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

Posts tagged ‘IATEFL 2016’

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Summary

I’ve shared eight posts about the conference so far:

This post should bring it all together, and share a few of my other highlights of the conference.

My name in print 🙂

Keynote B2 Upper Intermediate workbook front cover featuring my name and four other authors

Probably the most exciting part of the whole conference for me was seeing my name in print on a real book for the first time 🙂 I was part of the team of writers who have put together the B2, C1 and C2 level workbooks for new series called Keynote from National Geographic. It’s all based around TED talks, and immensely proud to be part of it as I think it’s a fabulous series (and I’m not just saying that!) In case you’re interested,  my contributions are Unit 10 of the B2 workbook, and all of the writing spreads for the three levels. The series actually starts with B1, but I didn’t work on that. I also met some of the other authors while I was there, and was generally very excitable about the whole thing 🙂

Joining a committee

I’m now officially part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (though my name’s not on this list…yet!) We had our first face-to-face meeting at the conference, and I look forward to seeing how this role develops. Watch this space for news, and if you have any tips or ideas on how to get more members/give more to our members, please let me know!

Another first(s)

For the first time, IATEFL allocated me as a mentor to another presenter. Marianne was doing a poster presentation, something which I had zero experience of, never even having looked at the posters at a conference before (oops!) Thankfully, facebook came to the rescue and a few people managed to help out.

Marianne was talking about a new way of learning pronunciation called Pronunciation Club. Her boards were covered in clear information, and every time I walked past she was there handing out flyers – true dedication!

Sandy and Marianne

Sandy and Marianne (photo by Victoria Boobyer)


ELTjam telling us about learning experience design (LXD), with the help of Ceri Jones, Lindsay Clandfield and Brendan Wightman.

A meal out with CELTA and other teacher trainers at Asha’s for tasty Indian food.

National Geographic shared drinks and nibbles at All Bar One.

Seven ‘victims’ sharing their brilliant pecha kucha presentations with us (which don’t seem to have been recorded this year 😦 )

I spent a lot of time chatting in very noisy rooms. And I lost my voice and am now on my second day off work post-conference, with another to come tomorrow. Though on the plus side, it’s given me time to blog…

The best bit

I say this every year, and I never get tired of it. The best bit of the IATEFL conference is meeting up again with old friends, and making new ones. Here are a few photos of various people:

Sandy and Natalie

Sandy and Natalie

Chia, Tyson and Sandy

Chia, Tyson and Sandy

Sergio and Sandy

Sergio and Sandy

Out for lunch with Tyson, Marie, Ken, Sue and more!

Out for lunch with Tyson, Marie, Ken, Sue and more!

Monika, Sandy and Lizzie

Monika, Sandy and Lizzie

Sandy and Laura

Sandy and Laura

The official conference photos are all available on Flickr.

The End

I’ll leave you with the video which was shown to us at the end of the conference, and which had a lot of us in tears. It shows just how much people get out of the conference. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organising it!

See you in Glasgow! 4th-7th April 2017, with pre-conference events on 3rd April, so I get another IATEFL birthday 🙂

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: What I missed

I was very sorry to miss these presentations, but at a conference like this there will inevitably be some sessions that you can’t get to. Luckily, the online conference has filled in a couple of the gaps for me.

Creating classroom materials

John Hughes is a teacher trainer and materials writer who has a useful blog and has also written the excellent ETpedia book [affiliate link]. He spoke about visual literacy in creating classroom materials.

Barefoot with beginners

Ceri Jones has an excellent blog, and I’ve enjoyed reading her ‘Barefoot with beginners‘ series. Here she talks about the process in more detail:

Here are some tweets from Ceri’s talk:





English for the Zombie Apocalypse

English for the Zombie Apocalypse might sound like a crazy topic, but the idea behind Lindsay Clandfield and Robert Campbell’s book from the round is to show how functional language can be interested in an entertaining way, tapping into the current fashion for zombies. I really wish I could have been to the session, as by all accounts it was a lot of fun! Lindsay speaks about the book in the interview below, and you can also read a review of it by David Dodgson.

These too…

Also high up on my wishlist were:

  • Using images to engage and motivate the ‘multiple-stimuli generation’ (Fiona Mauchline)
    Fiona is one of my fellow eltpics curators and I’m pretty sure there would have been some familiar images in there, plus Fiona always has great ideas about how to work with teenagers (like the ones from the MaWSIG pre-conference event)
  • Using smartphones to let our learners tell us what they think (Tilly Harrison)
    After her session, we discussed Kahoot (which I love) and Socrative (which I’ve heard of but never used), and she also recommended NearPod (which was new to me). I’d like to have seen how she suggested using these in the classroom.
  • Practical writing tips for Arabic learners (Emina Tuzovic)
    I don’t teach Arabic learners any more, but I think Emina’s tips are also useful for anyone teaching students with low levels of literacy. She wrote a very good guest post a couple of years ago, and will hopefully be following that up soon 🙂
  • How to speak British (Martyn Ford)
    Because I love these postcards 🙂 [affiliate link] and I wanted to hear more from one of the men who created them. I’d often wondered if one of them was an English teacher!
    How to be British cover

General tweets from other people

Throughout the conference, I always retweet anything I think is interesting from other tweeters. In no particular order, here is a selection of those tweets  which don’t fit into the topics of any other my other posts.


(I love Edmodo, though I haven’t used it for a while – thanks for the reminder Angelos and Sophia!)










Tweets on management

How managers become managers. Click on the tweet to see the ones before and after:






In case you need more…

As Lizzie Pinard does every year, she has put together a summary of all of her IATEFL 2016 posts, this time in enjoyable narrative form. It includes a few talks I wanted to go to but couldn’t, most of which I’ve linked to in my post ‘We’re all teachers’. The only other one I didn’t make it to was What makes an outstanding ELT coursebook? The publisher’s perspective (Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton), but if you’re interested in English for Academic Purposes you’ll find a lot more there.

British Council recorded the plenaries, 37 conference sessions and over 50 interviews and made them available for the 10th year in a row – great work! In addition, all of the Cambridge English talks were recorded and are available for you to watch. Some presenters also took recordings into their own hands. Jaime Miller shared her presentation How to Fix Fossilized Errors, and you can see a recording of my time management presentation in my post about it.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Teacher training and CPD

As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies, I’m particularly interested in sessions connected to training new teachers. Here is a summary of some of the talks connected to teacher training, CELTA and continuous professional development from this year’s IATEFL Birmingham conference.

Images for teaching: a tool for reflective teacher learning (Matilda Wong)

Matilda teaches on an undergraduate pre-service course for secondary school teachers at the University of Macao. Students do a four-year B.Ed. programme. In their fourth year, they do two one-month practicums in a local secondary school, the same school each time. Matilda works with 8-10 students from each cohort, and tries to teach them how to better at reflecting on their teaching.

When she first started doing this, Matilda used written journals for reflection, but she felt they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Instead, they were putting added pressure onto her trainees, and some of them were just completing it because they had to instead of really thinking about their teaching. It can lead to burnout.

