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

Archive for the ‘IATEFL Manchester 2015’ Category

My IATEFL history

Today was supposed to be the first day of IATEFL Manchester 2020, but what with one thing and another during The Great Pause, plans have changed, and instead it’s the first day of the IATEFL Global Get-Together. Inspired by Katherine Martinkevich and a huge bout of nostalgia, here is a self-indulgent post of some of my favourite photos from the IATEFL conferences I’ve been lucky enough to attend, along with links to my talks from each year. Putting it together led me down a lot of rabbit holes of talks and links I’d forgotten about!

Glasgow 2012

My first conference, which I attended when I was lucky enough to win one of the two IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, alongside Ana Ines Salvi, who has now become a friend.

Go online: getting your students to use internet resources was my first IATEFL presentation, and I’m very pleased to see that the tools I spoke about then are almost all still available. Quizlet and Edmodo are particularly useful right now. These two photos were taken at the end of my talk, and summarise the key part of the IATEFL conference and organisation for me: the people.

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk

The Twitterati after my session

The Twitterati after my session 🙂 (photo by Cecilia Lemos)

Liverpool 2013

One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had, with these wonderful people:

I presented about the Personal Study Programme at IH Newcastle, where I was working at the time.

Harrogate 2014

This photo is in my office:

It was my first IATEFL birthday, with Ela Wassell getting lots of people to sign a card for me.

My IATEFL 2014 birthday card

The day ended with a birthday meal at Wagamamas, with a waiter holding a lighter over a plate of plain rice and chicken for me to blow out while my friends sang happy birthday. This was the second week of my crazy diet – without my IATEFL friends, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants and push them to cater for me.

My presentation was Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening.

I was also very excited to take part in the Pecha Kucha night with these fantastic people, talking about 19 things I’ve learnt about as an EFL teacher. < You can still watch the PKs in that post.

Manchester 2015

A great quiz night team:

Quiz team

Ela’s surprise baby shower:

This was the first year I attended a Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event, probably the single most useful day I’ve ever spent at IATEFL. It was called The Material Writer’s Toolkit.

My talk was called Write more! Making the most of student journals.

I shared lots of other conference photos in this summary.

Birmingham 2016

This was the first year that I attended as part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (now the Membership and Marketing Committee), and the first year I mentored another presenter. This was the year the IATEFL blog was born, which I curated until September 2018, and through which I met a lot of wonderful people and enjoyed hearing their stories. (The blog now lives here and is called Views.) It was great to feel like I could give something back to this community that has given me so much.

I was excited to see my name in print for the first time:

My talk was Taking back time: how to do everything you want to do.

Here’s my summary, with lots of my people photos.

Glasgow 2017

I took part in the Pecha Kucha debate on whether teachers should be paid more than bankers. There’s a recording in my summary blogpost. I didn’t present as my talk wasn’t accepted (completely justified – my idea was very wishy-washy!)

Apparently this was the year of no photos – I was clearly too busy having fun, including another IATEFL birthday, this time on the day of the MAWSIG PCE 🙂

Brighton 2018

By this stage, IATEFL is about meeting up with old friends.

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

James (who appears in both of those photos) showed a group of us around the stunning Brighton Pavilion, seen in the background below beyond other friends.

I presented my first How To session, jointly with Mike Harrison. We told people How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. Mike also produced a fantastic Sketchnote version of my talk, in which I introduced ELT Playbook 1 for the first time:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My conference summary is here.

Liverpool 2019

The inaugural TEFL Commute Games Night took place in Liverpool, immortalised in this podcast episode:

It was the third time I had an IATEFL birthday, my favourite kind of birthday 🙂

I How To-ed again in Liverpool, this time on How to present at an international conference. This morning was supposed to be a reprise of this talk for Manchester. My main talk was called Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher proficiency on student learning, in which I described my experienced of teaching Polish with a B1 level in the language.

I haven’t got round to writing up my tweets into posts from Liverpool yet – it’s a good job I’ve got another year to do it 😉 though hopefully it won’t take that long!

2020 online get-together

This year life is all a bit different. Instead of another MAWSIG PCE yesterday, and day one of the conference today, it’s day one of a two-day online get together. It’s open to anyone, and videos will be available to members afterwards. So far I’ve attended two fascinating sessions by David Crystal on language change and Tammy Gregersen on teacher wellbeing. The full programme is here. I’ll be speaking as part of a panel on online learning at the end of day 2. See you there!

Categorising writing mistakes

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).

Russian journal

Russian journal

Have you tried anything similar?

IATEFL Manchester 2015: A summary

This has been my most enjoyable IATEFL conference so far.

Starting with the MaWSIG PCE (Materials Writing Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event) and ending with Carol Ann Duffy’s plenary, I was privileged to see a range of quality talks covering all kinds of areas which I summarised in the posts below:

I gave a talk on using journals with students which went well, despite a couple of initial technical hitches – thanks for your help, David! I missed a few talks I wanted to see, but have managed to catch up with at least some of them through the power of the internet.

I was very happy to win two prizes, one of which was a book which was on my wishlist, and I also bought myself a couple of other books I wanted.

The conference centre, Manchester Central, was excellent: easy to get to, easy to navigate, clean, modern, and with excellent wifi – I never had to fight it once! I managed to tweet throughout: according to the downloader I’ve used to help me compile my posts, I sent about 1500 tweets during the conference! I appreciated the responses I got which justified me doing so. Those tweets have also enabled me to put together my blogposts after the conference.

However, as always, the highlight of the conference was the people. I met a few members of my PLN (professional learning network) who I’ve been wanting to meet for a very long time.

Sandy with Tyson Seburn

Lots of the lovely followers of my blog came and said hello and thank you – it makes it all worth it! There were also lots of comments about how much tweeting I did and Jo Budden challenged Joe Dale and I to a tweet-off. Next year?

Sandy Millin and Joe Dale

Our team came joint second in the quiz night:

Quiz team

There was a baby shower, with lots of PLN love.

I caught up with good friends, and missed a few who were absent (See you next year, Katy?).

James, Laura and Sandy

I had dinner with CELTA and Delta trainers, and very much enjoyed listening to their stories, as well as lunch with my fellow curators from ELTpics (We missed you Julie!) I also had lunch with my CELTA tutors, being able to properly catch up for the first time since I finished my course in February 2008.

And that’s not to mention all the random encounters in passing throughout the conference:

Marjorie and Sandy

Thank you IATEFL, and see you in Birmingham next year!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: The ones I missed

For various reasons, not least the sheer size of the conference, there were various talks I missed during IATEFL. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with some of them through tweets, videos and/or blogposts. Here’s a selection of them:

The ear of the beholder: helping learners understand different accents – Laura Patsko

Laura’s talk was on at the same time as mine so I wasn’t able to watch it. I know it started with her ‘having a cold’ to demonstrate how we can make meaning evefn when the sounds we hear don’t correspond with our expectations, and I’m intrigued to hear more about her suggestions. She’s shared her presentation, and hopefully there will be a video of at least some of it soon!

Here’s one of her tweets from another point in the conference:

Fostering autonomy: harnassing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Lizzie‘s talk was also in the same slot as mine and Laura’s – so many possible times and they put us all on in the same one! Lizzie has written a lot about autonomy on her blog, and demonstrated it with her own Italian learning. The aspect of learner training is key when trying to encourage autonomy, and is one I’m sure Lizzie’s presentation would have helped me with. Thankfully, she’s blogged about it as has Olga Sergeeva, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it first-hand. I’m hoping the gods of IATEFL shine on all three of us next year and put us on at separate times!

Where are the women in ELT? – Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis

As with last year, the talk which Russ was involved in is one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. Nicola and Russ picked a subject which is another very important discussion point, after Russ tackled the myths of EFL in 2014. [Original text (see comments for why I’ve kept this) As with last year, Russ’s talk is the one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. He has a way of picking subjects which are very good discussion points, and this year he was ably assisted by Nicola Prentis.] Their talk immediately followed my own and was in a tiny room, so I knew it was wishful thinking to believe I might get in, but I tried anyway. A whole group of us were waiting outside, disappointed. Last year Russ’s talk was officially recorded (content is currently being updated on the IATEFL 2014 site), and Russ and Nicola have recorded their own version this year – thank you! This area is one of particular interest to me, being a woman and in ELT as I am. 🙂 Through the Fair List, I’d become aware of the fact that plenary speakers at conferences are often men speaking to a room full of women, which seems odd. As I understand it, Russ and Nicola were questioning the fact that men feature dispropotionately at the ‘top’ of the ELT profession, despite it being a female-dominated one in general.

They did an interview about it which you can watch as a taster:

Here are two of the blog posts which were triggered by their talk, both of which have fascinating discussions in the comments which are well worth reading:

  • He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Steve Brown highlights the amount of time that the ‘big’ names highlighted in Russ and Nicola’s talk have been at the top (something which they mentioned in their interview too)
  • P is for Power: Scott Thornbury questions the balance of power in the ELT profession, not just in terms of gender, but also covering native/non-native speakers and the socio-economic circumstances that teaching takes place in.

Russ and Nicola have also set up their own website to examine gender equality in ELT, with a lot more information about their research. At other points in the conference there were tweets about increasing the number of non-native speakers visible at conferences and in the global community.

Walk before you run: reading strategies for Arabic learners – Emina Tuzovic

I saw Emina speaking about helping Arabic students with spelling at IATEFL last year, and she subsequently very kindly wrote a guest post summarising her talk for this blog. I’m hoping to encourage her to do the same again this year, as her ideas are very practical and deal with areas which there isn’t much coverage of in the literature I’ve read.

People, pronunciation and play – Luke Meddings

Luke shared a couple of his ideas in an interview:

I really like Luke’s focus on playing with language, which is something I’ve become more and more interested in.

Olga Sergeeva went to Luke’s talk and wrote a summary of the whole thing, although she admitted it was difficult because they were laughing too much!

Tools, tips and tasks for developing materials writing skills – John Hughes

John has shared his slides, which gives me a taster of the tips he has for developing these skills. I think the most important idea is to ‘develop a materials radar’, which echoes what Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones talked about in their presentation on using images at the MAWSIG PCE.

