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
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
It’s a little while since I wrote anything about teaching online, mostly because I haven’t been doing much of it! Having said that, I’ve still been able to experiment with a few tools and techniques which I’d like to share with you.
Renaming participants for grouping
I found this to be a useful technique when trying to organise breakout rooms, especially for big groups. When I wanted to differentiate a CELTA input session, renaming allowed participants to select which activity they preferred. It was also helpful when I’d decided on the groups before the sessions – I read out the list of who was in which group, with instructions for how they should rename themselves. In both cases, I told participants to add the extra information before their name, which meant my participants list was organised accordingly, making it much faster to set up manual breakout rooms.
White text for answers
This works especially well with shared documents. When setting up a document, you can add an extra column to a table, or an extra page at the end of the document, where you put all of the answers. Change the font to white. In the session, either change the text to black so everybody can see the answers at once, or tell participants to highlight the text without changing the font colour to be able to see the answers themselves without revealing them to anybody else.
Mentimeter for surveys and sharing slides
Mentimeter is a presentation tool which allows you to include interactive content. In the free version you can share two interactive slides within a longer presentation. Examples might include scales, word clouds, ranking, multiple choice, or open ended questions. Results are then displayed on the screen immediately. Here’s an example from a CELTA session on CPD, with participants grading each area out of 5. Mentimeter then displayed the average:
To participate, people go to http://www.menti.com and enter the code which appears at the top of the slide (not shown here).
Apart from the interactive tools, you can include (very cleanly presented) content slides. Anybody looking at http://www.menti.com on their own devices will see the next slide automatically as you move through your presentation. This could be an efficient way of sharing resources without people having to take screenshots all the time. It does mean they’re locked into only moving to the next slide when you move on, and they can’t interact with the content slides, only the interactives, but it could still be useful in some situations.
ActivInspire as an online whiteboard
A huge thank you to my most recent bunch of CELTA trainees for introducing me to this, and showing me a whole range of ways to use it in my TP. ActivInspire was originally designed as software for interactive whiteboards, but it is freely downloadable for anybody to use, even without the IWB hardware. All you have to do is tick ‘personal’ at the relevant point in the download process.
You need to do a little playing around with it to find where everything is, and you can’t use the in-built poll feature as this requires the hardware, but generally it’s a very flexible tool as an online whiteboard. The main things I saw the trainees do effectively was having information prepared at the side of the ‘slide’ and gradually adding it to the board as they elicited it from students. They were also quickly able to flick to a pen, drawing or highlighting tool to draw attention to important features – much faster than you can in PowerPoint for example, and it’s got much more functionality than the Zoom whiteboard had last time I looked.
There are templates already available with the software, and there are many tutorials out there. Here’s are 20 steps to using ActivInspire and here are a set of video tutorials.
A new name!
Thanks to Katie Lindley for finally giving me a name for a technique I’ve used from the start in online lessons: waterfall chat. This is where all participants write their answers in chat, but they don’t press enter until you give the signal. When you say ‘go’, all of the answers appear at once in a kind of upside-down waterfall. This stops them from being able to copy each other’s answers. It works especially well for short answers, maybe multiple choice, true/false, or one- or two-word answers.
A bonus idea…
This is one I haven’t tried out, but came up with when chatting to a friend about possible warmers to get sleepy teens moving in online lessons. Each student suggests one thing to find in the chat, based on e.g. collocations, or with a relative clause (or whatever other grammar point they need to revise), then they have 3 mins to find as many as they can. Student-generated, revision, and movement all rolled into one – what more could you want?!
How about you? What have you been playing with in online lessons recently?
*or “5 things no CELTA trainer ever said but which they see on every course!”
Please don’t do these things! Read on to find out what to replace them with and why.
Spend 10 minutes lecturing students about grammar
That’s definitely not how we learn grammar: by listening to somebody else tell us about it for ten minutes, often in confusing, over-complicated language, with only minimal examples. Also, the students have probably heard versions of the lecture before. The problem isn’t whether they can understand your lecture and explain the rules to somebody else, it’s whether they can actually use the language.
Instead of lecturing, get the students doing a task showing whether they can use the grammar as soon as possible.
If you’re not confident with this area of grammar, the task might be asking them to match rules to examples, with all of the examples taken from a clear context introduced earlier in the lesson. Often this is what a grammar box does in a coursebook (a light version of guided discovery), if you’re using one. Focus on the form, drill pronunciation, and give them controlled and freer practice activities. This is called present-practice-produce or PPP. While it’s not always the most efficient way of teaching language, students can still benefit providing they get enough practice and feedback on their performance.
If you’re a little confident, get students to start with an activity where they have to produce this specific language point. A controlled practice exercise can be turned into a mini test (in a test-teach-test or TTT model), which you can use to find out which parts of the grammar the students are having problems with. Check carefully whether the exercise tests their knowledge of meaning or form, and consider how you can test their pronunciation too. One activity I like is to give them a couple of minutes to say all of the sentences as quickly as possible in pairs. Don’t put them on the spot in open class to do this as that might put them off English for life if they struggle! Once you’ve gathered information about what they can and can’t do, fill in the gaps with your teaching, for example, by revising the negative form only because they’re already OK with the positive form. Test them again at the end of the lesson. This is a good approach because it allows you to target your teaching to the problems they have, instead of the broad brush approach of TTT.
