EVE-LAC TESOL Mentorship Program (final presentations)

Having participated in one EVE mentoring program, working with teachers from Africa, I was very happy when the opportunity came up to do it again. This time there are 8 teachers from across Latin America, presenting on a range of different topics. My mentee was first to present.

[I will add a link to the recordings when they become available]

#Memes: preparing EFL learners for intercultural communication on social media – Jessica Rivas (Venezuela)

Jessica started by reminding us that memes can be offensive and not for everybody. Not every meme we see is one we can identify with.

Do we prepare our studenst to face intercultural communication on social media? To understand that social media is a bridge between different cultures? It comes with risks, challenges and threats like those of memes above.

Here are some ideas you can use to help our students to understand this:

  • Discuss. What are the characteristics of memes? What is the process of their creation? What is their relationship with culture? What concepts are involved in the meme?
  • Reflect. What is the purpose of the meme? Who is the intended audience? Who created it?
  • Introduce. What memes are related to the learners’ culture? What stereotypes or prejudices might they be sharing?
  • Compare. How does this meme relate to memes from similar or other topics? How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to other people’s lives?

This could also be a starting point for research done by students about memes they have seen.

An English teacher in a Honduran town with limited resources – Luz Milda Bohorquez Paz (Honduras)

This map shows were Luz lives in Honduras.

As English teachers, Luz says that we need to be empathic, adaptable, creative and tolerant. Love and passion should also be part of our job.

She works in an incredibly challenging context, with 620 students in public school, with only 2 x 45-minute lessons with her students each week. There are limited resources, no books, no copies, and a lack of government support. There are high levels of poverty, and many learners work in agriculture and go to school as well. There is limited connectivity. Luz has a high workload, and there isn’t enough practice time for her students. She has to find resources on her own, and be creative to design engaging lessons. She aims to empower learners so they know English is useful, and sometimes uses her phone to provide an internet connection. Luz encourages her students to create project work and work on topics.

In the future, Luz would like to create an audiovisual lab for her students. She is hoping to apply for grants and/or work with her learners to bring technology closer to her learners, engaging them more, exposing them to innovation, and providing access to opportunities with learners in other parts of the country of the world.

Prioritising Mental Health in a University Context – Patricia Gomez (Paraguay)

This is a definition of mental health. Patricia believes this is vital for university students to have, particularly to stop them from quitting their courses. At the university where Patricia works, only 10% of students graduate. Only 1% of the health budget in Paraguay is dedicated to mental health.

Patricia studied at the same university and felt very supported by her professors and classmates, but she felt the need for institutional support too. When she started her research she discovered that a Bienestar Estudiantil (student wellbeing) department exists, for wellbeing, but the office is 6km away from their faculty, and it’s hard to get around! The service has existed since around 2009, offering support with academic and administrative processes, and helping disabled students with access.

She interviewed some of her students in the English language program to find out what they knew about it. More than half of the students didn’t know it existed, and 94% of the 18 students didn’t know how to access the department. These are some things students said in her survey:

This is what the students wanted from the department:

Most of these things are actually provided by the service, apart from mental health professionals, but there is only one person responsible for a whole department.

Patricia suggests:

  • Create a wellbeing hub. She recognises it might not be possible to build an office or hire more staff. The University of Oxford describes this as “an online gateway that makes it easier for all to find and access wellbeing and support services.”
  • Build peer support networks. Train students to volunteer to be good listeners and help those who are struggling, and how to redirect students if they need professional help.
  • Promote wellbeing activities. For example sports, exercise and recreation, as well as socialising.

These should have a positive impact on our students.

Intentional teaching: engaging students with ADHD – Anabell Rodriguez (El Salvador)

Classroom management is often a challenge, especially for new teachers, and many teachers have little or no training for working with students with special educational needs. This can be discouraging for both students and teachers.

Before we start, Anabell reminded us that all our students have superpowers. We should see them with eyes that see what they CAN do, not what they can’t. We also need to work with other people in our organisation, and in our networks to learner more about strategies to help us work with our students. We need to work from the heart, and remind students that we love them and we want the best for them.

