Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:
Planning and scripting
Noticing language, analysing language, using language
Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
Managing stress, performance
This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?
How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?
Interaction / affective features
Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground
Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
Warm-ups and lead ins
Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
Mingles, information sharing
Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?
Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover
Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it
Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?
Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
Small, achievable tasks
What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?
Why did this help?
A safe space
More open to learning
Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially
This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.
Creating time and space: collective responsibility
It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.
Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.
I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.
I saw the students as people.
By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.
This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’
Putting the knowledge into practice: planning
In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.
Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan
Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:
As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.
Advice from trainees
This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.
Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
Establish it as criteria via paperwork
Focus on the learners in feedback
Visualisation and differentiation
Discuss humour – what is it?
This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.
Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while knows I’m a fan of podcasts. I’ve occasionally written about ELT podcasts before, and have been meaning to collect together a list of them in one place for a while. The wait is finally over 🙂
To minimise the amount of editing I may need to do with this list in the future (I hope!) I’ve only linked to the website for each podcast, and from there you can find all of the links to follow it on podcast streaming services. I’ve included a brief summary of the type of content and typical episode lengths.
Please add a comment if you have any other English Language Teaching podcasts to add to the list, or if any of the links are broken.
*Disclaimer: I’m a co-presenter of one of these, and have popped up on various of them. No favouritism is intended!
Here’s one that feels quite different. Ola talks about being a freelance teacher (ELTpreneur / teacherpreneur), discussing challenges, and providing lots of tips to make your teaching business as successful as it can be
‘A podcast for language teachers that isn’t about language teaching’
The team (including me) chat around various subjects, which may be more or less directly related to the classroom. There’s always an activity for your classroom at the end of the podcast, and sometimes others during the episode, depending on the topic.
Who’s Zooming Who? mini series, covering ideas for teaching online = 10-15 minutes
A range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too.
Bonus extra: The TEFLology creators have published a book called Podcasting and Professional Development: A Guide for English Language Teachers [Amazon affiliate link] with the-round, which gives a useful introduction to creating your own podcasts.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending over an hour chatting to Jim Fuller, who writes the blog Sponge ELT. I really enjoyed the conversation, and I hope you do too. You can find the YouTube link and Spotify audio on Jim’s blog.
We covered a whole range of topics connected to teacher training and academic management. This was the list of bookmarks Jim made:
01:50 Introduction and purpose of Sponge Chats 04:30 Who is Sandy Millin? 06:00 Sandy’s view on freelancing 09:10 Some benefits of blogging 18:21 Why the move into teacher training and management? 26:00 Why have teacher training and development programmes? 34:00 Managing expectations 36:00 Challenging aspects of teacher training and management 44:00 Getting feedback on your feedback 48:30 Managing time as an academic manager 54:00 Advice for teachers looking to move into teacher training or management 56:30 Diploma-level courses and teacher training 1:01:30 Sandy’s Delta Module 1 preparation course Take Your Time 1:09:00 How does Sandy develop? 1:11:30 Sandy’s book recommendations
On 13th November 2021, I attended a truly hybrid conference. 150 trainers attended from around the world, with some of us in the building at IH London, and the rest attending online. All of the sessions were presented via Zoom so that we were all watching the same thing and could participate equally, either via the chat or by speaking to the person next to us. Those of us in the building also had catering 🙂
International skills for better communication – Chia Suan Chong
Challenging CCQs – Yulianto Lukito and Yanina Leigh
Teaching online: construct and methods to give teachers what they need – Alison Castle (mostly about the Trinity Certificate in Online Teaching)
Online teacher training in low resource contexts – Nicky Hockly
Using WhatsApp for teacher development – Danny Norrington-Davies and Khassoum Diop
Meeting local needs in contexts new to the internet – Joe Wilsdon
Raining on prom night – James Egerton and Giovanni Licata
Learning by doing: Replanning a methodology course to prepare for online teaching – Joanna Szoke
A journey through time – Abeer Ali Okaz
Final comments by Adrian Underhill
I really enjoyed this conference format. I was lucky enough to be able to attend in person, which meant that I got to see all of the sessions and to discuss them with people face-to-face too. Because the sessions ran online we heard the voices of people from all over the world, including questions by chat and on video from a range of different countries, not just the people who could make it to IH London. I saw talks presented by teachers in York, Sydney, Senegal, Barcelona, Cairo, Moscow, Rome and Budapest. The conference felt really international, and it really did feel like it was talking about the Future of Training and what is possible for us in the future – I can’t remember the last time a conference theme was actually fulfilled as well as this! I’m looking forward to watching the recordings of parallel sessions which I couldn’t attend.
International skills for better communication – Chia Suan Chong
A large proportion of our job relies on us talking and interacting with our students, and helping them to interact with each other as they communicate in English. It should naturally follow that we should be experts at interpersonal skills and communication skills. But we know that that’s not always true. A typical teacher training course might address areas like how to grade our language, how to give instructions or how to respond to students’ errors but seldom do we discuss how we can build trust and rapport with our students, how we can deal with conflict or how we can adapt our communication style to the different students we encounter. In this interactive session, we’ll be reflecting on our range of interpersonal skills and considering how we can develop them.
I attended Chia’s version of this talk at IATEFL 2021 this year. You can find the summary at the end of this post. There were a few extra points in this teacher training version (I recommended you read both posts to get the full picture!):
Transactional Communication v. Interpersonal Communication
T = Focus on information exchange v. I = Focus on building relationships
T = Getting things done v. I = Getting to know people
T = For the short term (results) v. I = For the long term (relationship)
T = Shorter turns v. I = Longer turns
T = Predictable script v. I = Less predictable
T = Often measurable result (Did you get what you needed?) v. I = Not instantly measurable
Interpersonal skills are the skills you need to interact and communicate with people….Interpersonal skills are sometimes referred to as social skills, people skills, soft skills or life skills.
As teacher trainers we tend to give feedback/tips on transactional communication, rather than interpersonal communication. This is often easier or more straightforward for us to do this, not least because of the predictability of transactional scripts. Interpersonal skills like rapport, classroom dynamics, building a positive atmosphere are all much more difficult to give advice on.
Chia presents a series of training called Fierce Conversations, created by Susan Scott, who also wrote a book with the same name [Amazon affiliate link]. The idea is that the conversation is not about the relationship, it is the relationship. When we have conversations with others, we’re building relationships – we can’t separate these two areas.
What tips can we give to build rapport?
We came up with these ideas:
Share information about yourself.
Ask genuine questions.
Be sincere and honest.
Remember what they say.
Space in the lesson for relationship building.
Take account of their experiences beyond the classroom/lessons.
When you do an online search for how to build rapport, there are some useful ideas, but we might need to be culturally sensitive with some of them, for example about using humour or laughing often.
Incorporate personal stories and personal experiences: some students might find this unprofessional. They might have a different expectation of what is and isn’t appropriate in the classroom.
Allow students to make decisions on classroom activities: some students might not be happy with what they might see as an abdication of the teacher role. Menus of options might be more useful than open questions – you could also use the contents page of a coursebook to do this.
[My note: It’s also important to maintain our boundaries and our mental health, so be cautious with advising ideas like ‘volunteering your time outside class to support students’ or ‘have breakfast/lunch in the school cafe surrounded by your students’.]
Ultimately, one size doesn’t fit all with how we build rapport.
Why should I trust you?
Because we’re teachers.
Because we’ve built up a certain level of knowledge.
Because we trust them.
If you want to read more about trust, Chia recommends The Trusted Advisorby David H. Maister, Robert Galford and Charles Green. It includes the Trust Equation (described in this post). To improve trust, you ultimately need to reduce self-orientation.
Do you ever have people who ask you for advice, but really they want you to listen to them complaining about what other people think of them? That’s one example of self-orientation. Self-orientation is when you put yourself in the centre, rather than having regard for the people you’re talking to.
We should bring trust into the conversation in teacher training courses. What efforts are teachers/trainers making to build relationships in the classroom? How do we build trust? Which strategies do we use?
Ways that we build trust:
Establish competence – I’m competent in this area, you can trust me
Finding common ground (commonality)
Openness (information) – what you see is what you get, I don’t have a hidden agenda
Reliability – you can trust me because I’m reliable
Openness (emotion) – showing vulnerability, you have to be genuine about it!
Willingness to trust first – we trust people who trust us
In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, very precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.
Here are some critical incidents you could discuss with trainees. How would you react?
Your student arrives late for class. They don’t apologize and they don’t give any reasons for being late. We’re conditioned to believe that justifying behaviour in this way is the correct, so we’re taken aback when our social script for this situation has been disrupted. The student might not have the same social script. Who says that we should give reasons for being late? He might not feel like he’s late – it might be a different perception of time. If you haven’t specified classroom rules from the beginning of the course, then it might be different.
You tell students to address you by your first name and they keep calling you ‘professor’.
You’re telling the class a story and one student keep interrupting to comment on parts of your story and to ask questions.
You could think about your communication style, as well as the communication style of somebody you don’t get along with. What are the similarities and differences? Are your problems with communication a result of the similarities or the differences? It can help people to realise they have different communication styles. Chia has included a series of clines to help you do this in her book Successful International Communication [Amazon affiliate link/BEBC non-affiliate link]
Nothing can be said in a way in which it cannot be misunderstood.
The illusion of transparency: We always know what we mean, and so we expect others to know it too. There is a tendency to overestimate the extent to which other people understand us.
The ADAPT model (developed by Chia)
Awareness: What’s happened here? Describe the situation in other ways.
Don’t judge: avoid words like ‘picking at’, ‘being negative’
Analyse: can you think of at least 3 interpretations of why this is happening in this way/why the people behaved in this way?
Persuade yourself: align the communication values of the other person with yourself
Try: Me and my style v. Them and their style. If you try and adapt 20% of your behaviour, you might get 80% of the results you want (Pareto principle)
Challenging CCQs – Yulianto Lukito and Yanina Leigh
This presentation deals with CCQs (concept checking questions) as a language clarification technique. Trainees on pre-service courses and new teachers sometimes claim this technique is rigidly based on “the CELTA method” and does not work well in the real classroom where learners desire clear explanations. This session will question the validity of such a claim and propose practical strategies to deal with issues arising in this area.
Yuli and Yanina are asking does “questioning” work? The points below say they don’t:
Observation of trainees in pre-service courses
Lack of use – don’t use them at all
Overuse – asking them when they’re not necessary
Inappropriate use – not asking the right questions
Misuse – ‘If my room is upstairs, is it downstairs?’ (no purpose at all!)
Observation of experienced teachers
CCQs ‘don’t work’ with lower levels
‘Explanation’ is simpler and more time-efficient
Students don’t answer questions, so we’ll have to explain anyway
Learner feedback (anecdotal)
Learners want teachers to ‘explain’ well
Learners expect teachers to ‘explain’
Learners may perceive a lack of explanation as a lack of knowledge
So what can we do as trainers and teachers to help trainees/teachers see the benefit of questioning approaches?
Less CCQs – More CCTs
Concept clarification techniques, rather than questions.
On many courses, CCQs tend to become the technique to be used – in lessons, in assignments. The misperception of CCQs as part of ‘The CELTA method’ could be partly our fault as trainers. Should they be an obligatory part of Language Related Tasks? Is this giving trainees the impression that CCQs are more important than other techniques?
We should assess their ability to select appropriate concept clarification techniques instead. Here’s a selection of what trainees could use as a CCT:
Cline and timelines
Ask for examples and extension
Develop ‘questioning’ skills appropriate to the level
Help trainees become successful in eliciting information. Could becoming skillful at using questioning tehcniques effectively enable trainees (and teachers) to move away from lecturing learners? Explanations can be a comfort zone for many teachers, but this could be because they lack the skill of questioning well.
Focus on purpose first: to get information, opinions, check understanding
Question design and variety e.g. Funnel questions: typical CCQs. We ask quite a few questions to check the core meaning. Probing questions: allows you to gather more subjective data based on learner response. e.g. What are some examples of things which are revolting? Soup. Tell me why soup is revolting. Leading questions: If you ate soup, would you vomit straight away? Recall and process: open-ended questions. Use this promote critical thinking and discussion. Do you remember last week when we talked about….? What do you remember?
Scripting and practising
Rephrasing and adjusting: don’t give up too quickly. If students don’t answer, try to reword the question, provide more clues, though don’t turn it into a guessing game.
Consider waiting time – yes!
Being able to vary question design can help trainees avoid being in the habit of patterns like 2 questions answered ‘no’ followed by one answered ‘yes’.
This set of skills could be more useful fuel for a session than one dedicated to how to write CCQs.
Trainees plan CCQs for TL allocated. Peer-teaching to get feedback on appropriacy. This can improve teaching quality as trainees have a chance to experiment with techniques.
Video trainees (with permission!) during the lessons – gather a library of weak and strong clarification stages for other trainees to watch and discuss. Trainees aren’t really watching their peers on the days when they’re teaching – this could create a wider library for them to access.
Play games with CCTs. For example, charades. This could give trainees a chance to practise these techniques.
Give trainees the chance to go back and re-teach language to peers and see what they can improve, in a non-assessed, safe environment.
Responding to learners’ expectations – Is there a place for ‘explanations’ in the language classroom?
Yes, there is, as long as we explain well.
The students might have a different understanding of what explanation means to us – we might contrast explanation with questioning, whereas students might equate explanation with clarification.
There are some situations when explanation might be better:
L1 negative transfer – it might be faster sometimes to explain in the language
Universal concepts – just tell them what it is (e.g. banana)
Lack of knowledge – if they don’t know, you can’t elicit it – just tell them!
When students ask a random language question in the middle of the lesson – it can be frustrating if students are questioned in response
Error correction technique – it can be more efficient
Thematic words/phrases – key words for the lesson, tell them what it is and move on. You could use rhetorical questions to generate interest and move on.
[Odd CCQ moment I came across recently, clarifying the meaning of some global problems. “Child mortality. Are you OK with that?” Nobody batted an eyelid at this strange question!]
In conclusion, it’s not about abandonining CCQs, but keeping a balance. Helping trainees to realise when to ask and when to tell. CCQs can be ineffective for trainees, because they haven’t developed and practised questioning skills during the course.
In our discussion at the end of the session, Richard mentioned the idea of using techniques/questions to bring meaning into focus, stopping it from being so fuzzy. I like that idea that the meaning is blurred at first, and you’re using techniques to tighten it up. You could extend this metaphor – how focussed does the image need to be? Does it need to be completely sharp, or is a little fuzzy good enough? What’s the most efficient way to make it sufficiently sharp to move on with the lesson?
Teaching online: construct and methods to give teachers what they need – Alison Castle (mostly about the Trinity Certificate in Online Teaching)
This talk reports on Trinity’s development of a new online course and qualification that supports teachers working in an online environment. We will first review how we arrived at the underlying pedagogical underpinnings and then talk about how these were implemented in the course design. Finally, we will consider data from impact studies to identify lessons learnt for future support.
Some initial conversation questions:
If you have experienced a move from in-person to online teaching, what skills or knowledge did you feel you needed in order to be as effective online as you are in an ‘in-person’ class?
What skills or knowledge do you think teahcers need in general when transitioning from ‘in-person’ to online teaching?
What types of resources are needed to help teachers develop their online teaching skills?
They started off with a webinar series called Transformative Teachers, which has been running for a number of years. At the beginning of the pandemic, they started creating free online learning resources and enable blended and online Trinity courses. This moved on to writing a full courses, piloting and trialling it, and then launching it in the autumn.
It is self-study, convenient, bite-sized, and includes lots of examples of showing how to teach English online. They’re not just perfect classes, but real-life ones with a critique of what did and didn’t work. The support is informed by research and experience. There is a communicative focus, with the learner kept at the centre of the process.
The course is designed to develop the following areas:
Developing teachres’ ability to use online tools effectively
Helping teachers identify online tools that meet learning needs
Using interaction that encourages communicative learning in an online environment
Using online assessment techniques that meet learning needs
Helping teachers create a motivating environment for online learning
Increasing teachers’ confidence in facilitating online learning
There are 10 units of study, divided into 3 modules:
Preparing for the online classroom (intro, planning, classroom management)
Developing language skills
Resources for learning and teaching (tasks and activities, resource adaptation, design and creation)
You can access separate units or whole modules, so it’s flexible. There’s a sample unit on the website. It’s also possible to get a regulated qualification, an Ofqual Level 4 Certificate (CertOT), from Trinity if you complete the whole course.
Teachers need to be shown focussed, practical techniques to help their ‘just-in-time learning’.
Videos of real classes are just as valuable as mini best-practice videos.
Teachers need to be directed to consolidate learning, just like ‘non-teacher’ learners
Online learning must have a variety of media to help maintain interest and support local adaptation.
Teaching is a messy business: acknowledge and embrace this.
Teachers want certification for learning just as much as learners do!
Online teacher training in low resource contexts – Nicky Hockly
School closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have led to learning loss at all levels of education, including for teachers. This talk reports on fully online teacher training projects that TCE have carried out over the last 18 months in data-poor contexts in Africa. Lessons learned about designing fully online teacher training courses for low resource contexts will be shared.
The Consultants-E are members of Aqueduto and take part in research into online teacher training – there’s lots of interesting information on their website.
Through TCE, Nicky has experience of running projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, including English by WhatsApp, English Connects and a project called CoELT.
Some of the challenges to moving teacher training online during the pandemic (AQUEDUTO, 2022 – research to be published soon):
Lack of digital skills amongst trainers
Lack of access to tech
Lack of support for well-being, of teachers and learners
Resistance to working online
Positives found in the same research:
Rethinking teacher assessment
Enhanced collaboration and support
Online teacher training is now ‘on the map’ – accepted and recognised as valid
Nicky is telling us about a specific online project in South Africa.
Widespread school closures
Teachers unable to reach learners remotely
Rural / urban digital divide
High data costs (highest on the continent); loadshedding (rolling electricity cuts)
Lack of devices (e.g. one feature phone per family – i.e. with a keyboard, not a smartphone)
Online teaching/training via a VLE and/or videoconferencing not realistic in many SA contexts
Massive learning loss, especially in rural and deprived areas
COELT: Certificate in Online English Language Teaching: done in cooperation with the British Council and the Department for Basic Education (DBE). TCE developed the course, then trained a group of Master Trainers who took the course as participants at first then cascaded the training to teachers. The course was:
40 hours fully online
6 modules over 6 weeks
Aligned to EFAL (English as a First Additional Language) materials for Grades 1-12
Aligned to CiPELT and CiSELT training (teaching methodology certificates)
Self-study materials on a Google site
WhatsApp for teacher reflection and group work
Weekly Zoom sessions (for debrief and reflection)
Mentoring and evlauation:
Group mentoring via WhatsApp
Individual coaching via Zoom – several times during the cascade
Evaluation of online competencies via an evidence-based evaluation framework with indicators
As it was for a low-tech context, they kept the following in mind:
Easy to access materials: Google site, not behind a password protected VLE
Mobile-friendly: designed for mobile first
Low data demands: icons rather than photos, audio rather than video, H5P to create simple interactive elements in self-study materials (e.g. drag and drop, click on ABCD and get feedback)
South African teaching materials and local accents in audio
Downloadable PDFs for each module (many people will find wifi, download materials and take them away to read them)
WhatsApp as the main communication channel for teacher training
TCE took DBE materials and thought about how it could be delivered via WhatsApp in an engaging, realtime lesson.
The live lesson starts off with rules and routines. 10 minutes/5 minutes before the lesson, they check ‘Are you ready?’ The start of the lesson is reviewing the group rules which were established in the first lesson. There’s a clear signal for when they start: *OK, everybody. Ready, steady, go.* The lessons are very intense and very fast, although it’s important to remember that typing can take longer on a feature phone. The pace of the lesson is slower on a feature phone than on a smartphone.
They demo a live lesson on WhatsApp, with the trainees experiencing the lesson as students. Then there is clear signal that they’re now teachers, and share their immediate reactions to the lesson. There can be a mix of voice notes and text.
They also used WhatsApp for reflective course tasks during the course.
The digital skills of the teachers was so much lower than they expected. Key digital skills were lacking, for example being able to copy and paste. They added a 6-hour key digital skills to the beginning of the course with these absolute basics.
Tech with low demands in terms of data, but also in terms of the digital skills required.
Videoconferencing might not be appropriate – they used it because the DBE requested it, but not everybody could use it.
They used WhatsApp in RT (real time) and NQRT (not quite real time) – a combination of these interactions was very effective.
The interaction in WhatsApp was with text, pictures and voice notes, but no videos.
They integrated ways of how to use WhatsApp in other ways for education, for example liaising with parents.
Nicky expects that WhatsApp will continue to be used in this way even after the pandemic.
Using WhatsApp for teacher development – Khassoum Diop and Danny Norrington-Davies
In this session we will share our experience of using WhatsApp to offer development opportunities to large groups of teachers or teachers working in different locations. We will offer tips and advice on how to set up groups and set boundaries, encourage sharing and participation, and how to help teacher developers manage their time and commitments. We will finish by offering suggestions on how WhatsApp might be used on teacher development courses.
Danny is a trainer from IH London, and Khassoum is a trainer in Senegal. They ran the session as a Q&A. Danny asked questions and Khassoum gave the answers.
Some initial questions:
Have you ever used WhatsApp for teachign training?
How might WhatsApp be used for training in your context?
Why do you use WhatsApp for training and development?
Lots of teachers in different and sometimes remote locations
Poor internet coverage does not allow for high tech tools
Does not require lots of training/digital skills
Can use text, pictures and voice notes
Less expensive than other tools
How many teachers do you tend to work with?
As many teachers as possible! Locally and internationally.
What do you mainly use WhatsApp groups for?
Social interactions – building rapport and community with other teachers
Sharing techniques and ideas
What advice do you have for setting up and running discussions?
Set up a clear, focussed question.
Set clear time limits, e.g. the end of the week.
Situate discussions in the classroom so they are more real.
Respond to contributions and ask follow up questions so teacher do more than give lists of ideas.
Summarise and share the discussion at the end – these summaries can become training materials or articles for publication. The summaries are also shared on WhatsApp. Summaries can be written by the co-ordinating trainer, or by a member of the group.
What kinds of topics have you had discussions about?
They tend to focus discussions on a specific topic, for example, the different stages of listening comprehension, or strategies for teaching listening. The discussions can also motivate teachers to explore topics in more depth.
Discussions to develop content knowledge – for example, based on problems a student has, asking for advice, What would you say?
Discussions to develop pedagogic knowledge – for example, pair or groupwork.
Discussions framed as problems/case studies can be helpful to encourage teachers to answer.
How important is it to have rules and regulations on your teacher WhatsApp groups and how do you set this up?
A sample set of rules:
Remember that [this group] abides by these rules:
English posts ONLY
No religious or political posts
Give and take ONLY in [this group]
Do not keep silent, participate as much as possible.
No personal discussions in [this group]
Thank you for your understanding.
Set clear rules and boundaries at the start. These could relate to content, tone and times when you can post.
Have a system to deal with transgressions e.g. give a warning before taking action/suspending a participant
Give new participants time to settle before they become active
Talk to the ‘ghosts’ (the people who watch but don’t participate) – make sure people are giving as well as taking, because everybody’s ideas are valid. They find that a lot of people contribute the following session after this.
What advice do you have for encouraging teachers to share materials? What do you have to consider when you share materials?
There is a rule that they’re not there to assess or evaluate materials, but that everybody’s materials and ideas are valid. They don’t want people to feel ashamed about sharing materials. Be clear that the thread is about sharing rather than assessment.
Set a clear task e.g. ‘What speaking activity have you used recently that your students enjoyed? Please share it here saying what the task is and why you think the students enjoyed it’
How do you limit your own time commitments with the number of groups you have?
Khassoum makes sure he has time to rest. He chooses which sessions to attend, rather than attending all of them.
Set time limits for discussions.
Share the forum with other trainers if possible.
Have cut off times in the day when the group is closed.
Turn off your phone or mute notifications for set periods.
Make sure you have boundaries.
How do you ensure that the group is democratic rather than autocratic?
They tried to have different people running the sessions, including volunteers from the group. Some people said that they wanted to run a session because they wanted to learn something – you don’t have to be the knowledgeable one.
Invite teachers to set discussions or ask questions.
Inform the teachers you will be absent from the discussion for a set period. (Give them space!)
Set reflective questions e.g. ‘What was the biggest challenge you have faced with your class recently and how did you overcome it?’
Question from Khassoum: How do you think these ideas would work on a teacher training course?
Set ‘office hours’ and clear boundaries around topics e.g. no planning questions, no changing the topic mid-discussion.
Create and delete groups through the course e.g. Q&A for each assignment.
Set reflection tasks before feedback and sit out the discussion.
Flip training by setting questions or readings for input sessions. You can also encourage trainees to ask you questions: Tomorrow we’re going to talk about reading skills. What would you like to know?
Set observation tasks and run discussions during TP.
Trainers really appreciated the chance to share responsibility and to learn from each other in the WhatsApp groups.
There is no obligation for people to join groups. Discussions can be weekly, monthly, or at random. In their platform, they have Friday discussions from 4-6pm, though sometimes people share questions at other times. (A little like the #eltchat hashtag on Twitter!)
