p16

I feel like this is far from true in most materials and most contexts – the teacher uses the book they have chosen/had chosen for them, and they manage the language learning, with learners the somewhat passive recipients of this learning management, regardless of how active they may be in a given lesson. This teacher-/materials-mediated learning may fit into a broader plan of what learners are doing to improve their language, for example through self-study, but there is rarely a connection that could be described as ‘the cooperative management of language learning’.

Why use textbooks?

Robert O’Neill wrote a (kind of) response to Allwright’s article. This is my favourite paragraph from it, particularly the third sentence and the final one.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p107

Even though technology has moved on a lot, and textbooks are more often than not ‘glossy, glittering products in full colour’, I think they are still good value for money and easy to use.

Further down the same page, we find:

In my opinion it is important that textbooks should be so designed and organized that a great deal of improvisation and adaptation by both teacher and class is possible.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p107

I’m not convinced how possible this is in the market-driven production of coursebooks which we have today, in terms of how materials writers might put products together: everything needs to have its own USP, and be seen as a complete package. Having said that, this view has implications for teacher training and learner training: both need to know how to improvise and adapt materials as appropriate to meet language learning goals. O’Neill goes on to share his own implications for teacher training:

There can be no model of an ideal teacher, or lesson, or learner (or textbook). […]

A teacher-training programme must seek not to mould all teachers according to a pre-conceived notion of what teachers should be, but must try to build on the individual and differing strengths of each teacher so as to make the maximum effective use of that teacher’s qualities.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p108

I think all I can say to that is: Amen!

O’Neill gives an example of a textbook unit with three different objectives designed to cater for learner choice. This is an idea I’d like to explore further, based on his statement that:

There are many ways of designing textbooks so that they can be used by a variety of learners with a variety of ultimate goals, and so they can be taught by a variety of teachers with a variety of teaching styles.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p108

I found myself nodding along to the final paragraph of the article. It’s over a page long, but I feel like these excerpts summarise O’Neill’s ideas:

Textbooks can at best provide only a base or a core of materials. They are a jumping-off point for teacher and class. They should not aim to be more than that. A great deal of the most important work in a class may start with the textbook but end outside it, in improvisation and adaptation, in spontaneous interaction in the lcass, and development from that interaction. Textbooks, if they are to provide anything at all, can only provide the prop or framework within which much of this activity occurs. Textbooks, like any other medium, have inherent limitations. The authors of textbooks must make it clear what those limitations are.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p110-111

The roles of English teachers and materials

This section is a copy of a(n over)long post I put in the forum – I doubt it makes sense without the article itself! The post was based on McGrath, I. (2013) Teaching Materials and the Role of EFL/ESL Teachers, Bloomsbury pp. 2-24

  • Which of the models (Figs. 1.1 – 1.4) best represents your relationship (and that of your learners) with materials?

I think 1.3 (pdf p17) or 1.4 (pdf p18) most closely represent my relationship with materials, depending on who I’m using them with. With adult groups, I think I’d lean more towards 1.3, with learners taking more responsibility for creating content and with less of hierarchical nature in the relationship. With teens and young learners, I suspect it’s more 1.4, with the materials taking precedence in many ways, but trying to feed in bits and pieces of the children’s lives, largely because I feel less confident teaching them – the materials may serve a little as a crutch here too. My role is to try to reduce the distance between the learners and the materials, especially with teen books (the bane of my life!)

  • How important for you are the advantages listed in Section 2.3?

As a new teacher, coursebooks were particularly useful for me, and I still find the ‘visible coherent programme of work’ (point 2) to be helpful, though I’m better able to make one of these myself now.
The time-saving element (point 1) is also very important, as it often takes much longer to create the programme of work and find the materials for it yourself than it does to riff off a coursebook.
I learnt a lot from Teacher’s Books, especially English File and Straightforward, when I was a new teacher, due to the clear methodological input in them (point 3).
I also agree with 4, 5 and 7, though I’m not so sure about point 6 in the age of the internet and (for many people, though not all) instant access to up-to-date cultural information.
I’ve found integrated resources to be useful as well, particularly photocopiable extras and suggestions for varying activities – seeing these has provided a lot of the input I’ve had in terms of my own ideas for materials design and different ideas for engaging activities for learners. As a DoS, having editable tests available has also been useful, although they often require a fair amount of work before I’m happy putting them in front of our students! Coursebook software is also very popular at our school, with the Oxford Discover Futures being the best example I’ve used so far.

