IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Environmental sustainability and ELT in 2022: which way now? Geoffrey Maroko, Owain Llewellyn, Ceri Jones

This was the closing plenary for the IATEFL Belfast 2022 conference.

Ceri and Geoffrey beamed in via Zoom, and Owain was in the room. Sarah Mount coordinated the debate.

Ceri is in Spain, where there is a May heatwave – with 40 degree temperatures inland today (it’s May 20th). She’s one of the co-founders of the ELT Footprint community. You can join in on social media, mainly on facebook, but in other places too. Go to the website to find out more.

Geoffrey is in Kenya. He’s a university lecturer in Applied Linguistics. He’s interested in traditional environmental knowledge.

Owain is based in Wales. He’s got a website called ELT Sustainable, with language lessons focussing on environmental issues.

Indigenous environmental knowledge

Geoffrey talked about community-based organisations who share traditional environmental knowledge.

The UN has declared 2022-2032 the international decade of indigenous languages.

There are a lot of opportunities to work around this area to come up with information to sustain and protect our environment.

Contextualisation

Owain has been creating materials to be used globally, but one of the challenges is how to make it relevant across different contexts. It’s not always possible. You either have to make lessons locally, or make them adaptable for different local contexts if they’re global materials.

Sarah Mercer, Nayr Ibrahim, Kath Bilsborough and Ceri Jones recently conducted a survey which will hopefully be published in ELTJ soon. There seems to be a ‘place-based eco-pedagogy’, with lots of local action happening. Students are looking really closely at their own local ecosystems, and learning to think about the consequences of actions locally. This gives them the chance to grow eco-literacy and systems thinking.

The starting point for learners should be the world that they know.

Owain used to teach in Bulgaria, where rural to urban migration is very common. He wanted to do a lesson about this. In Bulgaria, you’re very likely to find abandoned houses as people had moved to the city, many of which had a big walnut tree. He found a poem called ‘An elegy to a walnut tree’. This lesson was used in Bulgaria and Algeria, and was relevant in those contexts, but you might need to change this tree / plant if it was in a different context. In the Kenyan village Geoffrey is from, it might be the mguwe (sp?) tree, but in other communities, it might be different. The learners might not respond in the same way.

In Kenya, many places were named after the plants which were grown there. Now the names are still there, but the plants have often gone. A conscious effort needs to be made to grow those plants there again.

Context is an important starting point for designing our materials.

An idea from the audience: the starting point is the local, and this is taken to the global.

Another question: how much should these lessons be developing over time? Over time, the situation is becoming more urgent, but there’s no sense of urgency to the lessons and materials. The focus is on the individual and what can the individual do, without a focus on collective action to pressure the big polluters. But it can depend on the age we’re teaching: we don’t want to create eco-anxiety in our learners. We can work together as professionals to learn more ourselves and to lobby within our sphere of influence in whatever way we can, and taking the action we can: walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

Health and climate change

Many health problems which exist in the world today can be linked back to climate change. Geoffrey’s university is working with indigenous people in parts of Kenya to collect information about the plants they work with, including language information, usage of the plant, and descriptions of the plant covering as many areas as possible (sight, touch, if not poisonous (!) the taste). They are constructing a database. They thing that once this database exists they should be able to use machine learning to analyse what’s in the database, to create bilingual dictionaries (for example English can borrow from Ekegusii), to create materials based on these – making languages more relevant to the learners, by including references to these plants and how they’re used in materials, in texts, in stories.

Collective responsibility

This is a model of levels at which we can have responsibility:

  • Individual: e.g. not eating meat, not buying things in plastic
  • Family and friends: e.g. influencing people around you, so they start considering issues
  • Professional: e.g. influencing students, staff, institution – this is probably the level at which we can have the most influence to lobby for change or to be examples of action
  • Macro: e.g. when we’re voting, protesting, trying to exert pressure on governments and large businesses

Being part of a collective and a community can really support us, and also helps us to stay on track with remembering and using our professional responsibility. This is what Ceri has found connected to ELT Footprint (and I’ve found this too). She mentioned making materials for a training project (which I was lucky enough to work on) where because she knew there were other colleagues from ELT Footprint working in the team, it helped her keep on track when writing the materials and having a relevant environmental focus where she could.

‘Developing materials for the more-than-human world’ (I like this phrase!) and making environmental sustainability a social practice.

If it’s a social practice, it needs to start with the government creating the right policies, moving on to creating the right curriculum which integrates the environment. If the government aren’t doing this, environmental lobby groups should push the government to take up these issues.

Teachers can become researchers, but they also deserve support from organisations. However, teachers might feel overwhelmed by the scale of the topic and feeling a bit lost about the amount of information they might need to cover. We need to develop frameworks and support systems to help teachers, and relate them to linguistic and communicative competences – how do we integrate them? For example, Owain and Ceri have been involved in reviewing a sustainability framework which is being developed by Cambridge University Press.

We need to create practical examples of can do statements that teachers can take into their classroom.

I can understand, explain and give examples of greenwashing.

This is an example of a can do statement which combines language and environment. This develops into a practical lesson, which is practical, project based, and can be local or global.

Teachers also need training to be prepared to teach these topics, and do it in an environmentally-friendly way. This needs to come from teacher training colleges, and other courses. It also touches on the curriculum.

British Council are developing a MOOC connected to sustainability. Colm Downes reminded us that we need to keep an eye on general education too, not just our ELT bubble. The UN have replaced the term ‘Climate Change for Education’ with ‘Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and this could be a positive term for us to take into ELT.

In the past, Owain has been told that he’s trying a form of indoctrination through doing environmentally focussed lessons. He’s an English Literature graduate, not a scientist, which has also been considered a problem. But he said we have very relevant skills: we’re used to getting people communicating. Focus on your strengths, to facilitate a discussion where learners are going to come to their own conclusions, and to facilitate a classroom community.

If you want to start teaching about the environment, start from something that you know and that feel strongly about. This will be engaging for you and the students. Take the first step, and don’t worry about it too much.

Look for practical activities, for example helping students to do what they’re read about – litter picking, creating a seed bank.

What lessons have we learnt from the past two years and how do we move forwards?

Start with our learners. Give them a sense of empowerment to deal with this pressing crisis which is already upon us. These issues shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. We needs to empower our language learners to take part in a dialogue around sustainability and to feel that they can act.

Teachers can’t do this on their own. In training, we need to have a dialogue about what a (language) teacher’s role is in bringing sustainability into the classroom.

Publishers and materials developers should bring environmental issues in, not just focussing on individual actions, but what are the root causes of climate issues?

There is also a research agenda looking at the intersection between eco-literacy and language teaching.

Our health is dependent on the health of our environment. We need to create materials to make this clear.

Make sure that eco-literacy is given the same level of importance as areas like critical thinking and communicative skills.

Let’s not forget that the situation is really urgent. Let’s walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And let’s build hope by taking action together.

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day Four

This was the final day of the conference so was a little shorter. There was an opening and a closing plenary, and I attended a couple of sessions, all of which I have summarised below. If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

Plenary: Education, English and the question of future in conflict areas – Asmaa AbuMezied and Hasna AbuMezied

Asmaa’s first questions:

  • Do you know of any conflicts around the world? (Everybody)
  • Do you know how many conflicts are currently happening? (Almost nobody put their hand up)

There are many different reasons for this: interstate, local, criminal violence and militias, social injustice protests, territorial disputes.

Gaza is one of the areas which is involved in a territorial dispute.

Over the past few years, fewer people are dying in conflict, but more conflicts are happening. The more we are losing our natural resources, the more likely these conflicts are to happen. Where does that leave us?

Survival as a state

As we meet today, one quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas. Two billion people.

Antonio Gutierrez, UN Secretary General, March 2022

Conflict isn’t just the state of active bombardment and strikes. It never leaves you, even when it ends. That’s what we’re talking about when we think about education and future generations. People find themselves in a state of survival, rather than living. Everybody is constantly looking around them to check, how can we support our families, our people to live another day.

The UN called Gaza unliveable by 2020. Asmaa and Hasna are here today. They are alive, but are they living.

Gaza

It is 365km2, with 2 million people in this tiny place. It has been occupied for decades. There has been a blockade for 15 years. It is considered an open air prison. Asmaa and Hasna had a major journey to be here at IATEFL today.

If you know somebody from a conflict area: what did it take for you to get here? What are the restrictions that have stopped your colleagues from being able to come? We (I) are privileged to be here.

What kind of future are we building for our future? We are in a state of constant fear. That’s not a future we want to give to our children.

65% of the population is living on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

About 50% of the population is unemployed. You put a huge amount of effort into education, but can’t do anything with it.

53% of people live in poverty.

64% of the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme, and most of them are eating food which is unhealthy, affecting their mental and physical health.

96% of the water is undrinkable, and this is likely to increase.

There is an air strike somewhere in the Gaza Strip almost every month.

There is no feeling of safety or security.

To help with this, education is an area that people focus on. Without education, they will not be heard. It is a way of surviving, a way of living.

What shapes the journey of a Palestinian English Language teacher in Gaza?

Teachers face many different challenges.

Educational challenges

  • Limited numbers of schools per capita and overcrowded classes (45-50 students)
  • Schools operate on double or triple shifts to cope with numbers. This leads to fewer hours for students too.
  • Limited resources including technology. Teachers often need to buy their own chalk for example.

Teachers try to use interactive methods, but this can be very challenging due to numbers and available resources.

They have 6-12 hours of electricity per day. There is an electricity schedule, telling them when they will get electricity.

They don’t just have to coordinate with other teachers, but with the electricity schedule.

This restricts students’ learning and study time.

Political instability

  • Limited opportunities to use English in real life. Limited contact with foreigners. Loss of hope and motivation.
  • Disruption of education for teachers and students.

I will never be able to travel outside Gaza, so why should I learn English?

Typical student question

In the 14 years Hasna has been teaching, there has been a disruption in education every year. This puts great pressure on teachers: delivering 4 months content in 3 months. Teachers will take extra classes to meet the demands of the curriculum, and some classes may be cut (like PE or art). They know those are important classes for students, but they have to make these challenging decisions.

Trauma and mental health

In 2008, Hasna was waiting for an exam to start, when suddenly the school started shaking. She looked out of the right-hand windows and saw flames and smoke. She told them to go to the left side, and then they saw thick black smoke outside. Another teacher and her tried to keep the students in the school, but it was complete chaos. They had no idea what was happening. That was one of the saddest and bloodiest days in Gaza’s history.

For many people, schools are considered to be safe places. They are used as shelters during conflicts. 1047 students and teachers were killed during the 2014 conflict, and 46 public schools were damaged in May 2021.

There are daily triggers. Will the same thing again? Will I be able to help my students? What about my children? What if their teacher leaves them beyond? Should I go to them first? This is a constant – you are thinking about this all the time.

You might hear air strikes in the middle of a lesson, and students will get scared. They will hear drones and close their books. One student will start crying whenever she hears shooting, and the rest of the students start crying too, so now Hasna asks her to go and wash her faces. Every time Hasna has to encourage her students to continue. This is their daily life, and they have to adapt to it.

Every night, the teachers are soothing their children all night, and every day they have to go back to school and be able to support their students.

One colleague has a panic attack whenever she hears the word ‘invade’ in Arabic.

There is so much pressure for teachers to be positive all the time. They have become adept at hiding their feelings for the sake of their families, students, and colleagues. They cannot say they are tired.

We have all the reasons to collapse, but we don’t have the luxury to do it.

A teacher from Gaza

Economic challenges: poverty and marginalisation

  • Underpaid salaries – they only receive 40-60% of their salaries, in the past every 50-60 days though now it is better – now they get it every 30 days.
  • Poverty among teachers – teachers supplement their income with extra lessons or other jobs beyond education. Teachers walk long distances to get to school if they can’t pay for transport (which many can’t). 92% of employees in Gaza suffer from depression and deep sadness because they can’t give their children an allowance.
  • Drop out of school – particularly female students in 9th and 10th grades, some of whom are already engaged in 9th grade. There is seasonal dropping out due to agricultural requirements.
  • Inequality – being in a marginalised area, with buildings all built by donations from other countries, but very few people have access to smartphones or any kind of online provision so they can’t take advantage of technology for example.

Mum, you look so tired. You look like a crushed snail.

Hasna’s son, Suleiman

Future of education

The talk today leaves us with a lot of questions.

The pandemic has shifted a lot of education to the household. Educational labour in the household can leave families, and particularly women, feeling inadequate. Teaching is a feminised issue, and therefore can be undervalued and not appreciated. We need to bring this to the forefront.

Our students all experience education differently. It is our responsibility to listen to and consider what they need.

How do we make technology accessible and safe to our students?

What does it mean to be a teacher? We all have so many hats. As a psychologist, as a supporter, as a parent, as a human.

How can we ensure that we have a decolonised education system that values our indigenous knowledge? How we care for our environment? To what extent is the content of our education extractive to our cultures and to our environment?

We need to have a future to our education that encompasses us all.

Thank you to IATEFL for bringing such wonderful speakers to us today. They got a well deserved standing ovation, for an emotional and important talk.

What I think I know about materials writing (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is something of a companion piece to my IATEFL 2021 talk, What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year. This is the abstract for the talk:

Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.

These are the slides from the presentation:

Background

Like many teachers, I did my first materials writing in my early lessons, creating materials for my classroom. These were of somewhat mixed quality and resulted in lessons of somewhat mixed quality. With trial, error and student feedback I improved, but it definitely helped to get external input.

The first professional materials writing I did was for OUP, creating model texts for online content. Through this and other writing work, I received feedback on what I was producing and was pushed to improve the quality of my writing and/or to move it closer to the brief I had been given. I also got feedback on my writing from the editors I worked with on my self-published books, and informal feedback through materials I posted on my blog.

I’ve followed the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) since it was first created in 2013, attended many materials writing talks at IATEFL and online, and read MaWSIG blog posts. Here are links to my summaries of IATEFL talks related to materials writing:

In 2021, I started the NILE MA Materials Development module. This gave me more of a theoretical grounding in materials writing, both through the sessions I attended during the course and through the two assignments I wrote. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.

The ideas in this talk are a distillation of some of the things I’ve learnt during this process. They’re not intended to be new or innovative, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for you.

Evaluating materials and using checklists

Looking at other people’s materials is a useful starting point for your own materials writing. By deciding what should and shouldn’t be on a checklist, then using it to analyse existing materials, it helps you to consider what makes materials work or not. You could use a similar checklist after you’ve written your materials to see what you might need to change.

As part of the MA, we learnt about different approaches to writing evaluation checklists, and through this process I thought a lot about my own materials writing. Here is the checklist I compiled for my assignment.

As part of my work as a Director of Studies, I had to guide the selection of coursebooks used at our school. I had never received any training in how to do this, so it was mostly a process of trial and error. Over time we built up a list of characteristics that we knew we needed to look for in the books we would use, but it would have been a lot easier to create a checklist to guide our selection.

Tips for writing a materials checklist

  • Define your context. Who are the students? Years of learning? Level? Purpose for the lessons? Educational background? Who is the teacher? Experience level? Subject knowledge? What is the lesson format? Online / face-to-face / blended? Lesson length? Course length? Without knowing the context, the materials evaluation will be generic. The context can make a real difference to which criteria are important to include.
  • Start with a list of ideas of what you think would make effective materials for this context. These ideas could (and probably will!) be guided by principles you believe (see below). Turn your ideas into questions. I found ‘To what extent…?’ to be a useful framing device.
  • Ensure each point is discrete / there are no overlaps.
  • Think about how many criteria it’s appropriate to use. I used 25 to analyse a full coursebook unit, which I found covered all the areas I thought were important, but remained quite quick to complete.
  • Use a scoring system. I scored each criterion 0-4: 0 = not at all, 1 = just barely, 2 = to some extent, 3 = to a large extent, 4 = to the greatest extent.
  • Add weighting to show which criteria are more / less important/desirable. I used 1-3: 1 = desired, 2 = preferred, 3 = essential.
  • Grouping the criteria into categories can help you to check for overlaps / missing criteria. It allows you to have sub-totals for different sections if you use a scoring system, and to compare different materials.
  • Include space for comments so you can make notes to back up your scores.
  • Collaborate with others during the process: when deciding on what to include, when weighting criteria, when editing the checklist, when using it.

Resources for writing checklists

There are examples of checklists and advice for creating them available in various materials writing methodology books and journal articles. You may need to have a subscription to access the journal articles. These are ones I found useful:

  • Cunningsworth, A. (1995) Choosing your coursebook, Macmillan. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Gearing, K. (1999) ‘Helping less-experienced teachers of English to evaluate teachers’ guides’. ELT Journal, April, 53(2), pp. 122-157.
  • Hutchinson, T. (1987) ‘What’s underneath?: an interactive view of materials evaluation’ in Sheldon (ed.) ELT Textbooks and Materials – Problems in Evaluation and Development, British Council, pp. 37-44.
  • McGrath, I. (2016) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, 2nd edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Mukundan, J. and Ahour, T. (2010) ‘A Review of Textbook Evaluation Checklists across Four Decades (1970-2008)’ in Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (eds.) Research for Materials Development in Language Learning: Evidence for best practice. London: Continuum, pp.336-352. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Sheldon, L. E. (1988) ‘Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials’. ELT Journal, October, 42(4), pp. 237-246.
  • Williams, D. (1983) ‘Developing criteria for textbook evaluation’ ELT Journal, July, 37 (3), pp251-255.

You can see a summary of some of MA notes related to checklists in this post.

Principles and materials writing

Discovering your principles

I first came across the idea of considering your principles when approaching materials writing in Jill Hadfield’s talk at IATEFL Manchester 2015. She wrote a journal while writing a set of materials, then used this to put together a list of ‘framing principles’ to guide her future materials writing. Here are some of them:

Mishan and Timmis (2015:1) define principled materials development as follows:

Materials development which takes into account current practice, but goes beyond it to consult first principles drawn from second language acquisition (SLA) and language teaching theory.

Materials Development for TESOL, Freda Mishan and Ivor Timmis, Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL [Amazon affiliate link]

This could sound quite complicated or difficult to achieve if you don’t have much of a background in this theory, but it is actually easier to consider than it might seem. You could start with a list of what you believe makes effective materials, perhaps supported by prior evaluation of materials (see above). This was the list I compiled when I started my MA materials evaluation assignment:

  • Materials should engage the learners’ interest through the choice of topics, and maintain it through varied activities.
  • Developing positive group dynamics are a key factor in effective teaching.
  • Materials should train learners to be better listeners and readers, not just test their abilities.
  • Materials should provide plenty of opportunities for learners to speak and write, as well as support to help them do so.
  • Materials should help learners to become more autonomous.
  • Language work should not be purely grammar focussed. It should also include work on lexis, including lexical chunks, on pronunciation, and on functional language to improve the quality of learner discourse.
  • New teachers need and guidance support with their teaching.
  • Materials should be inclusive and accessible to all. Learners should see themselves represented in the materials they use.

Chapter 2 of the Mishan and Timmis book includes a selection of key points which might help you to incorporate SLA and theory into your principles.

You can see more detailed examples of some of the beliefs I considered during my MA module and my thinking behind them in these three posts: week one, week two, week three.

How to use your principles

Once you have a list of principles, you can refer to these regularly.

Before you start designing something, remind yourself of your principles. Is there anything key to this context which you might also need to consider? Are any of the principles not relevant in this context? If it’s for somebody else, will the project require you to ignore some or all of your principles, and if so, do you still want to commit to it?

As you design, look at your principles occasionally. Are you sticking to them? Are there any which are hard for you to follow? Is there anything you could do or anybody you could speak to in order to change your approach to the writing to be able to stick more closely to your principles?

As you proofread and edit, use the principles as a checklist. Is there anything you’ve forgotten to include / pay attention to in the writing process?

Stakeholders in materials writing

When you’re in the middle of writing materials, it can be easy to get caught up in making them exactly how you want them to be. It’s important to stop occasionally and consider the other stakeholders in the process.