Technology

Mike Harrison talked about using Vine to make short videos, and Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova looked at apps on the iPad to do the same.
Here’s an idea from Nicky Hockley to use a mobile phone to practise past continuous:

If you’re considering whether to use technology in your class or not, this handout could be useful:

Random tweets

These are things which I retweeted because they made me think. I’m sharing them here to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts and to see what you think. They’re loosely grouped into topics where possible.

Student abilities
Memory and engagement

These link back to Joy Egbert’s plenary.

Materials design and the importance of editors

An opportunity for anyone wanting to get into materials design?

This looks amazing!

…and on Twitter!

And if you decide to self-publish:

Research

Patsy’s accompanying blogpost is available on the OUP blog.

Empowering teachers

Yes, yes, yes to all of these!

Training and professional development
Management

(Hoping the rate of sickness at IH Bydgoszcz doesn’t go up when I take over as DoS!) 😉

About language
Pronunciation
Dyslexia
Miscellaneous

Other people’s blogging

Lots of people were blogging throughout the conference. You can find a full list of all of the IATEFL Manchester registered bloggers on the ManchesterOnline site.

IATEFL Manchester Online 2015 registered blogger

As always, Lizzie Pinard was very prolific, and has helpfully indexed all of her posts. Apart from the plenaries, I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to above. Tyson Seburn wrote about his bite-sized takeaways from the conference. Jen McDonald summarised the talks she saw in short paragraphs. The British Council had a number of roving reporters at the conference, one of whom was David Dodgson.

IATEFL online

Apart from the many sources I’ve mentioned above, there is, of course, the wonderful resources that is IATEFL online, full of interviews and recorded sessions, at least some of which I hope to find the time to watch at some point in the future. Are there any you would particularly recommend?

IATEFL Manchester 2015: In the classroom

I’ve moved away from the classroom over the past year, so for the first time at IATEFL I didn’t go to many talks which fitted this category. I got some interesting ideas from all three talks, and can’t wait to try to put them into practice when I finally do get back into the classroom in September!

A new way to teach reading – Ken Lackman

Ken‘s title seemed like a pretty dramatic claim, but that’s exactly what he showed us, and I really want to try it out!

He started by telling us some of the problems with the traditional approach to reading, mostly the fact that many of the skills used in the classroom are not easily transferable to real life. Students don’t have tasks like a pre-set gist question or vocabulary that somebody else has pre-selected from the text for them when they read texts outside the classroom.

He decided that there must be a better way to prepare students for reading in real life, and this is what he came up with, working through a demo lesson based on a short story as an example for us. You can get the story Ken used with us (A Secret Lost in the Water) as well as more information about the whole process by going to his website, clicking on Activity books > A New Way To Teach Reading > IATEFL.

  • What are the key characteristics of a short story? List them.
    e.g. Only two or three characters. One or two settings.
  • Turn these characteristics into questions. e.g. Where is it set? What is the relationship between the characters?
  • Show students the title. They add to the list of questions.
  • (Optional: Collect questions on the board.)
  • Choose one of the questions as a good gist question.
  • Read for gist, answering the question selected. As a side note, one of my favourite moments of the whole conference was how Ken got us to read fast: everybody stood up, and had to sit down once they had the answer. Still standing after everyone else has sat down? Too slow!
  • Choose other questions from the list as comprehension questions.
  • Read again more slowly to answer them.
  • Underline any words which you’re not sure of the meaning of.
  • Choose one of the words and analyse it to try to decide the meaning: What part of speech is it? Are there any clues in the parts of the word (e.g. prefixes/suffixes)? Do the adjacent words help? Come up with a synonym or phrase which you could replace it with and try it in the space. Does it make sense? Repeat as necessary.
  • Choose 10 collocations that you think are really useful for you.
  • Compare your list with a partner.
  • Divide the class into groups, each with a different coloured board marker.
  • Groups come up with discussion questions related to the text. They can’t be yes/no questions and you shouldn’t be able to find the answer in the text. Write them on the board.
  • Students choose some of the questions from the board and discuss them.

This strategy was very engaging as all of the questions were written and selected by us, and we managed to create the questions before we’d seen the text, in a way that is eminently transferable to any text type and can easily be used outside the classroom too. Repeated practice using the same lesson structure will make students more confident with their reading, and similar staging can also be applied to listening too. It encourages greater awareness of the conventions of different genres which should have a knock-on effect with writing too. If students are unfamiliar with a particular genre, you can analyse it with them the first time they see it. Vocabulary is chosen by the students rather than the materials writer, and they decide what is and isn’t useful for them. There is a lot of processing, which aids memorisation, and students are able to check it in a dictionary too if they want to. Coming up with their own discussion questions promotes critical thinking and a deeper reading of the text.

Recoleta church book

Academic reading circles: improving learner engagement and text comprehension – Tyson Seburn

Tyson’s EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students often have trouble understanding texts to a deep enough level to be able to discuss them intellectually or engage with them in their written work. When reading, they tended to treat texts very superficially and only deal with problems with lexis, with looking at the concepts at all. Academic Reading Circles were developed out of the idea of literature circles as a way to address this by dividing students into small groups and assigning them different roles to break down a text. Each group works on a single text and has time to prepare before the lesson. They then come together and share their knowledge to build up a deeper understanding of the text.

  • Leader: gauges group comprehension and situates the text for the other students, dealing with the purpose for reading, source, target audience, etc. They create one or two questions about the text to gauge understanding.
  • Contextualiser: picks out contextual references like times, dates, places and people and finds out more about them.
  • Visualiser: finds anything from the text which can be visually represented, e.g. maps, photos, videos, etc.
  • Connector: makes connections to outside sources, for example other events, other sources or their own experience.
  • Highlighter: focuses on linguistic problems, e.g. unknown vocabulary, topic specific language, anything which shows the feeling/attitude of the author.

The students deal with up to five texts per term, and no more than one per week, rotating the roles through the term. Academic reading circles lead to deeper comprehension and their writing also improves as a result, including a greater use of topic-specific language.

Lizzie Pinard wrote a summary of the session. You can read more about Academic Reading Circles on Tyson’s blog, and he is working with The Round to produce a book about them. I’m sure there must be away to apply this approach to other kinds of reading group too.

Classic exercises and why they work in the 21st century – Hanna Kryszewska

Hanna is the editor of Humanising Language Teaching magazine (always looking for articles!), which has a section called ‘Old Exercises’. These act as useful reminders of things you might have forgotten. She is also a believer in ‘thinking routines’, the idea that we need to make thinking processes visible to students. This can be draining but is very useful, so should be done little and often. Here are examples of classic activities combined with thinking routines:

  • Questions: Show students an artwork/poem. Give them post-it notes. Every time they have a question, they write it on the post-it and stick it to the board. The questions can be as deep or as trivial as they like. Students then go away and find the answers to their questions.
  • Tug-of-war: Show an image/quote etc conncted to an issue which could be debated. Hanna’s example was images of the Aral Sea showing how it has dried up over the last few decades. Students put their opinions on post-it notes, then rearrange them according to where they would fit in a debate. It’s a good way of dealing with potentially controversial issues.
  • Numbers: Students chose numbers which are important to them, then share why with other students. They aren’t forced to give information which they don’t want to, as would be the case if the teacher supplied questions for them to answer.
  • Mingle: Find two things in common with each person in the class. You can’t repeat them. Once they’ve finished, each student draws around their hand. Other students write what they learnt about their classmates in the relevant hand.
  • Thank you: Stick a piece of paper on each person’s back. Students write what they’d like to thank each person for – again, it can be as trivial or as deep as the students want.
  • All correct: In an multiple choice exercise which should have only one correct answer, get the students to justify why any of the answers could be right. This works particularly well with answers where changing the tone of voice could make a big difference.
  • Senses: Dictate the five senses. Then dictate random words, with students deciding which sense to allocate it to. They then share answers.
  • Map: In a similar way, give students a blank map. Dictate words and students write them where they ‘should’ be, entirely based on their own opinions, before sharing answers.
  • Playing cards 1: Hanna has a set of playing cards with pictures of artworks on them. She selects three at random and arranges them on a piece of paper. Students have to justify why they are arranged like that.
  • Playing cards 2: Each group gets 6 cards. They choose 3 and arrrange them. Other groups then have to say why they were arranged like that. They can then compare their justifications.
  • Exploiting the coursebook: After using a text, students are challenged to write questions to which there are no answers in the book/text. Another group then gets the questions and has to rewrite the text to include the answers.
  • Vocabulary: Draw a picture of a bicycle, but you can only include the parts that you know the names for in English. Choose which six items you need to learn to be able to compelte your picture. This is particularly good for mixed-level groups.
  • Shapes: Each group gets five slips of paper. On each they write one part of the body and arrange them into the approximate shape of a body. The teacher can offer/add more words. Students then group the words according to different categories, e.g. touching the bed/not touching the bed, important for work/not important for work.
  • Points of view 1: Have three chairs. Each represents one role, e.g. mother, daughter, dead guinea pig. Students ask questions and decide who should answer them, e.g. Was she a good owner?
  • Points of view 2: Set up a roleplay situation, e.g. breakfast time. Students start the rolleplay, but anyone watching can step in and take over at any point.

By encouraging visible thinking we encourage different points of view, build community and encourage critical thinking. You also move away from the ‘tyranny of the correct answer’. Start with simpler activities (like numbers/mingle) to introduce these ideas slowly and to build an atmosphere of sharing in the classroom.
You can find out more about thinking routines in the book Making Thinking Visible [affiliate link].

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Professional Development and Management

From August I’ll be the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland, and in preparation for this I’ve been reading and listening to blogs, books and podcasts about management. Observation will also be a key part of my role, as well as being relevant to my work as a CELTA tutor. I’ve therefore grouped the talks I saw at IATEFL on these topics into a single post.

Forum on peer observation

This was my first experience of an IATEFL forum, and I decided to go on the spur of the moment. I’m glad I did, as it gave me ideas for how to encourage teachers to take part in a peer observation programme, and showed me some of the potential problems with setting one up.