  • Or are you one of McGrath’s ‘doubting voices’?

Not catering for the whole person, etc: I think this has improved over recent years, though there’s still a real need for a well-trained teacher to mediate the materials for learners and bring them to life. The arguments about catering for different needs regarding who learners are likely to interact with are also being addressed in some modern materials, though there is still a way to go. A wider range of voices can be heard, not only British, American and the occasional Australian or Irish speakers, though they are very much still in the majority: “native speaker norms continue to dominate”. One example of a new course trying to change this norm to some extent is National Geographic’s Voices, which aims to take a more global perspective. The idea of a hidden curriculum or what Jill Hadfield calls a ‘covert syllabus’ is a very interesting avenue to explore too.

Not reflective of research, etc: While there is still work to do in this area, I believe most global coursebooks are now based on corpus research, though many are still heavily influenced by the grammar syllabus. Outcomes by Walkley and Dellar is an attempt to create a more lexically-led syllabus, while still having the overt grammar syllabus many stakeholders might look for in a coursebook. The most recent studies quoted were in 2010 – I’d be interested to see how this has changed in the intervening 11 years. 
In coursebooks I’m aware of, task design has also improved, though this is again not universal. Some books still isolate grammar and present it out of context, but the vast majority of global coursebooks I’ve come across now use a reading or listening text to introduce new language points in context – they don’t always capitalise on this later in the sequence though, with the context being abandoned once rules or practice activities come into play.
The issue of misrepresentation and underrepresentation in coursebooks has also received ever more attention, though changes in global coursebooks are still somewhat glacial in pace! James Taylor and Ila Coimbra have worked on an independently produced series called Raise Up! which aims to be more representative of the real world than a typical global coursebook. I’ve also recently seen examples of other minor changes, such as a family featuring two female parents in a global teen coursebook (a Cambridge one, I think?) Gone, too, (I hope!) are the mother doing all of the housework or the female secretary supporting the male boss in images, though more diversity would still be good to see here.

Marginalise teachers, etc.: 
(pdf, p12) “If teachers hand over responsibility for decision-making to textbooks, the argument goes, this reduces their role to that of mere technicians.” – if they are passive in this, then yes, but it is up to schools, trainers, and managers to make sure that this is not the case, and that teachers are supported in finding their way around the materials, and trained in how to exploit them effectively to meet learner needs. Teachers also need to tell learners why they are making changes: as Bolitho says (pdf, p20), “learners are entitled to know why they are asked to behave in certain ways…and how they can learn most effectively.”
(pdf, p12) “There is now a real danger that it is the coursebook which determines course aims, language content and what will be assessed.” – this was certainly true at our school to a large extent, but I disagree with the wording ‘a real danger’ (note: the section on Control, pdf p22, counters this statement in a way I agree with). For our brand new teachers, this was a boon – 80% of our teachers are in the first 3 years of their teaching career, and this enables us to provide some level of standardisation across the school and maintain a high level of quality in our general English and exam classes (potentially dealing with the deficiences/limitations of new teachers). We train teachers in how to exploit the coursebook and learn more about their group students to adapt it to their needs, as well as learning to critique materials and decide what is good and bad about them (moving towards a difference perspective, reflecting the Harmer quote on p14 of the pdf of reducing “unthinking coursebook use”, as well as the final paragraph of the whole excerpt about implications for teacher education). With 121 and ESP groups we may or may not use a coursebook. Our books are chosen in a (somewhat!) principled way by an experienced senior team who know the school well, and our typical students, somewhat because we are still working on developing these principles (the section on Choice from p20-22 of the pdf is interesting regarding this) 

Unit 2: Learners and Context

The implications of context on materials

Here are three different ways in which context might vary, and my ideas about what implications this might have for a materials writer.

