These are the slides from my IATEFL 2021 How to session this morning, giving you guidance on how to present at an international conference, whether that’s face-to-face or online. It’s an updated version of my IATEFL 2019 How to session.
Slide 8 has icons. These are the associated notes:
Eye contact – friends around room / Online = odd presenting to yourself sometimes. Ask somebody to stay on video so you can talk to them if possible (the moderator?) / switch off self view if you can?
Microphone – where to hold it. Use it? / Online = headphones stop echo
Pace: Deep breaths – ask somebody to indicate if you’re rushing
What you say – not a script/reading from slides! Index cards? Slides + notes, presenters notes…as natural as possible
Reactions aren’t just based on what you say – also the time of day – 8:15? After lunch? End of the day? / Nobody writing in chat online = don’t worry / invite them
Here are potential solutions to the problems on slide 11:
Slides – USB x 2, Google Drive, email, Slideshare – check compatability. Alternatively, don’t use slides!
Audio – have transcript, play it as a file outside presentation rather than embedded into it
Video – summarise content
Attention – like in class? hands up, countdown
Empty room – ask people to come closer
Too long – decide before what you can cut, underplan!
Too short – more time for questions, what will you take away?
Overall = stay calm 🙂 Ask them a question e.g. what have I told you so far? What do you still want to know?
Here’s an explanation of the images on slide 11:
Reflect on how it went
If it’s IATEFL, consider writing up your talk for the Conference Selections – there’s a How To talk about that too 🙂
This was originally going to be the topic for my IATEFL Manchester 2020 talk, so the ‘this year’ referred to in the title is 2019-2020. Although the IATEFL conference moved online and to 2021, it’s still relevant and still true, and serves as a good reminder to me about what I was thinking a year ago when I first presented it at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference in January 2020. If you’ve read that post, you’ll find that this is the same thing again but with a few minor tweaks for online training 🙂 I gave this version of the talk on Saturday 19th June 2021.
Here is a video of the session which I recorded before the big day in case of technical problems:
Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, 2019 gave me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I did for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.
Working with humans
Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In the live version of this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Online, you could use the chatbox for a similar activity, or put people into breakout rooms. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues.
Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s (still!) something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.
Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in summer 2019. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course. This served as an interesting way to reflect on the week.
Start where they are
This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.
Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen at school so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session. Online, you can use tools like Google Jamboard, Mentimeter or AnswerGarden for a similar activity.
Experience-based rather than information-based
We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.
I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual.
I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.
As we shifted online, I moved to completely the other extreme content-wise. I ended up having almost no content as I thought that teachers had far more first-hand experience of the online classroom than I did and would therefore appreciate being able to share their ideas with each other. After a couple of workshops which fell flat, I realised I still needed to include content which came from me, and I’ve hopefully moved towards a better balance now.
I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.
In most of my workshops I now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, teachers choose two or three to try in the next week and (ideally) their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. I aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.
I’m still thinking about how best to do this on CELTA courses, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them. I always try to make explicit connections in input sessions to particular lessons I know trainees are going to teach, as well as referring back to input sessions and handouts when doing assisted lesson planning, but I’m not sure how successful this is.
Learning through dialogue
Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others.
Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.
As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that teachers should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and realise that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.
Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. This was something else I had trouble with when we moved to online workshops, as I fell into a trap of always having experience sharing sessions with ideas pooled in a Google Doc – this got old very quickly! I feel like I’ve been able to move past that now with a lot more online workshops under my belt. Walking the walk means that teachers/trainees are more likely to respect your advice, not least because they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.
Having said that, trainers need to make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.
Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:
What do you need more help with?
What will you take from this session into your lessons?
What should we keep the same?
What should we change?
Anything else you want to tell us?
This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback. I realise I haven’t carried this through to online workshops, but we’re done with them for this year!
I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.
Does your training follow similar principles? Will you reconsider anything in your training based on anything here?
If you’re interested in developing as a teacher trainer, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code ZX79U until 17th July 2021).
There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂
These are my summaries of the talks.
How to present at an international conference – Sandy Millin
Plenary: Embedding a culture of empathy in English language teaching – Kieran Donaghy
Where Kieran’s interest in empathy comes from?
Kieran grew up in a multicultural close-knit community. He had to spend a little time in hospital as a child, lost confidence and came out with a stammer. He had a teacher who taught him to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without a stammer – this really helped him. One of his first teaching jobs was with multicultural students. He came across Jill Hadfield’s Classroom Dynamics and Earl Stevick’s book, where he saw this:
success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom…
I have begun to suspect that the most important aspect of ‘what goes on’ is the presence or absence of harmony – it is the parts working with, or against, one another
Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)
After this he lived and worked in different countries and learnt different languages.
However, he’s considered leaving the profession at some points due to low pay and poor working conditions. He because frustrated with not being as patient or empathetic with students as he could have been.
His children went to school somewhere with lenta educacion, slow education – where they work at their own pace, have projects, and there is a focus on values and inclusion.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.
Roman Krznaric (2014: x)
There are three parts to empathy highlighted here:
The cognitive part: stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, taking perspectives
The affective part: understanding their feelings and perspectives
Empathic concern: using that understanding to guide your actions
How do we develop empathy?
Children must experience empathy to learn to express it themselves.
Having said that, research shows that we can continue to develop empathy throughout our lives. With practice and by exercising it, we can become more empathetic [definitely something I’ve experienced myself!]
Experience, but not brilliance, improves empathy.
Carl Rogers (1975: 5-6)
The neurological foundations of empathy
Phineas Gage was a railway foreman in the 19th century. One day there was an accident, where a pole went through his brain. Amazingly he survived the accident. Before it, he was empathetic, but afterwards he was unable to judge what was socially appropriate. 100 years later, his brain was put through an MRI scanner to find what part of his brain was affected, identifying a specific part which was related to empathy.
In 1990, mirror neurons were discovered. A monkey’s neuron fired, even when it saw somebody performing an action rather than doing it themselves. (Here you can see Jade Blue’s fantastic drawings from throughout the talk)
However, there is no single empathy centre in the brain. There are 14 different, but interconnected brain regions. When we empathise with another person, this network is activated.
Why is empathy important in society?
It’s our genetic nature to have social connections with others – it’s important for both physical and social wellbeing.
Empathy becomes the thread that weaves an increasingly differentiated and individualised population into an integrated social tapestry, allowing the social organism to function as a whole.
Jeremy Rifkin (2009:26)
It is vital for a functioning democracy. We need to listen to each other’s perspectives for democracy to work.
When empathy wanes, democracy is diminished. The erosion of empathy robs us of our humanity, without which any sense of community, shared interests and shared fate is lost.
David Howe (2013: 201)
However, there appears to be a dramatic decline in empathy. This survey shows results with college students over time:
There is a range of possible reasons for this:
More people living alone and spending less time engaged in social and community activities that nurture empathy.
Increased use of technology and rise of social media.
Hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success.
Why is empathy important in education?
Emotional intelligence goes hand-in-hand with moral development.
Schools have a central role in cultivating character by inculcating self-discipline and empathy, which in turn enable true commitment to civic and moral values. In doing so, it is not enough to lecture children about values; they have to practice them, which happens as children build the essential emotional and social skills. In this sense, emotional literacy goes hand in hand with education for character, for moral development, and for citizenship.
Daniel Goleman (1995: 286)
It’s essential for successful learning, to create quality relationships.
An extensive body of research suggests the importance of close, caring teacher-student relationships and high-quality peer relationships for students’ academic self-perceptions, school engagement, motivation, learning, and performance.
Furrer, Skinner and Pitzer (2014: 102)
To teach children, we must first reach them.
Mary Gordon (1994: 214?)
What are the characteristics of an empathic teacher?
These three characteristics are based on the work of Bridget Cooper (2011: 59-88):
What are the characteristics of it?
Group empathy and whole class relationships: understanding how the group works
Rules, fairness and manners
Conclusions about functional empathy:
It’s absolutely essential in the classroom.
It provides cohesion and security, creates understanding and a positive group climate.
A teacher who only uses functional empathy does not cater to the needs of individual students who do not conform to the group stereotype.
It’s needed to create relationships, and can be observed in daily life.
Characteristics of fundamental empathy:
Acceptance and openness – you can learn more about them
Giving sole attention
Listening and valuing individual students – hearing their perspectives
Positive and affirmative – providing direct praise, this is especially important for students from minority backgrounds or SpLDs who may have received little praise elsewhere in the educational system
How is fundamental empathy communicated?
Clear facial expressions
Watching facial experessions to gauge responses
Consider height and distance and how this affects relationships – physical closeness can promote emotional closeness [Keiran said this is only possible f2f – I disagree – consider a tiny lecturer far away, versus all equal on Zoom)
Conclusions about functional empathy:
Fundamental empathy initiates the focused interactive relationships that support engagement, interaction and learning.
The active listening and interest of the empathic teacher begins this engagement with the other person.
The enthusiasm of these teachers begins to engage students at an emotional level in learning.
Characteristics of profound empathy in teachers:
Act to create positive emotions and interactions, including before and after class
Understanding of self and others – teachers remember their own reactions and their own children’s reactions to teachers
Appreciation of all relationships
Breadth and depth of empathy – across a wide range of students
Act and take responsibility
Integrated and adaptive
Sense of self and others
Moral aspects – try to be good people, do the right thing and support others. This moral behaviour is mirrored by students.
Conclusions about profound empathy:
Profoundly empathic teachers are considerate, unselfish, caring, kind and pleasant
Their empathic and caring behaviour engenders similar behaviour in their students
Profound empathy helps to produce the ‘constant human dialogue’ necessary for learning to take place
Why is empathy particularly important in language education?
It’s necessary in all kinds of classrooms, but in language education communicative competence is key, with highly social and interpersonal classrooms.
In this (freely downloadable) book by Gkonou and Mercer (2016), their research showed English language teachers generally scored highly on emotional and social intelligence. One possible reason could be because many Engilsh teachers are bilingual, and research has shown that bilingualism also leads to higher empathy.
On page 8, they said that teachers pointed to four main characteristics of quality relationships with their pupils:
empathy (by far the most commonly mentioned)
As classrooms become ever more multicultural and multilingual, empathy becomes increasingly important.
Fostering empathy, which is a key component of EI [emotional intelligence] and SI [social intelligence], can mediate intercultural understanding, increase self-awareness and an awareness and appreciation of other cultures, and make learners open to others.
Gkonou and Mercer (2016: 8)
Confidence in classrooms in your own language and in a foreign language can be very different:
Empathic teaching is vital for students with a non-native language in large classes. Not least in terms of emotions, is the embarrassment of suddenly feeling inadequate after having been competent in school in their native country and finding communication impossible, because the whole curriculum is taught in this new, inaccessible language.
Bridget Cooper (2011: 182)
To boost self-confidence in students, teachers in EFL classrooms, need to have a deep sense of empathy.
It strikes me that empathy is especially relevant to language learning, with its focus on communication, cultural diversity and the centrality of social interactions.
Sarah Mercer (2016: 106)
Is there an empathy deficit in language education?
Language teachers are aware of a sense of empathy in language education and want to be and try to be empathic. One of the things they do is to act as role models to their students, but there are many factors which may make this more challenging.
Over-emphasis on curriculum, assessment and competition, leaving little time for empathy based activities
The exclusion of certain groups of people from coursebooks
A one-size-fits-all approach will bring some in, but it will exclude others. By not representing them on screen, it denies individuals’ experiences, life choices and entire belief systems. It perpetuates glossy, censored soundbits that ultimately all boil down to the same small set of approved personalities and safe stories. By catering so carefully for some, we ‘other’ many more, claiming their lives as somehow extreme. PARSNIPs means perpetuating an abstract hierarchy of experience – and this will ultimately have a negative real-world impact.
Native speakerism (see Silvana Richardson’s IATEFL 2016 plenary)
For years students have been told that only ‘native speakers’ can teach them ‘correct’ English. but let’s have the courage to acknoeldge the fact that we’ve been lying to them all along. both ‘native’ and ‘non-native speakers’ can be equally good teachers, and our students can benefit from beign taught by the two groups.
Marek Kiczkowiak (2017) TEFL Equity Advocates
The undervaluing of teachers (see also Paula Rebolledo’s IATEFL 2019 plenary)
Long hours, low pay and precarity
More than ever before, teachers who want to have any kind of influence on the way that marketization and industrialization are shaping their working lives will need to do so collectively.
Philip Keer and Andrew Wickham (2016: 78)
One successful example of this kind of collective is the SLB Co-operative in Barcelona.
31% of teachers said they had experienced a mental health problem in the past academic year.
84% of teachers described themselves as ‘stressed’ or ‘very stressed’.
74% of teachers have considered leaving the profession this year due to pressures on their health and wellbeing.
Keiran mentioned the work of Phil Longwell and the research he has done into mental health for EFL teachers, some of which you can find here.
Education reimagined and the new normal – we should consider people first, and technology second. Technology allows many affordances, and teaching online works well, but we should also remember what works best in face-to-face classrooms, particularly the importance of social interaction, which is more difficult to achieve online.
The question right now for educations should not be ‘what technology do I need to move my class online?’ The question should be ‘what am I doing to support my students (and my colleagues and my family)? Start there – not with tech but with compassion.
Audrey Watters (2020)
There are lots of articles about reimagining education, but often from technology companies or organisations like OECD and the World Economic Forum, or consultancy firms like McKinsey or banks like Credit Suisse. They see this as an opportunity for experimentation. These organisations may see online learning as incredibly successful, but Kieran reminds us that we should be critical of this.
An ‘education is broken, tech can fix it’ narrative can be traced back decades.
Ben Williamson (2020)
Potentially this might lead to more privatisation and fewer physical classrooms.
It’s a great moment…all the red tape that keeps things away is gone and people are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see … Real change takes place in deep crisis. You will not stop the momentum that will build.
The current wave of school closures offers an opportunity for experimentation and for envisioning new models of education.
Andrea Schliecher (2020)
We may have to work with students who have experienced COVID themselves or in their families, and whose learning has been affected by it. But teachers are dealing with this too. Teachers need the right conditions to be able to do this, and the physical classroom is a key part of this.
The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility.
bell hooks (1994: 207)
How can we develop empathy in the classroom?
Keep an empathy journal: reflect when you notice moments with teachers and students, with a diverse range of viewpoints
Drama and roleplay – but we must give students time to prepare, including empathy prompting questions, for example:
Reading fiction about people different from them, and from different backgrounds
Show films about people who are different from our learners, and about marginalised people, for example Ali’s story
Look at art and give perspective taking instructions
Use visible thinking routines:
If we provided conditions which were conducive to empathy and allowed it to flourish, we would probably see happier teachers and students, and see more inclusive and more effective language learning.
Post-pandemic education will require huge amounts of empathy. Teachers need the right conditions to provide this empathy.
When reimagining post-pandemic education, let’s reimagine inclusivity, let’s reimagine entrenched underfunding and let’s reimagine teachers’ pay and conditions.
Coming back to the Earl Stevick quote from the beginning:
success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom…
I have begun to suspect that the most important aspect of ‘what goes on’ is the presence or absence of harmony – it is the parts working with, or against, one another
Earl Stevick (1980: 4-6)
Maybe the only way we can achieve this is through empathy.
Harry Kuchah-Kuchah mentioned at the end that teacher education tend to focus on the technical aspects of teaching, rather than the human aspects of it, and that Kieran drew attention to this.
Only connect: beyond the coursebook – seven types of connectivity – Jill Hadfield
[There were some slight technical issues at the start, so there was not as much.]
The title of the talk comes from a quote:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
E.M. Forster: Howard’s End
In the novel there is a connection between the materialist, wordly Wilcoxes and the idealistic, artistic Schlegels. Jill used this to inspire her structure for the talk:
Connection between ideas reconciling viewpoints and world outlook (World)
Connection between people, across race, class, nations (Others)
A sence of wholeness: of life and the Self (Self)
We seem to be entering an increasingly antagonistic and divisive age. Why is society becoming more polarized?
Jill’s abstract was written before the pandemic. What has happened since? How has this affected us?
It’s increased social isolation, but paradoxically has made people realise the need for connection and given us the feeling of ‘all being in the same boat’. On the other hand, it has increased connection – Jill mentioned far more Zoom connections with friends and family, and I’ve found this too.
During the pandemic, Jill reread La Peste by Albert Camus and found this very timely quote:
Throughout the day the doctor was conscious that the slightly dazed feeling that came over him whenever he thought about the plague was growing more pronounced. Finally he realized that he was afraid! On two occasions he entered crowded cafes. Like Cottard he felt a need for firendly contacts, human warmth. A stupid instinct.
But once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, int he same boat, and each wold have to adapt himself to the new confitions of life. Thus, for example, a feeling nofmrally as individual as the ache of separation form those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike.
World: connecting through celebrating our environment:
Often debate or discussion
Can be depressing as people feel powerless
Find inspiring stories (like this), look at ELT Footprint
Celebrating the environment, like ‘Octopus’s Garden’:
Use the ‘I have a dream’ speech as a framework:
Find lots more activities in this free book from the British Council Teaching English website.
Take positive action, like the ‘Picker pals‘ initiative
World: Connecting through art, music and literature
Problem: we all have different tastes.
Secret thoughts of modern art 1: Show pictures of people, for example in cafes. Give out cut out speech bubbles. Students take the speech bubbles and walk around looking at the pictures.They should choose one and write in the speech bubbles the secret thoughts of the character they have chosen. Collect the bubbles and redistribute. Students stick the thought bubble on the picture they think it belongs to. Then they look round again and put their own bubbles on the character they intended it for, if misplaced. Follow up with a discussion on who they think the character is, why they are thinking that etc.
Secret thoughts of modern art 2: Number the pictures. Give each student a number. They should look at that picture and write who they think the person is, what they do, what kind of a person they are, what their dreams, hopes and fears are, why they are in the cafe and what they are thinking about. Put students in pairs. They should share informatin about their characters and then imagine a conversation between them.
Using music: film shots. Use music excerpts and they image the clips
Use short poems as frameworks for students to write their own poems:
Vary the short poem activity by giving students a ‘lucky dip slip’ of who the poem should be to and from
Humour can differ across cultures.
Jokes need to have universal appeal.
Laughing Matters by Peter Medgyes is excellent as the source of jokes which can work in the classroom [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link], Jill told a story of passing it around a railway carriage when her husabnd was laughing at the book after the IATEFL after it was launched, and everybody in the carriage ending up laughing 🙂
Tell a joke and ask students to write a similar one for themselves.
Fishy stories (from Writing Games) – turn over a time card and say what you were doing at a particular time. If the other students agree, they can through away their picture card. But the pictures are a little crazy and funny, introducing humour.
Cultural differences can be a source of misunderstanding and even hostility.
How can we find ways of sharing and appreciating other cultures?
Experiences in common: all cultures have some common characteristics: festivals, special food, coming of age, houses, greetings, dancing. Begin with differences and find similarities: Construct a questionnaire to get the students in your class to find out about customs such as greetings, coming of age, in their different culture. They mingle, finding out about different customs. In small groups, they discuss what differences they found. Ask what similarities there are across the cultures, e.g. we all have a midwinter festival.
Create a country: As a follow up, put students in small groups of different nationalities. Tell them they live in an imaginary country that has characteristics of all their nationalities. Get them to make up a name for their country. Get them to a design a travel advert, brochure or guidebook entry, describing the higlights of their country, e.g. food, festivals, scenery, etc. Each highlight should share attributes of all their countries.
Others: group dynamics
Problem with communicative activities:
They often focus on differences between students as a means of generating speaking.
So we should focus on finding similarities rather than differences.
It can be very bonding to create something together. Start with a matching activity like the first image. Then they match things up themselves to create a poem, as in the second image.
Empathy activities: ask them to complete sentence stems and compare their answers: I like the colour…because… My favourite time of day is… When I was at school I used to… I sometimes worry about … People like me because…
Self: creating a vision
The self…or selves?
The postmodern view of identity is not as single and fixed but as multiple, complex and a ‘site of struggle’
Selves for language students:
L1 vs L2 self: how can we help our students to develop a sense of connectivity to the foreign language through creation of an L2 self?
Creating the ideal L2 self: imagine yourself in the future, you have studied (L2) and now you can speak it well. Imagine… How old ar you? What do you look like now? Where are you living? What job are you doing? What makes you happy about your life? How is (L2) useful to you now? Do you use it in your work? Do you use it to study? Do you have (L2) friends? Do you travel a lot? Imagine the situation that is most important to you. Where are you? …in an office, a meeting, with friends, in a university, in the foreign country… Imagine you are speaking (the L2) very well…how do you feel? What does this give you?
[I had to leave to moderate at this point.]
The flourishing school: cultivating wellbing for teachers and leaders – Kate Brierton and Christina Gkonou
[I moderated this session.]
Kate and Christina are co-authoring a book which will be published by Cambridge in March 2022 called Cultivating Teacher Wellbeing.
Kate is a clinical psychologist. She rarely talks about mental health issues, but rather mostly about ‘balanced minds’ (Gilbert, 2010). When we’re suffering from poor wellbeing, we’re suffering from unbalanced minds.
Our brains weren’t designed for 21st century living. There are lots of pressures that can unbalance our minds. A typical pattern is that we tend to work harder and harder from a place of fear, afraid of failure, afraid that we’re not good enough in some way – it’s a vicious circle. Sometimes the harder we work, the more afraid we get.
Relationships are key to wellbeing, contrary to a possible feeling that we need to be fully autonomous and don’t need anybody else.
Compassion is fundamental to wellbeing and made up of five factors:
Educators are often very good at giving this to everyone around themselves, but do we do this things for ourselves. Often we give too much to others, but not to ourselves.
Wellbeing for managers
Put on your own oxygen mask first! Without having balanced minds ourselves, we can’t support other people.
Many stresses and strains on leaders and managers
How balanced do you feel your mind is on a rate of 0 (you can flow with life and don’t feel overwhelmed) to 10 (very overwhelmed, anxious, stressed)? If the score is above 5, you really need to focus on your own self-compassion and self-care.
Self-compassion: support yourself in the same way that you would to a good friend. Be warm, be kind, ask how you can help. Quite often we’re quite critical to ourselves when we’re struggling. How can I help myself today?
Self-care: sleep, food, exercise
Key components of a supportive school culture
Courageous challenge: knowing when we need to challenge, not just accept.
As a servant leader, your role is to serve the people who you lead and the students in your organisation. These are characteristics you can employ:
Empowerment of the people around you: training, resources, showing and telling staff that you believe in them (this can instil a tremendous amount of confidence in people)
Standing back: you believe in people, and accept other ideas – letting people take a risk and feel safe enough to do that
Humility: for Kate, this is the quality to focus on. The humility to admit when you get things wrong, and to be open to feedback to the people in your team. If you’re open to feedback, other memebres of your team will be too: you’re a role model.
Accountability: people need and like to be held accountable – everybody wants to do their job well. But in a positive and constructive way
Authenticity: this is the basis of relationships. if you’re authentic, people will trust you. Though it can be a challenge if you’re asked to do things you may not want to.
Courage: feeds into all of the areas above.
Acceptance of the human condition: people are human, we don’t need to be perfect, we all need relationships, we’re shaped by what’s around us, we don’t always get it right, but it’s the will to do it well that counts.
Why is this important?
Teachers lead busy lives, and need to balance a number of personal and professional commitments (Day and Gu, 2010)
They are the central hub in the classroom – they decide what’s happening throughout.
They influence students’ learning and psychologies > emotional contagion (Frenzel and Stephens, 2013; Williams, Mercer and Ryan, 2015). It works the other way too – students can influence teachers’ feelings.
What challenges do teachers face?
Interpersonal relationships – with colleagues, students, parents
A lack of support from other teachers or management
A lack of autonomy and control – they have to follow particular syllabus or content
Their professional role or identity – where is their career taking them?