What happens in our classrooms and why?

  • Obtain adult attention. Students want adults to talk to them or look at them. Criticism and yelling are also attention, though it’s for negative reasons. We need to provide them attention for things that are positive, for example praising them for opening their books and being prepared for the lesson. They get a boost for this, and we reinforce positive behaviours. Students will then tend to perform these positive behaviours more.
  • Obtain peer attention. Students want other students to talk to them or look at them. Laughing, touching and fighting are also kinds of attention. Ask the students to do things which play to their strengths. For example, if a student is great at drawing, ask them to draw flashcards for you, then tell the other students who did it. In Anabell’s experience, that meant that a student was then asked to draw things for other students, and became much more engaged in the whole classroom environment.
  • Avoid or escape. The student doesn’t want to do the work or be in the room. They may also not want to be with certain peers. Students don’t have intrinsic motivation, so we need to work with extrinsic motivations. Encourage them based on what you know they like. For example, tell them that they can listen to some of their favourite music at the end of the lesson if they’ve worked successfully. Or let students work alone rather than making them work with peers.

Functional Behavioural Assessment and Behaviour Support Plans:

  • A: Antecedent e.g. when Maria is asked to do work in a group…
  • B: Behaviour e.g. …she gets out of her seat and walks around the classroom…
  • C: Consequence e.g. …As a result, she does not work with the group.

The hypothetical function of her behaviour is avoiding group work. Here are some possible solutions people came up with for this situation:

  • Ask her how she prefers to work, for example individually.
  • Assign people roles within the groups, so they are all clear what to do. Make sure she understands that she is needed in the group too.
  • Let her monitor the class with a specific role during the activity.

It’s important for us to identify the antecedents and consequences, not just the behaviours, to help us come up with alternative solutions.

The highlights of my teaching experience with young learners at Escuala Vera Angelita in Nicaragua – Fernanda Polanco (Nicaragua)

Fernanda’s school is in a rural area, and is a sustainable school, the first in Nicaragua. They are aiming to integrate all of the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. It’s located within a farm, producing organic food, which is used to feed the students and teachers, some of whom live at the school. There are also donors from the USA who provide things for the school. All of the students are girls who live on campus, who receive everything they need at the school, including food, clothes and healthcare.

Fernanda works to create classroom routines, including using technology like QR codes regularly. She uses a lot of collaborative work to promote interdependence between students. She makes use of the space in the classroom and the outdoor areas of the school to vary lessons.

To help students adjust to the classroom, she uses a ‘sandwich’ of English / Spanish / English. Later she reduces the amount of Spanish she uses once she knows that students feel comfortable.

Own languages are used by learners, regardless of what teachers do or say and they can also be used productively when children / teenagers work together in pairs or groups.

Ellis, 2021

There have been other challenges. Some of her students are complete beginners in English, and some don’t have Spanish either as they come from indigenous groups.

Practical ideas for pure beginners:

  • Story telling
  • Role plays
  • Guessing games (like mime)
  • Recording – students like to listen to their recordings, and this serves as self-assessment
  • Interviews
  • Board games – online and in-person
  • Real-life speaking

These are some of the resources Fernanda uses:

The use of social media in education – Larissa Nunez (Paraguay)

Larissa started by reminding us of some potential disadvantages of social media:

  • Can facilitate cyber-bullying
  • Can promote laziness
  • Can distract learners

Larissa talked about using TikTok for education. She started creating TikTok videos when working with a teenager, and this improved their relationship. There are lots of people using social media for education, including giving live online lessons.

We need to be as curious and innovate as we want our students to be.

She started to promote interesting tips to support her students, first on Instagram, and then on TikTok.

Direct app interaction activities:

  • Making videos – creating short videos using the target language
  • Duetting teacher’s videos, dialogues
  • Recording steps of a project
  • Putting math problems on video and asking to comment on the answers
  • Answering questions via the app

Indirect app interaction activities:

  • Researching a topic and writing a paragraph
  • Critical thinking – using videos for discussion or debate after watching videos
  • Telling the teacher about a TikTok that was funny, interesting, inspiring, that taught you something new, etc. (rather than ‘How was your weekend?’ as an opening question!)
  • ‘TikTok moments’ in the classroom: students can share a TikTok video for other students to see, e.g. study techniques, words they’ve learnt, or something fun in English.