Socio-economic profile

  • Being ‘seen’ in the materials – not only portraying affluent people, but having a range of images shown or experiences described.
  • Realistic target uses of language, for example writing focussing on a range of different genres, not only essays (these may only be relevant for those going on to further study), or doing what Bruno Leys described in The Grammarless Syllabus and focussing on functional language exponents rather than grammar study for learners most likely to use English in vocational contexts, such as working as a mechanic.
  • Acknowledgement of challenges and affordances of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, e.g. time available for learning, money available to invest in learning/opportunities/extra materials/resources, space available for study – for example, materials which require learners to pay separately for access to audio which they then need a quite place and a strong internet connection to access may not be achievable for some learners. On the other hand, learners with a lot of time and money available may require materials which provide lots of in-built opportunities for extending their learning.

Noise tolerance

  • Having quiet/loud variants of the same activity.
  • Balancing the amount of individual and pair/group work.
  • Providing information in teacher’s notes about which activities are likely to be noisier so that teachers can warn colleagues in advance.

Teacher’s training and experience

  • The amount of guidance needed in teacher’s notes: balancing spoon-feeding with support.
  • Providing opportunities for extending/adapting/reducing materials so teachers can use them flexibly.
  • Being aware that materials are not always going to be used ‘as is’ – this may mean including information in teacher’s notes about which activities are reliant on other activities, and which can be used in a more stand-alone way or in a different order.

Considerations I need to remember when writing possible materials for students at IH Bydgoszcz

This is a selection of possible areas based on what we’ve looked at in this unit. I’d be interested to hear what you would add.

  • Age
    Will the materials be for very young learners? Young learners? Teens? Adult groups? Properly adult (i.e. 22/23+) or including older teens/university-age students too?
  • Level
    We teach everything from beginner to proficiency! Also, have students worked through our school to get to this level or have they joined the school at this level? That has implications for the ‘coverage’ of the level and how spiky their profile might be.
  • Resources
    Assuming we’re teaching face-to-face, we have projectors and access to the internet. Teachers can also write on the whiteboard to highlight things on projected materials. Learners have coursebooks, so am I writing a coursebook unit? Or supplementary materials? Or stand-alone units?
  • Time
    Courses are generally 90-minutes x 62 lessons per year, running twice a week. Materials need to comfortably fit that time, with some flexibility for teachers to choose what to use. Time for assessment and building good group dynamics also need to be built in.
  • Socio-economic profile
    As learners can afford private language school classes, they are probably in at least a middle-income bracket. Many of our learners come from families with occupations such as medicine, teaching, law or engineering featuring strongly, or families own their own businesses. Manufacturing and agriculture are also strongly represented. As far as I know, students can all afford holidays, many of them abroad and often in quite far-flung places, despite the Polish zloty being relatively weak compared to the Euro/Pound/Dollar.
    Catholicism is an important cultural influence, and caution should be exercised when dealing with potential ‘hot-button’ issues. Particularly controversial areas in Polish politics in the past few years have been abortion and LGBT rights.
  • Number in class
    Although some students have 121 classes, most students study in groups of 6-12. Materials should include opportunities to exploit the small group nature of the courses.
  • Classroom layout
    Student chairs have small desks attached which can be folded down out of the way. These can be arranged in many different ways. There is a teacher’s desk with connections for a projector, speakers and the internet – this can be move a little, but not much. There are two display boards in every classroom for student work and other important information. Materials can make use of the opportunity to reorganise the furniture, and to display information in different places in the classroom.
  • Noise tolerance
    Teachers generally expect other classes to be noisy at points and quiet at others, though occasionally parents complain if they think there is too much noise when they are listening from outside. Most activities that would be classed as noisy are possible within the school, provided they are balanced with quiet activities too.
  • Collectivism vs individualism
    Learners expect to have individual attention from the teacher, but are also happy to work in groups. Family is very important, and from my observation I believe it is the defining social unit in society. Learners who come from a family background which is considered non-traditional within Polish society may be reluctant to share this information as it can be potentially stigmatising, so this is an area to be treated with potential caution when writing materials. There is generally respect for people in positions of power, including teachers, though there may also be cynicism depending on the people involved. [Please note, these are my personal impressions and should be taken as such. These insights are very interesting and (possibly) more scientific, and seem to reflect at least some of my impressions.]
  • Learner expectations
    For YLs and teens who have come through our school, they expect engaging lessons with lots of speaking, a bit of writing, and enough of a language focus for a clear sense of progress. For adults, or teens joining our school after learning elsewhere, they tend to expect a strong grammar focus with plenty of speaking. Learners expect their teachers not to speak/know Polish, and for lessons to be completely in English, with materials fully in English to reflect that. Adult learners may expect ‘serious’ lessons, especially older learners who have been out of education for a long time. They may be reluctant to do activities which they feel are too childish or game-like.
    Most learners are quite motivated, and if they aren’t, adults tend to quit the course. Teens may be forced to continue by their parents, though thankfully they are very much in the minority. Many students come to us for 6 or more years, working towards Cambridge First or Advanced exams over a period of time. They expect to be trained to succeed in these exams, so materials need to help them achieve this goal, while also catering for the smaller number of students who don’t want to take exams.
    Learners (and parents) also expect high quality classes and to have a clear sense of progress over their time at the school. Materials need to factor in opportunities for assessment to help learners to notice this.
  • Teacher’s training and experience
    The majority of teachers at the school are within the first three years of their career, with an initial CELTA or CertTESOL certificate. Some come to the school with a little prior experience, but most may have only done a few weeks teaching, if any, before they join the school. Materials therefore need to provide guidance and support, be clear and flexible, and be accessible to early career teachers, without assuming too much prior knowledge about how they can be exploited. There is support at the school to help with this, but we also aim to make teachers as independent as possible, so materials which help with this would be a boon.