EFL Teachers and Peer Observation: beliefs, challenges and implications – Gihan Ismail

Gihan works at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. She decided to research how experienced EFL teachers (5-20 years) perceive peer observation, in contrast to most research which focuses on relatively inexperienced teachers.

Experienced teachers had multiple identities as teachers which came into conflict when considering peer observation, contrasting their personal identity and the value of the observation to them as individuals with their professional identity and observations as CPD (continuing professional development). Her findings showed that there was a relatively negative attitude towards peer observation, despite experienced teachers knowing that it can be beneficial. This encompassed the following factors:

  • School culture.
  • How the outcome of observations may influence their career.
  • Psychological/emotional tensions, including a potential distrust in the peer doing the observation.
  • Feeling threatened because there’s a risk that they might lose some of their reputation if the peer doesn’t understand what they are doing.
  • A rejection of changes in their habits: comfort zones are difficult to leave.
  • Doubt in the outcome of any changes they might make as a result of observations.
  • The potential stress involved in participating in peer observations, and the fact that this can be avoided by doing other forms of CPD, like going to conferences.

Their beliefs were also shaped by past experience and ‘professional coursework’ (e.g. formalised training, books read).

Most studies focus on external factors influencing whether teachers are willing to participate in peer observation schemes, but Ismail found that actually internal factors were dominant. For example, issues like fear and/or a potential loss of face in front of a less experienced colleague were more likely to make teachers want to avoid peer observation than factors imposed by their employer. It wasn’t helped by the fact that in most cases there was no pre-observation meeting to set up what the observed teacher and the peer wanted to get out of the observation. Her research suggests that teacher needs should be examined more carefully in workplaces, where student needs tend to dominate and teachers’ needs are secondary.

Peer observation: introducing a system that actually works for everyone – Shirley Norton

Shirley described a successful peer observation scheme which was set up at the London School of English, where teachers have between five and thirty-five years of experience.

Before the scheme was set up, peer observation was:

  • officially encouraged, but rarely happened unless there was an inspection.
  • management-led, with teachers being told who they should see.
  • contrasted with the atmosphere of collaboration in the staffroom: you can’t come into my classroom!
  • mostly focussed on quality control, rather than developmental aims.

To be able to implement a peer observation scheme which would work, they started with a questionnaire to collect opinions about peer observation, and discovered many points which echoed Gihan’s findings in the previous presentation. Everyone agreed peer observation was a good thing, but nobody actually wanted to do it!

All the research Shirley did said that teachers need to be involved from the beginning when setting up schemes like this, so that’s what she did. They had a focus group discussing the possible benefits of peer observations and potential obstacles. All ideas were accepted, and they came up with over 100 obstacles! Previously, this is where they had stopped when thinking of such schemes, but this time they went through each obstacle and came up with potential solutions. This led to the creation of clear guidelines for the scheme, including the role of the observer and the teacher, how to give feedback, and how to focus on development rather than judgement. Throughout her talk Shirley emphasised the importance of these guidelines, and the fact that a peer observation scheme is unlikely to be effective without them. Guidelines on feedback are particularly important, as this is where observation systems often fall down. Here are some examples:

  • Problem: Increased workload for teachers.
    Solution: No formal paperwork required for management. Peer observation is supposed to be development, and there doesn’t need to be proof of this. It’s between the teachers involved.
  • Problem: Lack of management buy-in.
    Solution: Make it a sacred part of the timetable and find a way to ensure it is never dropped.
  • Problem: There’s no chair for the observer.
    Solution: The teacher doing the observation provides the chair.

Spending time on these ‘what ifs’ makes teachers more relaxed and more likely to want to participate. No matter how minor they may seem, these are genuine fears which may scupper your programme, so you need to take them seriously.

The scheme has gone through various incarnations, with Shirley trying to match teachers up with their observation wishlists (logistical nightmare), then telling them who to observe (teachers were unhappy), before finally settling on teachers deciding for themselves (success!)

Now each teacher has an allocated week in the school year which is their opportunity to peer observe. Within that week they are allowed to choose anybody to observe and they will be covered if necessary to enable them to do so. This happens regardless of anything else going on in the school (illness, inspections etc) as otherwise the programme would fall apart. Up to two teachers may have the same week allocated – more than that makes it difficult to cover everyone. Even generally disengaged teachers did peer observations willingly with this system. As for those being observed, you can only say no to somebody coming into your classroom if you’ve been observed within the previous four weeks. Observations are included on the school’s weekly planner and email reminder is sent out to those being observed. Management doesn’t tell them who or what to observe: that is entirely up to the teachers involved. The only requirements from management are that each observation has three steps: pre-observation meeting, observation, post-observation meeting (these can be as long or as short as the participants like). Everything above is codified in the guidelines for the scheme.

Overall, the aim of the scheme is to share best practice, with everyone learning from each other.

Peer observation: making it work for lasting CPD – Carole Robinson and Marie Heron

Maria and Carole work at NILE, where there is a relatively high turnover of teachers. These are the benefits of peer observation as they see them:

  • New ideas.
  • Learning ways of dealing with critical incidents in the classroom.
  • Building peer-peer trust.
  • Observing learners from a different perspective (when observing a class you also teach).
  • Extended professional development.
  • Enjoyment!

They have tried a variety of different peer observation systems. An open-door policy was seen as being too radical, so they decided to have a sign-up sheet instead. Teachers have been issued with red cards which they can put outside their door if they feel it would be a bad time for an observer to come into their lesson. Although they have never been used, it makes them feel safer and more willing to accept observers.

Because of the problem of cover, many observations are only 10-minutes. These are particularly useful at the beginning of a class as teachers are more likely to be willing to relinquish their students to another teacher at this point while they go and observe. Once every two weeks, they also run workshop sessions for the students which require fewer teachers than traditional classes do, leaving teachers free to observe other classes.

Other possible observation systems are:

  • Blind observations: The lesson is discussed before and after it happens, but there is no observer in the room during the class.
  • Video observations: The lesson is discussed before, videoed on a mobile phone, then specific sections of the lesson are watched with the observer. This removed the fear of having another person in the room.

The pre-observation chat is very important, regardless of the manner of observation. This is when the focus of the observation is decided on as well as how feedback will be conducted.

To reduce paperwork, teachers only complete an observation log showing the time, date and focus of observations. No other paperwork is required by management. To maximise their potential, observations take place throughout the year, rather than only once or twice, and they vary in length to help teachers fit them in. Teachers are encouraged to keep a reflective journal of what they have learnt from the observations, both as observed and observer. They don’t have to show it to anyone, but can if they want to: What have I learnt? What questions does it pose?

Peer observations are also the subject of workshops the school holds, including discussion about how to develop the scheme further. These workshops take the form of debates and happen every 2-3 months, covering a whole variety of topics (not just peer observations). They sound like an interesting idea, and one I’d like to experiment with.

Better together: peer coaching for continuing professional development – Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell

Ela has been telling me about the peer coaching project she has been running with Dita over the past year since it started, so I had to go to this talk to find out how it all panned out in the end 🙂

Dita and Ela met at IATEFL Harrogate last year, and quickly realised that they had quite similar teaching profiles in terms of their experience and length of time in the classroom. They were also both based in Oxford.

Ela returned to the classroom at around the same time, having taught 121 for a long time. She asked Dita to observe her to check some of her classroom management techniques. Dita asked Ela to observe in return because she didn’t want to get stuck in a rut. They found the experience so useful that they decided they wanted to turn it into something more formal, and their peer coaching project was born.

Peer coaching is:

A confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace.

Robbins, P (1991) How to plan and implement a peer coaching programme Alexandria, VA; Association for Supervision Curriculum Development (may be a slight mistake in the reference – tweet not clear)

Or, as they said:

Reflecting together, learning from each other.

Their project involved:

  • Listing their individual and professional goals before the project started.
  • Meeting regularly to discuss their lessons, things they had read/watched and teaching in general, working together to solve problems and build their knowledge. Because they were working with an experienced peer, the discussions could go into a lot of depth. They supported each other as critical friends.
  • Observing each other’s lessons for specific details. They originally taught at different schools, but Ela later moved to Dita’s school. They told their managers what they were doing, and received support with timetabling (among other things) to make their project possible.
  • Audio and video recording lessons.
  • Giving feedback to each other on lessons and suggesting small tweaks they could make to change them.
  • Keeping a teaching diary, which formed the basis for future meetings and ideas for observations. Ela colour-coded hers: change, improve, important.
  • Teaching each other’s classes: they could focus on their learners while the other teacher led the class. When students asked why this was happening, it evolved into a discussion about the nature of teaching and learning, and students were interested in how they were developing their teaching. As a result, Dita became more comfortable with asking her students for feedback on lessons.
  • For Dita, the project encouraged her to leave her comfort zone, and she decided to work on a CELTA at a different centre, giving her more material for development and reflection.

These are the benefits of peer coaching according to Dita and Ela:

  • Easy to incorporate into your work schedule (especially with the support of managers).
  • Inexpensive.
  • Two heads are better than one!
  • You build a closer relationship with a colleague.
  • Hands on.
  • In depth.
  • Mutual motivation because you don’t want to let your peer down.
  • Can see continuity and progress throughout the year.
  • Fun!

Here are their tips if you’d like to set up a similar project:

  • Choose the right person.
  • Set up ground rules, including confidentiality and how you will give feedback.
  • Decide what forms of coaching you will include (see ideas above for inspiration).
  • Set goals before you start and review them regularly.
  • Create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Decide what you hope to achieve with the project as a whole.
  • Inform management and gain school support if possible.
  • Be open and honest about what you are doing.
  • Evaluate the project when you have finished.
  • Share the results.

Because there was no requirement to grade or assess the lessons, they both found it very liberating and learnt a lot.

I’m here to improve and to learn.

Their students also benefitted. They both gained confidence in their own practice and abilities as teachers, as well as the courage to experiment more with their teaching.

Here’s Olga Sergeeva’s summary of the talk.