The user

Ultimately, the materials have to be suitable for the user. This might be the learner, the trainee, or the teacher. Put yourself into the position of each potential user and ask yourself:

  • How easy is this for me to understand?
  • Do I have all of the information I need to make the most of these materials?

The editor

Please, please, please have somebody edit your work. This can make a huge difference to the quality of what you produce! It certainly did with my books.

I’ve learnt a lot from attending talks by and working with Penny Hands, editor extraordinaire. At the 2021 MaWSIG PCE, Penny talked about different roles an editor might have (see the final section of the post). When working with an editor, make sure you’re clear about which role(s) you’d like them to fulfil: whether you’d like them to focus on copy editing or proofreading. It can be easier to do these in two separate cycles. Before you send it off, read the manuscript again yourself with your ‘copy editor’ or ‘proofreader’ hat on, and try to resolve at least some of the problems. If you’re self-publishing, this saves you money too!

When you get edited work back, it can sometimes feel a bit depressing. You’ve put so much work into producing the materials, and now you find there are lots of things you need to change. Remember that the editor will only comment on things which should improve the end product. If they’re materials for your own classroom, it could make the difference between a lesson which works and one where the learners have no idea what’s going on. If you self-publish, it’s up to you whether you take the editor’s advice (in 99% of cases, I would!) If you’re working for a publisher, the editor will be helping you to meet the brief. In all of these cases, feel free to spend a few minutes being sad about the work you put in, but then let go and make the changes. The final product will be better for it!

Designers

If you’re working with a designer, learn how to write an artwork brief. Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included advice on this in their IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).

If you’re self-publishing, keep the design as simple as possible. You’ll thank me when you have to reformat it for different platforms!

Layout

Some very simple tweaks can make a big difference to how easy it is to navigate your materials. These are the ones I most commonly suggest to people:

  • Number exercises and questions within exercises.
  • Use a different font for rubrics. Having rubrics in bold / on a different coloured background can also differentiate them.
  • Add spacing before / after exercises and questions.
  • Use lines and / or boxes to separate sections on the page.
  • Use tables rather than text boxes to organise a word-processed document – they’re much easier to manage the layout of. You can remove the border of the table if you don’t want it to be visible.
  • Use page breaks and section breaks to create new parts to your document, rather than pressing enter lots of times. The exercise will always stay on a new page, regardless of how much you add above it.
  • Use ‘styles’, including Headings, to create a consistent layout across your document. Having headings also allows you to use the navigation pane to move around your document quickly and easily. [Note that some publishers prefer you not to use these as it can interfere with the design stage of materials production.]

If you’re not sure how to do any of these things, do a search for the relevant topic and there are normally accessible written and video tutorials for them e.g. ‘use a table in Microsoft Word’ or ‘page breaks in Google Docs’.

Many of these changes could make a big difference to learners with SEN and how easy it is to navigate your materials.

Inclusivity

Think about who is represented within your materials and how. Can the target users ‘see’ themselves in the materials?

  • What names have you used?
  • Is everybody the same colour? Gender? Body type? Age?
  • What kind of things are the people doing?
  • Who are they with?

Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included different sources for images IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).

Other useful resources

Two very common activity types are gapfills and multiple-choice. These talks helped me to improve the quality of these activities and avoid some of the pitfalls.

The ELT Teacher2Writer books are a goldmine of useful information, covering a wide range of different materials writing topics. If you can only afford one, I recommend How To Write Excellent ELT Materials: The Skills Series which is 6 books in one: [Amazon affiliate link]

ETpedia Materials Writing is a one-stop shop of 500 ideas to help you with your materials writing. [Amazon affiliate link] Pavilion often have a discount on it, including during the IATEFL conference.

Over to you!

Was anything here particularly new or interesting to you here?

What tips would you add to the list?

Which resources have you found particular useful in your own materials writing?

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Lessons from the living room – live online teaching – Lindsay Clandfield (and Jill Hadfield)

Lindsay and Jill have recently written a book called Live Online Teaching [Pavilion link – not affiliate].

In the past many people taught in classrooms with no technology, but during the pandemic this flipped to teaching with technology but no classroom. Both situations create constraints on how you can teach.

How do constraints create creativity?

We need constraints for creativity – absolute freedom can make creativity very challenging.

Madagascar – classrooms without technology

This was a situation Jill and Charlie Hadfield taught in. They worked in Madagascar, but there were no books. There might be a cracked blackboard, or slates for children. The solution came from the market. Smallholders there had stocks of large paper to wrap goods in. They got schools to buy lots of these pieces of paper. They put up a washing line in a classroom, with one picture at the front of the room and one at the back. Children sat in pairs back to back and described the picture they could see to their partner. Here are examples of the pictures:

The pandemic: technology without classrooms

Here are examples of the kinds of constraints when working online:

So how did teachers work around these constraints? Here are examples of using classic ELT activities.

Using video and audio

Interview an object

Jill would be off screen and have an object on screen. Students ask questions to the object, and the teacher answers as if they’re the object. Then the students do this.

> Not everybody needs to be on the screen at the same time.

Running dictation

Use email / a link to send to one student before the lesson to print out or put on the phone. Put the phone or text at the end of the room. When the teacher says go, the student has to get up and go to the text.

Participation tools

For example, chat box, emoji reactions.

Longest sentence

> This worked well even if students couldn’t get video or audio to work.

Who am I?

> You can ‘Spotlight’ / ‘Pin’ somebody so that even if they’re not talking, they’re the main screen. It’s like you’re putting them on stage.

> By giving the students the constraint that they can only use the thumbs up / thumbs down button with the video off, it forced students to ask yes / no questions.

Sharing your screen

Art thoughts

> You don’t just have to share PowerPoint slides or websites, you can share many other things too.

Same words, different place

> You can spotlight more than one person to have a dialogue.

For example, in a supermarket, in a city, in a library. Then another slide in the same place but without displaying the dialogue.

Breakout Rooms

Lindsay found that he did fewer pair/groupwork activities but for longer, compared to his classroom. They tended to be longer activities with feedback. There tended to be more open pairwork, rather than closed pairwork.

Dreamtowns

> Getting students to write things on paper and hold it up to the screen meant that others would lean forward to look at it. It seemed to engage others who were in the session as they wanted to see.

This worked well for mini projects.

Clock match

This is a kind of information gap.

> Students can produce their own materials. It might take around 10 minutes to create the materials, but it makes it possible to do interactive pairwork games in breakout rooms.

Zooming Out

> Micro breaks away from the computer.

> Teaching on Zoom drastically reduces the teacher’s mobility, which can be very tiring.

> It also feels like you’re teaching into a mirror a lot.

> Tiring for students too to always be in front of a screen!

Stand up, stretch your arms, walk to the nearest door, count the steps, type in the chat box. Then who was the closest? Who was the furthest?

Go to the fridge, find something which is yellow, come back and tell your partner.

Get up, walk around the room, mentally name 5 things in English, then come back and say what you’ve done.

> It’s a clear task, so students will come back!

Sensory poem

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Breaking stigma, building skills: representing mental illness in ELT materials – Lottie Galpin

Lottie started out as a teacher, and now focussed on DEI and materials – making materials more inclusive.

Lottie would like to trial inclusive materials with teachers, not just about mental health but about all areas of marginalisation. If you’d like to work with her, contact her via http://www.lottiegalpin.com.

When she mentioned this topic to some people, she had some who said it was important and should be included. Some said it’s too heavy and it shouldn’t be there. And some people looked at her awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. This reflects where we’re at with mental health in society – we don’t always have the language to talk about it. We can start to give our students the language to do this, and to break down some of the stigma around mental illness.

Language

There’s lots of different language we could use:

  • Mental illness
  • Mental health problems
  • Mental health disorders (very negative!0
  • Mental health conditions
  • Mental health challenges?

Mind, the UK charity, talks about mental health problems, with under this umbrella many areas (but not only these!):

[If language connected to mental health is something you’re interested in, there is an episode of Word of Mouth which covers this.]

So why is it important to represent mental illness and mental health challenges in ELT published materials?

As we said, it’s a part of life! Physical health is covered, but mental health isn’t. Why do we make that division? It’s all just health.

It helps students to realise they’re not alone.

It can be more dangerous to have a world where everything is happy, happy, shiny, shiny (thanks Hugh Dellar for that phrase!) and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Students need to have that language to be able to talk about these things.

Students are potentially ready to talk about the topic, but maybe the teachers aren’t. If it’s in the coursebook, they might be more likely to do this.

Why is representation important?

  • All students can themselves in materials.
  • Increases student engagement and belonging.
  • Teaches students about a range of lived experiences.
  • Creates global citizens – prepares them for the world.
  • Gives students language to describe themselves.

If one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, that’s one in four of our students who will experience it first hand, and probably all of them will have somebody they know who goes through this. We need to prepare them to deal with this.

People don’t seek treatment because of stigma.

We can’t save the world, but we can help to reduce stigma.

How can we represent mental illness?

  • Representation of people with mental illness
  • Content that represents everyday experiences of mental illness
  • Content that builds awareness of mental illness and mental health skills
  • Support teachers and students with empowering teacher’s notes

An example

Lottie created an example of materials which build knowledge about a mental health condition, but also build their own language skills.

Start with the teacher’s notes. Offer student choice, allow teachers to prepare and model good practice with triggering topics.

This is the lesson warmer. It could be a text, a video – something real-life. The question focuses on ‘health’ not ‘mental health’, and the teacher’s notes talk about how to develop digital skills:

In the text, students build up factual knowledge about the condition. The text is designed to look like something which is reliable.

The discussion questions:

In our pair, we talked about the fact that exercise 5 might depend on who you are. I thought about from the point of view of ‘I have this health problem, how can I find out how to live with it’, whereas my partner talked about ‘Somebody has told me about it, and I want to learn more’.

These are the teacher’s notes:

The follow-up task is a standard research task, with overt skills practice.

Other things we can do

Representing real people, integrated in our other materials:

All teachers could feel comfortable using this, though Lottie would add a teacher’s note explaining what OCD actually is – to avoid stereotypes.

We could also integrate it into our audio:

This is a very standard type of dialogue, but why not include references to mental health rather than ‘Sorry, I’m busy.’

Too triggering to teach?

If you know your students, and allow the teacher’s book to explore the topic, then it shouldn’t be too triggering to teach, but you need to bear these things in mind:

Final thoughts

Featuring mental illness can build awareness and break stigma.

It may be triggering, but triggers can be mitigated.

Covering mental illness should be considered according to context.

This is the start of a conversation. This is just one way to cover mental health in materials, but there could be many other ways.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: Women in coursebooks: then and now – how representation has changed. Elaine Hodgson and Vivian’s Karmeliene

What are the ELT ‘mistakes’ in this image and this text? This was from a popular coursebook, and was designed to be humourous.

This book was published in the same year as Return of the Jedi was released, when there was only one woman in the story, and she was wearing a bikini on the poster. It was also the same year as She’s so cold by the Rolling Stones. Pretty Women, Baywatch, Victoria’s Secret Angels – these were all typical of the context at the time.

They looked at two popular series from 1994/1999 and 2017, focussing on elementary level, and family, jobs and free time.

Family

Here’s an example of family:

In the original page, there is a strong focus on the man’s family. Only one question in the exercise is focussed on the woman’s family.

In the newer edition, there is an example of a solo woman with children, but with no information in the teacher’s book about how the image might be used. The family tree is Joseph’s family – still the man’s family. There’s one solo woman in the family tree, and she’s the only woman who’s unhappy in the image.

In the dialogue from an old book, the focus is on marriage. It’s expected that if you’re married, you have a husband. In the more modern edition, the focus is on siblings. In a dialogue, it’s usually the man who starts the conversation.

The man is still in the foreground

In the other series, we have Patrick’s family in the old edition. His daughter is a nurse – it’s a traditional role. In the new edition, it’s Max’s family. There’s a solo woman in the family tree too. In the texts, the focus is on the family as a whole. There is a line ‘I often help my mum or dad cook the meals’. To finish the sequence, students are invited to talk about their own families.

In the 5th edition, we have Jason’s family.

Some numbers related to family units

Jobs

In a unit about jobs, in the old edition, there were stock images, and extra information about marital status and family. In the new edition, it’s a real woman (you can find her on the internet), with real images of her working, and the information about her family is relevant to the text not randomly added in.

In the focus on vocabulary, in the old edition women are generally doing jobs traditionally associated with women. In the fifth edition, many of the roles are also similar. In the exercise, four out of five of the female jobs are caring jobs – women always have the caring roles, never men.

In the new edition below, in the grammar focus, ‘she’ is used as the pronoun. The woman starts the conversation, not the man.

Some numbers related to jobs and women

Free time

The old edition – the title is ‘Take it easy’, but the female character asks ‘What’s free time?’

The woman ‘doesn’t work on weekdays’ because she looks after her family (!)

In the current edition, the footballer works during the week and plays games at the weekend. There are no women in the spread.

In the old edition, the women generally don’t look happy or have neutral expressions:

In the new edition, there’s a much wider range of images in terms of gender, age, roles:

In the other book, in the old edition, the man is focussed on keeping fit, the woman is the couch potato. In the new edition it’s flipped. The woman is interested in keeping fit, but doesn’t show she’s happy about it.

In the old edition, there are more ‘mistakes’! In the new edition, the woman starts the conversation, but the man is assertive and says he’s good, while the woman says she’s not very good.

We’re getting there

In this book, there are real photos of families so they seem more diverse.

Two teenage girls working out – women can do their own thing without having to interact with men all the time:

There are examples of women doing different things in coursebooks too: a female judo fighter, female activists.

There is progress in the world too: Star Wars posters that are a full image of a woman.

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. [I missed the second half of the quote!]

Jane Austen

IATEFL Belfast 2022: CPD for materials writers: in search of a framework – Denise Santos

Denise’s website is www.denisesantos.com.

When Denise first started teaching, her CPD was mostly managed by the institutions she worked in. The first materials she published, she had no training in materials writing – she wrote what she thought was best. When she did her MA, she started to see things in a more complex way. When she did her PhD, things got more complex, but she was very confident and happy with the way things were. She was happy with what she learnt.

In 2020, there were too many options. Too many courses. Too many live sessions. The topics were completely new – new ways of teaching and learning that she wasn’t used to, and she had to write materials for these things. She found herself doing too many things and not knowing where these things were leading to in her CPD.

Her first CPD questions were focussed on what: what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? But that isn’t enough – we also need to know the why.

She went onto social media to see what people were talking about. People were thinking about their CPD plans for the future, for 2022. Here are some of the things people were talking about:

But still, the focus is too much on the what. There are some whys here, but it’s not systematic. For what purpose and how do I know?

The framework we tend to talk about

We plan/define what we’re going to do, we do it, then hopefully we apply it. Stopping at applying it isn’t enough, Denise says. We need to have more higher-order thinking skills.

When Denise searched for “CPD for materials writers”, she got 5 hits, and 2 were for this talk! Others led her to this book:

There wasn’t much on the continuing professional development for materials writers.

The literature

There is a lot of research about materials.

Very little about implementation of materials

Very little about writers and the writing process

Very little about writers’ (C)PD

Musing

We are materials writers, but …of what? …for what? Are you clear about this for yourself? For Denise, the teaching side of what she writes is important to her, so she looked at the models proposed for teacher development to see if they could inspire her.

Frameworks for teachers

  • Subject matter knowledge
  • General pedagogical knowledge
  • Pedagogical content knowledge
  • Knowledge of context

This is one way of breaking down what we know.

Here’s another example of a framework:

British Council teacher framework: This talks about four levels: awareness, understanding, engagement, integration. Around these four levels, there are 12 professional practices, including pedagogical, content, context issues.

The level Denise wants to draw our attention to is ‘taking responsibility for professional development’:

Evaluating is great to include, but Denise isn’t sure about how this could be done. Maybe it should be a more integrated part of the sequence of the 4 levels?

Insights from these frameworks

  • Action (and application) not enough
  • We need analysis and evaluation (how?) e.g. Borg, 2018

There were 374 impressions, but only 10 votes. The comments stayed at the application level of CPD.

Denise also looked at frameworks from other areas, not just ELT:

A tentative framework

It’s much more complex!

How do you know whether your professional development is effective or not?

Answers to questions

Should we work towards this individually or as groups? Working together could help us come up with a repertoire of techniques we could use for our own development and for evaluating it.

Final note from me

Here’s an article I wrote for Humanising Language Teaching with some ideas for developing as a materials writer which you might be interested in.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: A practical, goal-focused, combined approach to teaching real-life L2 listening – Sheila Thorn

Sheila’s website is www.thelisteningbusiness.com.

Sheila’s mission for the past 20+ years has been to convince the ELT profession of the need to expose learners to authentic spoken English. Scripts in coursebooks have to be scripted and read by actors, so they are effectively listening to reading aloud, not natural speech. Learners don’t get exposed to how spoken English is naturally produced.

She has worked on producing an authentic listening methodology book (Amazon affiliate link) Integrating authentic listening into the language classroom. Sheila got non-teaching friends to read the chapters and give feedback, so it should be accessible to anybody at any level of teaching.

The prevailing tendency in the teaching of listening is to provide practice and more practice without clearly defined goals.

Listening in the Language Classroom, Field, 2008:3

Sheila worked on defining these goals, and thinking about it from a learner perspective. What do they find challenging?

Issues with listening:

  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive load – you’re trying to decode, and more is still coming in
  • Exhausting
  • Don’t know some of the words, but also don’t recognise the words they know when they’re in a stream of speech (when Sheila analysed random utterances from TV and radio, over 90% of the words were at B1 level)
  • Don’t speak the way we write

Sometimes we don’t realise how tough it is for students to listen to authentic spoken English.

Goals

  1. To build up learners’ confidence
  2. To increase learners’ automaticity (doing things accurately without conscious effort)
  3. To increase learners’ lexical knowledge (aural and orthographic) – making a match between what they hear and what they know already
  4. To encourage learners to work out for themselves the meaning of unfamiliar lexis
  5. To train learners to focus on prominent words in a stream of speech

Three approaches to teaching L2 listening

1. Traditional listening comprehension

2. Meaning building with the teacher as facilitator. No questions or written tasks. You’re not the font of all knowledge, but you are encouraging students to build meaning from what they hear. This is what John Field talked about a lot. Learners can work in groups to do this too.

3. Decoding. Hearing a stream of speech, identifying the words, and attaching meaning to them.

How do these approaches meet the goals?

Listening comprehension

Goal one – only if the tasks are achievable

Goal 2: not really, though it might if you work with a transcript

Goal 3: minimal, though you might pre-teach some items, or answer some questions related to the comprehension questions

Goal 4: probably not

Goal 5: no, though the written task will probably naturally focus on the prominent words

Meaning building

Goal 1: yes

Goal 2: not the key focus, but you might play some extracts more times

Goal 3: this will definitely be happening

Goal 4: yes, this is the main focus of this kind of lesson

Goal 5: yes, but only if the teacher highlights those words for them

Decoding

Mining a recording already for content, but now you mine it for delivery. Taking excerpts from the main recording, working on gap fills or dictation.

Goal 1: yes, they get there in the end even if you have to play it many times

Goal 2: yes, this is the main focus

Goal 3: no, they’d already done this when focussing on content earlier

Goal 4: no, you’ve done it previously

Goal 5: yes, you can gap the prominent word, or gap the words around the main prominent word

Summary

Learners need exposure to authentic recordings. It might be a disaster the first time you do it, but it will get easier with time.

A combined approach to teaching L2 listening is the only way to attain all five listening goals.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: ‘Just be funny!’ Helping trainees develop rapport and engagement – Joanna Stansfield

Joanna is a trainer at IH London.

Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:

  • Planning and scripting
  • Noticing language, analysing language, using language
  • Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
  • Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
  • Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
  • Managing stress, performance

This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?