Cultural appropriacy

‘PARSNIP’ topics are often considered taboo. We were asked to consider whether these topics are appropriate or taboo in the culture we work in. These are my answers for Poland.

  • Politics
    You’d really have to know your group, as politics can be very divisive and controversial in Poland, especially since 2015 or so. As mentioned above, issues such as the politics of abortion and LGBT rights are particularly divisive.
  • Alcohol
    This should be fine, though portrayals of drunk characters may not be.
  • Religion
    Poland is very strongly Catholic, and many issues are tied into religion. Questioning faith or the church would be very controversial. I would generally avoid this topic, unless it was a group I knew well and they specifically asked to be able to talk about it.
  • Sex
    Because of religion as well as the politics of abortion, I think this would be a topic to avoid.
  • Narcotics
    I don’t think I’ve ever come across any particular issues with this, but I’d avoid it as it may trigger religious or political topics.
  • Isms (such as communism or atheism)
    Both communism and atheism are probably topics to avoid, not least because of Poland’s difficult history. However, with a group you knew well who had asked to talk about them, they could be discussed civilly and safely.
  • Pork
    This is Poland’s national meat 😉 so it wouldn’t cause any issues.

Beliefs regarding vocabulary in materials

These are some of my own beliefs about vocabulary in materials at this point in the course. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Learners need to be exposed to the same vocabulary in context and in a range of different ways.
    Why? Context aids both understanding and retention. A range of contexts helps learners to see the spread of where the vocabulary can and can’t be used. It also provides exposure to a range of typical co-text – other vocabulary and grammar which typically co-occur with the target items. Fluent language use requires collocational awareness, which cannot be developed if words only appear in isolation.
    What does it entail? Providing repeated encounters with the vocabulary within the materials, for example in a reading/listening text, in vocabulary focussed activities (such as matching definitions), and in models for speaking/writing activities. Highlighting co-text and context and drawing attention to collocations.
    But…? There’s a limited amount of space in materials and a large vocabulary load: how do you decide what takes precedence? How do you ensure that all vocabulary is encountered sufficiently without contrivance?
  • Vocabulary work should provide opportunities for learners to use the vocabulary actively.
    Why? Learners need to experiment with the language and get feedback on how successfully they’ve used it, for example whether they have chosen the correct vocabulary item for a given situation. Saying vocabulary enables them to practise the pronunciation, and writing it, to practise the form.
    What does it entail? Including activities such as opportunities for personalisation, categorisation, and speaking and/or writing using the new vocabulary.
    But…? We need to be clear whether vocabulary is introduced for receptive or productive use. There’s a large vocabulary load, and it’s difficult to provide opportunities to use all vocabulary actively. Learners may be reluctant to experiment with new vocabulary, particularly if they don’t feel confident about it, and may stick with vocabulary they already feel comfortable using.
  • A key component of learning vocabulary is memorisation.
    Why? If we don’t remember the word/chunk, we can’t use it! A larger ‘in-built’ vocabulary store allows more fluent use of English across all areas: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
    What does it entail? Including memorisation stages in the activity sequence, and showing learners why these are useful and how they can work with the same techniques themselves. Including spaced repetition, and requiring learners to attempt to retrieve vocabulary from their memory rather than the teacher/materials always supplying the vocabulary for activities.
    But…? We have translation software and dictionaries, so we don’t necessarily need to memorise vocabulary – we can look it up when we need it. Some people find it difficult to memorise language particularly if they have problems associated with their working memory, and others find it boring or demotivating.

How are materials evaluated at IH Bydgoszcz