TikTok is also somewhere teachers can learn tips and ideas. Jordan Cotten was one person Larissa found it useful to follow. She also found other teachers from Paraguay, sharing tips relevant to her context.

Advantages of using social media:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Finding tips, ideas and resources created by other students – students are more likely to listen to each other than to their teacher!
  • Distance learning opportunities

On Instagram, Larissa is @misslarinf.

Teaching with magic – Krissia Diaz (El Salvador)

This was a very fun presentation, featuring puppets and magic tricks 🙂

Kris tries to make use of painting, singing, dancing and magic to motivate and engage her students. She was highlighted as an outstanding teching by the Ministerio de Educacion in 2021. Now she’s an instructor for Platzi, helping public school teachers.

Using magic tricks can help students to realise that it’s OK make mistakes. It fosters their imagination, boosts their self-confidence, and can help with content explanation. It encourages students to explain outcomes, going beyond surface explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman, Jody Greig, Miss Nan, and Xuxo Ruiz are all teachers you can find online who talk about teaching with magic. Xuxo Ruiz has written a book called Educando con Magia.

[It’s best to watch the video of this one, as that will make the tricks and ideas clearer!]

Webcomics: in the EFL classroom – Analys Milano (Venezuela)

A webcomic is the younger sibling of comics. There is a sequence of frames with narrative development, with a link between images and text, in both. But webcomics are mainly made to be viewed via apps or websites and consistently published.

Why webcomics?

  • Vocabulary is learnt in context.
  • They are visually attractive, including having distinctive styles according to the authors.
  • They can motivate and inspire through their stories.
  • Students can relate to the stories and talk about their own related stories.
  • They promote reading comprehension.
  • They provide meaningful input.

Webcomics require intensive and extensive reading skills. They require critical reading, and understanding the relationship between context and experience. They also promote critical thinking.

How can you integrate webcomics into your classroom?

  • Focus on grammar: Find a grammar point within the comic and explain it to your classmates – why was it used there?
  • Complete the story: Missing frames, missing lines. Who got the closest to the original story?
  • Fandub: Take a part of the story and ask students to voice the characters themselves. They have to understand the feelings too, not just the words.
  • Translations: [I missed this one]
  • Focus on comprehension: You can link comics to other media, like related videos.

On Webtoon, there’s a comic called ‘Let’s play’, which Analys uses to help students understand social media influence:

We need to take our students’ interests into account – there are many different genres of webcomics. We can create webcomics to create reading habits. Comics can also help with mental health and self-awareness, for example as distraction during the pandemic.

Here are some helpful websites:

[Here’s an extra resource: https://ciell.eu/app/#/home if this is an area you’re interested in.]

PARK Conference – April 2022

These are notes taken on my phone during the day, so apologies for any odd typing! I presented twice, so there are two plenaries and one session here.

Quantum ELT (or The Things Wot I Learnt) – Fiona Mauchline

In the shift to online, Fiona really noticed that what the students needed wasn’t the content, it was the pastoral support and emotional connection.

Why Quantum? Physics used to be about actions and reactions. When Quantum came along, it was about interactions, the stuff between the particles, and to a large account we hypothesised what was there, rather than seeing what was there ourselves. That’s what we can look at in ELT too: what happens between us, how we interact, not just action and reaction.

Connection to self – emotional connection

Fiona’s opening activity: draw an emoji and hold it up. It’s a good way to take the temperature of emotions/feelings in the room.

Alternatively, in the chatbox, use an emoji to show how you feel. This works for kids and adults.

Emojis can also be used to change the emotional feeling in an activity. When you are working on pronunciation, hold up an emoji to show how students should say the sentence or dialogue. You can print/show the emojis, but even better, the students can draw them themselves (or reuse them from earlier).