While Matilda was doing her PhD, she was given paper and coloured pencils, and had to draw a picture of her ideal classroom. The teacher she drew had no mouth, and it wasn’t until analysing the picture afterwards that she realised the teacher had no mouth. The underlying thought here was that she had no voice, and she hoped that one day she would be able to draw a mouth onto her face. That was in 1999, and she still had tears in her eyes talking to us about it last week. It was a very powerful experience for her.

This led her to experiment with drawing pictures rather than writing, as it can be less tiring, and can be combined with written reflection later. It can also highlight beliefs which are difficult to articulate. Matilda asked nine students to work with her on this experiment, none of whom knew anything about reflection before working on her module.

Who am I as a teacher?

What do I want to achieve?

What does it mean to my job?

Before their first practicum, Matilda asked her trainees to write a language learning biography, describe their worries before going into the classroom, and draw a picture of their ideal classroom, then answer some simple questions.

  1. What level are you teaching?
  2. How many students are in your class?
  3. What is the lesson about?
  4. Write as much detail as you can to describe what you are doing (e.g. What re you saying? What materials are you using? With whom are you talking? What are you thinking?)

After they finished the second practicum, she asked them to evaluate their original image of an ideal class and compare it to their experience. They reflected on what was the same and what was inconsistent, and also on what they felt they had learnt from this type of reflection.

Matilda showed us lots of examples, but only one was drawn in colour. What do you notice about this student teacher’s image, bearing in mind that they come from Macao, a Cantonese-Portuguese city?

We spotted that it was odd that the teacher was blonde, since in real life, she was Cantonese. Matilda hadn’t noticed until we pointed it out in the session. It was another way of reinforcing the lack of confidence that some bilinguals have in their teaching ability. This is just one of the subconscious beliefs that was expressed through drawing, but probably wouldn’t have been through writing. Three of the teachers had smiley faces in their images, showing that they think it’s important for a teacher to be friendly. One forgot to put a teacher in the image at all, and didn’t realise until it was pointed out! For me, it was also interesting to see that most teachers were at the front of the room, and only one was in among the students.

These are Matilda’s conclusions after the study, and she would like to experiment more with it. I think it would be interesting to get them to draw another picture between and after their practicums and get them to analyse all three of them. I also think it would be interesting for them to analyse each other’s images, or those of previous participants to draw conclusions about stereotypes about teaching (like that the teacher should be front and central).

This session was one of the surprises of the conference for me, and it was a real shame there were only 10 people in the audience. I’ve asked Matilda to write a guest post on it for me, and hopefully she’ll say yes!

Training or grading? TP and the art of written feedback (Bill Harris)

I met Bill at last year’s conference and enjoyed chatting to him about his experience of working on CELTA courses around the world. I also responded to one of the surveys which formed the basis of this talk, so I was looking forward to seeing the results. 109 trainers and 90 course graduates responded to his surveys.

Because Bill has worked in so many centres, he has worked with a wide range of formats for written feedback. He often adds ‘cold’ feedback to post-lesson reflection, so trainees write ‘hot’ feedback immediately after the lesson, get their spoken feedback, then write another reflection summarising the two.

Why do written feedback?

  • Detailed written feedback helps the trainer process their feedback (often more for the trainer than for the trainee!)

In his survey, Bill was mainly contrasting handwritten and typed feedback.

Tutors said that 45% of them handwrote, 43% typed, and the rest said it depends on the situation. 28% of trainees said they got typed feedback, 40% said it depended on the tutor, and the rest was handwritten. [I normally type on CELTA because I have my laptop with me, but handwrite in school observations because I don’t!]

Bill separated the advantages and disadvantages into those for tutors and those for trainees but I can’t remember which were which so have combined them!

Advantages of handwriting

  • Used to doing it (for some!)
  • More personal/authentic
  • Seems more detailed
  • Penmanship can seem important
  • Seems to show more care and effort from the tutor
  • Able to add cartoons/diagrams etc
  • Break from looking at a screen
  • Can easily use different colours
  • Can use lots of different signposts easily to help trainees process the feedback: ticks, smileys, ?, TIP:

Disadvantages of handwriting

  • Can be harder to read!

Advantages of typing 

  • Neater
  • Looks more professional
  • Easier to read
  • Can watch the lesson more (if you’re quick!)
  • Faster (if you touch type)
  • Easier to edit
  • Can copy and paste previous actions points easily
  • Easier to share with other tutors
  • Can email to trainees
  • You have a backup if it gets lost
  • Most trainees said they’d prefer typed feedback (mostly due to legibility!)

Disadvantages of typing 

  • Can be noisy/distracting [I was once told that when I got excited I typed more quickly/loudly and they wondered what they’d done!]
  • Can take time/be difficult to print out
  • May seem formulaic/impersonal
  • Tutors may write too much
  • Can get distracted by other things on the computer [though in the face of a 40-minute grammar lecture, this may not always be a bad thing ;)]

What should be in written feedback?

Trainees said that they appreciated practical suggestions for how to improve, with clear action points. They also wanted recognition of what they were good at, and a positive spin on things when possible. One non-native speaker wanted more feedback on language [and some natives do too, especially if they are not confident with grammar].

Written v. oral feedback

Trainers said that written feedback could be digested more slowly away from the pressures of the group, and focussed much more on the individual. This was contrasted with oral feedback, which was for the group as a whole. Written feedback acted as a useful prompt when giving oral feedback.

Trainees said that both written and oral feedback was useful. Written feedback was more permanent, and they could refer back to it with time and less stress. They appreciated the interactive discussion aspect of oral feedback, but found it hard to remember all of the details. One problem was that sometimes there were differences between what was said in oral feedback and what was written. Some felt that their peers were over-positive or too harsh in oral feedback, and were not qualified to give feedback. One audience member suggested recording oral feedback too, partly for accountability and transparency.


Up until recently, Bill had always written his feedback by hand, but he is a recent convert to typing. Then he worked at a centre where he took over part-way through a course and had to shadow the other trainer’s feedback style. Luckily they had a colour printer, and this was the result:

I think you’ll agree, it looks pretty good!

Tutor-trainee team-teaching: a hands-on tool for teacher training (Emma Meade-Flynn)

Emma reported on some research she has been doing into how to make use of unassessed slots during CELTA, Delta and other short courses. In a survey of tutors, she found that 60% sometimes used it for a demo lesson, 70% used it for practice with no tutor present, some for getting to know you activities with students, and some for practice with a tutor present. About 35% of her respondents were already doing some form of team-teaching in these slots.

Team-teaching: planning, delivering and reflecting on a lesson together.

Emma found that her students were very receptive to team teaching, and when asked, they always requested it. In demo lessons, they couldn’t see the students’ faces and often felt left out. Because they weren’t part of the planning process, they didn’t always understand what was happening.

Emma decided to incorporate the trainees into the unassessed lessons by giving them roles, such as collecting and correcting errors, setting up activities and monitoring. They were also used as the source material, for example in live listening activities, meaning the students go to know them better. Trainees decided what they wanted to focus on, and it was almost always collecting and correcting errors, so she does a lot more of that now. She negotiates with them about where they want her help: with planning? With choosing materials? With presenting?