Reflective elements could be done in L1 if the English level is too low to be able to reflect in English (e.g. A1/A2), even if the trainer doesn’t understand the language.
They can see that the WhatsApp groups are working, because they see people sharing the ideas in other contexts, such as in other groups they are members of, and crediting the ideas back to the WhatsApp groups.
Group work is possible in WhatsApp too – you can have a bigger group with everyone, and smaller groups for teachers/students which you’re part of. [Teaching via WhatsApp is a whole new world to me, and sounds very exciting!]
They share WhatsApp groups organically by creating flyers which can be shared by/with other teachers. There’s a lot of word of mouth.
Meeting local needs in contexts new to the internet – Joe Wilsdon
The internet gains 700,000 users every day. The African Union plans for every individual on the continent to have internet access by 2030. With the assumption that English will remain the global language, how can language teacher training meet local needs in countries and cultures newly connected to the internet?
The internet is gradually becoming available to more and more people. Some initial discussion questions:
How has the internet changed your work as a teacher in your country?
Imagine you were training an online CELTA with candidate teachers from Nigeria, Pakistan and Canada. What, if any, information about their specific, local contexts would you want to know?
When the internet is available to the entire world, will a one-size-fits all course like CELTA be appropriate?
In some countries, internet use is on the phone, not on computers. It’s still possible to show images and short texts on phones around a large group – it’s not perfect, but it works.
The rural/urban dichotomy can often be a bigger difference than that between different countries.
The UN committed itself to as one of its infrastructure and development goals to ‘strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (goal 9C). This date has passed. Access to the internet is now possible from 97% of the world’s surface. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has access. Just 54% of the global population use the internet. In the least developed countries only 19% have online access. 2018 was the 50/50 point – when 50% of the global population had access to the internet.
What does it mean to have internet access? Within global development, it means to be able to access a device at some point that has the internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody has it. If one person in the village has a device which they give other people access to, that can mean multiple people count as having internet access.
According to ourworldindata 27,000 people gain access to the internet per hour. One project to help increase internet acccess was Google’s Loon, though it was discontinued in January 2021. Facebook Aquila was another project. One key question is whether we want mega-corporations to be in control of internet access.
What does increased internet access mean? Increased opportunities for girls and women is just one impact.
How does the spread of the internet to more people influence the ELT industry?
In Northern and Western Africa, 141 million people are native French speakers. If only five percent of those people seek and pay for online English classes, that’s seven million new clients for the ELT industry.
More students means more teachers. More teachers means more trainers.
On the other hand, more people online means more choice for the consumer, which means lower prices, which probably means lower wages.
Joe’s advice is to specialise as much as possible. General English may well be coming to an end. By having to become an expert in a particular field, we probably have to become more professional.
What about linguistic imperialism? Philipson (1992 – Amazon affiliate link) argued that the spread of English is already:
Perpetuating native speakerism
Contributing to the death of languages around the world
Perpetuating a model of culture that is Euro-centric
Joe doesn’t say this is wrong, but doesn’t a globalised world need a globalised language? In recent decades, enormous gains have been made in lifting people out of poverty (slowly, uncertainly, hesitantly, but still). Would it be possible to have a globalised economy without a globalised language?
Some thoughts on the next 15-20 years:
The number of EFL teachers will grow rapidly.
The majority will be teaching both online and offline.
A proportion of them will come from countries where English is taught through traditional, teacher-centred methods and not communicative approaches. (Note: it’s not self-evident that communicative approaches have to be the best way to learn)
Exposure to a greater variety of international speakers through internet access will change people’s perceptions of which accents/dialects are considered acceptable.
What might need to change?
Qualifications must adapt.
EFL training could become adaptable according to the region from which the participants hail.
An increasing number of countries are teaching all subjects in English to VYL.
CELTA could pivot to prepare trainees to teach history, science and maths in English? A more CLIL approach.
CELTA could also be more specialised towards teaching adults in their professions.
In the discussion afterwards, there was a discussion of the risk of being colonial in marking speaking/writing exams. It’s a challenge that exam boards need to address. Intelligibility between candidates might be fine, but examiners might not find candidates intelligible and therefore mark them down.
Translanguaging, with the combination of English with other languages, will become increasingly common, so that people will still be able to participate in communication.
It’s raining on prom night – Giovanni Licata and James Egerton
The last 18 months have been momentous for teacher training. The online transition has not only meant reinventing the wheel in some cases, but also facing ever-present teacher training fears that had been more hidden in the 100% physical classroom CELTA. Our session will spin the audience through technical, cultural-educational and organizational moments where it felt like the rain was ruining prom night, but for which moves in the new dance must be mastered.
The idea of this presentation started a long time before COVID. It was about thinking about the problems that teachers have and how to deal with them. What do you do when you’ve been building up to somethign for a long time, then things don’t happen the way you expect them to?
Face to face or Mask to mask? There are challenges to teaching in person with COVID restrictions too, not just to teaching online. There can be restrictions on not moving from your chair, not being able to monitor – all adding extra challenges to initial teaching experiences. [You might find some useful ideas on socially distanced teaching here.]
Giovanni would like to see a lot more experimentation with using different physical environments within the same school, to give you the privacy that breakout rooms give you.
We should try to stop ourselves from thinking that everything was rosy before the pandemic. The pandemic has been an accelerator to the integration of technology in education, not a circuit break. The idea of going ‘back to normal’ isn’t a thing. We need to reconceptualise what is happening in our spaces.
Flexbiliity: We have the choice with the spaces we work in to be able to provide the best possible services for teachers and trainers. How can we combine and integrate these two worlds?
Collaboration: Working with centres around the world. Can we continue to share ideas and innovations in the way we have during the pandemic?
Integration of new ideas
Key concepts moving forward:
Assessment – being flexible
Cognitive flexibility – awareness, confidence and flexibility
Hybrid: Attention can’t be split – all students online or all students face-to-face. Mixed-mode could be better – some lessons of each.
Learning by doing: Replanning a methodology course to prepare for online teaching – Joanna Szoke
During COVID, I had to completely redesign a simple methodology course to give enough practical support to my in-service trainees in online teaching and learning. The aim was to equip them with skills they could use right away. The talk will look at the design principles of this “learning by doing” course and its main takeaways.
Jo teaches pre-service and in-service trainees at a university in Budapest. The course she’s talking about was called ‘Using ICT tools in the ELT classroom’ – it was designed for face-to-face classrooms. [I sympathise – I wrote a whole MA assignment on a two-week ICT course I was really proud of, but which didn’t mention online teaching at all. Doh!] In-service trainees were transitioning into online teaching. Pre-service trainees had their first ever experience of teaching online.
She had to redesign the course completely to meet their needs, expectations and requests. She wanted to provide efficient support to struggling trainees with minimal online teaching experience. Jo believes in learning by doing and the power of passing knowledge on. She thought that the in-service teachers would be able to pass the knowledge onto their colleagues too.
The course design process:
Identify their needs.
Find out what they have to do and how they have to do it. Environments, software, tools they have access to. Done through interviews.
Remove everything from the old course schedule to create a new course!
She wanted/needed to include:
Zoom and MS Teams
Interactive tools like Learning Apps and WordWall
The course consisted of Zoom and VLE training (Google classroom), with autonomous and flipped components, and formative assessment. They got 5-minute long videos with tasks on Nearpod. They had open-ended questions at the end to serve as revision questions at the beginning of synchronous sessions. Formative assessment:
Flipped videos + required task+ optional tasks
Tasks in sync with the materials e.g. do a flipped lesson on Nearpod, then create a Nearpod lesson yourself; play a game on Wordwall, make one yourself
Option to resubmit improved assignments
Nearpod allows you to track what people have completed. [There’s a guest post on it here.]
A journey through time – Abeer Ali Okaz
University total closure took everyone by surprise. Most of the training that PUA academics have previously received did not seem to fully help. This presentation focuses on the challenges that necessitated the change in the current training programme. It will take attendees through a journey to adjustment and survival, and provide tips gained from PUA’s experiment with online learning.
The University of Pharos has around 3500 students registered for English each year. Challenges they faced when the pandemic started:
No phone numbers or emails for students, so no way to contact them.
Teachers without digital skills.
Lack of access to devices.
They created 114 Google Classrooms for their students, but not everybody could join them. Teachers were anxious and didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to prepare, they couldn’t write on screen, there was a huge amount of information about possible resources, teachers couldn’t monitor all the students carefully…they had all been through the university’s training programme before the pandemic, including some observed training and peer and formal observation.
The university realised they had to stop and reassess the training programme. They knew blended learning wasn’t going to go away – they had to redesign for the situation and for the future.
They changed their approach to training:
Bottom-up – teachers can create training content and manage its delivery. They could suggest sessions, research and share with each other. The attitude to younger teachers training older ones changed amongst the teachers.
Asking teachers via WhatsApp and Google Classroom what they needed.
Using Google Classroom and Padlet for content creation and ideas and tools. One team was responsible for each of these tools and collecting information to share on these platforms. The Padlet was open to all teachers to post ideas, comment on each other’s ideas and access them later too.
Helping the teachers to be responsible for their own learning and training other teachers handed over control, in the way that we want learners to be responsible. They surveyed teachers regularly to check that this met their needs.
They scheduled training based on priority and availability. The management was only facilitating – there was more reward for teachers from this approach.
Abeer believes that this approach will continue in the future – there were common goals, there has been a lot more interaction between teachers, morale has improved – teachers are very proud of the sessions they’ve done, and there is enhanced communication between teachers.
Final comments from Adrian Underhill
[This was an excellent way to end the conference – very positive! I may have missed some points, but here are many of them!]
The discontinuity of COVID has led to a huge amount of creativity. It’s amazing how we’ve managed to deal with this situation, and it’s released a huge amount of energy which this conference has showcased. The picture of training has become much more nuanced.
Core values are important – we’re not trying to be values free. We seem to be moving from ‘It works’ or ‘It doesn’t work’ to ‘I/We work’ – a much greater sense of agency and involvement, with a commitment to values and the expression of values.
We’re not just going into detail, but zooming out and looking at the big picture and questioning systems as a whole.
Interpersonal skills, as described by Chia, are the ground out of which everything else grows. We need to build trust and reduce distance. How do we talk about empathy? When Adrian started the TD group in 1986, he meant personal development for teachers. We need to think about How can we be more facilitative in our teaching?
How can we share power? Mentoring…Reflective practice… It’s great to see that in teacher training.
There’s a need for honesty and to be who we are. Sharing real experience, sharing insecurity, learning to forgive yourself and be less judgemental of ourselves so we can be less judgemental of others.
WhatsApp allows accessibility and communication, getting lots of people talking.
Flipped learning/teaching seems to have become more relevant than ever to maximise the use of synchronous time to have discussions and create meaning together, not just to go through facts.
Each can learn from the other: online from face-to-face and vice versa. We may see new potential in being online. It might not replace reading the room when you’re all together, but it might bring other things which we don’t recognise yet.
Leadership in ELT is a key concept too and was discussed today. Adrian gave a plenary on it at IATEFL 2012, but it’s taken a while to enter other parts of ELT. It’s about empowering others.
We can make a difference through training. We can be guided by meaning, values and people. With our ingenuity and energy, we can find ways of making a difference. We are connecting with the whole world. There’s hope for the future.
These are summaries of the talks I attended during day two of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day one is here.
Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!
Plenary – Writing for yourself and the rest of the teaching community – me 🙂
Plenary – Not just diversity, but unity – Fiona Mauchline
If we’ve learnt anything in 2020-2021, it’s that we need people: to shape our lives, and to learn. Emerging from such isolating times, let’s reflect on how to employ not just ‘people in the room’ ELT approaches, but ‘between people in the room’ approaches. Connection: what language is for.
Fiona reminds us that while of course it is important to get more voices in the room and to focus on diversity, it is also important to consider the connections between the people in the room. She asked us:
What two things did you most miss about life while in lockdown or under restrictions?
What do you most miss about face2face conferences/ELT events?
How do you feel about group communication in a Zoom room with more than 3 people?
She reminds us how important it is to get students talking as early as possible in a session or lesson to break the ice and help students to feel comfortable sharing ideas – these questions were an example of that kind of activity.
Most of the answers in the chat showed that we missed the social aspects of life. There has been a lot about changing narratives and diversity over the past year, but the most important thing Fiona has noticed has been the need for connection and unity. Cohorts who met entirely online and never had any contact face-to-face first seemed to have less effective learning. Fiona shook up her teaching, for example by including sessions where she set things up and left the lesson for a while to give the students space and to move the focus away from her.
In many classrooms, both face-to-face and online, we all look in the same direction, which our brain interprets as a non-communicative situation. We’re all separate online, in different boxes, which our brain interprets as being apart and non-communicative. Even face-to-face, it’s hard to find images of classrooms with people really looking at each other – again, the body language implies not communicating.
We need to look at physically moving learners into communicative modes, rather than just having them speak to each other. Build on the social in your classrooms. Here are some ideas to do this:
Fiona said her plenary last was a ‘call to arms’ and this year it’s a ‘call to hugs’ 🙂
Fostering Learner Autonomy in Virtual Classes – Patricia Ramos Vizoso and Urszula Staszczyk
We all want to see our students bloom and become more autonomous learners. In this talk we will look into some practical ideas that can empower them to be more active and conscious participants in their language learning process, making the whole learning experience a memorable one for both them and us.
Learner autonomy is important because it leads to more efficient and effective learning (Benson, 2011). It helps them to become lifelong learners. Learners are more invested in their learning, and therefore more motivated, because they choose what works for them. They also understand the purpose and usefulness of lessons. Class time is not sufficient – learners need more time to really learn a language.
These are possible ways of focussing on learner autonomy:
In this talk, Ula and Patricia will focus on learner-based and teacher-based approaches.
To implement learning autonomy in class, be aware that it’s a process – it needs to be done regularly, step by step. For example, start by giving them choices (Do you want to do this alone or in pairs? Who do you want to work with?) You have to be consistent and patient – results might not be immediate. The teacher is a facilitator, not the source of knowledge. Try different things, and don’t be afraid to take risks – different things will work for different groups.
We could say that there are 3 phases of learner autonomy:
Kick-off: All learners have the potential to be autonomous, but we need to develop this potential. Teachers are there to help learners understand what that potential is and what options learners have.
Action: This is the ‘doing’ phase.
Reflection and Evaluation: Learners decide what worked and what didn’t.
Set goals: SMART objectives, a class goal contract, or unit objectives. Discuss these goals, keep track of them, and when learners lose motivation or go off track, discuss the goals again. Possible headings to help learners frame their goals:
What is your goal?
How do you plan to achieve this goal?
When and how often will you do the work?
How long will it take?
Who will evaluate your progress? How?
Learners might not know how to create goals like this, and will probably need support. Here is an activity you could do to help them, by presenting problems and solutions which students match, and learners decide which strategies they want to try out.
Give students choices in class:
Who will they work with? When?
How will they do tasks? Written, oral, video…?
What materials will they use?
What do they want to improve?
Encourage them to think about why they make these choices, not just what the choices are.
Another idea is a choice board:
The phrases on the right are feedback Patricia got from her students, which she conducted in their first language.
Other ideas for action: encourage peer correction, create checklists with students, flip lessons, micro presentations (1-3 minutes) based on topics they’re interested in, task-based learning, project-based lessons.
You can adapt activities from coursebooks or other materials you’re using to make tasks more autonomous – you don’t have to start from scratch. Small changes in instructions can make a different. For example, rather than ‘Write a summary’, change it to ‘Produce a summary’, then discuss what that might mean. Ula’s learners produced a mind map, bullet points, a comic strip, and a paragraph as their summaries, then did some peer feedback before they handed in the work. This is what Ula’s learners thought about these twists to the task:
This could happen after an activity, after a class, or after a specific period of time. It can be individual or in groups. As with all parts of the learner autonomy process, it’s gradual and you need to support students to do this effectively.
‘Can do’ statements
Guided reflection questions
What did we do today?
Why are we doing this?
How will this help your English?
What makes it difficult?
How can I make it easier next time?
Do you prefer to be told what to do or to choose what to do? [Helps learners/teachers to think about goals and strategies for achieving them, as well as encouraging students to take risks and try something new and not just do things which are easy for them]
3 things I’ve learnt, 1 thing I’ll do better next week, 2 things I enjoyed
Reflective diaries (good for helping learners to see how their goals have/haven’t changed over time, what strategies they’ve tried to use, what’s worked and what hasn’t)
Emoticons work with young learners:
The reflection stage gives you as a teacher useful feedback too about how to improve your implementation of learner autonomy in the classroom.
“Why not just google it?”: dictionary skills in digital times – Julie Moore
This session will explore the unmediated world of online dictionaries, what ELT teachers really ought to know about online reference resources, and how we can pass that information onto our students to point them towards appropriate tools that will prove genuinely useful in their language learning journey.
Julie started off by telling us about the boom in learner dictionaries which happened in the late 1990s and how much the landscape of dictionaries has changed in the interim. Dictionaries are expensive to produce, but sales have plummeted.
Many teachers might still think about dictionary skills in relation to paper dictionaries, even if they use online dictionaries themselves. They also might not think about how to train learners how to use online dictionaries.
Paper v. online
Paper dictionaries are somewhat cumbersome and require some skill to access. HOwever, if learners bought a dictionary they were generally teacher-recommended, reliable and audience-appropriate (designed for learners).
Online lookups are quick, familiar and intuitive. You can use them wherever, whenever you like. You’re not tied to a single dictionary – you can look at lots of different resources. They’re ‘free’ (at least to some extent). However, they’re unmediated and can be difficult for students to navigate. Dictionaries online are for very different audiences and are often inappropriate for learners. They’re sometimes misleading, and it can be demotivating if learners don’t understand.
Teach learners to ask: Where is the information from? In the screenshot above, it says ‘Oxford Languages’, but who exactly is that? In this case, it came from Lexico, the Oxford University Press dictionary, and is aimed at first-language English speakers. There are specific Oxford dictionaries for learners though.
Collins Cobuild is aimed somewhere between first language and monolingual learners
Merriam Webster is useful for American English speakers. Their main site is aimed at L1 speakers, but they have a learners dictionary.
The differences between them are mostly about formats – they are all high quality.
How much information is there?
The screenshot above is actually an excerpt from the longer entry. Here is the full entry from Lexico:
Vocabulary in definitions
In L1 dictionaries, the definition is often a higher level than the target word, often abstract and grammatically dense. This is not a problem for most L1 speakers, but can be a real challenge for learners. You can see examples above.
Compare these to learner dictionary definitions:
Learner dictionary definitions generally draw from a set list of words to create definitions, typically a list of 2000-3000 words. This means that B1 learners, maybe even A2 learners, should be able to access the definitions. Definitions are grammatically simple and accessible. Collins Cobuild use full sentence definitions, putting the word into a sentence.
In learner dictionaries, there is often extra information like word formation, pronunciation audio, Collins has video pronunciation for many words too and a curated set of example sentences. The first example sentence is often a ‘vanilla’ example – how the word is typically used. Many learners won’t read beyond the definition or the first sentence. Further sentences show colligation (grammar patterns), often with with bolded words to highlight the patterns. Sometimes the grammar patterns are spelt out separately, but not always. Other example sentences show collocations.
Learners need to know that all of this is available. Dictionary skills are still vital to teach to help learners work independently.
Teaching dictionary skills
When students ask what a word means, use it as an opportunity to look at a dictionary. In feedback on writing, you can give learners a link to help them find out more about vocabulary – they’re far more likely to follow up than if you just say ‘look it up in a dictionary’. It’s hard to resist clicking on a link!
If lots of learners have had the same problem, bring it into class.
[Unfortunately I had to miss the last few minutes of this very useful talk!]
Some feedback on your feedback – Duncan Foord
Tools and techniques for giving feedback to CELTA trainees and experienced teachers
The workshop is aimed at CELTA tutors and anyone who observes teachers and gives them feedback.
Despite the fact that this activity is probably the key element in the CELTA course and probably the most crucial developmental activity for practicing teachers, CELTA trainers and Directors of Studies are given relatively little training and guidance on how to do it well. In this workshop we will look at effective ways of providing feedback to novice and experienced teachers after observing them teach. Come to this workshop for some tips on how to do it better and how to continue to develop your skills as a trainer and mentor.
Uses facts in support of observations
States the impact this had
Indicates what is preferable
Discusses the consequences (negative and positive)
General comments, unsupported with specific examples
Blames, undermines, belittles, finds fault and diminishes the recipient
Gives no guidance for future behaviour
Delivery is emotional, aggressive or insulting
The first area of giving general comments, is probably the most common one that I’ve been guilty of – I’ve worked hard on this part of my feedback.
Thinking about comments
Are these observer comments useful? Is so, why? If not, why not, and how would you improve them?
You didn’t correct students enough in the lesson today.
Tell me one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well.
Did you achieve your aims today?
It’s difficult grading your language to a new level.
Some students arrived late, but that wasn’t your fault.
Tom (peer trainee), what did you think of Marta’s lesson today?
Vladimir and Keiko were very quiet in the pair work activity. Why do you think that was?
Do you think you used ICQs enough?
How could you set up that conversation task more effectively next time?
This task prompted a lot of discussion in our breakout room. We talked about the usefulness of questions like:
How did X affect your students?
How did the students respond to X/when you did X?
What evidence do you have that X was useful to your students?
These were Duncan’s ideas:
‘Tell me about one thing that went well and one that didn’t go so well’ – this doesn’t give a lot of support in terms of what ‘well’ means, and turns the lesson into some kind of talent show. I’d never thought about this before – definitely going to stop asking that!
Aims – what if the aims weren’t very good in the first place? The changing the aims question invites the teacher to reflect on how useful their aims actually were.
It’s not useful to wallow in the idea of difficulty. It would be better to look at solutions.
We should mention the students in our feedback, rather than focussing only on the dynamic between the tutor and the teachers.
Frame the question from the point of view of its outcomes: Did students understand what they had to do in the role play activity? If trainees can see the consequence, they’re more likely to look for solutions.
Look to the future: How could you…more effectively next time? Rather than How would you have…?What would you have…?
It’s important for teachers to see the consequences on the students, rather than the consequences on the ticklist in yours/the teacher’s head.
Feelings: if the teacher needs to grieve something, or is really upset, you can ask ‘How did you feel about the lesson?’ but if not the question isn’t necessarily that useful.
Be specific and mention students all the time. How well did students understand the language point you were teaching them? How did Vladimir and Lucia deal with that activity?
Work with facts not opinions, the lesson not the teacher. Abdellah did not participate in the pair activity.
Focus on key points, don’t get distracted with trivia. What did students learn/practise? Was it useful? What was the atmosphere in class like?
Duncan boils down the essentials of a lesson to:
Did the students learn or practise anything?
Was it any use?
What was the atmosphere like?
This is one way to start feedback. It’s also probably what students are asking about lessons themselves too.
You ask them those questions, and can lead on to ‘What are the consequences of this?’ / ‘What does all this mean?’ It can make it easier during a course for trainees to realise that that’s why a lesson has failed to meet criteria too. If it’s a fail lesson, it can also be easier to tell the trainee right at the start as otherwise they could well be distracted trying to work out if it’s a fail; then the discussion is about what you can do to make it a pass next time.
There were regular one-hour coffee breaks throughout the conference. I went to the final one from the conference. This was a great way to have chats with small groups of people. I chatted to teachers in Toronto, Benin, Moscow, and Saudi Arabia, among others. I really liked this feature 🙂
We were also told about the Oxford TEFL online community for teachers OT Connect, particularly for newly-qualified teachers or for those who don’t get CPD elsewhere, but it could be good for lots of people.
Engaging learners online with hand-drawn graphics – Emily Bryson
Simple drawings are an effective tool to teach vocabulary, make grammar intelligible, and support students to attain essential life skills. This workshop demonstrates innovative graphic facilitation activities to use in class—and will convince you that anyone can draw! Get ready to activate your visual vocabulary to engage your learners online.
Emily stopped drawing as a teenager, but then a graphic facilitator visited her college a few years ago and now she uses it all the time. She trains others in how to use it, and is constantly learning to improve her own drawing.
There is research to show that drawing helps learning to remember vocabulary. There can be a wow factor to drawing too – it’s not as hard as people think.
This is an example of a visual capture sheet:
Emily asked us to use the stamp tool in annotate to mark the wheel to show what we do with drawing already – I like this as a Zoom activity 🙂
Ideas for including drawings in lessons:
Include images in classroom rules posters.
Ask students to draw pictures to accompany their vocabulary.
Have a set of icons/images – each one could be a new line of a conversation, or the structure of a writing text, or to indicate question words as prompts for past simple questions, like this:
Create an image to indicate a 5-year plan. Two hills in the background, with a road leading towards them. What would be at the top of the hill for you? What would your road map be?
Use visual templates (in the classroom or on Jamboard):
Draw a mountain and a balloon. The students have to work out how to get the balloon over the moutain. The mountain was the challenges facing them in their English learning, the balloon was the learning itself.