If we make objectives and check in on them frequently, we can feel more connected with what’s happening around us. We can make our own objectives: talk to a friend, learn 3 new words… and at the end reflect on what you’ve achieved. It feels like it takes up time but it actually keeps people on track.

4 call and response options:

  • 123 – eyes on me.
  • Holy moly – guacamole.
  • To infinity – and beyond.
  • Ready to rock – ready to roll.

Me grids: good for Zoom, using the annotate function, mark this, or in the classroom use it as a poster:

This grid can also be a form of vocabulary review. You could also use it as a preview. Show them the words before they meet them: which one looks funny, difficult to say, interesting, looks like it sounds nice, any you can guess what they mean. Students make an emotional connection with the words before they study them.

Connection to others – social connection

At lower levels, you can add more speaking easily through a grammar or vocab rap. They can create and say new verses (not write, just say).

This is my home.

Welcome to my home.

This is the kitchen.

We cook in the kitchen.

This is my home.

At A1, just changing a verb and a room adds a new verse.

Fiona suggests WH Auden’s poem The truth about love as an alternative framework for adding verses.

Another idea is classroom art. A school Fiona visited had murals in black and white painted by a local artist, then the colours were added by the kids. Anybody can produce art, bring it in, and add descriptions, stories, anything else. Adding any art by the students can help them to have a personal connection to the room.

Use photos before a text to ask students to create a reading activity before they read, helping them to connect to the material before they read it.

Drama can help to build self esteem, by pretending to be someone else. After working with a song, show students the lyrics and ask them to perform the song as said by a Shakespearean actor.

Connection at home

Homework buddies: encourage them to do their homework together, collaborating to help each other. It’s more sociable. Best to do in pairs, not bigger groups.

Waxing, waning, ebbing, flowing, coming, going. – Dr Claudia Molnar

Confidence gets in the way of a lot of fluency, and students’ willingness to communicate. Confidence building can be important for both teachers and students. Small tweaks can help to make activities more interesting and energising, and help students use the language more.

Asking a question about routines can have extra questions: When? Why? What are the exceptions? This can add engagement.

Preparing for a trip, in a roleplay. Allocate seasons or weather conditions to each group before the discussion. My group just listed nouns with no grammar. You can stop students partway through to create a change in the situation which might force the students to actually use the grammar you want them to practise if necessay. For example, on your trip you can now only take one bag, not three bags. That forced us to use more conditionals.

My favourite activity was an alphabet story, where each line had to contain a verb with the next letter of the alphabet.

Teaching is a form of art (more than acting) – David Fisher

David works with The Bear Educational Theatre https://www.thebeartheatre.com/ which runs in person and online theatre experiences for English learners of all ages and levels, providing interactive educational experiences. An interesting idea I like is A guest in your classroom, where students can interview an actor in their classroom either as themselves or as a famous person.

Teachers are not entertainers, but we can learn a lot from the world of entertainment. Questions to think about: what do a teacher and an entertainer have on common? How is preparing an English lesson and a show the same or different?

They both have an audience. They have to keep the audience’s attention. For David, the most important thing in a lesson is the energy in the room, not the techniques themselves.

An entertainer’s job is to entertain, though sometimes they teach us something new. A teacher’s job is to teach, though they can also use principles from the world of the entertainment to manage the classroom and the energy to make a better environment for learning.

When students act, they often change emotions too quickly. All good scenes are about a change. By the end of a good scene scene, something should change, and that is often an emotion. We practised shifting from nothing to showing the emotion over 10 seconds, not instantly.

We then added it to an advert. Start with one emotion, like sad, then get the product, then move to happiness slowly.

Presentation skills are another useful area which can be developed through drama. We can work on speaking slowly and clearly so that everyone can understand us. When somebody listens to someone they don’t really know, most of what they focus on is the body language rather than the words. As a presenter, you need to stand still and keep your hands still, holding them a little above your waist, make eye contact if you can, and speak a little bit louder and a little bit more slowly than normal. Combine all of that, and people will concentrate more on the words rather than all the other things you’re doing.