  • Trainees were much better able to reflect on the learners’ abilities if they had been involved in the lesson in some way.
  • It taught trainees how to adapt lessons to finish them on time, partly through doing some improvisation in lessons: they would only plan the first half, and base the second on what came up.
  • They could deal with more difficult language areas which would be challenging for the trainees to work on without support.
  • Trainees saw lots of techniques in action, which they were then able to incorporate in their own lessons.
  • They were much more aware of student language, and used the pro-formas Emma corrected to help them focus on particular areas.
  • This lead them to teaching and helping each other more within the group, without always relying on the tutor.
  • Emma could explain the rationale of activities more clearly before the lesson, and evaluate them more easily afterwards.
  • It can be tailored to the trainees’ emergent developmental needs.
  • You can help trainees to notice things on-line during the lesson.
  • Learners can offer feedback, and they generally don’t worry about having lots of different teachers when they can see they are working together.

A word of caution

Emma said it’s important to decide the boundaries of the team-teaching with trainees before you start. Will you intervene? How will you handle transitions? Be aware that it won’t suit some trainees. Careless (2006) says there must be pedagogical reasons to team teach, it must be logistically possible and it must be interpersonal, with everyone cooperating equally. Make sure you identify a clear developmental objective, and don’t just do it for the sake of it.

You can find Emma’s slides here, including videos of two Delta trainees talking about their experiences of being part of team-teaching. Her blog is Teacher Development Lab.

The LDT Toolkit (Damian Williams)

Damian spoke about ways to develop the language proficiency of teachers. I’ve written about this session in detail elsewhere.

Three more talks I attended

I’m feeling lazy now, so for the other three talks I went to, I’m going to give you a link to the storified version of my tweets. Sorry!

Developing language teachers’ professional reading and writing skills (Tatiana Ershova)

From CELTA to teaching teenagers – bridging the training gap (Mel Judge)

Bumpy ride or smooth transition? Moving from CELTA to EAP (Andrew Preshous)

Other sessions

I watched these two sessions after the conference, and thought you might find them interesting too.

ELTJ Signature Event: This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time

Graham Hall proposes the motion and Penny Ur opposes it.

Forum on encouraging teacher reflection

Three speakers spoke about teacher reflection on pre-service and in-service training courses:

  • Daniel Baines on why feedback on 120-hour initial training courses may need rethinking, and how to integrate reflection training in the first week of the course. Hopefully Daniel will be writing a guest post on the blog about this: watch this space!
  • Mike Chick on dialogic interaction and the mediation of pre-service teaching learning.
  • Teti Dragas (one of my CELTA tutors 🙂 ) on how in-house video training materials may help ‘reflective’ teacher development and help trainees to learn how to reflect more effectively, and on how to encourage them to watch more of the videos of their collaborative lessons with more focus.

I didn’t manage to attend Jo Gakonga’s session on alternative CELTA assignments, but she made a webinar version of it after the conference.

Interviews related to teacher training

Jim Scrivener interviewed about simplifying training

Should reflection be assessed? That’s the one key question which comes out of this interview, but I have to say a lot of the rest of the interview feels a bit wishy-washy to me. I agree that experiential learning is better than focussing on theory, and I think that what Jim is suggesting might work on a day-to-day basis for your own classroom through action research, but I’m not sure how it will work on a pre-service or further development course (like CELTA or Delta). Here are a couple of Twitter quotes from his talk:

Interview with Tessa Woodward about the 30-year history of the Teacher Trainer Journal, talking about how it has developed and grown over this period.

Tweets from other teacher training/CPD-related talks

These were talks I attended vicariously through other tweeters. I found these snippets of information interesting. Maybe you will too 🙂

Unfortunately nobody seemed to be tweeting from Pam Kaur Gibbon’s talk on the impact of technology on CELTA courses. I spoke to her as part of the her research and would have been interested to see the results, as I’ve written about it previously.





Catering for trainee diversity in CELTA courses (Olga Connolly)

This was a talk I particularly wanted to go to, but unfortunately it clashed with another one. Here are Angelos Bollos’ tweets from the talk:








Yay! As I finished writing this post, the session was added to the videos on IATEFL online, but I haven’t had time to watch it yet:

After the conference

A couple of days after the conference, Hugh Dellar wrote a post called CELTA, the native-speaker bias and possible paths forward questioning the future of the CELTA. It generated a lot of discussion in the comments and Anthony Gaughan responded on his blog: A critique of Hugh Dellar on CELTA. You might like to join in with the discussion on one of their blogs. It certainly makes for thought-provoking reading 🙂

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: We’re all teachers

The best plenary ever

Silvana Richardson spoke articulately and memorably about a huge issue in our field: discrimination against non-native speakers and the primacy of the native speaker. It was easily the best plenary I have seen at IATEFL, and I urge you to watch it yourself. Go on, I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve seen it (you have, haven’t you?), here are my thoughts. And if you haven’t seen it, read Lizzie Pinard’s summary of the plenary as it was happening. Then go and watch it to get the full effect. Have I told you you should watch this?

As Silvana said, why are we referring to over 80% of the teachers in our profession as a ‘non’? This implies that they are in some way inadequate or lacking, and leads to the continuation of the native speaker myth.

The words we say construct reality.

If we don’t think about what we are saying, and the impact of the words we are using, we are propagating the myth that ‘native speaker’ is better. This logic is faulty:

The native speaker is the best model. I am a native speaker. Therefore, I am the best model. The native speaker is the best teacher. I am a native speaker. Therefore I am the ideal teacher.

And in what way could this ever be considered correct?

The native speaker is the best model.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not the best model.

The native speaker is the ideal teacher.
I am not a native speaker.
Therefore I am not an ideal teacher.

What students really need is good teachers, and there are good and bad teachers from every language background, whether monolingual or multilingual. The language you are born speaking does not determine your ability to teach. They are two entirely different skill sets. As somebody said on Twitter:

We should not forget the ‘teaching’ part of ‘English teaching’. Linguistic competence should not be the only factor.

I agree completely that implying that native speakers are in someone superior, regardless of the teaching qualifications they possess, devalues our entire profession, and the hard work those of us who care about our jobs put into it. It is also damaging to the identities of those who suffer because of prejudices towards non-native speakers. The Johns of this world should not be allowed to teach without having to go out and get qualified:

The native speaker fallacy legacy: John. 'Jack of all trades and master of none'

And yes, I am fully aware that I may seem something of a hypocrite, as I started as a backpacking volunteer (though I knew I wanted to do the CELTA – which many might argue is not enough). I have friends who have used the luck of their native speaker identity to get jobs, although I am not aware of them having advertised themselves as such and I don’t know if they knew that this would have been a hell of a lot harder for somebody who was not born in one of the ‘inner circle’ three/four/six English-speaking countries.