Visual capture sheets can be more engaging:
Drawing storytelling. Emily uses this to teach phonics as part of ESOL literacy, especially for learners who can’t write in their first language. It gives them something they can study from at home. Emily showed us how she uses a visualiser to help the students see the story as she draws it, with them sounding out the words as they understand the story.
Use images to check understanding – learners annotate which image is which, or to answer questions.
Encourage critical thinking, for example by having some images in grey and others in colour.
Start with a blob or a squiggle. Learners say what it could/might be, and can draw on top of it too:
Anybody can draw 🙂 Emily showed us how to draw based on the alphabet. For example, a lightbulb is a U-shape, with an almost O around it, a zig zag, a swirl, and you can add light if you want to:
For listening, the icon might be a question mark with an extra curl at the bottom, and a smaller one inside, with sound waves too if you want them to be.
For reading, draw a rectangle for the cover, two lines from the top for pages, and some C shapes down the side to make it spiral bound.
For writing, draw a rectangle at an angle, with a triangle at the bottom = pencil. Add a small rectangle at the top, plus a clip = pen. Draw a larger rectangle behind = writing on a piece of paper.
If you’re not sure how to draw an icon, just search for it – ‘motivation icon’, ‘study skills icon’ for example – it can be much easier to copy an icon than to copy a picture. The Noun Project has lots of different ideas too.
As Pranjali Mardhekar Davidson said in the comments, all drawings can be broken down into basic shapes. This makes it much less intimidating!
Emily’s message: Feel the fear, and draw anyway! 🙂 and if you’d like to find out more, you can join one of Emily’s courses. Her blog is www.EmilyBrysonELT.com where there are lots more ideas too. You can share your drawings using #drawingELT
This was originally going to be the topic for my IATEFL Manchester 2020 talk, so the ‘this year’ referred to in the title is 2019-2020. Although the IATEFL conference moved online and to 2021, it’s still relevant and still true, and serves as a good reminder to me about what I was thinking a year ago when I first presented it at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference in January 2020. If you’ve read that post, you’ll find that this is the same thing again but with a few minor tweaks for online training 🙂 I gave this version of the talk on Saturday 19th June 2021.
Here is a video of the session which I recorded before the big day in case of technical problems:
Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, 2019 gave me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I did for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.
Working with humans
Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In the live version of this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Online, you could use the chatbox for a similar activity, or put people into breakout rooms. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues.
Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s (still!) something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.
Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in summer 2019. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course. This served as an interesting way to reflect on the week.
Start where they are
This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.
Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen at school so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session. Online, you can use tools like Google Jamboard, Mentimeter or AnswerGarden for a similar activity.
Experience-based rather than information-based
We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.
I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual.
I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.
As we shifted online, I moved to completely the other extreme content-wise. I ended up having almost no content as I thought that teachers had far more first-hand experience of the online classroom than I did and would therefore appreciate being able to share their ideas with each other. After a couple of workshops which fell flat, I realised I still needed to include content which came from me, and I’ve hopefully moved towards a better balance now.
I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.
In most of my workshops I now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, teachers choose two or three to try in the next week and (ideally) their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. I aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.
I’m still thinking about how best to do this on CELTA courses, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them. I always try to make explicit connections in input sessions to particular lessons I know trainees are going to teach, as well as referring back to input sessions and handouts when doing assisted lesson planning, but I’m not sure how successful this is.
Learning through dialogue
Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others.
Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.
As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that teachers should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and realise that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.
Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. This was something else I had trouble with when we moved to online workshops, as I fell into a trap of always having experience sharing sessions with ideas pooled in a Google Doc – this got old very quickly! I feel like I’ve been able to move past that now with a lot more online workshops under my belt. Walking the walk means that teachers/trainees are more likely to respect your advice, not least because they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.
Having said that, trainers need to make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.
Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:
What do you need more help with?
What will you take from this session into your lessons?
What should we keep the same?
What should we change?
Anything else you want to tell us?
This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback. I realise I haven’t carried this through to online workshops, but we’re done with them for this year!
I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.
Does your training follow similar principles? Will you reconsider anything in your training based on anything here?
If you’re interested in developing as a teacher trainer, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code ZX79U until 17th July 2021).
There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:
Zhenya Polosatova kindly invited me to take part in the series of Trainer Conversations she has been running on her blog for the past few months. As always with this kind of conversation, it made me realise new things about what I think about teaching and training – thanks Zhenya! You can read my conversation or explore the whole series (definitely recommended!)
On 18th and 23rd January I presented my talk on communication tips at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers conference. Here is the blurb:
Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. Clear, supportive communication is something I feel very passionate about, and have worked on a lot over the past few years. In this talk, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.
This was a variation of a presentation I originally did for ACEIA in October 2020. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post. You can watch the video from the IH AMT here (and links to other talks from the event in this blogpost):
Here are my slides from the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day, where I also did a 30-minute version of the talk:
What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?
On 28th November 2020 I had the honour of being the opening plenary speaker for the IH Bielsko-Biała Teacher Training Day. The theme of the day was ‘From the Heart’, with speakers discussing topics they’re passionate about. For me, that’s the importance of clear communication.
This was a variation of a presentation I did last month for ACEIA. You can see the presentation written out in full in this post.
Here’s the video, including a link to the playlist for the rest of the day:
Here are my slides from Bielsko-Biała:
What tips do you have for communicating more clearly with students, teachers and trainees?
On Saturday 17th October I presented as part of the Asociación de Centros de Enseñanzade Idiomas de Andalucía (ACEIA) 1st virtual conference. It was a new management talk:
Communication is the keystone of management, with the quality of your communication making the difference between a team that resents every change you make and one that will follow where you lead. While I can’t promise to resolve all your communication problems, I can offer various tried and tested tips to improve the effectiveness of online and offline communication with your team, hopefully leading to a more positive, supportive environment for all of you.
This is a topic I feel very strongly about, as my experiences of bad and good managers have largely centred around the quality of their communication. In my own management experience I’ve noticed that as my ability to communicate successfully and clearly has improved, I’ve gained confidence and I feel like the people I manage trust me more. They are also very open to giving me feedback on my management in general and my communication specifically. The tips in my talk are primarily aimed at managers, but many of them would be useful for teachers and general communication in life too.
These were my slides:
Before you do any broadcasting, it’s important to listen.
Don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or assume I know what’s coming next and start replying. A colleague once told me this was stopping him from speaking to me properly – he suggested I use my finger to stop myself from being able to speak! This really works: when I shouldn’t interrupt, I adopt a thinking pose with my index finger on my lips and it makes it much harder to start speaking.
Pay full attention. Stop what you’re doing and really listen. Make eye contact. Listen with your brain as well as your ears – don’t just spend the time working out what you’re going to say next or how you’re going to solve the problem.
What are they not saying? Notice body language and patterns of communication (or lack of communication) which may indicate hidden messages. Perhaps the person you’re speaking to is very stressed about something but doesn’t know how to communicate this. Perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed in general. Perhaps they really don’t like communicating with you and are avoiding it (not necessarily because they don’t like you – perhaps they don’t know how to speak to somebody they perceive as an authority, or perhaps they don’t want to interrupt you because they think you’re busy, or perhaps they don’t feel like they trust you enough to talk to you yet.) There’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ there, because we never really know, but be open to hidden messages, not just the ones which are explicitly stated.
Consider your medium carefully. What is the best way to communicate your message? Options might include:
We have so many options for communication now. The method we use says something about how formal or serious particular communication is, whether a written record is required (either to track information or simply so information is easy to refer back to), how much (perceived or real) time we have available, and how we might want our interlocutor(s) to respond.
Be clear about what information doesn’t exist. If you don’t have information yet, make sure the other person knows this. Otherwise, they may assume you’re keeping it from them for some reason. For example, if you know that a one-to-one student is in a teacher’s timetable, but said student hasn’t confirmed the start date of the lessons yet, tell the teacher that you don’t know the start date.
Be realistic about when communication will happen. Following on from the previous point, ensure that people know when they are likely to get any missing information and what factors will affect this. For example, when will the school contact the student to confirm the start date? Knowing when you will get information can reduce anxiety, and mean you can more easily postpone worrying about something until later.
Remind people to help you with communication. As managers, we’re normally spinning a lot of plates, and inevitably we’ll lose some of them. Get your staff on board to help you. Ask them to prod you if you don’t reply within 3 working days for example, and be clear about what is their responsibility to follow up on and what is yours.
Be open about mistakes in communication. Apologise when needed. We’re humans. We make mistakes. This is just as true in our communication as it is in any other area. Sometimes the things we do or say (or don’t do or say!) can be stressful for somebody else, or make their jobs harder. If you realise that your actions have made this happen, apologise for it. This is far more likely to build relationships of trust than brushing such mistakes under the carpet or pretending they didn’t happen.
Consider the timing of your communication carefully. What messages are you sending out about…
By instantly replying to every message you receive, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and probably interrupting your life outside work. You are also implicitly indicating that you expect instant responses from the people you work with, and are therefore adding unnecessary stress to them.
By replying to messages at unusual times, such as very early in the morning or late at night, you’re also implying that your employees should do this too.
By being available all the time, you’re losing the chance to have a life outside work, or at least drastically reducing that chance.
To help yourself to communicate more healthily, set working hours and consider what notifications you have, and pass this information on to your team. For example, our senior team have clear working hours which all the teachers know, WhatsApp notifications, but no email notifications. We have told teachers that we will respond to phone calls or WhatsApp messages as soon as possible within working hours (or I’ll respond to early morning phone calls too to arrange cover for sickness), but emails will be responded to when we get to them.
You can also make use of the scheduling function which most email providers have to ensure that your messages are sent at reasonable working hours or at the point of need, rather than when you wrote them at 6am, or 5 days before a teacher needs to see it.
Is it really an email? We’ve all sat in a completely pointless meeting which should have been an email. Only have meetings for things which require some form of discussion or Q&A.
What is the meeting for? Who is it (really) for? Know why you are requiring people to be in the same place at the same time. Make sure it’s not just for you, but that they are benefitting from the meeting too. Our school meetings happen every Friday for 30 minutes. They have two purposes. The first is to pass on information which is important for that point in the year and to ensure teachers know how to fulfil their responsibilities concerning things like writing reports or marking written work. The second is a social reason: it’s the only time in the week when we are a single school and a single team, all in the same place. This is why it was so important for us to continue these weekly meetings when we were all working from home too, to reduce the sense of isolation.
Do you need to say it all? At some points in a meeting, you may not need to read all of the information. Let people process information for themselves if it’ll be faster. For example, in our (deliberately fuzzy) agenda below you can see bullet points at the top. There are two sections: Please can you… for things they don’t need to hear me say, and Reminders for things like dates for their diary which I’ve already spoken about before. There is also colour coding, as suggested by our teachers at the end of last year. Orange indicates I’m telling you for the second time, red would be for the third time. [The document is titled ‘agenda’, but also acts as minutes – it’s edited during the meeting, printed out and put on the wall, and also available on Google Drive for teachers to refer back to as needed.]
Break up the info dump. As you can see, we share a lot of information during our meetings. They normally take the full 30 minutes allocated to them, sometimes a little longer. It’s impossible for somebody to focus on one person talking for all of that time and actually process the information. At one or two points in the meeting I normally have some kind of discussion, for example ‘What do you need to remember to do from the meeting so far?’ or ‘Have you picked up anything while teaching on Zoom this week which would be useful for everyone else?’ This gives me a little break, changes the pace, and allows teachers to process the information a little. It also creates a couple of extra beginnings and endings during the meeting, meaning information is a tiny bit more likely to be retained and acted on.
Are the next steps clear? At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody knows what they’re expected to do next and what the deadlines are.
Include positives/thank you. In a general meeting, include positive things too. I found that I used to feel like I just spent 30 minutes every week telling the staff off or nagging them. I still do sometimes, but ending on a positive note has reduced that feeling.
Clear subject line. Make your subject line as clear as possible to avoid guessing games and make it easier to find emails again later. If it’s new topic, start a new thread with a new subject line. Be selective about your use of the word ‘urgent’ in subject lines.
One big email? Lots of little emails? If you have lots of information to convey to the same people in a single day, it’s better to send out a single longer email than lots of short emails. This is less overwhelming in inboxes and easier to refer back to.
Signpost big emails. Use headings and highlight key points to help readers navigate the block of text. Put new topics into new paragraphs, and use bullet points to break down topics as needed.
Make it easy to use your emails. Don’t expect recipients to read between the lines. Be explicit about what kind of reply is needed and when. Include links to anything external so the recipient doesn’t have to hunt for them.
It may seem like it will take longer to write emails like this, but it will probably save you time in the long run as you’ll have to do less chasing, and won’t need to resolve issues like people filling in the wrong document because you didn’t include the link to the right one.
Here are two examples of emails I’ve sent recently:
Documents to check + creating Zoom IDs
Here are all of the documents you need to check your timetable against:
– Room timetable – Level meeting timetable – Cover timetable – Register links (these will appear in your Google Docs later in the day – please don’t ask for them – I’ll put up a note on the door when they’re ready)
Your register links document takes you to various general links for teachers, including the Zoom IDs list. Please create meetings for all of your Zoom classes on Friday 18th. Make sure they recur until 30th June 2021 so you never have to change them through the year. Add the ID and password to the Zoom ID document so it’s available for cover and if the office need to tell a student.
When you have added all Zoom IDs to the list and checked all of your documents, reply to this email. Say ‘Fine’ if it’s all complete. List any problems if not – be as clear as possible. Please do not send the email separately – I want to keep it all in one thread so I can keep track of who’s replied.
In this email you can see:
a clear subject line;
clear instructions on how to complete the task;
information about how exactly they should reply and what information I need;
why I’m asking them to do things in this way.
Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year (please reply by Monday 7th Sept 18:00)
[This email image is deliberately blurred.]
In this email you can see:
a clear subject line, including exactly when I need a reply by;
topics highlighted in blue;
all documents needed are attached;
all links to be followed are included in the email.
We’re managing a lot of communication, and potentially there are a lot of versions of documents flying around.
Date any documents you send out, rather than having the same file name or calling them 1, 2, 3, etc. Reverse order sorts them nicely: 2020.10.17. I normally keep all previous versions in a folder called ‘Archive’ and only the active version in the top folder to help me navigate. Here’s an example from the presentations on my personal computer:
Note any deadlines you set for replies in your diary or calendar. Follow up only with those who didn’t meet deadline, rather than sending out a blanket email to everyone. Don’t start following up until the deadline arrives – otherwise you are creating extra implicit deadlines, and causing yourself and your colleagues unnecessary extra stress.
This can be one of the most challenging parts of our jobs, whether as teachers, managers or trainers, and can often be the cause of a lot of stress.
Use a feedback model (this one is from Manager Tools). This structure can help you to keep feedback neutral and ensure that the person on the receiving end is receptive to it (whether positive or negative). There are four steps:
Ask Can I give you some feedback?
Describe the behaviour: When you…
Describe the impact: …it makes me feel / …students find it difficult to… / …students are really engaged.
Discuss next steps: Keep it up! / What can you do about this? How can I help you?
It’s important to get the person you’re speaking to to say what the next steps are themselves, and preferably the ideas will come from them. They’re much more likely to act on the feedback if they say it rather than if you say it.
Focus on behaviour and actions, not personality. This keeps things more neutral and means feedback feels more constructive and less like a personal attack. It takes practice! If you’re not sure if your feedback does this successfully, run it by somebody else you trust and ask for help with rephrasing it as needed before you give it to the person concerned.
What expectations are teachers holding themselves / you holding teachers to? Teachers can often be their own worse critics, and beginner teachers in particular may not allow themselves to be beginners. Ensure that any expectations are realistic for the level of experience of the teacher, and that they know what you expect of them is fair.
Boost confidence and spot strengths too. Aim to give at least as much positive, confidence-boosting feedback as you do feedback on areas to improve.
Ask, don’t assume. Ask questions, rather than thinking you know why something happened or what somebody is feeling or experiencing at a given point.
Be patient and supportive. Aim for communication which helps rather than hinders or stresses out your colleagues. Keep this in the back of your mind, and don’t let your own stress or frustration at the fact this is the 18th time you’ve asked come through (easier said than done, but vital to remember!)
Provide training on your bug bears. To reduce your own stress levels, teach people how to do things which frustrate you when they do it ‘wrong’. For me this is the use of ‘Reply all’ rather than ‘Reply’ to group emails – you can also avoid this by BCCing all of the receiving emails, because then people can only reply to the sender rather than everyone!
Be on the receiving end of your own communication. Copy yourself into your group emails using your personal address, so you realise just how many emails you’re sending out. Record a meeting and sit through the whole thing without fast-forwarding it. You’ll soon send fewer emails and run shorter meetings!
Be a learning communicator
Reflect on particularly successful / unsuccessful communication. Why did that observation feedback run so smoothly? Why did that interview feel horrible throughout?
Seek out feedback. Ask for feedback on your communication. This includes when communication went wrong – wait until the emotion has gone out of the situation, then ask for advice on how you could have made the situation run more smoothly. If your staff trust you, they’ll be very willing to give you this feedback.
Choose an area to focus on. For me, this is currently all of the points in ‘listen’ at the start of this post!
Be kind to yourself 🙂 Your communication won’t always be perfect, but don’t dwell on it when things don’t work out. Model learning from problems and mistakes, seeking feedback, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.
What tips would you add to improve communication as a teacher, manager or trainer? Have you had any experiences of particularly good or bad communication which have helped you to become a better communicator?
Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic.
This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.
What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching.
(Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.
On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:
The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.
Teacher feedback on the workshop
These comments are shared with permission.
(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.
I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.
I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.
Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.
Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.
I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!
I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?
Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.
Own pace and autonomous.
Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.
Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.
I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).
Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.
I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.
Could focus on an area I was interested in.
Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!
I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!
Generally like the format.
Areas to improve:
(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.
People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]
The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’
Hard to find a specific direction.
Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.
I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.
There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.
Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.
Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.
Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.
Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.
Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5.
As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂
I’ve just found some old notes from a workshop we ran at our school after a round of lesson observations where we saw every teacher, and thought it might provide a useful model for somebody somewhere.
I started by summarising all of the positive points which came out of the observations – I think it was probably the third and final round of observations for the year. This was the list:
Clear effort and planning that had gone into the lessons
Huge progress through the year
Demonstrating an obvious response to feedback we had given
Points and routines used more consistently in young learner and teen classes
Anticipating problems and being able to deal with them efficiently
Varying lessons effectively
Demonstrating ideas the observers could steal (one of my favourite things about observing!)
Teachers knew their students and there were no surprises with students having trouble with what happened in the lessons
Teachers were challenging themselves, not just coasting with their teaching
Experimenting with ideas from workshops
We then had about 30-40 minutes left. Each member of the senior team was in charge of an area of development we’d noticed when observing. The four areas were:
Getting attention and monitoring
Brain breaks/stirrers and settlers
The aim of activities/where is the learning happening
The teachers were free to spend as much or as little time as they wanted with each of us, to visit all of us or stay focussed on one area, to move around as they pleased and to participate as much or as little as they wanted to (side conversations were fine!). This gave the teachers autonomy within the session.
The final area on the list was mine. If I remember rightly I had a few of the course books we used at the school. Teachers chose a book, opened it at random, and had to decide what the aim of given activities/pages in the book were. They also had to decide what help or support they perhaps needed to add to make sure that learning would definitely happen if they used that activity. This was designed to help them think more deeply about what they could and should use from the course book, how it might or might not help the students, and what scaffolding they might need to provide.
What happens at your school after observations to build on observation feedback?
Alastair Grant and Florencia Clarfeld have been doing amazing work over the past couple of months, running a weekly gathering on Zoom called ‘We’re all in this together’. I saw Alastair share links on facebook to the resources they created, and it seemed like an intriguing and original response to the crisis and the need for teacher support, so I asked Alastair to tell us more about what the community is and how it’s organised. Here’s his response. Thanks for writing this Alastair! (Note: the post was written on 4th June, but I’ve been slow to upload it so some of the time references are wrong.)
Crises bring out the best and the worst in people, especially on social media. And by midnight on Friday 20 March, a few hours after quarantine was announced here in Buenos Aires, there was plenty of both.
Facebook here is the preeminent form of media (social or professional) for teaching. From posts asking how we would be able to teach our students now, to offers of help with online tuition (most of which came at a price), Facebook seemed have become a pedagogical free-for-all in a matter of hours.
I coordinate the English department of a local secondary school and my teachers wanted ideas and so did I. But it wasn’t only us – everyone seemed to be asking for the same, whether it was advice on using Google Classroom, what Zoom was and how to use Live Worksheets, there was a huge and sudden need. And I wouldn’t call it a need for help with what I’ve seen described as “emergency teaching”. I’d describe our situation more as “response pedagogy”, whereby the way we lead our students (as the original Greek suggests), needs to effectively respond and evolve to fit with a new situation.
Back to Facebook, and there was everything and nothing on offer at the same time. But certainly what there wasn’t, was a space for people to share or ask for advice on teaching under lockdown. Nonetheless, Facebook was still the connecting thread for everyone, so I decided to create a forum for people to share material and experiences of this new way of teaching. And it was a way of teaching that needed to be constructed pretty fast, as here at least, we were in lockdown in a matter of hours, with only the weekend to prepare for a new world on Monday morning.
My partner, Florencia Clarfeld, who has been working on this with me since day one, chose the name of the event which is now a weekly meeting: “We’re All In This Together”. I love the name, because it feels like a counterpoint to the social distancing that has been enforced. We decided that the event should be held on Zoom but that they were to be meetings, rather than webinars. I wanted to give teachers a space where they would be able to share their experiences and ideas rather than just listen to one person speak, because that was not the point at all.
The first invitation to the event drew nearly 200 enrolments. Now, when you ask 200 people, most of whom have never met, to starting chatting about a totally unfamiliar situation, you might well be met with total silence. So I prepared some PowerPoint slides in advance to help things along. The slides were a collection of about six games and warmers and my idea was to show/demonstrate one and then ask the teachers if they had anything similar. So that was the plan. But would it work?
Not only did it work, but something very unexpected happened. As soon as I asked people if they had any similar activities to the one being shown, the Zoom chatbox flooded with links, website names, activities and apps that teachers were using. Without wishing to sound corny, it was quite an emotional moment. So then it became clear that the meeting was going to do its job, whereby the chatbox became the main source of material.
Now after every “We’re All I This Together”, I put the session video and the PowerPoint into a Google Drive folder. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. But, like I say, the real “pull” of the sessions is the chatbox transcript. In every chat transcript (we’ve had eight session so far), there are hundreds of tips, ideas, suggestions, games and activities shared by teachers from all over the world. Each session has its own topic, so future teachers coming to the Drive folder will be able to find them.
For the first Zoom meetings, I had only room for 100 people, and for a while there were many people left outside, which was a great shame. Then we were offered a 500-person Zoom room by a bookshop from called Advice here in Argentina and since then we have had space enough. Until, that is, I invited Dr. Stephen Krashen along to be interviewed on his thoughts about teaching during Coronavirus and his parting of the ways with The Natural Approach. The meeting was oversubscribed but well over two hundred people, so we had to live-stream it by Facebook, the video to which has now been viewed nearly 18,000 times.
Events like this are normally paid, but I believe that under the circumstances everyone should, for example, benefit from the privilege of hearing what Krashen has to say as well as being able to ask him questions. For me, education is both a right and a privilege – but not for a privileged few.
This coming Sunday we have Adrian Underhill joining us for an interview and we expect another full house. [Note from Sandy: this has already happened as has an interview with Sarah Mercer, and the recordings are in the folder.] The generosity of the interviewees is overwhelming. People might well ask for some kind of fee but I have explained the situation and people have been more than willing to be interviewed pro-bono. In Dr. Krashen’s own words, he said, “I’d love to”.
So now the meetings have evolved, just as our teaching has evolved. Some are interviews with inspirational figures from ELT and some are workshops. We want to keep this mix as it is, so that the original mission statement, the “why”, is never lost. We’re All In This Together is a safe space for teachers to share ideas and exchange suggestions and experiences.
There’s a new world coming after COVID-19, and we, the teachers, are the ones who are helping to build it. As always.
Alastair Grant is an English Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ELT materials writer. He is the Academic Director at Colegio Nuevo Las Lomas and a teacher trainer for International House Montevideo, where he runs the Cambridge Delta 1 teacher-training course. He is a consultant on the profesorado de inglés at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires, where he has currently lectured in Discourse Analysis and Methodology.
He holds an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK, has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology, all modules of the Cambridge Delta and the Cambridge Train the Trainer Certificate.
*or at least, very very low prep! Thursday night: nobody had suggested any queries or problems for our one-to-one troubleshooting session tomorrow. What should we do instead? There wasn’t really time for me to prep anything else, and Ididn’t know what to pick anyway. Cue a quick email:
Please think about 2 things you’re proud of in your lessons (group or 121), and 2 questions you most want answered. We’ll use that as the basis for the session tomorrow.