How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?

Interaction / affective features

  • Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
  • Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
  • Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
  • Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
  • Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground

Lesson design

  • Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
  • Warm-ups and lead ins
  • Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
  • Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
  • Mingles, information sharing

Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?

  • Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
  • Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
  • Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
  • Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
  • Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
  • Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
  • Misguided application
  • Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover

Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it

Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?

  • Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
  • Variety
  • Groupwork, pairwork
  • Small, achievable tasks
  • Activity

What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?

Why did this help?

  • A safe space
  • Inclusive
  • Collaboration
  • Relaxes everyone
  • More open to learning
  • Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially

This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.

Creating time and space: collective responsibility

It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.

Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.

I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.

I saw the students as people.

By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.

Trainee comments

This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’

Putting the knowledge into practice: planning

In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.

Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan

Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:

As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.

Advice from trainees

This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.

Summary

  • Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
  • Establish it as criteria via paperwork
  • Collective responsibility
  • Focus on the learners in feedback
  • Visualisation and differentiation
  • Discuss humour – what is it?

This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.

How to present at an international conference (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

These are the slides from my IATEFL 2022 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on how to present at an international conference, whether that’s face-to-face or online. It’s an updated version of my IATEFL 2019 How to session.

Slide 8 has icons. These are the associated notes:

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

Here are potential solutions to the problems on slide 11:

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

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

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

Here’s a recording of the 2021 version of the talk:

Catherine Walter has a summary of her tips for Giving a presentation at an international conference.

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

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

What other tips do you have?

I’d love to know which of these tips you find useful, and whether you use them to present your own talks in the future. Good luck!

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day Two – Plenary: Reading the world and the word – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day which I have summarised in a series of posts through the day, one post per session.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

What is happening?

When people called out ‘She’s reading’, Gabriel said: ‘She’s looking at a book, but is she reading?’ We can’t make that assumption!

Gabriel says when you look at the literature, the research seems to have become stagnant. Many of the references seem to come from the 1980s. We are currently flooded by texts of different sorts all around us, and we are doing students a disservice if we continue teaching students reading in the way we have been doing. Reading facilitates access to the world, but we have to learn how to do it.

What is reading?

Here are 10 statements which Gabriel got as responses to this question from students and teachers:

Which do you believe to be true? For me, I think it’s 9 and 10, though we spend a lot of time on doing the others in the classroom.

What is the main idea?

Reading is not a receptive skill!

What are the two main factors in reading?

Reading is a complex and active skill. It involves the interplay of both the text and what the reader brings to it. Reading has a two-dimensional nature – it’s not just the text itself.

Fill in the blanks

We need to adopt an interactive approach, combining the reader’s background knowledge with the context of the text, its purpose and the reasons for reading it.

If you’ve been able to read these three texts, we can assume you’re a good reader. So Gabriel will give us 2 minutes to complete a reading test.

The test

We don’t need to understand the vocabulary in the text to be able to answer these comprehension questions.

But what is this text about? We don’t know right now, but with the meaning of only two words, we can understand the whole text.

Blar = text, plume = student

As we read the text again, we really could understand the whole thing. It’s fascinating to notice what your brain is doing as you decode each of these texts.

This is the original:

Give the text a title

When we read it, we couldn’t figure it out. But by adding a single image, it makes the text more transparent.

Assumptions

Returning to the 10 assumptions at the beginning having completed those tasks, would you change anything?

Intensive or extensive?

Research has consistently shown that it is one of the most effective methods of language acquisition, particularly reading for pleasure. {I certainly found this!] However, we don’t do enough of that in the classroom.

We need to stop looking at processes in different boxes, to work with the mediation of the teacher to use a range of different tools to create meaning.

Decoding and comprehending

Decoding is a mechanical process which we can be trained in. Even the most dyslexic of students, given the most attainable of tasks and support, will be able to comprehend a task.

Lower order or higher order

Are we just working at lower order engagement? (Blogging chuffing) Or operating at higher levels?

If students don’t like reading, maybe it’s our materials. Why should they enjoy it? What’s there for them to like?

Making reading more 3-dimensional and a socio-cultural practice

Benefits of extensive reading

Here’s a summary by Donaghy (2016):

  • Students become better readers
  • Learn more vocabulary
  • Improve writing
  • Improves overall language competence
  • Become more motivated to read
  • Develop learner autonomy
  • Become more empathic

But why don’t teachers use extensive reading?

  • Most syllabi don’t require ER.
  • It’s not tested in exams.
  • Syllabi and textbooks only focus on intensive reading.
  • Teachers claim they don’t have time to do ER.
  • ER means giving more control over learning to students. Some teachers aren’t comfortable with this.

Leather and Uden, 2021

If we’re always focusing on intensive reading, we’re not giving our students the tools to talk about extensive reading. In real life, we don’t ask people about synonyms for words they read, we have intelligent conversations about what we’ve read. We don’t do this in the classroom.

The view from neuroscience

Reading changes the way your brain works for the better.

Reading is an empathy workout. It activates parts of our brain connected to what we’re reading about.

How do we understand?

Not by looking at individual words, sentences – that’s what’s we do in the classroom.

By using contexts of various sorts:

  • Grammatical context within sentences – words change meaning according to the grammatical category they belong to. Learners can use what they know from their other languages to help them to make meaning.
  • Semantic context within sentences – lexical meaning is determined by the meaning of other words in a sentence. In many approaches to teaching reading, the norm is pre-teaching vocabulary. We spend time eliciting, students get to the first word they don’t know, and still ask us what the word means. Words get their meaning from the other words around them.
  • Situational, pragmatic context – why is this text relevant? Why was it written? For what purpose? Meaning is determined by the context in which language is used. Unfortunately, much of the reading we do in the classroom is reading to learn more vocabulary or grammar.
  • Intercultural context – meaning that is situated within the context that lies in the artifices, mentifacts and socifacts of a particular culture.
  • Schematic context – organised chunks of knowledge derived from our fund s of knowledge and previous experience. This can be the basis of our strongly held beliefs, and can sometimes conflict with our beliefs and what we read.
  • Sociocultural context – the way that reading activity is deployed in a particular sociocultural and historical context. How reading is seen and considered in that context.

There’s so much that goes into reading! Are you actually tackling all of these contexts? If not, you’re doing the students a disservice.

A two-dimensional model of reading

That’s what happens now: pre-reading, while reading, post-reading.

Pre-reading is typically discussing the topic, with a question or two, and then they look for the answer in the text to check whether they are right or not. Is that a reading or a pre-reading activity? Reading! Before that, they answered a question out of the blue.

A different reading sequence

Pre-reading

Prior knowledge: Activate the student‘s background knowledge. For example, this is a picture. Make a telescope out of a piece of paper, make it as narrow as you can. Look at the picture through the telescope from left to right and top to bottom.

This is from museum education, Burton (2018). This is way of training the eye to read in this direction – students might be used to reading in a different direction, or only short texts.

Then ask students ‘what did you notice in the picture?’

Prediction: When students predict, comprehension is facilitated.

Show two images – what is the connection? Add one more image – what is the next connection? Add another image – what is the next connection? This creates rich discussions.

Preview: Give a discussion task. Then a title for them to complete. There’s an example below.

Students are now interested and intrigued by the text. They want to know what they’re going to read.

While reading

Vocabulary: Find the opposite of the word in the text. The word in the rectangle is the opposite. The ovals are synonyms. The oval closest to the text is the nearest synonym.

Questions: The questions can only be answered if the students have understood the text, but don’t repeat what’s in it.

Archaeological dig: They have evidence that something might be there. With a brush, they slower uncover the object. We’re doing the same, but with language. Help students understand how the text works and why the text was constructed in this way.

Grammar and vocabulary and connectors are covered in the ‘focus in organisation’.

Post reading

Let the students manipulate and appropriate the text, so they feel ‘I can do this’.

Oral summary: Work in pairs. Share a similar story (real or imaginary). Then works it’s another pair. The the other pair your partner’s story. Is it a true story? Students will look at the text and organisation and capitalise on this.

Written summary: Write the letter which was in the original photo.

Comparing themes: Use this wheel to discuss what was happening.

Sociocultural praxis

This is Reading not as a skill, but as mediated sociocultural praxis. Not just taking things from the text, but taking control over what they take from it.

  • Intentionality / reciprocity
  • Transcend the here and now.
  • Meaning in every single activity.
  • Multi-modality
  • Respecting what society values related to reading – social and individual

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day One

I started the day early, with my How To session – How to give a presentation at an international conference. I then attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day.

To help my iPad to cope, I will write each talk up as a separate post. I apologise in advance to your inbox if you subscribe! I’ll come back to this post at a later date and add an index of all of the day one talks.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

Plenary: (Re)imagining and (re)inventing early English language learning and teaching – Nayr Ibrahim

(Re)viewing the past

When Nayr started teaching in 1994, she had a degree in literature and a CELTA. She was trained to teach adults, but found herself in a classroom with children. She was mis-qualified, and the children ran rings around her. This reflects the experience of many teachers. Teaching children was seen as the appendix of the ‘real job’ of teaching adults.

In 1985, the IATEFL Special Interest Group in Young Learners was set. It’s now YLTSIG (Young Learner and Teenagers Special Interest Group).

Eric Lenneberg (1967) put forward the Critical Period Hypothesis, launching the age debate – is younger better? Research that was shared was based on children learning a second language in immersion contexts. Nayr emphasises that Foreign Languages (FL) are learnt in a different way. There was a struggle for a different lens for early language learning, different to adult learning, different to immersion contexts.

In 2002, when Nayr was looking for a Masters degree, there was no qualification focussed on teaching young learners. She twisted her MA modules so that she could focus on YL in all of them. At this point she discovered the literature of YL teacher.

This literature helped her to feel proud of being a YL teacher. This literature covered areas like the way that children are learning how to learn, the importance of the socio-affective domain, teaching the whole child, how to scaffold to both support and motivate children, and how children experience the world of fantasy.

Courses to focus on teaching young learners like the CELTYL were unsuccessful as there was little demand, partly because schools didn’t ask for them. But the growth of children learning languages was huge. This was one quote about it:

A truly global phenomenon and as possibly the world’s biggest policy development in education.

Johnson, 2009, p23

CEFR levels were launched in 2001, but they were developed for adult learning and slapped onto children / teens and their materials. Now there are descriptors for children and adolescents, but they don’t cover all of the aspects of early language learning, as it covers far more than just languages.

By 2011, all EU countries had introduced foreign language learning at primary level. 84 countries in the world had lowered the age at which a foreign language had introduced. Nearly all 42 Asian countries had made foreign language learning at primary obligatory. But studies were showing that younger is not better if conditions were not correct.

Conditions for younger to be better include small classes, more time, qualified practitioners, the out-of-school experience / exposure, and understanding all of the many factors which impact on children’s foreign language progress. (There were many more Nayr mentioned)

2014 was a watershed moment for Nayr. The debate at that year’s IATEFL conference was ‘Teaching English to young learners does more harm than good’ (I think I’ve got that title slightly wrong!) ELTJ published a special issue in teaching English to young learners. It included an article ‘Young learners: defining our terms’. There were acknowledgements in general about dividing young learners into early years, young learners, teenagers – highlighting that there are differences between how these learners learn. There is more professionalisation of young learner teaching now, more research, and it’s acknowledged as a field.

ELLRA – Early Language Learning Research Association is about to become a reality.

I am a teacher, with a complex identity. Own your identity. Display it to the learners. They will benefit from it.

Nayr Ibrahim

Although we have to some extent accepted the use of the L1 in language teaching, we need more research into translanguaging. We need to move from the mother tongue or the L1 to integrating more linguistic diversity.

In 2018, Nayr was thrown into consultancy work on the Norwegian curriculum. Some of the words in the curriculum are shown in the image above. There was a move from ‘learn’ or ‘know about’ to ‘discuss’ or ‘reflect’. The question with all of these things is ‘Do we know how to do this?’

As Kalaja and Pitkanen-Huchta say, the problem is that these are all buzzwords. We still know very little about how these areas work in primary and pre-primary English. There is a lot of fuel for research here, if you’re looking for something to work on.

There is now much more literature available related to teaching young learners.

ECML is one website which looks at plurilingual and CLIL approaches.

The most recent ELTon winner for innovation was a book focussed on pre-primary by Gail Ellis and Sandie Mourao [Amazon affiliate link]. This is a huge shift from when Nayr started her career.

Where are we now?

There has been a steep rise in pre-primary education in general around the world. 63 countries have adopted free pre-primary education. 51 have adopted compulsory pre-primary education. 46 countries have free and compulsory education. Even one year of pre-primary schooling can have a huge impact on later education, laying the foundation for literacy and numeracy, and general preparation for school. However, in COVID responses, early / pre-primary education as often neglected in favour of older children.

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.

Goal 4 of (I’m not sure!)

In top-level educational guidelines, early foreign language learning is one of the least mentioned areas, but it is exploding unofficially. We need to be aware of our impact on children at this stage – at no point is the whole child so important.

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) – there is a shift from teaching to care, being mindful of these young children in our care.

According to Mourao, there is a slow increase in talks connected to research in early language learning. This area of ELT is being taken seriously now. There are now more books too, with a steady increase in publications, as you can see in the photo below.

Nayr says we need to continue to investigate pre-primary contexts, and fund more research in these areas, with a focus on areas like broad cognitive development, child-centred pedagogies, holistic training, and greater specificity in training.

How can we reinvent early language learning?

Go back to basics!

Start with the child. A learning individual. Beings in the present. Social actors in their own right being changed by and changing their environments. Languages should not be fostered as separate subjects, but as something communicative which is used through other subjects. We teach the whole child through English, rather than teaching English to the child.

Start with children as linguistic geniuses, with the right to all of their languages. Language learning is hard work, even for little ones. Nayr asked a little boy ‘What is English? What is French?’

English is green and French is vert.

Learning languages allows for an affirmation of identify. Translanguaging gives children voices and foregrounds their personal language experience as valid, important and relevant. Children can learn more than one language simultaneously. Our languages are always active in our heads, they are not blocked.

Colourblindness vs colour-consciousness.

Husband, 2019

Diversity is around us, not somewhere else. Be aware of it. Deal with issues of race and diversity explicitly. Don’t ignore the differences around us.

Use quality language materials. Use picture books. Allow children to explore not just the word, but the world, as Freire said.

Learning is messy. It’s erratic and recursive and simultaneous and complex. Occasionally it plateaus, then it peaks. Children need colour, art, music, nature. Let them play! Stop testing them. Use observation and reflection. Stop sitting them at desks. Let them move around. Stop adultifying early language learning. Use the philosophy of approaches like Montessori, Steiner. Stop CLILifying. English should be integrated in the routines of everyday life.

Let them play!

Nayr Ibrahim

Let’s making learning Trans!

  • Transcultural
  • Translingual
  • Transformative
  • Transgressive

As we move from primary to pre-primary, we can’t assume that we can use primary approaches to teacher 3, 4 and 5 year olds.

MaWSIG Pre-Conference event (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is my first PCE as a member of the MaWSIG committee. We ran a day of sessions called ‘Exploring dichotomies: bridging gaps and joining the dots’. This was the programme:

These are my notes from each session. If you were one of the speakers, please feel free to correct anything you feel I may have got wrong! There may be some slightly odd sections when my iPad w

Writing effective materials about traumatic subjects – Tania Pattison

Tania lives in Canada, so this talk is centred on a Canadian context, but can be applied anywhere in the world.

She did a materials writing project based on a tragic episode in Canadian history. She’s going to share 10 tips for writing materials based on topics which aren’t typically in course books.

She wrote about this for IATEFL Voices, issue 283, published in November 2021, if you’d like to read more.

The episode Tania wrote about was the way that indigenous people were treated in Canada over a number of years, and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the TRC recommendations was that newcomers to Canada and people in the education system need to be taught about what happened. Tania worked on EAP materials for a college in Canada, which had to include materials related to TRC. She’s not indigenous, or even Canadian so she asked herself how she could write about this in a sensitive, accurate way, while fulfilling her goal of writing EAP material.

These are her tips.

1. Know why you’re doing it

  • Are you trying to fill a gap in student knowledge?
  • Raise awareness of world issues?
  • Work on critical thinking?

2. Keep your own values in check

Any attempt to impose your own values on students becomes ‘an exercise in self-indulgence rather than effective’.

Guy Cook, IATEFL debate 2021

3. Consider your timing

Make sure students already know each other and feel comfortable with each other before you approach this kind of material. Give them background information first – for example, Tania had information about Canada’s government and some basics about the country first, as the materials were for newly-arrived students.

Allow time for students to process the materials – you may want to have less material in these units. Make sure it’s a point in the course where you can determine whether the students are ready for this type of material.

4. Scaffold your materials.

Find out what students already know, and what stereotypes people may already have. You may need to dispel these before you start working on anything else.

5. Be mindful of the balance between teaching language, skills and content

You can’t suddenly switch from harrowing content to a grammar lesson. Think about how to make transitions between parts of the lesson.

If you can, incorporate skills into your teaching, for example website analysis, critical thinking.

6. Let the voices of those affected take centre stage

Never speak about us without us.

Roberta Bear, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

Can you use first-hand accounts from those involved? Artwork? Guest speakers if you can? Those could be the basis of the materials.

7. Don’t sugar-coat it

Recognise that something terrible happened, or is still happening. Show the reality.

Use trigger warnings – be prepared for students to excuse themselves from activities.

8. Allow flexibility in the way the material is to be delivered

Take cues from how student are reacting.

If you’re writing for other teachers, include ideas for different approaches in the teacher’s notes.

9. Build in opportunities for individual reflection and response

The issues might not be unique to the situation you are writing about – it may allow students to talk about other issues from other places and times that aren’t foreseen in the materials.

Phrases like ‘Use your own judgement’ or ‘There is no correct answer’ are useful in instructions and teacher’s notes.

Many learners have been waiting their whole lives to engage in these kinds of conversations and find Canada, or the right teacher, is giving them the space to do so.

Amy Abe, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

10. Try to end on a positive note where possible

This may not be possible, but if you can, aim to leave students with a sense of optimism.

Can you find a way to celebrate an oppressed culture, show improvements that have taken place, etc.? Examples Tania used were encouraging students to attend an art gallery with indigenous art, or to find out about college statistics regarding indigenous students and the support they have available for them.

Chanie Wenjack was the child whose story Tania wrote about – he died when he was a child and ran away from the boarding school he was forced to attend. Now, it’s the name of a lecture theatre at the university Tania attended, and the name of a school: The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University, Canada.

When properly approached, these discussions can be some of the best, with students coming away with invaluable lessons learned.

Tim Johnson, University Affairs, 2015

Responses to questions

If you’re writing materials for teachers and students you don’t know, your teacher’s notes become very important. Make it as clear as possible regarding different ways you can approach this material, and different ways students may need to process this information.

Working with young learners, they know about what’s going on in the world even from a very young age, so we need to address these topics, but we need to feel how ready they are – what background knowledge do they have? What are they ready to process? Some children may be more scared by not talking about these challenging issues than if we cover them.

We also need to know about the potential backgrounds of the students (and teachers) we’re writing for. Some of these issues may trigger areas which our students have personal experience of and don’t want to or aren’t ready to talk about yet. We need to leave space within the materials to allow processing of these issues, and not force anybody to discuss anything they don’t want to – there needs to be an escape clause too.

Practical strategies for writing inclusive ELT materials – Amina Douidi

Amina is an intercultural and diversity consultant.

Intercultural language education is about integrating the teaching of language and culture / cultures. It needs to go ‘beyond presenting isolated snippets of information about the target language culture’ (Liddicoat, 2014) and the integration of the learners’ languages and cultures (Liddicoat, 2008).

Intercultural communication competence is about the refinement and development of intercultural skills, knowledge and attitudes of interacting with the world of cultural difference that complement language competence (Byram, 1997). We don’t assume that our learners come to the classroom as blank pages, hence the inclusion of refinement here.