Dita and Ela also spoke to IATEFL Online about their project. You can watch the interview here:

Lesson jamming: planning lessons in groups – Tom Heaven

I was interested in this session because IH Bydgoszcz has a system of lesson planning in groups, and I wanted to see how someone else uses the same technique.

Tom is a member of a group called Berlin Language Worker Grassroots Association (or Berlin LW GAS for short), which was set up for a whole range of reasons, one of which was to help reduce the feeling of isolation among the many freelance teachers working in Berlin.

Lesson jams were designed as a fun way to get together for a few hours with other teachers and be inspired by each other and a random prompt (you might find some inspiration on my other blog!) to come up with a lesson plan. There is a step-by-step process for this, culminating in each group sharing their plan with everyone there. The aim of the jam is to be creative and to learn from each other. They also share the final plans on their website, and they’re currently looking for more ideas on how to work with the finished products after the lesson jam. So far, they’ve had two very successful jams and will continue to hold them in the future.

If you’d like to set up your own lesson jam, there is a downloadable guide including all of the stages on the Berlin LW GAS site.

Aspiring to inspire: how to become a great LTO* manager – Fiona Thomas

(*Language Teaching Organisation)

What is the difference between an inspiring manager and a mediocre one? How does an inspiring manager make you feel?

How an inspiring manager makes you feel

Why is it so hard to be inspiring? It requires time to connect with people at an emotional level, and if there’s one thing managers are short of, it’s time. Our stress levels build up because we’re constantly ‘on’ and this leads to us ignoring the warning signs of stress until it’s too late, much like boiling a frog. This leads to us becoming uninspirational micro managers.

To combat this we need to stake a step back and analyse what we are doing with our time. Fiona suggested creating a pie chart and using this to decide whether you are spending appropriate amounts of time on each area. These are the categories she suggested:

  • Operations management;
  • Strategic management;
  • Being an academic expert/mentor;
  • Emotional intelligence.

Fiona decided she was spending too much time on operations management and looked for ways to delegate some of the more administrative parts of her job. Technology could also help you to make some of these areas more efficient. This frees time to focus on developing ‘distinguishing competencies’, thus making managers more inspirational. These differ from ‘threshold competencies’, which are the minimum skills required to do your job. For a DoS, this would be areas like timetabling and conducting observations. ‘Distinguishing competencies’ include:

  • Social intelligence: understanding relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence: being aware of your own emotions.
  • Cognitive intelligence: interpreting what is happening in the world around you.

Research shows that outstanding managers create resonant relationships with the people they manage. This reminds me of the idea of one on ones from the Manager Tools podcast I have been listening to, which seems like a very effective way of building up these relationships. So what is a resonant relationship? It’s one which:

  • Communicates hope: the belief that the future will be good and things are possible;
  • Reminds people of the purpose of the organisation and encourages a shared vision (If you have a mission statement, refer to it!);
  • Demonstrates compassion (showing that you care and that people feel you care) – following the recipient’s agenda: what motivates them?
  • Shows mindfulness (you are ‘with’ the people you manage, not thinking about other things) and attention. Be fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing. If you know it’s not a good time and you can’t give your full attention, act accordingly: postpone the meeting, ask to speak to them at a specified later time, etc.
  • Has participants who appear to be authentic, genuine and transparent and act with integrity;
  • Includes quality time spent with the people you manage, in which you learn about their aspirations and motivation – it’s easy to make assumptions about people if you don’t get to know them properly;
  • Spreads positive emotions: the more powerful your position is, the more likely your emotions are to affect other people.

Fiona was put this talk together as a result of a free 8-week Coursera course she followed called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence, which she highly recommends. Her blog contains many more insights into managing LTOs.

In summary

These talks have given me many ideas for how to implement observations when I become a DoS, the most important of which is to make sure that any peer observation scheme comes primarily from the teachers themselves. I am also more and more sure that I want to include one on ones in my timetable for next year to get to know the people that I am working with as quickly as possible. Lots to think about 🙂

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Materials writing

Following on from the excellent MaWSIG pre-conference event, I ended up going to quite a few more talks related to materials writing during the conference. Here are summaries of said talks.

Designing materials: from theory to practice? – Sonia Munro and Susan Sheehan

Sonia and Susan work on the MA TESOL at the University of Huddersfield. The course originally had only a traditional dissertation at the end of it, but they have now added the option of a more practical materials design project rather than a dissertation. Students have to create 15 hours worth of classroom materials for a specific context and do a 30-minute viva. The only course participants who now do a dissertation are those who are required to do so by external forces, such as those who are being funded by a Ministry of Education. All others opt for materials design.

Why did they choose to offer this alternative? Feedback on the dissertation module was not as positive as for other modules on the MA, with participants complaining that they couldn’t collect the necessary data from their students over the summer. Materials design doesn’t just help those who are creating materials; it also helps teachers to be more critical when choosing materials for their students.

The viva allows participants to show the theoretical underpinnings of their materials, but Sonia and Susan noticed that there was a huge range in the ability of course participants to do this. Tomlinson (2003) mentions that many established writers start with intuition based on their own experience in the classroom, but MA students don’t have that luxury and must demonstrate that they have clear reasons for their materials design. In the viva, they have to present their materials and demonstrate the theory behind them, then participate in a discussion building on this. Some participants could do this easily, but others were unable to demonstrate any awareness of theory at all. To be successful, they need to:

  • Draw on a wide range of sources, not just readings suggested by tutors;
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with theories and sources;
  • Show a clear relationship between theory and practice, demonstrating they understand this;
  • Analyse materials that are typically used in their context and use these as a springboard for their own materials;
  • Notice the good points and limitations of the materials they use as a reference;
  • Show an awareness of their context: What are the constraints? Are these materials appropriate?

These are the main problems their MA students had in the viva:

  • Only citing a narrow range of authors.
  • Not referring to SLA (second language acquisition) theorists.
  • Sticking to authors writing about materials design only.
  • Not referring to authors specific to their context (e.g. EAP).
  • Not mentioning issues like Global English or English as a Lingua Franca.
  • Conflating literature and theory and not going deeply enough into the theory.
  • Not demonstrating enough criticality: for example by comparing authors or mentioning the weaknesses of the research. Being quite superficial.

To increase the students’ engagement with theory, Susan and Sonia would like to:

  • Make the use of theory more explicit and show students how to find theory more usefully.
  • Emphasise that theory is the core of the module.
  • Stop students from getting lost in the aesthetics of the materials – they tend to spend too long on this and not enough time on the theory.
  • Train students to do better literature searches.

I haven’t done an MA yet, but would like to at some point in the future, so I think this will come in very useful when I get to that stage.

Frameworks for creativity in materials design – Jill Hadfield

I’ve been connected to Jill on facebook for a while, and she’s been able to help me out a couple of times, so I went to this talk to be able to meet her in person for the first time. It gave me lots of ideas for potential workshops in the future, and furthered my understanding of some of the principles behind materials design, following on from the talk above. It’s also encouraged me to consider in more depth the principles I believe in/follow/use (What’s the right verb?!) when designing materials, teaching, and training.

When Jill was writing her latest book, Motivating Learning [affiliate link], with Zoltan Dörnyei, she started keeping a reflective journal to help her uncover the principles behind her own writing. She then analysed her journal and categorised her comments to try to find underlying patterns. She was motivated to do this by theorists who posited that materials writers tend to rely on intuition rather than theory, but as she said “We do have principles, but we’re too busy writing materials!”

Jill divided up the principles from her journal into two areas: framing principles and core energies. Framing principles ask questions like ‘What makes good materials?’ Here are some of Jill’s examples:

They are a kind of limit, and you shouldn’t include anything which does not adhere to one or more of these principles. In contrast, core energies suffuse your work. They are the underlying themes of your materials, which resurface again and again, but may not be obvious in every activity. In Jill’s journal, these were Affect, Creativity and Play. The example Jill gave to show the difference between the two types of principle was that she believes all activities should be communicative (framing principle), but that there are times when activities should be cognitive, logical or serious depending on the aim (which could be seen as contradicting some of her core energies).

In analysing her journal, Jill realised that she wrote most when she was dealing with problems, and very little when the writing was going smoothly. She seemed to have a lot of tacit principles underlying her writing. Here are some of them:

  • Does this activity fulfil the aim in the best possible way?
  • Is the staging in the best logical sequence?
  • Does staging scaffold the students by providing achievable steps?
  • Are the groupings appropriate to the task and do they provide variety and balance of interaction?

She also noticed a system of checks and balances that stopped her forward progress at times. These included trying out the materials by putting herself in the position of the teacher (imagining), the student (trying out), or the writer explaining the materials to the teacher (dialoguing). Through this process, she sometimes discovered that her activities didn’t do what she wanted them to, which meant she had to rethink them.

Once she has finished writing, Jill uses checklists based on questions formulated from her principles. These help her to ensure quality, coverage (a range of activity types/interaction patterns etc) and analyse covert syllabuses (a hidden agenda). Covert syllabuses can be positive, for example by promoting rapport within the group through activities focussing on dynamics and groupwork, or negative, such as those implied by the kind of images that might be chosen to illustrate a course book (see Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones’ talk at the MaWSIG PCE).

Jill shared lots of possible tasks which you could do to examine your own priniciples, or which could be used as the basis for workshops. Here are just a few examples:

  • Pyramid discussion, where participants first detail their own principles relating to materials design, then compare them with others.
  • Look at the principles you have related to classroom practice and consider them in more depth. Which of them are supported by research? Which of them do not seem to have theoretical support? Why do you think this is?
  • Give participants a range of different activities from published materials, chosen to demonstrate a range of writing styles. Analyse how much they like doing the activity, how often they create similar activities and how much they like creating that kind of activity.
  • Analyse the principles you have come up with in more depth. What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of having these as principles? Can these principles be justified by theory and classroom practice? What questions should you ask yourself about being driven by personal preference in your writing?
  • Dialoguing: participants work in pairs, with one as the classroom teacher and the other as the materials writer. The writer must justify their design decisions to the teacher. Record the conversation, play it back, and see if there are any decisions the writer wants to rethink.
  • Imagining: go through the activity step-by-step, as if you’re using it in class. Record yourself talking through the process, then listen back and analyse it critically. Is there anything you would change?
  • Trying out: put yourself in the students’ shoes. Record your interactions. Listen back and ask yourself questions. For example: Did the activity produce the language required? Did it produce enough of it? Was it engaging? Did everyone have equal turns?
  • Spoken protocols: participants design an activity and verbalise their decisions as they make them. Record this and listen back, with participants trying to verbalise what unspoken design principles are influencing these decisions.
  • Take an activity you have designed and try altering one element, for example, changing it from a pair to a group task. What effect does this have?
  • Develop your own checklists based on the principles you have uncovered. Use them!