Silvana included a lot of research findings in her plenary, the upshot of which is that there is inconclusive evidence as to whether students prefer ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ teachers. In fact, some students prefer non-natives, and some want a mixture of both. Very few seem to want natives only. (See Lizzie’s post or slides 31-42 of Silvana’s presentation (downloadable at the bottom of the page) for the full information about the findings) Slides 43 and 44 show the research referring to the perceived advantages and disadvantages of each type of teacher, although I would say that these are only at first, and many of these skills can be learnt through training. Having said that, I can never know what it is like to learn English as a second language, despite being an experienced language learner.

Ultimately, the ‘native speaker myth’ is just that, a myth. There is no research anywhere which conclusively proves that an L2 only classroom is better, or that students all prefer to be taught by ‘native speakers’, whatever they are.


What can we do?

[Copied from Lizzie Pinard’s summary]

“We need to find out more about this issue, become more aware. Write about equality for NESTS and NNEST.

Teachers: Join an advocacy campaign and show support. Write a statement supporting this campaign. Promote advocacy initiatives on social media. Start a discussion in your workplace to raise awareness. Do research, more is needed.

Teacher educators: review programmes in terms of the scope. What is the ultimate goal of these programmes? To develop well-rounded critical professionals or churning out skilled technicists who can produce monolingualism for export? Consider the content and methodology – is there critical exploration? Are they sufficiently inclusive? Sensitive to glocalisation? Using the students’ own language? What about bilingual identities? The elephant in the room is teacher’s own language proficiency – how can we help teachers develop this? [See the information about Damian William’s workshop below]

Workplace: Do you have an Equal Ops policy? Do you implement it? Are you proud of it? Do you challenge students’ expectations? Do you recruit based on merit?

Equal ops in work place

Teachers associations: Issue a statement against the discrimination of NNESTs. TESOL France writes to employers who write native speakerist ads to discourage them from that. Create alignment maps of professional qualifications of teachers of EFL at regional, national and international levels. Encourage members not to apply for positions where advertisement is discriminatory.”

The plenary has already generated a lot of follow-up in the week since it happened. Here are a few examples:

The future is in bilingual and plurilingual identities, not monolingual, whatever that ‘mono’ is. Silvana quoted Lo Bianco:

There are two disadvantages in global language arrangements: one of them is not knowing English; and the other is knowing only English.

I have already heard some people who would previously have referred to themselves as ‘non-natives’ change this to ‘bilingual’ 🙂

The future is in being proud of our identities, whatever they are, and never having to fake or hide them to get a job.

Here’s Silvana talking before the plenary about the main issues covered:

Thank you so much to Silvana Richardson for bringing this issue out into the spotlight. There were many of us with tears in our eyes at the end of this plenary, including me, and it got a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope that this is the beginning of the end, and that we will soon all be able to say ‘I’m an English teacher.’ without anyone asking us where we were born.

(Addendum: Later posts which have arisen directly from Silvana’s plenary are:

  • NEST privilege by Jennie Wright)

Other sessions directly related to this dichotomy

Unfortunately I missed some other sessions which added to the debate, but thankfully Lizzie Pinard has reported on them. I recommend checking out her summaries:

  • Tackling Native Speakerism (panel discussion with Marek Kiczkowiak, Burcu Akyol, Christopher Graham, Josh Round)
    Quote from Burcu Aykol: “It’s not about being NS or NNS, it’s about being qualified. Both have strengths and weaknesses, things found easier and more difficult. We need to free ourselves from our prejudices and stereotypes, leave aside prejudices to really talk about education.”
  • I’m a non-native English speaker teacher – hear me roar! (Dita Phillips)
    Dita is originally from the Czech Republic, and now works as a teacher and CELTA trainer in Oxford in the UK. This is her story.
  • The Q&A follow up to Silvana’s plenary
    A quote from the audience: “It’s not dispensing with the idea of NS-NNS, it’s actually being equal and that equality to be placed on the basis of qualification and competence which includes language competence. But language competence doesn’t mean native modelling.”

Marek Kiczkowiak is one of the founders of TEFL Equity Advocates. I’ve shared one of their posts before, but for some reason had never put their badge onto my blog. This has now been remedied.

TEFL Equity Advocates support badge

Click on the badge to go to the site

In this interview Marek and Burcu talk about some of the issues surrounding non-native teachers in ELT, and about the founding of TEFL Equity Advocates:

And finally, a couple of relevant tweet from Jack Richards’ talk:

The LDT Toolkit (Damian Williams)

One of the areas mentioned by Silvana and others as still holding some teachers back is their own language proficiency. Damian presented tips for help teachers to develop their English proficiency, and pointed out that there are very few books out there for this area, and it seems to be valued much lesson than developing other skills which are more directly related to teaching, like use of technology. For many teachers who have learnt English, their main use of it now is in the classroom, and they get little exposure to it with anyone other than their students.

He gave activities to incorporate raising linguistic awareness into methodology courses through guided discovery, and ways to highlight methodology within language courses aimed at teachers. Lizzie Pinard has a list of all of the activities in her summary of the session.

This is something I would like to develop at IH Bydgoszcz. It was an idea in the back of my head before, but now I would like to make it a priority and try to work out if we can offer something like this at the school next year.

The world’s language: using authentic non-native input in the classroom (Lewis Lansford)

Lewis is one of the authors of the new National Geographic Keynote series (of which I have contributed to the workbooks!) One of the things I particularly like about this series is that right the way from B1 up to C2 level, no distinction is made between L1 and L2 English speakers. The focus is on what they have to say, not which language they grew up speaking.

In his presentation, Lewis showed us clips from three TED talks:

The videos he shared include different stress patterns, ‘mistakes’ with grammar, and people who have ‘missed’ the target of native-like speech, but as he said, that is not the target they were aiming for. They are all successful communicators. Their accents are features, not hindrances, and they do not need to aim to lose them.

He spoke a little about English as Lingua Franca, and some of the features of this type of English. If you’d like to find out more, including ways of working with ELF in the classroom and other examples on L2 user models of English, I’d highly recommend the ELFpron blog.

Lewis highlighted the need to use international models of English to prepare our learners for the real world by training them in listening to authentic English from many different speakers. Unless they move to an English-speaking country, they are much much more likely to mostly speak to other L2 users than to L1 English users. They therefore need to hear other accents in the classroom to increase their awareness of cultural and linguistic differences in the way people use English, depending on their language background.

You can also read Robin Walker’s summary of the talk.

Can you hear me? Teacher perceptions of listening skills (Patricia Reynolds)

The fact that we need more exposure to different accents was echoed in a presentation by Dr. Patricia Reynolds. She showed us surprising findings from a research project she did which showed that many L2 users of English working as ESL teachers in the United States found it very difficult to assess the speaking proficiency of anyone from a different language background to their own. When she contacted the providers of a particular US English proficiency test, they said that anybody who had done the training could administer the test to the same standard, but this is not what she found in her research.

Non-natives score other non-natives’ spoken output more harshly than natives do.

This highlighted the fact that they (and, in fact, all of us!) need more exposure to a wide range of different accents in English before we can be expected to assess proficiency. This begs the question of how valid exam results are, and whether, for example, somebody who is unfamiliar with Arabic accents in English might grade more harshly than somebody who is used to them. It is also a question of increasing the confidence of her trainees so that they feel able to assess students from any language background fairly.