It’s a particular challenge for writing materials for English teaching, as opposed to other languages, because of the way that English has been appropriated globally.

Interculturally oriented materials:

  • Promote Global Englishes and/or English as a Lingua Franca, in order to continually challenge native-speakerism.
  • Recognise Global North / Global South power imbalance, inequalities and status quo. Recognise our own identities and how they might impact on the materials writing process.
  • Promote a decolonial discourse and challenge methodologies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; 2016) and concepts rooted in an imperialist worldview. Create space for learners within the lessons.
  • Promote intercultural skills: mediating, interpreting, and relating, curiosity, interaction and curiosity.

Global majority is a new term which is intended to replace the idea of racial minorities.

Amina asked us to reflect on our own writing:

These are the principles Amina would like to promote these ideas.

Principle 1: Variety of representation

Amina has selected variety rather than diversity.

The 4 Ps (Yuen, 2011):

  • People: Global North and Global South
  • Places: The historically privileged and the historically marginalised
  • Perspectives: dominant and silenced narratives
  • Practices: judgement-free, contextualised, and well-informed account of cultural behaviours, customs and traditions, focused on the individual – rather than stereotypes / overarching narratives, focus on a single narrative – rather than cultural facts

Principle 2: Complexity of representation

  • Addressing topics of social and cultural relevance to learners (e.g. gender roles)
  • Challenge fixity of cultural constructs: normalise the possibility of change / changing opinions / changing your mind – just because you don’t like modern art now, doesn’t mean this will always be true
  • Contextualise systemic inequality beyond personal responsibility – what is the history of this practice? E.g. Why don’t people vote?
  • Show intersectionality as the norm: we’re not just one identity, we’re many. Amina is educated, a PhD holder, a woman, a wife, a multilingual speaker, not just one…all of these.
  • Sustaining inclusivity: there is no ‘correct’ amount of diversity to include.

Principle 3: Intentionality in instruction

Include these ideas within rubrics and learning outcomes. For example:

  • Mediation
  • Curiosity: finding out about other people’s practices e.g. what do you eat for breakfast?
  • [2 others which I missed]

The ‘Five savoirs’ shown in the slide above are possible ways we can think about intercultural skills. They shouldn’t necessarily be turned into learning outcomes, but they can be things you can consider in your writing.

Discussion

As an editor, you need to acknowledge the fact that materials writers have spent a lot of time on their materials already. You don’t necessarily want to come in and scrap the materials completely because they’re lacking intercultural elements. You may need to tweak the materials by adding a task, changing a task, adding a question or two.

Queer materials writing: sharing research perspectives and (some) experience – Thorsten Merse

Torsten is a professor of ELT education at the University of Duisburg-Essen, who is particularly interested in LGBTIQ+ and queer theory at the intersection with critical coursebook analysis. He is a researcher, but has some experience of writing materials himself.

He acknowledges that it’s easier to critique materials than to write them in the first place. He also recognises that he speaks from a position of privilege, that we are able to talk about this in our context, but this might not be possible everywhere int he world.

Thorsten says: Coursebooks can cause transformation. If something appears in the course book, teachers might think about including it. If it’s never there, they may never consider it, even if they would be willing to do so.

In Queer EFL Teaching and Learning, there has been a systematic invisibility of these identities. There is a lot of sexual identity in coursebooks, but it’s so normal we don’t even think about it: for example, the typical family. It’s about challenging norms which are there. We often circulate single stories in our profession: ‘the single story of heterosexuality’, and although there are some shifts (for example, not everyone is now white), there is still not much in the way of queer identities in materials. There are some research links in the photo below:

Queer EFL teaching and learning has started to become a more researched topic, and is now being researched more. There have been conferences about Queering ESOL, podcast episodes (Angelos Bollas got a mention) and it’s becoming more visible.

In Germany, there is now a requirement to include the diversity of sexual identities in some curriculums.

English as a school subject ‘engages learners in themes such as social, economic, ecological, political, cultural and intercultural phenomena, problems of sustainable development as well as the diversity of sexual identiities

Curriculum English from Lower Saxony, NsK, 2015 (Thorsten’s translation)

Merse and his colleagues looked at three ELT coursebooks for year 9 at comprehensive schools, looking at representation of diversity in general: sexual, gender, and other skills. They looked at images and the text surrounding them, exploring visibility, voice and agency of diverse identities. They started from the assumption that heteronormativity and cisgender would be the default.

They grouped these into prevailing features – not what we should do, but what actually happened in the course books they analysed.

Representational strategy I: heteronormativity

This is often the default.

100% clarity: male, female, cis

No trans or inter

In cases of ambiguity, the texts clarify, for example through pronouns

Representational strategy II: LGBTIQ+ invisibility

No representation of any facet of LGBTIQ+ diversity at allOf

Often written out on purpose

Representational strategy III: ???

Problematising queer identities, with no opportunity to challenge being gay as being a problem identity, for example in the text below.

Representational strategy IV: The stand-alone and stick-out representation

More positive representations

But only one in the whole book

And not necessarily

Exotic, an add-on, but well meant

Representational strategy V: a full unit

The acronym was spelt out. The whole unit dealt with the question of gender identity.

New strategies

  • Background diversity of LGBTIQ+ coursebook characters just happen to be LGBTIQ+ without requiring explanation.
  • Ambiguity and openness: create tasks and activities where learners can bring their own experience into ‘gaps’.
  • Explicit focalisation of LGBTIQ+ create cultural and linguistic learning opportunities through engaging learners in LGBTIQ+ content
An example from Thorsten’s materials

Challenges

  • How much LGBTIQ+ is enough? (OR: How much normativity are you willing to have taken away from you?) – not necessarily a valid question, but one that you have a lot
  • Fear of ‘wrong’ or ‘too extreme’ representation of LGBTIQ+ lives, issues and people
  • ‘The danger of a single story’ – balanced representations
  • Making thematic matches that makes sense rather than appearing odd (for example, a discussion about a koala keeper – sexuality not relevant, but a discussion of toilets in a school – definitely relevant)
  • Selecting and curating authentic sources, or creating pedagogic texts, for materials production

Bridging a 30-year gap in materials writing – Sue Kay

Here’s Sue’s write-up of the talk.

Sue is talking about how she took the Reward resource packs and is trying to update them 30 years after they were originally written. The first pack was released in 1994.

The writers wanted to think about how to make them more relevant and useful for today’s classroom, including ideas like diversity, inclusion, and making them deliverable both face-to-face and online.

Simon Greenall wrote the Reward coursebooks which the resource packs were written to accompany. Simon observed lessons Sue was teaching, and Sue showed him some materials she’d written to add communicative elements to to the classroom. Simon asked her to write the resource packs.

In ELT in the nineties, the cassette started to lose ground to the CD. Typical books were Headway, Streamline, Thinking First Certificate. Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games and and Play Games with English by Colin Granger were popular resource books. Michael Lewis wrote The Lexical Approach in 1993. The CEFR first draft was written in 1995, but wasn’t published until 2001. Corpus-based dictionaries became popular in the 1990s.

What wasn’t happening in ELT in 1994?

  • No broadband internet for finding authentic materials quickly.
  • No way to quickly check word frequency in a corpus-informed online dictionary.
  • No checking CEFR level. There was no talk of ‘Diversity and inclusion’ – Tyson Seburn did his talk ‘This talk will make you gay’ at IATEFL 2019.
  • English as a Lingua Franca only came to fore around twenty laters.
  • There was no green agenda – ELT Footprint was founded in May 2019.
  • 21st century skills were not a thing.
  • No considerations of neurodiversity, such as dyslexia.
  • No digital delivery.

These are the filters through which they’re re-writing the materials. They’re trying to maintain the humour and fun of the original activities, while considering these factors now.

Obvious changes

Activities which were based on student input didn’t really need to be changed, apart from considering digital delivery.Fonts in some activities

Fonts in some activities need to be replaced to make them more accessible for students who might struggle to read them

With references to holidays, they’re aiming to have a green filter, reducing the amount of international air travel for example.

This activity has been updated to reduce the ageism in it, along with other phrases which might be removed or updated.

Updating a pair work activity

In this activity, students put the phrases in order based on what is typical in their country. They then read a story and reorganise the phrases based on that story. They then tell their story to a partner by looking at the phrases, not the story.

They created two updated versions of the activity. This one is for face-to-face delivery:

They changed the title, and for the phrases, they separated meeting online / face-to-face, widowed (relationships aren’t only about first relationships), meeting families (not parents), ‘became exclusive’ added as an up-to date phrases. These are the new stories:

These are the new stories:

They’re universal stories, which could apply to any culture, situation or sexuality.

In terms of the methodology for the face-to-face activity, the steps were largely the same, but some tweaks are there. For example, rather than thinking about what is typical in your country, students are now asked to think about a relationship they’re familiar with.

For online delivery, there is a spreadsheet. There are new teacher’s notes to show how it can be delivered in the online classroom.

When they started to consider how to adapt materials for online teaching, They did a survey related to pair work and group work online. These were the results:

Mingles

Does anything jump out at you as being inappropriate? How would you adapt it this to the online classroom?

These are the changes they made.

They removed some wording, changed some wording, and added in some green wording.

For online delivery, they created a spreadsheet with different tabs – one for each question. They gave very clear instructions in the teacher’s notes to show how this mingle could be run in an online classroom – this is a very clear format which makes mingles possible online.

Picture research: what can we do for each other? – Sharon McTeir

Sharon runs her own company, called Creative Publishing Services which focused originally on design and typesetting. Now her specialism is picture research, mostly for ELT contexts, dictionaries and education.

What does a picture researcher do?

  • Research
    In different contexts, libraries, commissioning photographers
  • Clear permissions and rights

Changes in picture research

There are fewer image libraries, as they have been amalgamated into big companies.

It’s harder to find natural images. Many of them are staged.

Fewer picture researchers are being hired. Instead writers are asked to do it, editors assistants and interns might be asked to do it, or staff in the big UK image libraries, or outsourced to companies in India and China.

Why use a picture researcher?

  • Relationships – building up a relationship with them
  • Years of training in copyright law
  • Awareness of how different photo libraries can be used
  • Providing a carefully considered image for that situation

Diversity and inclusion

Race, gender, animal rights, sensitive historical images, and tokenism are all areas which are now considered.

Writing a picture brief

You need to include all of the following information about the business:

  • Project title / ISBN
  • Print / digital
  • Print Run / Licence period
  • Territory

And about the end user:

  • Business / academic / etc.
  • Age: adults / young adult / children.
  • Any special needs / considerations.

Sometimes it can be useful to say what you don’t want, rather than what you want.

Answers to questions

Photo shoots don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes it can be cheaper to have a day of working with a photographer than trying to find the perfect images and ensure the permissions are all signed off on.

Many publishers have exclusive agreements with specific picture libraries.

Avoiding tokenism: working together to find a better way – Aleksandra Popovski

Alex is the outgoing MaWSIG coordinator and she’ll be the next Vice President of IATEFL. She’s also in the classroom with her students every day, and regularly produces materials to use with her students.

Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion, to help make you or your organisation look good. Coursebooks are cultural constructs and carry a lot of cultural messages.

Equality, ELT materials should not look like political manifestos – that’s not what not what they are. It’s not propaganda material. Materials should provide a springboard for discussion, a springboard for critical thinking, and we should remember that they’re there to improve English skills.

There is no framework for avoiding tokenism in ELT, so we need to take these from other fields. These are some suggestions.

Alex says that we need to tell more stories, covering a wider range of stories. It’s impossible to cover them all. When we write about a different culture, we should not write about the usual aspects of that culture we already know. That can create stereotypes, which becomes the story. We should talk about different people’s stories, within that culture.

Here are examples of some of the alternative stories you could tell about some of these cultures:

Do your research before you start writing

Look for more than one story.

Write about things you know, you are familiar with, lived experiences.

Make an informed decision about what to include in your materials.

What do you already know about the culture? What are your opinions on this topic? How might this influence your writing?

What cultures aren’t represented in the materials you use? How could you find out about that culture? Where would you do the research?

A framework you could use is a KWLH chart:

  • What I know
  • What I want to know
  • What I learnt
  • How I write about it

No showcasing

Do not put anyone or anything on display just because it seems special or different to you.

Create a character with personality, not just inserting an image.

Create a character with a real purpose and meaning in materials. Don’t just put them there, but use them again throughout the unit and the materials.

Create connections

Materials writers aren’t just producers of exercises, of grammar rules. We are writers of stories, who should be real and relatable for our students. Avoid one-off characters and events whenever you can. Weave stories, and create connections throughout materials.

Have a ‘sidekick’

Ask somebody to work with you to read / trial your materials. They could be a ‘fixer’, making sure you’re not tokenistic. This is something editors can do if you’re working with them, but classroom writers should consider this too.

Overall

There were lots of threads of inclusion, diversity, and considering carefully how we approach our materials writing so that we are thinking about them from the beginning, rather than retro-fitting. A fascinating PCE!

Joining the MaWSIG committee

I’ve now been a member of the MaWSIG committee for a few months, and I’ve learnt a lot. We’re currently getting ready for IATEFL Belfast 2022, including our Pre-Conference Event. Registrations are open until May 5th for both the conference and the PCE.

You can read why I decided to join the MaWSIG committee and what my role is in this guest post on the MaWSIG blog.

MaWSIG logo

How to present at an international conference (IATEFL Online 2021)

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

Slide 8 has icons. These are the associated notes:

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

Here are potential solutions to the problems on slide 11:

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

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

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

Here’s a recording of the talk:

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

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

What other tips do you have?

What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year (IATEFL 2021)

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

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

Background

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

Working with humans

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

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

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

Start where they are

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

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

Experience-based rather than information-based

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

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

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

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

Increase impact

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

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

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

Learning through dialogue

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

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

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

Model

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

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

Evaluate

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

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

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

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

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

Follow up

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

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

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

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

IATEFL 2021: Day Three – Monday 21st June

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

These are my summaries of the talks.

How to present at an international conference – Sandy Millin

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

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

Where Kieran’s interest in empathy comes from?

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

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

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

Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)

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

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

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

What is empathy?

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

Roman Krznaric (2014: x)

There are three parts to empathy highlighted here:

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

How do we develop empathy?

Children must experience empathy to learn to express it themselves.

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

Experience, but not brilliance, improves empathy.

Carl Rogers (1975: 5-6)

The neurological foundations of empathy

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

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

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

Why is empathy important in society?

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

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

Jeremy Rifkin (2009:26)

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

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

David Howe (2013: 201)

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

There is a range of possible reasons for this:

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

Why is empathy important in education?

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

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

Daniel Goleman (1995: 286)

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

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

Furrer, Skinner and Pitzer (2014: 102)

To teach children, we must first reach them.

Mary Gordon (1994: 214?)

What are the characteristics of an empathic teacher?

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

  • Functional empathy
  • Fundamental empathy
  • Profound empathy

Functional empathy

What are the characteristics of it?

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

Conclusions about functional empathy:

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

Fundamental empathy

Characteristics of fundamental empathy:

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

How is fundamental empathy communicated?

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

Conclusions about functional empathy:

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

Profound empathy

Characteristics of profound empathy in teachers:

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

Conclusions about profound empathy:

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

Why is empathy particularly important in language education?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gkonou and Mercer (2016: 8)

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

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

Bridget Cooper (2011: 182)

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

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

Sarah Mercer (2016: 106)

Is there an empathy deficit in language education?

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

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

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

Amir Garmroudi (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Keer and Andrew Wickham (2016: 78)

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

  • Poor mental health

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

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

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

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

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

Audrey Watters (2020)

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

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

Ben Williamson (2020)

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

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

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

Andrea Schliecher (2020)

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

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

bell hooks (1994: 207)

How can we develop empathy in the classroom?

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

Concluding thoughts

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

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

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

Coming back to the Earl Stevick quote from the beginning:

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

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

Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)

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

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

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

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

The title of the talk comes from a quote:

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

E.M. Forster: Howard’s End

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

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

World

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

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

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

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

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

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

World: connecting through celebrating our environment:

Problems

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

Solutions

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

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

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

World: Connecting through art, music and literature

Problem: we all have different tastes.

Solutions:

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

Others: Humour

Problems:

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

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

Solutions:

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

Others: intercultural communication

Problem:

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

Solutions:

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

Others: group dynamics

Problem with communicative activities:

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

So we should focus on finding similarities rather than differences.

Solutions:

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

Self: creating a vision

The self…or selves?

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

Norton, 1994

Selves for language students:

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

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

Cultivating wellbeing

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

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

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

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

  • warmth
  • kindness
  • strength
  • courage
  • wisdom

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

Wellbeing for managers

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

Key components of a supportive school culture

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

Servant leadership

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

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

Teacher wellbeing

Why is this important?

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

What challenges do teachers face?

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

Who’s affected by low wellbeing?

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

How does can wellbeing affect teachers at different career points?

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

Within language education

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

Areas focussed on so far include:

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

Taking a whole school approach

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

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

Focussing on the teacher:

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

Focussing on teachers working together:

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

Focussing on relationships with the students:

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

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

Ben is the head of Teacher Education at Trinity College.

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

Terminology

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

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

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

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

Teaching and learning reflecting understanding of language use

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

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

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

Teachers CPD needs

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

Questions about these:

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

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

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

and their students’ needs.

The Certificate for Practising teachers (CertPT) overview

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

trinitycollege.com/certPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washback effect

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

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

References

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

The European background

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

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

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

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

Language learning interactive worlds

Engage the body:

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

Collaborative virtual environments involve:

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

The Italian background

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

There is an English village specifically dedicated to learning English.

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

David Crystal

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

Previous EU funded projects

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

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

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

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

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

Outcomes and deliverables

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

They introduced the theory of game design:

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

They demonstrated best practice in games:

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

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

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

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

I also liked Heike’s fairy avatar!

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

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

A creative approach to learning and teaching spelling – Philip Haines

[I joined this session 15 minutes in]

A five-step approach to helping students with spelling:

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

Examples of strategies

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

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

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

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

light – consonants in the order of the alphabet

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

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

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

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

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

bed – looks like a ‘bed’

dog – can also be a picture:

extension (not extention):

visible (not visable): two eyes for the dots

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

catalog (the American spelling):

Say it as it sounds:

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

Conny’s website is www.shakespeareexcusion.com.

Prejudices against using Shakespeare

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

Aims

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

But first: a pre-Shakespeare activity

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

A: Have you got it?

B: What?

A: It!

B: Ah, it! Yes.

Decode Iambic pentameter

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

Shakespearean examples:

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

10 beats = iambic

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

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

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

Decode specific scenes

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

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

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

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

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

Decoding longer speeches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context

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

Learner teachers’ issues with reflective writing

Previous journal format:

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

Changes to assessment criteria and journal

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example:

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

Activities and resources to scaffold reflection and reflective writing

Overall changes:

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

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

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

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

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

They also had online resources, like this:

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

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

Here’s an example of what they produced:

Impact

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

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

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

References

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

Research: chapter, key findings

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

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

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

How they apply key findings in teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abrami et al. metastudy (2015: 302)

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

Clips – an activity

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

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

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

Afterwards, we discussed:

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

Supporting claims with evidence

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

#

The one from Sherlock:

The one from Friends:

The results

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

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

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

Module evaluations

This is what the students thought about the course:

Q & A

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

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

Fiction clips work well too.

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

IATEFL 2021: Day Two – Sunday 20th June

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

These are my summaries of the talks.

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

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

Why is testing so challenging?

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

North, 1996

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

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

The challenges of aligning teaching with testing

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

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

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

What else don’t we test necessarily?

  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Digital search literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinker (2018) Enlightenment Now

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

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

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

Elephants in the room

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

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

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

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

What we (could/should) test and how

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

Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from interactive reflection – Jason Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does a flipped course work?

The idea is:

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

How can they find out the difference?

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

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

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

Themes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participants read the knowledge on the site.