Disengaged students, students misbehaving
Salaries and often precarious contracts
Who’s affected by low wellbeing?
All teachers are likely to be affected.
Some teachers are immune to stressors, while others are more vulnerable (Hiver, 2017)
How does can wellbeing affect teachers at different career points?
Newly qualified teachers: high rates of attrition (Guarino, Santibanez and Daley, 2006; UNESCO Institute for statistics, 2016)
Mid-career teachers: longer term, chronic stress and burnout (Kyriacou, 2001; Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter, 2001)
Leaders/managers: managing their own and others’ wellbeing (Bristow, Ireson and Coleman, 2007; Leithwood, Steinbach and Jantzi, 2002)
Within language education
Wellbeing has only started being discussed relatively recently, for example in Kate and Christina’s upcoming book, and Teacher Wellbeing by Mercer and Gregersen (2020) (Amazon affiliate link).
Areas focussed on so far include:
Emotions (focus on anxiety)
Taking a whole school approach
Improving wellbeing requires a whole school cultural change.
Educational managers influence teachers and other staff influence students.
Compassion among members of school community.
Don’t forget about self-compassion!
What can teachers do to improve their wellbeing? How can managers help?
Focussing on the teacher:
Increasing teacher self-awareness > the ‘self-critic’
Being reflective – this tends to be informal and happening e.g. on the bus, between classes
Being personally and professional effective and efficient, for example time management skills
Journalling and/or action research projects – focussing on an area they find particularly challenging
Focussing on teachers working together:
Encouraging teachers to ask for help
Sharing good practice
Encouraging caring and healthy relationships with colleagues – co-teaching, peer reviews of teaching, sharing of good practice
Making a list of people they could ask for help, not just colleagues but from people outside the profession [there’s an ELT Playbook 1 task which could frame that for you if it helps]
Focussing on relationships with the students:
Building and maintaining a strong and supportive relationship with students (Gkonou and Mercer, 2017)
Classroom management techniques: One activity might be to make a list of classroom management techniques they find in methodology books. Reflect on which strategies they use, and which they don’t use yet, then reflect on how they could use them.
Encouraging teachers to be effective communicators, both verbally (for example, humour), and non-verbal (eye contact, gestures) (Gregersen and MacIntyre, 2017)
The future is plurilingual. Let’s make teaching qualifications plurilingual too – Ben Beaumont
Ben is the head of Teacher Education at Trinity College.
Ben says that monolingualiam is the past with regards to education. Trinity aim to help learners to meet their goals as well as possible, and therefore to ensure that teacher training meets teachers’ needs.
Multilingual: “the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different languages in society” (CEFR, CoE 2001) – identifying languages as separate languages, which you might switch between
Plurilingual: The ability to apply a ‘communicative competence’ of languages, developed through knowledge and experiences (CEFR, CoE 2001) – not just being perfect at multiple languages
Translingual: Using all one’s language resources to interact across a variety of ‘languages’ with the concept of language being an artificial construct. (Canagarajah, 2013) – actually we have different types of ways to communicate, but all of us have a different resource, rather than necessarily having separate languages
The talk will focus on plurilingualism and how we can support teacher’s with working on communicative competence.
Teaching and learning reflecting understanding of language use
Some areas where our use of language is now longer monolingual in the real world:
Consider our context and not demand a monolingual (e.g. English-only) environment, unless there is a clear reason for this.
Allow learners to use their L1/Lx when there is not a specific English language learning point, e.g. conducting initial research for a presentation (Garcia et al., 2017 researched this and found teachers do this)
Use direct translations, where helpful, to build awareness of literal and pragmatic equivalence between languages (Cook 2010)
Encourage notetaking in one language and reporting back in another, teaching realistic life skills (Anderson 2017)
Why do we have English only? Assessing discrete skills is fine, but if we’re assessing communicative competences, then it may note be.
Teachers CPD needs
Traditionally there has been a dichotomy in qualifications between teachers who have English as an additional language (and may have a lower English language level)/state sector and those who have English as a first language.
Questions about these:
ELT-focussed or general pedagogical learning outcomes? State sector often more general.
Content decided by a central assessment organisation (like Trinity or Cambridge) or a state authority?
Assignments assessed in one language (e.g. English) only or different languages? State sector ones are more likely to be assessed bilingually.
Qualifications requiring a minimum B2/C1 level of English? Of about 1.5 million English teachers worldwide, probably about 1 million have a language level below C1, and many of them below B2, so cannot access these qualifications.
Iterative training and certification, relevant to the context, is needed.
Professional routes vary greatly after an initial teaching qualification.
what is decided as being helpful in one context, may not be in another.
Teachers and centre managers know their own / their teachers’ needs.
and their students’ needs.
The Certificate for Practising teachers (CertPT) overview
This is new in-service qualification to support teachers relevant to their local gontext.
It’s a level 6 qualification, equating to a final year undergraduate qualification. Initial qualifications generally site around level 5 (CELTA/CertTESOL). It looks at specialist TESOL professional development.
There are four tasks, all of which are context-specific:
The criteria to assess these assignments on should be different depending on the context e.g. for a high school teachers, versus a business English trainer. So Trinity take a step back to say trainees provide the criteria and show whether they can evaluate work, rather than it being evaluated against Trinity criteria. They aren’t assessing whether a particular use of grammar can used in a particular way for example, they’re looking at whether pedagogical outcomes are achieved. There is also a language contextualisation too: English, Spanish, Mandarin, and they’re hoping to add more languages as it grows.
This means they need multilingual support for teacher development. The rating scale for the qualification is freely available in all of these languages. They want to demonstrate best practice with how they provide support, for example bilingual information – theory in Spanish, practice (application) in English for example, to show how teachers could do this in the classroom.
You could do a CertPT in a range of different areas. For example:
It’s possible to do it in different areas, because they’re assessing pedagogical skills not language skills. The transcript will explain which type of CertPT they did.
The aim of all of this is to have a ‘washback effect’ to reflect the needs of teachers as learners.
Having bilingual/plurilingual trainers
Promoting the value of languages other than English int he ELT classroom
Establishing plurilingual environments as the norm: ‘one of the bsic skills that all Europeans require’ (EC 2003: 3)
Recruiting bilnigual/plurilingual internal and external assessors
Helping to remove and English-first-langauge dominance in ‘traditional ELT’ environments
Teaching and learning English in immersive worlds: GUINEVERE project – Letizia Cinganotto and Heike Philp
[I moderated this session.]
The project is a way of learning English in a virtual environment, funded by the EU.
The European background
In the 2018 EU report on improving the effectiveness of language learning, there is a strong focus on digital literacy and mentioning CLIL.
The European Council recommendation in 2019 also recommends CLIL, as well as using digital technologies, game-based learning, and different platforms.
Methodologies for language learning and CLIL which can be effective in interactive worlds (IW):
phenomenon based learning (which has come out of Finland)
Language learning interactive worlds
Engage the body:
movement in the environment
interaction and control of objects
SEL: social emotional learning – they are involved emotionally with the game
Collaborative virtual environments involve:
integrated skills (text, audio, video)
embodied avatars, reducing the affective filter
The Italian background
Letizia uses Edmondo, an open sim which is for teachers and students in Italy. Heike is the consultant.
There is an English village specifically dedicated to learning English.
I wonder who invented the term ‘social distancing’? Seems totally wrong to me. It’s ‘physical distancing’ we need to be practising. We need social solidarity, not distancing, at this time.
Some Italian teachers used Edmondo to recreate social environments to recreate virtually the physical classroom during the pandemic.
Previous EU funded projects
They are all connected to language learning at a distance in real time.
Lancelot: in a virtual classroom in 2005, like Zoom or MS teams
Heike hopes that by about 2025 virtual worlds for language learning will be normal, as those growing up now playing Minecraft or Fortnite, and those working on VR may normalise this more.
Guinevere ran from 2017-2019. It stands for Games Used IN Engaging Virtual Environments for Realtime Language Education. You can see version of the project here.
Second Life and OpenSim support Voice-over IP, allowing real-time voice interaction.
Outcomes and deliverables
They introduced teachers to Minecraft and OpenSim for a week, then after that teachers could choose one or the other. 23 chose OpenSim, 2 chose Minecraft. There were lots of different games they created during the Guinevere project: board games, role play games. mazes, rollercoasters in Minecraft. Show and tell worked well as an activity too.
They introduced the theory of game design:
Categorising of games
Guidelines for language teachers
They demonstrated best practice in games:
Games production for field testing
Video games/Minecraft and language learning
A teacher training course was also introduced to show how to build a game within the environment.
Heike gave us a tour of OpenSim and it’s pretty beautiful:
I also liked Heike’s fairy avatar!
It’s also possible to go to a ‘dressing room’ to put on the correct costumes to match your role play, or choose different characters to find an avatar to suit you.
You need a good graphics card, and teachers and students need basic technical skills, but many people already have these through playing video games.
A creative approach to learning and teaching spelling – Philip Haines
[I joined this session 15 minutes in]
A five-step approach to helping students with spelling:
Every strategy is personal. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand it. Different strategies might work for different people. Strategies have to be something which is well known.
Examples of strategies
If you have a spacial thought process, try this (with v. whit):
One activity you can use is matching words to shapes, for example colours to each shape.
‘business’ – can you count from one to two? First one, and then two ‘s’.
conscious ‘iou’ – order of the letters in the alphabet
light – consonants in the order of the alphabet
position / possible – ‘one position, but two possibilities’ was the sentence Philip used to remember which had 1 or 2 ‘s’.
responses (responces) – strategy: say the sound /s/ /s/ /s/ to remind himself it’s not a ‘c’
forty (fourty) – counting letters can help: ‘forty-five, not forty-six’ is his reminder = there are five letters in forty. He can also say ‘U are not forty’ as a sentence that reminds him.
parallel (paralell) – there are parallel lines in the word parallel – you can extend the two Ls n the middle to make them
balloon – you can turn the ‘o’ into balloons and extend them into the strings for the Ls:
bed – looks like a ‘bed’
dog – can also be a picture:
extension (not extention):
visible (not visable): two eyes for the dots
tomorrow (not tomorow): sets of words with the same rhyme and the same spelling pattern e.g. tomorrow, borrow, sorrow – if they know how to spell one of these words, they can use this to spell the others. should – could – would and enough-tough – rough and weight – freight – either are other sets. You could also make a sentence ‘The weight of the freight is eight kilos.’
catalog (the American spelling):
Say it as it sounds:
friend: break it down: fri-end. end is at the end
Wednesday: sound out the spelling: wed-nes-day. What is the best day to have your wedding?
know: I K-now, my K-nee hearts
Active approaches to teaching Shakespeare in the EFL classroom – Conny Loder
Too boring: topic and themes. My students rean’t interesting in Shakepeare. No! Murder, love, sex, magic, genrational conflicts, witchcraft, betrayal = universal
Linguistic complexity No! Iambic pentameter is the natural rhythm is English Complexity of vocabulary: a good, critical edition pre-empts vocabulary problems
Non-availability of adapted editions No! New Cambridge School and Globe editions exist
Time-consuming lesson-preparation Only if you run a whole play, but you can do a 20-minute workshop Numerous resource books exist Online materials too
Take away the barrier of desk-bound study – allowing for the text to be used in a dynamic way.
Allow for individual access to the text by our learners.
All activities have been tried and test – you can see the video at the end of my notes.
But first: a pre-Shakespeare activity
This gets them on their feet. They should mime what ‘it’ is, without saying it (though there’s always somebody who will relate it to sex or violence!)
A: Have you got it?
B: Ah, it! Yes.
Decode Iambic pentameter
Use a modern example: ‘I wish I were down in the pub instead.’ – 10 beats = iambic pentameter
If music be the food of love, play on. (TN)
Think not I love him, though I ask for him. (AYLI)
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. (R3)
10 beats = iambic
But there are exampes outside the norm, show that something is not right – there is a conflict, and something is happening with the character:
To be or not to be: that is the question. (H)
11 beats = not iambic = conflict > if you can decode the text, you can decode the character.
Decode specific scenes
‘Shared lines’ can help you to decode a scene and what emotions/motivation characters undergo.
Macbeth: Macbeth just murdered Duncan. He stumbles into his wife. It’s the middle of the night. How do both characters feel? Which atmosphere prevails? Are both in a hurry?
Lear: King Lear just heard that his older daughters love beyond words He now asks Cordelia how she can top her older sisters. She can’t and remains silent. Lear is shocked. But since Cordelia is his favourite daughter, do you think he will give her another chance to explain herself and win his love?
Here you can see how those shared lines work in the plays themselves:
They can read it in a fast pace and that creates the atmosphere. Or they can use the beats and pause after each and that intreprets it in a different way – finishing the 10 beats in each line. Learners can decide how they want to present the conflict by choosing the pace to use.
Decoding longer speeches
For example, a Hamlet soliloquy. Walk the line means the learners get the text as a printout. While they read aloud, they walk. There are three progressions, changing what they do each time they read:
Every punctuation mark, change of direction in walking.
Every end of a line, change of direction in walking.
At the end of each thought, change of direction in walking.
The effect: learners own the text and ‘think’ like their charactesr while literally walking in their shoes.
She showed us this video of the activities in action (worth watching to see how much the students got into the performances):
They had about 15 minutes of going through the text to look at unfamiliar language, then they were on their own. They were low-level learners – I think this is fantastic!
Scaffolding and assessing undergraduate Trinity Certificate students’ reflective writing – Helen Thompson and Alice Oxholm
Intensive teaching practice module on various BA course (20 crediets of 120 credits/year) e.g. BA Education Studies, BA English, BA English language
Typically 30 final year students each year, doing TP at the same time
Assess students’ writing using university and professional body (Trinity Cert) criteria – meaning potentially more of a focus on academic writing and referencing than on a standard Cert
Some students who were successful in TP, but struggled with reflective writing – this had an impact on university assessment and the class of their degree.
Learner teachers’ issues with reflective writing
Previous journal format:
Post-lesson themed summaries: draw on experience, observer feedback and background reading – for each of the 6 lessons. There was a specific focus for each summary section, e.g. lesson planning, relationship with students.
Here’s an example:
They felt it was quite depersonalised, quite general, with good academic writing and referencing, but they weren’t seeing the voice of the teacher. They wanted to encourage teachers to include their own voice. This means changes in the way they assess.
Trinity Cert Unit 1 is a teaching portfolio. They assess the observation journal as part of the university course. TP documents are lesson plans etc, and are submitted to Trinity. They then encourage teachers to draw on both of those to create their reflective journal.
Changes to assessment criteria and journal
They had to be clearer about what to assess and how teachers would demonstrate that.
These were the criteria. The QAA overseas higher education in the UK. Level 6 is final year undergraduate. TCL is the Trinity criteria:
They then had to decide what students needed to do to get 40% (a university pass) and then higher grades. They decided to work on the idea of levels of reflection:
Descriptive reflective: a bottom level pass would be to describe something that happened and say how they did it.
Comparative reflection would be what they could do differently and where they could find out more.
Critical reflection would be applying that to learners: did this help my learners? Where’s my evidence?
They encouraged trainees to draw on a range of different books, Trinity resources, coursebooks, and teachers books.
Here’s an example:
They tried to make the criteria as measurable and transparent as possible, including what sort of things they need to write about. The aim was to be as explicit as possible about what they needed to do. They then used the criteria as prompts in the journal pro-forma and as part of sessions when they were teaching.
Activities and resources to scaffold reflection and reflective writing
Recurring themes across the lessons, rather than a separate theme for each one. 3 key themes: lesson planning, design and use of learning materials, classroom teaching skills.
Signalling to look back and forward: making it explicit that they should refer to previous and later lessons. For example: Which aspects of your lesson planning ar eimproving? How exactly? What helped you to improve? Which aspects of your planning do you intend to work on next?
Prompts needed to be explicit. These included referring back to tutor feedback, post-lesson reflective comments, find examples of practice, resources to develop practice.
After three TPs (halfway through), they did this activity:
They then had to draw on what they’d read to create an overview.
They wanted to scaffold reflection before teaching practice started. Here’s an example of one task they did before beginning the journalling:
They did this individually, then compared what they’d realised. They were all connected to the criteria.
They also had online resources, like this:
There were also introduction screencasts with reflection questions for each of the three main areas. There were also screencasts about practicalities like what to expect from observations, how to do lesson planning etc. which reduced repetition for the tutors.
In their teaching teams, after TP2, they had to identify particular aspects in their TP groups:
Here’s an example of what they produced:
They all passed the course. The external examiner mentioned that it positively impacted on student achievement. There was an overall improvement in reflective writing though variation remains.
There was positive feedback about the use of screencasts from the trainees too.
Here’s an example of the journal with the new criteria, with highlighted sections showing how it’s a more personal reflection, with sources added to support her thinking:
Frame the fragment: enhancing students’ critical thinking – Nanna Freeman and Wypkje van der Heide
[I moderated this session.]
Both of them started out with teaching business English and business communication at The Hague university, but now teach a lot more explicitly about critical thinking.
Research: chapter, key findings
Wypkje went to a film festival at the university, and was asked to introduce ‘Margin Call’. She used to think film and busienss English couldn’t go together, but realised at this point that it did. They were using documentaries and asking students to write about it, but they weren’t happy with how the students were demonstrating critical thinking skills.
They started to investigate their course, film education, and critical thinking education. Their research showed:
Documentaries engage the student audience.
First-year International Business students tend to see the selected documentaries as the truth, not a construction that is being manipulated by editing etc.
Boundary crossing of school and cinema is complicated. Writing an essay was challenging!
How they apply key findings in teaching
Every 10 years or so, there’s a group in Netherlands that decides what needs to be demonstrated within the curriculum. They were told that within International Business, they had to demonstrate 3 levels of critical thinking, but not what these levels should be. This was a good opportunity for research and an overhaul in their curriculum.
Their tagline became ‘Thinking we do together’. They use this in their first and second year courses in 7-week modules:
Thinking in action 1 (first year – 90 minutes per week) Explicit teaching of argumentation (Toulmin, adapted), biases and fallacies
Thinking in action 2 (second year – 135 minutes per week) Introducing framing, Focus on students explaining reasoning
There is also integation of critical skills in other modules, for example a public speaking module.
This was based on research by Abrami et al. metastudy (2015), that instruction + infusion or instructions + immersion and dialogue + authentic materials + coaching leads to the best results with learning critical thinking.
Notably, the opportunity for dialogue (e.g. discussion) appears to improve the outcomes of CT skills acquision, especially when there are both whole-class teacher-led discussions and teacher-led group discussions. Similarly, the exposure of students to authentic or situation problems and examples seems to play an important role in promoting CT, particularly when applied problem solving and roleplaying methods are used.
Abrami et al. metastudy (2015: 302)
They start by asking students to recognise things in quite a structured way, with students becoming more autonomous over their time at the university.
Clips– an activity
Nanna and Wypkje asked us to listen to two scenes from the documentary Food, Inc. and to think of colours, sceneries or environments, feelings or whatever else might pop into your head. Mine…
Clip 1: industrial sounds, metal clanking
Clip 2: rural, calm, fields
Now we will watch the same clips to see whether what we imagined match up to what we see. [They did, pretty well!] How does the documentary maker frame these images with sound? What is their intention?
Afterwards, we discussed:
What if they used different sound?
What if the sound was flipped? With the clips the other way round
What if there were no sound?
What choices did the director make re: the sound and why did they make them?
Supporting claims with evidence
Here’s another example looking at why evidence might or might not work to support a claim, from Sherlock and from Friends:
The one from Sherlock:
The one from Friends:
Students used to directly say what they saw in the documentaries, but now they are critically engaging with what they have seen. They used to assume that a documentary they were shown was just what they had to learn if a teacher showed it to them. Now they realise that everything is framed, and that they frame themselves too. They also have to write an essay and consider how they will frame their fragements.
Wypkje has written a chapter for a Routledge handbook, which is paid at the moment, but she may be able to share the chapter in a year or so.
She has also created an e-learning course which will be available in about a month called ‘How to teach critical thinking with film – an introduction’. This QR code or survey will allow you to sign up for updates about the course:
This is what the students thought about the course:
Q & A
They aim to use freely available documentaries. They are also working with a ‘Movie Learning’ platform, where they can use clips to create courses. You have to be careful with licenses.
They’re building it up gradually, getting teachers on board.
Fiction clips work well too.
If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day one, and day two.Watch this space for reflections on the conference as a whole.
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂
These are my summaries of the talks.
Plenary: Integreating teaching, testing and technology: where angels fear to tread! – Thom Kiddle
Thom grew up in a travelling circus, which is where he had his first experience of teaching, showing people how to ride a unicycle. As he said, the testing there is inbuilt: when you stop falling off, you can do it!
Why is testing so challenging?
…trying to describe complex phenomena in a small number of words on the basis of incomplete theory.
We then have to feedback on the results of this to a wide range of stakeholders.
‘Language testing does more harm than good’ was the debate at IATEFL a few years ago. Diane Schmidt said that tests and assessment are one of the most powerful tools we have, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this allows us to have a meritocracy – through exams, we have the chance to prove what we can do.
The challenges of aligning teaching with testing
In a teaching space, we can support our learners. In a testing space, we need to create very clear instructions, in order to avoid creative interpretation of tests (though the results can be quite entertaining).
Each student has a different teacher, as we all treat them differently. In the same way, each student has a different test: they all interpret them in different ways.
We try to stimulate creativity in learners, but don’t necessarily allow this in testing.
What else don’t we test necessarily?
Digital search literacy
In a testing situation, we fear that these things might lead to cheating, and might not give a true representation of a student’s ability.
Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts.
If we’re forced to reduce testing to discrete items and numbers, then what do we lose?
Thom shared a video of Brian Patten reading The Minister for Exams. You can hear and see the poem here (I recommend it!)
Another potential issue with testing is that the way we choose to teach doesn’t always match the way we assess. Thom showed a video of his son being introduced to yellow and green, then being asked ‘What colour is that?’ – a whole new concept.
The stone age did not end because people ran out of stones.
Pinker (2018) Enlightenment Now
We should look at what technology can do for us, but consider whether technology has facilitated the way we test in the same way that it has the way we teach. Does technology actually reduce teacher empowerment in the way that testing is run and how the results are processed? To what extent have testing platforms actually empowered teachers and allowed us to bring assessment into our teaching and learning, or have they just given us new ways to ask multiple choice questions? Are we missing an opportunity in how we can align teaching and testing?
What should / could digital approaches to assessment offer to teachers and learners?
Multimodality – including images, videos, etc.
Allowing test takers to control the pace of the test, rather than it being in the control of the teacher.
Learner choice in texts and tasks – we do this for teaching, why not for testing?
Repeat administrations for ‘true score’ – avoids the problem of the issue of how learners perform on a single day
Asynchronous tasks – allowing for open-book, bring in digital skillls, source materials etc.
Recording for feedback and review – allowing learners and teachers to look back at what they’ve done.
Elephants in the room
The power of AI sounds attractive, but if they’re only powered by discrete points, we go back to an atomised progress model, rather than a holistic, co-constructed model of language learning. There is also a huge demand on environmental values, and it’s based on algorithms which have values behind them. There are also potential ethical questions. Thom referenced The Ethical Framework for AI in Education.
There is also the issue of automated marking. What can machines actually measure in terms of the quality of language that is produced? There are a lot of measures of language competence which a machine may not be able to assess (for example those on the right in this image):
The areas on the right are the area of teacher expertise, though we that’s not to say we couldn’t be supported by the technology.
Thom compares the idea of technology-mediated teaching and how empowering that has been over the past 20 years, and particularly the last 15 months, with technology-mediated testing. Integrating teaching, testing and technology should put the teachers and learners at the centre.
What we (could/should) test and how
One of the major features of the traditional language teaching paradigm has been the separating out of the so-called four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing into pedagogically convenient units of learning.
Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (1999)
By separating these areas out in testing, this differs from the integrated use of skills in the world and in teaching.
Thom questions whether we should have separate listening, reading, speking and writing assessments. He suggests that we should be testing whether learners can use the information they learn, whether they can transfer knowledge. This would reflect a communicative classroom more. Perhaps papers could be rearranged, for example:
We should be revisiting the work done on integrated skills assessments over the past 30 years.
Thom finished off by demonstrating how challenging integrating these three areas is by juggling for us 🙂
Learning from interactive reflection – Jason Anderson
[I’m afraid I’m feeling quite sleepy due to the heatwave here – so I’ll let Jason do the ‘talking’ through those handouts rather than making my own notes!]
I really liked the idea of ‘reflection literacy’ which Jason mentioned.
He also differentiated between evaluating a lesson and reflecting on what was actually happening in the moment as we were teaching – we often focus on the former in post-observation meetings for example. In future, Jason is interested in comparing how this kind of reflection might differ or be similar for early career teachers and more experienced teachers.
Flipping training: is there a (flipping) difference? – Melissa Lamb (International House London)
The question: is there a difference between a flipped CELTA course and an unflipped CELTA course?
How does a flipped course work?
The idea is:
In an unflipped course, they generally have two blocks of input in course hours and the lesson preparation happens at home. By flipping the course, the aim is for trainees to have more support from peers and trainers during the higher order parts of the process.
How can they find out the difference?
They interviewed 12 trainers because they have a point of comparison. They had 170 years of experience between them! This includes 78 flipped courses between them. They asked what differences if any they noticed in terms of:
how CPs experienced the course
how CPs processed the course content
the quality of lesson preparation and planning
the quality of teaching
the quality of reflection
They were semi-structured interviews, and they didn’t always get through every point with every trainer, but themes did arise.
Better atmosphere and more cooperation
Deeper processing of input
Positive impact on lesson preparation and teaching
Differences in group feedback and reflection
Trainers generally mentioned there was a lot less stress, and trainees were generally calmer. Trainees are getting sleep, rather than being up all night trying to plan a lesson themselves. They’re not as mentally tired either because they don’t have to process two big chunks of input. This means they’re potentially ‘more present’ during the day.
One trainer said ‘because the contact hours that we spend with them are more targeted, the approach is more individualized […] we address more personal needs‘.
There’s more sharing
They create a community of practice
Nobody is sacrificing their own time to help – it’s built into the course.
There is more availability and more headspace in general – they don’t have to focus solely on themselves.
For example, one trainee does a listening lesson, so they look at that flipped content. They become the ‘expert’ on listening and other trainees ask them about it. By helping, they become more invested in others’ lessons.
When they watch TP, trainees really want it to work because they have a positive inter-dependence on each other. It becomes normal to share.
Does this work for everyone? No, not necessarily, but this tended to be hypothetical. There were only a handful of trainees who tended to shut themselves off. Some of them needed an adjustment time to appreciate the virtuous circle of this kind of course.
Did trainers notice any difference in the way course content was processed?
Participants read the knowledge on the site.
They have the coursebooks open in front of them.
They’re talking about the theory in direct relation to the course materials.
Trainers reported that these discussions were different on a flipped course. Also, having to explain to other trainees changed how they processed things – they gained ‘a deeper understanding’.
By rehearsing and enacting and re-enacting lessons, they could also reflect and improve on their performance, feeling more confident when they entered the classroom.
Participants tend to notice things more because they’re not under the same pressure to notice everything at once and put it into action. Trainees are able to hold theory in their minds as they process and re-process. When they ask questions, they’re much more able to process answers.
Some trainers commented on the quality of questions trainees asked: deeper, more sensible, below the surface, confidence to question the coursebook and the tutor (because of peer support behind them).
Melly feels that the iterative nature of the training has the greatest impact.
What impact, if any, does this have on the lessons?
One trainer didn’t notice much difference in the lessons, and one said it would be hard to say, but the rest of the trainers commented on these areas:
Confidence was ascribed to the rehearsals. It gave them the confidence to do things they wouldn’t normally do at that stage in the course. They’d already had feedback telling them that it was good. There were fewer trainees so worried about one stage of the lesson (for example grammar clarification) that they weren’t attending to other parts of the lesson. TP felt less confrontational and was less of a test. One trainer mentioned that the lessons were smoother because of the rehearsal, and another said the trainees were more cognitively at ease because they’d practised a challenging area. The net result is that they come out of the course as more confident teachers.
Most trainers said that trainees would probably still end up in the same bracket as on an unflipped course, but that weaker participants probably had the opportunity to learn more.
Impact on reflection and group feedback
On an unflipped course, there’s sometimes a feeling of ‘What just happened?’ ‘I shouldn’t have done that!’ On a flipped course, they’ve got something to compare their lesson to and can therefore see the progress they’ve made. They can pick up on areas which are more useful and more relevant in their reflections. In the reflection after the lesson, they may have a Eureka! moment when the penny drops and they are better able to understand what happened and why.
The quality of reflection was generally higher, and more specific – saying how they would make changes, not just ‘I’ll change my plan’ but ‘This is how I’d change my plan’
The dynamic of group feedback was much more peer led. Many of the trainers said there was very little they had to do in group feedback.
Agency, ownership and autonomy are much more present on a flipped course than an unflipped one. Trainees were more independent in their decision making.
If you’d like to find out more about flipping training, there is a facebook group called Flipping Training and an article in English Teaching Professional issue [not sure what number! Can anyone help?]
My questions for Melissa which I didn’t have time to ask
What if trainees don’t look at input? Melly said that one trainee didn’t actually do much at home outside the course, but still managed to pass the course, raising the question of whether we need to have input in the traditional way on unflipped courses.
How can trainees carry this over to the real world? Do they continue doing rehearsals? Have you done any follow-up research on this?
Teaching patterns in context: uncovering semantic sequences in writing – Amanda Patten and Susan Hunston
[I moderated this session.]
They are talking about academic English and patterning in English.
Grammar patterns – how words are used
Semantic sequences – what patterns are made
To demonstrate the importance of patterns in our understanding of English, Amanda asked us to create sentences from these words:
To make it easier, they then colour-coded the sentences – you should have one piece of each colour in your sentence:
It was much easier to do this once the pieces of the pattern were colour-coded, because we can see that these sentences follow the same patterns of the language.
You can then display patterns like this:
The nouns behave in similar ways, the verbs do too. Native English speakers know this kind of information about the language, but learners might not.
What do learners need to know to write like this?
An example of academic writing:
However, informal observation of language teacher education suggests that teacher educators still tend to adopt transmission approaches.
Bax 1997: 233, shortened
They need to know:
The grammar of words e.g. Observation + of + noun suggest + that-caluse tend + to-infinitive
What is often said – not the language itself e.g. research activity + causes + conclusion
Words in a dictionary
We can find out about the grammar of words here too, often with bolded phrases within definitions or examples.
Online dictionaries can give you lots of examples allowing learners to observe patterns. For example:
They tend to shorten these e.g. ‘VERB + noun’ becomes ‘V n’.
Activity: from pattern to meaning
Examples might be:
They all have the same grammar patterns as each other.
Learners may also identify verbs that can only fit one or two of the patterns. These verbs prefer one structure and would sound odd in other structures:
V that: conclude, infer
V wh: analyse, assess, investigate
So why that might be? Maybe the patterns have meaning too, not just the words.
You can find more information about grammar patterns on the Cobuild website [this website looks incredibly useful]. There are about 200 patterns altogether, under the categories of adjectives, nouns and verbs.
Pattern and sequence: form and meaning
Patterns are part of the formal grammar of a language e.g.
The verb TELL is used with the patten ‘Verb + noun + to-infinitive’
The verb SUGGEST is used with the pattern ‘verb + that-clause’
Semantic sequences account for ‘what is often said’ e.g.
Here’s an example of a table you could build:
The ones at the top suggest that we’re very confident about the conclusion, and the ones at the bottom imply that we’re less confident about it.
As Susan said, it can get quite complicated sometimes, though this isn’t always necessary. You can also add the patterns:
It’s important to point out that these are not simply synonyms of each other, and they all have their own meanings, but rather that the overall sequence is the same.
Showing the patterns allow learners to manipulate language. For example, we can flip it to: CONCLUSION + comes from + RESEARCH ACTIVITY. Which one is preferred would depend on the new and old information in the paragraph. Learners still need to think as they can’t use all the parts interchangeably, but at least they can see the patterns:
Why teach patterns and sequences?
There is a link between form and meaning.
This provides a rationale for the grammar – the word has meaning, but so does the pattern.
It makes sense to the learner – it motivates an attention to form through meaning.
In a follow-up question, Susan discussed the fact that different disciplines with academia might favour different nouns/verbs and the associated patterns. Amanda talked about prioritising noticing as a way of stopping learners from becoming overwhelmed – they don’t necessarily need to be able to produce all of these patterns.
Is my mind full or am I mindful? – Melek Didem Beyazoglu and Cansen Asuroglu
[I moderated this session.]
When they chose this topic in 2019, it seemed quite fresh, but now it seems that lots of people are talking about it.
Cansen mentions that living in Istanbul means that her mind is busy all the time, even when her body isn’t. She said that silence, laughter and happiness are all contagious. They shared this video, which demonstrates that point perfectly (you should definitely watch it!):
When you are in a silent environment, you will feel awkward when there is noise, especially if you are the one making that noise. It becomes necessary to adapt to silence.
Didem shared a beathing activity with us to help us to be silent. When we able to keep silent, we stay calmer and become more aware of the moment we are in.
Find a comfortable position, maybe on a chair, maybe lying down.
Keep your back straight, so that the breath can flow through your spine easily.
Be aware of your breath.
Put your hands wherever they are comfortable.
Relax your tongue in your mouth.
Close your eyes if you’re comfortable. If not, try to maintain a soft gave with your eyes partially closed.
Try not to squareeze any part of your body. Just be aware that your body is comfortable and let you body relax. Let your body relax.
Feel the natural flow og your breath. There is no effort here. Do not try to make it long or short. Just let it be in it’s own natural flow.
Notice the entry and the exit of the breath.
You may start thinkgin abotu toher things – that’s OK. just gently redirect your attention back to the breathing.
Notice your breath without an effort.
When you’re ready, gently open your eyes.
[This made for a lovely mid-conference break. Happily, I can touch type 😉 ]
What were you thinkgin about during the process?
was it possible to fight the voices in your mind?
Mindfulness needs time and regular practice.
What is mindfulness?
Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.
It involves acceptance.
It is returning to the present moment.
What does your mind look like when it’s not calm?
They showed us this video. [It’s not possible to embed it.]
When we are stressed it is difficult to focus or to learn.
The key is to be patient, especially towards your impatience. It’s normal, understandable and manageable – we need to remind ourselves of this.
In the classroom
They decided to try a mindfulness activity at the beginning of their lesson with their students. They started this in 2019, but the pandemic stopped some of their research.
What makes students stressed?
Most of them said they always feel stressed.
They did mindfulness for a couple of minutes in each lesson. The teachers felt a little odd, some students couldn’t keep their eyes closed or stop laughing, but they said this was OK.
After a month, 64% of the students said that they felt better in a questionnaire.
Make a list of words that are related to positive feelings, such as happy or happiness.
Close your eyes or lower your gaze.
Listen to a list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: terrific, admired, jolly, fun, hopeful, free, confident, lively, friendly, happy, strong, joyful, satisfied.
Keep this feeling in mind.
Make a list of words that are related to negative feelings.
Listen to another list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: afraid, regretful, coward, embarrassed, sad, lonely, displeased, terrified, frustrated, lost, helpless, disgusted, impotent, confused, unhappy, troubled.
Focus on your feelings. You probably don’t feel very positive feelings.
Now watch the video and think about how the power of words can affect you:
If young people can do it, we can too!
The body scan
[There are lots of different body scan meditations available – it’s worth doing a search to find one that works for you.]
Factors behind the construction of identity of EFL pronunciation instructors – Lena Barrantes and Joshua Gordon
Studies about pronunciation have demonstrated that teachers may feel uncomfortable teaching pronunciation due to:
Limited training in different areas (Baker and Murphy, 2011)
Pronunciation is not addressed systematically (Couper, 2016, 2017; Foote et al.
Pedagogical pronunciation training improves teaching practices (Baker, 2014; Baker and Burri, 2016, Burri et al., 2017)
There’s been a shift to analysing teachers’ identities over the past few years too [definitely obvious in IATEFL programmes over the past few years!]
There have only been limited studies of identity formation of pronunciation teachers who come from other language backgrounds than English. Here are two:
Insecurities about teaching pronunciation because of accent (Golombek and Jordan, 2005)
Identity formation of pronunciation teachers (NS and NNS) goes hand in hand with their own cognitions of teaching (Burri et al., 2017)
They investigated the professional identity of non-native speaker pronunciation teachers because of the number of non-native-speaking teachers around the world at present.
The research questions were:
What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?
They did a descriptive single case study, focussing on identify in L2 pronunciation, with a small geographical area and a small group of teachers, aiming on providing a rich holistic description of this small group.
Data collection methods [side note – I really like this slide theme!]:
The study was done in a public rural university in southern Costa Rica. The campus has five different campuses with about 1000 students. Teachers participating in the study either taught a stand-alone pronunciation course for English majors, or English for other majors. Both of the researchers were faculty at the time, and participants were their colleagues.
All 5 of the participants were mid-career teachers who had settled in as English teachers (i.e. not early career and still finding their feet), with advanced degrees in teaching or TEFL, with a lot of experience at university, elementary and secondary levels.
They used the conceptual framework from Pennington and Richards (2016):
Language related identity
Disciplinary identity – their identity within the field, often through qualifications and expeirence
Self-knowledge and awareness
Practiced and responsive teaching skills
Theorizing from practice
Membership into communities of practice and profession
They see identity as a combination of personal, professional and contextual (?) identities.
In this study they wanted to see how their identities influenced their teaching of pronunciation
Findings: What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
Their teacher education has been shaped by adjustments as responses to their contextual particularities and opportunities. Most of these teachers originally wanted a different career. They didn’t receive training for pronunciation pedagogy. Because of this, they explored other opportunities to develop. They felt confident asking other colleagues for help about pronunciation teaching, from exchanging materials to collaborating in research projects and presenting at conferences. There is a clear desire for them to become better to help their students better achieve their goals.
Awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their students’ success drive their teaching beliefs and knowledge. They were aware of their own strengths and weaknesses as teachers. They knew that they were never going to sound like native speakers, but knew that they had knowledge that the average native speaker does not have about pronunciation. They knew that they had pedagogical knowledge to implement effective teaching. There is constant reinforcement given to them by student success – they can see that their pedagogy is effective. They know that sometimes their students end up with better pronunciation than they have.
A sense of expertise and belonging to a community of language teaching professionals. Despite not having receiving training on pronunciation pedagogy, they managed to learn more in a variety of ways. This stemmed from a professional commitment, knowing that other people may see them as role models and experts in the area. They are aware that the decisions they make in class are influenced by their background knowledge – they seemed aware that intelligible pronunciation is just one part of what they need to know, not just what an average speaker with native or native-like pronunciation may know.
These teacher’s professional identity is an amalgam of interrelated factors that go from their awareness of being L2 speakers of the language (with an accent), to belonging to a community of professionals who have not only language expertise but also knowledge of what their students need in the context where they work.
The areas the participant teachers demonstrated align with the competencies of what Pennington and Richards mentioned:
Findings: How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?
The professional identity of these teachers makes their teaching of pronunciation more contextualized and focused on the needs of their students, based on their learning challenges as well as challenges they may encounter outside of the classroom.
Suggestions for teacher training programmes
These suggestions are for both native and non-native teachers, both of whom may be reluctant to teach pronunciation and not know how to approach it. The references in brakcets are others who support these ideas.
More opportunities for teacher training connected to pronunciation (Baker 2014; Burri et al., 2017; Murphy, 2017):
Phonetics, phonology, L2 speech learning theory
Pedagogical implementation of content
Space for reflection on previous teaching and learning experiences
Ongoing training to empower in-service teachers to improve their pronunciation teaching:
Reflective practices – how do they do this? (Murphy, 2014)
Book clubs and professional reading on your own, connected to pronunciation literature and journal articles for example (Brown and Lee, 2015; Hedgcock, 2009)
Action research (Bailey, 2004; Burns, 2010, 2011)
Non-native speakers can and should teach pronunciation. We should be implementing intelligible, comprehensible, non-native pronunciation models in class (Murphy, 2014, 2017) This is supported by:
World Englishes (Jenkins, 2015; Kachru, 1986)
Number of NNS teachers around the world (Crystal, 2003)
Effectiveness of NS and NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction (Levis et al., 2016)
The grammarless syllabus. A road to utopia? – Bruno Leys
[I moderated this session.]
Bruno started by sharing this piece of art by Jan Fabre called ‘Searching for Utopia’:
Bruno originally planned to talk about this while he was in the middle of writing the book, but the first book has now appeared – it’s called Fast Break.
A new curriculum in Flanders (Belgium) was rolled ou in Septembe 2019
There were no explicit grammar goals for the first two years, and in years 3-6 it was based on procedural grammar knowledge.
It was a new coursebook.
Can we teach/learn English without explicit grammar teaching?
It was for vocational secondary education, aged 12-18.
The focus was on learning a specific profession.
The English they need is survival English, working towards A2 level.
Why even consider grammarless teaching?
On the one hand…
On the other hand…
A book and two talks from this year’s IATEFL:
Some more research:
Lesley Piggott did PhD research:
This is research from Canada:
There are topics, with grammar items attached to them. Scott Thornbury calls them ‘Grammar McNuggets’
In their coursebook
They tried to have a blank column. They phrased the topics as the functions, for example ‘Invite people and react’ and highlighted functional language students needed for this. This approach actually introduced a very wide range of grammatical structures, but if you don’t approach it from grammar you focus on this language as chunks/useful phrases:
If you look at it from the perspective of grammar, present continuous might pop up in 6 of the 9 units with this approach within the functional language.
One area they were challenged by was something like ‘this’ or ‘these’ – did they need the metalanguage of singular and plural? They decided to use colours to visualise it without using the terminology.
What do (some) teachers want?
Some teachers want grammar.
A necessary evil
tradition (backbone of a language)
Frustratino about language mistakes / errors
What the market wants, the market gets!
To satisfy this, they included a brief grammar focus at the back of the book, based on sample sentences, with the tense name written much smaller next to it. There is a visual and avideo where the language is used. They continue to use colours, for example blue for regular forms, red for irregular forms. If teachers want to focus on grammar, they can use these pages, but they can decide when and whether they feel there is a need.
There are exercises too, but these are meaning focussed:
They give them the form. (This reflects Leo’s talk at the end of yesterday)
The form exercises are more receptive:
There are also extra exercises availables online. They’ve met market demands bit tried to do it in their own way.
A grammarless or grammar light approach can be useful for learners at lower levels or who are not going to need university-level language.
Focussing on language as chunks and idiomatic phrases can be useful.
You can focus on meaning before form.
You can provide visual support through images and colours.
There is a need to challenge traditional beliefs.
We need to invest in materials development.
Interpersonal skills for better communication! – Chia Suan Chong
Improving our interpersonal skills is a lifelong journey and starts with the ability to reflect.
Good interpersonal skills are essential for the workplace and for career success.
The Big Six of Business English
These are the main areas normally covered by business English courses:
In Chia’s opinion, the bix six deal with very specific scenarios. They are events.
By talking about interpersonal skills, we’re looking at the bigger picture. The skills cross boundaries. We do these things both within and outside business.
Active listening skills
Building relationships/ Trust-building
Building trust takes time.
There are different kinds of trust:
With close friends or family
With your postman or a shop assistant
When we build trust:
Why should I trust you?
Do we understand trust in the same way? (this could be a style, a preference, an intercultural issue…)
What are the implications of not trusting?
Which communication strategies can help develop trust? We may think these are transferable, but we can also use these areas as a basis for discussions. Students have stories to bring to the table, and can prompt a lot of emergent language and fluency practice, as well as awareness of discourse.
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
Relationships and Results are a bit like Yin and Yang. Sometimes we’re more focussed on one or the other at a particular time, or sometimes we have preferences, but there’s not necessarily one size fits all: it’s very context specific. Telling stories (like the ones from Chia’s book – see top) allow students to discuss different reasons.
Ways that we build trust:
Establish competence – I’m competent in this area, you can trust me
Finding common ground (commonality)
Openness (information) – what you see is what you get, I don’t have a hidden agenda
Reliability – you can trust me because I’m reliable
Openness (emotion) – showing vulnerability, you have to be genuine about it!
Willingness to trust first – we trust people who trust us
How many of these strategies are we talking about with our students? How many of these do we practise with them? Does this practice go beyond useful language? Do they have the chance to take part in the discourse that leads to building trust?
For example, you could give each student a strategy on a different piece of paper. If you know them well, give them a way that they’re not so used to doing. Put them into a simulation or a roleplay and they have to build trust using one of these methods.
In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, very precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.
This shows just how important it is to include trust building in our teaching.
Show students pictures of a selection of famous people. Students say who they trust and who they don’t, and (more importantly) why. That promotes reflection.
Intimacy in business could be about how much you share with each other. Can you share future goals and plans? Problems you face in your company?
Self-orientation is about selfishness, talking about yourself all the time, constantly dominating the conversation, having the focus on our self.
You should have a particular person in mind when you do this activity, as the answers will be different depending on the person you choose. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how they might feel about you. Give yourself a score of 1-10 in each area, then do the equation.
Somebody who knows you well.
Someone who doesn’t know you well.
Someone who you think likes you.
Someone who you think doesn’t like you.
By doing this a few times, you will find very quickly that there is one item that dominates: self-orientation. Regardless of how high your credibility etc are, your self-orientation will make a difference.
So perhaps we should be teaching students how to be less self-orientated in conversations. That means we need to teach them to become better listeners.
The power of listening: How much listening can there be, with so much disruption and distraction?
What does active listening involve?
Clarifying and repeating back what was said.
Listening to understand and not to respond. (particularly hard when you’re speaking a second language)
Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves to stay in their world just a little longer.
In a classroom, we often find that students might not be listening to each other. Chia enforces interactive dialogue. For example:
The blue ones are speaker one, the red ones are speaker two. ‘Surface value’ = That’s interesting / I’ve never thought of that before.
This creates a truly interactive dialogue.
If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day one, and day three.
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂
These are my summaries of the talks I attended.
Plenary: Engaging students with specific learning difficulties: Key principles of inclusive language teaching in a digital age – Judit Kormos
[This was a fantastic start to the conference, putting inclusion front and centre and offering useful tips for teachers of all learners, not just those with SpLDs.]
Note: SpLD = Specific Learning Difficulties/Differences
What is inclusive education?
It is NOT integration: it is the individual’s task to accommodate to the characteristics and demands of the institution. ‘You can join us, but it’s your job to change to fit us.’ There are many problems with this.
Inclusion: it is the institution’s responsibility to adapt to the student’s needs. This should be proactive.
What do we need to do to investigate and remove barriers in the learning and teaching process to help the student to be able to achieve their full potential?
It’s a cyclical process – we remove some barriers, investigate more, then remove more.
It relies on teacher awareness and expertise on diversity.
It involves making adjustments and giving specialized support when necessary.
Recognize and understand
What type of SpLDs are there?
Dyslexia and reading comprehension problems
Dyscalculia (numeracy problems)
Dyspraxia 9fine and gross motor co-ordination) – included in most country’s definitions
Dysgraphia (handwriting, spelling, writing) – can overlap with dyspraxia in some country’s definitions
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder – depends on the country
Autism spectrum disorders – depends on the country
SpLDs overlap. They are placed on a continuuum: there are no clear cut-off points. They have different degrees of severity. Anne Margaret Smith uses the metaphor of melting ice cream – you might be able to recognise the underlying flavours, but you won’t necessarily know where one starts and another ends. This means we have to experiment as teachers, because a strategy that works with one student may not work with another.