At the start of the 60-minute session I spread out a pile of A4 scrap paper on the floor. Everybody took a piece, folded it in half, and wrote two questions they had, one on each half. They put them on the floor for later. They then took another piece, folded it again, and wrote the two things they were proud of. This took a lot longer, and I had to point out that ‘proud of’ doesn’t have to mean finished or perfect, just something you’ve worked at and know you’ve improved. We got there in the end! It reminded me of Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL plenary, when she told us to spot our strengths, the inspiration for the strength spotting task in the Teacher Health and Wellbeing section of ELT Playbook 1. Everybody mingled, chatting to everybody else, holding up their strengths in front of them, including me. We talked about why we chose them, what we’d done to work on them, and asked each other questions. That took about 10-15 minutes. I asked for a show of hands to see if any of the strengths matched any of the questions. Only 3 or 4 of the 20 teachers put their hands up, so I changed my mind about the next step. Instead of pairing people off, I ended up putting them in groups of 4 or 5. They had about 15-20 minutes. This time they all read out their questions in their group, then chose which ones to discuss and offer answers to in a free discussion. Meanwhile, I took photos of all of their questions and wrote them into a single list. It was an excellent indication of the range of concerns that our teachers have, from classroom management and better pacing to more effective listening lessons and challenging students more. This is a great starting point for deciding the topics of our upcoming workshops. At the end I asked for another show of hands: who’s learnt something today that will help them with their teaching? Every hand went up. The feedback was very positive. Teachers said they particularly enjoyed the small group work and the freestyle nature of the session. It worked well at this point in the year as everyone is settled and feels comfortable as a group. Definitely a format I’ll use again!
I just wrote these guidelines for post-observation feedback to supplement an MA assignment and feel like they’re worth sharing. What would you add/remove/change?
The aims of post-observation feedback are to:
boost teachers’ confidence.
develop teachers’ ability to reflect on their own teaching.
help them build on their strengths.
identify 2-3 key areas to focus on developing and come up with concrete ideas for how to do this.
deal with any questions or concerns the teacher may have.
explain, if necessary, any areas of methodology or terminology which may be useful for teachers in examining their future practice.
Effective observation feedback is
Timely / Prompt
The closer in time the feedback is to the observation, the better, as events will be fresher in both of your minds.
Factual and non-evaluative, describing behaviour without judgment Feedback should clearly establish what, when, where, and how, and avoid commenting on why. It should address the actual lesson based on direct observation, rather than the assumptions and interpretations of the observer, or criticisms of the person (You’re not organized at all, are you?). It also avoids value judgments (The students were engaged in the activity. rather than That was a good activity.)
Specific Feedback should address specific aspects of the lesson and provide clear examples of what was observed.
Balanced Both positive and negative aspects of the lesson should be discussed, and always should always be reinforced by specific examples.
Something which can be acted upon
Action points should be based on things which the teacher can do something about, not things over which they have little or not control (e.g. Teachers can make sure late students come in quickly and quietly, but they can’t stop them from being late). Any suggestions for action points should be accompanied by discussion about how to work on these, with ideas preferably coming from the teacher rather than the observer.
A space for learning within a dialogue / Not over-directed The observer should ask relevant questions to encourage teachers to come to their own conclusions as far as possible, rather than presenting them with the observer’s conclusions (How do you think the lesson went? Why do you think the students took a long time to complete that activity? rather than I thought that lesson was too difficult for the students. They didn’t understand the activity so couldn’t complete it.) If the teacher is talking more, they have the space to formulate and articulate ideas, process thoughts and form new understandings – they are less likely to do this if they are just listening. The more the feedback comes from teacher reflecting on their lesson, the more ownership they have over it, and the more likely they are to be able to act on it. Dialogue also reduces the danger of giving advice without fully identifying the problem.
Caring and respectful The amount of feedback given should be limited to what the teacher can handle, rather than covering everything the observer would like to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to challenge the teacher to push their thinking. The teacher needs to know that we have their best interests at heart. Remember that the teacher’s nonverbal behaviour can be a clue as to how they feel about the lesson and the feedback, not just what they are saying.
Checked for clarity You need to make sure that the teacher has understood the feedback you have given, and what they need to do to work on action points. Asking teachers to summarise the feedback at the end of the meeting is an opportunity for the teacher to tell you the positives from the observation as they understand them, plus what the teacher needs to do next, and for you to clarify any confusing points.
Part of a process Emphasise that you don’t expect teachers to be able to resolve any issues you have noted instantly, and that it may take time to work on them. Request feedback on your feedback too, so that teachers see you as a learning observer and feedback giver and you demonstrate how to successfully receive feedback.
A positive experience, balancing feelings and rationality For post-observation feedback to be successful, teachers need to trust the observer and feel comfortable receiving feedback from them. They also need to feel ready to receive feedback. If they are already feeling very stressed, anxious, angry, or in any other way negative about the situation, ask them if they would like to rearrange the feedback session for a later date. If you are not sure about how to give feedback in a particular situation, discuss it (confidentially) with somebody else first if you can. Teachers have the right to have an emotional reaction to observation feedback – their feelings should not be discounted. Equally, don’t be afraid to say how things in the lesson made you feel as an observer. Emphasise strengths and improvements made, and encourage confidence and positive thinking as much as possible. Make sure the feedback meeting ends on a positive note.
These guidelines are adapted from the following sources, with my own ideas added:
Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching. London: Routledge. (page 165 and page 159-160 based on Waring 2013:104-105)
White, R. Hockley, A., van der Horst Jansen, J. and Laughner, M. S. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (page 65-66 based on Porter 1982)
Wallace, S. and Gravells, J. (2005) Mentoring, 2nd edition. Exeter: Learning Matters. (pages 55, 58, 69, 70, 74).
This was the topic for my presentation at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference in Greenwich on 9th January 2020.
Although I’ve been doing teacher training since August 2014, the last year has given me a much better theoretical background due to my MA Trainer Development module and the associated reading I’ve done for it. I discovered there are a lot more resources out there about training than I realised. It’s helped me make my training more principled, in the way that Delta did for my teaching. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt and how it’s influenced the training I do.
Working with humans
Pay attention to group dynamics before you do anything else, because without that nothing else will work: use icebreakers, share experience and manage expectations. In this session, I started by asking participants to write a definition of teacher training before the session started, then introduce themselves and compare their definitions. Another idea (thanks Simon Smith) is to use post-it notes at the start of a course for participants to write one thing they are excited about during the training and one thing they’re worried about. They can compare these and generally find that there are similarities with their colleagues.
Training is about changing how somebody thinks about something. This can mean needing to get at their beliefs and that means in a small way changing who they are. Without making people feel comfortable, they won’t feel ready to share and take risks during training. I could have talked a lot more about beliefs but didn’t have much time – it’s something I’m planning to return to on my blog as I experiment with them further.
Group dynamics are also important at the end of a training session or course for a sense of completion – I’d always done some form of icebreaker at the start but never really at the end before, and had only focussed on getting to know you, not expectations or worries. I used the post-it idea on a course in the summer. We left the post-it notes on the wall all week (I’d done one too), then returned to them at the end of the week to see whether these hopes and fears had manifested themselves during the course.
Start where they are
This is mentioned in a lot of the literature, but particular in Wright and Bolitho. Start with trainees writing down questions they want the training to answer, or get them to brainstorm ideas connected to the topic. We can learn a lot from each other and this puts everybody on an equal footing, rather than the trainer being the only ‘knower’.
Brainstorms that you use at the beginning of a session can also be added to at the end and displayed. For example we have them in our kitchen so teachers can refer back to them. This helps teachers realise what they’ve learnt and shows you what you don’t need to spend as much time on in the session.
Experience-based rather than information-based
We know teaching works better when you experience it but for some reason training often ends up being more lecture-based.
I used to give people a lot of information and not really any time to think about it because I thought they’d do that later. That tends to be how I work because I’m lucky to have a good memory and I like collecting information 🙂 but I realised that that’s actually quite unusual.
I’m learning more about experiential learning and I’m in the process of getting more of it into my training room so this is still a work in progress, but I’m moving towards less content and more depth. My past workshops might have included seven or eight activities in 60 minutes and now it’s just three or four with more processing time.
I’m trying to maximise transfer from the training room to the classroom with more action planning time and reflection time.
In all of our workshops we now have a section where teachers use a coursebook or a lesson plan and talk about how they can adapt it in light of the workshop. If it’s a list of techniques like error correction, they choose two or three to try in the next week and their mentors ask them about it to see how it’s gone. We aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes of a 60-minute workshop to this.
I haven’t done a CELTA recently so I’m still thinking about how to do it in that case, but if anyone has any ideas I’d really like to hear them.
Learning through dialogue
Reflection and discussion time is maximized. This enables teachers to learn from each other, formulating their own thoughts and getting at their own beliefs through the questions of others.
Mann and Walsh recommend reflection through dialogue as the best way to develop and I’ve realised the importance of this in my own development since I read their book. It also helps group dynamics and helps everybody to feel valued if they’re learning from each other and reflecting together.
As part of this process, I emphasise that there’s no one right way to teach but that they should experiment with different things to find out what works for them and their students. This also comes from finding out about how other teachers talk about teaching and learning, so teachers can see what they have in common and where they differ and that it’s OK to have different teaching styles.
Practise what you preach throughout. If you tell trainees to do something, make sure you’re doing it yourself! For example, if you tell them they must include a variety of activities, make sure you’re doing it too. It means that they’re more likely to respect your advice and they are experiencing what it feels like to benefit from techniques you’re recommending.
Having said that, make connections explicit between what happens in the training room and what could happen in the classroom – they can be hard to notice, especially for new teachers, when trainees are in ‘student’ mode.
Get feedback. We introduced a post workshop feedback form with 5 questions:
What do you need more help with?
What will you take from this session into your lessons?
What should we keep the same?
What should we change?
Anything else you want to tell us?
This has helped us to refine our workshops and make them more suitable for our teachers. It also models how to get and respond to feedback.
I’m still quite form-based in the way that I get feedback on training I’ve done, so would welcome ideas from others.
Does your training follow similar principles? Will you change anything in your training based on anything here?
If you’re interested in developing as a teacher training, you might find ELT Playbook Teacher Training a useful starting point for reflection (and there’s 10% off on Smashwords ebooks using the discount code MG24Z until 14th January).
There are 30 tasks with reflective prompts, and if you complete 5 of them in any one section you can get a badge to display wherever you like:
In August 2019 I started doing the NILE MA Trainer Development module and discovered there’s actually quite a lot of information out there to help teacher trainers, a lot of which had passed me by. This post aims to collect what I’ve found. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d add or if any of the links are broken.
Training for trainers
International House offer a Teacher Trainer Certificate. It’s a 14-week online course, with 12 weeks of input and 2 weeks to finish your portfolio. There is also a new (at the time of writing) Observation and giving feedback course, which I think is around 7 weeks long. IH teachers get a discount on both courses.
NILE (Norwich Institute for Language Education) offer a Trainer Development course. This can be taken as 2 weeks face-to-face or 10 weeks online. It can form one 30-credit module of the full NILE MA programme, the MA in Professional Development in Language Education (MAPDLE). I’ve written quite a lot connected to the MAPDLE on my blog.
IH ILC Brno run an annual trainers’ weekend. The first one was in 2019. Full details on their website.
British Council have a comprehensive teacher educator framework which you can use to help you identify gaps in your skills and work out what to develop next.
Jacqueline Douglas writes bite-sized blogposts covering all kinds of aspects of teacher training.
Zhenya Polosatova is a teacher trainer and educator from Ukraine. She regularly blogs ideas and reflections on her Wednesday Seminars blog. I particularly enjoyed her series of Trainer Conversations, for example this one with Rasha Halat (part 2).
On the first Monday of each month, CELTA trainers meet on Twitter for CELTAchat. Even if you’re not a CELTA trainer, I’m sure you’ll find useful ideas there. Summaries of chats are published on the CELTAchat blog. The Twitter handle is @aChatCELT and you can read the hashtag even if you don’t have a Twitter account: #CELTAchat.
I’ve listed all of the teacher training books I’m aware of, including affiliate links to Amazon and BookDepository (meaning I get a few pennies if you order them that way) and a non-affiliate one to BEBC if possible, plus my posts about them if I’ve written one. I’m working through the backlog of books I’ve read for the MA and will be adding more over the next year or so if all goes to plan. Quite a few of these books are available secondhand a lot cheaper than you might expect!
TrainerDevelopment by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho (Amazon, Book Depository, Lulu, my post)
Very practical: a focus on the humanistic side of training and working with the people in front of you as much as possible.
Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding ProfessionalLearning by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli (Amazon, Book Depository, my post)
Possibly more for MA TESOL trainers? But good for general theory too.
Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh (Amazon,Book Depository)
I devoured this, and got so many ideas from it – highly recommended!
Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts (Amazon, Book Depository)
A classic, I believe. Great for background theory, and has lots of examples of courses.
Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices by Angi Malderez and Martin Wedell (Amazon, Book Depository)
Another good one for background theory, with a worked example of how to approach creating a course.
Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodóczky (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
Specifically for mentoring and training mentors, but has some useful things for general training.
Advising and Supporting Teachers by Mick Randall with Barbara Thornton (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
Particularly good for those doing longer-term advice and support.
Ways of Training by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
A recipe book with loads of ideas for different ways to tweak your training.
Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies by Tessa Woodward (Amazon, Book Depository)
The origin of loop input, full of worked examples of training sequences with a bit of theory at the end to tie it all off.
Readings in Teacher Development by Katie Head and Pauline Taylor (Amazon, Book Depository)
A collection of excerpts from various different sources touching on a wide range of areas for teacher development, including mental and physical health.
The Lazy Teacher Trainers Handbook by Magnus Coney (Amazon, Smashwords (affiliate), the round)
Ready-made workshops that largely depend on the input of the trainees and involve minimal preparation but maximum output. e-book only, but you can print it (I did!)
Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (Amazon, Book Depository)
While aimed at teachers, this is good for ideas of different modes of training.
The Developing Teacher by Duncan Foord (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
Another one aimed at teachers, but covering with lots of different tasks you could adapt for the classroom.
Classroom Observation Tasks by Ruth Wajnryb (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
[I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I know it’s a classic!]
ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook by Jeanette Barsdell (Amazon)
[I haven’t read this one either, but have heard good things about it.]
The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teacher Education edited by Steve Walsh and Steve Mann (Amazon, Routledge, Book Depository)
[The price of this 2019 617-page book means I’m unlikely to get my hands on a copy any time soon, but the sample chapters and pages I’ve managed to read through Amazon LookInside and Google Books show that this is a fantastic compendium of up-to-date information about teacher training. P.S. If you buy a copy through my Amazon link, I’ll probably be able to afford one of the other books on this list!] 😉
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT by John Hughes (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository) – I think this is the best basic introduction to teacher training, and as practical as the title claims.
And last but not least, the book I wrote 🙂 ELT Playbook Teacher Training:
…for which you can get badges if you share your responses to the reflective tasks included in the book using social media:
The course consisted of three sessions a day of input covering a wide range of topics including:
working with teachers’ beliefs
input and process options for sessions
planning different course types
evaluating published training materials
observation and feedback
Our group of six had two trainers who shared the sessions between them. I was particularly impressed at how seamlessly the sessions fed into each other, something I hope to achieve if I’m co-training in the future. Briony and Simon were very receptive to our needs and requests, and were able to adapt sessions and the course as a whole to meet them. They are very knowledgeable about teacher training, particularly in terms of where to find extra resources to explore areas further. They also practise what they preach: I think I learnt as much from observing them in action as I did from the actual input itself, especially regarding techniques and activities for reflection on sessions and the course as a whole.
The course was well-paced, and allowed plenty of space for discussion and reflection on the concepts we were learning. It was a great chance to learn from the experience of the others in the room, and to think about my own training in the past and future, both as a participant and trainer. Towards the end of the course we had a chance to try out what we’d learnt by micro-training, putting together 40-minute workshops for our colleagues.
If you’re interested in reading about some of the concepts we discussed on the course, these are the blog posts I wrote as I went along:
To complete the requirements for the MA module, I now need to write three assignments in the next six months. This is not required if you attend it as a stand-alone course. I will continue to receive support for this from one of our trainers on the face-to-face course – I like the fact that I won’t just be interacting with a name on an email address, but somebody who I’ve got to know and who knows me.
For anyone who would like to find out more about becoming a teacher trainer or developing their knowledge of training-related theory, I’d highly recommend the two-week NILE Trainer Development course, whether or not you want to do an MA with them. They also offer a range of other face-to-face courses, mostly in the summer, and online courses which run all year.
Reflection is one of the areas of professional development which I’m most interested in, to the extent that I’ve written two books to try and help teachers and trainers to reflect when they don’t have any face-to-face support where they work. Yesterday we had a 90-minute session with ideas for helping teachers to reflect, as part of the NILE MA Trainer Development course.
Reflection doesn’t work
I’ve tried to get teachers to reflect in my sessions. I’m a bit disappointed with the results. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to get them to think. Help!
Here’s a list of questions I came up with to ask this trainer, supplemented with ideas from my partner in the group:
What techniques have you tried so far?
When did you use them?/At what point(s) in the sessions?
Are your trainees ready to reflect? (both in terms of experience of teaching and of reflection i.e. do they know how to do it?)
How do you model reflection for them?
You said you were a bit disappointed with the results. What kind of results would you like to see?
How much time do you give them for reflection activities?
How concrete or abstract is the reflection? i.e. Is it based on concrete events or abstract ideas?
How personal is it? Do they have to ‘expose’ their beliefs/their classrooms/their ideas in any way?
What kind of questions are you using? i.e. Open? Closed? Leading? Hypothetical?
What’s the balance of listening to speaking in the reflective activities?
How active is the reflection?
How consistent/patient were you with setting up reflection? Did you persevere with it?
What would you add to my list?
Reflection on short courses
We also read an article from English Teaching Professional Issue 55 March 2008 (pp57-59) called ‘Time for reflection‘ by Sue Leather and Radmila Popovic. I’m afraid you’ll need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. It talks about “the importance of reflection on short training courses and how to structure and support it.” There are two ideas in the article which I particularly like.
The first is timetabling 30-60 minutes into the daily schedule of the course for reflection, either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. It should be timetabled as ‘reflection’ and not part of another session.
The other idea is including a notebook as part of the course, which will become the participant’s journal. It will be private unless they choose to share it, and could be used for free writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or not.
Has anybody tried either of these two ideas? Did they work for your trainees/context?
For homework last night we read The consequences of INSET, an ELT Journal article from 1995 by Martin Lamb (Volume 49 Issue 1, pp72-79). I’m really sorry to keep sharing articles which are hidden behind paywalls 😦 but hopefully my very short summary will give you the general idea. This article was a real eye-opener for me, and I hope you get to read the original at some point!
Teachers attending short INSET courses are usually exposed to a great amount of new information and ideas. While this can be exciting at the time, the after-effects may be less salutary. This article describes one particular INSET course and the reactions of the participating teachers one year later. It suggests that very few of this ideas presented on the course were taken up in the way anticipated by the tutors, mainly due to the mediating effects of the participants’ own beliefs about teaching and learning. Any INSET course which is seriously concerned with long-term change in teachers’ practice will have to take these beliefs into account.
Before reading this article, I knew that training that I do is not always taken wholesale into the classroom and incorporated into teachers’ practice – if anyone could manage that, it would be a miracle! But I suspected there were three states for any given activity/theory/idea I might present:
How wrong I was! In fact, according to a study done by Lamb there are lots of different ways that ideas from courses can be taken up. Interviewing and observing teachers one year after a 2-week, 25-hour course, Lamb found “seven different ways in which participants had reacted, consciously or unconsciously, to ideas presented on the course” (p75):
Labelling (applying a term to an activity they were already doing)
Appropriation (justifying changes in teaching not anticipated by the tutors)
Assimilation (transferring techniques without necessarily understanding the rationale)
Adaptation and rejection
In short, very few of the ideas from the training were actually incorporated into the practice of the participants, although they had responded positively to the course.
As a result, Lamb highlights the importance of making participants aware of their routine practice and the values [beliefs] behind it. He also reminds us that participants should decide which areas to develop and “formulate their own agenda for change” (p79).
For me, it’s another example of the importance of including an examination of teacher beliefs in training courses, something which I rarely remember being included in any of the training I have done or delivered (!) but will definitely be adding to my training!
The first was proposed by Rod Ellis in a 1986 ELT Journal article called Activities and procedures for teacher training. It lists 10 different kinds of task for teachers on training courses, arranged loosely from less to more cognitively/linguistically demanding:
With a coursebook page as a prompt, we used these taxonomies to come up with 6 teacher training tasks laddered from easier to harder, with the caveat that the taxonomies are guidelines, not straitjackets.
The aim my partner and I chose for our imagined group of middle school teachers was ‘to learn how to adapt coursebooks to increase student engagement’. The 6 tasks we came up with were:
List ways you already know to engage students with a coursebook page. (Listing/Remembering)
Read this blogpost – what else can you add to your categories? [On reflection, that should probably be something like ‘Choose one thing to add to each category.’ as otherwise it could be overwhelming!] (Adding)
Which of the activities on your list would/wouldn’t work with your students? What would you change? (Analysing/Evaluating)
In pairs, plan your own lesson based on the coursebook page. (Preparing/Creating)
Look at another pair’s lesson plan. Decide what works and what you could improve. (Evaluating/Improving)
Feel free to try out this session with your teachers. I’d be interested to know how it goes 🙂
Teachers often talk about what and how, but often don’t say why or why not.
That was a quote from a session on teacher beliefs (the why/why not of what we do) on the NILE Trainer Development course today. We talked about various ways of uncovering beliefs, and I’ve thought of one more. What would you add?
Have 2-3 statements connected to beliefs teachers could discuss at the beginning of a session.
Say a statement – they stand to the left or right depending on whether they agree or disagree, or somewhere in the middle if they prefer.
Have statements which trainees tick/cross/modify.
Create short case studies with some kind of dilemma – each ‘solution’ is valid, but discussing them can show up beliefs.
Today on the NILE trainer development course we read an article by Briony Beaven about how to make trainees aware of all of the different methods of input that we use on a course, as well as the variety of interaction patterns and activity types we use. She suggested using a poster at the end of each session with a tick list that can build up over the course. Trainees are often not able to notice input processes because they are so focused on the content of sessions. The poster draws explicit attention to input processes and will hopefully help trainees to vary their own input, activities and interaction patterns in their lessons. The original article appeared in English Teaching professional issue 74, in May 2011 and includes examples of such a poster. We’ve started using one for our course too.
We read this article today as part of a session on the Trainer Development module at NILE (part of my MA). I really like the idea of developing professional pride and confidence in teachers I work with – I know confidence is an area I’ve definitely thought about before, but I’m not sure about professional pride. Here are my ideas so far for how to do this:
I found Lauren Perkins’ IATEFL 2019 talk incredibly useful, and it’s already inspired changes in the way I run workshops, something I’ll be blogging about soon. Before I shared what I’d done, I asked Lauren to write this post summarising her design principles for effective in-service workshops. Thanks for agreeing to do it Lauren!
At IATEFL Liverpool 2019, I delivered a session on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’. The 45-minute workshop was designed in the same way that I would design any other workshop: following a set of key design principles and including some experiential learning activities, with the intention of practising what I was preaching.
Some background: The problem with workshops
When I first read Simon Borg’s blogpost on Workshops and Teacher Change in 2016, I had just spent the previous 4 years working as a teacher trainer on workshop-based teacher development courses in Thailand. Borg highlighted the “inherent limitations of workshops”: the assumption that by simply increasing teacher awareness and knowledge, teachers will change what they do in the classroom. He argued that such sessions rarely promote teacher change. After reflecting on my own workshops, I came to agree with him. This led me to read more about workshop design, with the aim of finding out how to make workshops more effective. I found that four principles emerged, which I then matched to different activities. When I design workshops now, I try to include at least one practical activity that follows each of the four principles. I’ll go into some of the ideas behind each of the four principles and then describe in more detail the practical activities related to each principle below, but first here is a summary:
1. Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs
– Find Someone Who- Blind needs analysis
– Pair discussion
– Needs analysis survey
– KWL grid
2. Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue
– Discussion tasks
3. Include experiential learning and teaching practice
– Video observation
– Loop input
4. Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up
– Reflection questions
– Action points
– Adaptation ideas
– Peer observations
Principle 1: Draw on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs
If a workshop is for in-service practising teachers, then all participants will come to the session with prior knowledge, experience and beliefs about teaching. As Borg stresses in his blogpost, it is important to recognise this existing knowledge and experience before teachers engage with new ideas. Participants are more likely to accept new teaching concepts if their prior knowledge and experience is acknowledged.
Depending on the context of the workshop (i.e. school, conference, training centre etc.), the trainer might not know anything about participants’ backgrounds. For example, as my workshop on ‘Designing Teacher Development Workshops’ was held at an international conference, I had no idea who would be attending, what they already knew about workshop design, or their experiences of delivering workshops. It was necessary, therefore, to find out this information at the beginning of the workshop. Here are some practical activity ideas for drawing on participants’ prior knowledge, experience and beliefs:
Find Someone Who
Create a short Find Someone Who activity that includes specific descriptions about participants’ experience, knowledge and beliefs related to the content of the workshop. Participants mingle and find someone who matches each description. For example, this is the worksheet I designed for my workshop:
Blind needs analysis
Ask all participants to close their eyes at the beginning of the workshop. Ask them a couple of questions to find out their existing knowledge or experience. e.g. “Put your hand up if you have delivered a workshop before”, “Put your hand up if you know what microteaching is”. By making the needs analysis ‘blind’, participants will hopefully feel comfortable putting their hands up and you will be able to quickly find out more about their prior experience, knowledge and beliefs.