They have the coursebooks open in front of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact on reflection and group feedback

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

They are talking about academic English and patterning in English.

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

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

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

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

You can then display patterns like this:

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

What do learners need to know to write like this?

An example of academic writing:

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

Bax 1997: 233, shortened

They need to know:

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

Words in a dictionary

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

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

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

Activity: from pattern to meaning

Examples might be:

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

They all have the same grammar patterns as each other.

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

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

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

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

Pattern and sequence: form and meaning

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

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

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

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

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

Another example:

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

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

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

Why teach patterns and sequences?

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

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about:

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

Mindfulness needs time and regular practice.

What is mindfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

In the classroom

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

What makes students stressed?

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

Most of them said they always feel stressed.

What happened?

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

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

Another activity

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

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

If young people can do it, we can too!

The body scan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study

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

The research questions were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foundational Competencies

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

Advanced Competencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions for teacher training programmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

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

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

Background

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

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

It was a new coursebook.

Can we teach/learn English without explicit grammar teaching?

Context

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

The focus was on learning a specific profession.

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

Why even consider grammarless teaching?

On the one hand…

On the other hand…

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

Some more research:

Lesley Piggott did PhD research:

This is research from Canada:

Traditional coursebooks

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

In their coursebook

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

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

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

What do (some) teachers want?

Some teachers want grammar.

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

What the market wants, the market gets!

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

There are exercises too, but these are meaning focussed:

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

The form exercises are more receptive:

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

In conclusion

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

BUT…

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

References

Interpersonal skills for better communication! – Chia Suan Chong

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

Why teach interpersonal skills?

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

The Big Six of Business English

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

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

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

Interpersonal skills

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

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

Building relationships / 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.

Stephen Covey

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

Ways that we build trust:

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

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

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

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

Stephen Covey

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

An activity

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

The Trust Equation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active listening

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

What does active listening involve?

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

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

Bob Dignen

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

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

This creates a truly interactive dialogue.

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

IATEFL 2021: Day One – Saturday 19th June

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

These are my summaries of the talks I attended.

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

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

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

Note: SpLD = Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences

What is inclusive education?

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

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

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

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

It relies on teacher awareness and expertise on diversity.

It involves making adjustments and giving specialized support when necessary.

Recognize and understand

What type of SpLDs are there?

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

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

What are the underlying cognitive causes of SpLDs?

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

Impact on second language learning

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

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

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

Social aspects of SpLDs

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

Strengths related to SpLDs

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

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

Universal design and individualized support

What is universal design?

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

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

An example of options for expression

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

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

From the EnGage task bank

Advantages of online learning for students with SpLDs

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

Disadvantages of online learning for students with SpLDs

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

Supporting students with SpLDs in online learning

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

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

Self-regulation of learning

Planning the learning process

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

Regulating attention

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

Regulating feelings and motivation

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

Self-evaluation

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

Bite-size online learning

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

Accessibility of online learning

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

What can we adjust in our classrooms?

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

Learning strategies and teaching techniques

Spelling and pronunciation

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

Vocabulary learning strategies

Questions to ask:

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

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

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

Reading

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

Writing

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

8 steps (from Marc Fabri, Leeds Beckett University)

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

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

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

Why differentiate?

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

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

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

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

What kind of training needs emerged?

Practical:

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

Cognitive:

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

Interactive

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

Affective

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

Teacher trainers’ jobs cover a huge range of areas:

Their jobs were a complex mix of the pedagogical

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

Principles

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

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

Differentiation can be done in a variety of ways:

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

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

How can we achieve differentiation?

Outside training hours for individual hours:

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

In the training room:

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

Extra reading:

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

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

Background to the study

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

Simpson (2012) in Murray and Christensen (2018)

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

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

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

Looking at:

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

The study was:

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

Results

The impact on participants:

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

The impact on students:

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

The impact on colleagues and workplaces:

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

What created these positive results?

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

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

Implications for the industry

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

Reference:

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

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

You can find full details of my presentation here.

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

[I moderated this session.]

This was part of the YLTSIG showcase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact on the teachers:

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

Challenges – even pre-pandemic:

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

The impact on the children:

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

The impact on the community:

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

Reflections

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

The programme in numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

This is particularly connected to some doctoral research Josie did.

Background to her research

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

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

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

What does becoming a teacher mean?

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

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

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

Outline of the study

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

Research questions:

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

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

She looked it through a lens of social materialism:

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

(Michael, 2017, p. 5)

As Josie put it:

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

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

Mulcahy, 2011

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

Mulcahy, 2011

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

Short extracts from the findings

This is a small sample across time.

From past experiences:

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

Factors shaping identities in postgraduate study:

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

What about imagined professional selves?

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

Summary

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

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

For Josie, she learnt a lot too:

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

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

[I moderated this session.]

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

What is supportive trainer talk?

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

Why are they interested?

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

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

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

Research methodology

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

What were the main findings?

3 main categories to emerge:

  • Content support
  • Process support
  • Group support

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

Content support

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

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

Process support

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

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

Group support

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

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

Conclusions: what does supportive teacher talk look like?

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

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

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

Mind the ______: rediscovering gap-fills – Leo Selivan

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

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

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

According to British Council TeachingEnglish:

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

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

Criticism of gap-fills

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modifying vocabulary gap-fills

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

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

Grammar gap-fills

The main problems according to Leo:

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

Variations:

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

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

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

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

Other ways to spice up gap-fills

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

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

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

IATEFL 2021: MaWSIG PCE

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

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

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

What is a covert syllabus?

Jill’s definition is:

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

Some examples

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

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

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

I think you get the idea!

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

Undesirable and desirable covert syllabuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using checklists and self-evaluation to avoid undesirable content

Before writing

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

During writing

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

After writing

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

In conclusion

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

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

50 ways to avoid gap-fill fatigue – John Hughes

(There might not be 50!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scope and sequence: a definition

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

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

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

Definition from International Bureau of Education, UNESCO

Scope and sequence in ELT

Typically the map of the book:

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

Top down scope and sequence

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

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

This results in:

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

Grassroots

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

This results in:

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

The reality of current ELT publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercially viable i.e. checks all the boxes

Yet fresh and new:

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

Try to understand the other’s perspective:

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

Questions to think about

What makes a good brief for an author?

How can grassroots innovation be included?

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

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

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

Breakout room hopping

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

Bring your ideas to life using mood boards – Colin Morton

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

What is a mood board?

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

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

‘But I’m not a designer!’

Why use it?

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

Tools you can use

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

Where to get inspiration

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

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

Col’s top tips for mood boarding!

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

Strategies to survive overwhelm – Rachael Roberts

Rachael’s website is life-resourceful.com

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

The impact of stress on the brain

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

Cognitive fatigue includes:

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

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

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

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

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

Tips

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

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

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

Time management strategies

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

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

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

A quote:

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

Eisenhower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Compassionate Mind – Paul Gilbert

We have three systems:

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

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

We have to do three things:

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

These will help your brain work better.

In conclusion

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

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

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

Why self-publish?

Topic seems niche

Experiment with writing things that publishers might not be interested in

Having control

Faster than finding a publisher

Self-publishing has a quality problem.

Nick Robinson, ELTJam

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

What does a developmental/structural/content editor do?

You can work with them:

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

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

What does a copy editor do?

A copy editor:

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

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

What does a proofreader do?

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

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

Why does an author need an editor?

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

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

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

Narrowing it down

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

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

First contact

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

What to tell the editor

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

How much will it cost?

CIEP minimum hourly rate (2021)

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

Average of about 30 GBP an hour according – freelance editing

How long will it take?

Copy-editing: around 1000-1500 words/hr

Development editing: 500-1000 words/hr

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

When do you get in touch?

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

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

Preparation

  • Create files
  • Craete folders
  • Establish naming protocols

How can I nurture a quality relationship with an editor?

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

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

My IATEFL history

Today was supposed to be the first day of IATEFL Manchester 2020, but what with one thing and another during The Great Pause, plans have changed, and instead it’s the first day of the IATEFL Global Get-Together. Inspired by Katherine Martinkevich and a huge bout of nostalgia, here is a self-indulgent post of some of my favourite photos from the IATEFL conferences I’ve been lucky enough to attend, along with links to my talks from each year. Putting it together led me down a lot of rabbit holes of talks and links I’d forgotten about!

Glasgow 2012

My first conference, which I attended when I was lucky enough to win one of the two IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, alongside Ana Ines Salvi, who has now become a friend.

Go online: getting your students to use internet resources was my first IATEFL presentation, and I’m very pleased to see that the tools I spoke about then are almost all still available. Quizlet and Edmodo are particularly useful right now. These two photos were taken at the end of my talk, and summarise the key part of the IATEFL conference and organisation for me: the people.

The PLN after my talk
The PLN after my talk

The Twitterati after my session
The Twitterati after my session 🙂 (photo by Cecilia Lemos)

Liverpool 2013

One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had, with these wonderful people:

I presented about the Personal Study Programme at IH Newcastle, where I was working at the time.

Harrogate 2014

This photo is in my office:

It was my first IATEFL birthday, with Ela Wassell getting lots of people to sign a card for me.

My IATEFL 2014 birthday card

The day ended with a birthday meal at Wagamamas, with a waiter holding a lighter over a plate of plain rice and chicken for me to blow out while my friends sang happy birthday. This was the second week of my crazy diet – without my IATEFL friends, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants and push them to cater for me.

My presentation was Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening.

I was also very excited to take part in the Pecha Kucha night with these fantastic people, talking about 19 things I’ve learnt about as an EFL teacher. < You can still watch the PKs in that post.

Manchester 2015

A great quiz night team:

Quiz team

Ela’s surprise baby shower:

This was the first year I attended a Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event, probably the single most useful day I’ve ever spent at IATEFL. It was called The Material Writer’s Toolkit.

My talk was called Write more! Making the most of student journals.

I shared lots of other conference photos in this summary.

Birmingham 2016

This was the first year that I attended as part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (now the Membership and Marketing Committee), and the first year I mentored another presenter. This was the year the IATEFL blog was born, which I curated until September 2018, and through which I met a lot of wonderful people and enjoyed hearing their stories. (The blog now lives here and is called Views.) It was great to feel like I could give something back to this community that has given me so much.

I was excited to see my name in print for the first time:

My talk was Taking back time: how to do everything you want to do.

Here’s my summary, with lots of my people photos.

Glasgow 2017

I took part in the Pecha Kucha debate on whether teachers should be paid more than bankers. There’s a recording in my summary blogpost. I didn’t present as my talk wasn’t accepted (completely justified – my idea was very wishy-washy!)

Apparently this was the year of no photos – I was clearly too busy having fun, including another IATEFL birthday, this time on the day of the MAWSIG PCE 🙂

Brighton 2018

By this stage, IATEFL is about meeting up with old friends.

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

James (who appears in both of those photos) showed a group of us around the stunning Brighton Pavilion, seen in the background below beyond other friends.

I presented my first How To session, jointly with Mike Harrison. We told people How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. Mike also produced a fantastic Sketchnote version of my talk, in which I introduced ELT Playbook 1 for the first time:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My conference summary is here.

Liverpool 2019

The inaugural TEFL Commute Games Night took place in Liverpool, immortalised in this podcast episode:

It was the third time I had an IATEFL birthday, my favourite kind of birthday 🙂

I How To-ed again in Liverpool, this time on How to present at an international conference. This morning was supposed to be a reprise of this talk for Manchester. My main talk was called Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher proficiency on student learning, in which I described my experienced of teaching Polish with a B1 level in the language.

I haven’t got round to writing up my tweets into posts from Liverpool yet – it’s a good job I’ve got another year to do it 😉 though hopefully it won’t take that long!

2020 online get-together

This year life is all a bit different. Instead of another MAWSIG PCE yesterday, and day one of the conference today, it’s day one of a two-day online get together. It’s open to anyone, and videos will be available to members afterwards. So far I’ve attended two fascinating sessions by David Crystal on language change and Tammy Gregersen on teacher wellbeing. The full programme is here. I’ll be speaking as part of a panel on online learning at the end of day 2. See you there!

Activities with purpose – how I build self-esteem in upper secondary learners (guest post)

I’ve always found it easier to work with adults than teens, so at conferences I often look for sessions which have ideas for improving what happens in the teenage classroom. At IATEFL 2019 in Liverpool, Sofia Leone presented activities to build teen self-esteem, inspired by her work as a language coach. Here she shares two of them, and I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I did!

For the past eight years I have worked closely with secondary learners in southern Italy. It was clear from day one that the only way I could make a career in EFL work for me was if I could make it meaningful. After numerous conversations with teens over the years, it is apparent that many of them are missing supportive teachers at secondary school who give them space to express themselves. I realised that the reason teenagers have always enjoyed themselves in my classroom is that I give them a gift they don’t often get at school: a chance to be heard.

My coaching journey started a few summers ago when I started researching the role of a coach in sport and how those skills could be transferred to the EFL classroom. What started as a hobby (and a lifetime obsession with Rocky!) turned into a learning development project and is now my career as an EFL teacher, materials developer and qualified life coach for young people.

When I talk about my great passion for working with teenagers, I often get very strange reactions from stressed out teachers who are tired of trying to get teens on their side. They ask me how I do it and the answer is always the same: I give young people permission. Permission to express themselves in a supportive environment. Permission to discuss the topics they feel strongly about. Permission to make mistakes and learn from them. This permission empowers the teens which, in turn, leads to increased self-esteem.

I combine a supportive classroom space with a variety of materials which I have branded Activities with Purpose (AWP). These are activities which I develop and use throughout the year with a strong focus on self-improvement, self-exploration, resilience and building self-esteem in young people.

Class cone

An activity that I love kicking off the academic year with is one of my Activities with Purpose entitled class cone. This came about after my first lesson last September with an upper secondary group preparing for the Cambridge Advanced exam. I genuinely love spending my life with young people, but I will admit, it is always nerve-racking walking into a classroom of 14 brand new faces on the first day of term. I had started the lesson with a simple get to know you mingle and as I came over to Vincenzo and his partner to listen in he turned to me (in perfect English) and said:

“Sofia, can I ask you a question? Why do we do the same activities every year? It’s just so boring.”

Ask the teens to be honest - they're actually honest (meme photo of woman with hand on head)

I could have taken offence at his honesty, but I thought it was a fantastic and accurate insight and I later thanked him for inspiring this activity!

At the start of the lesson, students are given a blank scoop of ice cream and I give them time to think about their perfect English class (pace, teacher, amount of homework, activities etc). They then take their time to draw and colour their ideal class. The students then mingle and share their ideas with each other and this gives me the chance to listen to everyone’s requests. I take in everyone’s scoops and make a nice wall display without saying too much about the activity. The best part of this is the challenge that you can then set yourself: to try and fulfil as many of the requests as possible without making it too obvious. The teens want personal topics? I can easily make lessons about sport and nightlife. They want time to dedicate to their passions? We can dedicate a whole lesson to “my passion” presentations and learn from each other in the process.

This worked incredibly well for me this year and on the last day of term I gave my students back their scoops and asked them to write me a letter answering this simple question:

Did I meet your expectations?

This may seem like a simple activity, but a teenager who feels listened to will give you so much more than one who is told what and how to learn.

Me, My Selfie and I

Another AWP which I’ve developed sheds a positive light on something which is often branded superficial and detrimental: selfies. I ask students to take out their phones (brownie points with teens!) and find a selfie they don’t mind showing to their classmates. The students mingle and ask each other questions about where they were and how they felt on that day etc. The students then get a chance to see my not so typical (hey, I’m not 17) selfie.

A selfie of Sofia, with the adjectives determined, motivated, loyal, resilient, written around it

I model four positive adjectives which I would use to describe myself and I then ask students to take some time out to reflect and do the same. Once the students have got at least four adjectives I show them my selfie poem and I ask them to create theirs.

I am proud of all I've done // Even though there have been some // days when I felt I couldn't do it // but no matter what I will never quit

Some students will jump at the chance to try writing a rhyming poem in English and others will need a helping hand. I always tell them that copying the first two lines is a good start. This activity can then lead on to a mingle activity or an even longer poem. Some of my students this year wrote longer poems and asked if they could present their selfie poems to the class! What started as a mini poem ended up as a class celebration of our wins and I feel that the learners had a real chance to show that selfies can be meaningful when given the chance.

Maria Francesca’s beautiful poem which she then presented

Why is building self-esteem important?

The real question should be, why is it not important? I love building up teenagers, but I am also an EFL teacher at the end of the day with deadlines and exam courses to follow. I therefore understand the pressure to ‘fit it all in’. I do, however, believe that by supporting teens to help develop their strengths and cultivate new habits, I am in fact helping to create the right environment for solid language acquisition to take place. By bringing the teens’ lives to the classroom, I bring the classroom to life and my students’ feedback and exam results are testament to the power of active listening and positivity.

I can’t wait for you to try out these activities and watch your teenage classroom vibe go from good to amazing!


Sofia Leone has worked in southern Italy for the past 8 years and is dedicated to helping young people achieve their potential both inside and outside the language classroom. She is a British Council teacher and qualified life coach for young people and her mission is to incorporate meaningful life coaching activities into the upper secondary classroom.
For more information you can visit her website:  www.fiercelifecoaching-awp.com

Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher proficiency on student learning (IATEFL Liverpool 2019 – my presentation)

This is a write-up of my IATEFL Liverpool 2019 presentation. I decided to present it without slides, which made a pleasant change 🙂 This blogpost follows the same structure as my talk.

Why this talk?

In many countries in the world there is a minimum language level required by the government for state school teachers. An informal facebook survey I did showed this is most commonly B2, for example in Chile, Poland and Italy. B1 is required in Andalucia, while C1 is required in Belgium and Germany. (Thanks to everyone who replied – there were more places but I can’t fit them all in here!) However, these requirements are relatively recent, they are not universal, and they are generally not retroactively applied. It seems that only recently qualified teachers need to have evidence that they have achieved the required level, and there are many, many people teaching English with B1 or lower. I state this as a simple fact, rather than as a judgement.

Despite forming such a large part of our profession, B1-level English teachers are unlikely to present at international conferences like IATEFL due to the language level required to keep up with such a conference. I therefore decided that it could be valuable to reflect on my own status as a B1 learner of Polish who is teaching Polish to English-speaking teachers at our school, and particularly the impact that my relatively low level of proficiency might have on their learning. I don’t expect to offer any ground-breaking insights, but simply to share my story in the hope of prompting others.

My Polish lessons

The lessons I teach are:

  • 60 minutes once a week
  • survival Polish for absolute beginners
  • to a group of fluent English speakers from four different countries over the 18 months since I have been teaching Polish (since November 2017)
  • for anywhere between 4 and 10 students
  • based on topics I choose in conversation with the students
  • using a mix of published and self-produced materials, sometimes based on phrases or short conversations supplied by native Polish friends
  • mainly language-based, particularly vocabulary and functional language, and generally quite tightly controlled (see below for more on this)
  • one way of challenging myself in my teaching (as a DoS and trainer I’m not in the classroom much nowadays!)

My experience

I am CELTA- and Delta-trained, as well as being a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies. I have 10 years of teaching experience, and have done lots of CPD, including this blog and reading about methodology.

This is also not the first time I have taught languages other than English. Previous experience includes:

  • A2 German via my school to two Czech students with no English – I had recently graduated with C1 in German and this was my first year as a full-time teacher.
  • A0 French and Spanish (separately!) to Czech English-speaking friends as informal exchanges for other languages they spoke within my first three years of teaching – again, I was C1 in both cases.

However, those teaching experiences felt quite different as I could speak only in L2 much more comfortably than I can in Polish. Having said that, I lacked a lot of functional classroom language as my own lessons when I was learning had been primarily conducted through English in the case of French and German, and were few and far between for Spanish!

Despite all of this experience, I still feel I need a lot more training to conduct Polish lessons in the way I want to.

English use in class

This varies a lot depending on the lesson, and has also generally reduced the second time I have taught the same topic this year (it’s my second academic year of doing a fairly similar sequence of lessons).