Uncovering culture – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

When Ben and Ceri started teaching, cultural content in coursebooks looked very different. It tended to reflect and/or reinforce cultural stereotypes, drawing on students’ prior knowledge of the world. There was a lot of pop anthropology or negative etiquette, ‘othering’ the cultures discussed by distancing students from it: ‘They do it like this, not like you do.’ It also reinforced the idea that everyone in a country acts in the same way: ‘Americans eat fast food’. Subliminal cultural content was also common, for example in the choice of images used.

Ceri and Ben wanted to move from this global, stereotypical image of culture, making it more relevant to the students’ lives, combining the global and the local to make it ‘glocal’. For example, rather than an article describing food of the world, including McDonalds as the food of the USA, you could:

  • Compare menus served by McDonalds in different countries.
  • Question what junk and healthy food really is.
  • Look at the designs of McDonalds restaurants, and how they differ around the world, for example the McCafé.
  • Find local news articles featuring McDonalds.

Continuing the food theme, try exploiting these food flags, designed for the Sydney Food Festival. Each image showcases food typical of that country. Students can identify the food, then decide whether they think it really does represent the country. Finally, they create a flag for their own country and other students discuss whether it’s truly representative.

Food-Flags

Image from peacechild.org

‘Breaking’ stereotypes in this way can be a very productive exercise in the classroom. Something similar can be done with postcards too: do they reflect true experiences of what it is like to be in the country?

Ben and Ceri have written various course books together. The most recent are the Eyes Open series, written for secondary school students and published by Cambridge University Press. They have used ideas to exploit culture throughout, and showed examples like this one during their presentation.

There is a move away from stereotypes, showing a more multicultural view of Britain. Texts also have links to the outside world, so that the restaurant mentioned is a real place which students can visit the website of if they want to.

You need to build a bridge between the materials on the page and the lives of the students. One way to do this is to have the voices of ‘insiders’, rather than ‘outsiders’, talking about their own cultures. The example Ben and Ceri gave was a video about dabbawallas in India, leading on to a discussion of whether this system would work in the students’ own countries: What kind of food would they include in the boxes? Who would cook it?

Another avenue for uncovering culture is to emphasise the trans-cultural flow of ideas, rather than separating out cultures artificially. One way to do this is through YouTube videos and the associated comments, like those by Bethany Mota, who often shares videos about food. The ‘unboxing‘ meme is a productive one, and this video of an American opening a pizza in Korea gives lots of language students could draw on to make their own video, making the connection to their own lives and culture.

Here is an abridged version of Ben and Ceri’s slides.

Can a picture tell a thousand words? – Hugh Dellar

You might think that this metaphor is as old as the hills, but according to Hugh’s research, it was actually coined about a century ago by an advertiser in the USA trying to sell advertising space on the side of trams! Hugh decided to continue this theme by advertising too, in this case the new edition of Outcomes, which he co-wrote with Andrew Walkley. 🙂

Hugh’s attitude to the use of images in materials has developed over his writing career. Originally he thought they were just a way of breaking up the page, and that the focus should be on language, because this is what students learn from. When his publisher changed and he was asked to incorporate more National Geographic content into his materials he was initially reluctant, associating them with doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and pain! He also highlighted the fact that although many of their images are beautiful, they aren’t necessarily great for generating language. They say 1000 words, so you don’t have to. Instead, he finds images which have the potential to ‘bring 1000 words into being’ much more useful.

So what are the functions of the image in the ELT classroom?

  • To illustrate the meaning of lexis. Learners can label things, but it’s not great for longer phrases.
  • To test whether students have remembered lexis. This is great for nouns, but not so good for things which are more abstract.
  • Decoration.
  • Prompts for grammar drills. Hugh mentioned ‘English for voyeurs’, which is true whenever you use images to practise the present continuous!
  • To check receptive understanding (e.g. choose the picture which shows…)
  • To set the scene.
  • To generate language and ideas.
  • To generate discussion, stories, opinions, etc.

The last three are the ones which are the most fruitful, but they require a certain type of image, preferably with some kind of ambiguity or something unstated.

In Outcomes, the picture above is used to introduce a unit on business. One of the discussion points is why there are no women shown. It then leads on to a unit about business, including making phone calls.

The same principles which apply to images could also be used for videos. Again, just because it’s on YouTube, doesn’t make it interesting. There is no guarantee that the language in the video is intelligible, appropriate for the level of your students, or will ever be used by them again. Once you’ve found a suitable video, you still have to write the materials to go with it too! This is where video content accompanying coursebooks comes in. In Outcomes, video is exploited in a variety of ways, not just for traditional comprehension tasks. It’s also a way of improving students listening skills by analysing small chunks of language, and then attempting to reproduce them to experiment with their pronunciation.

You can watch the whole 30-minute presentation on YouTube.

MAWSIG Open Forum

The Materials Writing SIG has gone from strength to strength since it started a couple of years ago. At the open forum, they updated us on what has been happening over the last year and their plans for the next year, including MaWSIG May, a series of webinars which happened very successfully last year and which they would like to repeat. They also held a raffle, and this happened 🙂

In summary

All of these talks have given me a strong incentive to examine the principles behind materials design in more depth, which is something I hope to do if and when I ever get round to doing an MA! I really like the idea of the Anglia Ruskin course, which focuses heavily on materials design, but unfortunately it’s only available face-to-face and I can’t afford it at the moment. One day…

IATEFL Manchester 2015: CELTA

This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.

Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga

I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.

She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.

Here are Jo’s slides.

The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses РKarla Leal Casta̱eda

I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.

In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.

Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.

They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.

Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.

During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.

In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.

The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn

This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.

Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.

Temporary bookshelf (binders and a pile of grammar books)

Image taken from ELTpics by Mary Sousa, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:

  • Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
  • Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
  • Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
  • Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
  • Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
  • Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
  • Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
  • Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)

They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.

This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Africa

This was the first IATEFL where I saw talks which mentioned Africa at all. I know there must have been related talks at the previous conferences I was at, but they didn’t cross my radar. This year I had no choice but to notice them, as the Monday and Tuesday plenaries were both about the continent, and what a perfect choice that was.

The justice and imperative of girls’ secondary school education – a model of action – Ann Cotton

Ann Cotton’s plenary was truly inspiring and got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. She described the evolution of the organisation which was to become Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education.

Camfed logo

Back in the early 1990s, Ann was doing university research which involved her visiting a Tonga village in Zimbabwe to find out why girls’ educational attainment was so low. What she saw there surprised her. Contrary to the standard belief that girls weren’t sent to school for cultural reasons, she actually discovered that poverty is the main barrier to girls’ education. The people in the village she visited had been moved there by the government when a dam was built, away from the river they depended on for their livelihood and to land which was not suitable for resettlement. To force people into the cash economy, the government also imposed many different taxes, like a hut tax, a dog tax, and a requirement for a fishing license if they wanted to use the nearby lake for food. There was food aid for the first two years, but after that the people were on their own. In order to meet the economic needs of their families, boys needed to be educated as a priority because they were likely to be able to earn more money later. When Ann arrived, there were seven boys for every one girl at the school. Although Zimbabwe had made huge strides in its education system after desegregation, there was still a long way to go to achieve true equality. It wasn’t that the Tonga people did not want to educate girls, but that they were forced to prioritise boys’ education because of the local economic situation.

They were making the only decisions they could on the basis of economics and survival.

When girls are poorly educated, it has many knock-on effects, including high infant mortality and the exclusion of women from the economy and decision-making. If a girl leaves school young, she will probably marry very soon afterwards because her family will struggle to sustain her financially. Both her and their security depends on her finding a husband. This means she’s likely to become pregnant while still a teenager, and in the villages Ann visited, she would be far away from medical services. If she had trouble during labour, she would be taken to a hospital two hours away for free medical treatment. However, if she died, the family would have to pay for the return of her body, leading to some incredibly difficult decisions. Some families chose not to let their daughters go to the hospital because they wouldn’t be able to get the body back afterwards if anything happened. The people at the clinic thought this meant families didn’t care about their daughters, but again poverty was the true underlying cause.

You have to make the decision that makes the best economic sense.

In all of the research she had done, she had never met the idea that poverty was a potential reason for girls not being sent to school. In fact, there was a huge desire for education, and this inspired Ann to try to do something about it. She felt completely out of her depth, but she knew it needed wider consideration. She abandoned her studies, and started to go to organisations to explain what she’d found, but she met repeated resistance and minds closed to the idea that there might be another explanation for educational and health issues.

When Ann returned to the Tonga village, the chief was very surprised to see her. They called a meeting about how to get more girls in school, and Ann was amazed when hundreds of people turned up. The chief sent out the word to local villages, and when the people came it proved that they really wanted their daughters to be educated. The chief provides the bridge between the traditional world and the modern world, and is trusted by the tribe. They built a committee to decide how to progress, including the chief, educators, people from the health system and the mothers’ support group, ensuring that women were represented in the decision-making too. The Camfed model endeavours to understand the girls’ lives both inside and outside school to make the system fit the child.

The child is at the centre of everything.

They draw on the social capital of the people in the tribe and of the girls who have been educated thanks to Camfed to strengthen their model. For example, there have recently been severe floods in Malawi which is likely to lead to severe problems with food as the year goes on. Camfed has been providing food which local mothers distribute. They are all illiterate or semi-literate, but can decide who needs extra food based on observing the way the children eat, without needing any tests or scientific basis for their decisions. Ann also mentioned learning a lot from James Rebanks in the book The Shepherd’s Life [affiliate link], where he talked about how much he has learnt from talking to semi-literate people. These are examples of ‘knowledge capital’ and show us that a lack of literacy does not mean a lack of intelligence, and that in fact some knowledge can be lost as the world becomes more literate.