If you’re very confident, give them a fully communicative speaking or writing activity which might lead them to using the target language of your lesson – you can adapt this from a freer practice exercise in the coursebook. An easy example would be having students tell each other a story at the beginning of a lesson on past tenses. You can find out the range of tenses they’re using (only past simple and past continuous? only present tenses?), as well as spot problems with form and pronunciation of the language you’d like to focus on. Then choose one or two grammar (or lexis or pronunciation or discourse) areas to focus on in your teaching to upgrade their language. Give them more opportunities to practice, perhaps with controlled practice, but most importantly with another speaking or writing activity where the focus is on communication, not accuracy of language, but where they can use the definitely use the target language. This is called task-based learning (or TBL), and is a useful approach because the focus is primarily on communication using all of the language resources at students’ disposal, not only using the specific target language the teacher has chosen for today.
Present all vocabulary items separately before students do their first vocabulary exercise
This might feel like you’re being helpful, but it removes all of the challenge from the vocabulary exercise, generally takes a long time, and reduces the opportunities students have to struggle a little, make mistakes, and get feedback – where the real learning happens. If we’re not struggling, we’re not learning.
Instead, let the students have a go at the exercise first. If they work alone, give them a chance to compare in pairs before you check their answers with them. Make sure you have analysed the meaning, form and pronunciation of all of the words in your lesson plan, just in case, but you don’t need to go over all of them with the students, only the problem words.
Even better, let the students work in pairs to do the exercise. That way, they can support each other with questions they find challenging and learn from each other. You can also hear them pronouncing the words. When monitoring during the activity, you can identify which words you need to check the meaning of more carefully and which ones you need to drill.
This might mean you go from looking at the meaning, form and pronunciation of eight words, to the meaning of two, the pronunciation of four, and checking the spelling of two other problem words. As you can imagine, this will take a lot less time, and students will be more engaged because it’s only dealing with their problems, instead of going over ground they’ve already covered before. It also means more time for the all important practice and feedback on it.
Read every question from a comprehension exercise aloud before you start the activity
While it’s great that students are aware of the questions before they do the reading/listening activity, this means students are listening to you for a long time. If you’re displaying the activity too, they’re trying to read and listen at the same time, which we normally do at different speeds. While this can help some students, for others it will interrupt their processing and make it harder. If you’re not displaying the questions, the students are trying to work out how much attention they should be paying – should they answer the questions? Remember them? Or what? If you ask students to read out each comprehension question, you’re generally putting them on the spot (they’ve rarely rehearsed) asking them to pronounce things that were meant to be read not spoken, and possibly are quite challenging. Other students are struggling to understand what they’re hearing, and again possibly getting distracted by the written form of the questions.
Instead, if it’s questions for a listening activity, give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many questions there are) to read the questions in silence. You can give them a little task if you like e.g. underline any words which you’re not sure about. I don’t tend to do this though, as I’ve either already taught them a challenging word or two from the questions, or they’ll ask me themselves if they don’t know it and I’ve built up a relationship of trust and asking questions openly. It might also be worth highlighting the pronunciation of one or two words with strange sound-spelling relationships, such as queue, to prepare learners to notice it in the audio. Then ask learners if they’re ready to listen and play the audio.
If it’s a reading, it’s generally enough to highlight one or two words students might not understand in the questions, trying to elicit the meaning where possible rather than just telling the students. Then let them do the reading – they don’t necessarily need separate time to read all of the questions first.
Drill all the answers
After a reading or listening activity, you don’t need to drill the correct answers as students are answering the questions. It shifts the focus of the stage from ensuring that students all have the correct answers and know why they’re correct, to a pronunciation drill. If they’ve already got an answer with a similar meaning, they’re likely to start doubting themselves. They might not want to volunteer an answer if they’re worried about pronunciation. It can particularly confuse students when you shift back and forth between asking for an answer, drilling a version of it, asking for the next answer, drilling it, etc. as they don’t know what to focus on: the answers or the correct pronunciation?
Instead, make sure the students have all of the correct answers first. Here are a few ways to do this (some of them are Zoom-specific):
Teacher nominates students for verbal feedback (what we most commonly see, but this can take a long time and be very teacher-centred)
Students nominate each other.
All students answer the question verbally. (works well for short answers e.g. a, b)
Thumbs up/down if you agree with my answer.
Reveal the answers on PowerPoint from behind boxes – one at a time / all at once
Move pictures or words to provide visual support to oral feedback.
Type on the screen to provide visual support to oral feedback.
One student reads out all of the answers, the others say if there are any problems.
Display the answers with a couple of mistakes. Students have to find them.
Zoom: Type in the chat box – everybody types the same answer at the same time, controlled by the teacher.
Zoom: Type in the chat box – 1 student types each answer, e.g. Student A types 1, B types 2, C types 3, etc.
Zoom: Use the stamp function in annotate to tick/cross statements. (tell them it’s under ‘view options’ – only on computers, not phones)
Zoom: Get students to send answers only to you in the chat using the private message function.
Zoom: Students type all the answers, but don’t press enter until you tell them to (especially good for two or three short answers)
Zoom: Write longer answers in Google Docs/Padlet, preferably while doing the activity rather than afterwards.
If there were any major pronunciation problems which really impeded communication, make a note of them and go back to them once the students have all of the correct answers. If they didn’t impede communication, it’s OK not to worry about them.
The teacher must be in complete control of everything the students say and do throughout the lesson
This includes but is not limited to:
Lead ins which are a question and answer session between the teacher and the whole class, with only one student speaking at any one time
Long teacher-centred grammar presentations
A complete lack of pairwork or groupwork, only whole class, teacher-mediated activities
Feedback stages which consist of the teacher nominating each student in turn to basically repeat when they just said during pairwork
While each of these activities may (very!) occasionally be useful, if you never give the students any space or freedom to experiment with the language during the lesson, they won’t learn. Again, if we’re not struggling, we’re not learning. If you try to make sure that everything they ever produce is perfect, some students will shut down completely and stop trying to communicate. If you fully dominate the lesson, the pace often drops, students lose engagement and (particularly with kids and young learners) you start to have problems with classroom management as students don’t want to be there. I once heard this salient reminder from a feedback session (substituting my name for the person concerned): “Remember, Sandy, it’s not the Sandy show. You’re there to help the students, not do the work for them.”