We mainly evaluate materials when we look at the spread of coursebooks we use each year to help us decide what was (un)successful, what we want to keep and what we want to replace for the following year – this is ‘pre-use’. We also evaluate potential new materials to use at the school – ‘post-use’. We only do informal evaluation ‘in-use’, listening to teacher and learner comments about what they (don’t) like about books and considering how our use of them may need to change based on teacher/student needs as we go through the year – this is particularly possible if the senior team are teaching from the books themselves. These are some of the ways we evaluate materials:

  • Flick test
    First impressions of the book, including whether teachers/students are likely to want to pick it up, density of information on the page/throughout the book, general impressions of the design (for example, does it look old-fashioned?)
    + Provides a quick way to remember which book is which!
    – Very superficial.
    – Publishers expect this and might put the ‘shiny things’ in the top right corner to appeal to those flicking through.
  • Teacher questionnaire
    For books we’ve used previously, we have a short questionnaire for teachers based on various aspects of the book, including usability, general suitability for their groups, topics, engagement, level of challenge, grammar and vocabulary covered, skills work, whether they would want to use it again.
    + Gives teachers a say in the materials evaluation process.
    + They have first-hand experience of using the materials with students, so their opinions are valuable.
    + It tells us what teachers are looking for in coursebooks in general, informing our decisions about which ones to adopt.
    + Getting a range of opinions about the same books can tell us how they suit different teaching styles / groups.
    – It’s not obligatory, so we only get a few responses.
    – It can take teachers a while to complete.
    – It’s very subjective.
    – Teachers haven’t been trained to complete such questionnaires, and may only have limited awareness of what makes good or bad materials, especially if they haven’t been teaching for long and have little to compare their current coursebooks to.
    – The questions were created by me based on previous experience, without necessarily having a grounding in theory.
  • Trialling materials in class.
    Some teachers might volunteer to test out a lesson or two from a coursebook we’re considering using.
    + We can see how it might work in practice, including possible student responses.
    + It’s practical, using the materials rather than just discussing them.
    – It’s only a snapshot – sometimes one lesson has been fine, but the book as a whole has not worked for our school/ teachers/ students.
  • Student feedback
    Either based only on the book students have been using, or showing them a range of possible books for their level.
    + They’re the end users of the book, so they should have a say in what materials are chosen.
    + Students who have learnt English for a while have quite a good idea of what might be a good/bad English coursebook would be for them.
    + When they can compare books, students can be very responsible and offer considered and useful insights into the materials which teachers/ managers may not have seen.
    – Some students don’t take it seriously.
    – Students don’t necessarily have anything to compare the materials to, and they don’t have training in recognising good/bad materials.
    – It can be very subjective.
    – It can be quite superficial: for example, the design or the topics can influence them, without regard for the quality of the language work.
  • Comparative evaluation
    This is largely connected to the language and skills syllabus, looking at how the coursebook fits into our overall selection of coursebooks, what the progression is from one level or age group to the next is, and whether there is the coverage of language we’d like.
    + This helps us to provide some level of standardisation across the school, and maintains our sense of progression.
    + As it’s partly based on a list of grammar items compiled a few years ago, there is consistency from year to year.
    + We have practice at doing this now, so compare a wide range of different factors, for example: language clarification, topics, skills coverage, flow of units, length of units, and many others.
    – There’s a risk of trying to find a book which is the same as ones we’ve previously used – we may be less likely to take a risk.
    – We may end up focussing too much on the grammar syllabus, without considering other areas as much.