There is an intense arrogance in seeing poor people as potential data points.

It’s important for us to gather information about the situation related to girls’ education. However, we need to be sensitive in how we do this and ensure that the data is returned to the community so that it can be used fully: often it goes up the system and the community never have access to it. Ann gave examples of the power of data to acknowledge and change behaviour. By demonstrating to families how the changes they had made in their approach to girls’ education had impacted on their lives, the communities felt hugely positive and were more likely to continue with these changes.

From a small start, they have grown and grown. In 1991, they supported 32 girls to get an education. In 2014, it was 1.2 million. There is now also a sister organisation called ‘CAMA’ made up of the alumni of Camfed, who are supporting more girls in their turn: 63,274 so far. The organisation spread to Ghana, and now works in five different countries, including Muslim communities where people said the system wouldn’t work. On the contrary: everyone wants their children to be educated!

Camfed has also worked to provide role models. Because nobody from the local tribes had got through the education system, none of the teachers spoke the tribal language. At secondary school, English was the language of education, and the children had had no exposure to it outside the classroom. One of the first things Camfed did was work to reduce the entry requirements for Tonga people to go to teacher training college. As well as the language barrier, there’s also a barrier in the metaphors and examples the children are expected to understand. In collaboration with women from CAMA and Pearson, they are working on materials to reflect the children’s experience more closely, to reduce the feeling of detachment and remoteness of the educational environment the children were entering. ‘Learner Guides’ are the bridge between these two areas. They are young secondary school graduates who work with teachers, bridging the gap between the ‘imported’ teacher and the local children. Because the learner guides are from the local community, they can help with the language, dealing with large class sizes, moderating materials, and providing a friendly face for the children when they come to the school. Parents can see their daughters progressing and earning respect in the local community, with teacher training college being considered the next step.

Ann gave some inspiring examples of some of the girls who have come through the Camfed system, entrepreneurs, doctors, and even a member of a UN advisory committee. Because of their backgrounds, they understand poverty in a way nobody else can, and they are more able to make changes because there is a bridge to their communities. Their communities celebrate them and are proud of them: they are not trying to hold them back at all.

They emerge as extraordinary global leaders who are fighting for change for others like them. What a loss to the world if they had not been educated!

Ann finished with these words:

When everyone thinks the way you do, it’s time to think differently.

Mark Twain

Ann’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. I would strongly recommend watching her plenary, because my summary does not do justice to it at all:

You can also read a summary by Lizzie Pinard.

ELT in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future directions – Harry Kuchah

Apart from a brief stint volunteering at my old primary school when I was 18, and two months at a primary school in Borneo, all of my teaching has been at private language schools, where the largest classes had 16 students. More than half of the classes I’ve taught have had fewer than six students. The majority of the reading I do about ELT deals with similar situations, with the occasional diversion into primary or secondary contexts with up to forty students. I always knew that this was not the reality for many teachers and thought it must be very difficult to teach huge classes, with little chance of seeing progress in your students. Until Harry Kuchah’s plenary on the final day of IATEFL, I never really understood how teachers managed in this situation. He had an inspiring and positive message, and one which I hope to see more of at future conferences.

Harry was the recipient of a Hornby scholarship to study an MA in the UK in 2006. He learnt a lot, but it wasn’t always easy to apply to his context. Even the ‘difficult circumstances’ described in the literature he read were a far cry from his context. He’s from Cameroon, a country with 258 languages and tribes, where French and English are the mediums of instruction. As well as being a teacher, he works for the Ministry of Education as an inspector. The average teacher to pupil ratio is 1:72. It used to be 1:125! This doesn’t take into account the fact that subject teachers teach consecutively, not concurrently, so the maths teacher and the English teacher count as two teachers in the ratio, even though they will actually teach classes that are twice the size (125 each, not 63) one after the other. Many teachers also prefer to stay in urban areas, so rural classes are larger too. Seven or eight students share a single textbook, and three or four sit at a desk designed for two. The ‘Education for All’ movement has led to an increase in the number of pupils at schools, but no corresponding increase in the infrastructure available to educate them. Other initiatives from the ministry, mainly due to the offer of finance from interested third parties, have meant that teachers are constantly required to change their methodology: there have been 12 required changes in pedagogy since 2000, almost entirely influenced by Western pedagogy. It’s impossible to keep up with this rate of change. Teachers are constantly told that they need new training, but there is little or no acknowledgement of the effort they put in. There is severe danger of burnout.

In Harry’s classroom he had 235 teens in a classroom designed for 60. Temperatures regularly reached 46 degrees. Through a process of negotiation with his students, they decided to move outside, and started to have lessons under the trees. They decided that the best thing would be if all of them became teachers, and they worked collaboratively to help each other. His children didn’t have books, so they found texts and produced their own materials. As the teacher, Harry’s role was to check that the texts students brought to him were relevant to the syllabus. You can find examples of the materials he used and his students created on the IATEFL site, for example, a poem they wrote based on Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. I’d highly recommend looking at them: in most cases, the first text is the sample, and the second is what the students produced in response to it, often with much longer and more complex language as they enriched their texts. Another idea was to take pictures students drew in response to a text in one class into another class, with the second class writing original texts based on the pictures. During the plenary, Harry showed us a video of one of his students telling a story based on these pictures: as well as the complexity of the language the child produced, what particularly struck me was the noise of the class. I find it hard to imagine being able to concentrate, having come from the luxury of quiet environments. The materials the students created served as a diagnostic tool for ‘accuracy therapy’ (I love this metaphor!) Harry published his story with Richard Smith in 2011.

English is the life-giving language for many people in the world.

Learners are partners. We can share the burden of low resources with the students, no matter how young they are.

Based on his own experience and the lack of correlation with what he had studied on the MA, Harry decided to do more research. The changes in pedagogy which teachers had imposed on them were confusing and often irrelevant to their context.

Context-appropriate pedagogy needs to be developed across the world.

Harry defines this as:

  1. The aspects of practice which are considered good by teachers (and students, I think – didn’t have that in my tweet!)
  2. Doable within that context
  3. Worth doing within that context

In order to facilitate the development of a pedagogy which is appropriate to the situation in Cameroon, Harry asked teachers and students for their opinions about good/appropriate practice within their context. He conducted interviews with teachers and students, observed classes, and videoed lessons which teachers felt were successful. As a follow-up, he watched the videos in workshop groups with 30 teachers, and fed in information from his interviews with students too. It was the first time this kind of discussion of learning had taken place for any of these teachers or students, and it had a very positive effect, since it emerged that teachers and students didn’t always agree about what was ‘good’. This was an eye-opener for some of the teachers, and led to changes in their approach. For example, one teacher believed that group-work would be too chaotic in his class of 87, then saw a video of it happening in a class of 120, with the children saying how much they got out of it, and was inspired to try it out. Another teacher said they used to underestimate their pupils, but realised they could do more than they thought because of the workshops.

Many of these practices also contrasted with what was recommended by the Ministry of Education, and Harry saw a huge difference between the lesson plans he was given before the class and what unfolded in front of him. Teachers told him that they write the plans to satisfy requirements by following the model they are told to use, but this is rarely what they do in class. The challenges they faced and the huge rate of change meant that many of them employ ‘survival teaching strategies’, which often do not respect the recommendations of the ministry.

Harry believes that teachers are more likely to accept pedagogic innovation when it is seen to come from their colleagues and/or their context, rather than being imposed from above. As a result of this, he is now working with the teachers of the Cameroon teaching association, CAMELTA, to do ‘teaching association research’. After a plenary, 170 teachers wrote three possible research questions each. Working with the IATEFL Research Special Interest Group (RESIG), a questionnaire was created on the basis of these questions and sent out to teachers in CAMELTA, asking for one problem the teachers face in their classroom, solutions they have tried, and whether they work. The idea is to build a bank of knowledge specific to the context which other teachers can draw on. This is still in progress, but they already have 504 responses, with more coming in all the time. The teachers involved feel a sense of ownership, and are participating in research and building knowledge in a way that they wouldn’t have time to do as individuals.

In conclusion, we need to:

  • Create an enabling environment, rather than just telling teachers what to do and how to do it;
  • Incorporate the perspectives of both teachers and students;
  • Negotiate the divergence between these perspectives through critical reflection;
  • …and last, but not least: Focus on the positives and appreciate teachers’ efforts.

Harry’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. Again, I would highly recommend watching his plenary yourself:

Talk English: from CELTA to volunteer ESOL in South Africa – Julie Douglas

The third talk I went to connected to Africa was about a volunteer teaching project helping .

Julie and one of her colleagues did the CELTA at IH Durban in 2005. At the end of the course, they discovered that many of the students who were coming to the free teaching practice classes wouldn’t be able to continue studying English because they couldn’t afford it. With the support of IH Durban, they started offering free classes to anyone who wants them, particularly refugees who need English to start their new lives in Durban. This has developed into a project called Talk English, which has gone from strength to strength, but still needs the support of as many volunteers and financial backers as possible. You can find out more and donate through their website.

Taken together

These three talks have changed my vision of how English teaching is done in Africa. I wish all three of the speakers continued luck with their projects. I fully intend for my future Kiva loans to go to Camfed projects. I would like teaching association research to take off as context-specific methodology is sorely needed in so many places. Finally, I hope that Talk English finds the permanent location it is searching for and the money to fund it.

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Two plenaries

Before IATEFL 2015 I said I’d try to publish at the end of each day of the conference. I should have learnt by now that there’s no way that will ever happen because I don’t have time to think, much less blog during the conference! Instead I decided to group my posts by themes I found in the talks I chose to see. The first two plenaries didn’t really fit any of these, hence this post. The other posts will hopefully appear over the next few days…

Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT – Donald Freeman

In the opening plenary of the conference, Freeman examined three myths of teaching and ELT:

  • ‘direct’ causality: teaching causes learning
  • ‘sole’ responsibility: as teachers, we’re the ones responsible for what happens in our classroom
  • ‘proficiency’ as the goal of our teaching

I liked the metaphor of a suitcase sculpture called Partir from Florence for how we think about how the language teaching we do in the classroom corresponds to how the students use the language outside the classroom:

Funny things happen to language when it goes to school.