Instead, hand over control to the students as much as possible. Set up pair and group work and monitor from the sidelines, being prepared to help when needed. Do this right from the start of the lesson, and take yourself out of the question. Find other ways to work with grammar (see the first point above). Vary your feedback stages so they’re not as teacher-centred. Let them decide how long activities should take, or choose which game you’re going to play (if they already know a couple). Give them opportunities to make the lessons and the language their own.
(A tiny bit of theory)
If CELTA trainers never tell their trainees to do these things, why do they happen on so many courses? I think I’ve seen all five of these things on every course I’ve done!
My feeling is that the apprenticeship of observation has a lot to do with it. This is a term coined by Dan Lortie in 1975 describing the fact that we spend many hours in classrooms as students and therefore form very fixed pre-conceptions of what a teacher should do and be. For many trainees, CELTA is the first time they’ve encountered a student-centred approach to teacher, where the aim is to set up the conditions for students to learn and facilitate activities and practice, rather than lecture them and control everything. When planning a lesson and not sure what to do, trainees are unlikely to remember a minute or two the couple of hours or so of a demo lesson or an observation showing them how we’d suggest they do a particular activity, especially if the trainee doesn’t really believe this is the ‘correct’ way to teach. Instead they fall back on ‘tried and tested’ methods of teacher control, lecturing, and reading aloud and nothing much changes until they get trainer feedback.
I know some trainers try to combat this by doing an early session on the course encouraging trainees to think about what being a good teacher actually means and how we learn both inside and outside the classroom. This helps trainees to uncover their beliefs and begin to question them straight away. I’d be interested to know what other ideas people have for resolving this issue, or at least bringing it to light as quickly as possible.
Laura Edwards talk on teaching online at the IATEFL Global Get-Together a couple of weeks ago was one of my highlights. If you’d like to watch the talk, it’s available to IATEFL members in the member’s area. Find out how to join IATEFL. She’s kindly agreed to share her ideas here.
This month I was part of the Global Get-Together, an online conference run by IATEFL. I was asked to present by telc language tests and I thought I’d talk about something connected to my work there in test development. But everything I came up with seemed irrelevant when most conversations with my teacher friends and colleagues revolved around coronavirus and their anxiety and frustration at having to suddenly teach online. I knew those feelings were completely valid. I have a Master’s in Education and Technology and ample experience with online teaching and I still felt overwhelmed. I also noticed that many articles and blog posts about teaching online explained the merits of various video conferencing tools, but few mentioned actual teaching. The implication seemed to be that once you get the hang of the tool, everything will fall into place, but that’s not the reality, which is why I decided to talk about how we teach when teaching online.
With schools suddenly shut, we find ourselves having to design materials suitable for online learning, change our assessment techniques and find new ways to manage student interactions, with very little preparation time. We’re also dealing with the stress of the situation, concern for our students’ well-being, and for self-employed or freelance teachers, there’s the potential loss of income to consider.
Overwhelming really is the word for it!
Adapting to the situation
I started my talk with a few inspirational quotes. This one from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. seemed particularly fitting.
As well as effort and perseverance, we need patience, hope, humour and plenty of self-compassion to help us face this challenge.
It’s unfortunate that many teachers see teaching online as something to suffer through. Of course, it’s difficult to be positive about something that’s forced upon you. I can rave about how it creates great opportunities, frees us from geographical limitations, allowing us to learn whatever we want, wherever we are. But we’re human – we require time to grow accustomed to new ideas, technologies and teaching methods. The habits and biases we develop during our lives can cause us to reject alternative ways of thinking or acting. We face what’s known as the Adaptability Struggle. Change is difficult and some may question the appropriateness of a tool or initially dismiss something that doesn’t fit their perception of learning. Talking to students about their feelings and discussing the benefits of online learning definitely helps. If there’s a moment when your students aren’t reacting as you’d hoped or you’re feeling frustrated, remember it could be the Adaptability Struggle.
How learning happens
When it comes to actual teaching, the first step is to consider how learning happens in your classroom.
I teach large groups of mixed-ability adults, who are returning to education having worked for several years. To tap into their knowledge, deal with the differences in abilities, and make sure that in a group of 30 students everyone has a chance to speak, I incorporate a lot of pair and group work, projects, and peer feedback into my lessons.
Make a list of the activities or approaches you use in your physical classroom and refer to it for guidance when planning your online lessons.
Exploiting the technology
Then think about the tech tools you have at your disposal. The SAMR Model helps us evaluate our use of a technology. SAMR stands for
Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.
Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign.
Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.
The first two refer to the enhancement of learning, the second to transformation.
One example of the SAMR model is …
Substitution: Instead of writing texts by hand, students type them out.
Augmentation: Students type their texts using word processing software, with spell check and formatting tools.
Modification: Students use Google docs to share their texts with classmates and get feedback, perhaps even working simultaneously on the document.
Redefinition: Students use their texts to make video presentations which they share online.
The goal is to move beyond merely replacing traditional tools, tasks or resources with digital ones, to a situation where technology is facilitating new ways of learning. Of course, under present circumstances, we may not be ready to think about transforming our teaching just yet. We might be thinking at the enhancement level, which is fine.