In vocabulary lessons, there is almost no English use. This is because the lessons primarily consist of drilling new language. As the items are almost all concrete, most of the meaning can be conveyed through pictures or the occasional mime.

In grammar lessons, there is a lot more English for two reasons:

  1. I am not confident with Polish grammatical terminology myself, meaning of necessity I use English terminology.
  2. As I am teaching absolute beginners and a lot of grammatical concepts are new to the students (such as cases), I have made the informed choice to use more English. This is the main type of lesson where English use has increased the second time round, rather than decreased.

In functional language lessons, for example ‘at a restaurant’, meaning can be conveyed through the context, pictures and mime. I include some translation exercises, mostly to check understanding. The main way is to get them to work with a partner and translate the whole dialogue into English once we have worked with it a little in Polish. I tend not to use English in this case, but they do.

Skills lessons are few and far between (see below) and when they do happen, I do a lot of translation for efficiency and ease of checking meaning – I suspect this is partly laziness on my part, partly lack of preparation, and partly lack of confidence.

To sum up, although I believe that a shared fluent language (L1 for most of my students) has an important place in the classroom, I don’t think that my students really need to speak as much English as they do in these lessons. It has improved a little this year as the same phrases consistently pop up and I have now memorised them, such as Twoja kolej / Your turn. Having said that, I am not systematic at introducing classroom or functional language in English lessons I teach either, and this is something I would definitely like to work on in both English and Polish lessons in the next year or so.

Maximising Polish use in lessons

Some of the techniques I use to ensure that Polish can be and is used systematically in lessons include:

  • activity routines which require little instruction, such as a 10-minute section at the beginning of every lesson where students revise from previous handouts and choose what to focus on themselves;
  • choosing language I am both familiar and comfortable with;
  • use of flashcards, particularly created and printed using Quizlet – these allow me to incorporate a wide range of activities with minimal set-up;
  • tables and clear board layout to show how grammar fits together (see example in next section);
  • jazz chants for memorization;
  • PowerPoint presentations which allow me to prepare language in advance;
  • a focus on demonstrations rather than instructions when setting up activities;
  • scripting instructions. However, this has slipped somewhat the second time I have taught lessons as I have become complacent: ‘It worked OK last time, so why wouldn’t it work OK this time.’ Erm, because I haven’t prepared in as much depth and last looked at the plan a year ago?! Really need to get on top of this!

Dealing with problems

Inevitably there are many times during lessons when my low level of Polish causes problems. I deal with these in a variety of ways:

  • Looking up language using Google Translate (selectively!), double-checking things in a Polish corpus and using bab.la, an all-in-one tool which I have recently discovered, containing a bilingual dictionary and corpus-based full sentence translations, great for checking how a word or phrase works in context.
  • Playing pronunciation using Google Translate, Quizlet or Forvo (a pronouncing dictionary, particularly good for names of places and people which aren’t in traditional dictionaries).
  • Facebooking a group of Polish-speaking friends with emergency questions I can’t answer elsewhere, for example when I realized I’d been teaching the word pierś/breast and not klatka piersowa/chest throughout the first lesson I taught on body parts, but the dictionary couldn’t help me! Needless to say, I didn’t make this mistake the second time round and I’ve never forgotten the difference 🙂
  • Admitting my mistakes as soon as I make them, and trying to correct them as quickly as possible. Beyond the Polish lessons, this is important as I’m teaching novice teachers and I think demonstrating that it’s OK when things go wrong is vital as long as I don’t need to do it too often 😉

One particularly proud moment was when I managed to teach an impromptu lesson on plurals. Only two students came to class that day, rather than the 6+ I was expecting. One of them had missed the previous lesson on body parts which I was planning to build on, so the revision stage was extended with the student who had been there teaching the one who was absent. In the meantime I looked up plural rules that I was previously only half confidence with myself, and built up a table on the board based on words we’d covered in class already, mostly body parts and foods. They spotted patterns in the way plurals are formed in different genders, including spelling changes, copied the table, tested each other, tried out a few other words, and memorised the table. There was no freer practice as we’d run out of time in the lesson and my creativity hadn’t stretched that far, but I was still pretty proud of my first impromptu Polish lesson.

Singular and plural table of Polish nouns on whiteboard

As a side note, I recognize that I’m privileged to have a small group of students who want to be there, and therefore don’t really have to deal with classroom management when I do have problems with the language. Loss of face is also minimised as I am the manager of all of my students/teachers and we have a strong relationship outside the lesson, which I think mitigates the effects of when things don’t go as planned in my lessons.

The impact of my B1 level on students’ learning

Summarising the background I have detailed above, I think the following are the main effects that my low level of proficiency have on my students.

I focus largely on language rather than skills as it is easier for me to check and control. These language structures are also often ‘easy’, for example looking at singular adjectives but not plural ones as I’m not really sure of the rules of plural adjectives myself.

Other areas I have noticed avoidance of are the alphabet and spelling-based activities, and minimal grammar input, meaning that my students don’t really have the building blocks to create and understand language independently outside the very controlled structures I have given them, which I think could impede their progress. My lack of confidence with classroom language means that it can be hard to introduce this to the students, and even harder to enforce use of Polish consistently when it could be used.

My pronunciation is sometimes problematic, including passing on my own mistakes. For example I recently spend 50 minutes drilling The sun is shining / Świeci słońce with a final /tsi:/ sound on the first word before realising it should be /tʃi/ just before the end of the lesson. In a survey I did for this presentation, one of my students said it can be confusing when she’s heard one way of pronouncing a word outside the lesson, then when she tries it out I correct it to a form she has only heard from me. Finally, if I don’t check emergent language carefully I can end up teaching it wrong, such as using the spelling Francia instead of Francja in a lesson on countries.

Benefits of me being B1

It’s not all bad!

I’m obviously still learning the language myself, which means that I can empathise very strongly with my students, and they can empathise with me. I provide a realistic model of what they can work towards with their own Polish if they choose too. This is in contrast to a highly proficient speaker/native speaker teacher which it can be hard for beginners to imagine they could ever emulate.

My problems with learning Polish are very recent, and I can normally still remember how I’ve overcome them or how important they are to overcome, passing this on to my students. I also focus on language in class which I’ve found particularly useful when living in Poland, so the lessons genuinely are survival Polish based on real needs rather than guesses.

Because we all share English as a common tongue, I can fall back on it when necessary. One of the students also said it means I can understand easily when they use English grammar with Polish words! Another said that if there was no English at all in the lessons they would be much harder.

A third commented that my low level of Polish means that my language is graded comfortably for them both in terms of speed and level. There is no running commentary on the lesson because I couldn’t produce one if I wanted to, and I use lots of gesture and demonstrations.

Training I still need

Based on all of this reflection, the main areas of training I think I still need as a B1 teacher of Polish are mostly language-based, covering the following areas:

  • useful exponents for classroom language, how to introduce them, and how to reinforce their use in class.
  • typical instructions I need, and how to vary them for talking to one student or a group (verb conjugations).
  • language about language (metalanguage and grammatical terminology) and how to present grammar in Polish to low-level students.

Training I’ve exploited

Methodological training I’ve received in the past has been very useful to me, and could be useful for B1 teachers of English and other languages:

  • how to demonstrate activities rather than give instructions.
  • a range of easy-to-set-up, easy-to-vary activities for a variety of purposes.
  • how to leverage technology like Quizlet and PowerPoint to support my language knowledge and add routine to lessons.
  • recognising and exploiting suitable reference tools for checking language, such as bilingual dictionaries, Google Translate (which can be good for quick and dirty work!), and corpora.
  • how to continue learning a language myself, including finding the time and getting the support I need to do this.
  • Methodology or language training?

So if you’re working with low-proficiency teachers, should you focus more on methodology or language?

I believe that methodology is probably an ‘easier win’ as a strong methodological awareness can carry a lot of the lesson, and is likely to be faster and easier to pick up and incorporate into lessons than overall language. As one of my students said, she would prefer an ‘amazing and inspirational teacher who’s B1 to a mediocre teacher who’s C1’. (Thanks!)

Having said that, both are needed to build confidence in the teacher. A higher level of English would give those teachers access to a lot more professional development too, as a lot of resources still only exist in English.

Find out more

If low levels of teacher proficiency in English is an area you’d like to continue to research, the following four sources could be useful:

  • Gerhard Erasmus presented an IATEFL webinar called ‘Managing and developing teachers with lower English proficiency’ in August 2018. You need to be an IATEFL member to watch the webinar recording in the member’s area (how to join).
  • Donald Freeman’s IATEFL 2015 plenary ‘Frozen in thought’ touched on the subject briefly in the ‘myth of proficiency as a goal’, and I believe he has written about it elsewhere. Lizzie Pinard summarised it on her blog. It is also included in that year’s Conference Selections, again available to members.
  • Damian Williams talked about Language development for teachers and an LDT Toolkit at IATEFL Birmingham 2016, a talk summarized on my blog (the second talk covered in the post) and (much more fully!) on Lizzie Pinard’s.
  • Cambridge Assessment English have a Language for Teaching course available at A2, B1, and B2, which covers both classroom and general English.

If you know of any other related resources, please do share them in the comments section.

After the fact

Since doing the talk eight days ago, I have taken a few hours to create a syllabus for next year’s Polish course. Following on from my reflections for IATEFL, I have based it more around a good quality Polish coursebook, making sure that I balance vocabulary, grammar and skills work much more. I’ve also tried to incorporate more homework to make sure that what we do in class will be as focused on using the language (not just remembering it/talking about it) as possible. I also plan to research more classroom language and return to scripting more of my instructions as part of my planning, if time permits. Watch this space to find out whether the new-look course increases the proficiency of my students any faster!

How to present at an international conference (IATEFL Liverpool 2019)

These are the slides from my IATEFL 2019 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on How to present at an international conference. Sorry there are no notes yet – hoping to add them after the conference!

IATEFL 2019 speaker badge

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

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

Can teaching teens be a boost for tired teachers? (guest post)

I’ve always preferred teaching adults to teens and young learners, though just occasionally being able to run a good teen/YL class can be a great boost to my confidence. Erica Napoli Rottstock’s post has some useful tips that could make a real difference next time I head into the teen classroom!

I am pretty sure that on seeing the heading to this article you will have immediately and unconsciously nodded your head and maybe added a decisive ‘no way’. As a matter of fact, teenagers are often seen as moody and undisciplined and their lack of motivation can be a ‘nightmare’ if we are teachers.

However, taking a break to teach teens can be a real boost for demotivated teachers, an unexpectedly refreshing experience that ripples through to the rest of your EFL praxis.

I think everyone has experienced times when things don’t go as we assume; maybe you have felt tired and demotivated. The first thing to do is to find the real reason why you have lost your enthusiasm. If you think you need more fun and you strongly believe that connecting with people can help you, in this case a change is as good as a rest. Taking time out to work outside of one’s comfort zone may bring new inspiration to routine, in this case take also some time to watch this inspiring TED talk. Based on my personal experience, one year teaching in a teen class could be your solution.

The first thing to consider is that the so-called moody, undisciplined teens’ behaviour is strongly influenced by how teens’ brains are wired, ruled by the limbic system, since the frontal lobe, specifically responsible for controlling emotions, takes significantly longer to develop. This may be the reason for their short attention span, their laziness or lack of interest, but on the other hand teens are ready to get involved very easily. A trustworthy teacher with an engaging topic will soon spot ways of driving and channelling such traits.

Secondly, allow for flexibility. We can be less like control freaks and thus much more likely to enjoy the lesson. Even if we have a syllabus to follow, we can still be flexible. Interestingly enough, by releasing control, we gain students’ trust and attention. Surprisingly, if you listen to them, you get their attention and you feel less tired! I would suggest you enter the class with a multiple-option lesson plan – say a plan where you let your students decide how to develop it. I have noticed that if you start your lesson with a sort of declaration of intent, teen students are happy to follow you and are extremely pro-active. This environment is stimulating for their learning and also a boost for ‘tired teachers’. Even classroom management can become less stressful if you can let students move freely in their class, choose their peers for their activities and decide when they need a break. By respecting their pace you can have less stress indeed.

The third thing to consider is that teens are very curious, so when you teach them you can make your lesson very personal and arouse their interest. Clearly, this doesn’t mean sharing one’s closest personal issues. You can simply offer up your point of view, your personal opinions, bringing an element of humanity and showing we are far from being superheroes. I can assure you that this is not only very conducive to learning but also very positive for your well-being.

Last but not least, the environment of your class will become more relaxed and you can simply work on emergent language without wasting any opportunity for learning. Besides, you will notice that students themselves will ask you to practise more if they become aware of their limits. Teaching teens becomes a real boost, if you consider a more autonomous learner approach. You can foster students’ autonomy by developing their awareness with self-assessment, you may guide students to be aware of their own weaknesses and strengths, with a reduction of your workload or at least less time-consuming ways to evaluate your students.

Also, I recommend stimulating learning beyond the class, so that you can build a deeper rapport with your students, as you can understand their needs and interests better. In my experience, WhatsApp was extremely useful, not only in terms of conducting on-going class service communication and light conversations outside the classroom, but also when it came to assigning/performing and giving feedback on written, oral and aural homework (short writing/speaking tasks performed via voice and video recordings and text messages). This particular means of communication provides the added value of reduced practitioner workload in terms of evaluating learner performance on a day-to-day basis. We ask parents’ permission to have WhatsApp groups with students when they join the school.

To sum up, if you want to feel regenerated, go for a teen class; they have an extremely positive attitude provided one is prepared to embrace flexibility and promote autonomy.

If this is still not enough to boost you, then perhaps a good long holiday is actually in order! 🙂

About the author

Erica Napoli

Erica is a DELTA-qualified teacher with an MA in foreign literature. She has been teaching English for more than 15 years, but she likes to be considered as a life-long learner herself. Previously DoS and founder of a little private language school in Milan, she then decided to become a full-time teacher at high school and she’s currently engaged teaching teens at Istituto Europeo Leopardi in Milan. This article is based on her talk from IATEFL Brighton in April 2018.

Change or die trying: Introducing differentiation on initial teacher training courses (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Karin Krummenacher’s IATEFL 2018 presentation on providing differentiation on initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of course, they generally last four weeks full-time, including workshop-style input sessions, observation of experienced teachers and peers, and (crucially) six or more hours of observed teaching and feedback from tutors. There are as many kinds of four week course as there are tutors, and no two are exactly the same as long as they meet the criteria of Cambridge or Trinity, but one thing that is extremely rare is differentiation for the trainees. Karin has kindly agreed to write up her presentation as a guest post, so we can all find out more about how this might be possible.

To differentiate and challenge our students based on their prior knowledge and current abilities is something we teach our trainees in pre- and in-service teacher training courses. At diploma level it becomes a key criterion and there is tons of literature about it. And then many of us trainers go on and make trainees with outstanding language awareness sit through over half a dozen basic grammar input sessions throughout a 4-week TEFL course in which they will learn close to nothing, most likely receive no differentiated tasks and might be asked not to reply to the next question because we already know they know. I would not be particularly impressed with a trainee handling a strong student in a lesson like this and I get more and more annoyed by us trainers doing it.

And while the reasons are obvious to a degree (that’s the course they signed up for), I don’t think they are good enough to keep doing what we’re doing the way we are doing it. Once upon a time, when the CELTA still had a different name, the groups of trainees were homogenous and what the course taught them was, in a way, revolutionary and useful. Nowadays, trainees identifying as non-native English speakers outnumber trainees that identify as native English speakers on the majority of courses. Our one “strong student” has become half the class by now and we still tell them to only answer when prompted instead of questioning our approach.

Jason Anderson has investigated at length how experienced teachers with MAs in pedagogy take 4-week initial training courses because Trinity Cert TESOL and CELTA have become a global seal of quality. The course is no longer what it used to be and the fact that very often it is still taught the way it was taught in the 1990s makes me picture John Haycraft, who first designed CELTA, rotating in his grave.

“CELTA has to change or die” said Hugh Dellar when I talked to him last year. He’s far from being the only one who’s unimpressed. Since the courses started they have been criticised (see, for example Anderson, Hobbs, Fergusson and Donno [behind ELT Journal paywall] and Borg [behind paywall]) and the voices have become louder and louder. I agree with all the criticism by experts and practitioners when it comes to short initial teacher training courses (ITTCs), but letting them die is not an option for me. It may be because I myself entered the profession that I now consider my career and vocation through an ITTC that I come from a place of great love and admiration for these courses and the educators who train people on them. I believe in the concept, I believe it works and I do not want it to vanish because I think we would miss out on some excellent teachers. Most experts suggest making the courses longer. However, as much as we would all like that, from an economic point of view, this makes little sense to course providers and is not the appeal it has to customers either.

I set out to find a way of differentiating on ITTCs. My colleagues laughed at me.

It’s too difficult, too much admin, too complex.

You’re already working 12 hour days. Do you really want to add to that?

If it could be done, it would have been done.

It may be a late effect of being the only female in a male clique when I was a teenager (strikingly similar to my work environment nowadays, by the way) but dare me and I’ll do it.

At least 13,000 candidates per year take the CELTA or Cert TESOL (based on numbers from Green 2004 and information requested from Trinity). That’s not even considering all the TEFL schools accredited by less rigorous organisations. And all Cambridge Assessment and Trinity College London tell us about these people is whether they identify as native or non-native English speakers. If you are a trainer, you will know that there is so much more to our trainees than that. One of the reasons why I, and many of my colleagues, love the job is that there is no group like any other, no trainee the same as the next. You can divide them by nationality or place of birth but there will be disappointingly few conclusions you can draw from this. In a single group of trainees, you can find so many different people with different motivations to take the course, different backgrounds and different aims. Some people take an ITTC because they want to change their lives, start a new career and plan on doing the diploma two years later. They’re in it for the long run. Others simply need to prove to their parents that the Eurotrip they paid for is not just drinking with people you met in a hostel. Many want to fund their travels before they return to their “real job” back home. Some want to lose their fear of public speaking. The ones that usually end up most disappointed are the English literature majors who want to spark the love for the English language in their students. It’s tough to love a language and make it your job to hear people butcher it 10 hours a day. Trainees have told me they wanted to build up their confidence or are just in it because their boyfriend wanted to do the course. Some see it as a challenge and aren’t planning on teaching a day in their life after the course. More than you would think are experienced teachers that want to go international.

A mixed group of Karin's trainees

So again, why don’t we do with our trainees what we do with our students? That is, a thorough needs analysis. The idea is to do this in two parts:

Part 1: A diagnostic test. Applicants take an online test and you feed their results into Excel. I’ve come up with a formula that will assign sessions based on performance and spit out a tailor made timetable for each trainee. Meaning the ones who answer questions on verb tenses wrong, will be assigned sessions on verb tenses. The ones who answer them right will not. All trainees will still have the same number of input sessions, just not the same ones or necessarily at the same time. Multilingual candidates will be assigned sessions on using L1 in the classroom, so they can do so deliberately and without feeling it is the wrong thing to do. Trainees that aren’t quite confident about their own proficiency will get an English for specific purposes course that really polishes their teacher language and makes them feel more confident while monolingual trainees learn a little bit of a foreign language, so they can empathise with their students. This all means we offer trainees a schedule based on their background and abilities. This is something I’m still trialling, but the diagnostic test may contain tasks such as:

  • Identify the verb tenses in the following sentences
  • Identify the parts of speech (based on a given list) in the following paragraph
  • Match the words with the correct phonemes
  • Mark the word stress in the following words
  • Match the sentences with the grammatical structure (e.g. conditionals, modals for obligation vs. speculation)

Diffentiation graphic - needs analysis on left, timetable icons in the middle (different colours), mid- and end-of-course reflection on right

Part 2: Setting aims. The teaching practice tutor will agree on personal aims with their group of trainees. This means that feedback on teaching practice will be as focused and personalised as possible. The trainer and trainee assess progress in the middle and at the end of the course.