In order to teach language, we have to give it attributes it doesn’t have, like grammar, levels and a division between the four skills. These create the ‘suitcase’ of the metaphor, and lead to ‘The Suitcase Problem’, divorcing language from the kind of settings it will be used in.

Rather than aiming for general proficiency, we need to ‘bound’ the language we are teaching to help the students know what they’re aiming for, and link to the settings it will be used in as much as possible [adding clear contexts].  Based on a research project with teachers learning English for classroom use in Vietnam, for example, Freeman observed that having a clear target setting motivated lower level teachers to improve at a faster rate than their higher-level counterparts when they could choose what to study and when.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.

Engagement principles and practice in classroom learning, language and technology – Joy Egbert

For the second plenary of the conference, Joy Egbert discussed the principles of student engagement and how this applies to the use of technology in the classroom. Her message was that unless students are engaged with the topics we choose and the materials and tools we use to present them, little learning will happen.

She described her own experiences of second language learning with the use of technology, and showed that many students fail to learn languages because of demotivation, boredom and frustration, as well as ineffective teaching and learning. This is something I’ve heard from many people who’ve failed to learn languages, particularly due to negative experiences at (mostly secondary) school.

When students are doing an engaging task, they pay more attention and have a greater chance of success, both linguistically and in the task itself. These are the ‘engagement principles’ she shared for creating such tasks:

  • Include authentic tasks (ones which are perceived as important by the learners, not necessarily reflecting things they would have to do in real life);
  • Integrate connections to the students’ lives;
  • Provide social interaction or deep individual focus. In group activities, allocate roles and gives students a clear reason to listen to each other;
  • Offer practice and feedback;
  • Have a good balance between the level of challenge and the skills the students have (not too easy/hard).

Joy advocated using technology to fulfil some of these criteria, but emphasised that you should only use it if it adds to the task, not for the sake of it. She gave various examples of how this might be possible and emphasised the importance of getting to know your students to ensure that the tools and materials are as relevant to them as possible.

I’m not sure how much of this talk was actually new or thought-provoking to the audience – a lot of it seems like common sense – but it did remind me of the importance of getting to know your students.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.

IATEFL Manchester 2015 MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event

The Materials Writing Special Interest Group is the newest IATEFL SIG, and very active. They have a blog, a facebook page, and a Twitter account.

MaWSIG logo

Each SIG has a pre-conference event (PCE) with a specific theme. The MaWSIG theme this year was The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit and featured a whole range of speakers with huge amounts of experience between them. I’ve done a little materials writing myself, and thought this would be a very useful way to find out more about how to develop in this area, even if none of my materials end up being published. I’m very happy I chose to go to this PCE as it turned out to be incredibly useful, with lots of tips that I can start using straight away, and hopefully build on if and when I get more writing work.

How to write multiple-choice activities – Sue Kay

This was a very practical way to start the day. Sue offered us these tips:

  • Keep options of a similar length and style, preferably short and avoiding linkers – students should be spending time processing the text, not the question;
  • Keep distractors plausible – avoid humorous or silly options because they’re obviously wrong;
  • Don’t have any obviously incorrect answers;
  • Avoid any overlap between options;
  • Make sure questions can’t be answered using world knowledge or common sense;
  • If using an unfinished sentence as the stem, divide it in a logical place (e.g. not in the middle of a fixed expression).

Sue also advises writing the text and the multiple-choice items at the same time whenever possible, unless you have a text which you’re required to base your items on. It’s much more natural than writing the text first, then trying to shoehorn distractors in.

When writing distractors, here are a few techniques you can use:

  • Change the period of time using phrases like I used to…but now I… or Normally…but this time…
  • Compare the desire/hope/intention of the speaker to what actually happened: We planned to…, We thought about…
  • Use unreal past in conditionals or after ‘wish’: If the boss had given me a raise, I’d have stayed.
  • Use negatives or near negatives, especially less common ones: It’s not as if we’re desperate for a car park. or It’s hardly my idea of fun.

To find out more, Sue recommended two ELT Teacher2Writer books: How to Write Reading and Listening Activities by Caroline Krantz and How to Write Exam Practice Materials by Roy Norris.

The role of the image in materials design – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

Ben and Ceri shared lots of image banks and showed how the same search of ‘beach’ can yield very different results depending on where you search and the filters you use. Panos seemed particularly interesting. It’s a collection of photojournalism, often accompanied by short texts. Even if you don’t end up using the images themselves, they can provide inspiration for your writing as they are a lot more generative than stock photos. Other image banks are:

Unsplash is a Creative Commons image bank where you can use the images for any purpose, including commercial. They share 10 free images a week. Another option is Death to the Stock Photo. For non-commercial use, there is of course ELTpics, and there are lots of ideas for how to use those images on the Take A Photo And… blog.

On Alamy you can set filters to look for certain kinds of image. For example, if you choose ‘square’ you’ll end up with Instagam influenced shots. As a materials writer, you may have to write an artwork brief to tell publishers what to put with your materials. By experimenting with filters, and telling publishers what you DON’T want, the image is much more likely to be what you’re looking for. Don’t get your heart set an image though, and remember that there is a budget.

Other tips for writing an artwork brief:

  • Consider including sample images you’ve sourced – this can be clearer than describing the image;
  • Explain how the image will be work/be used in the materials, not just what it looks like;
  • If you know what you want, but can’t find an example, describe it in as much detail as you can to make it more likely that the final result is what you envisaged.

We may also need to move away from the traditional image and consider modern types of image such as the selfie, infographics, dronies (new to me!), panodash, Dear Photograph, Draw My Life, memes and kinetic typography. With these, they may be hard to sell to publishers, and they may go out of fashion. To stay up-to-date with images, try these ideas:

  • look out for images being used in adverts, etc;
  • subscribe to adweek for the top 5 commercials every week;
  • follow accounts like @nytimesphoto on Twitter;
  • subscribe to Unsplash for weekly emails with taster images;
  • [my addition: download the Guardian app for images from Eyewitness]

Images have four roles in materials:

  • scene-setting
  • illustrative
  • decorative
  • driving force

When choosing your image, consider which role it will play and choose accordingly. For example, CAE images tend to be mid-shot (rather than close up) so you can see the surroundings too.

Find out more at Ben Goldstein’s blog and Ceri Jones’ blog.

A technological toolkit for Materials Writers – Nick Tims

I learnt  a lot of useful tips here!

  • Use multiple monitors so you don’t have to flick between screens too much. (I’m doing this for the first time as a I finish this blogpost!)
  • Get browser extensions to save you time and reduce clicks.
  • Link shorteners (like bit.ly) make huge links to Google Images (for those artwork briefs!) much more manageable.
  • Use ‘Grab’ for Mac or ‘Snipping tool’ on Windows to take partial screen shots instead of copying and pasting things into Paint or other cropping tools.
  • Create custom search engines in Chrome. Go to any site with a search box, right click the search box, add as search engine, create a keyword and you can use that search that site directly from the address bar. It took me about 10 seconds when I just tried it – amazing!
  • Use Evernote to archive texts you find for future materials writing. It appears in Google searches you do later too. (I use diigo which does something similar, although Evernote is more elegant and has a much better app)
  • Macros are ways of using one click to do a series of actions. You can download a whole set of macros from Teacher’s Pet to do things like automatically create matching activites, making activity and worksheet creation much faster. This got a round of applause and a collective gasp from the audience! (Unfortunately there are only versions for Microsoft for Windows and Open Office, but no Mac version – it’s a work in progress according the developer.)
  • StayFocusd is a browser extension you can use to limit the time you spend on particular sites in a single day. Don’t be over-enthusiatic though, because you really can’t get round it!
  • The Pomodoro technique can make you manage distractions. It involves 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of ‘reward’. That’s also good for getting you to move around. You can download browser extensions to help you with the timing.
  • RescueTime sends you a report at the end of each week telling you how much time you spent on useful/distracting websites. Can be a bit depressing, and Nick says he never gets more than 70% productivity 😉

Nick says that you need to experiment with these tools, and you may need to ‘kiss a few frogs’ in the process of finding what works for you. Here is his handout.

Writing ELT audio and video scripts – John Hughes

John showed us ways of improving our scripts to make them more interesting and add a little drama to them.

To add authenticity, you can record people in real situations. Interesting bits of language come up in this way that you might never consider if you are trying to write things yourself. However, this can be time consuming: from half a day of recording, John only got five minutes of usable audio.

You can also add features such as fillers, false starts, contracted forms, slang and more. This may depend on the publisher and the purpose of the materials (developing language or developing listening skills?), as some markets are resistant to this and prefer the more ‘polished’ nature of traditonal coursebook audio. One audience member mentioned the difference between spoken and written grammar, and there was some discussion of the fact that spoken grammar has only recently started to appear in published materials.

Target language needs to be balanced with incidental language.

Increase the amount of turn-taking to make audio more manageable for students, particularly at lower levels.

Stick to a limited number of speakers, and differentiate them through accent, gender and use of names to help SS follow the turn-taking.

Video helps you to show context, whereas you need to set up the situation more clearly if you’re writing an audio script. With video, don’t state the obvious. Show, don’t tell.

To add drama to your scripts, we can learn from Kurt Vonnegut. He said that in a good story you need to have a clear central character who wants something. You can then add drama by applying the ‘try it three times’ rule. The first two times the character fails to get what they want, but on the third attempt they succeed. This can give you more opportunities to showcase the target language, and in a more natural way than a short two or three line dialogue might. It also gives you the opportunity to add characterisation.

The final idea was to video the same scene twice, once running smoothly, and the second with the ‘try it three times’ rule. Students can watch both and compare the difference.

John has many ideas for writing materials on his blog, and has written a book about writing audio and video scripts for ELT Teacher2Writer. Here are his slides from the presentation.