The SAMR model helps us reflect on how we can use the tools we have to help our learners best reach their goals.
Exploiting video conferencing
Many of us are using a video communication tool now. How can we change our lesson design to take full advantage of the tool? Can the tool offer an improvement?
One idea is inviting a guest speaker to join the lesson (if allowed by your school). This is something you couldn’t do as easily without the video conferencing tool. As you and your students are online anyway, it’d be easy to add a friend, colleague or family member to your meeting to be interviewed by the students. Even 10 minutes would be sufficient for them to talk about their job or industry, answer questions about their daily life, or give people a quick tour of their house (ideal if you’re teaching things in the house). It can be informal, even fun, while involving multiple tasks for students:
Researching the speaker, for example using LinkedIn
Writing an email inviting them to join, explaining why you are interested in speaking to them
Planning who asks what
Conducting the interview
Writing a thank you email, outlining what you enjoyed or found useful
Preparing a post-interview report
If the conversation was recorded (with the guest’s permission, of course), the video can be replayed for comprehension and vocab activities. So much learning from just a short video call!
Recording your lessons or parts of your lesson is another example of using the tool to transform learning. Students can watch the videos as often as needed, the repetition helping them notice things they didn’t catch initially. This also helps them reflect on their own contributions. We’re often so focused on expressing meaning, we’re not as aware of our language. Students could transcribe short sections of their speech and reflect on their language.
The SAMR model reminds us to be open to the opportunities that teaching online offers us, rather than seeing it merely as something to tolerate until we return to the classroom.
Moving to online teaching isn’t without its issues. In some cases, students’ verbal participation decreases, causing you to wonder if they’re paying attention at all. There are many reasons why this might happen. Students may be shy, uncomfortable with the technology, distracted or having tech issues. But they might also be unsure about when they should speak or trying to avoid the situation where everyone is speaking at the same time.
What can we do about this?
Start with Small Talk
Begin each lesson by greeting students individually and asking them how they are, giving each a chance to say something. Then ask students to write something in the chat box: what they had for lunch, what they did yesterday. This easy warm-up allows you to check that everyone’s equipment is functioning. It also allows students to try things out, get accustomed to the situation and connect with their classmates.
Create and discuss guidelines for communication
This is a must. Should students mute their mikes? Should they raise a hand (visually or using the function in the tool, if it exists) or type something in the chat box to indicate they want to speak, or can they speak at will? Do they have to turn their video on, or can they participate by voice only? Are they allowed to record the video call? (Consider privacy regulations.) These things should be communicated clearly in the first meeting or beforehand. It’s also helpful to explain why you set each rule.
If your expectations are unclear, you risk intensifying the adaptability struggle, resulting in some students initially rejecting the technology. We cannot expect students to participate the way we want them to if they don’t know what that is. This may sound logical, but we’re all guilty at times of assuming students understand our intentions and motives when, in fact, they don’t.
A lot of interaction in the classroom is spontaneous. The frowns indicating which students haven’t understood the task, the rolled eyes at your jokes, the groans when you announce an upcoming test, the witty comments. So much impromptu communication gets lost online if everyone’s on mute or has to wait their turn before speaking.
One way to facilitate this valuable communication is by encouraging written communication. The chat function in video conferencing tools is often used by teachers as a place to type corrections, but that shouldn’t be its only use.
Instead of asking questions to students individually, ask the group to respond in writing in the chat box. Give them enough time, then tell them to hit send. You can go through the answers to compare responses, ask follow-up questions and point out improvements.
You may consider moving some of your discussions to the chat box altogether. This takes a little getting used to but works essentially like a group chat on whatever messaging app you’d use on your phone. A written discussion gives everyone time to think up a response and prevents discussions being dominated by more confident or out-going students. This would also benefit the less confident speakers among our students who just prefer writing anyway.
It can be a bit chaotic but it’s worth it, as the use of this function not only helps increase participation but, going back to the SAMR model, we see it is transformative in that it allows for greater inclusion.
Further ways of increasing interaction would be to use tools like Google or Microsoft Forms to share listening or reading comprehension questions with students. As the students complete the activity, you can assess in real-time how well each understands the material and quickly discover where misunderstandings lie. Questions can be multiple choice or open-ended, students can see which ones they get wrong or right, and you can display the results to the group for discussion. Gaps in knowledge are quickly identified, and you can deal with these questions without wasting time on the ones everyone got right.
Use the same tools to create feedback forms for your students to be used at the end of the session or week. Find out what students like most and least, and if there’s anything else they’d like to cover in the lessons. This gives students a voice, increases their engagement and aids your own development.
Many teachers find that once they move their class online, they suddenly become the centre point, through which all communication flows. They feel pressure to keep things moving and teacher talk time increases. The use of chat and survey forms can help prevent that.
What else can we do to ensure student engagement and interaction? Let’s return to the question of how learning happens in your classroom. If you were in the classroom, what would you be doing that you’re not doing online?
My big challenge teaching online is pair work and peer feedback. For me learning is a social activity and communication and collaboration with others are essential. Although some tools allow for break-out rooms, it’s not always practical. If your students can’t conduct pair work during your live session, how about moving that to outside the allotted class time? Give students a task to complete for the next session and assign them a partner. During the following lesson, the pair can report back to the group.
Peer feedback is another collaborative activity that increases students’ engagement and self-awareness as learners. The key to making it effective online is sharing the task rubrics with the students. Explaining to students what they have to do to complete the task successfully brings transparency to the evaluation process, and helps them effectively evaluate and help others. To really enhance the reflective process, students can create the rubrics or evaluation checklists with you. This further helps them develop a common language to use when giving each other feedback.