How many of you had coursework in your teacher training where you were required to listen to speakers with other accents?

This takes me back to my classroom at IH Newcastle, where I often had to ‘translate’ Arabic English to Spanish English to Chinese English etc, as students could not understand those from other L1 backgrounds, especially at lower levels.

It is an area which requires further investigation and awareness raising, particularly among the providers of standardised tests.

Last word

I really hope it won’t be long before the native/non-native issue is not an issue any more, but I know it will require work from everyone. If anybody would like to share their stories or write a blog post about their thoughts on this issue, I would be very happy to host them. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me through the comments.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Supporting students

This post brings together talks on a variety of topics which I have loosely grouped under the heading ‘supporting students’. It covers SEN (Special Educational Needs), dyslexia, students who find English scary, and other areas of inclusivity.

If this is an area that you’re interested in, you should consider joining IATEFL’s proposed new Special Interest Group (SIG) on Inclusive Practice and SEN. They need fifty people to sign up to be able to found the SIG.

Forum on special educational needs

Phil Dexter, Sharon Noseley and Sophie Farag presented in the forum on SEN. Phil gave a general overview of what SEN are, Sharon focussed on SEN in British universities (EAP – English for Academic Purposes) and Sophie suggested ways for teachers to adapt their lessons, not just to help students with SEN, but to help all students. You can watch the whole session here:

Impairments are not identities, but they can affect access.
– Phil Dexter

This makes me think of two recent podcasts I’ve listened to: Sign Language on Martha’s Vineyard from Stuff You Missed in History Class and Why I’m not just blind from BBC World Service’s The Why Factor – both podcasts I would highly recommend. The sign language episode talks about how it was normalised on Martha’s Vineyard, and everybody could use it regardless of whether they were deaf or not. The Why Factor talks about how blindness can come to define the identity of many people with little or no sight, and about society’s reactions to them.

Phil also showed us a clip from Rosie’s story My autism and me, where a girl with autism takes us into her world, and explains what makes her unique. 1 in every 100 children has some form of autism, but medical labelling can sometimes cause more problems than it solves since so many conditions co-occur or are on a spectrum.

Sharon has severely dyslexic family members, and has seen how dyslexia can affect their lives. She works with university students in the UK, and says that some of the problems her students have may be down to SEN, rather than cultural differences or a lack of English. For example, her son has trouble with telling the time and sequencing events, so how easily could he write an academic essay with correct cohesive devices?

Dyslexia can affect short-term memory and fine motor skills, and can therefore make note-taking in lectures very challenging. It can affect 1 in 5 learners. Some international students studying in the UK are not entitled to support as it comes out of the budget for home students.

English is a dyslexic language…[which]…actually causes more dyslexia than other languages.
– Schwartz (1999)

Sharon gave examples of three students she has worked with:

  • A student from Kuwait, diagnosed with dyslexia at 39 after comments from her English teacher. She was given a report in Kuwait, came to the UK, but it was noticed too late and she had to go home as she couldn’t cope with the pressure.
  • A Chinese student who was always late, handed in work late, and seemed to have no interest in the course. After Sharon spoke to her, it turned out she had trouble telling the time, was depressed because of the lack of support, and had no idea about SpLDs (Specific Learning Difficulties). She was diagnosed at Sharon’s university: “This report is my medicine and you are my nurse.”
  • A Cypriot student found out at 22 she is dyslexic, dyspraxic, and has ADD, after struggling to take the IELTS exam. She was supported through her MA and ended up passing with a merit, having created an app to help dyslexic children tell the time.

Sophie suggested using open-ended tasks in the classroom where possible, as there is no single, right answer, and students can work at their own speed. This benefits all students, not just those with SEN. It gives them the freedom to express themselves in the way that suits them best. Some examples of tasks might be journals, diaries, reflection or response tasks or making posters.

By using a dark font on a pale, non-white background, you can help your students to read slides more easily.

Activities can be differentiated in a variety of ways:

  • by outcome: let students choose whether to make a video, do a presentation or draw a comic strip in response to a prompt.
  • by resource: e.g. longer, more complex texts for higher-level students, for example through Newsela.
  • by task: having different activities for different students, or having a worksheet with tasks which get harder as students progress through it. Have extensions for students who finish first. If students want to work alone, let them, unless there is a key reason why they should work together.
    Listening/reading differentiation example: A writes notes/summary on blank paper; B has gapped summary; C has multiple-choice.
    Writing differentiation example: A has no support, B has guiding questions; C has outline/incomplete text to complete.

Some tools which might be useful:

  • Voicethread: learners can choose whether to respond by writing, recording an audio comment, or recording a video comment. They can also doodle while recording.
  • Quizlet: students can play the games which suit them. It is multi-sensory, you can print a list or cards with the vocabulary, and you can hear the words. [See my student guide to Quizlet]
  • Newsela: up-to-date news articles presented at five different reading levels. You can annotate articles, and many of them have a little quiz.
  • My Study Bar: a toolbar which can be downloaded onto a USB stick and used on any computer. Designed to help dyslexic students read and write more easily on computers.

Other tips that came out of the talks were to recycle more and revise more to help students build on their short-term memory, to use as many different ways of encountering the language as possible (see it, hear it, have a picture etc), and to consider what other ways tests can be administered in, as giving extra time often isn’t sufficient. One audience member suggested using stop-start-continue as a way of getting feedback from students on if/how they want you to change the lessons to suit them better.

Teaching English to students with SEN: Challenges and opportunities (Marie Delaney)

I bought Marie’s book Special Educational Needs – Into the Classroom [affiliate link] just before the talk (and reviewed it later), so I couldn’t miss seeing her in action 🙂 At first glance, it looks like a very practical book, broken into sections with tips for teachers about various different Special Educational Needs, including dyslexia and ADD.

Marie started off by telling us that many boys in the UK would prefer to be thought of as naughty than ‘labelled’ as having SEN. Behavioural difficulties isn’t just about being ‘naughty’ though – these students need more support. Every school should have a register of children with medical conditions of any kind, including epilepsy or allergies, not just SEN.

One of the main problems is that the definition of SEN is quite woolly:

Students have special educational needs if they have significantly greater difficulty [how much?] in learning than the majority of students of the same age and special educational provision [what?] has to be made for them.

Marie’s general message is that it is possible for anyone to support their students, and that we shouldn’t expect to just magically know how to do this. As with any skill, it is a question of exposure, experience, and asking for help when you need it. Remember to ask students and parents, as they probably have a lot more experience of dealing with the day-to-day realities of SEN than you do. They should be able to tell you something about what works for them. Here are some typical teacher concerns:

  • I am not qualified to teach these learners.
  • Other children’s learning will suffer if we include children with SEN.
  • Other parents/carers will complain.
  • It takes a lot of extra planning and different types of activities.
  • These children cannot become independent learners.

Most of the tips are about ‘good solid teaching strategies’ and will therefore benefit all of our learners.