Materials and culture

I’ve put this paragraph here because I need to think about it – definitely requires some more processing before I can fully take it in I think!

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 446, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459

Another interesting quote from the same chapter:

As readers, we should always be ‘suspicious’ of texts and prepared to challenge or interrogate them. However, in the foreign language classroom, texts are customarily treated as unproblematic, as if their authority need never be questioned. Learners, who may be quite critical readers in their mother tongues, are textually infantilized by the vast majority of course materials and classroom approaches.

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 451, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459 (my emphasis)

This sentence is part of a section on ‘Critical Language Awareness (CLA)’, the idea that “language is always value-laden and that texts are never neutral” (ibid.) This is not something I’ve ever considered before, though I’m not really sure how you would go about remedying this in mainstream materials production, or even in the small amount of materials I’ll be creating for my MAT assignment. I wonder whether the increased inclusion of critical thinking tasks is enough, though ones I remember seeing don’t necessarily ‘challenge or interrogate’ texts in the materials. This is what they go on to suggest as a possible solution:

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 451, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459 (my emphasis)

I think some of the questions they mention are reflective of some of the critical thinking tasks now included – I wonder how they would rewrite the chapter if they published it today?

Evaluation of materials

These notes are based on chapter 3 of McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, looking at close evaluation when choosing a coursebook. They are my summary of the main points of the chapter to refer to when writing my MAT assignments, so there’s not much commentary.

The first section concerns using a checklist. The examples of published checklists include the following variants in design:

  • Rating systems
    Value x Merit = Product (from Tucker (1975: 360-1)): Value rated 0-5, Merit 0-4
    Weight / Rating: Ratings 4-0
    Rating and comments: Ratings = Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent (1-4)
    Yes / No / Comment
    Tick boxes (next to some quite long questions, not always with yes/no answers!)
    Yes / Partly / No: scored as 2, 1, 0 respectively
  • Categories
    Pronunciation Criteria (3) / Grammar Criteria (4) / Content Criteria (3) / General Criteria (8)
    General (4) / Speech (4) / Grammar (3)
    Factual Details (16) / Factors (17)
    No categories – only 3 long questions
    Language content (5) / Skills (6) / Topic (7) / Methodology (7) – though somewhat misleading as the questions are long and often cover multiple areas
    Does the book suit your students? (10) / Does the book suit the teacher? (10) / Dose the book suit the syllabus and the examination? (10)
  • Criteria expressed as:
    Noun phrases of 3-7 words
    Statements of around 10 words
    Nouns, occasionally with adjectives (max. 4 words)
    Yes/No questions, all at least 10 words long
    Yes/No questions, sometimes followed by information questions, all at least 5 words, but averaging at least 10
    Yes/No questions, varying in length from 4 to about 20 words

Potential problems with textbook evaluations based on checklists (based on McGrath, 2002):