Students can also give feedback more informally. During speaking tasks, those listening could use pre-assigned emojis or a comments sheet with short sentences like ‘I agree’ or ‘Good vocabulary’. These could be quickly copied and pasted into the chat box, helping students give feedback faster while eliminating typing errors. The added advantage of this is that it builds community among learners, which is even more important when we are not all sitting in the same room together.
All of these things take practice, which I guess was the main message of my talk. We’re in a difficult situation, and it takes time to adapt to any change so we need to be kind to ourselves. I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help you along the way.
After university, Laura left Ireland to work as an English teacher. Now in Germany, she teaches adults and creates content for digital and print language tests. She has Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Education Technology. She tweets as @edlaur. In her free time, she turns all devices off to read a good book.
I recently observed a teacher who wants to work on the feedback stages of her lesson, making sure that she is as responsive as possible to the needs of her learners and helping her as part of her DipTESOL studies. Most of the reading and methodology we’ve found about feedback has been connected to error correction and upgrading language. We haven’t been able to find very much about feedback on content and skills work and how to do it effectively. Please share if you can recommend anything!
In our post-observation discussion, one thing we discussed was the pacing of feedback, and that not everyone was fully involved in feedback stages. Feedback also didn’t really feed into later stages of the lesson. We identified that this was partly because the method of post-activity feedback chosen didn’t always appropriately match the activity itself – something neither of us have been specifically trained in. As a result, we came up with a series of questions to use to help her (and me!) when planning a lesson to work out how to get the most out of post-activity feedback.
What is the purpose of the task?
Is it comprehension of specific information?
Brainstorming ideas for a storytelling activity?
How can you most efficiently find out whether the purpose of the task has been achieved in the lesson?
By looking at students’ books while monitoring.
By students putting their ideas onto mini whiteboards, then walking around and looking at other people’s ideas.
What is the feedback stage actually for?
To make sure the students know the correct answers. To get a general idea of how well students have initially understand what they listened to.
To steal ideas from other students ready to use later in the lesson.
Where is the learning happening? For who? How many students are actively involved in this?
In pairs, students don’t just say what’s correct, but why, referring back to the text/transcript. If they’re not sure about something they circle it. The teacher monitors and notices what is circled to deal with in the next stage of the lesson.
You ask them to add ideas from other people to their whiteboards.
What other questions would you suggest? Would you use them in this order? Would you edit/remove any?
For example, in the lesson I observed there was rather a long listening task where students had to fill in a table with 4 rows and columns about the problems presenters had had during their presentations. Students checked their answers in pairs, then some of them wrote up the notes onto the whiteboard. Of the eight students in the class, four were writing up answers and the others were watching. In the peer check, one student who has general problems with listening comprehension had struggled a little with some of the points in the listening, but most were fine. It took a relatively long time (3-4 minutes) and once it was confirmed that the answers were correct, they were rubbed off the board.
Using the questions above, how would you approach the feedback from the activity in your lesson? How could it feed into later stages of the lesson to develop the students’ listening skills beyond pure comprehension?
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?
This was a post I’d been meaning to write for a long time! Since doing the Delta exam a few years ago, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to mark writing. To find out what the current results of this experiment are, take a look at my latest post for TeachingEnglish British Council, describing how I give feedback on short pieces of writing of up to 300 words. How do you approach marking?
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!
As both a CELTA trainer and a Director of Studies, a key part of my job is giving feedback to teachers after observations. I was prompted to write this post after listening to Jo Gakonga, a fellow CELTA trainer, talk about feedback on the TEFLology podcast, and looking at her new teacher feedback site. One of the things she said was that after our initial training as managers or tutors, we are normally left to our own devices with feedback, something which I’ve often wondered about. It’s useful to reflect on how we’re giving feedback, and I’d really like to develop this area of my practice more. Here’s a bit about where I am now…
I’ve just finished working on a CELTA at International House Milan, where I had two main development goals for myself as a tutor. I tried to revamp many of my input sessions to make them more practical and to make the handouts more useful and less overwhelming, and I also worked to improve both my written and oral feedback, again to be more practical and less overwhelming.
I have previously been told that sometimes my feedback can come across as negative, and that it’s not always clear whether a lesson has been successful or not. I also catch myself taking over feedback sometimes, and not allowing trainees the time or space for their own reflection or to give each other feedback. Timing can be a problem too. On the CELTA course, you can’t really afford to spend more than 15 minutes on oral feedback for each trainee, as there are other things which need to be fitted in to the day. The positive response I got from trainees at the end of the Milan course in response to changes I’ve made means I think (hope!) I’m heading in the right direction.
We had 45-60 minutes for feedback after each TP (teaching practice). By the end of the course, we were breaking it down into 15-20 minutes of peer feedback, with trainees working in pairs for five minutes at a time to give individual feedback to each of the three teachers from that day’s TP, with the person who taught reflecting on their lesson first. I then summarised the feedback and added my own for another 10-15 minutes, and answered any questions they had about the lessons. This was based on three positives and three areas to work on for each trainee, and I tried to make sure that they were given equal weight. The last section of the feedback involved taking an area I felt the trainees needed to work on and doing some mini input, either demonstrating something like how to give instructions to pre-intermediate students or drawing their attention to the good work of their fellow trainees, for example by analysing a successful lesson plan to show what they might be aiming for themselves. Where possible, I also referred back to handouts from input sessions to strengthen the link between input and TP. This seemed to work, and is a structure I’d like to use again.