What are the underlying cognitive causes of SpLDs?
Phonological processing problems – how we hear, differentiate and manipulate sounds. This can cause problems with reading because you can’t make connections, especially when learning a language like English and especially if you add a new script on top of the sound-spelling challenges. It can mean that some students with SpLDs give up at the early stages of learning a new language.
Short-term memory – how much information you can keep in your memory at one time. Students with SpLDs tend to be able to store less information. For example, this can mean getting lost when there are lots of pieces of instructions in one go. It’s not a lack of attention, but rather that your instructions exceed their memory capacity.
Speed of processing – not just reading, but writing and other areas too. It can be especially difficult to adjust the pace of a lesson in a big group.
Executive functions (attention) – their attention may wander.
Visual memory and motor co-ordination – this may not affect students with dyslexia, but may affect students with other SpLDs.
Impact on second language learning
Reading – not the only problem!
Remembering information through listening
Accuracy and cohesion in speaking
Vocabulary, especially learning a lot of words in a short period of time
Affective aspects of SpLDs (if we don’t provide support)
Low self-esteem and self-confidence
Loss of motivation
Empathy (especially students with Autism Spectrum Disorders – you generally need to be able to put yourself into the shoes of somebody from another culture when learning another language)
Social aspects of SpLDs
Perspective taking – changing roles, or imagining yourself as a speaker of the foreign language
Collaboration and co-operation – including not being able to pay attention to the partner
Following rules and norms – for example, sitting still for 45 minutes
Strengths related to SpLDs
A lot of these overlap with 21st century skills which employers want. We can capitalise on these strengths. This is why neurodiversity is such a useful term – we all think differently!
Universal design and individualized support
What is universal design?
It’s a relatively new concept in education, introduced with the advent of online materials. Here are three of the nine principles:
We should give learners different opportunities and choices for accessing information. For example, read, read and listen, watch a video without/with captions, and many, many more. The emphasis is on choice, not on deciding for students.
Multiple means of action and expression should be offered when students practise what they learned or demonstrate their knowledge in tests. These different means for expression can involve physical action, or choices between writing and speaking. For example, offer different options for the results of a project.
We should use different ways of engaging students, arousing their interest, maintaining their motivation and helping them with regulating their own learning, i.e. with appropriate learning strategies.
An example of options for expression
Options for expression: Learners have the option of choosing whether to write a message to their mum or record it on their phone.
Graduated levels of support: There is a written text, and recording students can listen to.
Advantages of online learning for students with SpLDs
More flexibility with timing and tasks.
More assistive tools available.
More project-based learning.
Fewer timed tests – alternative assessment formats.
Fewer demands on complex social interaction skills.
Disadvantages of online learning for students with SpLDs
Less structured learning environment.
Lower level of teacher control.
Higher level of autonomy and self-regulation required.
Potentially long screen time.
Fewer social clues on screen, and much easier to misinterpret them.
Supporting students with SpLDs in online learning
Assuming that they have access to the technology and a quiet environment, there are still other barriers:
Explore/discuss barriers with students
teach the use of assistive devices, for example speech to text, text to speech, day planners, etc.
One-to-one meetings or small group meetings iwth students with SpLDs, as they may fall behind quickly.
Peer mentors or a buddy system – especially if you have a large group.
Dedicate special tasks, online forums, and hold online discussions on how to learn at home
Self-regulation of learning
Planning the learning process
What? What do you need to do?
When? When do you need to do it by? When do you work best?
Where? Where do you work best? Where can you find what you need to complete the tasks?
Helping students to realise that nobody expects them to study for a long period of time, that they can and should take breaks
Regulating feelings and motivation
Rewarding success – students with SpLDs often tend to foreground their failures, especially if they feel they are more prominent than for other students. It’s important to help them notice their successes. Help them to decide on rewards for small successes, and that those rewards can be to yourself, not just from external sources.
Mistakes and failures are part of the learning process
Test yourself – how do students do this? For example using apps, or asking parents or siblings to test them.
Diary / journal
Bite-size online learning
Break down tasks into smaller steps, for example dividing an essay into multiple days.
Stagger instructions – wait after each step
Adjust tasks to attention span
Include periods of physical activity in the online session
Accessibility of online learning
Use multiple modes of presentation (auditory, written, video, pictures, etc.)
Allow students alternative response formats.
Make sure instructions are short, concise and clear.
Use a file format which is easy to convert into accessible mode. Microsoft Word has a text to speech function. pdf isn’t always adjustable in this way, so perhaps better to avoid this format when sending out files.
Give students choices and options in tasks and how they want to complete them.
What can we adjust in our classrooms?
Classroom management (groupwork, pairwork) – allow learners to choose
Presentation and access to material (multiple channels, handouts)
Environment (light, termperature, seating arrangements – for example where students sit in relation to the teacher, and whether there’s a quiet corner)
Pacing (slow down, revise, recycle)
Level of support (teacher, peers)
Learning strategies and teaching techniques
Spelling and pronunciation
Look for regularities – there are more of them than you might expect in English! [Examples]
Find word components (achieve-ment)
Visualise, use colour
Using songs, gestures, clapping
Say it forward and backwards
Use moveable letters
Use online dictionaries to listen to how words are pronounced and repeat pronunciation
Games and apps [I love Quizlet Spell, and students with dyslexia in my beginner group this year came on leaps and bounds when they started using them regularly]
Orthographic and phonological awareness training
Training in word recognition
Explicit teaching of spelling and pronunciation regularities
Vocabulary learning strategies
Questions to ask:
What strategies do you use?
How do they work?
Does the strategy depend on the type of word? (abstract/concrete, short/long…)
Is there anything within the words or the wordsets that make learning difficult? (length, multiple meanings, lots of words within the word set…)
Students can sometimes get stuck with a single strategy, rather than drawing on a range of different ideas.
Rhyme, songs, rhythm
Activate background knowledge based on the title, sub-title, headings and visuals
Use prediction and visualisation
Monitor comprehension, make inferences – teaching students to regularly stop and ask themselves ‘Have I definitely understood this point correctly?’
Reading while listening (text to speech software)
Annotate text, highlight, notes, charts, mind- and concept maps
The numbers below show which methods of differentiation are addressed with each technique in the training room.
How can we achieve differentiation?
Outside training hours for individual hours:
Peer coaching (technical or collegial)
In the training room:
Critical incidents (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8) Relate a story about a training experience, with questions added at the end. Without the questions, it’s just an anecdote. For example: What did the actions reveal about me? What would you have done instead? How did my actions reflect what you know about me?
Arrows (1, 3, 4, 8) Take one teacher and one goal (box one) Take one characteristic that might make it challenging (box two) Then work out the strategy (box three = personalisation, authentic, differentiated) Here’s an example:
Peer reteaching in mixed experience groups (3, 4, 5, 6, 8) 1. Give input. 2. Make groups of three. 3. Collaborate to re-teach each other the keys points in a workshop so far. Produce one short summary – they must all have the same summary. 4. Assign roles: A, B, C. 5. Regroup with the same letter. share summaries. Choose the most accurate one. 6. Plenary. What are the benefits of this approach to information input?
Articulation by trainers of practical theory or ‘maxims’ (1, 2, 6, 8) For example, a beliefs questionnaire which can then be discussed.
Planning workshops / courses (1, 3, 5, 6, 8)
Role play (1, 2, 3, 7, 8)
‘Folk’ stories (3, 4, 6, 7) 1. Listen to the story. 2. Think how you might use the story in teacher training or trainer training. These stories could be urban myths or anything you like – discussions of how these stories could be used in teacher training. they can be used to challenge habits and to question procedures or to challenge assumptions and belief systems. Briony shared a story about ‘we’ve always done it that way’.
Minimalism: providing space and time for reflection – a lot of busy teachers or trainers don’t have time. Providing a training course with plenty of space in it, with the relationship between session and spaces as the most important thing, often more so than the content. ‘They may have quite enough content in their lives’ [that’s true!]
Establish long pauses.
Consider a ‘no new content’ day.
Defend the boundaries of empty space. Don’t just rush to include the rest of the content.
Not the ‘poor relation’: the impact of online teacher development – Susi Pearson (Norwich Institute for Language Education – NILE)
Susi has been involved in the NILE online project since 2014, creating content and supporting tutors and participants.
Background to the study
Online and distance education is very likely the fastest growing area of education in the world today, in both the developed and developing world.
Simpson (2012) in Murray and Christensen (2018)
But we must always ask ‘Where is the pedagogy?’
NILE took what was good about their face-to-face courses, and considered how to shift this online: short courses, manageable amounts of work per week, small groups, fully tutored, clear assessment.
Completion rates can be quite low on MOOCs, but on NILE courses they are 90.5%. NILE supports participants and tries to find out why they aren’t completing courses.
The developing teacher (manager, test writer…)
Their students (trainees…)
The study was:
Quantitative and qualitative study
Designed and piloted
1000+ NILE Online course participants (2014-2018)
150 repsondents, 42 countries, many different contexts
Wendy was the consultant for the British Council for the project. Juana and Maria Teresa ran the case study.
English is mandatory only in public secondary education. There are not enough trained speciality English teachers. English has been in the primary curriculum since 2007, but this demand cannot be met.
In 2013, the first opportunity to try the project in some states. In 2016, they implemented the project in all 24 states. They trained teachers to get them from A0 to A1 level.
They developed books for the teacher and the students, in conjunction with the consultant. There were manuals for the trainers too, and booklets for the students. The teachers book had the same materials, along with lesson plans. The step by step language was written in Spanish, but the delivery language was written in English. The lessons were divided into 15 minute sub-lessons to give the teachers flexibility. The teachers were mentored by their facilitator. They attended the training on Saturdays from 8 to 4.
In 2018, they started a case study to evaluate the impact of the programme. They used a profile to select the teachers to take part in the study:
teachers in a classroom
In 4th, 5th or 6th grade
At last five years of experience
25-40 years old
They collected data in a variety of ways, including surveys, interviews, and observations.
The impact on the teachers:
Strategies also work with other subjects, not just English, for example introducing more pairwork and groupwork.
They learnt new games, songs and fun activities.
Teachers were proud of learning a new language.
They felt that they were doing something useful for their students.
Their own self-esteem increased despite all the challenges.
The teacher’s family was involved too – their own children learnt English, they made resources for the English classes, and there was pride and admiration from family members.
Challenges – even pre-pandemic:
Students don’t come to class regularly.
Hours of class were reduced to 3 horus a day.
Blackouts (no electricity)
The impact on the children:
“The children love it. They want more and more. They want ENglish classes every day.” (Reina)
Behaviour improved thanks to this programme, especially if they knew they wouldn’t get their English lesson.
The impact on the community:
The whole school was curious and enthusiastic if teachers were participating in the programme.
Willingness to participate
Parents were very supportive, and recognised that their children would be more prepared when starting secondary level.
Parents wanted to have English across the whole school, not just 1 or 2 teachers per school.
Principals were very proud and supportive.
Parents wanted their kids to go to the schools with the English lessons.
There is a dual learning: both the teachers and the students were learning. The teacher was part of the group and this made children feel better. Children were also able to help the teacher.
Emerging cooperative learning.
The teacher was empowered:
Sense of achievement
Doing something for others
Recognition by their family, school authorities, colleagues, children
The students were empowered:
Some of the first cohort of teachers stayed in the programme as facilitators for the next level.
First hand experience of the programme
Good at strategies
Still need more language
Transition towards a communicative class
Classroom environment triggers learning
Integration between the school and the community
The programme in numbers:
289 tutors and facilitators trained since 2016.
More than 78,651 public primary school students introduced to English.
During the pandemic, they created an app which can be used via phone and computer to continue learning from home. As not everyone has computers or internet access, they also developed a radio programme using the same content as the book – 70 radio programmes, broadcast by local radio stations across the country. This allows more acccess.
Because of the monitoring and evaluation, they have been able to show the impact. PNFA is Programa Nacional de Formacion Avanzada. They ran the programme (I think!) and it’s now accredited by the Ministry of Education and they are now running the 4th cohort. It’s an annual programme.
(Re)-shaping teacher selves: an exploration of teacher identity and development – Josie Leonard
This was part of the ReSIG showcase (Research SIG).
This is particularly connected to some doctoral research Josie did.
Background to her research
There’s been an increase in research connected to teacher identity in recent years (Barkhuizen, 2017). This means that there are multiple definitions, and it’s quite a challenging concept to define.
Becoming a teacher of English: there are many diverse worlds of TESOL and becoming a teacher can take many different routes.
Josie worked in overseas contexts, with teachers from many different backgrounds. This prompted her to reflect how her assumptions and her identity seemed quite different from people she worked with. She wondered how identities as teachers and trainers became shaped in particular ways. This developed as she worked in the UK with students on MA programmes.
What does becoming a teacher mean?
We know that teaching is complex, and there is a lot of personal investment into it.
The concept of ‘being’ a teacher implies something stable – a state of attainment, a fixed sense of how a teacher should be and act (Mulcahy, 2011)
There is a belief that it teachers are shown the ‘right’ tools and techniques they will teach accordingly (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)
Identity is a process of becoming – teachers are not technicians applying particular methods they have been assigned; they are significant actors shaping teaching and learning (Varghese et al., 2005)
Becoming a teacher conceptualizes identity as more complex – it recognises continual change, ambiguity and instability (Gee, 2000); it involves teachers’ interactions with others in their social and professional environments (Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009)
Becoming a teacher is a continual process of negotiating identity options (Britzman, 2003; Mulcahy, 2011)
The part Josie highlighted in the definition below emphasises how identity is formed through interaction and material things, all over time.
Outline of the study
Two UK universities offering postgraduate TESOL programmes.
15 teachers from different countriess.
All had teaching experience, from a range of different contexts.
What factors have played a part in shaping participants’ professional identities as English teachers in past teaching experiences?
What factors have shaped participants’ identities as English teachers engaged in postgraduate study programmes in the UK?
What kind of professional identities do participants imagine for their futures?
In what ways (if any) has postgraduate study been influential in shaping participants’ imagined future professional identities?
Josie focusses on who and what influences identity formation. This includes people, the syllabus, the coursebook, the spaces and environments.
She looked it through a lens of social materialism:
Socio-materialism: social practices such as teaching involve both human and non-human actors; these practices are produced, ordered and disordered through relations and interactiosn between both humans and non-humans.
(Michael, 2017, p. 5)
As Josie put it:
The ways in which social and material acrots interact and function together produces different effects – forms of knowledge, routines (ways of doing things) and identities.
In other words: how might people (supervisors, fellow teachers, mentors, students, parents) and material resources (such as technologies, clsssroom tools such as whiteboards, coursebooks, syllabus texts, exams and tests influence teacher identity formation?
Becoming a teacher is a relationship process guided by interactions with both social and material actors in teaching environments.
Identities become shaped through interactions with people and material things; they can be ascribed by others, resisted, negotiated and adapted. These relations are significant in processes of becoming teachers.
She used a narrative framework for her methodology. The data was gathered through face-to-face interviews and focus groups. She was interested in the kind of stories and short stories which teachers told about their experiences. The researcher is involved in the construction of the stories, but she wanted to make it as participant-centred as possible. She gave them a set of themes based on identity literature to think about before the interview, then bring a mind map or other visual to discuss during the interview, to help them to direct the interview. In the focus groups, she had questions but didn’t restrict other lines of discussion.
Short extracts from the findings
This is a small sample across time.
From past experiences:
Mentors – often discussed as a support
Supervisors – often mentioned related to control, referring to the syllabus or the tests – coordinating with other factors below
Coursebooks and teachers guides
Workshops, for example on language learning games
Visuals – digital
Students – motivation
Presence of exams and tests
Factors shaping identities in postgraduate study:
Experiencing different assessment practices
Becoming a student again
Self-reflection, and connecting this to the experience of their students
Learning about different methods
Seeing things from other perspectives
[there were more but I missed them!]
What about imagined professional selves?
Becoming materials designers
Becoming assessment designers
Becoming teachers (continuing to work on this area)
She concluded that post-graduate study seemed to play a role in identity formation in the following ways:
Re-shaping identities teachers brought to post-graduate study programmes.
Re-becoming a student: awareness of self as student and seeing own students (and their challenges) with renewed empathy
Participants linked the theoretical and pedagogical knowledge they were introduced to their past experiences: deepended critical awareness, understanding from different perspectives.
Becoming more adept at academic writing skills, developing research skills
Considering identities which had not previously been feasible, like teacher researcher or publication: feeling empowered and confidence in themselves to consider becoming someone other.
For Josie, she learnt a lot too:
Giving teacher-students more opportunity to talk about their histories, their ideals, challenges and possiblities, though reflective activities, and comparing teacher-selves at the beginning and end of their studies.
Integrating more ‘identity’ work into activities and discussions.
Recognising the functions of both social and material actors in relation to institutions and classrooms, and the significance of both for pedagogy.
Learning about other worlds of TESOL and making sure these are represented in her teaching.
What does supportive trainer talk look like? – Simon Smith and Martyn Clarke
[I moderated this session.]
Simon and Martyn worked together on a Trainer Development course in 2019, and discovered a shared interest in how trainers talk. They decided to investigate it.
What is supportive trainer talk?
Talk which intends to support a teacher’s construction of knowledge or thinking.
Why are they interested?
Simon read Vygotsky and Bruner in the late 1990s when working on an MA programme. He realised that learning is related to the company we keep and what we say and do together.
Martyn experienced trainer talk while studying it as a learner on an M.Ed. in Training over an extended period. In his reflective journal, he found himself constantly coming back to how people were talking within the sessions.
They believe trainer talk is a Cinderella topic in ELT. There’s a lot about teacher talk, learner talk, but not much about trainer talk apart from a little connected to observation feedback.
Convenience sampling: variety in trainers, groups – working with different types of groups
Standard ethical procedures
6 sessions x 90 minutes from NILE 2019 summer courses recorded and transcribed
Ethnographic approach to transcript analysis: solo analysis, highlighting and annotation, leading to shared categorisation
Cross-checking and refining
What were the main findings?
3 main categories to emerge:
Trainers have talk tendencies, though all 3 categories appeared in the talk of all trainers.
The term is adapted from Neil Mercer (1995). This was related to the content of the training session.
Eliciting knowledge or views from teachers, for example their opinions on particular topics.
Responding to what teachers say, for example answering their questions.
Describing or providing content.
This was related to the understandings of the learning processes within the training session, possibly more prevalent in training than teaching.
Providing a commentary on the intended training/learning process: an explicitness about the learning processes that are planned within that session.
Commenting on the learning process as it happens: highlighting when a learning process happens.
Reflecting in action: the trainer thinking out loud in the moment to share the experience and model reflection openly and transparently. [Jason Anderson shared an article he has written where he called this ‘acknowledgement’ – he’s talking about this tomorrow and I’m planning to be there, so watch this space for a summary!]
This was related to creating a cohesive group and fostering the environment which allows a co-constructed course. They found this was a quite a strong process for many trainers.
Creating a group discourse: inviting participation, and acknowledging that ‘we have a group culture and we understand each other’
Making the pedagogical natural: interacting as a person, not just as a trainer.
Sharing personal experience: giving a personal human touch.
Conclusions: what does supportive teacher talk look like?
These were one-off snapshot visits, which generated more questions than answers. They know that this is just an overview.
They found audio recordings practical and there were advantages to this.
They’d want to have more follow-up, for example by speaking to participants, or adding research into the context of the training event – they were treated equally here.
What they’ve learnt: A lot of the trainer talk had an emotional, supportive, affective function, designed to support the trainees. Simon would like to research this more. Martyn would like to research more about the difference between what the trainer thinks they’re saying (intention) and what the trainee actually received. He’d also like to investigate sequences of how talk can be structured more.
More on supportiveness as seen from participant and trainer perspective
More than a one-off visit
Better mikes for participants
As a result of this, they’ve added an assignment to the NILE MA module connected to teacher talk.
Martyn and Simon kindly gave me permission to share the handout, which includes a full reading list.
Like John Hughes yesterday, Leo started by showing historic gapfills. In Leo’s case, this was from Developing Skills by L.G. Alexander from 1967. He says they became much more common in the 1980s, in part at least due to Headway.
What’s the difference between a gap-fill and a cloze?
According to British Council TeachingEnglish:
A gap-fill is a practice exercise in which learners have to replace words missing from a text. These words are chosen and removed in order to practise a specific language point. Gap-fill exercises contrast with cloze texts, where words are removed at regular intervals, e.g. every five words.
…but researchers often use the terms interchangeably, as below!
Learners do not have to create sentences – only manipulate them
Learners should be putting meaning into words, not the other way around
Zou compared the effectiveness of a gap-fills (called cloze exercises in her research), sentence writing and composition writing for vocabulary gains. She found that cloze exercises gave a post-test score of 8.3, sentence writing 12.3, composition writing 15.9. She said that this was because of the need to create meaning. [Zou, D. (2017) ‘Vocabulary acquisition through cloze exercises, sentence-writing and composition-writing: extending the evaluation component of the involvement load hypothesis’. Language Teaching Research, 21 (1), 54-75
However, if you look closely at the original sentences from Zou’s experiment, Leo points out that the sentences students produced don’t necessarily demonstrate that learners have properly acquuired the language.
On the other hand, Keith Folse supports the use of gap-fills rather than sentence writing:
Student original sentences with new vocabulary often resemble a word heap.
He says that gapfills are easy to design and correct, and that students will always end up with a correct English example sentence to study. In his study, he found that when the learners had to repeat the gap-fills 3 times with slight modifications, they had the highest vocabulary gains. [Folse, K.S. (2006), ‘The effect of type of written exercise of L2 vocabulary retention.’ TESOL Quarterly 40 (2), 273-293
Unfashionable though it is, repeated practice testing is known to work. In vocabulary learning, a gap-fill repeated a number of times is likely to lead to more learning in the same amount of time than a more creative or imaginative exercise.
Note: you can get very high quality example sentences from dictionaries if you’re creating your own gapfills.
Add distractors / red herrings.
Provide two blanks e.g. The authorities closed public access to the _____ historic building after it was declared a safety ______. [fragile – hazard] Sometimes the words might be reversed within the pair in the list of options you give.
No blanks – students have to work out where the adjectives belong in the sentences. This only really works with adjectives.
Without a ‘word bank’
Multiple sentences: three sentences all missing the same word (as some Cambridge exams used to have) – you can use this to revise collocations. Alternatively all missing the same chunk of language – Leo says students find this easier when they have the right number of lines for the gap, e.g. 3 lines for 3 gaps.
Provide a first letter clue – one or two letters for each word. http://www.lextutor.ca/tests has examples of receptive and productive level tests which use this approach.
Collocations: you can gap one of the key words in the collocation e.g. meet, make, pay.
Collocations: you can gap the whole collocation e.g. make a suggestion, do business, pay attention – this is more effective when first learning a collocation as it minimises the risk of error, and they’re less likely to remember the wrong collocation.
Definitions: as in the example below, Leo prefers definitions following style C. ‘A’ is from a dictionary for native speakers, not language learners. ‘B’ is from a learner dictionary. ‘C’ is best because it gives examples and co-text, not just a definition.
Definitions: you can use it as recall practice, by sharing the definitions again later on.
The main problems according to Leo:
Tend to focus on producing the correct form, the opposite of vocabulary gap-fills which tend to give you a word bank without retrieval practice.
Very often of the ‘open the brackets’ variety.
They don’t necessarily need to read the sentence as they’re told what form to use.
The target form is usually blanked.
Pairs of words – either ‘don’t’ or ‘didn’t’ across the whole exercise, or pairs of words to match as in vocabulary. This practices receptive grammar.