  • You might be able to get away with poor instructions with many students, but a student with problems with their short-term memory will need you to give instructions in the order you want them performed, and one at a time so that they don’t forget them.
  • Focus on what they are good at too, not just what they can’t do.
  • To counter parents’ concerns (while still acknowledging them), remind them that there are benefits to inclusion: their children will learn empathy and will get a broader, more diverse view of the world. Research shows that children benefit from this.
  • When talking to parents, focus on the fact that you want to help all of the students to learn as much as possible, rather than focussing on the SEN.
  • Think about how you react if a child says ‘He’s your favourite.’ Children do understand who needs help: ‘I don’t know why you’re upset. I know you’re a kind person and you know that everybody needs more help sometimes.’
  • If you’re planning for hours for something you’ll only use for a few minutes, think again about your planning! [Also generally true of many first-year teachers!]
  • Measure progress, not attainment. Be encouraging and supportive, and don’t focus on marks. Don’t focus too much on behaviour either, as some children may then become disengaged from learning. (Marie told a story of a boy who was proud because he’d sat still throughout a lesson, but when questioned had no idea what subject it was!)
  • Don’t speak to the teaching assistant or talk down to the child. Speak to them in the same way you would any other member of the group.
  • Get students with anxiety to tell you about the feelings they are having. It’s OK to be anxious.
  • Use Find Someone Who… or finish the story type tasks to develop empathy between all of the students.
  • Ask students to show fingers based on how fit they are for learning: 10 is excellent, 1 is I’m not listening [Or ‘give me the prosecco’ in this case! We got an average of five, in the last session of day 3 of the conference!]
  • Edit the language you use. Rather than ‘You’re not listening. Listen.’ which can lead to a defensive response, try ‘I need you to listen.’
  • Separate your description of the behaviour from what you think it means.
  • Get students to share the thought processes behind how they do activities. ‘You’re good at pelmanism/pairs. How do you remember which card it is?’
  • Acknowledge behaviour: ‘I understand you think it is unfair, but I still need you to do it.’
  • Give ‘naughty’ children a job straight away. They are more likely to fight to keep a job than to try to behave in the way you request in order to be rewarded with it.
  • Some children with ADD are hyper-alert and always on the lookout for danger. Ask them where they NEED to sit, e.g. by the door for easy escape, or at the back so they can see everything.

Marie left us with the point that a lot of our approaches imply that the child should change, but what about school systems? If somebody’s wearing glasses, you wouldn’t assume that you know how to help them, so why do we do it if somebody with autism is in our class? Labels mean we might assume that all of our learners are the same. This is not true at all.

We cannot solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking which created them.
– Einstein

Marie’s blog has a lot more information and links to her other books.


I didn’t attend Jon Hird‘s talk on helping students with dyslexia at IATEFL, as I went to it at the DoS conference. I found it incredibly useful, and would recommend looking at his tips for adapting and creating materials.

How to help students who find English scary (Ken Wilson)

Ken started by saying that the problem with good and bad teaching is that we often know what not to do, but it’s not always easy to say what we should do instead. He also pointed out that none of us in the room were scary, because scary teachers don’t go to conferences 🙂

Question 1: Are they scared, or are they just bored?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell! Students get bored when they sit for too long, when the teacher talks too much, when it’s all talk and no action, when things are too complicated or too easy for them, when they can’t relate to the material, when they’re tired, when the lesson is boring… They might also be suffering from tech withdrawal, so try to include at least one activity where they can use their technology! (Sandy: Kahoot is great for this)

Ken asked his facebook friends what they used to dread about going to class. Here are some of the themes from the answers:

  • The teacher shaming the students
  • The teacher telling them off
  • Reading aloud in front of the class

So, things not to do:

  • DON’T single out a student for criticism.
  • DON’T reprimand students who are already having problems.
  • DON’T grimace!
  • DON’T ask students to do something that you haven’t trained them to do.
  • DON’T ask students to read aloud.

But that’s a lot of ‘don’ts’, so what should we do? Ken has five tips:

  1. Don’t teach grammar!
    Or at least, don’t introduce it as such. ‘Today we’re going to do the present perfect.’
    Instead, teach the language in chunks wherever you can. Have a conversation, tell a story, draw a cartoon, use a diagram, do a role play. Introduce it in context first, and make it fun whenever you can. And most importantly: don’t look like you’ve had an electric shock when you have to correct grammar 🙂

    Shocked man

    Image from (free use)

  2. Devolve responsibility
    In a class of 25-30, how long is it before you know which students respond best to your teaching method? Pick the ten ‘best’ students in class, ask them to see you after the lesson, then get them to help you support the ‘weaker’ students. ‘When I say get into groups, I want you all to work in different groups, not together. I need you to help me to help everyone.’
    Work with group dynamics and build confidence to help them get to know each other. What makes us different? Get all students to stand up, share statements about yourself (the teacher) and ask them to sit down if the statement is not true. By the end you should find out who is most similar to you 🙂 They can repeat this in groups.
  3. Find out what they already know
    Use this to help you personalise the experience of using coursebooks. At the beginning of the year/book, give students a list of some of the topics in the book, e.g. moon landings, sharks, fashion. Get them to write one fact each on post-it notes, then give them to another student. Don’t read them yourself! Student’s read each others notes, then stick them into their coursebook on the relevant page. When you get to that unit, ask them to tell you what they know about X as a warmer.
  4. Flip the lesson.
    Do the homework before the lesson rather than afterwards to increase their confidence. Anticipate the following lesson. For example, give them the name of a person you will read about. Showing them a picture and ask them to make predictions. Tell them to find another picture of that person at home and send it to the teacher. This will raise their interest.
  5. Mystery tip! Unfortunately Ken ran out of time! Hopefully he’ll share it in the comments for this post 😉

Tweets from other talks

Throughout the conference, I retweet anything which I think is interesting from other tweeters. These tweets are all related to supporting students in some way.

Other areas

Inclusivity was also visible in a few other areas at this conference, from a higher prominence of LGBT issues, to talks on adapting lessons for visually impaired learners and adapting exams for deaf/blind students. [See also my posts about teaching a visually impaired student and my links on integrating every student.]

To finish, here is Thorsten Merse talking about a training course in acknowledging sexual and gender diversity in their work.

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Video selections

Here is a selection of some of the videos from the IATEFL online coverage which you might like to watch. (All videos will be embedded when I work out which code to use!)


I attended both of these plenaries, but they didn’t really fit into any of my other posts, so I’ll put them here.

David Crystal kicked off the conference by talking about language change. There are also summaries and responses to the talk by Lizzie Pinard and Sue Swift, as well as an infographic of the main areas covered created by Maria Galanopoulou.

Scott Thornbury spoke about the history of ELT and made predictions about the future of the profession. Again, you can read summaries by others: Lizzie Pinard, Michael Griffin, Geoff Jordan, Aisha and Sue Swift.

Jan Blake closed off the conference in excellent style, with two stories showing the art of adult storytelling to full effect:

Volunteering and projects

Julie Pratten is doing admirable work with her Heart ELT initiative, a school for Syrian refugees in Iraq. There is a book of crowdsourced classroom activities which you can buy to help support the project. Here is Julie’s interview with Nik Peachey from the conference.