Other feedback activities I’ve used successfully are:
a ‘kiss’ and a ‘kick’ (thanks for teaching me this Olga!): trainees share one positive thing from the lesson, and one thing the teacher should work on. This is done as a whole group, and everybody should share different things. The person who taught should speak first.
board-based feedback: divide the board into +/- sections for each trainee. The group should fill the board with as many things as they noticed from the lessons as possible, which then form the basis for discussion. The teacher can’t write on their own section.
Another thing I’ve been trying to do is make the links between the skill of teaching and that of learning a foreign language as explicit as possible. Reflection on teaching should be balanced between positives and negatives, in the same way that you wouldn’t let a student continue to think that they are the best/worst student ever. During input sessions, I highlighted things that trainees could steal and take into their own lessons, like how to set up particular activities, and also made clear what areas of my own teaching I’m working on, such as giving instructions, and when they were and weren’t successful, to exemplify the nature of being a reflective teacher. Although it’s often quite natural, trainees also shouldn’t beat themselves up for not taking previous feedback or new information from input sessions on board instantly, just like it’s not possible for students to use the present perfect without any problems as soon as they’ve learnt it. One mantra during our feedback sessions was that CELTA tutors are looking for ‘progress, not perfection’.
If you’re a trainer or manager, do you have any other feedback techniques you can share? And as someone who’s being observed, what do you want the observer to do/say in feedback?
I could have sworn I’d done an input session on functions before, but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer, so it must have been a figment of my imagination. The system I’ve developed for creating a new input session is:
If I can’t make an educated guess, check what areas need to be covered in the session, especially if I know it can have different interpretations, e.g. ‘Phonology 1’ could be sounds and the phonemic chart, or a general introduction to phonology.
Find all the documents I think might be relevant/interesting and put them all in a dedicated folder on my computer/lay them out on my desk. For example, for this session I found the centre’s folder for the functional language session, went through all the activities and laid out the ones I thought I could use on my desk. I also looked at the handful of related documents I have on my computer, all of which I’ve inherited from various other tutors.
On a piece of scrap paper, come up with a rough running order for the session, including timing. Today that consisted of writing a list of the documents, crossing out duplicates, linking ones that could be combined, numbering them in order, and adding times.
Type out a running order, underlining the materials I need as I go along. Number the file ‘0’ so it always appears at the top of the folder and is easy to find.
Create/adapt/type up/resave any documents I need for the session, numbering them in the order they’re needed.
Scribble notes all over the printed running order.
Try to remember to do something with said notes, if I can find time.
I’ve got much better at timing my inputs now too, working on the basis that if I think it’ll take 5 minutes, it’ll probably take 10; if 10 minutes, 15; and so on. By adding 5 minutes to everything, I seem to get it roughly right, although I still need to drop an activity every now and again, or just give things as reading rather than dealing with them in the session.
The whole process took about 3 hours, plus printing off yesterday’s feedback and eating, which took me up to 2 minutes before the session was due to start. It’s true that tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them!
I was watching a different TP group and a different set of students (still elementary) tonight, and there were some timing issues. Two of the three trainees went 7/8 minutes over their 45 minute slot, making the whole lesson 15 minutes longer than it should have been. That prompted me to finally get round to blogging about timing, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Thanks guys, but please don’t do it again!
Two days into week two, and illness has struck. Three trainees had to go home today for various reasons and lots of others looked pretty tired all day.
In general, the trainees haven’t had enough sleep, and they’re feeling stressed out and under pressure, no matter how much we try to reassure them and calm them down. This is not unusual for a CELTA course, due to its intensive nature. I’ve reminded a few of them individually about looking after themselves, but today decided to give the whole group a bit of a pep talk. It went something like this:
I know that some of you are tired and feeling a bit sick, and that the stress and pressure of the course don’t help, but you need to look after yourselves. The CELTA might seem very important right now, but your health is more important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and that you take at least a few hours for yourself at the weekend, preferably half or even a full day. It might seem like you’re wasting time, but it’s a false economy to work all the time because you’ll regret it later. You’ll exhaust yourself and/or make yourself ill, and nobody is at their best when that happens. I’d rather see an adequately-planned lesson and you’re still alive, than a perfectly-planned lesson but you’re half dead.
I didn’t do CELTA full-time; I did it part-time, but when I did Delta, also part-time, I was working for about 20 hours every weekend on top of my full-time job. I started in September and took the whole of December off sick from work, then triggered a condition I’ll have the rest of my life, which is the reason you see me eating all the time. I don’t want any of you to make yourselves ill, because it’s not worth it.
Remember that work expands to fill the time you have available. If you say you’re going to go to bed at 11pm, stick to it, because you’ll be much more productive for it, rather than saying that you’ll work until you’re done. That way you’ll end up being up until three in the morning. The same is true at the weekend. Give yourself a specific amount of time to do each thing, and be strict. You’ll get a lot more done that way, rather than just starting blankly at a computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike.
Take breaks while you’re working too. Stand up, stretch, give your eyes a bit of a rest. You can download apps to help you. If you have a Mac, TimeOut blocks out your screen every 30 minutes, and I’m sure there are similar things for Windows.
Sometimes the mum just comes out in me. 😉
It was nice that one of the trainees noticed that my input was much smoother today – she asked me whether I’d done it before. It’s the fourth outing for that one, and you can really tell!
‘Not to standard’ lessons are never easy to give. On my part, at least, there is a lot of soul-searching and questioning, but ultimately you have to follow the criteria. So far I’ve never given this grade without discussing the lesson and checking carefully with other tutors on my course to make sure I’ve made the right decision and have justified it clearly and accurately. Every lesson is graded against a set of criteria from Cambridge, and I have to use it objectively, no matter how difficult that may be at times. I know how much work goes into every lesson, and I know how much of a disappointment it is when it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. (Two of my four Delta lessons were below standard due to weak planning, and I put a lot of hours into each!)