Writing ELT activites for authentic video and film – Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher

Kieran is the man behind the very successful Film English website on which the majority of the videos have little or no dialogue. He’s particularly interested in exploiting images used in film. Anna is an ELT film-maker, and her opening quote was that there is an increased demand for authors who can write for video, film-makers and script-writers, so this is definitely an area to develop your skills in if you want to get into materials writing. Together they’ve written a book for ELT Teacher2Writer including many more ideas than those below.

Videos need to be consciously integrated into course material, rather than used as an add-on or as glorified listening comprehension. It particularly needs to match the topic, with a language fit as secondary. To aid comprehension, follow these guidelines:

  • Use dialogue which is clearly enunciated and not too fast.
  • Include a high degree of visual support.
  • Ensure the soundtrack is not too loud or distracting.
  • Have only one person or character speaking at a time.
  • Include supporting, titles, subtitles or graphics.
  • Reduce the number of dialects and/or strong regional accents.
  • Use a slow, clear voiceover or narration.

Keep videos to 2-5 minutes to hold the attention, and make repeat viewings easier to fit in. Try to use different activities for each viewing. When choosing a video, consider the relevance and interest of the topic, the cultural backgrounds of your students, and their experience of the world. You can also ask your students about the kinds of videos they enjoy watching. Vimeo Staff Picks, Future Shorts, BBC Earth and National Geographic are good places to look for videos.

Once you’ve chosen one, follow a three-step approach to exploit it. Editors often recommend the structure and/or the kind of activities they would like you to use, and you should ask if they don’t.

  1. Pre-viewing
    e.g. Look at the stills and have a discussion/complete the sentences with the missing words. (could be used to pre-teach vocabulary)
    Match collocations.
    Complete a summary/review.
  2. While viewing
    Don’t overload the students at this stage – stick to short answer tasks like true/false or ‘Number the sentences in the order you hear them’. The answers should be from the video, not from their knowledge of the world. Ask questions in the same order as they are in the video, and spread them evenly throughout.
  3. Post viewing
    Draw out the key concepts of the video in some way, for example through a discussion or a longer project. Students could also make their own version of the video or a follow-up to it.

Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers – Julie Moore

Julie started by telling us that she can’t imagine writing materials without a corpus, and once she told us the range of things she uses it for, I’m not surprised!

  • Ask questions like ‘How do we use…?’ ‘Do we say…?’ ‘Which is the most common…?’ ‘What’s the difference between…?’
  • Find natural examples.
  • Get inspiration for the context you introduce language in.
  • Search for collocations. Once you’ve found that a collocate exists, click through to read examples.
  • Expand the range of words which you collocate with a key word.
  • Check your intuitions.
  • Find phrases and chunks of language.
  • Do a ‘context search’ to find words around the key word, accounting for variable collocations or ones which might have other words in the middle of them.
  • Examine British/American/global English variations.

Corpora can’t do everything though. They’re not good for:

  • Searching for language features that don’t involve specific language chunks, e.g. present continuous to talk about the future.
  • Getting longer stretches of complete texts – these are still subject to copyright. This also makes it difficult to use corpus examples for things like discourse markers which require longer texts.

SketchEngine is a good tool for searching within corpora. Know your corpus! Think about British v. American English, the kind of texts used to build the corpus (e.g. newspapers, stories, academic journals…), spoken v. written language, expert v. student writers… Choose a corpus based on the text types your students will have to produce. Here are some ways you can access a corpus:

Ways of accessing a corpus

Other useful tools you can use to analyse language are Vocab Kitchen (breaks down the language in a text by level), Google NGram Viewer (showing changes in language use over time) and the Macmillan Online Dictionary. Dictionaries with CD-ROMs in them are particularly useful because of the advanced search tools which are often available on them. Julie has put more information about using these tools on her blog.

Finally, don’t accept everything the corpus tells you blindly. If it looks like a strange result, question it. Go deeper by clicking on the results to see the longer text, and look carefully at where the examples are taken from.

Tailor-making materials from an ESP perspective – Evan Frendo

Evan works mainly in the corporate sector, and has spent many years developing materials specific to his clients.

Corporate culture can influence the materials you make as you need to fit them into the training culture of the organisation. The needs of the business take priority over the needs of the individual students, and the focus is more on training than education. Materials tend to have a short shelf-life and may need to be frequently updated depending on the market. When creating tailor-made materials, you don’t need to worry so much about PARSNIPs (the topics which are often avoided in more commercial materials) providing the people you are creating the materials for are happy for them to be included. However, sometimes even in ESP they can cause problems. Evan was asked to use the longer term not the shorter term in some materials for oil workers (see photo below), even though ‘pig’ is a very generative term and is in common usage across the industry, including in the Middle East: Have you pigged the pipeline? Is the pipeline piggable?

When designing your own materials in these situations, you need to find the gap between ‘where they are now’ and ‘where they need to be’, then create materials to move the students from the first point to(wards) the second. This involves in-depth needs analysis which can be done through:

  • Analysing real texts that the students will need to be able to read/write. Tools like WordSmith can be useful here.
  • Finding out about the specific terminology students need, and what they are aware of already. Many of these may be well above their ‘level’ if they were in a traditional EFL environment.
  • Interviews with various stakeholders, not just the students and their managers.
  • Recordings (e.g. of meetings, telephone conversations).
  • Field notes (e.g. a day in the life of…, collected by shadowing somebody using the target language/doing the target job).

The materials you put together need to reflect the target discourse, which is why such in-depth research is vital. It shouldn’t be about what we as outsiders perceive to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather what is required within the organisation/industry you are creating the materials for. Genre is a key focus, including how to handle different/international understandings of those genres. For example, presentations may be done differently in different cultures, and there may be varying requirements for the amount of information included on slides depending on what they will be used for after the presentation. Use experts to tell you what counts as “successful communication”.

Communication style can be as important, if not more so, as lexis and grammar. Many learners don’t care about accuracy in the traditional sense, they care about meaning. They are often not aiming or a native speaker model, with English as a Lingua Franca becoming instead.

Ultimately, the materials you create must be evidence-led, not intuition-led.

Adventures in self-publishing – Christien Lee

What should you self-publish?

Something which fills a gap in the market, has good sales potential and where there is limited competition. Do your research! Christien decided to publish a print self-study guide for an English test in Canada, with an online component.

Print or e-book?

What are your audience likely to respond better to? Print can be considered more trustworthy, and for some people they prefer it because they’re more familiar with it. It can reduce the ease of pirate copies being distributed. Cost is also a factor here, as you need to spend more money up-front if you choose print.

Why self-publish?

Traditional publishers offer more cachet, better production values, no up-front costs, and you should get either commission or royalties. However, there is no guarantee of publication, it takes a long time to get products to market, you get less money and there is a delay in payment. Sales might also be quite low depending on how much the publishers choose to promote it.

Self-publishing means guaranteed publication, a short publication process and returns of up to 70% of sales. The disadvantages of it are that there is no guarantee of a return on your investment, and you may lose money due to upfront costs. There is also more work pre- and post-publication if you choose to self-publish.

How do you go about it?

You can use crowdsourcing, freelancers, friendsourcing (my favourite new word of the day!) or go it completely alone. The latter option is difficult as you need to deal with editing, layout, audio (maybe) and many other options, so it’s a good idea to look for specialists to avoid too much work for you. VoiceBunny is a tool you can use for audio: post a project on the site, and people can audition to be allowed to record for it.

Where should you publish it?

Amazon has a system called CreateSpace which is a print-on-demand service. You could also use book distribution systems like Draft2Digital, Lulu or Smashwords. Wayzgoose Press is a publisher which is somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. The Round is specifically aimed at ELT authors looking to publish something a little different from what traditional publishers offer.

Ensuring quality

Christien was putting together a test preparation book. When putting together something like this, it’s particularly important to provide a quality product. Questions need to match the original test for length, genre, register, topic, difficulty, distractor patterns and more. Here are some tools you can use to check that your material is at the right level:

Developing online content

If you decide to create online content to accompany your book, WordPress with premium options is a good choice as you can get features like a login-only area and a shopping cart. Articulate is a versatile tool for creating professional-looking online courses. Christien described it as ‘like PowerPoint on steroids’!

Problems with self-publishing

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, money and work involved in self-publishing. Be prepared for everything to take longer than you expect!

Other summaries of the day

Lizzie Pinard wrote four blogposts covering two talks in each:

Olga Sergeeva has summarised the whole day in one post.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus writes beautiful SketchNotes of the talks she goes to, and the MaWSIG PCE was no different:

Finally, if you want to follow the day as it unfolded, Sophie O’Rourke, part of the MaWSIG team, put together a Storify with tweets from the whole event.

Write more! Making the most of student journals (IATEFL Manchester 2015)

In this presentation I spoke about writing journals with students in a variety of different contexts, including both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I also talked about my own experience of using a journlal for my Russian learning.

I find journal writing to be a very rewarding process for the students, and I learnt a lot from going through the process myself, including improving my spelling, increasing my vocabulary, and learning more about my teacher. As a teacher, reading my students’ journals was a great way to learn more about them, including their needs as language learners. I’d highly recommend trying it out. 

Here are the slides, including information about what exactly I mean by journal writing and tips on how to set it up. All of the links in the slides are clickable.

There is no commentary on the slides as there is a recorded version of the same talk available from the TOBELTA online conference from August 2014, which you can read more about and watch via this link.

At the start of my presentation

(thanks to David Petrie for taking the photo)

Follow IATEFL 2015

I’m about to leave for the IATEFL 2015 conference in Manchester, where I’ll be going to the Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event today, The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit. If I can connect to the wifi, I should be tweeting throughout on the #IATEFL hashtag on Twitter. You can also follow the online coverage, including some live-streamed and recorded sessions (not mine), and interviews throughout the conference:

IATEFL online Manchester 2015

I’m hoping to publish a summary at the end of each day, but that will depend on how motivated I’m feeling and how tired I am 😉 There will inevitably be a plethora of blog posts from lots of people throughout the conference. After it’s finished, I’ll tidy up my posts and add links so you can find them. I hope to see some of you there, and if you’re not, to be able to share as much of this experience with you as possible!

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