To get the volume, students can practise counting 1 to 10 normally, then repeating it again but starting from 1 very quiet, 5 at normal volume, to 10 as loud as possible. The first time they do it 10 will probably still be quite quiet, and when they do it again, it will probably be louder. Another thing we tried was counting 1-5 in the highest possible voice, then 6-10 in the lowest possible voice. We often don’t give ourselves permission to play with our voices and use them in different ways.It’s important to build the confidence to speak out loud and use our voices effectively when presenting.

Music is one way to create atmosphere and influence the mood. You can simply play a little music and ask students how it makes them feel. You can play music and ask students to imagine it’s a film soundtrack: what film are you watching with this music as the soundtrack? This is a simple creative activity. It’s almost impossible to not see a film – it’s original content students have created for themselves. This brings emotion into the classroom.

These short activities can be used as pruners. You can use an upbeat activity to energise students, or a calm activity to get them ready for a test. Those 5 or 10 minutes aren’t wasted, as it sets the tone for tasks to be more successful in the rest of the lesson.

Another question: what does a film director actually do? What makes them good at their job? What does a musical conductor do?

We said that they need to have an idea of where they are aiming at, and know how to get a group of people there. David said he had no idea! 🙂

Follow up question: what does a teacher actually do? We might not actually be clear about it, but we know because we do it every day. But what is useful is being aware of our audience, and thinking about what they need from us. Are we speaking too fast or too show? If they’re not engaged, we need to slow down because they’re not understanding.

People who are famous are not necessarily famous because they’re good. They have been given status and we get status from associating with them. Just because you’re doing the same thing in a different context, it doesn’t mean you’re any less good at it than a famous person is who might be doing that job. Just because anybody can do it, it doesn’t mean that anybody can do it will.

Teaching is more of an art than acting. As an actor you get a lot of prep time, and a lot of people to help you, then when you do your show you do it many times, and you can’t necessarily see your audience. As a teacher you get minimal prep time, you mostly work alone, you do your ‘show’ once, and you can see your audience and on top of that you have to teach them something to – despite all of the distractions, the people who give criticism apart from your audience (the parents, the management…). It really is valuable, what we’re doing. And learning entertainment principles can enhance our teaching too.

Innovate ELT 2021 – day two

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 🙂

Here is a link to the blogpost detailing my talk.

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.

Kick-off

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.

Acting

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:

Some tools Ula and Patricia mentioned:

Reflecting and evaluating

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.

Tools for reflection online might be:

“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.

Dictionary sources

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

Cambridge, Longman and Macmillan also have dictionaries for 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.

Other information

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.

Show learners how to use collocations dictionaries too – the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary is free, the Oxford one is a paid service.

[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.

Constructive Feedback

  • Uses facts in support of observations
  • States the impact this had
  • Indicates what is preferable
  • Discusses the consequences (negative and positive)

Destructive Feedback

  • 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.

Key takeaways

  1. 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?
  2. Work with facts not opinions, the lesson not the teacher.
    Abdellah did not participate in the pair activity.
  3. 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.

Coffee break

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.
  • Introduce sketchnotes.
  • Introduce icons which learners can draw regularly, as a kind of visual vocabulary.
  • Draw a notebook to show learners exactly how to lay out their notes, especially if you’re trying to teach study skills.
  • Use gifs – make sure they’re not too fast as they can trigger epilepsy. You can save a powerpoint as jpgs, then upload it to ezgifmaker. A frame rate of 200 works well.
  • Use mind maps. Miro works well online for this.
  • 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

Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield (review)

I’ve been meaning to read this for a very long time, and finally got round to it in 2020 after being really pushed towards the importance of group dynamics during my MA Trainer Development module in 2019.

KEY DETAILS

TitleClassroom Dynamics

Author: Jill Hadfield

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 1992 (note, there are two versions – the purple one above which I read, and an orange one with a photo on it, though I believe only the cover changed and not the contents)

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: Amazon

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

WHAT’S IN IT?