Giving feedback on these lessons is also not easy, but thanks to my co-tutor in Vancouver, I’ve found one way to do it which seems to work. Divide the board into as many columns as there were trainees teaching that day (2? 3?). Then create the following rows: name, main aim, (secondary aim – optional), stages. Give the group time to complete the table. The teacher whose column it is can’t contribute to that one, but can to any of the others, e.g. if A was teaching, they can’t write in column A, but can (and should!) in B and C. (By the way, this isn’t the only time I use this method of feedback, but it’s particularly effective for these lessons.)
Using this method today made it very clear that the ‘not to standard’ lesson was that way because teacher A wasn’t clear about the aims of their lesson and lacked the necessary level of detail in their planning to successfully introduce the grammar point they were trying to teach, partly since they didn’t really understand the grammar themselves. It also affected the pace of the lesson as there were long pauses while the teacher tried to work out what should happen next. Their peers didn’t identify language as one of the aims at all, and struggled to come up with the stages of the lesson. It also boosted the confidence of teacher B, as they believed that their lesson was ‘a disaster’, but their peers could reconstruct it very easily, were clear about the aims and could see how the students had benefitted from it.
Teacher A took this feedback very well, and asked lots of questions about how to improve, especially since this was their second ‘not to standard’ on the course, out of three lessons so far. Today their first tutor and I have given them a series of steps to take to help them use their time and plan more effectively, since they tend to spend a very long time on creating excellent materials, at the expense of really knowing how to use them in class. The audio recording produced for this lesson was a case in point – it was written by the trainee, recorded by them and a friend, and even had a phone ringing at the beginning to make it sound more authentic!
The way teacher A took their feedback is in stark contrast to a trainee I had on a previous course, possibly due to the way I gave feedback. I think this was before I learnt about the stages/aims method, although I’m not 100% sure – my memory is a bit hazy on this. I tried to introduce it as gently as possible, since the trainee had been struggling with the course in general as it was very different to the ‘chalk and talk’ style they were experienced in delivering in their home country. On being told that it was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback.
It’s a little ironic that the same trainee has chosen today to post two comments on my blog, which I don’t plan to approve due to the lack of context, but will share here for the sake of completeness and to avoid being accused of censorship. I hope doing it this way will also protect the identity of the trainee in question:
Sandy is extremely rude to her students. She enjoys student’s failure. She hates to see students performing well. How could such a vicious one be a teacher?
She tortured me spiritually in 28 days.
And about 5 hours later on a different post:
Sandy Millin wants her students to worship her. If you don’t, then she steps on you. She is too proud of her being born in the UK. She feels superior than any student. It’s her personality that she treats her students with the attitude of being unfair. If you lick her ass, she will give you an A, otherwise, a C.
These blogs help others to teach, it’s useful. But can Sandy learn a lesson that teaching is to promote students, not to kill us. I got a very subjective judgement from her. Why does she work so hard? She wants to be worshiped only for she can speak some English, which everyone can.
You can’t render your rude judgement on me. I will appeal and appeal till I get the justice.
I’m very sorry that this is how I came across to this student. My aim during the course, and I think that of any self-respecting tutor, is to build on the trainees’ strengths and to support them to become the best teachers they can be within the confines of a four-week course, and hopefully instil in them the desire to keep reflecting and developing once they’ve finished the course. In case you were wondering, this trainee did pass the course, although it was a weak pass, as they continued to struggle through the course. If they’d failed, I might understand the feeling behind these comments a little more.
Does anybody have any other suggestions on how to give feedback on ‘not to standard’ lessons, so that I can try to avoid a repeat of the situation with the latter trainee?
There are four assignments on any CELTA course. Although each centre has slightly different variations on them, they are all designed to cover the following areas:
Focus on the learner: finding out about either one learner from your TP group in depth, or a little about all of the learners in the class, or both (depends on the centre), and providing materials to deal with two (normally) of their specified language problems, specifically related to grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation;
Language awareness: analysis of items of grammar, vocabulary and functions to prove that you can use reference materials to find out information about language, and break it down sufficiently to be able to deal with it in class;
Skills task: creating tasks based on a piece of authentic material, normally two receptive tasks and one productive;
Lessons from the classroom: reflection on your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher based on observations of you and other teachers during the course, and an action plan for how to continue your development.
Candidates are allowed to resubmit each assignment once if it doesn’t meet the criteria the first time, and they receive clear feedback on what they need to work on.
Today we were looking at the language awareness assignment, which tends to be the one with the highest rates of resubmission because so many people find it hard to break language down sufficiently to be able to teach it. In my experience, those who have learnt English as a second language are normally OK with this area, but may still have trouble with detailing how to check the language, whether it be with CCQs or otherwise.
Language awareness is a particular problem for native speakers, and is one of the reasons why I don’t think CELTA should necessarily be seen as the benchmark for employment that it can be in some countries/schools, since it needs to be backed up with a knowledge of how the language works. That’s not to say that people with CELTA shouldn’t get a job, just that if you’re teacher (often a non-native) with a good command of the language and no CELTA, you shouldn’t automatically lose out just because somebody else has a CELTA.
The areas trainees really ought to find out about before the course are:
the difference between parts of speech (noun, verb, preposition etc);
the names and forms of the basic pedagogical tenses in English;
the main functions of each of these tenses.