…the recognition of grammar as a receptive skill, and exercises need to be devised and which encourage the perception of different of meaning.
This is an area which is hardly touched on at all in contemporary language teaching, which too often equates grammar with the students’ ability to produce correct sentences.
Michael Lewis (1993) The Lexical Approach: the state of ELT and a way forward, Hove: LTP
Why do we always gap prepositions? Why not give them the correct preposition and ask them to provide the content? They have to really process the language. e.g. The museum is usually closed on ___________.
Ask learners to replace a word in the sentence with their own.
Ask learners to place a whole clause with their own idea e.g. I was in a hurry so I didn’t call. > I was in a hurry so…
Other ways to spice up gap-fills
Oral gapfill – read them out and gather suggestions
Round the room cloze
DIY gapfill – learnesr craete their own
Sticky board gapfill – the word bank is on the whiteboard, and students have to stick the sentence where it belongs.
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. Pre-conference events (PCEs) were run at different times depending on the Special Interest Group (SIG). The Materials Writing SIG PCE was the day before the main conference, on 18th June 2021, and was run via Zoom. This meant we had the opportunity to hop around breakout rooms for a little networking at certain points in the day.
These are my summaries of the talks I saw. There were so many useful things in there, from the perspective of writing, design, freelancing, mental health, editing, and lots more useful little tips.
Covert syllabuses: How to avoid them, how to include them – Jill Hadfield
What is a covert syllabus?
Jill’s definition is:
Usually used with a negative connotation: ‘the unwritten, unofficial and often unintentded lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school’ from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum/
First example: from a Ladybird series called ‘Peter and Jane’, used to help 1960s children learn to read. The example was Jane helping mummy to make cakes for daddy and Peter. The covert syllabus is helping (desirable) and the other is females doing the domestic/cookery work.
Second example: A book from the 1970s showing a man being drunk at 3 in the morning, then coming home and being spoken to by his wife: You’ve been drinking whisky. Only one, dear. You’ve been smoking cigarettes. Only one, dear. You’ve been kissing girls. Only one, dear. Another covert syllabus: that this is acceptable behaviour and acceptable reaction to it [my interpretation of it].
Third example: An English coursebook from 1978 with a discussion of Steve and Anne. Anne uses a new shampoo which makes her hair soft and shiny, and therefore Steve likes her. Covert syllabi: Men are shallow. Women need to be attractive to be liked.
I think you get the idea!
They’re not just a thing of the past though – they’re everywhere, and something we should be aware of.
Undesirable and desirable covert syllabuses
Some examples now are consumerism, everyone can afford holidays, heteronormativity, lots of stereotypical images (though some of these are thankfully starting to change).
They can be desirable too though: confidence, self-believe, sustainability, awareness of others and the environment, empathy, non-stereotypical roles and images.
There can also be a covert syllabus by omission, for example by avoiding PARSNIPs:
One question is who decides what is ‘desirable’ – that could be biased and highly culturally specific.
Jill’s first use of a covert syllabus was to include cognitive activities to raise awareness of aspects of learning in a group and affective activities, which had an overt language learning aim, Classroom Dynamics. The teacher is covertly building group dynamics while overtly working on language. So why should this be covert? Teachers have a busy syllabus so there might not be time for separate activities, but also it seems somewhat counter-productive to start that’s why you’re doing an activity.
Using checklists and self-evaluation to avoid undesirable content
Be aware of possible undesirable agendas: regarding pictures, task types, topics.
Be aware of your own possible bias, e.g. topics you like, depth vs ‘the unbearable lightness of ELT’ (Scott Thornbury), ‘core energies’: Jill’s term for the forces that drive a writer and give colour to their writing making them unique – for example Jill’s are affect, creativity and play.
[I missed a little of this!] Core energies should be grounded in theory/knowledge, though they are are based at the level of passion. Passion may lead you astray though – they could lead to bias. Will it appeal to all of the students you are writing for? Writing with a partner or a team can lead to a balance of core energies.
Checklists to ensure coverage, variety and lack of bias. For example Gender bias Cultural stereotypes Inequality Racial bias
Ensure there is a variety of activity types, and that you haven’t been led in a single-minded direction by your ‘core energies’. Another checklist: Modality: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile Grouping: self/intrapersonal, other/interpersonal Structure: single-minded (e.g. competitive), co-operative Reaction time: immediate/reflective Mood: serious, playful Outcome: open-ended, closed task All in a grid against: Thinking/Feeling/Creative/Practical [note: This looks useful for my materials writing MA module 🙂 ] She published it in RELC Regional English Language Journal 37 – Teacher Education and Trainee Learning Style Changing any factor from this grid creates a different kind of activity.
Build in positive checklists for yourself, based on what you created at the start.
As materials writers we need to have strategies in place to guard against unintentional bias and undesirable covert syllabuses creeping into our work, and also plan to include desirable covert syllabuses.
Side note: Jill’s latest book (with Lindsay Clandfield) is Interaction Online [Amazon affiliate link].
50 ways to avoid gap-fill fatigue – John Hughes
(There might not be 50!)
A definition of gapfills by Scott Thornbury (because as John says, no ELT presentation is complete without a quote from Scott!):
John visited the ELT archive at the University of Warwick. He searched for the earliest examples of gapfills he could find: C. E. Eckersley: A concise English grammar for foreign students from 1933. Low level gapfill with is, are, has, have, was, were, but vocab like congregration, and herd of cattle!
Here are some of the methods of avoiding gap-fill fatigue which John shared:
An activity from Simon Greenall: You walk into school. The DoS says a teacher is off and you need to teach their group in 3 minutes. A simple solution: find the last reading or listening task the students used in the book. Copy it and fold it up. Cut it up in a similar way you might to a snowflake. Instant gapfill! That gives you 15 minutes of your cover lesson at least! It’s interesting because it’s not just words missing, but letters and bits of letters.
Divide the group by birthdays. First half of the year: why is it a good thing? Second half of the year: why is a bad thing?
Gapfills can be visual too: what is in the picture? Not just sentences with gaps.
Gaps can have a broader definition too: information gaps, opinion gaps. Gap-fills aren’t just removing a word – there’s an art to it too!
Pesonalisation by finishing a sentence stem (John found the first example of these in Streamline in 1975.
Technology means we’re writing more gaps than ever. John showed Lyrics Training and Quizlet Gravity. They allow us to add tweaks like time pressure.
In 2006, John wrote an article for English Teaching Professional called ‘Over to you: Gap-fills’ as a checklist of different kinds of gap-fill. There are 20 ideas on there.
Potential problem 1: all first person – ‘I’ sentences. Mix up the subjects.
Potential problem 2: all positives, no negatives or questions.
Potential problem 3: no numbering for the answer key or classroom management.
Potential problem 4: no context or very loose, creating gap-fill fatigue. Can connect them together into a single text.
Potential problem 5: no example completed for students to scaffold the instructions.
Potential problem 6: no sub-heading or title to guide students on the page.
Potential problem 7: a rubric which is more complicated than the task. Break them down.
Potential problem 8: the questions are all closed and impersonal. Introduce a couple of examples at the end for the opportunity for personalisation, e.g. creating two extra questions for other students to complete.
Remember that the idea of a gap-fill can be quite hard to read for learners. Jon Hird recommends putting the verb in brackets before the gap to reduce the amount of cognitive processing needed. This is especially useful for learners with dyslexia. There’s an interview with John and Jon is here.
You can read more about making materials dyslexia friendly in Jon Hird’s MaWSIG blogpost.
MadLibs are a fun variant on gapfills. Students put their words into the gaps, then decide which words sound right and which ones they need to change to make it more logical.
Make gapfills communicative using information gaps, for example information about the members of a family tree – not just the names, but ideas like hobbies.
Crosswords, and half a crossword.
Information gap of different kinds of pictures: spot the difference (classic ‘what’s in your fridge?’) but also the idea of time shifts, like an updated fairytale.
Making them student-centred: get students to write their own gapfills. For example, they have 5 sentences with furniture to choose from a box. Then they are given 5 more words which they write their own sentences for – the students are far more likely to remember those words than the first 5.
Making them memorable: give a gapfill with the same text students have already seen. Gradually remove the words over a series of lessons, and students are likely to memorise structures and key phrases – John gave the example of presentation phrases.
John does teacher training connected to materials writing if you’d like more tips. There’s a lot of information on his excellent blog too.
Scope and sequence design: A top-down or grassroots approach? – Frances Amrani
This talk is based on Frances’ own thoughts and opinions – it’s not meant to be definitive.
Scope and sequence: a definition
Interrelated concepts that refer to the overall organization of the curriculum in order to ensure its coherence and continuity.
Scope refers to the breadth and depth of content and skills to be covered.
Sequence refers to how these skills and content are ordered and presented to learners over time.
Definition from International Bureau of Education, UNESCO
Scope and sequence in ELT
Typically the map of the book:
Top down scope and sequence
Publishers typically see new books as a hole to fill in their list of books – a top down approach. This means the scope and sequence might be prescriptive, for example:
Using CEFR Can do statements
English Profile – graded vocab and grammar
Topic lists, for example from exam topics
Exam syllabus mapping
Meeting requirements of the National Curriculum defined by ministries
21st century skills
Competitors’ products – differentiation or cloning of them
Influenced by market expectations and what sales tell the publisher is needed
This results in:
A risk that it limits personalisation
A risk of it being too generic or too specific (for a very narrow market)
A risk that it may not match students’ real needs, only perceived needs
Can be seen as a big boring
May be seen to guarantee an expectation of ‘standards’ – a known quantity for standardisation, and adding a comfort level. It can make coursebooks interchangeable
Similar products, but every publisher still needs to find a USP (Unique Selling Point)
The author may see writing a book a bit like designing a garden, considering all of the exciting elements of the project. They’re putting all of their efforts into one special project a season. The outcome is more personal and needs to be creative. The aim is a less prescriptive syllabus as the author wants to make it special.
This results in:
No pre-determined scheme of work from the author
A risk of a pick and mix / scattergun outcome – not thinking about the task or topic in a holistic way
Supports differentiation (for levels, different interests, different abilities)
Can address a real learning need
Creative and exciting content
Something which is ‘seen as’ hard to sell, and therefore risky
Making you think beyond ELT
The reality of current ELT publishing
Very few unsolicited ideas are published these days. Most are commissioned and there is often a tendering process with samples conforming to the brief. Most of the scope and syllabus is top down and there’s not much scope for creativity and grassroots materials. Small publishers might be more likely to take a risk.
Here are examples of grassroots projects and materials from the past which might not get published today:
Mario Rinvolucri using psychology materials and unorthodox humanistic activities – he might be able to do that still, but aspiring authors might find that a lot harder.
Hancock McDonald Pronunciation – too niche for big publishing houses now
Penny Ur’s problem-solving activities e.g. zoo layout in Discussions that work
Richard Cauldwell’s pronunciation projects
These would all have to jump through a lot of hoops nowadays and therefore be less likely to be published.
Jill Hadfield reminded us that you can right resource books on any topic you want, but Frances mentioned that because the market is very small publishers are publishing a lot fewer resource books.
Tensions and finding the sweet spot between top-down and grassroots
There’s a tension between wanting to be innovative and wanting to conform. Frances believes there’s a sweet spot in between. How do you find it?
Commercially viable i.e. checks all the boxes
Yet fresh and new:
Move away from character stories in text books
Move towards authentic photos Discovery / National Geographic
Demand for more technology
Move towards skills-based syllabus
Move towards CLIL based syllabus
Move towards 21st centry skills: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration
Try to understand the other’s perspective:
Authors: How can I make my brilliant grassroots ideas fit the matrix / brief?
Publishers: How can I make my market0driven brief receptive to innovative ideas?
Questions to think about
What makes a good brief for an author?
How can grassroots innovation be included?
How do you persuade the publisher to include some creative ideas that weren’t on their radar?
How do you do unbiased market research for scope and sequence design?
Who are the gatekeepers beyond the publisher and what are their agendas?
Breakout room hopping
This was a super useful feature: three 15-minute opportunities to ask questions about areas connected to materials writing. I asked lots of questions about editing, and was reminded of the existence of the Publishing Professionals website. Thank you for everybody who answered my questions!
Bring your ideas to life using mood boards – Colin Morton
Colin is a freelance designer and illustrator, working as part of Morton Design and Studio Spirit, working in ELT projects. This talk was particularly interesting as it’s a key aspect of ELT publishing which I’ve never heard discussed before.
What is a mood board?
They’re designed to create the feel of a project before it exists, a collective of references, colour palettes and images to give an idea of the direction or feeling of the concept between the actual design work is done. It can help you spark other ideas and think around a problem. Lots of ideas should tie together into a single concept. 5-15 images is the sweet spot.
Designers might produce several mood boards to present to the publishers and decide which way the project might go, for example for a project on street food it could be more authentic and around the world, or connected to the hipster movement.
‘But I’m not a designer!’
Why use it?
Planning an event
Planning a project
Thinking about a blog post you’re writing
Considering your personal branding and how you want to sell youself
One problem with being a freelancer is feast or famine: we’re either overloaded or we’re worried about not having enough. This means we might take on too much in case we don’t get anything else. However good we are at managing our workload, deadlines are going to slip, something unmissable is going to pop up, and things will overlap. The outcome of either situation is higher stress.
The impact of stress on the brain
It’s not always a bad thing. The body releases stress hormones to help us deal with the situation. It’s meant to be a temporary situation and we’re meant to go back to normal after this. Imagine raising your voice to shout, and continuing to shout for the next three or four weeks. This kind of chronic stress has serious impacts on us physically and mentally.
Cognitive fatigue includes:
tasks that should be simple feel difficult
difficulty in prioritising
avoidiance or procrastination
disconnected from others and the world
When we feel like this, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. We often don’t see the things that might help us to get out of the hole that we find ourselves in.
Why do we take on too much in the first place?
We’re worried that we might not get work in the future. We’re not necessarily making this up, but sometimes the fear of scarcity can blind us to the bigger picture.
If you’re offered longer term work, look carefully at the amount of money – what will your hourly rate work out at? Is it actually worth it? Or will you end up earning very little for the sake of a couple of years of work, and not be able to take on other better paid work?
Opportunity cost means that we have to consider the time, energy and money involved, and comparing it to the benefit we would have got from the next best alternative. For example, break down your earnings over the past year to see what you’ve earnt from each area e.g. fees, royalties, training, etc. How much work did you put in to get each area of earnings?
The planning fallacy is under-estimating how long it should take to do something. It’s a natural human bias which we all suffer from. Rachael uses Toggl to keep track of how long projects take. Once you have a better idea of how long things actually take, you might be better able to estimate more accurately how long things might take in the future.
Make sure you allow time to work ON your business as well as IN your business: emails, marketing, writing samples, admin, invoices, chasing invoices, taxes, accounting, meetings, etc. You also need to factor in areas like sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, etc. You need to step back and see the bigger picture, rather than engaging in magical thinking about how much time we actually have available.
Time management strategies
To do lists provide a ‘second brain’. You have a system where you know something is safe in another place, rather than getting stressed by remembering things again and again. On the flip side:
Can feel overwhelming, especially if you just have one list.
Some tasks are tiny, others are massive.
Tendency to do the quickest, easiest tasks first – even if they’re not the most important thing to do.
No sense of priority.
We can get stressed because we never finish the to do list, and we might feel that we should.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
The Eisenhower matrix means you can display a to do list in a different way:
Covey says we spend a lot of time in the top left box, feeling like firefighting. However, we should spend more time in the top right box – this includes things like exercise. If you focus more in the top right box, you’ll have fewer things int the top left box. In the bottom left box, think about what point in our day you do things – for example, don’t reply to all of your emails when you’re best at concentrating, or consider what could be delegated, or when you might have lower energy levels.
Consider time blocking, especially for things which require deeper focus:
Eat the frog! Do the things you’re resisting doing first thing before you do anything else.
Break down larger tasks, rather than getting overwhelmed by looking at the whole thing you need to do.
If you have an idea, you can speak to a development editor to brainstorm ideas, but generally most editors would prefer you to have finished your manuscript.
You may want to have a beta reader look at it first, for example running it by a colleague. It has to be somebody who want just say ‘yes, that’s great’. Having a list of questions can help them to know what you need the answers to.
Establish naming protocols
How can I nurture a quality relationship with an editor?
Respect the target market
Write for the reader, not yourself
Welcome constructive criticism
Expect the editor to be prompt, clear and positive
Treat the relationship as fundamentally collaborative
[I’ve definitely missed some things in Penny’s talk here – there was so much useful information there!]
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!
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.
One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had, with these wonderful people:
It was my first IATEFL birthday, with Ela Wassell getting lots of people to sign a card for me.
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.
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.
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:
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 🙂
By this stage, IATEFL is about meeting up with old friends.
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 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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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!)
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:
I am not confident with Polish grammatical terminology myself, meaning of necessity I use English terminology.
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.
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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)
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.
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 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 email@example.com or on Twitter @thekarincluster.
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…
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.
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.
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? 🙂
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:
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:
Please watch Phil Longwell’s talk on the important but until now overlooked issue of mental health issues in ELT. It was the best session I saw in the main conference. It was a measure & honour to mentor Phil for his first ever talk at a conference. I’m proud of you, Phil 🙂 https://t.co/c7iKb2OgQx
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:
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:
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:
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:
Stuart Vinnie: divide cloze answers between pairs and ask them to memorise, then work together to complete the gaps. Alternatively divide into 4 groups, ABCD, and divide the answers between them #IATEFL2018pic.twitter.com/GgoVZkD0PF
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.
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:
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:
1. Ask Ls to review a CB and see what is missing, then ask them to redesign a page themselves and make it more inclusive #iatefl2018
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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 Playbookseries 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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
These are still two of my favourite photos of my PLN, both from Glasgow 2012:
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 emotional and a functional post, and I don’t think I really processed what I’d tweeted. This time, it’s taken me about two days/at least sixteen hours to go through all of my tweets and go down a lot of rabbit holes (!) to put together my summaries of the week, but I feel I’ve gained a lot more from the process than I did the first time round, and I hope readers of my blog have too!
Or at least, some of them! At a conference this size, it’s inevitable that you miss some sessions you really wanted to attend. In this post, I’ve collected individual tweets and video links to some of the presentations and events I found interesting, but which don’t fit easily into any of my other categories for posts this year.
Richard Smith and Shelagh Rixon have written a book called A History of IATEFL, which is being sent out to all current members, and will soon be available to read online. There was a celebration evening on the Wednesday night of the conference which I couldn’t attend – by all accounts, it was fascinating. I’m really looking forward to reading the book once I get my copy.
Mike Hogan has this to say from the Business Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event:
I definitely feel like this applies to me – I was born in 1985, and just about remember life before the internet, so am pretty sure I can class myself as a Millennial. The longest I’ve stayed in any one job was three years (in Brno), I may still be in my current job in 2020 but I’m not 100% sure, and I’ll probably end up as a freelancer at some point.
I found Harry Kuchah-Kuchah’s plenary fascinating a couple of years ago, and wish I could have found out more about how their teacher association research has developed – I hope he writes about it elsewhere.
This post is for the talks I attended at IATEFL Glasgow 2017 which don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories I’ve chosen this year.
Connecting minds: language learner and teacher psychologies (Sarah Mercer)
Sarah’s plenary discussed the importance of ‘psychologically wise’ teachers, who both understand the psychology of their students, and look after their own mental health. You can watch the whole plenary yourself, or read my summary below.
Sarah started off by telling us that psychology is not just motivation, cognition, or the abstracted, internal mind. It’s about emotion. We can have the best resources and technology in the world, but they can’t replace humans. She showed us a video of Mr. White, a teacher in the States who has created a personalised handshake with each one of his students. I really like this quote from him:
I feel like every student needs a little bit of joy in their lives. Every student.
Psychology is about the heart and soul of teaching, and psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to the lives of their learners. They develop positive relationships, focus on positivity and growth, and nurture their own professional well-being. Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis lists teacher-student relationships in position 11 of 138 of importance of factors affecting learning. Rita Heyworth points out in her TED talk that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. Language teaching is inherently social, and requires collaboration, communication, and socio-cultural competence. Psychology is a key part of what we do, but we rarely focus on it explicitly in training or our own practice.
Covey (2004) talks about the emotional bank account. Positive actions in a relationship are like deposits and negative ones are withdrawals. How can you make deposits in your emotional bank account?
Work on mutual trust and respect.
Be responsive to learner individuality (names, micro conversations). Communication is key.
Remember that learners are much more worried about speaking in front of their peers than the teacher. Do they know the names of everyone else in the group? Proactive discipline: if you build good relationships with students, you need less reactive discipline. You don’t earn trust just by being a teacher, you need to deserve it.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford
Mindsets are domain-specific: you might have a fixed mindset about speaking or pronunciation, but a growth one about your ability to write in a foreign language. Lots of teacher trainees believe that they can develop their methodological knowledge, but not their interpersonal skills (Mercer’s study, my experience too!). Neuroplasticity supports the idea of a growth mindset. As teachers, we have to own up to mistakes, and show our own growth mindset. We should also think whether we talk about language learning as an ability or talent (fixed mindset), or as a process (growth mindset). Make sure you praise the process and effort, and give *informative* positive praise that is deserved, not empty words. The mindset alone is not enough though. We need to develop learning strategies and support our students.
If we build on weaknesses only, we become average. If we build on strengths too, we become A+ – From Average to A+[affiliate link] by Alex Linley (2008)
It’s important to recognise our strengths, both as learners and teachers. How often have you ever sat back and really reflected on what you’re good at? Sarah asked us to share two or three things we’re good at as teachers with our neighbours. We need to consider building positive emotions in the classroom explicitly. Positive emotions help us to learn more!
Our psychology as teachers is mirrored in our students through mirror neurons – if we’re happy, they’re more likely to be happy too. Holmes and Rogers, 2012 talk about the burnout cascade and the virtuous cycle of psychology and motivation – it can be a vicious or a virtuous circle, depending on where you start. This MUST start from us: we must start creating the positivity in our classroom. Happy people have more energy, better motivation, are more creative, are more productive, and are healthier. The very first thing a teacher should do in the classroom is smile.
When we talk about CPD it’s important not to add too many ‘shoulds’ – a lot of frameworks don’t include wellbeing, meaning teachers may not end up prioritising it. I’ve been trying to drastically reduce the amount of times I use the word ‘should’ – every time I do, I ask myself ‘Who said?’ It’s taken off a lot of the pressure I’ve previously felt. In her 1990 book Stress Management for Teachers, Sandra Mills breaks down health into physical condition (rest, diet, exercise), mental condition and emotional condition.
Self-compassion means knowing when enough is enough, when perfectionism isn’t appropriate, when to use positive self-talk. Don’t overstretch yourselves, learn to say no and set boundaries to protect yourself as a teacher. Professional well-being is not an indulgence, it’s a necessity. As Sarah said:
Pyschology matters. Relationships matter. Positivity matters. YOU matter!
Aligning parents’ and caregivers’ objectives with young learner programs (Shay Coyne)
Shay noticed that she was only doing needs analysis for adult groups, not for young learners. She made a Survey Monkey questionnaire in Spanish to send to caregivers. They wanted a communicative focus, moving from receptive listening towards speaking, a broadening of their future prospects, more study than fun (see below for activities for each of these three areas), and they wanted English only. Shay challenges the last point, as most of the world is now bilingual, and we should bring the students’ two languages together. Students have opportunities for huge amounts of contact with English outside the classroom. By accepting the students’ own language, we’re modelling tolerance and diversity and establishing a collaborative, equal relationship between the mother tongue and English.