The book starts with a clear introduction and guide to how to use the book, including why Jill felt that a book like this is necessary for teachers. The rest of the book is a series of recipe-style activities divided into three sections and twenty chapters, covering every aspect of building, developing, and maintaining group dynamics, as well as how to deal with the inevitable problems which sometimes occur. These are the chapters:

  • Section A: Forming the group
    1 Breaking the ice: warm-up activities for the first week of term
    2 Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
    3 Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Section B: Maintaining the group
    4 Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
    5 Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
    6 Getting to know each other; humanistic exercises and personalized grammar
    7 I did it your way: empathy activities
    8 A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
    9 Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
    10 Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
    11 Group achievements: product-orientated activities
    12 Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques, and summaries
    13 That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
    14 Ensuring participation
    15 Learning to listen
    16 A sense of direction: setting, assessing, and resetting goals
    17 Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations; group solutions
    18 Coping with crisis: some group problems
  • Section C: Ending the group experience
    19 Ending with positive feelings
    20 Evaluating the group experience

The book ends with a self-reflection questionnaire to help you consider your own experience with a group.

Good points

The book is based on a clearly-defined need which Jill identified in response to ‘moaning and groaning’ from a questionnaire she conducted with Angi Malderez to invite teachers to share common staffroom moans. They were surprised to discover that the main issues seemed to be connected to the atmosphere in the class and the chemistry of the group, regardless of the level of experience of the teachers concerned. Along with replies from the questionnaire, Jill shares her own experiences of both good and bad groups to inform ideas of what makes successful and unsuccessful groups. She has written a highly practical book to address these problems, but in a very down-to-earth way, with clear caveats that the book is not a panacea, not will it solve all the problems teachers might have. She also shares her own experiences of trying out the activities, for example on page 85. Throughout the book, I felt like Jill was talking to me directly in a very accessible style, as if she was in the staffroom with me.

The list of characteristics of an unsuccessful group on page 11 and a successful group on page 12 would make an excellent starting point for a workshop I think, and definitely reflect experiences I’ve had in the past with both good and bad groups.

‘How to use this book’ suggests a range of ways of exploiting the activities, including the key point that “this book is not an emergency handbook” (p17) and that activities should be used throughout the course, not only when there are problems. There is lots of guidance about what kind of activities might suit different types of group, and clear information about how to integrate activities into the syllabus. Jill acknowledges that you may not have time to squeeze in extra activities to an already crowded syllabus. This is supported by a comprehensive index of topics and structures, showing that group dynamics activities can be tweaks on activities already present in your lessons, rather than add-ons. Most activities have information about which other activities could follow or precede them, so that you could build up a linked programme fairly easily.

For activities such as 2.2 What kind of language learner are you? there are guidelines about how to handle the discussion after a questionnaire to ensure the teacher helps to build a supportive environment between students, rather than rejecting difference.

The bulk of activities are about maintaining group dynamics, and this made me realise just how much I’ve neglected this – I think many of us believe our job is done if we’ve completed a few getting-to-know-you activities in the first lesson or two, but many of my worst experiences with groups have come from allowing groups to settle into negative patterns which are very difficult to escape from.

There are activities for situations related to group dynamics which hadn’t crossed my mind before, for example the group that knows each other too well (chapter 7).

The activities are very student-centred, and get them involved in reflection on what makes a successful group, as well as creating the conditions to build empathy and trust between the group members. They really feel like they could add a whole extra layer to what happens in the classroom.

The examples of conflicts and reassuring words in chapter 18 were particularly useful:

Finally, not all group problems are resolvable. While I do believe that most potential problems can be solved, or better, pre-empted by the use of techniques such as those in this book, the belief that the teacher is responsible for every group problem can lead to much unnecessary guilt and soul-searching. (page 148)

It may happen, though, that your best attempts to resolve the crisis fail and the group cannot be reconciled. […] you may feel guilty, inadequate, or demoralized: somehow as teachers we have the feeling that ought to be able to resolve all human conflict, and if we meet a problem that defies our best efforts to solve it we have failed in our job. Whatever gave us this idea? (page 157)

(reply to a questionnaire) This group at least helped me to realize that it is a kind of arrogance for me to think that I am able to handle every classroom situation that comes my way – or even understand it. (page 158)

Those three quotes really made me think and I’ve come back to them again and again since I read the book. There were other sections that made me think too: the discussion on pairwork on p110, the potential reasons for tensions in intermediate and above groups on p94.