I learnt about Nick Bilbrough’s Hands Up project during Scott Thornbury’s closing plenary.

The hands up project teaches English through online storytelling and other remote learning activities. We work with children in circumstances that may be challenging because of social, political or economic reasons.

Our current projects include groups of children from UNRWA schools in Gaza and the West Bank, Syrian children in refugee camps in Jordan, and an NGO in Pakistan.

From the ‘About me’ page on his website

Nick is working full-time on a completely voluntary basis (and looking for a funding provider, if you can help!) He has a blog full of video clips from his lessons and also shares resources with teachers. Listen to him talk about the project here:

Judy Boyle talks about the No Project, which aims to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery:

Continuous professional development

Paul Braddock of Teaching English British Council spoke to four of the TeachingEnglish Associates about continuous professional development.

Lizzie Pinard and Kieran Donaghy on metacognition and using video in the classroom:

Me and Chia Suan Chong on time management and why native speakers need to improve their communicative competence (and being upstaged by Natalie) 🙂 :

Other videos

I was also recorded for various other things during the conference.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus recorded Bruno Leys and I talking about British food and what we think of France and the French. (pending)

Hanna Zieba interviewed me about the IATEFL conference and about CELTA courses, on behalf of Lang LTC in Warsaw, where I’m currently tutoring on a part-time CELTA.

Neil from Teaching English asked me to offer short tips for students and teachers on the a subject. I chose speaking, and got in a cheeky plug for my ebook too 🙂 (pending)

Richer Speaking cover

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: MaWSIG pre-conference event

This year’s MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) pre-conference event was based around comparing print and digital publishing.

Lizzie Pinard documented the whole thing in four parts on her blog, so I’m going to cheat and give you links to them instead of writing my own summaries. I can’t really add anything she hasn’t already said! 🙂

Links on ‘parts’ will take you to Lizzie’s blog, links on names will take you to blogs or profiles of the speakers.

Puffin poo: white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut

If you’re interested in the interface of print and digital, you might also like to watch the recording of this presentation by Laura Patsko and Rolf Tynan, based on research done at Cambridge University Press into the use of face2face ebooks at the Embassy English school in Cambridge.

Thanks to MaWSIG for organising another fascinating pre-conference event. Looking forward to next year already!

Addendum: a few things from the rest of the conference

Lizzie went to the MaWSIG Open Forum during the main conference and reported back on it, as well as Here’s one I made earlier – designing effective classroom materials by Katherine Bilsborough and Sue Lyon-Jones.

Here are some slightly random tweets from talks I didn’t attend, but which are all related to materials writing:

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Corpora

corpus (pl. corpora)
a collection of written or spoken material stored on a computer and used to find out how language is used
From the Cambridge English Dictionary online

I’ve been interested in corpora for a while now, but never seem to have time to go beyond my very basic understanding of how the Brigham Young University corpus interface works. I’ve always used it for the BNC (British National Corpus), which covers 1980-1993, but discovered a few seconds ago (!) that COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) is constantly updated, so I think I’ll be switching to that from now on!

All I knew before was how to do a basic search for a term and how to look for collocates, possible with a verb or noun near the key word if I was feeling very adventurous. Thanks to three talks I attended on different versions of corpora during the conference, I now feel like I know much more! 🙂


Jennie Wright did a very practical session introducing us to the basic functions of COCA, with three activities you can take straight into the classroom. Mura Nava, the master of corpora, helpfully collected my tweets from the session (and added notes to make it clearer – thanks!) which show all three activities, and Jennie has shared the list of corpora resources on her blog. She particularly recommended COCA Bites, a series of very short YouTube videos designed to introduce you to the corpus.

One thing I particularly like about COCA is the fact that parts of speech are highlighted in different colours. Here’s an example of a KWIC search for ‘conference’, giving concordance lines with the key word in a single column (a function Jennie taught me!)

COCA 'conference' search


James Thomas taught us how to answer language questions from corpora, focussing on the SKELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) concordancer (thanks for correcting that James!). I didn’t realise that SKELL was created by the people at Masaryk University, in (one of) my second home(s) Brno 🙂 Again, Mura collected the tweets, this time by me, Leo Selivan (another corpus master) and Dan Ruelle.

What makes SKELL different to many corpora is that it uses algorithms to select 40 sentences from however many the search finds, getting rid of as many as possible with obscure words or which are overly long to make it easier for learners to use. This works well for common words, but not always for slightly more obscure words, like ‘mansplain‘ (possibly the word of the conference, thanks to David Crystal’s opening plenary!) You can also use the ‘word sketch’ function on the corpus to show you lots of collocates, a function I think I will now use instead of a collocations dictionary! Michael Houston Brown has a very clear introduction to SKELL on Mura’s eflnotes blog.

One slight problem, as with all corpora, is that it cannot distinguish between different senses of the same word, which may confuse learners. In this example, conference is listed both in the sense of the IATEFL conference, and as a sporting league. This could also be seen in the COCA image above, but I think it is easier to spot here.

SKELL 'conference' search

If you’d like to find out more, James has recently written an article for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.

Making your own corpus

Chad Langford and Joshua Albair are clearly die-hard corpus fans. They trawled through over one million words from over 8,000 TripAdvisor restaurant reviews to create their own corpus of review language. The findings were very interesting and showed up some clear features of the genre, but I’m not sure how practical it would be for most teachers to do this kind of project as anything other than a hobby. They’re based at Lille University, but they didn’t say how much of their time was dedicated to this project versus teaching, or how many groups they used it with, so it was difficult to work out the return on their investment of time. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see how you go about building a corpus. Again, thanks to Mura for collating my tweets with more information in them.


Mura also collated tweets for one more corpus-related talk at IATEFL, based on the English Grammar Profile. Cambridge have recorded all of their talks from the conference, including this one, so you can watch it at your leisure. He has a free ebook with examples of the BYU-COCA corpus interface.

There are interviews with some of the presenters of corpus talks at this year’s IATEFL, including James, Chad and Josh, on Mura’s blog. This list of talks shows everything connected to corpora from this year’s conference.

Taking back time: How to do everything you want to (IATEFL Birmingham 2016)

Title slide

At the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 conference my presentation was designed to answer a question I’m asked all the time:

How do you find the time to do everything you do?

At the risk of bragging, here are some of the reasons why I’m asked that question. I’m:

Richer Speaking cover

You’ll probably notice that some things aren’t on that list. I don’t have a partner or a family, which obviously frees up a lot of time for other things. I often joke that the reason I can manage to do so many things is that I have no life, but that’s not strictly true. While a lot of my life does revolve around this career which I love, I also recognise the importance of a work-life balance and endeavour to maintain this. I’ve therefore adopted many strategies to organise my time, which I shared in my presentation at IATEFL. Here is a recording of it which was made by Hanna Zieba for me (thanks Hanna!):

This handout summarises all of the strategies and you can download it via Slideshare.

Alternatively, read on for a fuller account of the strategies and why I use them.