Put participants into small groups and do a quick 3-minute brainstorm on everything they know about the topic of the workshop. For example, if the workshop topic is ‘Games for young learners’, ask groups to brainstorm games they already know.
Give participants two or three questions about their prior knowledge, experience and beliefs to discuss in pairs. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Using songs in the classroom’, you could ask participants to discuss the following questions:
Have you ever used songs in the classroom? If so, when and how?
How do you think songs can be used for helping students learn English?
Needs analysis survey
Write 10 needs analysis questions on strips of paper and stick them on the wall around the room. e.g. ‘How long have you been teaching?’, ‘What do you find most difficult about teaching?’ etc. Participants walk around the room on their own, read the questions and think about their own answers. Ask each participant to take one question each (if there are more than 10 teachers then put them into pairs) and ask them to survey the whole group by asking each participant the same question and noting down their answers. Participants summarise the results visually (i.e. in a chart or graph) and display them for the whole group to see in a gallery walk.
At the beginning of a workshop, ask participants to create a grid with three columns: what they know (K), what they want to know (W), what they have learned (L). Participants complete the first two columns and then return to the third column at the end of the workshop. (Sandy gave me this idea – thanks Sandy!) [and I learnt it from a previous IATEFL, so thanks to whoever that was!]
Principle 2: Provide opportunities for collaboration and dialogue
Teachers will not only learn about teaching from the trainer, but also (perhaps even more so) from each other. By giving workshop participants the opportunity to discuss, question and share ideas with their peers, there will be more opportunities for them to learn from each other. There is always time in a workshop for a 5-minute discussion; at the beginning to share what they know, in the middle to check their understanding, or at the end to relate the topic to their own teaching context. After all, workshops should involve audience participation in order to distinguish them from talks and presentations. Here are some ideas for making workshops more collaborative.
Ask participants to work in groups and complete simple tasks that promote discussion. For example, ask participants to rank or categorise ideas related to the workshop topic and discuss their opinions at the same time. e.g. ‘Rank the qualities of a teacher from most to least important’.
Put participants into small groups and ask them to create a mind-map of a topic. Give each participant a different role in the group to help with collaboration e.g. a ‘writer’, a ‘dictionary’, and a ‘designer’.
Divide participants into groups and give each group a different text related to the workshop topic to read / summarise / brainstorm their own ideas. Regroup participants so that at least one participant from each original group is in a new group. In their new groups, participants take it in turns to share what they have read / summarised / brainstormed to other group members. [Here’s how to set up a jigsaw activity if you’re not sure how to do it.]
Principle 3: Include experiential learning and teaching practice
There are clear similarities between teacher-learners in the training room and learners in the classroom. As Tessa Woodward points out in her book Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training [Amazon affiliate link], teacher development activities should “capitalise on the parallels between trainees and students”. During workshops, we should let participants experience the same processes they are supposed to use in their own classrooms. This will make it more likely that they will transfer what they have learned from a training context to a teaching context.
Even if there isn’t enough time for teaching practice in a short 45-minute workshop, there should be time for a quick demonstration of a classroom activity related to the topic of the workshop. If you’ve ever been a participant in one of my workshops, you’ll know I’m a big fan of loop input activities. Although such activities in the training room can get a bit tiresome (and a bit too ‘meta’), some workshop topics just lend themselves to loop input. It would be a shame, for example, to deliver a workshop on Task-Based Learning without any tasks! Here are some practical ideas for including experiential learning and teaching practice in workshops:
Participants practise teaching in a roleplay-type activity in which some participants are teachers and some are students. For example, if the topic of the workshop is ‘Giving instructions’, participants could practise setting up an activity in groups of five: one participant is the ‘teacher’ and four participants are the ‘students’.
Show participants a short video clip of a teacher in the classroom. For example, if the workshop is on ‘Storytelling’, ask participants to watch a video of a teacher telling a story in the classroom and make notes on the storytelling techniques he/she uses.
Ask participants to pretend to be students and demonstrate an activity. For example, for a workshop on ‘Communicative activities’, you might want to demonstrate a ‘running dictation’ activity using texts that you would also use with a class of students.
Participants do an activity in the same way as described in the ‘demonstration’ above, but with the content and the process aligned. For example, to make the ‘running dictation’ a loop input activity (rather than a demonstration), use texts that describe ‘how to do a running dictation activity’ instead of texts that you would use with a class of students.
Principle 4: Promote reflection, contextualisation and follow-up
Another way to encourage participants to transfer ideas from the workshop to their own teaching context is to promote reflection and follow up. Workshops should help teachers to reflect on their practice and relate the content of the workshop to their own context. By including a follow-up activity for teachers to complete when they are back in their classrooms, we can encourage them to put ideas into practice. In this way, teachers are less likely to go back to their classrooms and forget everything that they have learned in the workshop. Here are some ways of promoting reflection and follow-up:
Give participants two or three questions to reflect on at the end of an activity or workshop. For example, after a ‘running dictation’ activity, write the following questions on the board:
Did you enjoy the activity? Why (not)?
Could you do this activity with your students?
How could you adapt this activity?
Ask participants to choose one activity from the workshop to try with their students when they go back to their classrooms. Ask them to specify which activity, how they will adapt it, when they will try it and who they will try it with.
After each workshop activity, always ask participants to brainstorm how the activity can be adapted for their teaching context. For example, ask participants how to adapt the activity for large classes / low-level learners / different topics etc.
Encourage participants to set up a peer observation, ideally with a co-worker who also attended the workshop. Having someone else observe their teaching will make them more accountable for completing their action points and will encourage post-workshop reflection.
To conclude the workshop on workshops, of course there had to be some reflection.
I asked the participants to think about their training contexts and discuss these questions:
Could you incorporate any of the practical ideas into your context?
How could you adapt these ideas for your training context?
Decide on one action point.
Thanks to everyone who came to my session. I would love to hear from you if you have tried out any of these practical ideas in your own workshops. If you have your own ideas on how to design effective workshops, please share them here.
Lauren Perkins is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, currently based in London. Most of her teaching and training experience has been in Thailand, but she has also worked with teachers in Myanmar, Indonesia, Palestine, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Her interests are in classroom interaction and materials-light teaching. Follow her on twitter @Lperkinselt.
I created this list a couple of years ago for a workshop to help early career teachers see how they can exploit the materials available in a coursebook without needing to spend hours reinventing the wheel or cutting things up. The list is designed to:
help teachers add variety to lessons
go beyond their materials
think about skills lessons in a different way, not just testing but teaching
add bits of learner training to lessons
be a bank of ideas for activities teachers can pull out in the lesson if they need to change something
give teachers tasters of bits of methodology they might not be aware of (like metacognition or ways of improving
It is not designed to be a comprehensive list – 4 sides of A4 is quite enough as a starting point. It’s also not designed to be a critique of coursebooks – that’s for another place and time. There might be one or two ideas which are ‘Sandy Millin originals’ 🙂 but generally they were collated from throughout my career so far, so thank you if you’re the source of any of them!
Feel free to use the list or the handout in training sessions/workshops, but please credit the source. My 60-minute workshop went something like this:
In small groups, teachers shared their own ideas of things they do to exploit coursebooks.
The list was cut into sections and placed around the room.
Teachers had time to read it, add question marks next to anything they couldn’t understand, and add their own ideas to the paper. This is why there’s an empty bullet point at the end of each category.
I demonstrated/explained any confusing activities.
Teachers decided which activities they would try out in the next week (I can’t remember if we had time to do this, but I’d make sure if I ran it again!)
We took photos of the annotated sheets and emailed them to everyone after the session.
You can download the handout as a pdf or a .docx file.
Test students: get them to draw pictures, which you can then use to:
– Play games: point to…, find…, take…, run to…, what’s missing (…all the typical ones)
– Give each group a pile of pictures – they turn them over and make sentences
– Show a picture – they race to write the word (in notebooks, on mini whiteboards, on the board)
Categorise words (meaning):
– I like, I don’t like
– In the bedroom, In the kitchen, In the living room, In the bathroom
– Know/Don’t know
– With /i:/ /e/ /3:/ etc (pron)
Using the exercise in the book: do it as is, then…
– cover the words and work with your partner to say them (pron)
– cover and write the words, while looking at definitions (form)
– look at the words and remember the definitions
– one student closes book, other open and tests them
– groups of 3/4: one student = teacher, says definition. Others race to say word – point for each/they become the next ‘teacher’.
– point to the word/picture on software, students say it
– Close your book and write down all of the words.
– Board race of all of the words.
– Translation Chinese whispers – e.g. English, Polish, English, Polish
– Evil memorization of sentences around gap-filled words (show on software, they write in answers, switch off software, they remember sentences)
– Little books: students make a book out of A4 paper, then write a word on the first page. Next student draws a pic of the word on next page. Next student looks at pic (not word!) and writes word, etc. At the end, see how different final picture is from original word. (Chinese whispers)
Pronunciation (pairs first, then remedially drill problem words, especially for higher levels):
– Different types of drill: stressed syllable, stickman…
– Point to the picture, they say the word – as fast as possible (use their pics from idea 1)
– Students write out words – one each (can have more than one of each word) – use for disappearing drills
(particularly for warmers – on coursebook software or in their books, or PowerPoint if you want to spend more time prepping)
Students discuss in pairs: 1 minute to think first, then…
– What can you see?
– I see, I think, I wonder
– What was it like five minutes before/after?
– Create personalities for the people.
– Add something to the picture, then tell your partner what and why.
– Have you ever been anywhere like this? Seen anything like this? Would you like to?
(see also the vocab ideas above!)
Eliciting it (after students have already seen it in context!):
– First letters of each word
– First word of sentence – they find it in text. Add a word at a time until someone gets it.
– Sentence hangman
– Hum the stress pattern
Pronunciation (hand over to students ASAP):
– Different types of drill: key word, first letter of each word, substitution…
– Draw/ask students to draw an image to represent a sentence (e.g. a door for ‘Can you open the door?’ – use these as prompts.
– ‘Grammar’ sentences e.g. you / work / office? = ‘Do you work in an office?’
– What are the stressed/unstressed words?
– Can you say it as fast as me? Backchain to help them with this.
– Use rhythm to aid memorization. Try jazz chants:
Exploiting controlled practice:
– Say the sentences as quickly as you can.
– One student says the answer, the other student says the whole sentence.
– Translation mingle: write one sentence on a bit of scrap paper. Translate it to Polish. Mingle – say Polish sentence, other person says English. Encourage them to give feedback: That’s right. You’re nearly there. That’s completely wrong!
– Students create 2-3 extra questions to extend the activity.
– How many of the sentences can you remember from the text?
– Close your books. Can you retell the story? (If it’s a complete text)
– 1 student says a sentence from the activity. The other student remembers the one before it.
– Contextualise the sentences: put them into a longer ‘text’. If they leave a gap, other students can try to work out which sentence it is.
– Type up 6-10 sentence starters taken from the book (e.g. ‘As soon as I got home yesterday…’). Have some scrap paper. Students write the endings, then mix them up. Move around the room. Other groups then match endings to starters.
– Draw the sentences: Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
They draw a picture each for four different sentences on the left, and don’t write the sentence! They pass the paper to a second group, who try to remember the corresponding sentences. A third group checks if they are correct (with or without books depending on how evil you feel).
– Students create their own ‘find someone who’
Exploiting reading/listening texts
– Where would you see/hear this text?
– Who would be like to read/listen to this kind of thing? Would you?
– What other titles could the text have?
– Which features of this text make it an article/blogpost/radio interview e.g. The introduction of the people at the start…
– What features make this readable? Or make a listener want to continue listening? If any!
Extend the text:
– What happened next?
– What extra question could the interviewer ask?
Mine the text:
– What phrases do you want to steal?
– Choose a sentence. Remember, cover, write, check.
– How could you say the sentence in a different way?
Improve listening skills:
– Do a micro dictation of problem sentences.
– Focus on some of the connected speech, then get students to repeat it.
– Ask students to reflect on what made a text easy/difficult e.g. speed, accent, topic.
– Play, pause, students say what’s coming next, then listen and check.
Work with another partner:
– After error correction from the teacher (this helps them to upgrade language)
– To find out if their new partner is similar/different to their previous partner.
– To report on partner 1’s answers. They could then change again to report on three people’s answers (partner 1, partner 2, and partner 2’s first partner!)
– After the teacher has fed in some extra functional language.
Change the situation:
– Have the same conversation as if you are a manager and employee / parent and child / old person and teenager…
– Would the conversation be the same in a café? An airport? At a friend’s house?
Reflect on a task (a.k.a. metacognition):
– What extra words did you need? How did you get them?
– When did the conversation stop? (How) did you get it started again?
– What made the task particularly easy/difficult? What could make it easier in future?
Extending writing activities
Upgrade your writing:
– Add five adjectives/a conditional/two more sentences…
– Rewrite it so it’s more formal/informal/legible (!)
– Proofread it for commas/capital letters/past simple forms/your favourite spelling mistakes
– Add a title/subtitles
Switch texts and:
– check it for content – does it include everything?
– correct three spelling mistakes
– choose a word/phrase you want to steal and add to your text
Walk around and read texts while:
– adding post-it note comments
– choosing which [holiday you would like to go on] – try to avoid ‘the best’ as this is subjective
Exploiting the coursebook software
Use the extra functions:
Block things out (either using the in-built function or putting another window over the top!):
– Parts of images/vocabulary banks – what’s missing
– Half a text – remember the other half
– Only show the first letter or two of words in a vocab list – race to write them on mini whiteboards
Check the answers:
– Students write the answers in when projected on the board.
– Show the answers and ask students if they’ve got them right.
– One person can look, the other can’t and has to listen to the answers.
With practice exercises:
– Sentence pictionary: one person can look and has a mini whiteboard, the other has their back to the board. You circle a sentence number. They draw the sentence and their partner has to remember it.
– Hot seat/backs to the board: circle/underline words in the word bank for them to define.
– They race to define 4/6 words as fast as possible: guesser puts them on a mini whiteboard.
Display texts for students to:
– Run and point to the vocabulary item you define (team game). Items can be hidden in a vocabulary bank or hidden in a reading text/audioscript.
– Remember a sentence and write it down, then look and check.
On 11th January 2019 I gave a 30 minute presentation at the International House Academic Managers and Trainers conference called TP Interrupted: The Role of the Trainer in CELTA Teaching Practice. I wanted to share my recent experiments with intervening in TP, clarifying what I mean by intervention; how I’ve been doing it and why. I also discussed potential problems and solutions, and gave my tips on things to consider before trying it yourself. Here’s a summary of what I said.
When I started asking other trainers about intervening in TP the first thing that came up was correcting trainees’ language, or information about language. That is not the focus of this talk, though it certainly is my policy that I don’t let trainees teach incorrect language; it’s not fair on students and it can have a negative impact on the following trainees.
I’ve always worked on courses where I was able to check the language analysis first to anticipate misunderstandings of the target language, so usually any inaccuracies in TP are related to incidental language that comes up. Generally, I will indicate to the trainee that something is wrong, and help them to clarify.
However, what I began experimenting with last year was intervening for different reasons, looking more at classroom management issues like positioning, instructions, pace, speed of speech, board work and even concept checking.
Gestures can be a discreet way of signalling to the trainee that they need to monitor; that an activity could be done in pairs; that they should add a word to the board; reduce speed of speech; pace etc.
Stop and Intervene
Some of the others are difficult to correct with gestures alone, and this was where I started intervening a bit more, actually stopping the class and giving instructions, or asking the trainee questions. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding them to follow their lesson plan and let students check in pairs, or encouraging them to use a CCQ [concept checking question] they’d prepared.
Here’s a clearer example from TP 2. I was observing a nervous trainee with no teaching experience. She muttered some vague instructions (to ‘have a look at the handout’) to one student at the side of the room and started to distribute handouts. I could see the students looking at each other, confused, and knew this would have a detrimental effect on the rest of the lesson. I asked her to stop, take back the handout, stand in the centre where all students could see her, show the handout and clearly indicate which activity to look at, and tell the class what to do.
I haven’t found that much written about the tutor’s role in TP. The debate about whether to intervene or not gets a couple of lines in Thornbury’s CELTA course trainers’ manual [affiliate link]. He says “it can be argued thatlearning any new skill is best achieved by collaboration with a more experienced other”.
Something I feel strongly about is that CELTA is a training course and we need to be training, not just testing.
If we want to help our trainees do more, they need support. Could intervention and coaching from the side-lines be the scaffolding trainees need to achieve more?
I’m wondering if giving feedback to trainees can be equated with the feedback we give our students; consider on the spot vs delayed feedback. Could a combination be best practice?
Perhaps intervening in TP makes it more memorable – certainly the look on my trainee’s face when I told her to stop what she was doing showed that it wasn’t an experience she’d forget in a hurry. Importantly, it allows us to give information at the moment the trainee needs it, rather than after an hour or two hours, or even later on some courses. How useful is it to say to someone “two hours ago you stood slightly in the wrong place; try to avoid that next time”.
It’s the difference between show and tell – trainees can clearly see what you mean, and they can see impact on lesson, rather than everything being hypothetical.
It makes the ideas you’ve been talking about in input or feedback sessions more concrete, and you can demonstrate to trainees what you really mean, in their context. Importantly, it offers opportunities for improvement within the lesson.
Correcting my trainee on her instructions near the start of lesson led to better instructions for her next activity. She clearly remembered what I said, went back to the middle of the room, showed the handout and gave clear instructions, addressing the whole class.
But – what did she think of it? In preparation for my talk, I emailed a few trainees from the summer courses and asked for some feedback: Do you remember me intervening in your TP? Please comment on how it made you feel, and why it was/wasn’t effective.
Potential problems (and solutions)
Ambiguous gestures can be confusing and distracting; and my advice here would be agree the signals beforehand. Be aware of how much information you are trying to give, and how overloaded trainees already are. Keep it simple and make sure you reinforce it again in feedback/input etc.
Is it too prescriptive? This is a general worry of mine on the CELTA; I don’t want to impose my teaching style on new teachers. Stick to the basics, focus on classroom management and allow them to follow your instructions in their own style (within reason!)
Trainees may react badly. This is always a danger with giving any type of feedback. A large part of a trainer’s job is being intuitive to the way people react to feedback – if they are not going to react well to this approach, don’t try it.
Things to consider
Manage expectations: (of trainees and students)
If you interrupt with no warning, of course this will freak trainees out. But if they know that it’s a possibility – or even a policy – and they are prepared for it and understand the intention behind it, it will be much less alarming. As for the TP students, there may be some concern that the trainer’s intervention will cause a loss of face in front of the students, so again, it’s important that the students know the situation: that they are trainee teachers on a training course. In my experience, TP students are usually grateful for the intervention!
Personality types: Be sensitive / Ask
As with all feedback, some people take it better than others. I always say a large part of my job is managing people’s egos and giving feedback in the way that’s most acceptable to them and that they’re most receptive to. On the spot feedback is obviously no different. Use your intuition: if they’re clearly having a bad day, it might be better not to. The other option is one we use with our students: ask them how they feel about on the spot correction; if they want it or not.
Again, as with our students, you need to strike the right balance – you obviously don’t want to “correct” everything as it would be demotivating and stop the flow of the lesson.
Discuss interventions in group feedback
It’s vital that all trainees understand why you intervened – this is something that can be elicited in feedback, as well as its impact on the lesson/learners etc.
Written feedback reflects action points
If you intervene to improve a trainees positioning/monitoring/instructions etc. that should still go down as an action point in your written feedback. They need to prove they can do it successfully without intervention in later TPs.
Withdraw support as the course progresses
I intervene less and less (hopefully you find you won’t need to!) – perhaps a little again at the changeover of groups but really nothing by TP5 unless they are trying out a new technique etc.
Questions to discuss
I asked the trainers that came to my talk at the IH AMT conference to discuss two questions, and I’d encourage the same discussion here too:
What’s your experience with intervention in TP?
Do you agree with it or feel it should be avoided? Why?
I hope these discussions do continue and I’d love to hear from anyone who has experimented with this approach in TP or who has any questions about it. We’ve discussed this and similar topics on #CELTAchat which happens on Twitter on the first Monday of every month at 7pm UK time. You can find summaries of our chats on the CELTAchat blog.
Amy Blanchard was an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme in Japan and completed a voyage with Peace Boat before moving to Spain to work for International House. She has just taken a new job leading the CELTA programme and teaching English for Academic Purposes at a British university. She is particularly fond of whiteboard work.
One of my two favourite conferences each year (along with IATEFL!) happened at Devonport House in Greenwich from 10th-12th January 2019. I was surprised to realise that this year’s AMT was my 6th – time flies! I’ve blogged about some of them: 2014, 2015, 2016. If you want to see photos from this year’s conference, take a look at the IH World page. You can also watch the video here:
The IH Academic Management & Trainers Conference 2019 took place in London earlier this month. 140 DOSes and senior teachers joined us for 3 days of informative sessions and networking. Check out our recap video here! #IHConfAMT 🎥👇 pic.twitter.com/E3M5UhScLF
I decided not to live tweet this time as we were given a beautiful notebook and my iPad is getting quite old and tired! Instead here’s a summary of the things from my notes which I think were most useful and/or thought-provoking.
In the classroom
Although the conference is aimed at teachers and trainers, there are always some sessions which are directly related to what happens in the classroom.
Sarah Mercer spoke to us about the differences between motivation and engagement, and how to keep learners’ (and teachers’!) attention in a world full of distractions. She suggested looking at how video games do it, and taking some of those principles into our classrooms. We should make sure lessons are CLARA:
Active (what is the learner doing?)
and that we incorporate GOSCH:
Goals (including interim goals)
Surprise (through variety, promoting curiosity)
Hooks (emotional, through storylines, and ensuring personal relevance)
Both of these acronyms incorporate the idea that in video games you can make the choices – you are the agent, not the audience – and there are easy wins at the start, with challenge building and immediate feedback throughout. Storylines in games create curiosity and there is a clear sense of progress.
I also agree with Sarah’s observation that teachers who’ve built good relationships with students have dramatically lower levels of discipline problems.
Sarah is continuing her research in the area of engagement, and I look forward to seeing more of her findings – there are certainly lots of ideas to explore here.
Gordon Stobart has a UK state school background. He spoke to us about assessment for learning within the UK school system, and how it could be applied to language schools. A key ingredient is clear success criteria, answering the question:
What will it look like when I’ve done it?
If students don’t know that, it’s hard for them to even start working (definitely something I remember from Delta days!) Having clear success criteria means we can help students to work out which work best meets the criteria, give them guided practice to work towards achieving it, and give them clear feedback on how many of the criteria they have met and what to do to meet the others. These criteria can, of course, be negotiated with students – they don’t have to come from the teacher.
He mentioned Geoff Petty’s ideas of giving medals and missions which I like as a way of really boiling down feedback. To push higher level students, Gordon suggested missions like ‘What would you do if you only had half of this material?’ or ‘Argue the other side.’ The goal of all of this is self-regulating learners who can think for themselves.
In an aside, Gordon mentioned that he had one group who he used to jokingly start lessons with by saying ‘Previously in this course, we’ve looked at…’ in the style of a TV series. The learners said it really helped as they had often forgotten!
Katie Harris blogs about language learning at joy of languages. Her talk described what learning languages has taught her about teaching. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about attending this, as I kind of felt like I’ve written about that a lot myself, but I’m glad I did. In the first half of her talk Katie covered what independent language learners like herself (and me!) do to learn, and in the second half she talked about a different way of approaching lessons that she has come up with as a result, which I definitely want to experiment with. Her suggestion is that for some or all of every class (depending on what else you have to do) you let students work on things which they are passionate about, for example TV programmes, books, or whatever else it might be. Here’s how a typical lesson might look:
Students share what they did and show each other the new words/grammar they found. Teacher circulates, answers questions and gives feedback.
Flexible productive tasks, such as mind maps, creative tasks (change the story, add a character etc), writing a diary entry from the perspective of a character, changing the language to a different register, I’m an expert on (for other learners to ask questions), etc.
Deal with emergent language.
The learner training is a key component, as you have to show students how to do things like access learner dictionaries and record new language. If you want to give them more structured homework, beyond just watching/reading more, you can give them questions like ‘Can you find examples of the structure XXX we studied last lesson?’ or ‘Can you find examples of new grammar which you think you’ve never seen before?’
The whole idea is that learners can follow what they are interested in, but that a qualified, professional teacher can help them get there faster than they would be able to alone. By doing this in a group with other people, they can share their interests and learn from each other.
Katie has done a webinar for Macmillan on the same topic if you want to see her talk about these ideas for yourself – I’d recommend it. I really want to experiment with this structure with one of my groups this year who I think would really benefit from it. I’ll speak to them about it in our next lesson, and will report back if I try it out!
Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone talked about the importance of helping learners to understand the reality of learning a language, while noticing the small achievements along the way. Building determination will help them to stick at it. You can do this by:
setting smaller, interim goals (as Sarah Mercer mentioned above)
making changes in support explicit – learners don’t always notice when you reduce support, for example by them doing something alone which they needed your help with before
helping learners spot determination in other people
creating a Positivitree – Chloe’s school has one in every classroom where students can add any achievements they want to, no matter how small they may seem to other.
In the training room
Amy Blanchard investigated the role of the trainer during teaching practice (TP) on CELTA courses. She advocated interrupting TPs early on in the course if it could be beneficial to trainees, as long as both TP students and trainees know what is happening. The areas she particularly focussed on are the ones where we often find ourselves asking questions like ‘Should I be doing this right now?’ Examples might be:
Speed of speech
The benefits are that these interventions are often far more memorable than delayed feedback, which is generally at least a couple of hours and sometimes a couple of days after the lesson (if there’s a weekend in between), that trainees get immediate answers to internal questions, that you are training not just testing, and that information is given at the point of need. Caveats are that trainee and student expectations must be very clear, it requires you to read the situation carefully (it’s not suitable for every trainee), you should only intervene in ‘little’ things not big things that could change the course of the whole lesson, and that support should be withdrawn as the course progresses, so you definitely shouldn’t be intervening in this way in the final TP, and preferably not the last few. It’s also important that all interventions are followed up on in feedback, with action points reflecting the pre-intervention situation, as trainees still need to prove that they can do these things effectively without trainer intervention. Amy got very positive feedback from trainees who she used this technique with, and even months after the course they remembered it in a positive way. This was an interesting idea, and one I’d like to explore with trainees and fellow trainers on the next course I do.
Chris Farrell‘s talk was fast and full on – so many ideas that I couldn’t possibly get them all down, and I will be coming back to them again and again. He was talking about the work they have done at CES to support bottom-up teacher development. Some of the areas he covered were:
making sure that teacher development is an ethos throughout the organisation, not a separate activity (these talks from IATEFL 2018 are related to the kind of culture change that may be required) and that everyone is clear about what this ethos means and how it is communicated
evaluating teacher development (see below)
using nudges to drive cultural change, and knowing when a nudge is not enough
mentoring, particularly for teachers when they join the organisation, and the training needed for mentors to be effective. Senior teachers should not be forgotten here! (Please ask Chris if you want to find out more)
lesson aims, success criteria and assessment: making sure we know what the teachers are teaching and they do too, and that they know how to measure whether a learner and/or a lesson has been successful or not, as well as making it as easy and convenient as possible to see the links between these things (an area that bears a LOT more exploration!)
If you don’t know what the students are supposed to be doing, how can you know what you should be doing as a teacher or an organisation?
reflective enquiry, with different levels depending on how serious teachers are – these vary from notes and peer observation up to full-blown action research projects, and include professional development groups
Chris also mentioned that students can self-assess their ability to use particular language using a three-point scale:
I can use.
I do use.
Simple, but effective!
I suspect this is the talk I will come back to most from the whole conference!
Silvana Richardson talked about an idea so simple that it’s never even occurred to me before: the importance of evaluating the impact of the continuous professional development you offer, both on the teacher and on student learner. I’ve never even asked for trainees to complete a ‘happy sheet’ as Silvana called them – an immediate post-session evaluation. That’ll be changing!
She talked about five levels of evaluation based on Guskey (2000):
She covered a huge range of data collection techniques. Here are just a few.
Level 1 tends to just reveal the entertainment value, but is the easiest one to collect data on, including through using ‘happy sheets’. One way to make it richer is to ask ‘How are you going to apply what you’ve learnt today?’ or ‘What are you going to do with what you’ve learnt today?’
How I feel I have progressed as a result of this session.
Level 3 needs to be done at the level of the organisation, and may require institutional change. Silvana gave the example of an altered mobile phone usage policy following a session on mobile learning when they realised that phones were banned in the classroom.
Level 4 requires time to elapse: you can’t measure impact on practice instantly, and you may need to do it at several time intervals, though sometimes we forget! Silvana’s suggestion for this was learning walks, adapted from a system used in state schools. At Bell, they choose one area to focus on (student tutorials in the example Silvana gave), do some CPD based on that area, then drop in to lots of lessons to see how that CPD is being put into action. With the student tutorials, every teacher audio recorded tutorials with student permission, chose one to focus on, completed a feedback form they’d created as a team in a CPD session, had an ‘observer’ listen to the same recording and add comments, then all of the written feedback was anonymised and compiled into a single report. The organisation (it was done across multiple schools) learnt about what was and wasn’t working from their CPD sessions, and uncovered examples of best practice that had previously gone under the radar.
Level 5 is the hardest to assess, as so many factors could contribute to students’ learning outcomes. You can look at assessment scores, retention, changes in study habits, etc, or interview students, parents, teachers or managers to see this. However, it can be hard to assess cause and effect.
Evaluating your CPD programme in a range of different ways covering as many of these levels as possible is the only real way to ensure that it’s actually doing what you want it to do.
Olga Connolly reminded us of the importance of making sure that senior staff get professional development relevant to their role, not just teachers. For new senior staff at BKC IH Moscow, they have a shadowing programme and five training sessions based on core responsibilities like observations and how to give training sessions. For more experienced senior staff, they meet regularly to have discussions based around a table, the headings of which are:
skill/are to develop
why is it important
how (action points)
Senior staff complete what they can by themselves, then Olga helps them with the parts they can’t complete, and works out with them what support and guidance she/the school needs to give them. Examples of areas to work on which her senior staff have looked at include:
setting priorities to give more focussed feedback
improving body language in promotional videos made by the school
improving computer skills to be able to watch webinars
noticing strengths and weaknesses when observing lessons in languages you don’t speak
increasing the number and variety of warmers in teacher training courses.
This system came about because previously Olga noticed that there was no clear system, no goal and no focus for the development of her senior staff. That’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of, both in my own development and that of the senior team I work with – we’ve just kind of muddled along, though some things have become a bit more systematic as I have built up my own experience. Clearer goals would definitely be useful, though for myself endless curiosity (see above) tends to deal with a lot of things!
Ania Kolbuszewska talked to us about why change does and doesn’t work. The know-feel-do model was new to me:
What is the one thing you want me to know?
Why do you want me to do this?
How do you want me to act as a result?
I like how this boils down change communication to the absolute essentials. She also reminded us that communication is NOT the message sent, but the message received, and that perceptions are an image or idea based on insufficient information – the more information we give to people about a change, the fuller their picture will be. This can help to reduce the amount of fear associated with changes, including fear of:
loss of money
loss of social or network traditions
loss of power
loss of control
loss of status
loss of jobs
not having the competences to unlearn old habits or learn new things
(not) being involved in the change.
My favourite quote from her talk was by C.S. Lewis:
By the way, if you’re interested in change management, I’d highly recommend reading Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson [Amazon affiliate link]. I read it when I was in my teens, and it’s always shaped how I think about change and how to respond to it. It’ll take you all of about an hour to read and will give you a whole new vocabulary 🙂
Giovanni Licata and Lucie Cotterill reminded us that when evaluating courses, we shouldn’t rely on immediate post-course evaluation by students, as this often focuses on the entertainment/ performance value of the course, but try to investigate the longer-term effects on learning. We should also move away from star ratings – as they said, some of the ‘best’ restaurants in the world, and McDonalds, have very similar star ratings, and yet they’re doing very different things! One model you could use is KISS:
Keep (what are you doing to keep doing?)
Improve (what do you need to improve?)
Start (what are you going to start doing?)
Stop (what are you going to stop doing?)
Communicating more effectively
Loraine Kennedy did a three-hour workshop entitled ‘The Craft of Conversations’ to kick the conference off. Among other things, she talked about developing emotional intelligence, coaching v. mentoring, and giving and receiving feedback, both positive and negative.
Here are five questions she asked us at one point which you might like to answer:
Why is emotional intelligence important in dealing with difficult people and situations?
Think about someone you think has high emotional intelligence. Why do you think this is?
“Know thyself.” Why is this important before judging others?
What can you do deepen you own self awareness?
What can you and your team at work do together to increase emotional intelligence?
She reminded us of our own role in any communication:
Your behaviour will influence the way the situation develops.
If you have a problem, you are both part of the problem and part of the solution.
The latter can be particularly hard to remember!
We practised using the Gibbs reflective cycle (shown above), as well as focusing on listening and asking questions, and not giving advice. I found this process particularly useful, as it made me realise that an unsuccessful and very negative interaction I had in my first year as a DoS probably came about because I was making statements and telling the teacher about a problem situation, rather than asking questions and helping them to describe the situation themselves.
At every AMT conference, there’s at least one idea which I’ve been struggling with in my own head for a while, and then somebody gives you the answer. In this case, it was Loraine’s guidelines for a complaint conversation:
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Get as much information as possible, including more feedback from the complainant. Write a list of relevant questions.
Explain the reason for the meeting, e.g. student feedback.
Meet in the right place, and make it as comfortable as possible. Do not rush the meeting.
State your position ‘on side with the teacher’, and remind them about confidentiality (yours and theirs). Remind them of the need to agree a way forward together.
Ask the teacher to talk about the class and the students. Any issues?
Reaffirm that a way forward needs to be found. Stay focused on this.
It is better if the teacher finds the way forward, but be prepared to offer suggestions. (‘Way forward’ suggests that it is negotiable, it may have various steps, and the person the complaint is about is involved in working it out. ‘Solution’ suggests that there is one answer, and you may go into the conversation thinking that you know what it is.)
Agree on action, and a time to follow-up.
The most important thing to remember is that a complaint must always be responded to, including if the response is that you do not believe that the complaint requires anything to be changed. Loraine also reminded us that if we have more teacher to student feedback, we may avoid complaints in the first place! If you want Loraine to help you out with management training, coaching, and teacher development, you can find out more information on her consultancy work on her website.
In a related talk, Lisa Phillips also talked about the importance of emotional and social intelligence, and making sure we:
Anticipate situations (both positive and negative)
Explain, don’t blame
Remember about how contagious emotions are
Questions I want to keep asking myself
What does success look like in this situation? How will I know when I’ve achieved it? How will my learners/teachers know when they’ve achieved it?
Are we doing enough teacher-student feedback? Are we doing it in the right way?
How can we promote curiosity, not just in learners, but in teachers, trainers and managers too?
How much am I taking what I know about what works as a language learner into the classroom? Do I really give them what I know works for me and a lot of other people?
How can we make our mentoring scheme as effective as possible?
What questions am I asking? Am I asking enough of them or jumping in with advice instead? Are they clear enough?
Am I really listening?
What am I doing to make sure I reduce how much of the problem I am in any given situation?
How can we evaluate what we’re doing more effectively?
Over the last 18 months, we have accidentally made video observations a ‘thing’ at our school. There was no grand plan – it just kind of happened, and I’m very glad it did!
As far as I remember, it started with the senior staff recording some of their lessons and making them available to the teachers to watch in a video bank on the school server. If we think particular teachers need help with something specific, we might recommend they watch a specific video or clip.
Then we had some teachers in satellite schools who needed to be observed, but we were not able to send an observer out for the 45 minutes they needed. Video was logistically much easier to set up, and had the added bonus that the teacher could see themselves too. Some teachers have also chosen to record themselves to look for specific things in their lessons, without having it formally observed.
Another technique is when a senior teacher and an inexperienced teacher would film themselves teaching the same lesson plan (we plan collaboratively) with their respective groups, then watch both videos and compare how the lesson plan manifested itself with two different groups. This is particularly useful for demonstrating differences in pace and in running feedback.
The final way in which we use videos is to back up in-person observations, with the observer recording clips of the lesson to show the teacher during feedback.
Although it is now possible to easily record lessons on a smartphone, most of the teachers use my Canon IXUS camera and GorillaPod tripod.
They can set it up anywhere in the room and it will record non-stop for 60 minutes (if I’ve remembered to charge the battery and empty the memory card!) I then put the video into their individual space on the server for them to watch when they are ready.
If it’s for a more formal observation, we do it in two different ways. Sometimes the observer watches the video first, then does the post-observation feedback in the same way as they would for a standard observation, but showing any relevant clips from the observation. Alternatively, the observer and teacher watch it together at the same time, having already decided what they’re looking for. They pause and discuss the video at relevant points, and decide together what the action points are coming out of the observation, and what positive things were spotted.
On joining the school, all students sign a list of terms and conditions. One of the items is that they are happy to be filmed or audio recorded. Teachers also sign permission slips in our induction week professional development sessions. Videos are for internal use only, and they are entirely within the control of the teacher. It is up to the teacher who sees them and whether they choose to put it into the school video bank for other teachers to see.
Video observations are a shortcut in a lot of ways. They enable teachers to see and hear:
the reactions of students to what they are doing, including who is not paying attention (and why?)
their activity set-up and how effective it is
how well students work with each other
which activities do and don’t work with a particular group
how other teachers do things, particularly managing young learner and teen groups (it’s not always possible for us to organise peer observations)
and much, much more.
Overall, video observations have enabled us to provide richer professional development to our teachers, enabling them to see into a variety of classrooms, including their own. If you haven’t tried it with your own teaching yet, I would highly recommend it. If you want to introduce it at your school, start with your own teaching – if you lead by example, it’s easier for other teachers to want to join in as it can feel less threatening. Good luck!
Christian Tiplady asked me if he could share his ideas for shifting the focus of official observations with the readers of this blog. I think you’ll agree that they are minor tweaks that could make a big difference.
Why do we focus on the behaviour of teachers during ‘official’ classroom observations? Is there an alternative way that is more in line with current thinking on learner-centred approaches?
So many institutions, including ones where I have worked, still cling to the idea that teachers need to be evaluated for quality assurance and that the best way to do this is with a formal observation, often compartmentalised and homogenised, taking the form of an hour-long observation by a senior member of staff. The observer uses a standardised feedback form with variables by which the teacher’s lesson is graded, and then leads feedback analysing what went well or badly. Oftentimes this observation takes place only infrequently, perhaps once a year, and there is often no follow-up to assess observation outcomes.
This style of evaluative observation is not only outdated but also ill-conceived. It assumes that the activity of ‘teaching’ can be rated, and that this can be done with the kind of standardised grading to which we have grown accustomed. In order to have much value at all any assessment of teaching needs to be thought through carefully. It needs to be done over a longer period with more frequent observations to avoid a ‘snapshot’ view and therefore the danger of misguided evaluation. Feedback needs to be cyclical and iterative in nature and co-constructed with the teacher as part of a reflective process to ensure that the teacher is on board with continuing development.
But there is a much more important point to be made here, which is that to focus on what the teacher is or isn’t doing in a classroom (and to rate that) is surely at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous if this is without explicit reference to the world of the learner. My contention is that we still do this way out of pure habit, and that at least in part, this undoubtedly comes from vestiges of ingrained beliefs that still linger, even if as teachers we know these things to be untrue.
Firstly, the status quo derives from the mistaken belief that teaching equals learning. However in reality we know that the teaching is only part of the equation and that learners will learn in their own way and at their own rate. As Freeman reminds us “teachers are influential in classroom learning but that does not mean they cause it to happen.” (Freeman, 2006; 254). Indeed we can teach what we might consider to be the best lesson, only to note that in terms of the learning it did not have the impact that was desired. Or conversely we can teach a lesson which at first sight did not go to plan or very ‘well’ in practice, but where there was nonetheless significant learning.
Secondly it comes from the implicit assumption that teaching behaviours can be classified and evaluated and that ‘more’ or ‘less’ of that thing is better. For example, typically ‘student talking time’ is inevitably valued within today’s language teaching, where a premium is placed on communication, and ‘teacher talking time’ should be reduced at all costs. In reality, purposeful teacher talk can be very useful as part of the learning process and in some lessons it may be vital.
Another example is the use of the English in the classroom versus the use of the student’s L1. The former has conventionally been highly valued (probably to encourage an element of immersion), whilst the latter i.e. the use of L1, has been relegated to the fringes with infrequent activities such as ‘translate these sentences into your own language’ given for homework, but with little real acknowledgement that use of L1 in the learning process can be extremely useful.
Although such thinking has increasingly been challenged over recent years, it still tends to be pervasive in the realm of teacher observations. We continue to focus on what the teacher should and should not do in the classroom (theories on this will likely come and go), and judge things by our own semi-conscious ideas of what is right and wrong. More importantly, by taking our eyes off the ball, we often miss the real action i.e. we neglect the impact (or lack of it) of the lesson on the learner. A typical example might be the types of praise given for a communicative speaking activity, which a teacher organised well and the learners dutifully performed with high levels of talking time, but which had little intrinsic value in terms of developing the learners or engaging them in meaningful expression.
By focusing on the behaviours of teachers in the classroom, we are also reinforcing a model that is teacher-centred and are thus potentially affecting teachers’ beliefs and behaviour. If we (learners, teachers, teacher trainers, managers etc.) desire lessons to be learner-centred then surely we need to promote that in everything we do, including the observations of teachers. Evidently, the main thing that is useful to focus on is learning and the learning process for the learner. In short, we need to rethink our observations of teachers to refocus on how teachers may best facilitate this learning.
So how do we do this? Assuming we still have to follow an institutionalised system of official observations, (which I still think can be reclaimed for the good), these can be redesigned with an onus on the learners with surprisingly minor structural adjustments, but with a fairly radical shift in our philosophy.
First of all, the usual observation template can be changed to make all criteria more learner-centred. Criteria such as ‘relevant learner outcomes established in conjunction with the learners’ and ‘lesson managed in a way that promoted achievement of lesson outcomes’ can be included to promote learner-centredness. The emphasis of wording is all-important; thus a criterion such as ‘use of English in the classroom’ can be amended to ‘English/L1 used appropriately for learner needs’ and ‘teacher talking time’ can be amended to ‘learner talking time suitable for learner needs’. These changes may seem somewhat pedantic, but in my experience such small adjustments can promote a major shift in the thinking of both the observer and the observed teacher alike. For instance, the phrasing of the latter criterion on learner talking time intrinsically leads both parties to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What was witnessed in terms of learner talking time?’ ‘Was the learner talking time appropriate in amount, form and quality at various stages of the lesson, as well as overall in the lesson? If not, why not?’ ‘Did the amount, form and quality of learner talking time mean the aims of the lesson were achieved for the learner? If not, why not?’ Clearly this change of emphasis might necessitate some ongoing training for both teachers and observers of lessons, but is nonetheless quite possible.
Secondly, the observer needs to truly focus on the learner – on their reactions, behaviour and likely learning – during the observed lesson. Often the observer sits at the back of the classroom to watch the teacher but cannot see the students’ faces or reactions. What the teacher does in terms of facilitation is important, but how the learner responds and whether they demonstrate that they are learning is of ultimate importance. Therefore the observer should try to ‘climb into the learners’ skin’ and see it from their perspective. The simplest act of the observer positioning their chair to the side of the classroom, to see the learners’ faces, how they react, and what they are doing, can make a huge difference to the observer’s understanding of the effects of the lesson on the learners and their learning.
Thirdly, the information gathered by the observer should ideally be backed up with further evidence to reduce subjectivity, preferably in the form of a video recording. Silvana Richardson (2014) has done some interesting work in this area, which she calls ‘evidence-based observation’. Software is also available which allows the observer to annotate the recorded video with questions and comments for the teacher, thereby facilitating a feedback process focusing on the learner, though it’s not always particularly easy to access.
Finally, however much the observer and the observed teacher try to adopt the mindset of the learner, and back it up with evidence, they can never claim to know the thoughts of the learner. The learners’ voice therefore needs to be included within observation feedback for any lesson or series of lessons. Thus the observation process should seek to include feedback from the learners, for example, their assessment of how engaging the lesson has been and how successful they think the lesson has been in terms of their learning. This can be factored into evaluative feedback as long as the process is handled sensitively.
Any additional comments learners have on the lesson(s) are also vitally important to inform the feedback process and can change the evaluation of a lesson significantly if they happen to disagree with what the observer and/or the teacher believe. When experimenting with this approach, I observed a lesson where I thought the learner might have been overloaded with the amount of topics that she was asked to speak about. However, in her feedback the learner maintained that that the amount of topics was at about the optimum level for her. This first-hand vantage point significantly changed my perception of the lesson.
In most institutions, how often does the observer of a lesson really solicit the opinions of the learners as part of the observation process? I would suggest very seldom. By contrast, including the learners’ voice in the observation feedback implicitly encourages the teacher to engage with learner feedback in the same way. Reframing the observation in terms of the learners not only allows a more relevant learner-centred perspective but also models good practice for the teacher as part of wider classroom culture.
Can this focus on the learner be equally beneficial as a basis for peer observations? Absolutely, yes! In fact gathering information on the learners provides an excellent focus and helps to avoid any evaluative critique of teaching, which many teachers may have come to habitually expect as the ‘default model’. So whilst evaluative observations look set to stay, let’s at least focus on what matters, namely the learners.
Freeman, D. Teaching and Learning in Gieve S. and Miller, I. (2006) ‘The Age of Reform’ in Understanding the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Pelgrave-Macmillan.
BSc (Hons), Trinity Cert. TESOL, PGDip TESOL, MA TESOL
Christian is a freelance teacher trainer based in the UK. He has worked in both EFL and Modern Foreign Languages (MFLs) sectors for over 25 years, teaching, teacher training and managing in private language schools, NGOs and government organisations. Most recently he served as Pedagogy Manager at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office organising CPD for tutors who teach MFLs to diplomatic staff. He has set up TrinityTESOL and Cambridge CELTA courses and is currently a CELTA tutor and assessor. He specialises in the creation of CPD programmes, developmental observations and feedback. Christian currently produces the teachers’ podcast Developod for the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG).
I’ve been thinking about what support we can give newly-qualified teachers for a while now. I was very lucky when I started out as a teacher, because I ended up in a school with a strong development programme for fresh teachers, but I know that’s not always the case. In February 2018, I published the results of this thinking, which eventually turned out to be ELT Playbook 1. Inspired by a talk given at IATEFL Manchester 2015 by Jill Hadfield, I also decided to document the process behind putting together the finished result, which is what you’ll find below.
The roots of the idea
The original idea I toyed with was to put together an ebook of tasks that could be worked through week by week in the first year after qualifying from an initial certificate course, like CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. Tasks would build on each other and cover areas that had probably been included in the initial course, like classroom management, teaching grammar and teaching reading. I put together a speculative proposal and sent it off to a publisher, but they didn’t accept it as they said they had something similar in the works.
This then developed into something in the form of a course, similar to the International House courses that I’ve done throughout my career. I was thinking along the lines of a CELTA revision course which goes over the main areas of the course again, but with the trainee having more time to absorb the ideas and to experiment with them with real students over a period of time, instead of intensively in just six hours of teaching practice. However, there were various problems with this approach.
Participants might not have completed an initial certificate course.
The initial certificate might have covered very different areas, so it was hard to make assumptions about what they’d covered.
Contexts could differ widely, so it would be hard to produce generic tasks that all participants would work through.
The timing of academic years varies widely, adding another variable that would make timing a course very challenging.
The whole thing would require a lot of work from the trainer.
It would be difficult to decide on assessment criteria.
How do you decide how much to charge?
I shelved the idea for a year after this, and continued in my position as a Director of Studies, working mostly with freshly-qualified teachers. Through this job, I developed a better understanding of what teachers in this position might need in the way of early career support.
Gradually I came back to the idea of an ebook, partly due to a very positive experience working with The Round and Karen White. This time, though, it would be arranged such that it could be followed in a range of ways, depending on the teacher’s preferences:
from beginning to end of the book;
category by category (there are six strands in the book, each with five tasks);
by looking at how long a task might take and seeing what can be fitted in;
by choosing a task completely at random.
I wrote up the basic idea for the ebook in my shiny new MaWSIG notebook after the Pre-Conference Events at IATEFL 2017, with the initial strands chosen as:
At IATEFL 2017 I was very happy to see Sarah Mercer’s plenary, where she focussed a lot on the psychological health of teachers, which validated the decision to include the final category. ‘Health and wellbeing’ then became the first one that I wrote notes for when I had nothing else to do on a train journey to Torun. I decided at this point that I would like to include a quote before each strand and each task which would somehow link it back to the literature and back up the suggestions I was making. Hopefully this would also give teachers an idea about where to find out more. It would also force me to do research to support my ideas, and not just include things I instinctively felt would help.
The name The Teacher’s Taskbook came to mind pretty quickly, and after searching for it a few times and discovering that the title didn’t seem to be in use either for a book or a website, I decided it was worth using (though see below…)
As I thought about the ebook more, I realised that 30 tasks wouldn’t be enough, and have since decided that I’d like to put together a series of ebooks, so watch this space for more!
Developing the structure
At the beginning of June 2017 I watched a webinar by Nik Peachey about becoming your own publisher, organised by the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG, and available on the IATEFL webinars page for IATEFL members if you’d like to watch it yourself. He shared lots of tips from his own experience of self-publishing.