Caregivers want to be involved. They may have had bad experiences of language learning themselves before. Caregivers form a key part of the child’s life, so we need to keep them involved: parents as partners. Home and school are not two separate bubbles for children, they’re all one big learning experience: it helps you to be more collaborative between home and school.They give a different perspective to tests and assessments, and can, for example, explain why a child has suddenly started to behave badly. This kind of partnership also improves social skills and behaviour of the child, as it provides a model for how to collaborate. Finally, it leads to better education outcomes. The child becomes more well-rounded and can navigate a multilingual, multicultural environment more easily. On another note, if caregivers are involved, children’s test scores will improve too.
Parents can be involved through governance (like textbook selection), meetings, volunteering for activities in the classroom. Caregivers can be invited for open days. We can train parents and caregivers to be able to form realistic goals, and retrain misconceptions like English only. Teachers should be trained with strategies for how to deal with caregivers, such as how to positively deliver messages, and how to deal with any potential conflict. Communication should also be two-way, both to and from the school. We should make sure that there is variation in how you interact with caregivers, and give them the option to decide how they want to be contacted.
To develop communication skills, why not try an English/Australian/Scottish corner in your classroom, use role plays for developing empathy, and discuss learning to bridge the gap between home and school.
To help students broaden their future prospects, work on projects, try out ‘genius hour‘ so children can do whatever they want for that hour (practises research and time management), work on videos (through e.g. Skype which they may have to use for job interviews in the future), try out My Language Passport from p98 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] to acknowledge different languages.
To work on language, use songs, choose topics of interest, choose practical tasks that encourage experimentation with language and try Knowing your class p71 of Teaching Children How to Learn [affiliate link] so you can learn more about your students to make things more relevant to them.
Shay would like us all to foster caregiver involvement in education. Maybe we could create a framework for involving them. There is a potential negative reaction initially, but research shows that it’s worth it and quality improves because caregivers are involved.
Shay recommended the following books for further research [all affiliate links]:
Teaching grammar for all the right reasons (Danny Norrington-Davies)
We try to contain the language with rules but the language keeps running away. – Andrea Bossato
Danny encourages his students to explore reasons for grammatical/linguistic choices, not rules, moving from examples to reasons. Why start with reasons, not rules?
Language existed before rules!
We can explore how meaning is created.
Students can make genuine discoveries about language by thinking about reasons.
We can see how different forms interact and we don’t just need examples that fit the rules.
We can explore similarities not exceptions, and give learners some ownership of the language.
We can use this approach to exploit any text or any communicative task, and avoid ‘sometimes’ rules. Pedagogic rules are often qualified with words like ‘usually’, and we write them as if they’re true, but they’re not.
We can avoid artificial simplification and rules that are not true.
Students can put reasons into their own words, rather than being given rules that aren’t always true.
Although it’s hard for students to create rules, it’s worth it, as they start to understand why language is really used, not just learn rules by rote (he got this as feedback from one of his students).
There’s nothing wrong with language; the problem lies with the rules we’ve created as shortcuts. Diane Larsen-Freeman emphasises that reasons underline rules.
Research shows that a lot of early learning is lexical, not grammatical, which is why it works well for functional language. He’s also used this approach successfully with modals. The lowest level he’s used it with himself is pre-intermediate, though he’s also seen it being used with elementary.
For example, to focus on relative clauses, give students a text with them and rewritten without them. Ask them to compare the two and say why the writer used them in the original text. Maybe to get students to actually use relative clauses, we should just keep making them notice them instead of doing exercises – Danny has found this has really helped his students.
Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield talked about activities you could use to promote interaction between participants on online courses. They were promoting a new book they’ve written called Interaction Online [affiliate link]. You can watch a recording of the full talk.
One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.
Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)
The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here.
Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.
Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, norpointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.
CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.
Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:
Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group.
Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected.
Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.
These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.
As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)
The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.
Benefits of self-observation:
can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
observing students’ reactions is easier
you can question your own assumptions
more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed
The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.
If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:
Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
Observe yourself to address a specific issue
Personal record-keeping and reflection
Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.
Developing through IATEFL
Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.
As I find myself moving more towards management, training and materials writing, my choices at a conference involve fewer practical classroom ideas, but there will always be some! Here are a few I picked up at this year’s IATEFL conference.
Grammar in the context of task: what, how and why? (Jane Willis)
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about task-based learning over the last six months or so, following on from doing the Coursera ‘Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach’ MOOC, so I was eager to see Jane Willis talking about how to deal with language within this approach. She worked through an abbreviated version of a task cycle with us, which went something like this:
How do YOU feel about storms? Think of 2-3 phrases to describe one experience you’ve had.
Was it a positive or negative experience? Weigh it up with your partner, then report back to the group.
Think about what causes thunderstorms. How would you explain thunder to a child?
Read a discussion between two people about their experiences of storms, and an article about how thunderstorms happen.
At this point Jane gave us a whole range of tasks which we could do with the two texts. For example:
Compare your/your partner’s reactions to the reactions of Rachael and Eric. Do you have anything in common with them?
What about places you/they like to be during a storm?
Create diagrams to illustrate the text. Compare them to the original diagrams which appeared with the text.
Read and adapt your diagrams to better illustrate this text, to make it more accessible for younger readers.
Once you’ve dealt with meaning, you can then begin to focus on form. Jane’s framework shows the two stages, meaning in green, form in red:
You can plan to focus on form before the lesson, not just base it on student mistakes. To generate additional lexis that could be used as input material, google ‘How do you feel about storms?‘, and gather phrases into a brainstorm. There are a lot of aspects of grammar which you could focus on, for example:
Grammar of structure
clauses: noun + verb + ?
the noun group e.g. electric current
order of adjectives
adverbial phrases in a clause
verb phrases (e.g. question forms)
‘I go north bus week’ could be grammared/oriented in various ways as ‘pointers’ to show time, place and identity, using points from the list above. The actual sentence from the conversation on the handout was ‘I was just, erm, going up north in a bus to Durham last week.’ Other possible areas to focus on include:
syntactic frames with common words e.g. At the end of the day
These areas are all drawn from Rules, Patterns and Words [affiliate link] by Dave Willis. I know that my grouping here doesn’t reflect the book properly, as it was hard for me to keep up!
Here are some ideas for activities:
Identify and classify ways of expressing
Reactions to storms
Identify + classify structural features
Adverbials (ending in-ly)
Phrases with common words(e.g. be/being, in)
Hypothesis building and checking e.g. is as long as like if?
Compare structures between languages
You can get at the verb phrases by looking for items like -ly or through the grammar of orientation. Use the word as ‘bait’ e.g. use the word ‘I’ to find all the expressions of opinion. To get at clauses, focus on as, when, what, or sentences with two verbs. [Using a word as bait was probably my favourite idea from the entire conference!] These can then be turned into specific form-focussed activities, for example:
For the conversation:
Listen/read to find 9 phrases describing reactions to storms. How might you classify them? e.g. They’re fine as long as…
Find 7 phrases with words ending in -ly. Say them out loud. Where does the main stress fall?
Find 5 phrases with be and being. What verbs do they often follow?
Find all phrases beginning with I. Which ones are typical of spontaneous speech?
For the more scientific text:
Label your diagrams. Adapt phrases from the text.
Find 7 phrases denoting movement and classify them.
Find 7 phrases denoting change of state.
How many phrases are about temperature?
How many phrases are about size?
Put these into two structural categories: sound wave, water vapour, warm air, electrical charge. Find more to add to your list, including longer ones. (n+n, adj+n)
What rises? sinks? bumps into? fills up with? occurs? Revises noun groups and adds verbs.
Jane suggested focussing more on noun groups in the scientific text, and said that comparing the way these noun groups work in L1 could be beneficial. You can also tell students beforehand that they’re going to test each other on the specified area: this makes them read much more carefully.
In the workshop, Jane asked us to identify some of the features above in the text, and plan scaffolding tasks for the learners. Every group came up with something very different, all in just five minutes. The workshop made me feel much more confident about the range of ways you can exploit a single text, and how quick and easy it can be to put together a series of scaffolded tasks for learners to work with.
The final stage was reporting back to the whole class. Some groups did it orally, and others made notes on a Post-it. By planning to report, you repeat the task, and sort your language out a bit more, especially if you do the report in writing.
Ultimately, as Jane says, the goal of task-based language teaching is exposure, use, motivation and engagement, with lots of doable, engaging tasks, prompting lots of language use.
If you’d like to find out more about TBLT, you could try the #tbltchat hashtag on Twitter, or contact Jane directly through her website.
All education begins with what we bring to the classroom.
Compliant students answer the teacher’s questions. Engaged students ask their own.
He told us about Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed [affiliate link], a book which he found very influential because it gave him the language and theory to talk about his teaching. Freire taught English to illiterate peasant farmers in the north-east of Brazil in 1950s. He taught with what they brought to class, and was imprisoned for his troubles. One of the things Freire was interested in was praxis: the act of putting theory into action. He also talked about the idea of the teacher as a co-learner.
Social justice is culturally specific, constantly changing, and affects all areas of human life. It is “a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society”. But what does social justice have to do with ELT? It depends on your view of the educator’s role in society. If you think they can change things, then it’s something we should be addressing in our classrooms. JJ went on to suggest a range of ways we could do this:
Draw a quick picture to illustrate an issue you feel passionate about, then discuss it.
Use images to connect students to other areas and issues. One example of suitable images is Reuters classrooms from around the world. The Washington Post has separate images with captions. You can supplement this with a globe to help students see where the images are from. In a world with Google Maps, I think a globe is still a useful tool – it’s much easier to see relationships when the whole world is in front of you in 3D.
Talk about the images using statements starting ‘I wonder…’
Turn the ‘I wonder…’ statements into questions and categorise them e.g. materials, classrooms
Each category is colour-coded. One group discusses each colour, then they work with one person from each group to pool their ideas.
Use drama. This is based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, and his book Games for actors and non-actors [affiliate link], which JJ recommends as a source for these activities. It encourages the audience to come up with the resolution of the story. He invented ‘spectactors’ and ‘gamesercises’.
Use visits. A child once asked their teacher ‘Where does the trash go?’ The teacher took the class to a landfill. As a result, the class started a recycling project which continues today.
Use stories. Despite all the technology we have, stories are the thing that lasts – they are as old as mankind. Use stories of ordinary people doing great things to bring social justice into your classroom and show resilience. Why do we need stories of rich white people saving the world, when there are so many stories of people saving themselves? I like this story of the junk orchestra in Paraguay.
Creating challenge for the teenage classroom (Niki Joseph)
Teens are surrounded by the concept of challenge, in advertising, on social media and more. They expect it. Everybody can achieve an instagram challenge like these, especially teenagers! How can we bring these ideas into the classroom? Some audience suggestions:
Choose a word of the day, they make a picture to share and illustrate it.
Post an image of a new word everyday for 10 days and tag 10 people to do the same (though be aware of online safety)
Post a picture to illustrate the next unit of the book.
Encourage students to discuss challenge. For example, show them three photos: a chess game, a snowboarder and a teen doing a presentation. Ask them which photo best represents challenge and which one they would find most challenging. Is challenge something you only want to engage in if you’re interested in it? If you care about it? Moments of challenge need to be achievable and can involve reflection and creativity.
Try a KWL chart: I know, I want to know, I learned. Students fill in the first two columns before an activity, and the last one afterwards. This helps them to notice what they got out of it.
Another way to approach photos is with the Visible Thinking see-think-wonder routine. Once students have used this a few times, they’ll always have it in reserve if they’re asked to talk about a picture, particularly useful for exam candidates. Jo Budden also suggests using the routine kind of in reverse: one student looks at a picture and describes it using STW, and the other should try to find the same image using Google.
Ask students to describe a photo or experience in a single word. For further challenge, add parameters e.g. choose 3-syllable words, a food, words starting with B to describe X. To follow up, find somebody whose word begins with same letter or categorise the words.
Fast finishers who have nothing to do can cause classroom management problems. A fast finisher folder can be really useful: fill it with lots of extra activities: grammar, vocab, creative writing activities etc. It could also be an online folder. Students should know that they can start anytime, but they finish when the class resumes. The answers should be in the folder too, so that students can self-correct. I’m never sure about whether this kind of thing will actually work. I suppose it might if you’re doing lots of long tasks, but for the bitesize activities I often use, fast finishers are more usefully occupied in tasks which don’t require them to look elsewhere, for example remember a sentence from an exercise, turn over your book and write it out from memory.
Niki suggested include taking a sentence from an exercise and creating a context for it (much more useful!), encourage students to replace words with other possible ones, e.g. nouns for nouns, adjectives for adjectives, or rewrite the sentence so it begins with another word, in this case ‘cycling’. They could also rephrase it to make it more emphatic. For pronunciation: say it as many different ways as you can, for example in a tired, excited, angry…way.
After the presentation, Sarah Priestley shared this link:
As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies at a school which mostly hires newly-qualified teachers, it’s now inevitable that at least some of the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 sessions I attended were connected to teacher training.
Here are my session summaries, along with some tweets at the bottom from sessions I didn’t attend.
Applying differentiation in teacher training (Alastair Douglas)
Alastair says that training teachers is just another form of teaching, and I agree! So we need to differentiate training too. I’m not sure why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, or at least, it had in passing, but I’d never really though about how to put it into practice. When training teachers, we’re giving them a model of how to teach.
Just as your language students look to you to provide ‘correct’ models of English, so too will your trainee teachers be looking for good models of teaching in the way you carry out training. A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training[affiliate link] by John Hughes
For example, on a CELTA course in Vietnam, they differentiated language awareness sessions for natives/non-natives. With native speakers, they focussed on grammar, and with non-natives, they focussed on lexis (e.g. collocations, ‘natural’ language). Alastair Douglas and his colleague wrote this up in Modern English Teacher 24/3. Non-natives could also help native speakers with their language awareness.
On another course, they were working with both primary and secondary school teachers on different ways of presenting language. Here’s an example of a session plan by Jacqueline Douglas:
A final way of differentiating training which Alastair is still experimenting with is the option of using more detailed lesson plans for final lessons on initial teacher training courses, with a more in-depth focus on learner profiles, stage aims and the rationale for them. This allows stronger candidates to really show off what they know about their students and what they can do in the lesson, and balances the extra attention that weaker candidates tend to get at the end of such courses. This idea was inspired by Chris Ozóg.
Other ideas were:
tasks with different levels of scaffolding
varying the number of questions to answer
different activities in different rooms
different guided discovery tasks
get trainees to decide which materials to use (hard/normal)
give trainees the option to prepare more before sessions, e.g. through preparatory questions
There are some problems with differentiation:
overreach, where trainees try to do something harder than they can manage
loss of face (hence grading tasks as hard/normal, not hard/easy)
more time needed for material preparation
difficulties with managing feedback (can be through worksheets, sharing in an information gap)
if there’s a set syllabus (but can work within it)
assessment – making sure it applies to everyone
Alastair also found that differentiation wasn’t always necessary if techniques were equally new to all trainees. On a course with more and less experienced teachers where they were analysing lexis, he gave more experienced teachers a longer list of items to analyse. Because the techniques were new, it actually took both groups a similar amount of time to analyse the items. A similar thing happened in a CELTA session on using authentic materials, where he divided teachers into natives and non-natives, expecting non-natives to find it easier to identify language areas to focus on. Again, since the techniques were new to all trainees, differentiation wasn’t necessary.
To differentiate effectively, know your trainees, and you can tailor the courses to what is necessary. The more you can find out about the background of trainees, the better. Be explicit about what you’re doing so they can learn more about how to differentiate in their own teaching too.
This tweet was from a talk about mixed-ability teaching, but is relevant here too:
Analysing and reframing written feedback (Kateryna Protsenko)
The word ‘feedback’ only came into existence with the invention of microphones, and originally meant ‘awful noise’. Touching a hot kettle is an example of negative feedback, because you stop doing it. In positive feedback, action A gets bigger, e.g. in a herd as panic spreads, or when a fire alarm sounds, but it can turn negative if people end up doing something too much.
Trainees say written feedback is what they benefit from the most, but how much do we really think about what we write on it?
The biggest problem she found was that ‘good’ was the word she used most. This doesn’t help trainees to develop at all, and nor does it promote a growth mindset, something Kate had originally learnt about at IATEFL 2016 and on her MA at NILE.
Until they used the word clouds, they didn’t realise what dominated their feedback. As a result of these discoveries, Kate and her colleagues put together a word cloud of suggested words to use in their feedback:
Without putting my feedback through WordItOut (yet!) I’m pretty sure that my feedback will reflect similar patterns to Kate’s. I’m going to save her suggested words and have it open next time I’m writing feedback – hopefully what I write will be a lot more useful to the teacher, regardless of how strong or weak the lesson was!
Dare to share! Should trainees share their TP feedback? (Rebecca Brown)
Asking trainees the kind/format of feedback they want seems like a great idea! Why don’t I do this?!
One trainee said ‘The more feedback, the more you can improve’. Trainees said they often reread feedback more than twice. Oral and written feedback were considered equally important, but trainer feedback was considered more important than peer feedback.
Sharing feedback is something I’ve suggested with TP groups who have gelled well, and some groups do it without prompting. I often ask candidates if they mind me sharing aspects of their plan, materials, or feedback with other trainees during oral feedback, telling them exactly what and why I want to share it – nobody has yet said no, and some trainees have told me how much it has helped to see exactly what it is they should be aiming for. I’ve never done a survey of this kind though, probably because I’ve always been a ‘guest’ tutor – maybe one day if/when I regularly work for the same centre, I’ll experiment more in this way!
Getting teachers to act on teaching practice feedback (Tracy Yu)
Tracy did a survey with her trainees and found that over 70% of her trainees spent less than one hour reading their written feedback throughout the whole course. She wondered how to get them to apply the feedback more to future TPs. She also asked them what they would like to do if they could have an extra 30 minutes with their tutors: the main answer was to get 30 minutes of feedback and advice on their lesson plan before they taught, including reminders before the next lesson of what was discussed after the previous lesson.
Since then she has started to do the following:
Use Review – Reproduce – Retain to counter the effects of the Curve of Forgetting. Trainees review what they have learnt from feedback, and reproduce it in a different form (I think), helping them to remember their feedback better.
She also reminded us to ABD: Always Be Demonstrating! Don’t just preach to the trainees, show them how you want them to teach and how to respond to feedback.
Tracy says that we should be doing less feeding back and more feeding forwards, leading to the next TP, rather than looking back. A lot of training centres don’t give feedback on the plan before the TP, even though tutors think it would help. Time is an issue though.
One of the most frustrating things for me as a tutor is trainees who seem to have the same issues over a number of TPs, and who don’t seem to be reading their feedback at all, since it normally contains suggestions for how they can counter these problems! I like the idea of feeding forward, but I’m still not quite sure how to go about it.
The three talks above were all part of a forum on TP feedback. Here are some of the points from the Q&A afterwards:
One trainer suggests them starting written self-reflection immediately after lesson, pausing for oral feedback, then going back to finish it later.
A recent Delta trainee questions how easy it is for trainees to reflect effectively immediately after a TP, when you’re still in the heat of the moment.
Easing the pain of language analysis in initial training (Bill Harris)
‘LA’ can mean language knowledge, language analysis, linguistic competence or language awareness. Different qualifications use different descriptors for the ‘language’ component:
CELTA groups language analysis and awareness, including strategies for assessment
Trinity defines it as just language awareness (I believe – I wasn’t keeping up well at this point!)
Bill did a survey with 72 trainers and 51 ex-trainees, asking 6 questions related to LA on courses. These included ideas about confidence with language before/after TP, books that are recommended on courses, whether is LA compulsory, and a few more I didn’t get!
Swan is the book most courses recommend, followed by Scrivener, and Parrott [affiliate links]. More trainers recommend Parrott, but trainees don’t buy it. A Twitter discussion after the conference showed that this is partly because it is very expensive to buy in Asia – I’m not sure how many of Bill’s respondents were based in that part of the world. My personal favourite from this list is Scrivener for trainees, especially because a lot of schools have a reference copy of Swan, which I believe is best used as a final resort if you can’t find the answer you need elsewhere! I think Parrott is useful, but Scrivener more closely reflects classroom practice.
(Sorry, but I can’t read it any better now on a larger computer – you’ll have to ask Bill for it!) He has tried workshops where they do poster presentations on different areas of LA.
Bill believes the Language Related Tasks assignment should reflect Language Analysis as closely as possible. When putting together the LRT, some tutors put language in context (which helps trainees to understand it), others decontextualise it (so trainees practise creating contexts for language).
Bill Harris’s final word on Easing the pain of LA: hit them with as many support mechanisms as you can!
Desert island descriptors: where do our values lie? (Simon Marshall)
Simon has been teaching CELTA for 35 years’ and has trained in 22 countries, and is very positive towards the course, but he still has questions about the way it has developed over time. There are 42 descriptors in the CELTA 5 booklet, and a candidate is supposed to achieve all of them in 4 weeks.
He wanted to know which CELTA criteria trainers tended to consider more important than others, as many of us (me included) feel that the criteria are not all created equal. His survey asked us to choose the ‘most important’ descriptors from each section, and many trainers said it was hard to choose, as it depends on the stage of the course. Despite that, he came up with clear findings:
Part of Simon Marshall’s aim was to see how important language teaching really was on a language teaching course – both related descriptors appear here, which reassured him (and me!)
If the 5 descriptors on the graph were like the Premier League, it would have an influence on how courses are run, and which sessions were included. Rapport was one of the key descriptors identified, but it rarely appears on courses as a session: we seem to know what it is, but it’s hard to pinpoint: we know it when we see it. Being more independent is part of what we’re grading trainees on (see page 14), but there’s no specific descriptor for it now, although there used to be.
Out of 85 respondents, nobody chose the ‘writing’ descriptor, or any of the following, as the most important:
Simon Marshall emphasises that this seems bizarre in terms of value and confusing in terms of achievement. He reiterates that he’s not anti-descriptor in general. For me, some of the wording is confusing/unclear, and I really think they need to be updated, especially to reflect the fact that trainers know that some criteria are more important than others, but they’re all displayed equally to trainees.
To supplement his research, Simon asked a school he used to send trainees on to about how they were doing. The manager said they were good in lots of ways, but knew nothing about language. When reflecting on observations he had done, Simon noticed that:
used a lead in/warmer, checked instructions, included lots of activity types, and plenty of social engagement…
but when he observed them teaching language, they could do it a bit, but they didn’t look as if they felt comfortable…
and when they did activities, there wasn’t much afterwards in terms of error correction, feedback, or building on language.
Non-native non-CELTA graduates:
used no warmer and lots of instructions
were ‘language-obsessed’ – L1 translations were possible, they could answer students’ questions, less communication
Watching a German CELTA graduate:
she hit the ball out of the park!
a range of activities…
but she also knew the language well, and could answer the students’ questions.
The same graduate wasn’t allowed to teach above B2 in one school because she was a non-native – she was ecstatic for the opportunity when she moved schools. As Simon said, this is very wrong.
When Simon did his course in the 1970s, 7 of his 9 TPs were language-focussed, and he got a lot better at language over the course (echoing what Bill Harris said above about trainers noticing trainees improving their LA). Now, CELTA assessment criteria state that weak lessons at the beginning of the course won’t be held against you. You can get through the course with only two language lessons, one of which is often early in the course. So if you only have one language focussed lessons that actually counts, how can you actually improve?
As Simon highlights, skills lessons are largely laid out for you in books, so perhaps we should shift our focus, and therefore also prioritise the descriptors more clearly. Echoing Bill, Simons says LA could also be described as language affinity, language aptitude, language affection? Do they like language? Do they show any impression of being comfortable with it? Language awareness also includes being ‘on the prowl’ for language that comes up in the lesson. We’ve got to make them technicians.
In conclusion, maybe our CELTA mission should be: to train language teachers who can teach language! (Though the course can’t all be about grammar!) I think this would be a much more useful mission for a lot of our trainees, although we’d have to think carefully about how to differentiate to cater for both native and non-native trainees. I certainly agree that the criteria drastically need to be updated or at least ranked in some way – come on Cambridge!