The diagnostic test can be redone as a summative test at the end of the course. Together with the achievements of their personal aims, this will then be the starting point for professional development. This is something really important that in my experience is not done at the moment or not done enough. Partially, this is down to the way ITTCs are sold. The marketing says that you are a teacher and ready to go out in the world after 4 weeks. And people take that at face value. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change and stands in contrast to the fact that these courses were never meant to provide a standalone solution to teacher training. But what we can do is equip our trainees better and make them more reflective beginner practitioners. They will benefit tremendously from having a better understanding of where they stand and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And to get our marketing teams on board, it is a unique opportunity to advertise our programmes beyond teacher training, like workshops, online courses, diplomas or in-service training.

Finding out what our trainees need is the first step. The obvious question is, how can we give it to them? Not every centre has the capacity to entirely revamp their course and I’m not saying that’s necessary, but I believe we could get a little more creative and offer more differentiated input sessions. That would mean though, that we wave goodbye to input sessions being mainly delivered face-to-face. I have thought of different ideas on how to deliver input and have come up with different puzzle pieces that can be combined as needed.

Jigsaw pieces with these things written on them: Action research, observation tasks, peer teaching, boot camps, flipped inputs, Q and As, online/face2face, specific pre-course tasks

Whether trainees get tailored pre-course tasks, attend very intensive sessions on linguistic systems, such as grammar, in so called boot camps, benefit from Q and A sessions with tutors or teach each other in designated peer teaching slots, whatever works best in your context will be the right thing to start differentiating. This can be a slow addition to the course over several months and does not have to be all at once. Maybe some sessions can be added to the regular timetable, others delivered through online learning. Common needs could be addressed through video summaries. It will depend on the groups’ needs and the resources, tutors and space available. For most centres, a mix will be the right way to go.

In this way, timetables for trainees could become more varied and trainees would get more personalised content that better prepares them for the challenges they will face. It would free up timetables for more interesting content. Instead of teaching basic phonemes, these would be learned independently, and class time can be spent on how to teach phonology to students, the really interesting stuff.

Obviously, there would be some flexibility required from accreditation bodies. The Unknown Foreign Language in its current form could no longer be part of the assessment on Trinity Cert TESOL courses. And while CELTA has a very flexible syllabus, centres would benefit from being encouraged to make more use of it. At the same time, this could be an exclusive opportunity to promote more professionalism in initial teacher training and remind customers that these are in fact level 5 qualifications on the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework and therefore have an academic aspiration.

Overall, the idea is to take our trainees’ backgrounds and goals into consideration more. No matter how small we start, these initial courses need to change or die trying.

About the author

Karin Krummenacher

Karin Krummenacher is a freelance teacher trainer on Trinity Cert and Dip TESOL courses, researcher and international conference speaker. She holds Cambridge Delta and is currently working towards an M.Ed. TESOL, researching the role of ITTCs and their implications for professionalism in the industry. This article is based on her IATEFL talk from April 2018 for which Jason Anderson, Hugh Dellar and Ben Beaumont were invaluable sounding boards. She has recently started blogging at thekarincluster.wordpress.com. Give Karin a shout at karin.krummenacher@gmail.com or on Twitter @thekarincluster.

Free CPD on demand: Boardshare as a tool for unseen peer observation (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Dan Baines‘ talk on sharing whiteboards at IATEFL this year, so I asked him to write a guest post to share his ideas, especially because one of the tasks in ELT Playbook 1 is all about taking photos of your whiteboard and reflecting on them. He’s previously written a post on this blog about Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training. Over to Dan…

When I finished my CELTA many years ago in Prague, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job at the school which I took, starting the following Monday. So, after a very brief trip back home to say my good byes and almost missing the flight back to Prague I started work. It was intimidating. I got 2 days of induction and then received my timetable and the intimidation continued. As is the case for many teachers, my first day of professional, paid teaching consisted of more hours than I had taught in the preceding 4 weeks.

At this time, the school had a very large core of teachers and a really communicative staffroom. Most of the teachers were very experienced and many were also DELTA-qualified. Around peak teaching times, the room was buzzing with people talking about teaching: what they’d just taught, what they were going to teach, what had gone well and what had fallen flat. This was the start of my own teacher development story and how I went from being a nervous new teacher who thought he’d be exposed as a fraud any minute to a competent and then a good and confident teacher. The endless discussions filled my head with ideas and the advice and support was invaluable. The teachers I met in the first two years are still some of the biggest influences on my teaching as I sit here a decade and a half later.

That wasn’t the only perk. I had a full-time teaching schedule and paid holidays. I got lunch vouchers, phone credit and a travel pass provided. The money was poor, but I had real job security and after committing to staying a number of years I had my diploma paid for. Teacher development wasn’t only encouraged, it was compulsory and time was set aside for it every week. CPD just seemed… normal. It was what teachers did.

After taking DELTA and becoming a much better teacher, I did what most people in my situation do. I left the classroom and went into academic management, running the CPD programme in a very similar school to where I started (in fact the same school in a different city) with similar working conditions. After a couple of years of this, I returned to Prague and went into full time pre-service teacher training, effectively leaving the world of language schools behind me.

In June 2016 I returned as the DoS of a small language school in Prague tasked with, amongst other things, developing the teachers. The teaching landscape had changed since I began. Teachers on full-time contracts wasn’t the norm any more – they mostly worked on trade licences. There were no paid holidays and cancelled lessons meant teachers not getting paid. Many schools operate more like agencies than language schools, meaning that their teachers spend a big chunk of their day travelling from company to company. Language schools were in so much competition that rather than selling courses on the expertise and experience of their teachers, they sold them on price, the knock-on effect being that teachers were paid less and had no job security.

In designing a CPD programme I needed to find options that would that would meet the needs and fit the schedule of my teachers. I went for the more traditional approaches.

  • Workshops – They were received well. However, it was impossible to find a time when all the teachers could attend. There are many times in the day when none of the teachers are working for me, but none where they aren’t working for someone else.
  • Peer observations – A great development tool and a huge influence on me. Unfortunately, most of our teaching happens in peak times, meaning that if the teachers aren’t all teaching for me at that time, they are for someone else.
  • Lesson planning surgeries – A nice idea, but never took off. Mostly due to lack of time and availability on the part of me and the teachers.
  • Developmental observation – I do this a lot, all teachers are observed 3 times a year with a strong developmental focus. It’s stressful, it’s time consuming and because of clashing schedules, it can sometimes be a week or more before there is chance to do feedback.
  • Action research – This was discussed with the teachers, but the time investment was more than they could realistically commit to as some were working more than 20 classes a week just to pay bills.

If the CPD on offer wasn’t accessible to all teachers equally, it felt token at best and far too exclusive, and therefore pointless at worst. So, the challenge was to create something that was:

  • Free – rent prices in Prague have rocketed in recent years, teacher salaries have not.
  • Inclusive – in the private sector, the working day in Prague is typically any hours between 7.30 – 21.00. Any successful development would be able to be done by all teachers and at their leisure.
  • Guided – autonomous development is one thing, but many of the teachers I employ are fairly newly-qualified. Not everyone is really aware of how to begin their CPD journey.
  • Classroom-focused – much of the teachers’ time is spent in the classroom and many are fairly inexperienced. The development should reflect their daily life.

I’m an occasional Twitter user (@QuietBitLoudBit for anyone interested). I use it almost exclusively for following accounts related to ELT and it could be said that my posts are a bit… samey. Basically, I like posting pictures of my whiteboard after I’ve taught and looking at others. Maybe I’m an exhibitionist and/or a voyeur, but either way, it’s great to see into the classrooms of others and it has given me some great ideas.

If it could give me inspiration, I figured that sharing pictures of whiteboards with some discussion could be an interesting way to carry out professional development with my teachers, so I set up a Facebook group and added some teachers (some local and some from far away). The idea was to post a weekly or bi-weekly “task” for teachers to carry out, which involved taking pictures of and sharing their boards at some point during the lesson. They were then encouraged to comment on the pictures of their peers.

It ticked a lot of boxes. It allowed some form of peer observation, but importantly without the teachers needing to cancel their own lessons or travel. It was development that could be done from anywhere – most of the teachers involved used Facebook on their mobiles, so they could participate from trams or buses as they bounced round the city from class to class or just from home, in bed, at the end of the day. The tasks provided reflection in a guided way, an unseen peer observation task.

This was the first task…

Whiteboard task 1

It was deliberately left very open and general. I posted the first one (a picture of a substitution drill I’d done that day) and encouraged them to do the same. The response was underwhelming. One person responded with a picture and explanation, someone else with a description of an activity (both great), but nothing much else. I decided to change the way the tasks were set up. For the posts that followed I posted my board with commentary and encouraged them to comment on mine and discuss a few questions. There was greater interaction this time with good discussion based around how (or whether) to teach subject questions, confidence using the board and phonology related activities. Some, however, fell flat and got no interaction at all. I was pretty disappointed.

As a final attempt to get some interaction and engagement I mixed it up again. I didn’t post my board, but found two similar boards on Twitter (using #ELTwhiteboard – a great hashtag to look up) and asked members to compare them and find a board that they liked and explain why. This was the first task to get the teachers sharing pictures to discuss and it raised some interesting conversation. It was a small victory, but I was still left disappointed at the relative failure of a project I had such high hopes for.

ELTwhiteboard examples

I decided to seek some feedback on the group and why the teachers didn’t participate. A couple of things became apparent quite quickly. Firstly, sometimes people get so involved in teaching that, unlike me, they focus more on the students than taking pictures of what has gone on the board and simply forget. Others feel that what they have produced just isn’t interesting enough to share with the rest of the group or are too self-conscious to open this window into their classroom. Others just prefer to watch from afar.

The biggest surprise was how positively the group was received. When asking a colleague if she found it useful, it was met with a heart-felt “HELL YES!”. She never gets to see what other people do and even just seeing my boardwork helped her with ideas and made her feel better about what she was doing. Others said it had given them great classroom activities to try out and others just liked reading the discussions under the posts, but just didn’t feel the need to contribute. I’d been disappointed, but only because the project didn’t pan out the way I’d envisioned it. It wasn’t a hotbed of activity, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Teachers don’t need to actively participate to take something from it, or at least that’s how it seemed.

It’s hard to design effective CPD that serves everyone equally and effectively, and this isn’t it, but it is a nice supplement to a more traditional CPD programme and is very easy to set up and maintain. A few things I realised for anyone attempting to do the same:

  • Facebook works well. People use it (at least for the time being) and the nested comments on posts are perfect for replying to other people’s pictures.
  • It needs a “leader”. Someone needs to make the posts that serve as reminder for people to participate. It doesn’t need to be someone more experienced. The person responsible can be rotated.
  • Pictures can come from anywhere. You don’t need to take the pictures yourself. Twitter has a nice community of people sharing theirs that can be good for discussion.
  • Language related tasks work well. They generated a lot of discussion, particularly those tasks related to phonology. Boards showing actual activities also tend to get more engagement.
  • Tasks should be simple. At times I let things become over-complicated and I think they just looked intimidating. One person actually commented that they didn’t know where to begin.
  • Not everyone will actively participate. And that’s just fine.

I’ve checked my expectations and I’m satisfied overall. The group exists and I’m getting back to posting more regularly in it. If people don’t engage, I don’t take it personally and hope that everyone involved takes something from it and that maybe one day they’ll decide to photograph their work and share it with us all.

About the author

Dan Baines

Dan is director of studies at Oxford House Prague as well as a CELTA and Trinity DipTESOL trainer. He really likes whiteboards. Join the group and share your board or follow him on Twitter @QuietBitLoudBit.

IATEFL 2018: Beyond the sessions

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the IATEFL conference is the best week of my year. It’s an opportunity to catch up with a lot of old friends, and to make new ones. It was also a great chance to meet some of the readers of this blog, so if you came up and said hi, thank you very much. I always enjoy meeting people and making the communication a bit more two-way, and finding out more about you 🙂 If you didn’t, please do next time you see me!

I was particularly happy about how many first-timers I came across at the conference this year. About half of the people in the LAMSIG/TDSIG pre-conference event hadn’t been to a PCE before, and I guess a quarter of the people at the opening plenary were first timers at the conference. I didn’t meet Anna Neil, but I enjoyed this post she wrote about 10 things she wished she’d known before her first IATEFL. I also spoke to a few people who had never been to the UK before, and enjoyed the opportunity that the conference gave them to experience British culture.

Mike Harrison and I had our first opportunity to present a How To session, introducing attendees to How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. I was pleased to see that we had around 40-50 people joining us so early in the morning – thank you if you came! You can find the slides and a few extra links here.

These are my summaries of talks I saw (and didn’t see!) at this year’s conference:

I also made a few discoveries via Twitter during and after the conference. One of them is the account What is ELT? which explains a lot of the basics of our profession. Another was the Pearson daily summaries, which may have picked out some things which I’ve missed in my own posts:

One question which came up on Twitter during the conference, but which I wasn’t able to answer, was what we can do about the fact that a lot of online professional development has now migrated to facebook, excluding those who don’t have accounts from the conversation. If you have any thoughts on this, I’m sure @nutrich would appreciate them! Here’s a quote from his article which you might like to respond to (on his blog please!):

For many of the groups and communities I’m thinking of, all or most of their information, activities or discussions take place on Facebook and there is very little thought (it seems to me) about the fact that some people would prefer not to use Facebook, or simply don’t have an account.

During big conference like IATEFL there is a flurry of Twitter activity, but I hadn’t really considered this before. These are my Twitter analytics for the last 28 days, a new feature I’ve just discovered. The grey bars show the number of tweets, and the blue ones the number of ‘impressions’ (times somebody saw one of my tweets). Can you spot IATEFL? 🙂

Twitter analytics IATEFL 2018

Various recordings of talks made during the conference and other people’s summaries are available, where you can explore beyond the things that I’ve been able to share with you. I’ve listed as many as I can here for ease of reference:

  • Teaching English British Council: videos of 22 talks, including all 4 morning plenaries
  • IATEFLtalks: 42 videos, most under 10 minutes, mostly interviews with people recorded at the conference
  • IATEFL also have an online coverage page including links to other bloggers.
  • Cambridge English: videos of 10 talks
  • Lizzie Pinard wrote posts from each of the talks she went to, summarised here.
  • Katherine Martinkevich wrote 6 posts summarising talks. This is the final one.
  • Sharon Hartle wrote a few posts from the conference. This is the first one.
  • The Modern Languages School at the University of Barcelona has various summaries. This one is about teacher development.
  • Phil Longwell summarised his week in this post.
  • There will be a series of posts from scholarship winners on the IATEFL blog.

Please add any more in the comments, and I hope to see you in Liverpool next year!

IATEFL Liverpool 2019 logo

IATEFL 2018: The talks I missed

Here’s a selection of nuggets of information from talks which I didn’t manage to attend during this year’s conference but did get bits out of via Twitter. They are loosely categorised to help you find your way around. Thanks to everyone who shared what they were watching! I’ve included videos if they’re available, as I hope to watch them at some point myself.

Looking after ourselves and our students

The talk I most wanted to go and see unfortunately clashed with a meeting I had, but I’m happy to say it was recorded. This tweet says it all:

Phil Longwell used his talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:

He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:

I’ve now added both of these links to my collection of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT. Here’s one of my favourite pictures from the conference too 🙂

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell
Me with James and Phil

Jen Dobson spoke about online safety for primary learners. As part of it, she shared this advert which should promote a lot of discussion:

Teacher training

Jason Anderson asked what impact CELTA has on the classroom practice of experienced teachers. The full talk is available here:

Jason’s CAP framework was referred to in (I think!) Judith G Hudson’s talk ‘Helping teachers understand and use different lesson frameworks:

It is explained in more detail in this article and this handout.

Karin Krummenacher suggested an alternative way of approaching CELTA input sessions, starting with a needs analysis and encouraging trainees to go to the sessions they need, creating a flexible timetable. This is an interesting idea, though another person pointed out it could prove quite challenging if some trainees feel like they are made to go to more sessions than others.

Video in Language Teacher Education is a project I’d like to explore further, particularly since we’ve been introducing video observation into our school this year. You can get a taster by watching the videos on their website.

As a polyglot myself (I think I can say that!), Scott Thornbury‘s talk on hyperpolyglots and what we can learn from them would have been interesting. Here are three tweets from it:

This slide from Simon Brewster’s talk made me smile:

Here are some other tweets from the same talk:

Alastair Douglas spoke on why observation is such a key part of teacher training and on how we should rethink observation tasks. You can watch Alastair’s full talk on the Teaching English British Council page.

Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli described ‘Inspired professional development’. You can watch their full talk here:

Here’s one tweet from the talk as a taster:

Katherine Martinkovich summarized their talk here, along with a selection of other related ones she saw. You can read their full whitepaper on the Cambridge website. Having now watched the talk, I’m going to look at the CPD I’m involved in and see how we can make it more sustained, as this seemed to be the glaring omission from most of what I’m doing.

In the classroom

If you’d like to examine your use of Teacher Talking Time, here are some aspects you might consider, courtesy of Stephen Reilly:

Thanks to Liam for clarifying that PPBP is Pose, Pause, Bounce and Pounce – there seem to be two alternatives: PPPB or PPBP.

Here’s an idea for Use of English activities from Stuart Vinnie’s talk…

…and another for cloze answers…

There are lots more ideas like this on the Cambridge Practice Makes Perfect site.

Gareth Davies, a.k.a. Gareth the Storyteller, asked whether English lessons are fairytales in disguise. You can get a taste of his storytelling here, in a 1-minute clip which is perfect for the classroom.

You can watch Zoltan Dornyei’s talk on how to create safe speaking environments here. You can also read a summary of his talk here, written by Jessica Mackay. It also seems silly not to advertise my ebook, Richer Speaking, at this point, since it includes lots of ways to extend and adapt speaking activities. 🙂

Edmund Dudley was talking about motivating teenagers to write, and promoting the new ETpedia Teenagers book [Amazon affiliate link] which was recently published.

His slides are available here – I’m already thinking about which teachers I can pass them on to at school!

Another talk connected to writing includes the phrase ‘sentence energy’, which sounds intriguing. That was Sarah Blair’s presentation on ‘Teaching writing visually, which you can watch on the TeachingEnglish IATEFL 2018 page, or get to directly here.

Working with language

Jade Blue had some interesting ideas for using learner-generated visuals to conceptualise language. I know this image isn’t perfect, but it gives you the idea I think. Definitely something I’d like to find out more about, and nicely complementing David Connolly‘s presentation.

Kerstin Okubo described how to help academic English students build their vocabulary for spoken production, not just for comprehension:

I’m not sure exactly which talk this was from, apart from that it was part of the Materials Writing SIG showcase on Wednesday 11th April, but it looks like it could be useful for working out how good a particular vocabulary activity is:

Being critical

Here’s one way to promote inclusivity and a critical approach to materials use by students. I think it was from the talk entitled ‘Incorporating diversity: best practices for materials and/or the classroom’ by Ana Carolina Lopes:

John Hughes discussed critical thinking and higher order thinking skills for lower levels.

Finally, Brita Fernandez Schmidt gave a plenary called ‘Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women’ which generated a lot of conversation. You can watch it here.

 

What else do you think I missed?

IATEFL 2018: Our developing profession

This blog post collects together a few ideas that look at how English as a Foreign Language has changed as a profession over the years, for better and worse.

Barry O’Sullivan’s closing plenary looked at the history of the testing industry. I found the overview fascinating, not having realised quite how recently testing became such big business, or the incremental changes that have gone into shaping it. You can watch the full plenary here.

I felt independent publishers were much more prominent at this IATEFL conference than in previous years, with their stand right in the centre of the exhibition. The stand featured EFL Talks, Alphabet Publishing, Wayzgoose Press (run by Dorothy Zemach – see below), PronPack, The No Project, Transform ELT, and I was able to advertise ELT Playbook 1 there too. (Apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone!)