A few days later I came across a blog post by Adi Rajan on Open Badges for CPD. Although I’ve been somewhat sceptical about badges in the past, I thought it might be a good idea to offer people the chance to collect badges to document their progression through the tasks in the book.
On the same day I decided that if I want to put together a series of books, and perhaps accompany them with badges, it would probably be a good idea to have a logo, but had no idea what I wanted to do. See below…
A few months later
It’s now 4th July 2017, and things have moved on a bit. I’ve got a clear idea for the structure of each task, with about half of the tasks now written out on paper, plus the titles for the rest of them, and a bit of my introduction. I’ve also changed the title from the original idea of The Teacher’s Taskbook: Year One, which I thought was a bit too functional, to ELT Playbook 1, inspired by a conversation with Adi Rajan. To find out why I chose this title, take a look at the introduction of the book 🙂
Other things I’ve done:
Sketched out a rough logo with a graphic designer friend.
Researched the possibilities for awarding badges, though the costs for many of these seem to be quite prohibitive.
Decided to use icons for sections of each task, inspired by Nik Peachey’s webinar mentioned above. Watching another webinar by Lindsay Clandfield today, I came across The Noun Project, which is the perfect source for my icons – I’ve just paused in my search to write this update!
Started a spreadsheet to keep track of what I spend when preparing the book, though there are no entries yet.
Shared the idea with a few people, and it seems to have got a positive response so far. Here’s hoping I can get it published by September, ready for the new school year in a lot of the world!
Draft one complete!
It’s 16th August 2017, and today I’ve finished hand-writing the last of the tasks. I decided to write everything out longhand first as I find it easier to think of ideas that way (unless I’m blogging!), and it meant that typing up the tasks would then be a process of redrafting. By limiting myself to one small piece of paper, it also encouraged me to keep the tasks short and of a similar length.
I started typing up some of the tasks a couple of weeks ago, in between some teacher training I was doing. I’ve now got about 24 of the 30 tasks on the computer, and will hopefully type the rest of them up tomorrow, as well as looking for the quotes to accompany each task.
I’ve also contacted an editor in the last couple of days, as I want to make sure a professional looks over what I’ve been doing before it goes public. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been building up a list of questions I’d like her to answer, covering things I’m not sure about or which I think could be expanded or changed.
Coming together nicely
A couple of weeks ago I sent off a complete typed first draft to my editor, Penny Hands, along with a list of questions I would like her opinion on and some of the conventions I’ve used throughout the book. These are both things I’ve picked up as tips during previous IATEFL MaWSIG events – the Materials Writing SIG is a great one to join if you’re interested in writing materials at all. They have so much helpful advice.
I’ve also just had an email from my friend who’s working on a logo for me. She sent me a range of different options for me to choose from. It was very exciting to think about which one most suits the idea I have for the book, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final results.
So that’s it for 18th September 2017: apart from choosing the logo, I’m taking a short break as our induction week started today. It’s a very busy time for me, helping new teachers settle in at our school and working out the timetable. Listening to them talk about qualifying and hearing their hopes and fears for their new jobs and lives reinforces my feeling that a book like this is necessary – I hope it proves that way!
Looking back at my previous entries in this post, it doesn’t look like the book will be ready by the end of September, but hopefully it won’t be too long after that. I’ve also now decided against awarding badges with the book, as it seems like it would involve a lot of complicated logistics and/or a large financial outlay on my part. If anybody has suggestions for how I can get around this, I’d really appreciate them!
Maybe the provision of so much scaffolding for trainees on a course like the CELTA helps fuel things ‘forward’ and accounts for why I’ve enjoyed and been positively affected by it so much…scaffolding which does provide ‘data’ (written and oral feedback galore), at least some collaboration (in teacher-tutor guided lesson co-planning, minimally), plenty of non-written forms of reflection (though I do wish I’d already have tried giving the option to replace written post-feedback reflections with other kinds!), and detail, detail, and more for sure. Now if this aspect of an intensive one-month course like the CELTA could just be unfurled, exploded, and evenly distributed throughout an entire career path!
In the last week I’ve received logos for the different parts of my book, which I really like. For me, they capture the essence of ‘play’ which I would like to be central, while also incorporating both analogue (book) and digital (the mouse) elements. This one’s my favourite colour too 🙂
A couple of days ago I got an edited version of my book, along with a few questions covering areas which I’d been a bit concerned about too. One of these is how much I’ve emphasised the community/sharing in many of the tasks. While I believe this is an important element to the book, I don’t feel that it should be highlighted as much as it is, as I don’t want people to feel like they have to share with the community if they don’t want to. I think it should be an option that’s available, but not something obligatory. I’m going to try to rewrite the reflection ideas to make them mirror my beliefs more.
It’s the beginning of October, and I originally hoped to publish the book in September, but I’ve now realised I was too ambitious in terms of managing my time around my work. I’m not going to put pressure on myself for the sake of having it published – I’d rather it was ready to the standard I want it to be, and that I have a work-life balance, than that it’s published before it meets the standards I want it to.
A month later on the 29th October, I’ve finally got time to take a look at the edits that Penny has suggested, almost all of which I’ll keep, as they certainly upgrade the text. I think it’s really important to have a professional editor for a project like this, as Penny has caught many things I wouldn’t have noticed. She’s also been able to point out some of the ways in which my book might not be clear to a reader, like places where some of my assumptions have come across. The biggest change is the addition of a subtitle: ‘Teacher development in an online community’, which conveys what I hope is one of the key characteristics of the book, as can be seen in this section from the introduction.
A key objective of ELT Playbook is to give teachers who are new to the profession the chance to become part of a wider community. You can find other members of the community on the following social media channels:
Via these forums, you will be able to benefit from looking at and commenting on the reflections of other people, and sharing your own reflections if you want to.
We also took out a quote which didn’t really fit the structure of the book. I liked it though, so I’m going to share it here 🙂
Many teachers find that writing a short journal about their experiences and lessons is a great way to reflect constructively on their teaching. Putting your ideas down on paper sometimes gives you a clear perspective on the problems and issues that arise, and may help you to reflect on possible solutions. These days, more and more teachers even make their experiences public by sharing them on blogs. It might be worth reading some of them to discover you are not alone!
John Hughes (2014) ETpedia: 1,000 ideas for English Language Teachers. Pavilion Publishing and Media, page 25
Another thing I’ve really benefitted from when writing the book is sharing the concept with friends and colleagues, and taking on board their ideas and suggestions. For example, this week my friend Natasha suggested publicising the book using the #weteachenglish hashtag on Instagram, something I’d never heard of before.
Finally, I now have a cover (though the subtitle means it’ll need a bit of editing). Thanks to Ola, Penny and Natasha for their help!
A bit of a hurdle
I’ve just looked at the 2nd edit of my ebook, and in Penny’s email she let me know about something that had never occurred to me: if you use a lot of quotes in your work, it’s a good idea to find out whether you need permission to use them or not. This is something I now need to follow up on, as I don’t want to get into trouble. This is why it’s important to have an editor! Thanks Penny 🙂 (though it does mean delaying the publication date while I make sure…it’s 20th November, and I’d hoped to publish next weekend)
Oops…it’s Christmas Eve and I haven’t looked at my book for over a month. Instead I’ve been prioritising differently at weekends and doing a lot more baking, as well as consciously trying to relax more. However, if I ever want this to be published, and to get back the money I’ve paid my editor it’s time to crack on again. So Guys and Dolls is on TV, and I’m refamiliarising myself with the manuscript. (I don’t usually double-screen, but Christmas is different…)
A few hours later, and I’ve responded to all of the comments from Penny, and added a few quotes to try and balance out the male/female balance. I’ve also managed to write a contents page for ELT Playbook 2, which I hope will make the process of writing the follow-up a little faster than this one!
On Boxing Day, I’ve opened it up again and spent another 90 minutes or so checking all of the hyperlinks in the document, and adding a further reading section to make it easier for readers to explore further if they want to, as suggested by a couple of people. I’ve now sent it to my mum for a final proofread before I write to the publishers to ask for permission to use their quotes.
29th December – Things I have discovered while writing to publishers to ask for permission to use quotations from their books:
I should have written down ISBNs for every book. I can find them on Amazon, but it would have been faster to write them down originally.
It’s easier to do this with the books in front of you, not in a different country (they’re in Poland, I’m in the UK for Christmas!)
Each publisher does things very differently. My favourite is Cambridge at the moment, because they currently grant permission to use up to 400 words of prose freely as long as it is accompanied by a full citation (according to their permissions page as of 29th December 2017) [Please check there – don’t take my word for it!] Some publishers require word counts, some have email addresses, some have forms to fill in. One publisher has a Word form to fill in and send back, where the formatting is quite troublesome. Another couple use external sites to do their permissions.
If a publisher no longer exists, you might be able to find out who bought their list using the Association of American Publishers lookup function.
Some places charge, some don’t. This is something to factor in when you’re thinking about costs.
Asking for permissions takes a good 2-3 hours if you decide you want to use 30 or so quotes from at least 15 different sources!
A major change
11th February – by a week ago, I’d only received about 25% of the permissions I need to publish the book. Apart from that, everything else is ready. After discussing it with a couple of people, I’ve decided that the inclusion of quotes in the book doesn’t add enough to the book to justify the amount of work it’s taking to get permission to use them, and that a further reading list is enough of a pointer. It’s disappointing as I do think they added something, but if I want to write a series of these books (and I do!) then I need to make the process as easy to repeat as possible.
In the last week I’ve also decided that the official launch date will be Valentine’s Day, a nice easy date to remember, and conveniently in the middle of a two-week school holiday, so I have time to get everything finalised before I publish, including putting together a blog to complement the series, an idea I toyed with previously and have now decided I definitely want to have.
The big day!
14th February 2018 – I went through the book one last time, making a couple more minor tweaks and making sure that none of the questions referred to the quotes I’d removed. I also set up the facebook page, and put together a page of content for the new ELT Playbook blog explaining what the book is and where to get it from.
Once everything was ready, I uploaded the ebook to Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP platform. These were the hitches:
My cover image was a bit too small for Smashwords. I used http://resizeimage.net/ to make it the required 1400 pixel width.
When I downloaded a sample .epub file from Smashwords, I noticed that the icons for the sections were all giant, even though they were only about 2x2cm in the file. I then had to save small versions of each icon onto my computer, and replace 214 of them. Luckily that only took about 20 minutes, and also reduced the file size from 10.5MB to 1MB, which means Amazon will hopefully not charge me as much when people download the file.
A few months down the line
It’s 3rd June 2018, and the ELT Playbook 1 ebook has now been available for a few months. By my calculations I’ve sold 22 copies on Smashwords and about 21 copies on Amazon (it’s a bit harder to work it out there!) I’ve talked about it at IATEFL and in a webinar for EFLtalks.com (see below), as well as in passing at the IH Torun Teacher Training Day and in a webinar for International House as part of the latest Teachers’ Online Conference. IATEFL was also a great opportunity to get ideas from people like Dorothy Zemach about what to do next with the book and the series.
As part of the prep for IATEFL 2018, Rob Howard gave me the excellent idea of making postcards advertising the book, with a space to sign or write notes on the back, and I was one of the authors who benefitted from the chance to do a signing session at the independent publishers’ stand.
On 2nd May I went back to the idea of badges that I discarded earlier as being potentially too much work. This was as a direct result of the fact that thus far nobody has posted their responses to any of the tasks on the social media platforms (facebook, Twitter and Instagram) – I just need somebody to be first, so if that’s you, I’ll be incredibly grateful! If you complete all of the tasks in one section or in the book, you can get one of these badges:
The badges aren’t proper Open Badges, as the expense of me paying for an Open Badges scheme is prohibitive, but I think these ones will do for now. I look forward to adding names to them and sending them out!
Rereading this post before I publish it, I also noticed that in the end I didn’t use the subtitle that was suggested ‘Teacher development in an online community’ – I can’t remember why, but I suspect I simply forgot about it. What do you think? Should I use it? I ended up adding the strapline ‘Learning to reflect, together’ on the ELT Playbook blog – maybe that would be better?
It’s been great to hear people’s responses to the book and the idea of a series, and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of the tasks. I already have the contents page for two more books (ELT Playbook 2 and ELT Playbook: Teacher Training) and have started writing tasks for the teacher training book. I can’t wait to share them with you, so watch this space!
Here’s a selection of nuggets of information from talks which I didn’t manage to attend during this year’s conference but did get bits out of via Twitter. They are loosely categorised to help you find your way around. Thanks to everyone who shared what they were watching! I’ve included videos if they’re available, as I hope to watch them at some point myself.
Looking after ourselves and our students
The talk I most wanted to go and see unfortunately clashed with a meeting I had, but I’m happy to say it was recorded. This tweet says it all:
Please watch Phil Longwell’s talk on the important but until now overlooked issue of mental health issues in ELT. It was the best session I saw in the main conference. It was a measure & honour to mentor Phil for his first ever talk at a conference. I’m proud of you, Phil 🙂 https://t.co/c7iKb2OgQx
Phil Longwell used his talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:
He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:
Karin Krummenacher suggested an alternative way of approaching CELTA input sessions, starting with a needs analysis and encouraging trainees to go to the sessions they need, creating a flexible timetable. This is an interesting idea, though another person pointed out it could prove quite challenging if some trainees feel like they are made to go to more sessions than others.
Video in Language Teacher Education is a project I’d like to explore further, particularly since we’ve been introducing video observation into our school this year. You can get a taster by watching the videos on their website.
As a polyglot myself (I think I can say that!), Scott Thornbury‘s talk on hyperpolyglots and what we can learn from them would have been interesting. Here are three tweets from it:
Alastair Douglas spoke on why observation is such a key part of teacher training and on how we should rethink observation tasks. You can watch Alastair’s full talk on the Teaching English British Council page.
Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli described ‘Inspired professional development’. You can watch their full talk here:
Katherine Martinkovich summarized their talk here, along with a selection of other related ones she saw. You can read their full whitepaper on the Cambridge website. Having now watched the talk, I’m going to look at the CPD I’m involved in and see how we can make it more sustained, as this seemed to be the glaring omission from most of what I’m doing.
In the classroom
If you’d like to examine your use of Teacher Talking Time, here are some aspects you might consider, courtesy of Stephen Reilly:
Stuart Vinnie: divide cloze answers between pairs and ask them to memorise, then work together to complete the gaps. Alternatively divide into 4 groups, ABCD, and divide the answers between them #IATEFL2018pic.twitter.com/GgoVZkD0PF
Gareth Davies, a.k.a. Gareth the Storyteller, asked whether English lessons are fairytales in disguise. You can get a taste of his storytelling here, in a 1-minute clip which is perfect for the classroom.
You can watch Zoltan Dornyei’s talk on how to create safe speaking environments here. You can also read a summary of his talk here, written by Jessica Mackay. It also seems silly not to advertise my ebook, Richer Speaking, at this point, since it includes lots of ways to extend and adapt speaking activities. 🙂
Edmund Dudley was talking about motivating teenagers to write, and promoting the new ETpedia Teenagers book [Amazon affiliate link] which was recently published.
His slides are available here – I’m already thinking about which teachers I can pass them on to at school!
Another talk connected to writing includes the phrase ‘sentence energy’, which sounds intriguing. That was Sarah Blair’s presentation on ‘Teaching writing visually, which you can watch on the TeachingEnglish IATEFL 2018 page, or get to directly here.
Working with language
Jade Blue had some interesting ideas for using learner-generated visuals to conceptualise language. I know this image isn’t perfect, but it gives you the idea I think. Definitely something I’d like to find out more about, and nicely complementing David Connolly‘s presentation.
I’m not sure exactly which talk this was from, apart from that it was part of the Materials Writing SIG showcase on Wednesday 11th April, but it looks like it could be useful for working out how good a particular vocabulary activity is:
Here’s one way to promote inclusivity and a critical approach to materials use by students. I think it was from the talk entitled ‘Incorporating diversity: best practices for materials and/or the classroom’ by Ana Carolina Lopes:
1. Ask Ls to review a CB and see what is missing, then ask them to redesign a page themselves and make it more inclusive #iatefl2018
I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂
The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.
Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:
What does it look like when the culture is changed?
If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
Who are the silent majority?
Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
What options can you give to people?
The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
How can you get recruitment right?
Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?
(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)
Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.
I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.
As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:
Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.
Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.
Creating a welcoming culture
Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:
Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.
A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.
Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.
Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)
For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.
Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.
As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.
Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:
#pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:
Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!
I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.
Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.
Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.
Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.
Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.
Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.
At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.
The language of CPD
Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.
In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.
Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.
The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.
By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.
Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.
The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.
Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:
When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:
Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.
Supporting new teachers
A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.
When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)
The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:
Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.
After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.
Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.
CPD for teacher trainers
Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.
Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.
Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.
Trinity and Cambridge
Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.
Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.
Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.
They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbookseries could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!
Find out more
Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.
If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.
And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂
Since April 3rd last year, I’ve been working on this, and it’s now finally ready to share with the world:
ELT Playbook 1 contains a selection of 30 tasks to help teachers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on the areas that seem to cause most problems for those new to our profession. It is based on my work as a CELTA trainer and as a manager of newly qualified teachers. There is also an associated online community where participants can choose to share their reflections and learn from others using the book, taking the first steps to building up an online support network.
Where can I buy it?
ELT Playbook 1 is currently available through the following retailers:
Smashwords (available in .epub, .pdf, .txt and more)
Amazon.com [coming in the next couple of days after I post this, as soon as the powers that be have approved it!]
All links above are affiliate links, meaning I get a few extra pennies if you buy them via this site.
It costs approximately 6.99 USD, 5 GBP or 5.50 EUR.
If you’d like a taster, here’s the contents page and first task, or you can see a blogged version of the first task on the shiny new ELT Playbook blog. You can also download samples via both Smashwords and Amazon before forking out your hard-earned cash.
Who is this series for?
Those who want to develop as a teacher, but who would like some support to learn how to do this, along with clear tasks to work through.
Teacher trainers or managers who would like ideas for professional development programmes (though please do credit the source).
And this book?
Teachers fresh off their initial training who would like to build on what they’ve learnt.
Those who have not yet completed an initial training course and would like something to start them off.
Teachers a few years after their initial training who feel they would like to go back to basics.
Those who would like to develop in a systematic way but are on a limited budget or working in an environment without available support.
To provide a series of tasks you can work through to improve your teaching.
To help you to build a professional portfolio that can be used to show your development when applying for jobs.
To provide guidance in how to reflect on your teaching.
Why ELT Playbook?
According to the Macmillan Dictionary online (accessed 17th August 2017), a playbook is ‘any set of strategies to achieve a goal.’ I believe it is just such a set of techniques and strategies that teachers need to develop both inside and outside the classroom to describe themselves as truly professional. This is reflected in the fact that the term ‘playbook’ has moved from the sportsfield to the boardroom over the last few years.
It is also important to emphasise the ‘play’ part of ‘playbook’. We already have plenty of work to do, so it’s important that any professional development we do complements our work in an enjoyable and stimulating way, rather than adding unnecessary extra stress. None of the tasks should take you longer than 2 hours, and many of them should be achievable in under an hour. They are designed to fit in relatively easily around a busy career and the demands of home life.
How do I use ELT Playbook 1?
You can do the tasks in any order: you could start with something you feel you particularly need to work on, you could complete a whole category, or you might prefer to work through the book from beginning to end. If you do one task a week, you should have enough for an average academic year, with a couple of weeks left over to help you when you are particularly busy at work or home. You can also repeat tasks as many times as you like, perhaps reflecting on them in different ways, or seeing how your responses change over time or with different groups.
That means that just this one single volume could provide you with years of professional development, if you so choose! Having said that, if ELT Playbook 1 is successful, I hope to develop a series of similar playbooks for other areas of ELT, and I would very much welcome feedback on which areas you would find it most useful to focus on.
I hope you enjoy using the book.
Big thanks to everyone who’s been involved in getting this ready, though they might not realise they helped me!
Penny Hands, for editing it and supporting me through the process of finalising everything.
Adi Rajan, for inspiring the name.
Ola Walczykowska, for designing the cover and the logo.
Lindsay Clandfield, for letting me know about the existence of The Noun Project.
Karen White, for teaching me how to deal with icons in ebooks.
Everyone who’s listened to me talking about it over the last few months.
It’s taken longer than expected to get here, but hopefully it’ll all be worth it! Enjoy 🙂
I was giving feedback on an observation today when an idea occurred to me. When we plan a series of activities, particularly for low-level learners, it can be difficult to work out how much support they need at each stage. Thinking of the support we offer (scaffolding) as a kind of continuum might help.
Here’s a basic version:
The activity I was watching which inspired the idea was asking a group of nine 8- and 9-year-old beginners to perform a comic book story they’d just read in their course book. The story had about 10 lines of dialogue and was about a postman delivering letters to two children and being scared by the neighbour’s dog. This was lesson 14 or 15 for the students, so quite early in their learning. This is what happened in the lesson:
Students were given roles.
They were put into groups to practise for a couple of minutes.
They were asked to perform in front of the group, but struggled with pronunciation and knowing who should speak next. Other students weren’t really listening.
They were given new roles in their small groups and practised again.
They performed in front of the class with similar problems.
Here’s how I might use the continuum to think about planning the sequence differently:
Teacher reads the whole story aloud with students repeating each line after the teacher.
Students are grouped by role, but stay in whole-class mode. Teacher reads the whole story aloud with each group repeating their lines after the teacher. Do this two or three times if necessary, drilling any problem words and focussing on intonation and stress patterns as needed.
Students break into groups with each role represented. They practise the dialogue while reading from their books. The teacher monitors and helps when needed.
Students put their books away and continue to practise in their small groups. Give them a time limit to keep the pace up.
Ask students to choose two things to change in their version, for example the name of one of the characters or the adjective used to describe the dog.
Give them time to practise with their changes.
Students perform in front of the class, with the other students noticing the changes.
Hopefully that should give the students the support they need to be able to act out the story confidently, by gradually removing teacher support until they’re perform their own version of what they’d read.
P.S. I made the continuum by changing PowerPoint slides to ‘banner’ using page setup, something I discovered you could do yesterday (thanks Milada!)
I put together this selection of memorisation activities for a CELTA course at LangLTC in Warsaw and thought it would be a good idea to share the activities here too. The activities can be used:
after error correction
to help students fix bits of new language in their heads before they need to produce it at a later stage in the lesson
to exploit decontextualised sentences, for example from a gapfill
to improve students’ confidence with bits of language
as learner training – once they’ve learnt them, a lot of the activities are things they can try themselves or with fellow students, without needing a teacher to set them up
They are taken from various wonderful people I’ve worked with in the past, plus a couple of my own ideas. If you think there are any that should be credited differently, please let me know. It would also be great if you could add your own ideas for activities in the comments. Enjoy!
Draw your sentence
Aims: To exploit students’ creativity. To personalise language.
Use this after students do a controlled practice exercise or study a new set of vocabulary.
Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
On the left half of the paper only (which should have 4 boxes), they illustrate four of the sentences/words in any way they choose, one per box. They shouldn’t write the sentence/word.
Everyone puts the original sentences/words away.
Give them the paper from another group. On the right-hand side of the paper, they should write the corresponding sentence/word.
The original group corrects their answers and gives them feedback.
A more high-tech version of ‘draw your sentence’, via Luke Raymond. Use this video to help you make your book:
Page 1 (the front cover) shows the target word/sentence. Each student should have a different item.
The book is passed to student B who draws a picture on page 2 to represent the target language.
Student C looks at the picture and writes the word/sentence they think it is on page 3, without looking back to page 1. They fold the book so page 3 now becomes the front cover.
The process is repeated until the book is finished.
Much hilarity ensues as the students see the way the language has been illustrated and how it has changed throughout the book.
Students love the ‘Chinese whispers/telephone’ nature of this game 🙂
What do you mean you didn’t read the sentences?
Via Olga Stolbova
(I now call this ‘evil memorisation’!)
Aims: To encourage students to notice context. To make them aware of gaps in their language.
Use this after students do a gapfill exercise.
Check the answers by writing them on the board (just the answers, not the complete sentence).
Students put away the original exercise.
They look at the answers on the board and have to recreate the original sentences. Expect protests! 🙂 Encourage them to write whatever they can remember, even if it’s just isolated words or phrases.
If they’re really struggling/When you start feeling sympathetic, give them one minute to look at the exercise without writing anything, then close their books again and continue to work on reproducing the sentences.
Students compare their recreated sentences to the originals. What were the differences?
Optional extra evilness: put away the sentences you’ve just rewritten. Now say them all to your partner./Write them all again. You can also do this at the end of the lesson when they’ve done other things in between.
If students are depressed that they can’t remember everything, tell them you don’t expect this. I normally say that I want them to remember about 80% of the sentences immediately (with some effort), and about 50% by the end of the lesson, once we’ve done a few other things and they’ve had time to forget. It can be useful to show them the forgetting curve too.
Vocabulary revision game
Via Anette Igel
Aim: To revise vocabulary covered in previous lessons.
Give each group a stack of small pieces of scrap paper (about 1/8 of A4 in size).