Hmmm…

Most of the activities would be very easy to adapt to a classroom nearly 30 years since the book was written, but I think it’s possibly time for an updated edition. There’s a lot of scope for modern technology to be exploited to build on the ideas in this book, and I believe this is something that Jill has written about elsewhere. An updated edition might also make teachers more likely to pick the book up, as sometimes we neglect valuable classics (of which this is definitely one!)

Other suggestions/ideas for tweaks/improvements include:

  • how to work with groups with continuous enrolment (most activities seem focussed on a groups which have the same make-up throughout the course) or integrating students joining a group which has already formed
  • a balance of ideas for full-time courses and part-time courses (many activities seem to be aimed at groups which have lessons every day intensively, rather than than once or twice a week over a year, and some have the timing listed as e.g. 2 lessons on consecutive days)
  • removing the reference to learning styles and left- and right-brain thinking in activity 2.1
  • more guidance on the processes of compromise for activity 17.4 (timetabling priorities)
  • a mention somewhere of how long a lesson is (many lessons are described as taking 1 lesson/up to 1 lesson)
  • an acknowledgement of the amount of preparation some of the activities require, for example 10.4 (medals)

General comment

This book is practical and supportive, and really made me think. I’ve started reading more about and presenting on group dynamics as a result of reading this and a few other tings, and I’ve realised just how much of a keystone they are in successful language learning. Jill’s book has allowed me to recommend various ideas to teachers at our school. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to try many out myself yet, but I definitely intend to in the future. Watch this space for more related ideas on my blog in the future! It’s a must-read, and every staffroom should have a copy.

Group dynamics (IH Kyiv online/IH Torun TTD)

On 3rd October 2020, I took part in the IH Kyiv online conference. [Update: I presented the same talk at the IH Torun Teaching Training Day on 7th November 2020. There is a recording here.]

I presented on the topic of group dynamics, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since doing my MA module in Trainer Development last year. Although Jane Harding da Rosa introduced me to Barry Tuckman’s work a few years ago, I don’t think I was ready to take in the ideas. I wish I had been! There are definitely at least two groups I can think of which would have been a much pleasanter experience for both me and the students had I understood some of the concepts I mention in this presentation. Oh well – we live and learn!

Here are three quotes from Chapter 3 of Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho which set the scene:

The quality of the eventual outcome of the course will to a considerable extent be forged in the interactions between the members of the learning group.

It always takes some time, and considerable care on the part of the [teachers] to enable groups […] to ‘form’ and reach a stage where they are personally secure, and trusting of each other and the [teacher] enough to start learning.

Even if the group is already well formed, each new meeting requires attention to re-forming: re-entering the public world of the group from the more private world of family or workplace.

Although the quotes are about teacher training, I think they’re equally applicable to the ELT classroom.

My presentation was mostly about raising awareness of issues connected to group dynamics, rather than activities to help you deal with them. Those activities can be found in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book Classroom Dynamics, which I recently finished and will review on my blog shortly. Short review: every staffroom should have a copy! About 50% of the ideas in my presentation came from her book – thanks Jill! [Amazon affiliate link]

Here are my slides:

Thinking about groups

We started with an activity adapted from p39 of Classroom Dynamics.

EITHER:

Think about groups you have taught. Which groups were easy to teach? Which were difficult? Which were mixed?

OR:

In your life up to now, what groups have you been a member of? For example, family, sports team, colleagues at work, church… Did you have a good, bad or mixed experience as a member of these groups?

Think about the good groups.

  • Did they have anything in common?
  • What do you think these groups gave their members?
  • What did the group members give back?
  • What did the group members have to give up?

Think about a group you’re in now.

  • What do you think they will be able to give you?
  • What can you offer to them?
  • What might you have to give up?

We pooled the ideas into this mentimeter.

You can use this activity with classes to help them consider what makes a good group and what they can contribute to and get from a group.