ELT Playbook 1 cover

My main presentation was introducing ELT Playbook 1, which I self-published. I was pleased to be able to talk to so many people about it and get feedback on my idea throughout the conference. If you have missed my advertising it all over this blog 🙂 and don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s an ebook designed for new teachers, supporting them with questions to aid reflection, along with suggestions of ways to record their reflections, and option to join in with an online community and get support from others. It’s also suitable for trainers or managers who would like help with supporting their teachers. I’m aiming for it to be the first in a series, so watch this space for later entries. You can find out more information, including how to buy it, on the ELT Playbook blog. Mike Harrison and Shay Coyne both attended and sketchnoted the talk – thank you!

As well as books you pay for, like mine :), there were also a range of free titles advertised, all designed to advance our profession. These included:

The visibility and importance of independent publishers was helped by Dorothy Zemach’s plenary, ‘Sausage and the law: how textbooks are made’. It was one of the highlights of the conference for me. You can see responses by Helen Legge in this tweet:

and by Steve Brown in this blogpost. Emma-Louise Pratt, the conference artist, responded to the talk visually during the conference, which I thought was an interesting addition to the event this year.

You can watch the full plenary yourself here, as well as watching Dorothy talking after the plenary here:

Here’s my summary (though you should watch the talk yourself!):

Students’ books used to be the component of coursebooks which made all the money, with teachers’ books given away for free. They were basically just an answer key. Now publishers still try to make money on the students’ books, but there are a huge range of other possible components. There is also more copying and piracy of components, as well as old editions being used for longer and teacher-made materials replacing the books.

The combination of these factors mean that profits fall, so the price of books has risen, making them harder to afford, meaning there is even more copying, and so on. This, in turn, means that there is less money to pay the writers, especially as publishers have moved from a royalty system to a fee system, so authors find it harder to make a living. They also are less likely to care as much about the project, become reluctant to market the book, and quit, or they just don’t propose the innovative ideas they might have in the past.

The knock-on effect of all that is that experienced writers leave the profession, and less experienced writers fill the gap as they cost publishers less money. There are also more non-educators in other parts of the publishing process, meaning that the quality of projects drops. The whole process involves more work for everyone, as these writers need more support. Writers are also far more likely to be doing this work in addition to another job. Dorothy included a quote from Michael Swan summarizing the problem with writing on the side, rather than full-time:

To expect the average working teacher, however gifted, to write a viable general language course is like expecting the first violinist to compose the whole of the orchestra’s repertoire in his or her evenings off.

Dorothy also talked about the amount of money an author might (not) make from a book put together by a publisher versus a self-published book. She mentioned that digital was blamed for the drop in revenue from books, but as she said, if digital is losing you money, you’re doing it wrong! Technology should be making things easier and cheaper, not harder and more inaccessible.

In a nutshell, Dorothy’s plenary explained exactly why I decided to self-publish ELT Playbook 1: my ideas, my control, my timescales, my responsibility, my money.

So what can we do? Evaluate materials critically, compare and contrast them, keeping your learners’ needs in mind. Give feedback to publishers, push them when they don’t want to include particular things, up to and including the name(s) of the author(s) on the cover. If you love a book, tell publisher what they’re doing right. Pay attention to the content, trust authors to defend the pedagogy of their work, and remember that nobody wants to put together a bad product, because it just won’t make money. Most importantly

PAY FOR YOUR STUFF.

If you can’t afford something, don’t copy it or download it illegally, choose something else. The more often you refuse to pay, the more expensive things are likely to become. Piracy is not a victimless crime. If we don’t pay, people can’t earn a living, and we all suffer.

As Dorothy said, good writing is hard. It shouldn’t be us and them. It should be us, all together in education.

Amen.

IATEFL 2018: In the classroom

This is a collection of talks I saw at IATEFL Brighton 2018 which have ideas that can be used in the classroom, or thoughts on methodology that may influence your classroom practice. They’re arranged roughly from what I perceived to be the most theoretical to the most immediately practical (as in, activities you could use in class tomorrow).

The frequency fallacy

Leo Selivan’s talk examined how useful frequency-based word lists really are. You can watch the full talk yourself, or read my summary. We can often over- or underestimate how frequent words actually are due to the availability bias, which says that if something is easy to remember, it must be more frequent. There are many different ways you can check how frequent a particular word is, for example by looking at the information in learner dictionaries. In the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, there is information about how common a word is in both spoken and written English. For example, abroad is in the top 2000 words of spoken English, and top 3000 of written English. 80% of English texts are made up of high frequency words, and they are used as defining vocabulary, so it can seem a good idea to focus on them in our teaching.

However, there are many problems with these high frequency words. We can assume that if you know high frequency words you’ll be fine, with a high-level of understanding. Polysemy (same word, different meanings) isn’t acknowledged in word lists, for example the different meanings of ‘rough’ in ‘He’s got very rough hands.’ and ‘It’s just a rough estimate.’ ‘Cast’ has 10 different meanings as a verb, without thinking about its meanings as a noun. It’s essential to consider co-text too. This implies that we should teach collocations straight away, not wait until higher levels. Another problem with frequency lists is the grouping of words, so ‘name’ and ‘namely’ are there as a single item (I think!). This implies that learning ‘name’ should mean understanding of ‘namely’, which it obviously doesn’t! Some words we often use in the classroom don’t appear on frequency lists, like ‘homework’. Leo challenged us to think of 6 words or chunks that we think of when we see the word ‘travelling’. Mine were ‘plane’, ‘alone’, ‘passport’, ‘go away’, ‘holiday’ and ‘backpack’. Leo pointed out that most of the ones we came up with probably aren’t in the top 2000 or 3000, but if we’re travelling, they’re really important, so we also need to consider student needs, not just general frequency of words.

Another issue is that chunks like ‘at all’ or ‘bear in mind’ are non-transparent, so although some or all of the words may appear on a frequency list, it doesn’t mean students can understand them by learning the component words. The PHRASal Expressions List (PHRASE List) and PHrasal VErb Pedagogical List (PHaVE List) are two new frequency lists designed to take this into account, by including non-transparent multiword items.

I found the talk very interesting, and it certainly made me think about how useful frequency lists really are, but I was left wondering what we should do instead. I know it’s hard to answer that in 30 minutes, but I’m hoping Leo will go into more detail on his blog at some point.

Adi Rajan summarised the talk much more thoroughly than I did!

P.S. Another talk about word lists at this year’s IATEFL was Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid? by Julie Moore. Her blog post includes lots of links for further reading too.

Pronunciation and phonology

Mark Hancock’s was called ‘Towards a pedagogical phonology’ and looked at developments in the way he believes that phonology should be taught in a post-ELF world. He highlighted that accent snobbery is pointless, as there are so many different accents in the world and none of them are any better than any others. He also said that it’s important to expose students to a variety of accents, since no matter how ‘perfectly’ you might speak, you can’t control how your interlocutor speaks. It also doesn’t matter which accent you use to speak, as long as it gains you access to the international community.

The more common a variant is between accents, the more likely it is to be understood. This therefore makes it less problematic for listeners to understand. For example, ‘free’ is such a common variant of ‘three’ now, that it is almost always understood. It also generally doesn’t make you less intelligible if you pronounce something that is written, like the ‘r’ in ‘Mark’, but it might make you less intelligible if you don’t say it. We should aim to build or grow our students’ accents, rather than to replace them.

When we think about teaching pronunciation, we ultimately have to think about what is essential and what is superficial. Mark used the metaphor of aliens finding a car in space and trying to copy it. They don’t know that the scratches on the car are not a key part of what makes it work, so they copy them with the same level of care as they copy the engine and the wheels. In pronunciation, the equivalent of the engine and the wheels are things like syllables and phoneme distinctions, whereas the schwa, weak forms and elision are like the scratches. Having said that, it’s important to negotiate the syllabus with students, as they may have different ideas to you about what they want.

You can use this inverted triangle as a kind of hierarchy of pronunciation skills to be developed, with lower order skills at the bottom, and higher order ones at the top:

Multiple entry point model

The full set of Mark’s slides are available here, and there is a treasure trove of other useful materials on the HancockMcDonald site, which he shares with Annie Hancock.

 

Nicola Meldrum and Mark McKinnon shared some of the insights into pronunciation which they have come up with while running teacher training courses. They were working with A1 groups, and wanted to ensure that they modelled an equal focus on meaning, form and sound/pronunciation with all groups. This meant using natural speech and intonation patterns, even at very low levels, and highlighting what happens when form and sound don’t seem to match. Often students and teachers seem to focus on meaning and form, neglecting the sound of new language. They shared a 3-minute video of Toni, talking in Spanish (subtitled) about his experiences of pronunciation in class. It’s well worth watching, as Toni described how useful he found individual drilling, transcription of phonemes, and being able to concentrate just on the sound of new language at times, among many other insights. Before these lessons, he only used to focus on the written form and not the sound, and now he notices a real difference in how much more confident he is.

Nicola and Mark also recommended feedback focussed planning, where you consider what problems students might have with the sound of new language and plan how you can help them with it. Give students time and space by reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ to get through and leaving time for feedback. A supportive listening cycle is also useful here: time and a variety of tasks means students can spend time really understanding the sound of new language. They have written a series of blog posts covering all three of the concepts they mentioned during their talk: MFS (meaning, form, sound), SLC (supportive listening cycle) and FFP (feedback-focussed planning).

Older learners

Heloisa Duarte’s talk looked at what we can do to support older learners in the classroom. Depending on your context, older learners can start at anything from 45 to 70. As Heloisa said, there aren’t many generalisations we can make about older learners, but one thing we can say is that their parents didn’t force them to come to the classes! They tend to be highly motivated, perhaps wanting to learn English to talk to new family members, perhaps to move to an English-speaking country, or to feel better about themselves and boost their confidence. For others, it is just because they’ve always wanted to and now have the time and money to do it. The social side of courses can also be very important for these students.

Challenges for older learners include health problems, like mobility, hearing or eyesight. For example, the higher the pitch of a voice, the harder it can be to understand. There may be affective factors, such as previous bad experiences with English teachers, or a feeling that it is too late for them to learn, affecting their self-confidence. There may also be cognitive challenges: ‘I want to learn, but I forget.’ Some younger students may have the perception that older students are helpless, or less able to participate, and this is very rarely true.

Heloisa asked us to think about how we might adapt the lessons for three possible students. One of them was shown in one of my favourite adverts ever:

She advised us to help learners to acknowledge every victory they have, and work hard at boosting their confidence. She recommended Seeds of Confidence by , [affiliate link] published by Helbling languages, as a source of other confidence-building activities.

Other advice included:

  • Choose coursebooks with appropriate topics, making sure they’re not pitched too young.
  • Adapt activities to suit the interests of your students. One example she gave was to listen to ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’, then write an advert for him to sell his farm because he’s going crazy!
  • Use and teach memorisation techniques.
  • Revise and recycle as often as possible.
  • Find out about learners and value their experience.

Ultimately, it’s most important to adjust the classroom and lessons to your learners, rather than demanding they adapt to you.

Clarifying grammar

David Connolly shared some Venn diagrams he has used to help students to understand grammar points, rather than trying to navigate the long and often complicated explanations that appear in a lot of course books. I was particularly interested in this session as I have been experimenting with different ways of clarifying language points for a while now, as any of you who have been following my blog for a while will know (another articles chart, anyone?!) David emphasised that Venn diagrams don’t provide a complete explanation covering all exceptions to rules, with context still being key. However, they can be used as a starting point for understanding. Here is one example for the uses of past simple, ‘used to’ and ‘would’ for past habits:

He also had diagrams for vocabulary, for example the different between a table and a desk, something I’d never really thought about before.

The final set of diagrams I have pictures of are connected to ‘have to’ and ‘must’ in the present and past:

 

Bruno Leys showed us a lot of pictures of real English in use that he has noticed in the UK and abroad, along with the kind of questions and follow-up tasks he uses with them. I would highly recommend looking at the full presentation, here, to see both examples of the pictures and his reasoning for approaching grammar in this way. I’ve selected a couple of my favourite examples to give you a taster. These two are great as the present perfect causes problems for speakers of a lot of languages, including Slavic languages, and these pictures help to make the meaning very clear:

'Fat rescues' article We have moved

If you’re interested in using ELTpics to work with grammar in this way, you could try the Signs or Linguistic Landscapes sets. Bruno also mentioned the free-to-download e-book The Image in English Language Teaching, edited by Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri.

 

IATEFL 2018: Management, teacher training and development

I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂

The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.

How can we create a culture of CPD?

The first was Liam Tyrrell, who reminded us that the shared ideas, values and direction that make up the culture of a workplace or team are important. They are what lead to success. Organisational culture is the number one predictor of development outcomes and improved classroom effectiveness, according to Matthew A. Kraft in his 2014 paper with John Papay entitled ‘Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?

Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:

  • What does it look like when the culture is changed?
    If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
  • Who are the silent majority?
    Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
  • What options can you give to people?
    The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
  • How can you get recruitment right?
    Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?

(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)

Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.

 

I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.

 

As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:

  • Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
  • Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
  • Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

Creating a welcoming culture

Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:

Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.

A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.

Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.

Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)

For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.

Teacher-centred CPD

Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.

As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.

Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:

  • #pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
  • #meetelt, Pecha Kucha events in pubs
  • #auselt, a Twitter hashtag for discussions (similar to #eltchat)
  • Pineapple charts to organise peer observation
  • A regular newsletter emailed to teachers across their organisations’ various sites
  • The Raise Your Voice choir

They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:

Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!

 

I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.

 

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.

Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.

Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.

Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

 

At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.

The language of CPD

Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.

In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.

Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.

The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.

By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.

Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.

Action research

The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.

Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:

When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:

  • Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
  • Measurable
  • Accurate
  • Realistic
  • Topic-focused

If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.

Supporting new teachers

A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.

When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)

The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:

Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

CPD for teacher trainers

Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.

 

Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.

If you’d like to contribute to Teti’s research, here are her questions.

 

Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.

Trinity and Cambridge

Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.

 

Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.

 

Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.

They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbook series could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!

Find out more

Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.

If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.

And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂

How to use social media (IATEFL How To)

IATEFL were kind enough to ask Mike Harrison and I to give one of the sessions in the How To track this year, explaining How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. Here are the slides from the sessions. You need to sign in to SlideShare if you want to download them. Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

How to use social media effectively – at IATEFL and beyond

Is personalised teacher development really possible? (IATEFL 2018 LAMSIG and TDSIG PCE)

Here’s a quick summary from the IATEFL Brighton 2018 pre-conference event I attended today, co-organised by the Teacher Development and Leadership and Management Special Interest Groups. Please note: it’s my interpretation of the ideas and themes from the day, so I’m happy for anybody who would like to add to or edit my impressions of it.

Who’s responsible for CPD? We all are: teachers, managers, trainers. We’re all learners, and we need to model the fact that we’re learning to create that culture and demonstrate it to others. We’re all in the same boat.

Culture is key: if you create enough of a learning culture, those who weren’t motivated before may get interested and come along with the rest of you. And if not, is it worth wasting energy on them? Though we should try to find out more about what’s stopping them. We should also try to recruit for the culture we want to create or maintain, asking ourselves where we want to be, and what changes we need to make to get there if necessary.

CPD needs to be organised, though it doesn’t have to be top-down. We need to create a space for teachers to be able to develop and co-build it with them. Teachers can create those spaces themselves, and sometimes managers just need to get out of the way.

A key thing is really listening to people and working on cooperative development. We can also think about changing some of the language we use: puzzles, not problems; labs, not workshops. This is particularly important if language or intercultural hurdles are present: naming can both help and hinder.

My favourite idea from the day: a closed Google space set up by teachers where anybody within the organisation can post a 2-minute video about something that makes their job easier, better or faster. Something that builds up into an organisational archive, starts online conversations, and offline ones too.

Thank you to both SIGs for organising an interesting and thought-provoking day.

And thanks for the ice cream too 🙂

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IATEFL 2018 talks

I’m currently on the train to IATEFL Brighton 2018, finishing off my preparations for my talk(s) this year.

For those of you who will be at the conference, I’ll be presenting twice.

My first talk is on Tuesday 10th April, 11:55-12:25. The room is called ‘Cambridge’ and has a 250 capacity, so there’s plenty of space for all of you!

Here’s the abstract:

Introducing ELT Playbook 1: independent professional development for new teachers

New teachers are often thrown in at the deep end. If they’re lucky, they are surrounded by supportive colleagues who can help them out. If they’re not, they need ELT Playbook 1. It consists of 30 tasks new teachers can use to learn to reflect on their teaching. I’ll also describe how trainers can base development programmes on the tasks.

If you won’t be at the conference, you can find out all about ELT Playbook 1 on the ELT Playbook blog. There is also a conference discount if you buy the ebook via Smashwords before 15th April 2018. You can also watch a 10-minute version of the same talk which I did for EFLtalks last month.

ELT Playbook 1 postcards

The second talk is a joint one with Mike Harrison as part of the How To stream of events that happen before the plenaries each morning. On Wednesday morning, 8:15-8:45, you can join us in ‘Buckingham’ (150 capacity) as we tell you:

How to use social media effectively – at IATEFL and beyond

Social networking affords great opportunities to connect with ELT professionals around the world, but it can be difficult to know where to start. We will look at how to use social media – focusing on Facebook, Twitter and blogs – for your personal ELT development at IATEFL and beyond.

We’re hoping to share some of that presentation with you later in the week…watch this space!

If you’d like to find out what’s going on during the conference, take a look at the #IATEFL2018 hashtag on Twitter to see live coverage from the sessions (wifi permitting), as well as following blogs and other sources listed on the IATEFL online coverage page.

Enjoy your week, whether or not you’re at the conference!

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: In sum

These are all of the posts I’ve written about IATEFL Glasgow 2017:

If you’d like to watch other talks and interviews from the conference, there are a few recordings available:

My first IATEFL conference was Glasgow 2012, and it’s interesting to reflect on how much I’ve grown and changed as both a teacher and a person since then.

The IATEFL conference is the best week of my year every year, partly because my IATEFL family just keeps growing.

These are still two of my favourite photos of my PLN, both from Glasgow 2012:

The PLN after my talk
The PLN after my talk

Lunch
Lunch with some of the PLN (photo by Chia Suan Chong)

It’s wonderful to be able to keep bumping into so many people who I know online in the rest of the year as the conference continues, and to meet a whole lot of new people, all of whom are passionate about the job they are doing and learning about how to get better at it.

Generally I find the conference a much more relaxed affair than when I first attended, as I’ve taken a lot of pressure off myself to try and attend absolutely everything, instead going with the flow and listening to how my body feels: there’s a limit to how long you want to sit in a stream of windowless rooms lit by fluorescent strip lighting before you need to go outside! I’ve also learnt to book accommodation as early as possible, and as close to the conference site as possible, making it much easier to pop back and get rid of heavy books and things before the evenings.

The kind of talks I’ve chosen to attend have changed gradually, as there are now more materials writing, management and training talks, reflecting the development in my career, but I still enjoy learning practical ideas for the classroom too, especially since these are the easiest to pass on to my colleagues when I return to school. I’ve also found myself more and more interested in corpora, listening and task-based learning, partly as a result of going to previous sessions on all of these topics at IATEFL.

The International Quiz night and the Pecha Kucha are my two favourite evening events at each IATEFL, and I’ve now been lucky enough to take part in the PK twice, first at Harrogate in 2014, and this year at Glasgow as part of the debate team. Phil Longwell talks about the 2017 PK evening in his post, including a recording of Marisa Constantinides. Shay Coyne was kind enough to record this year’s first ever IATEFL PK debate for your viewing pleasure:

Since last year, I’ve been on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, as part of which I curate the IATEFL blog. Here’s an interview from the conference where I talk about the blog and how you can write for it.

I’m also (I hope!) better at summarising my experience of the IATEFL conference each year. The first time round, there was an