Of course, that’s only a tiny slice of the English language, but it’s a good grounding to start off with. It’ll be a bit of a confidence booster once the course has started.
Here are a couple of useful books [both affiliate links, so I’ll make a few pennies if you buy them through here]:
Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – designed with teachers in mind, it includes possible problems students might have, and tasks for you to do to help you understand the language better;
Teaching English Grammar by Jim Scrivener – very easy to find your way around, including possible timelines, ways of checking the concepts, and contexts to introduce each language point in.
Assignments are one of the places where being a CELTA tutor can feel pretty stressful, since there’s normally a very quick turn-around, and you mark them in any spare moment you have. That’s been at home on all of my previous courses, but this time I decided that work will be at work, even if it means going in early, and home will be for me, including getting some of the posts written which I’ve been meaning to do for ages! As a result, I’m feeling a lot more relaxed on this course. I hope it continues!
We’re half-way through the course, so today the trainees planned their lesson focuses (foci?) for the next two weeks, aiming for two skills and two language lessons each to cover the remaining four TPs.
The tutors also had a relatively light day, doing feedback on yesterday’s classes and preparing for and administering Stage 2 tutorials, a 15-minute or so individual meeting with each trainee updating them on their progress on the course so far, dealing with any questions the trainee raises, and telling them what they need to do to meet their potential. It’s based on a list of criteria which the trainees mark themselves against, then the tutor assesses them too, a comment by the trainee and a comment by the tutor, making sure everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any nasty surprises later in the course (at least, that’s the plan!)
Other progress reports done during the course are a brief one at the end of Stage 1/week 1 and a Stage 3 tutorial at the end of week 3 if the trainee is not performing as expected. They can also request informal tutorials.
I have to say that I find some of the criteria a bit odd/unnecessary, the main one being 2f: The candidate shows an awareness of register. I’m not really sure why this is given it’s own criteria when analysing form, meaning and phonology is a single criterion, as is teaching those three things – many trainees are really good in one or two of those areas, but not necessarily in all three. Another odd Cambridge thing is that the first group of criteria on the list (connected to planning) are all numbered 4, followed by 1, 2, 3, 5. A strange way of counting!
There was no TP tonight, so I took advantage of the early finish to have a peaceful evening bike ride. Here are a three of the beautiful views I saw:
I have just submitted my Reflection and Action (RA) Stage 4 for my Delta, and it feels like a weight off my shoulders! The four stages are, briefly:
Teach an experimental practice lesson, where you try something you have never done before.
State your teaching beliefs, highlight your main weaknesses, create an action plan to deal with them and describe how you will collect data connected to your plan.
Show how you have progressed with your action plan and what data collection methods have helped you. Create another action plan, highlighting different weaknesses if necessary.
Describe your teaching beliefs now, and whether they have changed. Show what was most useful from the RA process and create a plan for the future (watch this space to find out how my blog will be incorporated into this).
I’ve already shared a video from a class I taught in January, and I learnt so much from it, I decided to do it again. The quality is a bit better this time, helped in large part to being in a bigger classroom! I have put up two excerpts here, which I would be interested to hear what you think of.
The group were B1 intermediate, mostly from Brazil, with one German and one Saudi. We were working on the money vocabulary from unit 2a of New English File Intermediate (pages 20 and 147), including listening to the song Ka-Ching. The lesson was 1h45.
The first video shows all of the times I gave instructions during the lesson, including a couple of remedial instructions when students didn’t understand. One student got very stressed because they really didn’t understand the first two exercises – I haven’t included this in the video, obviously, but I think it’s important to know that before you watch. Instructions are one of the areas I highlighted in my Stage 3 action plan, and I still need a lot of work on this. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I’ve tried writing instructions down, and have also audio recorded myself, but neither of these seem to have helped particularly. The only thing that seems to have changed is that I now use a few more instruction-checking questions, but clearly not enough! The same video also shows examples of me feeding back from exercises and drilling pronunciation.
The second video shows a focus on ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’, which were causing students some problems. There is a black-screen transition in the first video to show you the point at which this was covered in the lesson. (I divided them so you don’t have to watch 25 minutes if you don’t want to!)
Apart from looking for instructions suggestions, I’m not going to ask specific questions as I don’t want you to miss the gorilla 😉
In a recent class my students did some writing starting with the (elicited) sentence:
Tom was teaching English at IH in England two years ago.
This was to finish off a week during which we had studied relative clauses, and I hoped that students would include at least one or two of these in their own writing. It has to be said that my introduction to the writing was probably not the best ever seen in a language classroom, and this may have had something to do with the final result. However, since the students are in an Intermediate class, the general standard of their writing needed to be improved anyway.
I took the writing home at the weekend and came up with a set of questions, reproduced below.
Before the class, I cut them up so that each question was on one slip of paper. I turned them over and numbered them, so that the students could see which ones they had already responded to.
In class, I first asked the students to break down their writing onto small pieces of paper, so that one piece of paper had one clause (though I used the term ‘idea’ here). The examples here are from the end of the lesson, after they had worked on the text:
This made it easier for them to move the ideas around in the story – more like a puzzle than a piece of writing!
Students then worked through the questions in the same groups which they wrote the original stories in. Once they had a final version, they rewrote it on a new piece of paper. For the fast finishers, I marked a few errors for them to look at.
As the students themselves agreed, the new piece of writing was much richer. They still remember some of the questions I asked them when producing writing now (2 weeks later), although obviously not everything!
With the permission of my students, here are the before and after versions of their stories (click to make images larger):
Hope that all makes sense! I’d be interested to here if you’ve tried anything similar with your students.