Tweets from other sessions
#iatefl2017 Marisa C: Balloon debate for teaching approaches to promote critical thinking (‘Which guru gets chucked out?’) + Memorable.
Since I did an assessed lesson based on listening for my Delta, I’ve been interested in finding out more ways to help my students develop their listening skills. I even did a presentation on it myself at IATEFL Harrogate 2014, heavily influenced by John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom [affiliate link]. Richard Cauldwell’s book Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech[another affiliate link!] has also been very useful in helping me to understand why it can be so difficult for learners to decode fluent connected speech. I was therefore very pleased to be able to attend presentations given by both John and Richard during this IATEFL. The other presentations summarised in this post were from the Forum on Listening.
I haven’t tried to summarise Jane Setter’s plenary on intonation for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t get it all into tweets, 2. to fully appreciate the intonation differences, you really need to watch/listen to it yourself!
You can also watch an interview with Jane recorded after the plenary.
John started by telling us that he has been ‘worrying about listening for the last 34 years’.
The typical comprehension approach starts with pre-listening and activating schemata, something that doesn’t reflect real life. We also don’t pre-teach vocabulary in real life, so it’s counter-productive in training. The next step is to set questions to target listening, then play the recording, check answers, and replay key sections (providing answers as we go). However, this approach doesn’t actually train learners to become better listeners.
(not a great picture, I know, but it shows why the student thought the answer to a question was ‘crack’, when in fact it was ‘nature reserves’ – they misheard the word ‘attract’ in the stream of speech)
John thinks that we can get a lot more out of the comprehension approach. We should forget about activating schemata and pre-teaching vocabulary, as these don’t happen in real life, though we should quickly introduce students to the context and the number of speakers, as they would normally know this, e.g. two people talking on a bus.
It isn’t usually the script that causes the problem, it’s the recording. The item writer is not involved in the recording. Tasks also need to be carefully thought out, as we give away in writing a lot of what’s in the recording, and encourage test-wise strategies, rather than strategies for general listening. To improve their approach, the teacher needs to prepare the listening in detail – using the script WITH the recording. What’s perceptually difficult?
There should be a first play for SS adjust to speakers’ voices, listening globally without the pressure of questions, and without using questions to guess in advance what they’re likely to hear. If you’re going to use questions, set them before the second listen, so that they don’t interfere with the learners’ perceptions the first time they hear the text. Check and DIAGNOSE reasons for learners’ answers, then replay parts identified by you AND students as perceptually difficult. Transcribe short sections, especially if they are particularly problematic. Listeners are individuals, each with their own problems with a recording, and these change over time and with experience. If you can afford it, provide a listening centre where listeners can work on their own problems individually. Give learners a transcript at the end of the lesson and ask them to listen again. Set listening homework. Though my students almost never do it – I need to have more engaging tasks and clearer developmental reasons for them to do it!
Do we need better materials? YES! New writers often don’t have a clear idea of what a skills approach is. Materials should take pressure off the teacher, guiding them, and focussing on the difficult parts of the recording. Field suggests open-ended questions, so the class can talk about possible answers. Sometimes you could use short clips with a single question, instead of the more normal long excerpts with multiple questions. You could also embed oral questions in the script rather than written questions to stay within the same modality (so have the speaker ask a question, then pause for answer). Materials should demonstrate a better understanding of the processes that underlie successful listening and design questions to target them.
We also need to understand better what it is we’re actually teaching! When you listen you:
search for words
Sometimes context makes us distort the phonemes we think we’ve heard to make it fit the context. To handle the speech signal, we have to adjust to speaker’s voice (pitch, speech rate etc), then match the set of squeaks/buzzes we hear to the sound system of English. But do phonemes really exist? They are so variable, maybe they don’t. This echoes Richard Cauldwell – see below. To handle words, we have to divide connected speech, recognise spoken word forms, link them to what’s know about the topic. To parse, we must hold in our heads the words which have already been said, recognise grammatical patterns, and work out the word’s sense in it’s co-text. To construct meaning, we have to put what we’ve heard into a wider context, interpret new information in relation to this, infer information the speaker has taken for granted, and link words like he/she/it to what they refer to. This is followed by putting it into wider discourse (I couldn’t keep up at this stage!) There’s an awful lot going on!
How does this knowledge help us? An expert listener does these things automatically, but L2 listeners need lots of effort to do each of these things, so it can be hard for them to form the ‘big picture’ of what they’re listening to. Up to about B1, learners have to give a lot of attention to decoding at word level, limiting their ability to tap into wider meaning (I’ve definitely found this with Polish). Strategy instruction should therefore mainly be done with lower-level learners to equip them with the fact that they often can’t make wider sense of what they’re hearing. Strategy training helps them with real-world situations and to compensate for gaps in text. Lower-level learners needs process training and strategies training to fill in gaps.
You can use the same audio, but vary the task to target any of the five levels of listening.
A syllabus for listening: less top-down! More bottom-up (Richard Cauldwell)
Richard relishes fast, messy speech and tries to find ways to help learners understand it. His CoolSpeech app was an ELTons 2013 winner for digital innovation, and he is currently in the process of writing a follow-up to Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech[affiliate link] which will provide a clear syllabus for listening for language teachers to work from.
All words have multiple sound shapes. Decoding is the skill of recognising words in the sound substance (or ‘fog’ in John Field’s words). The sound substance is the acoustic blur of speech, which exits the mouth, travels through the air, and hits the ear. It’s what exists before perception.
Richard uses a metaphor for different speeds and qualities of speech. The greenhouse is the place for citation forms. In the garden, sounds touch each other gently through the basic rules of connected speech. In the jungle, wild things happen and all bets are off. He argues there are different goals for pronunciation (clarity/intelligibility) and listening (understanding fast, messy, authentic speech).
Teachers tend to brush the mess of sound under the carpet, so even CPE Grade A students have ‘can’t do’ listening points. Every word has a ‘word cloud’: a range of possible word shapes in fluent speech, of which the citation form is the least likely.
The examples of ‘and’ above were all taken from a single conversation, with only one instance of it even vaguely approaching the citation form.
Here are just some of the changes which can happen in fluent speech (in the jungle):
Consonant death: this can appear in many ways e.g. that changes to ‘at
d’eth drop: anenatwasat– no ‘th’s (instead of and that was that)
B-drop/B-soft – often happens with adverbs e.g. superbly – the ‘b’ can be lost or very soft
Smoothie: when diphthongs/long vowels change to just one of their elements: like > læ
There were a lot more, but I just couldn’t keep up!
To help student, we need to delve below the word that is meant to the sound substance itself – what sounds were actually produced. Field and Thorn both advocate using short clips to help students focus (see ‘the bathtub experiment’ below too). Audacity is the best tool to help you break up the stream of speech.
Try this activity: replace the ‘i’ with each of the vowel sounds in the image. This helps students to prepare for different possible ‘shapes’ and accents:
The earworm should be short term, memory length, annoying, and stick in their head to prepare them for perception. I sometimes wake up with words or phrases like this in my head from foreign languages.
Have students listen along with an audio, and when they get to the most important part of it (the ‘wave’), get them to speak along with it (‘ride the wave’):
After the conference, I noticed that Richard shared Tubequizard as a link on his handout – it’s an excellent way to help students to focus on connected speech.
Adventures in listening: the bathtub experiment (Marie Willoughby)
Marie teaches students who attend full-time classes at IH London. She finds her students only get so far with listening before they begin to disengage. Sheila Thorn inspired Marie to start trying different ways of approaching listening in the classroom, and after listening to an episode of the The Moth podcast, she realised she had the perfect material to use, talking about a man who sailed across the English Channel in a bathtub. The only problem was that it was 17 minutes long! Marie decided to break it into a series of mini episodes, each with a cliffhanger. She then used these over a series of lessons.
Marie found that the best texts to use as episodes have a clear narrative, but are outside normal experience. In this case, pure sound is better than video, as students are more invested in understanding what they’re hearing, and will therefore try harder to apply the decoding strategies. If they have pictures to help them, they don’t need to work so hard to apply the strategies. Once she had the episode, she asked two questions: What stops them underrstanding? What will help them understand later?
First, they always listened with no task, then worked together to co-construct the text with other students. They then moved on to focussing on a particular decoding strategy, which students were then able to apply in later lessons. By using short excerpts in small chunks you have time to pause and get students to consider the language in more detail. For example:
Decode past perfect v. past simple when listening, first as a gapfill with a section they were familiar with, then listening to the next part of the story and saying what they heard.
Say why a speaker would choose one particular phrase, or why they would repeat it.
Listen to his description of a problem. Draw it on mini whiteboards.
The storyteller talked about English/French attitudes to each other, so Marie asked them to research it, after which the students understood the jokes better.
Vocab was a problem, especially familiar words in a new context, so she got students to listen and complete a sentence, then think about the meaning.
What are the benefits of using an ‘adventure in episodes’? There’s no need to reset context or activate genre knowledge each time. Prediction is a natural part of listening to such a story. The students were really motivated to find out what happened next. Intensive decoding work really bore fruit – they were invested in doing detailed intensive listening work. It also developed their autonomy.
I really like this idea, especially for summer school or 121 lessons, though I think it could take quite a lot of work to prepare. It reminds me of my French teacher introducing us to the French musical version ofRoméo et Juliette, with us listening to one song each week and trying to follow the story. You could also use the BBC Short Cuts or Listening Project podcasts. Of course, once you have it for one adventure, they don’t date much, so you should have it for the future. If teachers share this kind of thing on blogs, you could have examples to draw from. If you choose to do this, please share the link below!
Listening using smart devices: effects on student interaction and autonomy (Clive Shaw)
The conventional classroom layout has speakers at the front, but Clive wanted to know what happens if we change where students/teachers are in the room. If the teacher is in control, it’s not easy to monitor, and students don’t have much of an opportunity to work on their own listening strategies. It’s also difficult for students to transition from the controlled environment of the classroom to the unguided environment of the lecture hall (Clive works in EAP – I think this is true all the time, and this prompted by IATEFL Harrogate presentation).
Clive investigated how listening from a smartphone changed the dynamic, encouraged autonomy and gave students the opportunity to employ strategies. He designed the materials based on two sources: taken from YouTube or by creating his own recordings. To get the recordings to the students he used TubeChop for YouTube and Audioboom for his own recordings, then a link shortener (my preferred one is bit.ly). Recognising that these took longer to prepare than coursebook audio, Clive deliberately selected easy-to-prepare tasks, for example two-column notetaking.
The biggest difference in the classroom was the seating plan:
Each group had one phone, and the weakest student was normally in control of it. Clive found out that students became more aware of listening strategies they employed when using smartphones. Students were more able to use context/syntax to decode problem areas as they could play it again as many times as they wanted to. Students were also encouraged to make their own decisions about when and how to review extract.
I’ve always played with seating arrangements, but it had never occurred to me to do it with listening extracts before. This seems like a great way of helping mixed-ability groups in particular, and also helps students to get used to background noise when listening, something we don’t do enough of.
Tweets from other sessions
#iatefl2017 Give Ls TIME to hear a sound. Then tasks to notice the sound. McKinnon & Meldrum. No pressure to produce.
As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday 🙂 This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.
There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.
The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)
Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:
The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.
The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.
As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!
In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:
Find out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
Work on the next thing: Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.
Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)
Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related to working with an editor included helpful, supportive, communication and collaboration, and negative ones were things like frustrating, struggle and even nightmare!
Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:
Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…, I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so the Society for Editors and Proofreaders can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents 🙂
It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
Julie Moore suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)
One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook, Richer Speaking.
What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.
I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!
A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)
These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.
Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
Remember that you’re always negotiating, not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.
Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)
Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals! Interpersonal skills are a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking. Authors (each person?) can collaborate on many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:
Concept of product
Selection of artwork
Choosing the title/cover
Involvement in the piloting process
Marketing and promotion
I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.
What does creativity need? For Maley and Bolitho it’s time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.
Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities! Dorothy Zemach talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!
I’ve just got access to a short video made for the Teaching English British Council facebook page at IATEFL Manchester 2015 which I’d completely forgotten about! In it, I describe a method you can use to encourage students to notice mistakes they make in writing and try to reduce them. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video here, but I can give you the link to watch it. I’m not sure if you need to be logged in to facebook to see it, and I don’t know how to get around it if you don’t have a facebook account – sorry!
You can see examples of how I used this kind of error categorisation in my own Russian learning in the ‘Writing’ section of the post How I’m learning Russian (part 2).
So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…
Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.
Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.
I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?
The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.
In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.
In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.
Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process
The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.
I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.
An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
The teacher seeks to name the problem.
The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
A concrete hypothesis is developed.
The hypothesis is tested.
Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events
In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.
Stage 3 – Categorising reflection
In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).
Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.
There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.
Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching
Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.
Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.
Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.
Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174
About the author
Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008. He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.
During IATEFL I was tweeting. I tweet quite a lot during conferences 🙂 The guys from the ever-interesting TEFLology podcast happened to notice, and asked me if I’d like to chat to them about the conference. Obviously, I said yes! You can listen to the resulting interview by clicking on the episode page from the site or via iTunes.
This post should bring it all together, and share a few of my other highlights of the conference.
My name in print 🙂
Probably the most exciting part of the whole conference for me was seeing my name in print on a real book for the first time 🙂 I was part of the team of writers who have put together the B2, C1 and C2 level workbooks for new series called Keynote from National Geographic. It’s all based around TED talks, and immensely proud to be part of it as I think it’s a fabulous series (and I’m not just saying that!) In case you’re interested, my contributions are Unit 10 of the B2 workbook, and all of the writing spreads for the three levels. The series actually starts with B1, but I didn’t work on that. I also met some of the other authors while I was there, and was generally very excitable about the whole thing 🙂
Joining a committee
I’m now officially part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (though my name’s not on this list…yet!) We had our first face-to-face meeting at the conference, and I look forward to seeing how this role develops. Watch this space for news, and if you have any tips or ideas on how to get more members/give more to our members, please let me know!
For the first time, IATEFL allocated me as a mentor to another presenter. Marianne was doing a poster presentation, something which I had zero experience of, never even having looked at the posters at a conference before (oops!) Thankfully, facebook came to the rescue and a few people managed to help out.
Marianne was talking about a new way of learning pronunciation called Pronunciation Club. Her boards were covered in clear information, and every time I walked past she was there handing out flyers – true dedication!
ELTjam telling us about learning experience design (LXD), with the help of Ceri Jones, Lindsay Clandfield and Brendan Wightman.
A meal out with CELTA and other teacher trainers at Asha’s for tasty Indian food.
National Geographic shared drinks and nibbles at All Bar One.
Seven ‘victims’ sharing their brilliant pecha kucha presentations with us (which don’t seem to have been recorded this year 😦 )
I spent a lot of time chatting in very noisy rooms. And I lost my voice and am now on my second day off work post-conference, with another to come tomorrow. Though on the plus side, it’s given me time to blog…
The best bit
I say this every year, and I never get tired of it. The best bit of the IATEFL conference is meeting up again with old friends, and making new ones. Here are a few photos of various people:
I’ll leave you with the video which was shown to us at the end of the conference, and which had a lot of us in tears. It shows just how much people get out of the conference. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organising it!
See you in Glasgow! 4th-7th April 2017, with pre-conference events on 3rd April, so I get another IATEFL birthday 🙂
I was very sorry to miss these presentations, but at a conference like this there will inevitably be some sessions that you can’t get to. Luckily, the online conference has filled in a couple of the gaps for me.
English for the Zombie Apocalypse might sound like a crazy topic, but the idea behind Lindsay Clandfield and Robert Campbell’s book from the round is to show how functional language can be interested in an entertaining way, tapping into the current fashion for zombies. I really wish I could have been to the session, as by all accounts it was a lot of fun! Lindsay speaks about the book in the interview below, and you can also read a review of it by David Dodgson.
Also high up on my wishlist were:
Using images to engage and motivate the ‘multiple-stimuli generation’ (Fiona Mauchline)
Fiona is one of my fellow eltpics curators and I’m pretty sure there would have been some familiar images in there, plus Fiona always has great ideas about how to work with teenagers (like the ones from the MaWSIG pre-conference event)
Using smartphones to let our learners tell us what they think (Tilly Harrison)
After her session, we discussed Kahoot (which I love) and Socrative (which I’ve heard of but never used), and she also recommended NearPod (which was new to me). I’d like to have seen how she suggested using these in the classroom.
Practical writing tips for Arabic learners (Emina Tuzovic)
I don’t teach Arabic learners any more, but I think Emina’s tips are also useful for anyone teaching students with low levels of literacy. She wrote a very good guest post a couple of years ago, and will hopefully be following that up soon 🙂
How to speak British (Martyn Ford)
Because I love these postcards 🙂 [affiliate link] and I wanted to hear more from one of the men who created them. I’d often wondered if one of them was an English teacher!
General tweets from other people
Throughout the conference, I always retweet anything I think is interesting from other tweeters. In no particular order, here is a selection of those tweets which don’t fit into the topics of any other my other posts.
As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies, I’m particularly interested in sessions connected to training new teachers. Here is a summary of some of the talks connected to teacher training, CELTA and continuous professional development from this year’s IATEFL Birmingham conference.
Images for teaching: a tool for reflective teacher learning (Matilda Wong)
Matilda teaches on an undergraduate pre-service course for secondary school teachers at the University of Macao. Students do a four-year B.Ed. programme. In their fourth year, they do two one-month practicums in a local secondary school, the same school each time. Matilda works with 8-10 students from each cohort, and tries to teach them how to better at reflecting on their teaching.
When she first started doing this, Matilda used written journals for reflection, but she felt they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Instead, they were putting added pressure onto her trainees, and some of them were just completing it because they had to instead of really thinking about their teaching. It can lead to burnout.
While Matilda was doing her PhD, she was given paper and coloured pencils, and had to draw a picture of her ideal classroom. The teacher she drew had no mouth, and it wasn’t until analysing the picture afterwards that she realised the teacher had no mouth. The underlying thought here was that she had no voice, and she hoped that one day she would be able to draw a mouth onto her face. That was in 1999, and she still had tears in her eyes talking to us about it last week. It was a very powerful experience for her.
This led her to experiment with drawing pictures rather than writing, as it can be less tiring, and can be combined with written reflection later. It can also highlight beliefs which are difficult to articulate. Matilda asked nine students to work with her on this experiment, none of whom knew anything about reflection before working on her module.
Who am I as a teacher?
What do I want to achieve?
What does it mean to my job?
Before their first practicum, Matilda asked her trainees to write a language learning biography, describe their worries before going into the classroom, and draw a picture of their ideal classroom, then answer some simple questions.
What level are you teaching?
How many students are in your class?
What is the lesson about?
Write as much detail as you can to describe what you are doing (e.g. What re you saying? What materials are you using? With whom are you talking? What are you thinking?)
After they finished the second practicum, she asked them to evaluate their original image of an ideal class and compare it to their experience. They reflected on what was the same and what was inconsistent, and also on what they felt they had learnt from this type of reflection.
Matilda showed us lots of examples, but only one was drawn in colour. What do you notice about this student teacher’s image, bearing in mind that they come from Macao, a Cantonese-Portuguese city?
We spotted that it was odd that the teacher was blonde, since in real life, she was Cantonese. Matilda hadn’t noticed until we pointed it out in the session. It was another way of reinforcing the lack of confidence that some bilinguals have in their teaching ability. This is just one of the subconscious beliefs that was expressed through drawing, but probably wouldn’t have been through writing. Three of the teachers had smiley faces in their images, showing that they think it’s important for a teacher to be friendly. One forgot to put a teacher in the image at all, and didn’t realise until it was pointed out! For me, it was also interesting to see that most teachers were at the front of the room, and only one was in among the students.
These are Matilda’s conclusions after the study, and she would like to experiment more with it. I think it would be interesting to get them to draw another picture between and after their practicums and get them to analyse all three of them. I also think it would be interesting for them to analyse each other’s images, or those of previous participants to draw conclusions about stereotypes about teaching (like that the teacher should be front and central).
This session was one of the surprises of the conference for me, and it was a real shame there were only 10 people in the audience. I’ve asked Matilda to write a guest post on it for me, and hopefully she’ll say yes!
Training or grading? TP and the art of written feedback (Bill Harris)
I met Bill at last year’s conference and enjoyed chatting to him about his experience of working on CELTA courses around the world. I also responded to one of the surveys which formed the basis of this talk, so I was looking forward to seeing the results. 109 trainers and 90 course graduates responded to his surveys.
Because Bill has worked in so many centres, he has worked with a wide range of formats for written feedback. He often adds ‘cold’ feedback to post-lesson reflection, so trainees write ‘hot’ feedback immediately after the lesson, get their spoken feedback, then write another reflection summarising the two.
Why do written feedback?
Detailed written feedback helps the trainer process their feedback (often more for the trainer than for the trainee!)
In his survey, Bill was mainly contrasting handwritten and typed feedback.
Tutors said that 45% of them handwrote, 43% typed, and the rest said it depends on the situation. 28% of trainees said they got typed feedback, 40% said it depended on the tutor, and the rest was handwritten. [I normally type on CELTA because I have my laptop with me, but handwrite in school observations because I don’t!]
Bill separated the advantages and disadvantages into those for tutors and those for trainees but I can’t remember which were which so have combined them!
Advantages of handwriting
Used to doing it (for some!)
Seems more detailed
Penmanship can seem important
Seems to show more care and effort from the tutor
Able to add cartoons/diagrams etc
Break from looking at a screen
Can easily use different colours
Can use lots of different signposts easily to help trainees process the feedback: ticks, smileys, ?, TIP:
Disadvantages of handwriting
Can be harder to read!
Advantages of typing
Looks more professional
Easier to read
Can watch the lesson more (if you’re quick!)
Faster (if you touch type)
Easier to edit
Can copy and paste previous actions points easily
Easier to share with other tutors
Can email to trainees
You have a backup if it gets lost
Most trainees said they’d prefer typed feedback (mostly due to legibility!)
Disadvantages of typing
Can be noisy/distracting [I was once told that when I got excited I typed more quickly/loudly and they wondered what they’d done!]
Can take time/be difficult to print out
May seem formulaic/impersonal
Tutors may write too much
Can get distracted by other things on the computer [though in the face of a 40-minute grammar lecture, this may not always be a bad thing ;)]
What should be in written feedback?
Trainees said that they appreciated practical suggestions for how to improve, with clear action points. They also wanted recognition of what they were good at, and a positive spin on things when possible. One non-native speaker wanted more feedback on language [and some natives do too, especially if they are not confident with grammar].
Written v. oral feedback
Trainers said that written feedback could be digested more slowly away from the pressures of the group, and focussed much more on the individual. This was contrasted with oral feedback, which was for the group as a whole. Written feedback acted as a useful prompt when giving oral feedback.
Trainees said that both written and oral feedback was useful. Written feedback was more permanent, and they could refer back to it with time and less stress. They appreciated the interactive discussion aspect of oral feedback, but found it hard to remember all of the details. One problem was that sometimes there were differences between what was said in oral feedback and what was written. Some felt that their peers were over-positive or too harsh in oral feedback, and were not qualified to give feedback. One audience member suggested recording oral feedback too, partly for accountability and transparency.
Up until recently, Bill had always written his feedback by hand, but he is a recent convert to typing. Then he worked at a centre where he took over part-way through a course and had to shadow the other trainer’s feedback style. Luckily they had a colour printer, and this was the result:
Tutor-trainee team-teaching: a hands-on tool for teacher training (Emma Meade-Flynn)
Emma reported on some research she has been doing into how to make use of unassessed slots during CELTA, Delta and other short courses. In a survey of tutors, she found that 60% sometimes used it for a demo lesson, 70% used it for practice with no tutor present, some for getting to know you activities with students, and some for practice with a tutor present. About 35% of her respondents were already doing some form of team-teaching in these slots.