  • If you decide to have a specific number of items in each category (like the final one which has 10 questions in each), you may exclude important information or include trival questions to make up the number. (p42)
  • Weighting is complicated – it’s important to ensure that different items are weighted appropriately. (p42) This is especially important as weighting can help you to differentiate between materials which may seem to have a similar number of strengths and weaknesses. (p52)
  • Having the same kind of response to every question might not be appropriate – some may lend themselves to a score, others to a comment for example. (p42)
  • It’s important to only have one focus per question. (p42)
  • You need to consider the difference between answers of ‘No’ and ‘Not applicable’, especially if connected to weighting. Do you ignore statements which are ‘Not applicable’? What does this do to your total scores if you have them? (p42-43)
  • Transparency of criteria (p44) – “certain concepts […] may be unfamiliar to or only partially understood by potential teacher-users. (= you very much need to be aware of the target user your checklist)
  • Criteria date – they need to “reflect new insights into language description, theories of learning and teaching and changes in society.” (p47)
  • Evaluation is values laden. (p48)
  • The conflicts “between breadth and depth, between informativity and economy, between the needs of the evaluator and the needs of the checklist designer – if these are different people, and between the forces of conservatism and innovation.” (p48)
  • Making a final decision can still be difficult, as you might struggle to “reconcile strengths and weaknesses in the same textbook” (p53)
  • You have to ensure validity and reliability, perhaps through arriving at a consensus for criteria (inc. involving end users) for validity, and carefully briefing evaluators for reliability. (p53)
  • They can “encourage rather superficial judgements.” (p54)

McGrath (2002: 43) comments that while published checklists “vary considerably in their scope, form, detailed criteria and the terms used to describe criteria”, most make reference to:

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p43

Specific areas which criteria might I might want to include when compiling my own list, in no particular order and taken from throughout the chapter:

  • Representation: gender, disability, ethnicity etc.
  • Learner training
  • Purposeful communication (key word!)
  • Rehearsing for real-world target language use
  • “Opportunities to express their own meanings in their own words” (p46)
  • Balance between meaning/use and form
  • Inclusion of pronunciation work
  • Varieties of English represented
  • Authenticity of language
  • Opportunities for assessment

This sums up some of what I’ve written about elsewhere in this post:

The reality is that evaluation is value laden, and this will be less of a problem if evaluators (1) look critically at the criteria formulated by others; (2) are aware of their own values; and (3) in specifying criteria for use by others, investigate and take the values of the ultimate users into account.

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p48

McGrath describes some of the potential conflicts inherent in creating evaluation checklists:

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p48

The challenge is to “minimise the chance of decisions being taken on the basis of individual subjective judgement.” (p48)

When deciding how to format a checklist, McGrath mentions the following (p48-):

  • Including a summary of basics about the book at the top. (e.g. title, publisher etc.)
  • Decide between (a combination of?) open-ended questions and questions/statements/prompts requiring a tick/score: the latter allows easier comparison and can be completed faster, the former adds information
  • Consider the order of categories / criteria, including whether any overlap
  • Rating, weighting and scoring:
    Rating is often 3-5 points – picking 4 means the evaluator has to make a decision.
    Weighting could be scored, or a system like A / B / N – absolutely essential, beneficial / preferred, not applicable (Skierso, 1991), rated as 4 / 2 / 0 if a numerical score is needed
    Score = R(ating) x W(eighting) (p50)

Improving your evaluation:

  • McGrath advises piloting a checklist if at all possible (p51), preferably against both a familiar and an unfamiliar book.
  • Daoud and Celce-Murvia (1979) suggest group evaluation, by three experienced teachers. (p52 of McGrath), thus creating discussion, a more thorough examination, and shared responsibility.
  • Teachers may need time to understand the checklist, especially important if different teachers have the responsibility for evaluating different materials. Some kind of practice (standardisation?) would be useful by working through a familar book and “checking that all would make similar judgements about its key features”. (p52)
  • In addition to using a checklist, do an in-depth analysis of one or two units, along with analysing some specific features, for example the treament of a particular grammatical feature (Cunningsworth 1995 in McGrath 2002: 54). This “affords an insight into the view of language learning on which the materials are based” (McGrath 2002: 54). However, this can create a lot of demands on the evaluator, requiring a lot of effort and analytical expertise. (p55)
McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p56

That’s it for week one. Next week: Units 3, 4 and 5.

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:

Then 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

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