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:
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 🙂
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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):
What are the characteristics of it?
Group empathy and whole class relationships: understanding how the group works
Rules, fairness and manners
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.
Characteristics of fundamental empathy:
Acceptance and openness – you can learn more about them
Giving sole attention
Listening and valuing individual students – hearing their perspectives
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
How is fundamental empathy communicated?
Clear facial expressions
Watching facial experessions to gauge responses
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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:
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)
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:
Often debate or discussion
Can be depressing as people feel powerless
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.
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
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 🙂
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.
Cultural differences can be a source of misunderstanding and even hostility.
How can we find ways of sharing and appreciating other cultures?
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.
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’
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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
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)
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
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.
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:
Consider our context and not demand a monolingual (e.g. English-only) environment, unless there is a clear reason for this.
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)
Use direct translations, where helpful, to build awareness of literal and pragmatic equivalence between languages (Cook 2010)
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.
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.
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
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):
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
SEL: social emotional learning – they are involved emotionally with the game
Collaborative virtual environments involve:
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.
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
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
Guidelines for language teachers
They demonstrated best practice in games:
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.
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
Active approaches to teaching Shakespeare in the EFL classroom – Conny Loder
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
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: Ah, it! Yes.
Decode Iambic pentameter
Use a modern example: ‘I wish I were down in the pub instead.’ – 10 beats = iambic pentameter
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:
Every punctuation mark, change of direction in walking.
Every end of a line, change of direction in walking.
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
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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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?
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
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.
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
[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.
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‘.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 😉 ]
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?
Most of them said they always feel stressed.
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.
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)
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:
What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
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):
Language related identity
Disciplinary identity – their identity within the field, often through qualifications and expeirence
Self-knowledge and awareness
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)
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’:
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.
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?
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:
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)
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.
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.
There is a need to challenge traditional beliefs.
We need to invest in materials development.
Interpersonal skills for better communication! – Chia Suan Chong
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:
In Chia’s opinion, the bix six deal with very specific scenarios. They are events.
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.
Active listening skills
Building relationships/ Trust-building
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.
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)
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.
This shows just how important it is to include trust building in our teaching.
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.
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.
The power of listening: How much listening can there be, with so much disruption and distraction?
What does active listening involve?
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.
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.]
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
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)
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
Rhyme, songs, rhythm
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?’
Reading while listening (text to speech software)
Annotate text, highlight, notes, charts, mind- and concept maps
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:
Peer coaching (technical or collegial)
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.
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.
The developing teacher (manager, test writer…)
Their students (trainees…)
The study was:
Quantitative and qualitative study
Designed and piloted
1000+ NILE Online course participants (2014-2018)
150 repsondents, 42 countries, many different contexts
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)
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.
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.
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
Doing something for others
Recognition by their family, school authorities, colleagues, children
The students were empowered:
Some of the first cohort of teachers stayed in the programme as facilitators for the next level.
First hand experience of the programme
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.
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.
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.
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
Coursebooks and teachers guides
Workshops, for example on language learning games
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
[there were more but I missed them!]
What about imagined professional selves?
Becoming materials designers
Becoming assessment designers
Becoming teachers (continuing to work on this area)
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.
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:
Trainers have talk tendencies, though all 3 categories appeared in the talk of all trainers.
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.
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!]
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.
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.
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!
Learners do not have to create sentences – only manipulate them
Learners should be putting meaning into words, not the other way around
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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:
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
Be aware of possible undesirable agendas: regarding pictures, task types, topics.
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.
[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.
Checklists to ensure coverage, variety and lack of bias. For example Gender bias Cultural stereotypes Inequality Racial bias
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.
Build in positive checklists for yourself, based on what you created at the start.
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:
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.
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?
Gapfills can be visual too: what is in the picture? Not just sentences with gaps.
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!
Pesonalisation by finishing a sentence stem (John found the first example of these in Streamline in 1975.
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.
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.
Potential problem 1: all first person – ‘I’ sentences. Mix up the subjects.
Potential problem 2: all positives, no negatives or questions.
Potential problem 3: no numbering for the answer key or classroom management.
Potential problem 4: no context or very loose, creating gap-fill fatigue. Can connect them together into a single text.
Potential problem 5: no example completed for students to scaffold the instructions.
Potential problem 6: no sub-heading or title to guide students on the page.
Potential problem 7: a rubric which is more complicated than the task. Break them down.
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.
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.
You can read more about making materials dyslexia friendly in Jon Hird’s MaWSIG blogpost.
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.
Make gapfills communicative using information gaps, for example information about the members of a family tree – not just the names, but ideas like hobbies.
Crosswords, and half a crossword.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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)
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
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
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:
tasks that should be simple feel difficult
difficulty in prioritising
avoidiance or procrastination
disconnected from others and the world
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?
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.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
The Eisenhower matrix means you can display a to do list in a different way:
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:
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.
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.
Establish naming protocols
How can I nurture a quality relationship with an editor?
Respect the target market
Write for the reader, not yourself
Welcome constructive criticism
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!]
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!)
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.
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:
(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.