Stages of group life

I talked through the 5 stages described in Barry Tuckman’s stages of group development:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing
  • Adjourning

You can see a full-sized version of the diagram I talked through here: http://bit.ly/tuckmangroups. It shows a lot more information about what each of the five stages involve. There are lots of sources describing these 5 stages (the final one is sometimes missing, or called ‘Mourning’).

These are typical stages, but some groups get stuck at a particular stage and never move forwards, others regress or move backwards and forwards, especially if new people join the group.

As a teacher, it’s useful to know about the stages to understand what you can do as a teacher to help a group to form successfully, and understand why some groups won’t work well together.

Causes of group problems

On p149 of Classroom Dynamics, Jill Hadfield has this summary of possible causes of group problems:

Three layer diagram:
1. Group problems
2. Teacher-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. conflict of expectations about progress
3. resistance to communicative methods
3. resistance to leadership style
3. rebellion against 'authority'
2. intra-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. different aims, levels of ability or motivation
3. an inharmonious mix of ages, personalities, sexes or nationalities
2. the indigestible group member, subdivided into:
3. misfits
3. the insecure
3. rebels
3. frustrated leader

I asked two questions, which you could think about now:

  • Have you experienced any of these as a teacher or a student?
  • What can you do about them?

We then looked at a bit of theory to pre-empt these problems, aiming to reduce the likelihood of them starting in the first place, or deal with the problems when you notice they start to manifest themselves. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s worth being reminded!

Teacher-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • the teacher makes it clear why they’re doing particular activities/using particular techniques – displaying clear aims can help.
  • the teacher compromises on approach/tasks in lessons, doing some of what the teacher wants and some of what the group wants.
  • the teacher listens carefully to students.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

To win […] trust, we have to be open about our objectives, and be ready to participate in activities on an equal basis whenever it is possible or makes sense for us to do so.

Students need to feel like you’re a participant in the group too, not just a dictator. If you expect them to share, it’s important for you to do so too. The same is true of being receptive to feedback, and giving constructive feedback.

Intra-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with a very problematic group: introduce less group work, use more individual/pair work, regroup students so it’s less explosive.
  • with a relatively low-level problem: use gap-bridging activities.
  • with a well-balanced group: confront the problem and discuss it.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted.

It takes time and effort for humans to trust each other, and sometimes a small action or a single word can be enough to break that trust. We need to help students feel comfortable with each other, building trust consistently, rather than just doing one getting-to-know-you activity at the start of the course and thinking we’re done with that (this is a reminder to myself too!)

The indigestible group member

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with rebels: get to know them and make sure they know you; providing clear limits/boundaries can help in some cases, but may make it worse.
  • with frustrated leaders: do individual interviews with all students; encourage everybody to say ‘I think’ not ‘we think’.
  • with insecure students: give them warmth and attention and help them integrate.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Participants frequently arrive with preoccupations relating to their work, their families etc. [which] prevent them from being fully ‘present’. [They often] gain least from […] courses and […] are most critical in end-of-course evaluations.

Helping students mentally transition into the classroom space, learn to put their preoccupations aside, and feel comfortable in the room are all important. Again, this takes time and effort to build up.

Chapters in Classroom Dynamics

These are most of the chapters in Jill Hadfield’s book:

  • Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
  • Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
  • Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
  • Getting to know each other: humanizing activities and personalised grammar
  • I did it your way: empathy activities
  • A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
  • Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
  • Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
  • Group achievements: product-oriented activities
  • Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques and summaries
  • That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
  • Ensuring participation // Learning to listen
  • A sense of direction: setting, assessing and resetting goals
  • Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations, group solutions
  • Ending with positive feelings // Evaluating the group experience

In the chat I asked:

  • Can you think of any activities which would serve these purposes?
  • How could they help your groups?
  • How could they pre-empt some of the problems we’ve discussed?

As Jill points out, a lot of the activities we already use can be tweaked to help work on classroom dynamics as well as the language or skills aim we want to use them for. Obviously reseating is a potential problem in a socially-distanced classroom, but could be adapted for activities online.

Final reflection

Having thought about the ideas I’ve introduced here, when working with groups from now on what will you:

  • continue to do?
  • stop doing?
  • start doing?