Time turner from Harry Potter

The device in the picture is a Time Turner, used by Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter films to give herself five extra hours a day. It may feel like we need something similar!

Pictures of wall planner, weekly planner and diaries

Tip number one: Outsource your memory. What I mean by this is that you should write down everything you need to remember as soon as possible. I do this in a variety of places. At work we have an annual year-to-view wall planner with post-it notes which can be moved around if things change. Just before the school year starts we copy over the main events from the previous year. It’s on the wall in my office for teachers to see at any time. Also at work I have a weekly planner, which I will describe in more detail later.

The most organised I have ever been at home was last year. I was given two diaries for Christmas, and decided to use one as a normal dates/appointments diary, for example with flight times, and the other as a to-do list diary. Whenever I thought of something I needed to do I would put it in my diary on or just before the appropriate date, meaning I could then forget about things until I needed to do them. I used to use scraps of paper and discovered this system was much more efficient, so much so that I bought a to-do list diary for work too!

Photo of weekly planner

Tip number two: Refresh every week. I have a weekly planner at work which I write out every Friday before I leave, or on a Monday as soon as I get in. I find it much more motivating than having a single ever-expanding list.

Another benefit is that you can see the shape of your whole week in one place at a glance. If you use a diary or annual planner too, don’t forget to copy things over each week, as well as transferring anything you didn’t finish the previous week. If you copy something more than three times, you either need to stop procrastinating and prioritise it, or drop it from your list because it’s probably not that important. If you drop it, you could put it in your diary for a quieter period of the year, if that’s ever likely to happen for you!

I have just finished this notebook and now have an A4 sheet I print off which already has recurring events and tasks typed onto it.

Weekly planner showing gaps, plus a quote from a teacher using the weekly system: "It's proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of 'I have so much to do!'"

Tip number three: Leave Gaps. If you have any kind of daily to-do list, whether it be in a weekly planner like the one above or a diary, make sure you leave gaps to add extra things as they come up. They always will.

Another tip is to use small boxes on your planner as it is then harder to overfill them. It helps you to be more realistic about what you can achieve in a given time. I divide my planner into morning and afternoon, highlighting appointments and classes in blue, and highlighting anything which needs to be done urgently in yellow. This makes it faster for me to see when I’m available when people ask “Can you…?”

It took me a while to work out what I can realistically achieve in a morning or afternoon. This has improved with practice, but I still get it very wrong sometimes!

One of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz started to use this system a few weeks ago and said:

It’s proven invaluable in helping me organise my hours a bit more effectively, and reduces the stress of ‘I have too much to do!’

Despite us both being quite techy people, we prefer to do all of this the old-fashioned way. There’s nothing quite like crossing things off a big piece of paper!

Achievements - showing a weekly planner at the end of a week, and notes made on my calendar

Tip number four: Notice your Achievements. By noticing what you’ve achieved each week, you will hopefully feel less like you’re drowning under the weight of things you ‘need’ to do. I always take a second to admire my weekly planner at the end of the week, and to notice how little needs to be transferred to next week’s plan, even though I know that in seven days my ‘new’ one will look pretty similar!

At home, I make a note of what I’ve done each day on my calendar. I hate seeing crosses on there, and since the beginning of February I’ve put a tick if I’ve managed to do everything – more on exactly what those things are later. I’ve noticed that I’ve completed all six things I want to do much more often since using ticks. This makes me feel a real sense of achievement. 🙂

Two large tasks you might want to break down: observing 19 teachers are your school and marking 30 300-word essays

Tip number five: Not a huge thing. If a task is huge, you’re much more likely to find reasons to procrastinate and avoid starting it. By breaking them down, you can work out how to fit it into your busy timetable, and you will probably find it more manageable. Here are examples of two huge tasks with possible ways that they could be broken down or the workload could be spread. Consider delegating if you’re a manager, but make sure you don’t overload your staff too much. By breaking large tasks into smaller chunks, it’s also easier to find ways to fit them into the gaps mentioned before.

I am important too: flamenco dancer images and '50 ways to take a break' poster

Tip number six: I am important too. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. If you can choose your working hours, aim to keep them as regular as possible (for me it’s 09:30 to about 18:30) and make sure that there are times when you are not available, with your phone switched off if possible. For example, Thursday evenings are my flamenco classes, so I try to avoid scheduling things for that time and staff know that. Make these times sacred so you have time to recharge your batteries.

I have a programme called TimeOut (Mac – I don’t know the Windows equivalent) to remind me to take little breaks to stand up and stretch from the computer. I try to go outside as much as possible, for example, by taking my laptop outside if I really need to complete a project and it’s warm enough, walking to work and paying conscious attention to the parks and people I see. Having the ’50 ways to take a break’ poster on my desktop helps me to think of different things to do, or I can just do a bit of housework, like the washing up. I can also work towards the personal goals I have each day, as described below.

I also try to factor in time for spending time with family and friends, having times in my diary with nothing specific scheduled so I can do what I feel like that day (though these are rare!) and having a holiday to look forward to whenever I can.

Pictures representing the six personal goals I have

Tip number seven: Start small. Don’t try and add every new habit you want to do at the same time, especially in your personal life. Add one new thing, make it a habit, then add the next thing if you can manage it. Too many things at once will probably overwhelm you, and you’ll end up not doing anything.

I started by using a pedometer to aim for 10,000 steps a day because I realised I wasn’t doing enough exercise – at one point during Delta I was doing as little as 1,500 steps a day. When this worked, I realised I was more likely to do my physio exercises if I wrote it down every day. When I was frustrated with my language learning, I started to add Russian practice, and saw a massive increase in my progress. I follow a lot of blogs and started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of blogposts in my reader, so I broke it down and aimed to read three to five posts each day. Now I rarely feel overwhelmed, and blitz it whenever I can. Despite being an ELTpics curator, I wasn’t uploading many ELTpics, so I added that. The final thing I put on there was cross stitch when I had projects to complete. Uploading just one ELTpic or doing just one strand a day of cross stitch is enough to get me my tick, and more is a bonus. I’d really like to learn to play the recorder that’s been sitting on my shelf for about two years now, but I think that’s one habit too many so I haven’t added that. I’m aiming for a sense of achievement, not depression!

A frog kneeling down and holding a bunch of flowers

Tip number eight: Experiment. These are my techniques, but they might not work for you. Keep trying different things until you find something which does. As Nick Tims said at the IATEFL MaWSIG pre-conference event last year, you may have to kiss a few frogs. These techniques have taken me at least five years of development. I started with scraps of paper with to-do lists on them, and these tips are the evolution of that.

ORGANISE stands for Outsource your memory, Refresh every week, Gaps, Achievements, Not a big thing, I am important too, Start small, Experiment

In summary, if you ORGANISE your time using some or all of the eight techniques listed above, you will hopefully be much less likely to need a time turner! I hope you find these techniques useful, and if you have any others, why not share them in the comments below?

Finally, thank you to LAM SIG (Leadership and Management Special Interest Group), who chose to feature my presentation as part of their day.

Sandy doing her time management presentation

Photo by Monika Izbaner/Hanna Zieba

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