Team-teaching: planning, delivering and reflecting on a lesson together.
Emma found that her students were very receptive to team teaching, and when asked, they always requested it. In demo lessons, they couldn’t see the students’ faces and often felt left out. Because they weren’t part of the planning process, they didn’t always understand what was happening.
Emma decided to incorporate the trainees into the unassessed lessons by giving them roles, such as collecting and correcting errors, setting up activities and monitoring. They were also used as the source material, for example in live listening activities, meaning the students go to know them better. Trainees decided what they wanted to focus on, and it was almost always collecting and correcting errors, so she does a lot more of that now. She negotiates with them about where they want her help: with planning? With choosing materials? With presenting?
Trainees were much better able to reflect on the learners’ abilities if they had been involved in the lesson in some way.
It taught trainees how to adapt lessons to finish them on time, partly through doing some improvisation in lessons: they would only plan the first half, and base the second on what came up.
They could deal with more difficult language areas which would be challenging for the trainees to work on without support.
Trainees saw lots of techniques in action, which they were then able to incorporate in their own lessons.
They were much more aware of student language, and used the pro-formas Emma corrected to help them focus on particular areas.
This lead them to teaching and helping each other more within the group, without always relying on the tutor.
Emma could explain the rationale of activities more clearly before the lesson, and evaluate them more easily afterwards.
It can be tailored to the trainees’ emergent developmental needs.
You can help trainees to notice things on-line during the lesson.
Learners can offer feedback, and they generally don’t worry about having lots of different teachers when they can see they are working together.
A word of caution
Emma said it’s important to decide the boundaries of the team-teaching with trainees before you start. Will you intervene? How will you handle transitions? Be aware that it won’t suit some trainees. Careless (2006) says there must be pedagogical reasons to team teach, it must be logistically possible and it must be interpersonal, with everyone cooperating equally. Make sure you identify a clear developmental objective, and don’t just do it for the sake of it.
Three speakers spoke about teacher reflection on pre-service and in-service training courses:
Daniel Baines on why feedback on 120-hour initial training courses may need rethinking, and how to integrate reflection training in the first week of the course. Hopefully Daniel will be writing a guest post on the blog about this: watch this space!
Mike Chick on dialogic interaction and the mediation of pre-service teaching learning.
Teti Dragas (one of my CELTA tutors 🙂 ) on how in-house video training materials may help ‘reflective’ teacher development and help trainees to learn how to reflect more effectively, and on how to encourage them to watch more of the videos of their collaborative lessons with more focus.
Should reflection be assessed? That’s the one key question which comes out of this interview, but I have to say a lot of the rest of the interview feels a bit wishy-washy to me. I agree that experiential learning is better than focussing on theory, and I think that what Jim is suggesting might work on a day-to-day basis for your own classroom through action research, but I’m not sure how it will work on a pre-service or further development course (like CELTA or Delta). Here are a couple of Twitter quotes from his talk:
CELTA despite issues ‘at least gets people teaching before being overwhelmed by information about teaching and learning’ @jimscriv#iatefl
Interview with Tessa Woodward about the 30-year history of the Teacher Trainer Journal, talking about how it has developed and grown over this period.
Tweets from other teacher training/CPD-related talks
These were talks I attended vicariously through other tweeters. I found these snippets of information interesting. Maybe you will too 🙂
Unfortunately nobody seemed to be tweeting from Pam Kaur Gibbon’s talk on the impact of technology on CELTA courses. I spoke to her as part of the her research and would have been interested to see the results, as I’ve written about it previously.
Silvana Richardson spoke articulately and memorably about a huge issue in our field: discrimination against non-native speakers and the primacy of the native speaker. It was easily the best plenary I have seen at IATEFL, and I urge you to watch it yourself. Go on, I’ll wait.
OK, now that you’ve seen it (you have, haven’t you?), here are my thoughts. And if you haven’t seen it, read Lizzie Pinard’s summary of the plenary as it was happening. Then go and watch it to get the full effect. Have I told you you should watch this?
As Silvana said, why are we referring to over 80% of the teachers in our profession as a ‘non’? This implies that they are in some way inadequate or lacking, and leads to the continuation of the native speaker myth.
The words we say construct reality.
If we don’t think about what we are saying, and the impact of the words we are using, we are propagating the myth that ‘native speaker’ is better. This logic is faulty:
And in what way could this ever be considered correct?
The native speaker is the best model.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not the best model.
The native speaker is the ideal teacher.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not an ideal teacher.
What students really need is good teachers, and there are good and bad teachers from every language background, whether monolingual or multilingual. The language you are born speaking does not determine your ability to teach. They are two entirely different skill sets. As somebody said on Twitter:
We should not forget the ‘teaching’ part of ‘English teaching’. Linguistic competence should not be the only factor.
I agree completely that implying that native speakers are in someone superior, regardless of the teaching qualifications they possess, devalues our entire profession, and the hard work those of us who care about our jobs put into it. It is also damaging to the identities of those who suffer because of prejudices towards non-native speakers. The Johns of this world should not be allowed to teach without having to go out and get qualified:
And yes, I am fully aware that I may seem something of a hypocrite, as I started as a backpacking volunteer (though I knew I wanted to do the CELTA – which many might argue is not enough). I have friends who have used the luck of their native speaker identity to get jobs, although I am not aware of them having advertised themselves as such and I don’t know if they knew that this would have been a hell of a lot harder for somebody who was not born in one of the ‘inner circle’ three/four/six English-speaking countries.
Silvana included a lot of research findings in her plenary, the upshot of which is that there is inconclusive evidence as to whether students prefer ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ teachers. In fact, some students prefer non-natives, and some want a mixture of both. Very few seem to want natives only. (See Lizzie’s post or slides 31-42 of Silvana’s presentation (downloadable at the bottom of the page) for the full information about the findings) Slides 43 and 44 show the research referring to the perceived advantages and disadvantages of each type of teacher, although I would say that these are only at first, and many of these skills can be learnt through training. Having said that, I can never know what it is like to learn English as a second language, despite being an experienced language learner.
Ultimately, the ‘native speaker myth’ is just that, a myth. There is no research anywhere which conclusively proves that an L2 only classroom is better, or that students all prefer to be taught by ‘native speakers’, whatever they are.
“We need to find out more about this issue, become more aware. Write about equality for NESTS and NNEST.
Teachers: Join an advocacy campaign and show support. Write a statement supporting this campaign. Promote advocacy initiatives on social media. Start a discussion in your workplace to raise awareness. Do research, more is needed.
Teacher educators: review programmes in terms of the scope. What is the ultimate goal of these programmes? To develop well-rounded critical professionals or churning out skilled technicists who can produce monolingualism for export? Consider the content and methodology – is there critical exploration? Are they sufficiently inclusive? Sensitive to glocalisation? Using the students’ own language? What about bilingual identities? The elephant in the room is teacher’s own language proficiency – how can we help teachers develop this? [See the information about Damian William’s workshop below]
Workplace: Do you have an Equal Ops policy? Do you implement it? Are you proud of it? Do you challenge students’ expectations? Do you recruit based on merit?
Teachers associations: Issue a statement against the discrimination of NNESTs. TESOL France writes to employers who write native speakerist ads to discourage them from that. Create alignment maps of professional qualifications of teachers of EFL at regional, national and international levels. Encourage members not to apply for positions where advertisement is discriminatory.”
The plenary has already generated a lot of follow-up in the week since it happened. Here are a few examples:
Here’s Silvana talking before the plenary about the main issues covered:
Thank you so much to Silvana Richardson for bringing this issue out into the spotlight. There were many of us with tears in our eyes at the end of this plenary, including me, and it got a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope that this is the beginning of the end, and that we will soon all be able to say ‘I’m an English teacher.’ without anyone asking us where we were born.
(Addendum: Later posts which have arisen directly from Silvana’s plenary are:
NEST privilege by Jennie Wright)
Other sessions directly related to this dichotomy
Unfortunately I missed some other sessions which added to the debate, but thankfully Lizzie Pinard has reported on them. I recommend checking out her summaries:
Tackling Native Speakerism (panel discussion with Marek Kiczkowiak, Burcu Akyol, Christopher Graham, Josh Round)
Quote from Burcu Aykol: “It’s not about being NS or NNS, it’s about being qualified. Both have strengths and weaknesses, things found easier and more difficult. We need to free ourselves from our prejudices and stereotypes, leave aside prejudices to really talk about education.”
The Q&A follow up to Silvana’s plenary A quote from the audience: “It’s not dispensing with the idea of NS-NNS, it’s actually being equal and that equality to be placed on the basis of qualification and competence which includes language competence. But language competence doesn’t mean native modelling.”
Marek Kiczkowiak is one of the founders of TEFL Equity Advocates. I’ve shared one of their posts before, but for some reason had never put their badge onto my blog. This has now been remedied.
In this interview Marek and Burcu talk about some of the issues surrounding non-native teachers in ELT, and about the founding of TEFL Equity Advocates:
And finally, a couple of relevant tweet from Jack Richards’ talk:
Richards: Many language teachers aren’t native speakers-but how much English do you need/what kind? General/specialised proficiency? #IATEFL
One of the areas mentioned by Silvana and others as still holding some teachers back is their own language proficiency. Damian presented tips for help teachers to develop their English proficiency, and pointed out that there are very few books out there for this area, and it seems to be valued much lesson than developing other skills which are more directly related to teaching, like use of technology. For many teachers who have learnt English, their main use of it now is in the classroom, and they get little exposure to it with anyone other than their students.
He gave activities to incorporate raising linguistic awareness into methodology courses through guided discovery, and ways to highlight methodology within language courses aimed at teachers. Lizzie Pinard has a list of all of the activities in her summary of the session.
This is something I would like to develop at IH Bydgoszcz. It was an idea in the back of my head before, but now I would like to make it a priority and try to work out if we can offer something like this at the school next year.
The world’s language: using authentic non-native input in the classroom (Lewis Lansford)
Lewis is one of the authors of the new National Geographic Keynote series (of which I have contributed to the workbooks!) One of the things I particularly like about this series is that right the way from B1 up to C2 level, no distinction is made between L1 and L2 English speakers. The focus is on what they have to say, not which language they grew up speaking.
In his presentation, Lewis showed us clips from three TED talks:
The videos he shared include different stress patterns, ‘mistakes’ with grammar, and people who have ‘missed’ the target of native-like speech, but as he said, that is not the target they were aiming for. They are all successful communicators. Their accents are features, not hindrances, and they do not need to aim to lose them.
He spoke a little about English as Lingua Franca, and some of the features of this type of English. If you’d like to find out more, including ways of working with ELF in the classroom and other examples on L2 user models of English, I’d highly recommend the ELFpron blog.
Lewis highlighted the need to use international models of English to prepare our learners for the real world by training them in listening to authentic English from many different speakers. Unless they move to an English-speaking country, they are much much more likely to mostly speak to other L2 users than to L1 English users. They therefore need to hear other accents in the classroom to increase their awareness of cultural and linguistic differences in the way people use English, depending on their language background.
Can you hear me? Teacher perceptions of listening skills (Patricia Reynolds)
The fact that we need more exposure to different accents was echoed in a presentation by Dr. Patricia Reynolds. She showed us surprising findings from a research project she did which showed that many L2 users of English working as ESL teachers in the United States found it very difficult to assess the speaking proficiency of anyone from a different language background to their own. When she contacted the providers of a particular US English proficiency test, they said that anybody who had done the training could administer the test to the same standard, but this is not what she found in her research.
Non-natives score other non-natives’ spoken output more harshly than natives do.
This highlighted the fact that they (and, in fact, all of us!) need more exposure to a wide range of different accents in English before we can be expected to assess proficiency. This begs the question of how valid exam results are, and whether, for example, somebody who is unfamiliar with Arabic accents in English might grade more harshly than somebody who is used to them. It is also a question of increasing the confidence of her trainees so that they feel able to assess students from any language background fairly.
How many of you had coursework in your teacher training where you were required to listen to speakers with other accents?
This takes me back to my classroom at IH Newcastle, where I often had to ‘translate’ Arabic English to Spanish English to Chinese English etc, as students could not understand those from other L1 backgrounds, especially at lower levels.
It is an area which requires further investigation and awareness raising, particularly among the providers of standardised tests.
I really hope it won’t be long before the native/non-native issue is not an issue any more, but I know it will require work from everyone. If anybody would like to share their stories or write a blog post about their thoughts on this issue, I would be very happy to host them. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me through the comments.
This post brings together talks on a variety of topics which I have loosely grouped under the heading ‘supporting students’. It covers SEN (Special Educational Needs), dyslexia, students who find English scary, and other areas of inclusivity.
If this is an area that you’re interested in, you should consider joining IATEFL’s proposed new Special Interest Group (SIG) on Inclusive Practice and SEN. They need fifty people to sign up to be able to found the SIG.
Forum on special educational needs
Phil Dexter, Sharon Noseley and Sophie Farag presented in the forum on SEN. Phil gave a general overview of what SEN are, Sharon focussed on SEN in British universities (EAP – English for Academic Purposes) and Sophie suggested ways for teachers to adapt their lessons, not just to help students with SEN, but to help all students. You can watch the whole session here:
Impairments are not identities, but they can affect access.
– Phil Dexter
This makes me think of two recent podcasts I’ve listened to: Sign Language on Martha’s Vineyard from Stuff You Missed in History Class and Why I’m not just blind from BBC World Service’s The Why Factor – both podcasts I would highly recommend. The sign language episode talks about how it was normalised on Martha’s Vineyard, and everybody could use it regardless of whether they were deaf or not. The Why Factor talks about how blindness can come to define the identity of many people with little or no sight, and about society’s reactions to them.
Phil also showed us a clip from Rosie’s story My autism and me, where a girl with autism takes us into her world, and explains what makes her unique. 1 in every 100 children has some form of autism, but medical labelling can sometimes cause more problems than it solves since so many conditions co-occur or are on a spectrum.
Sharon has severely dyslexic family members, and has seen how dyslexia can affect their lives. She works with university students in the UK, and says that some of the problems her students have may be down to SEN, rather than cultural differences or a lack of English. For example, her son has trouble with telling the time and sequencing events, so how easily could he write an academic essay with correct cohesive devices?
Dyslexia can affect short-term memory and fine motor skills, and can therefore make note-taking in lectures very challenging. It can affect 1 in 5 learners. Some international students studying in the UK are not entitled to support as it comes out of the budget for home students.
English is a dyslexic language…[which]…actually causes more dyslexia than other languages.
– Schwartz (1999)
Sharon gave examples of three students she has worked with:
A student from Kuwait, diagnosed with dyslexia at 39 after comments from her English teacher. She was given a report in Kuwait, came to the UK, but it was noticed too late and she had to go home as she couldn’t cope with the pressure.
A Chinese student who was always late, handed in work late, and seemed to have no interest in the course. After Sharon spoke to her, it turned out she had trouble telling the time, was depressed because of the lack of support, and had no idea about SpLDs (Specific Learning Difficulties). She was diagnosed at Sharon’s university: “This report is my medicine and you are my nurse.”
A Cypriot student found out at 22 she is dyslexic, dyspraxic, and has ADD, after struggling to take the IELTS exam. She was supported through her MA and ended up passing with a merit, having created an app to help dyslexic children tell the time.
Sophie suggested using open-ended tasks in the classroom where possible, as there is no single, right answer, and students can work at their own speed. This benefits all students, not just those with SEN. It gives them the freedom to express themselves in the way that suits them best. Some examples of tasks might be journals, diaries, reflection or response tasks or making posters.
By using a dark font on a pale, non-white background, you can help your students to read slides more easily.
Activities can be differentiated in a variety of ways:
by outcome: let students choose whether to make a video, do a presentation or draw a comic strip in response to a prompt.
by resource: e.g. longer, more complex texts for higher-level students, for example through Newsela.
by task: having different activities for different students, or having a worksheet with tasks which get harder as students progress through it. Have extensions for students who finish first. If students want to work alone, let them, unless there is a key reason why they should work together.
Listening/reading differentiation example: A writes notes/summary on blank paper; B has gapped summary; C has multiple-choice.
Writing differentiation example: A has no support, B has guiding questions; C has outline/incomplete text to complete.
Some tools which might be useful:
Voicethread: learners can choose whether to respond by writing, recording an audio comment, or recording a video comment. They can also doodle while recording.
Quizlet: students can play the games which suit them. It is multi-sensory, you can print a list or cards with the vocabulary, and you can hear the words. [See my student guide to Quizlet]
Newsela: up-to-date news articles presented at five different reading levels. You can annotate articles, and many of them have a little quiz.
My Study Bar: a toolbar which can be downloaded onto a USB stick and used on any computer. Designed to help dyslexic students read and write more easily on computers.
Other tips that came out of the talks were to recycle more and revise more to help students build on their short-term memory, to use as many different ways of encountering the language as possible (see it, hear it, have a picture etc), and to consider what other ways tests can be administered in, as giving extra time often isn’t sufficient. One audience member suggested using stop-start-continue as a way of getting feedback from students on if/how they want you to change the lessons to suit them better.
Teaching English to students with SEN: Challenges and opportunities (Marie Delaney)
I bought Marie’s book Special Educational Needs – Into the Classroom [affiliate link] just before the talk (and reviewed it later), so I couldn’t miss seeing her in action 🙂 At first glance, it looks like a very practical book, broken into sections with tips for teachers about various different Special Educational Needs, including dyslexia and ADD.
Marie started off by telling us that many boys in the UK would prefer to be thought of as naughty than ‘labelled’ as having SEN. Behavioural difficulties isn’t just about being ‘naughty’ though – these students need more support. Every school should have a register of children with medical conditions of any kind, including epilepsy or allergies, not just SEN.
One of the main problems is that the definition of SEN is quite woolly:
Students have special educational needs if they have significantly greater difficulty [how much?] in learning than the majority of students of the same age and special educational provision [what?] has to be made for them.
Marie’s general message is that it is possible for anyone to support their students, and that we shouldn’t expect to just magically know how to do this. As with any skill, it is a question of exposure, experience, and asking for help when you need it. Remember to ask students and parents, as they probably have a lot more experience of dealing with the day-to-day realities of SEN than you do. They should be able to tell you something about what works for them. Here are some typical teacher concerns:
I am not qualified to teach these learners.
Other children’s learning will suffer if we include children with SEN.
Other parents/carers will complain.
It takes a lot of extra planning and different types of activities.
These children cannot become independent learners.
Most of the tips are about ‘good solid teaching strategies’ and will therefore benefit all of our learners.
You might be able to get away with poor instructions with many students, but a student with problems with their short-term memory will need you to give instructions in the order you want them performed, and one at a time so that they don’t forget them.
Focus on what they are good at too, not just what they can’t do.
To counter parents’ concerns (while still acknowledging them), remind them that there are benefits to inclusion: their children will learn empathy and will get a broader, more diverse view of the world. Research shows that children benefit from this.
When talking to parents, focus on the fact that you want to help all of the students to learn as much as possible, rather than focussing on the SEN.
Think about how you react if a child says ‘He’s your favourite.’ Children do understand who needs help: ‘I don’t know why you’re upset. I know you’re a kind person and you know that everybody needs more help sometimes.’
If you’re planning for hours for something you’ll only use for a few minutes, think again about your planning! [Also generally true of many first-year teachers!]
Measure progress, not attainment. Be encouraging and supportive, and don’t focus on marks. Don’t focus too much on behaviour either, as some children may then become disengaged from learning. (Marie told a story of a boy who was proud because he’d sat still throughout a lesson, but when questioned had no idea what subject it was!)
Don’t speak to the teaching assistant or talk down to the child. Speak to them in the same way you would any other member of the group.
Get students with anxiety to tell you about the feelings they are having. It’s OK to be anxious.
Use Find Someone Who… or finish the story type tasks to develop empathy between all of the students.
Ask students to show fingers based on how fit they are for learning: 10 is excellent, 1 is I’m not listening [Or ‘give me the prosecco’ in this case! We got an average of five, in the last session of day 3 of the conference!]
Edit the language you use. Rather than ‘You’re not listening. Listen.’ which can lead to a defensive response, try ‘I need you to listen.’
Separate your description of the behaviour from what you think it means.
Get students to share the thought processes behind how they do activities. ‘You’re good at pelmanism/pairs. How do you remember which card it is?’
Acknowledge behaviour: ‘I understand you think it is unfair, but I still need you to do it.’
Give ‘naughty’ children a job straight away. They are more likely to fight to keep a job than to try to behave in the way you request in order to be rewarded with it.
Some children with ADD are hyper-alert and always on the lookout for danger. Ask them where they NEED to sit, e.g. by the door for easy escape, or at the back so they can see everything.
Marie left us with the point that a lot of our approaches imply that the child should change, but what about school systems? If somebody’s wearing glasses, you wouldn’t assume that you know how to help them, so why do we do it if somebody with autism is in our class? Labels mean we might assume that all of our learners are the same. This is not true at all.
We cannot solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking which created them.
Marie’s blog has a lot more information and links to her other books.
How to help students who find English scary (Ken Wilson)
Ken started by saying that the problem with good and bad teaching is that we often know what not to do, but it’s not always easy to say what we should do instead. He also pointed out that none of us in the room were scary, because scary teachers don’t go to conferences 🙂
Question 1: Are they scared, or are they just bored?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell! Students get bored when they sit for too long, when the teacher talks too much, when it’s all talk and no action, when things are too complicated or too easy for them, when they can’t relate to the material, when they’re tired, when the lesson is boring… They might also be suffering from tech withdrawal, so try to include at least one activity where they can use their technology! (Sandy: Kahoot is great for this)
Ken asked his facebook friends what they used to dread about going to class. Here are some of the themes from the answers:
The teacher shaming the students
The teacher telling them off
Reading aloud in front of the class
So, things not to do:
DON’T single out a student for criticism.
DON’T reprimand students who are already having problems.
DON’T ask students to do something that you haven’t trained them to do.
DON’T ask students to read aloud.
But that’s a lot of ‘don’ts’, so what should we do? Ken has five tips:
Don’t teach grammar!
Or at least, don’t introduce it as such. ‘Today we’re going to do the present perfect.’
Instead, teach the language in chunks wherever you can. Have a conversation, tell a story, draw a cartoon, use a diagram, do a role play. Introduce it in context first, and make it fun whenever you can. And most importantly: don’t look like you’ve had an electric shock when you have to correct grammar 🙂
Devolve responsibility In a class of 25-30, how long is it before you know which students respond best to your teaching method? Pick the ten ‘best’ students in class, ask them to see you after the lesson, then get them to help you support the ‘weaker’ students. ‘When I say get into groups, I want you all to work in different groups, not together. I need you to help me to help everyone.’
Work with group dynamics and build confidence to help them get to know each other. What makes us different? Get all students to stand up, share statements about yourself (the teacher) and ask them to sit down if the statement is not true. By the end you should find out who is most similar to you 🙂 They can repeat this in groups.
Find out what they already know
Use this to help you personalise the experience of using coursebooks. At the beginning of the year/book, give students a list of some of the topics in the book, e.g. moon landings, sharks, fashion. Get them to write one fact each on post-it notes, then give them to another student. Don’t read them yourself! Student’s read each others notes, then stick them into their coursebook on the relevant page. When you get to that unit, ask them to tell you what they know about X as a warmer.
Flip the lesson.
Do the homework before the lesson rather than afterwards to increase their confidence. Anticipate the following lesson. For example, give them the name of a person you will read about. Showing them a picture and ask them to make predictions. Tell them to find another picture of that person at home and send it to the teacher. This will raise their interest.
Mystery tip! Unfortunately Ken ran out of time! Hopefully he’ll share it in the comments for this post 😉
Tweets from other talks
Throughout the conference, I retweet anything which I think is interesting from other tweeters. These tweets are all related to supporting students in some way.