They should write the English word/phrase on one side, and put either the translation, definition or example sentence on the other side. The game can also be played with word/vocabulary cards if this is something you use with your students.
To create counters, rip one piece of small scrap into coin sized pieces. They write a letter or draw a symbol on each to indicate which is theirs. Alternatively, they can use any small item they can find (e.g. a paperclip, pen lid, etc).
The final thing they need to prepare the game is either a coin, or a scrap paper ‘coin’, which can be made by folding another small piece up into a tight square, then writing ‘heads’ on one side and ‘tails’ on the other.
The words should be arranged in a circle to create a game track. All of the counters should be placed on the same word to start.
One player flips the coin. Heads = 2, tails = 1. To help them remember which is which, H has two legs, T has one leg. They move 1 or 2 spaces around the circle. When they land, they can do one of two things:
If the word/phrase is face up, say the translation, definition or example sentence.
If the translation/definition/example sentence is face up, say the word/phrase.
In either case, if they are correct, they turn the card over and stay there. If they are wrong, they turn the card over and go back to where they started the turn.
The winner is the person who has moved furthest around the circle at the end of a specified time.
Back translation/Reverse translation
Aims: To help students notice differences between L1 and L2. To help them notice gaps in their language.
Select one sentence per pair or ask students to choose one. Sentences could be from controlled practice exercises, tapescripts, reading, sentences produced by students…
Each pair translates their sentences from English into L1. For multilingual groups, they work alone.
Either: give the sentence to another pair immediately (if they share a language) OR take sentences away and return them to the same person/pair in the following lesson.
Students translate the L1 sentence back into English.
They then compare their English version to the original, and notice any differences. The teacher’s job is to point out whether the students’ English version is still acceptable, and to help them understand any mistakes or differences in meaning. Though it obviously helps, you don’t need to speak L1 to do this activity.
This could also be set up as a mingle activity. Student A says their L1 sentence, student B says it in English, then student B says their L1 sentence and A says it in English. If they get it wrong, the ‘L1’ student should say ‘No, try again.’ until they get it right. My students seem to get a lot out of this, especially with language that differs structurally from Polish, like verb + gerund/infinitive.
Drill, drill, drill
Aims: To improve student confidence before speaking. To help students internalise the language.
There are hundreds of ways to drill new language.
Point at words/flashcards, moving rapidly between them and returning to problem words often.
Whisper, shout, go slow, speed up, say it like an old lady/Arnold Schwarzenegger, be happy/excited/sad.
Boys and girls, call and response (e.g. half say question, half answer).
What’s missing? Students close eyes/turn around. You remove one or more flashcards/words.
Disappearing text (good for dialogues): start with the whole dialogue on the board. Gradually remove parts of it, either a line at a time or leaving behind key words, with students repeating it multiple times.
Key word drills (good for functional language): draw a table with numbered cells. Put one word from each sentence in each cell e.g. for the phrases How about going to the cinema?What about seeing a film? Let’s watch a film. you could have:
1. How 2. What 3. Let
They say the phrase from memory. They can test each other by saying the number and their partner saying the sentence. Removing the words (but not the numbers!) increases the level of challenge. Follow up: can you remember all the phrases without looking?
Mingle: students have one picture/word each. They mingle, show their paper to their partner who has to say the correct word/phrase. To add challenge, they swap after each turn.
Circle drill: pass a flashcard around the circle. Each person says it in turn. You can also turn it into a dialogue e.g. Receiving student: What’s the weather like today? Passing student: It’s sunny. To add challenge, time the class to see how long it takes to pass around the whole circle, then repeat faster.
Some important things to remember are:
Make sure students know the meaning of the language before the drill.
Choral > group > individual. Don’t put students on the spot too early.
Model language naturally: you need to sound like a stuck record. It’s easy to overstress when correcting.
Keep the pace up. Add variety wherever possible. For example, can they drill it in pairs and listen to each other?
Many of these can be done as pairwork after a teacher demonstration. Some are useful for fast finishers too.
Say all of the new vocabulary/sentences from the exercise as fast as you can to your partner. You can do this before drilling as a test, so that you only drill language students struggle with.
Can you remember the word/sentence before X on the list? If students really struggle, give them 1 minute to look and remember before doing the exercise.
How many of the words from the page can you write alone in two minutes? Compare with a partner. This can be at the end of a lesson after lots of work with the language, or at the start of the next class.
Mistake sentences: read the sentence with a mistake and students correct it. Mistakes could be false friends, articles, tenses (especially ones where connected speech confuses)…
Pause sentences: read a sentence but pause in the middle of the collocation. Do students know what comes next? Good for improving the ability to predict upcoming language when listening.
Quizlet is an easy-to-use website which allows you to create lots of activities for the price of one – add some vocabulary and you immediately have about 6 games, plus the ability to print flashcards for lots more. For a full guide to how to use Quizlet and create your own content on there, plus links to level-specific groups, see http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/quizlet – it’s a bit out-of-date as the site has changed it’s layout, but most of what’s on there still holds. If you have at least 6 devices (phones, tablets etc) in your classroom, you can also play Quizlet Live – my students absolutely love it!
One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.
Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)
The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here.
Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.
Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, norpointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.
CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.
Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:
Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group.
Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected.
Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.
These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.
As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)
The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.
Benefits of self-observation:
can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
observing students’ reactions is easier
you can question your own assumptions
more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed
The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.
If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:
Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
Observe yourself to address a specific issue
Personal record-keeping and reflection
Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.
Developing through IATEFL
Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.
As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies at a school which mostly hires newly-qualified teachers, it’s now inevitable that at least some of the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 sessions I attended were connected to teacher training.
Here are my session summaries, along with some tweets at the bottom from sessions I didn’t attend.
Applying differentiation in teacher training (Alastair Douglas)
Alastair says that training teachers is just another form of teaching, and I agree! So we need to differentiate training too. I’m not sure why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, or at least, it had in passing, but I’d never really though about how to put it into practice. When training teachers, we’re giving them a model of how to teach.
Just as your language students look to you to provide ‘correct’ models of English, so too will your trainee teachers be looking for good models of teaching in the way you carry out training. A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training[affiliate link] by John Hughes
For example, on a CELTA course in Vietnam, they differentiated language awareness sessions for natives/non-natives. With native speakers, they focussed on grammar, and with non-natives, they focussed on lexis (e.g. collocations, ‘natural’ language). Alastair Douglas and his colleague wrote this up in Modern English Teacher 24/3. Non-natives could also help native speakers with their language awareness.
On another course, they were working with both primary and secondary school teachers on different ways of presenting language. Here’s an example of a session plan by Jacqueline Douglas:
A final way of differentiating training which Alastair is still experimenting with is the option of using more detailed lesson plans for final lessons on initial teacher training courses, with a more in-depth focus on learner profiles, stage aims and the rationale for them. This allows stronger candidates to really show off what they know about their students and what they can do in the lesson, and balances the extra attention that weaker candidates tend to get at the end of such courses. This idea was inspired by Chris Ozóg.
Other ideas were:
tasks with different levels of scaffolding
varying the number of questions to answer
different activities in different rooms
different guided discovery tasks
get trainees to decide which materials to use (hard/normal)
give trainees the option to prepare more before sessions, e.g. through preparatory questions
There are some problems with differentiation:
overreach, where trainees try to do something harder than they can manage
loss of face (hence grading tasks as hard/normal, not hard/easy)
more time needed for material preparation
difficulties with managing feedback (can be through worksheets, sharing in an information gap)
if there’s a set syllabus (but can work within it)
assessment – making sure it applies to everyone
Alastair also found that differentiation wasn’t always necessary if techniques were equally new to all trainees. On a course with more and less experienced teachers where they were analysing lexis, he gave more experienced teachers a longer list of items to analyse. Because the techniques were new, it actually took both groups a similar amount of time to analyse the items. A similar thing happened in a CELTA session on using authentic materials, where he divided teachers into natives and non-natives, expecting non-natives to find it easier to identify language areas to focus on. Again, since the techniques were new to all trainees, differentiation wasn’t necessary.
To differentiate effectively, know your trainees, and you can tailor the courses to what is necessary. The more you can find out about the background of trainees, the better. Be explicit about what you’re doing so they can learn more about how to differentiate in their own teaching too.
This tweet was from a talk about mixed-ability teaching, but is relevant here too:
Analysing and reframing written feedback (Kateryna Protsenko)
The word ‘feedback’ only came into existence with the invention of microphones, and originally meant ‘awful noise’. Touching a hot kettle is an example of negative feedback, because you stop doing it. In positive feedback, action A gets bigger, e.g. in a herd as panic spreads, or when a fire alarm sounds, but it can turn negative if people end up doing something too much.
Trainees say written feedback is what they benefit from the most, but how much do we really think about what we write on it?
The biggest problem she found was that ‘good’ was the word she used most. This doesn’t help trainees to develop at all, and nor does it promote a growth mindset, something Kate had originally learnt about at IATEFL 2016 and on her MA at NILE.
Until they used the word clouds, they didn’t realise what dominated their feedback. As a result of these discoveries, Kate and her colleagues put together a word cloud of suggested words to use in their feedback:
Without putting my feedback through WordItOut (yet!) I’m pretty sure that my feedback will reflect similar patterns to Kate’s. I’m going to save her suggested words and have it open next time I’m writing feedback – hopefully what I write will be a lot more useful to the teacher, regardless of how strong or weak the lesson was!
Dare to share! Should trainees share their TP feedback? (Rebecca Brown)
Asking trainees the kind/format of feedback they want seems like a great idea! Why don’t I do this?!
One trainee said ‘The more feedback, the more you can improve’. Trainees said they often reread feedback more than twice. Oral and written feedback were considered equally important, but trainer feedback was considered more important than peer feedback.
Sharing feedback is something I’ve suggested with TP groups who have gelled well, and some groups do it without prompting. I often ask candidates if they mind me sharing aspects of their plan, materials, or feedback with other trainees during oral feedback, telling them exactly what and why I want to share it – nobody has yet said no, and some trainees have told me how much it has helped to see exactly what it is they should be aiming for. I’ve never done a survey of this kind though, probably because I’ve always been a ‘guest’ tutor – maybe one day if/when I regularly work for the same centre, I’ll experiment more in this way!
Getting teachers to act on teaching practice feedback (Tracy Yu)
Tracy did a survey with her trainees and found that over 70% of her trainees spent less than one hour reading their written feedback throughout the whole course. She wondered how to get them to apply the feedback more to future TPs. She also asked them what they would like to do if they could have an extra 30 minutes with their tutors: the main answer was to get 30 minutes of feedback and advice on their lesson plan before they taught, including reminders before the next lesson of what was discussed after the previous lesson.
Since then she has started to do the following:
Use Review – Reproduce – Retain to counter the effects of the Curve of Forgetting. Trainees review what they have learnt from feedback, and reproduce it in a different form (I think), helping them to remember their feedback better.
She also reminded us to ABD: Always Be Demonstrating! Don’t just preach to the trainees, show them how you want them to teach and how to respond to feedback.
Tracy says that we should be doing less feeding back and more feeding forwards, leading to the next TP, rather than looking back. A lot of training centres don’t give feedback on the plan before the TP, even though tutors think it would help. Time is an issue though.
One of the most frustrating things for me as a tutor is trainees who seem to have the same issues over a number of TPs, and who don’t seem to be reading their feedback at all, since it normally contains suggestions for how they can counter these problems! I like the idea of feeding forward, but I’m still not quite sure how to go about it.
The three talks above were all part of a forum on TP feedback. Here are some of the points from the Q&A afterwards:
One trainer suggests them starting written self-reflection immediately after lesson, pausing for oral feedback, then going back to finish it later.
A recent Delta trainee questions how easy it is for trainees to reflect effectively immediately after a TP, when you’re still in the heat of the moment.
Easing the pain of language analysis in initial training (Bill Harris)
‘LA’ can mean language knowledge, language analysis, linguistic competence or language awareness. Different qualifications use different descriptors for the ‘language’ component:
CELTA groups language analysis and awareness, including strategies for assessment
Trinity defines it as just language awareness (I believe – I wasn’t keeping up well at this point!)
Bill did a survey with 72 trainers and 51 ex-trainees, asking 6 questions related to LA on courses. These included ideas about confidence with language before/after TP, books that are recommended on courses, whether is LA compulsory, and a few more I didn’t get!
Swan is the book most courses recommend, followed by Scrivener, and Parrott [affiliate links]. More trainers recommend Parrott, but trainees don’t buy it. A Twitter discussion after the conference showed that this is partly because it is very expensive to buy in Asia – I’m not sure how many of Bill’s respondents were based in that part of the world. My personal favourite from this list is Scrivener for trainees, especially because a lot of schools have a reference copy of Swan, which I believe is best used as a final resort if you can’t find the answer you need elsewhere! I think Parrott is useful, but Scrivener more closely reflects classroom practice.
(Sorry, but I can’t read it any better now on a larger computer – you’ll have to ask Bill for it!) He has tried workshops where they do poster presentations on different areas of LA.
Bill believes the Language Related Tasks assignment should reflect Language Analysis as closely as possible. When putting together the LRT, some tutors put language in context (which helps trainees to understand it), others decontextualise it (so trainees practise creating contexts for language).
Bill Harris’s final word on Easing the pain of LA: hit them with as many support mechanisms as you can!
Desert island descriptors: where do our values lie? (Simon Marshall)
Simon has been teaching CELTA for 35 years’ and has trained in 22 countries, and is very positive towards the course, but he still has questions about the way it has developed over time. There are 42 descriptors in the CELTA 5 booklet, and a candidate is supposed to achieve all of them in 4 weeks.
He wanted to know which CELTA criteria trainers tended to consider more important than others, as many of us (me included) feel that the criteria are not all created equal. His survey asked us to choose the ‘most important’ descriptors from each section, and many trainers said it was hard to choose, as it depends on the stage of the course. Despite that, he came up with clear findings:
Part of Simon Marshall’s aim was to see how important language teaching really was on a language teaching course – both related descriptors appear here, which reassured him (and me!)
If the 5 descriptors on the graph were like the Premier League, it would have an influence on how courses are run, and which sessions were included. Rapport was one of the key descriptors identified, but it rarely appears on courses as a session: we seem to know what it is, but it’s hard to pinpoint: we know it when we see it. Being more independent is part of what we’re grading trainees on (see page 14), but there’s no specific descriptor for it now, although there used to be.
Out of 85 respondents, nobody chose the ‘writing’ descriptor, or any of the following, as the most important:
Simon Marshall emphasises that this seems bizarre in terms of value and confusing in terms of achievement. He reiterates that he’s not anti-descriptor in general. For me, some of the wording is confusing/unclear, and I really think they need to be updated, especially to reflect the fact that trainers know that some criteria are more important than others, but they’re all displayed equally to trainees.
To supplement his research, Simon asked a school he used to send trainees on to about how they were doing. The manager said they were good in lots of ways, but knew nothing about language. When reflecting on observations he had done, Simon noticed that:
used a lead in/warmer, checked instructions, included lots of activity types, and plenty of social engagement…
but when he observed them teaching language, they could do it a bit, but they didn’t look as if they felt comfortable…
and when they did activities, there wasn’t much afterwards in terms of error correction, feedback, or building on language.
Non-native non-CELTA graduates:
used no warmer and lots of instructions
were ‘language-obsessed’ – L1 translations were possible, they could answer students’ questions, less communication
Watching a German CELTA graduate:
she hit the ball out of the park!
a range of activities…
but she also knew the language well, and could answer the students’ questions.
The same graduate wasn’t allowed to teach above B2 in one school because she was a non-native – she was ecstatic for the opportunity when she moved schools. As Simon said, this is very wrong.
When Simon did his course in the 1970s, 7 of his 9 TPs were language-focussed, and he got a lot better at language over the course (echoing what Bill Harris said above about trainers noticing trainees improving their LA). Now, CELTA assessment criteria state that weak lessons at the beginning of the course won’t be held against you. You can get through the course with only two language lessons, one of which is often early in the course. So if you only have one language focussed lessons that actually counts, how can you actually improve?
As Simon highlights, skills lessons are largely laid out for you in books, so perhaps we should shift our focus, and therefore also prioritise the descriptors more clearly. Echoing Bill, Simons says LA could also be described as language affinity, language aptitude, language affection? Do they like language? Do they show any impression of being comfortable with it? Language awareness also includes being ‘on the prowl’ for language that comes up in the lesson. We’ve got to make them technicians.
In conclusion, maybe our CELTA mission should be: to train language teachers who can teach language! (Though the course can’t all be about grammar!) I think this would be a much more useful mission for a lot of our trainees, although we’d have to think carefully about how to differentiate to cater for both native and non-native trainees. I certainly agree that the criteria drastically need to be updated or at least ranked in some way – come on Cambridge!
Tweets from other sessions
#iatefl2017 Marisa C: Balloon debate for teaching approaches to promote critical thinking (‘Which guru gets chucked out?’) + Memorable.
Today I had the pleasure of attending the annual International House Torun Teacher Training Day, which consisted of pizza, twenty small workshops divided into four slots of five sessions each, a break with more pizza and some yummy Torun gingerbread, a walk to a local hotel, a plenary with Adrian Underhill, and a Q&A session with various experts, of which I am now apparently one 😉
Here are some of the things I learnt:
Growth mindset should be influencing the feedback I give students and trainees, by focussing on effort and process/strategy, rather than natural talent and results. James Egerton gave us examples like ‘You concentrated hard on my last comments, so well done.’
‘Yet‘ is really important in feedback, as it implies that something is achievable. Consider: ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian.’ and ‘You haven’t learnt much Russian yet.’ It turns out that even Sesame Street know the power of ‘yet’!
The reason the sentences ‘They just don’t have a language learning brain.’ and ‘You must be really good at learning languages.’ annoy me so much is probably because they imply a fixed mindset, whereas even before I had a term for it, I always believed that anyone can do anything with some degree of success if they have the motivation and put in the time.
I think it could be a very good idea to have a CELTA input session on mindsets very early in the course. I wonder what influence that would have on trainees’ ability to accept feedback?
It doesn’t matter how many times I see Kylie Malinowska do the elephant story, it’s still enjoyable, and I still can’t keep up! I discovered that it comes from Drama with Children [affiliate link] by Sarah Phillips.
There are at least 15 things you can do after doing a dictation when students have put the paper on their heads to draw the picture you describe. Before today I only ever got them to describe it to each other. Though the only one I can remember without asking Kylie for the slide is battleships!
Using MadLibs with children is actually incredibly useful, as it encourages them to solve problems and notice when language doesn’t fit, but also appeals to their love of the ridiculous. I’d always thought they were a bit pointless before!
You can bring language from a student’s family and friends into lessons through things like doing surveys, doing project work, writing biographies, sharing photographs or doing show and tell. Dave Cleary explained that even if students do these in L1 at home, they’ll bring them to class in L2, and they’ll have a real reason to use the language.
A great activity for playing with language is to take a photo of a famous person the students know, and get them to finish sentences like ‘He’d look really great/silly with…[earrings, a long ponytail, etc.]
Telling students the story behind an idiom, whether real or made up, can help them to remember the correct wording, and maybe also the context where you’re most likely to use it, according to Chris McKie.
There is a Hungarian idiom meaning something like ‘Let’s see what happens’ which translates as ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’.
Adrian Underhill may have been talking about the pronunciation chart for a long time, but he still considers it to be outside the mainstream of ELT.
He’s incredibly passionate about it, and it’s very entertaining and engaging to be taught to understand the chart by him. I knew bits and pieces about how it fit together and how to teach it before, but I now understand it in a lot more depth.
All pronunciation can be boiled down to four core muscle ‘buttons’: lips (spread and back or rounded and forward), tongue (forward or back), jaw (up or down) and voice (on or off). This helped me to understand how I produce some sounds in English in more depth, and even one in French that I managed to learn but had never been consciously aware of how to produce!
If he was a cheese, Adrian would be some form of blue cheese – he went into a lot more depth about this, and I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question!
Thanks to Glenn Standish and the IH Torun team for organising such an enjoyable day. Lots of ideas to think about, as always!
A week ago I was finishing my first experience as a freelance teacher trainer and my first visit to Kazakhstan, and what a week it was!
Thanks to my wonderful hosts at Darina Linguo Centre in Aktobe, I was able to spend 3.5 days working with a large group of passionate teachers. We had sessions on the basics of teaching reading and listening, various aspects of classroom management, and different websites that teachers could use with their students and to improve their own English.
With 35-40 people in each session, they were by far the biggest groups I’ve ever worked with. This tested my classroom management abilities, helping me to realise how much I’ve improved in this area since I became a CELTA trainer. They were also very understanding when I inevitably started to lose my voice, and quickly went out of their way to get me a supply of honey to help it to last.
The evenings were particularly good. Every night they had arranged things for me to do so that I could get to know the city and experience real Kazakh culture. I had a tour of the city, a trip to a spa in the countryside, a meal with the directors, and best of all, an evening at a family home. That night I took part in a traditional Kazakh welcome ceremony, learnt about many other traditions (the first steps ceremony for babies, weddings, and traditional cribs) and realised how important food and drink is for the traditional Kazakh way of life.
I have never felt so welcomed as I did in Aktobe. It was quite overwhelming at times, and the memories will remain with me for many years. Thank you to everyone at Darina, and I hope I’ll return at some point soon!
I’ve heard about this talk from the 2013 IH Director of Studies conference many times, so when YouTube suggested it to me this evening, I finally decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.
In this 52-minute talk, Tessa describes a framework based largely on work by Michael Huberman describing teachers’ impressions of the different stages of our professional life cycle. It was full of fascinating quotes from teachers, many of which rang true with stages I have been through or people who I have worked with.
When searching for a link to Huberman’s work, I also came across this IH Journal article by Ron White on Teachers’ Professional Life Cycles, which covers some of the same ground as Tessa’s talk, although I’m not sure if it pre- or post-dates the presentation.
On a completely different note, it was also a pleasure to see a presentation which doesn’t rely on PowerPoint, and it inspires me to have a go at a different presentation style for at least one talk over the next year. I do it sometimes on CELTA, but have always used PowerPoint for conferences and seminars.
It would be good to know whether you think this kind of framework has practical applications, or whether it’s just something that’s interesting to be aware of.
So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…
Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.
Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.
I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?
The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.
In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.
In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.
Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process
The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.
I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.
An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
The teacher seeks to name the problem.
The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
A concrete hypothesis is developed.
The hypothesis is tested.
Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events
In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.
Stage 3 – Categorising reflection
In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).
Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.
There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.
Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching
Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.
Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.
Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.
Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174
About the author
Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008. He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.
For the last few months I’ve been considering different ways of offering professional development to teachers within a school. To that end, here is a collection of alternatives/supplements to weekly seminars in no particular order.
Lesson jamming: get together with a group of people for a couple of hours, take a prompt and come up with a lesson plan or two, which you can then take away and use. Read more about it (the penultimate section of the post) and an example.
Examining principles: consider your beliefs about what happens in the classroom and the materials you use in more depth, perhaps using some of the activities shared by Jill Hadfield in her IATEFL 2015 talk (the second section of the post)
Debate: take a controversial subject in ELT, and have a debate about it, perhaps encouraging teachers to find out more about it before the time. Potential topics could be the use of course books or whether testing is useful.
Webinars: watch a webinar together, then discuss it. Find some here to start you off.
Reading methodology books: but not alone! You could try something like Lizzie Pinard’s ELT Book Challenge or start a reading group as Gemma Lunn did. And it doesn’t have to be books, it could be blogs too.
Action research projects: running workshops on how to identify areas of teaching to research and/or how to make the most of peer observation (or here), sending people off to do their projects, then bringing them back to report on their progress and share their results. Read about examples of projects.
Project-based professional development: as proposed by Mike Harrison, with the idea that teachers do a series of things related to a particular area they would like to investigate. I think it could be seen as a variant on action research.
Reflective practice group: encourage teachers to share reflections on their teaching regularly. Here’s an example from Korea.
Sharing is caring: as an extension, teachers could bring along their current problems in the classroom and the group can brainstorm solutions. This could also lead into more in-depth action research.
Critical incidents: “A critical incident is any unplanned event that occurs during class.” (Farrell in the Jan 2008 ELT Journal) Share an example of a critical incident and discuss different ways of responding to it.
Activity swap-shop: every teacher/four or five teachers bring along activities and share them with the group. They should take about ten minutes, and probably involve a demonstration followed by reflection on which groups it might (not) work with and why.
Video observation: watch part of a lesson together and discuss it. Try these if you don’t have any in-house recordings.
CPD and a cup of tea:as run at IH Palermo, withteachers working in small groups to discuss various questions related to teaching, with the hot drink of their choice. 🙂
Open Space: a kind of mini conference, as seen at bigger events like IATEFL conference
Scholarship circles: as run at Sheffield University, consisting of a series of teacher-led groups focussing on different areas, as chosen by the teachers involved. You can join in with as many circles as you like.
Professional development groups: a suggestion from Josh Round where teachers take control of their own development.
I was very happy to be asked to write a guest post on the ETpedia blog. John Hughes’ book has been very useful to me on CELTA courses recently, and I would highly recommend getting yourself a copy. If you use this link, I’ll get a few pennies too.