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

Posts tagged ‘IATEFL’

IATEFL 2018: Our developing profession

This blog post collects together a few ideas that look at how English as a Foreign Language has changed as a profession over the years, for better and worse.

Barry O’Sullivan’s closing plenary looked at the history of the testing industry. I found the overview fascinating, not having realised quite how recently testing became such big business, or the incremental changes that have gone into shaping it. You can watch the full plenary here.

I felt independent publishers were much more prominent at this IATEFL conference than in previous years, with their stand right in the centre of the exhibition. The stand featured EFL Talks, Alphabet Publishing, Wayzgoose Press (run by Dorothy Zemach – see below), PronPack, The No Project, Transform ELT, and I was able to advertise ELT Playbook 1 there too. (Apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone!)

ELT Playbook 1 cover

My main presentation was introducing ELT Playbook 1, which I self-published. I was pleased to be able to talk to so many people about it and get feedback on my idea throughout the conference. If you have missed my advertising it all over this blog 🙂 and don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s an ebook designed for new teachers, supporting them with questions to aid reflection, along with suggestions of ways to record their reflections, and option to join in with an online community and get support from others. It’s also suitable for trainers or managers who would like help with supporting their teachers. I’m aiming for it to be the first in a series, so watch this space for later entries. You can find out more information, including how to buy it, on the ELT Playbook blog. Mike Harrison and Shay Coyne both attended and sketchnoted the talk – thank you!

As well as books you pay for, like mine :), there were also a range of free titles advertised, all designed to advance our profession. These included:

The visibility and importance of independent publishers was helped by Dorothy Zemach’s plenary, ‘Sausage and the law: how textbooks are made’. It was one of the highlights of the conference for me. You can see responses by Helen Legge in this tweet:

and by Steve Brown in this blogpost. Emma-Louise Pratt, the conference artist, responded to the talk visually during the conference, which I thought was an interesting addition to the event this year.

You can watch the full plenary yourself here, as well as watching Dorothy talking after the plenary here:

Here’s my summary (though you should watch the talk yourself!):

Students’ books used to be the component of coursebooks which made all the money, with teachers’ books given away for free. They were basically just an answer key. Now publishers still try to make money on the students’ books, but there are a huge range of other possible components. There is also more copying and piracy of components, as well as old editions being used for longer and teacher-made materials replacing the books.

The combination of these factors mean that profits fall, so the price of books has risen, making them harder to afford, meaning there is even more copying, and so on. This, in turn, means that there is less money to pay the writers, especially as publishers have moved from a royalty system to a fee system, so authors find it harder to make a living. They also are less likely to care as much about the project, become reluctant to market the book, and quit, or they just don’t propose the innovative ideas they might have in the past.

The knock-on effect of all that is that experienced writers leave the profession, and less experienced writers fill the gap as they cost publishers less money. There are also more non-educators in other parts of the publishing process, meaning that the quality of projects drops. The whole process involves more work for everyone, as these writers need more support. Writers are also far more likely to be doing this work in addition to another job. Dorothy included a quote from Michael Swan summarizing the problem with writing on the side, rather than full-time:

To expect the average working teacher, however gifted, to write a viable general language course is like expecting the first violinist to compose the whole of the orchestra’s repertoire in his or her evenings off.

Dorothy also talked about the amount of money an author might (not) make from a book put together by a publisher versus a self-published book. She mentioned that digital was blamed for the drop in revenue from books, but as she said, if digital is losing you money, you’re doing it wrong! Technology should be making things easier and cheaper, not harder and more inaccessible.

In a nutshell, Dorothy’s plenary explained exactly why I decided to self-publish ELT Playbook 1: my ideas, my control, my timescales, my responsibility, my money.

So what can we do? Evaluate materials critically, compare and contrast them, keeping your learners’ needs in mind. Give feedback to publishers, push them when they don’t want to include particular things, up to and including the name(s) of the author(s) on the cover. If you love a book, tell publisher what they’re doing right. Pay attention to the content, trust authors to defend the pedagogy of their work, and remember that nobody wants to put together a bad product, because it just won’t make money. Most importantly

PAY FOR YOUR STUFF.

If you can’t afford something, don’t copy it or download it illegally, choose something else. The more often you refuse to pay, the more expensive things are likely to become. Piracy is not a victimless crime. If we don’t pay, people can’t earn a living, and we all suffer.

As Dorothy said, good writing is hard. It shouldn’t be us and them. It should be us, all together in education.

Amen.

Behind the scenes

in response to Sandy Millin:

A fascinating post, and I completely agree with Svetlana. Your blog is truly inspiring! Here’s to the next few hundred posts 🙂

Thank you Sandy. Let’s see if I can make it to two hundred first! Will you join #ELTbehindthescenes and share with us what goes into making your blog?

How could I refuse? Thanks for the invitation T!

Last week I put together a series of posts about the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 conference. It’s something I’ve started to do every year, and every year I forget just how long it takes 😉

While I’m at the conference I tweet throughout any and all of the talks that I go to, providing I can connect to the wifi. This is for two reasons:

  1. As notes to download later ready to put together my posts
  2. To help other people feel like part of the conference: I started out on the receiving end of the tweet stream, and I know how lucky I am to be there.

Here are some fascinating graphs from TweetStats that show you when I’m at conferences 🙂

Graph showing tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day April 2017

Guess when the conference was

If the wifi’s not working, then I use the iPad Notes app, but still write as if I’m tweeting.

I’ve been tweeting throughout conferences for six years now, and it feels fairly automatic. I’m also pretty quick now 🙂 I can take most of it in, but obviously I don’t always notice everything, so that’s where it’s handy when other people are tweeting from the same talk. I also look at the conference hashtag regularly to retweet things from other talks that I’m interested in.

After the conference, I look back at the list of talks I went to using my paper daily planners, and categorise them, so for example this year I had Listening and Pronunciation, Teacher Training, Materials Writing… It’s the first time I spot what the main themes of my conference were. I set up a draft post for each theme, plus ones for Miscellaneous, Things I Missed, and a summary to bring all the posts together.

I use Tweetdownload to get a .txt and a .html file of my tweets. I start with the .txt file open from the beginning of the conference/the bottom of the stream, deleting tweets as I put them into the relevant blogposts. If I want to embed a tweet or follow a link, I use CMD+F to find it on the .html file. Clicking the tweet in the Tweetdownload file automatically opens the original on Twitter. This is when the learning happens, as I have to organise my thoughts into something coherent and logical. It’s also when I go down a lot of rabbit holes, following up on things that I didn’t have time to investigate during the conference itself.

Normally I only have a handful of tabs open in my browser, but when I’m writing up the IATEFL posts, it’s a bit different:

My desktop as I prepare my post-IATEFL blogposts

The top right window has all of my posts. Bottom right is the Tweetdownload .html file, and a tweet I’m getting ready to embed. Bottom left is the .txt file to delete things as I write them. Top right has everything else, like the British Council IATEFL links for me to find videos, Amazon if I want to put in affiliate links (the only way I make any money from this), and various other things that I can’t remember now.

Because there were so many tabs open, I didn’t switch my computer off overnight, something I normally do religiously. It would have been too much faff to open them all again! This time round, it took me about five hours on Monday, and thirteen or fourteen on Tuesday to write everything up. It must always take me that long, but I’ve never really noticed it before!

I think in the past I’ve done one theme at a time and looked for the tweets for the relevant talk, so I’ve published the posts as I go along. This year I published them all simultaneously, apart from the last one, so that I could put the live links onto the summary straight away.

So there you have it: that’s how I turn just under 1000 tweets into 8 blog posts. 🙂

If you blog, I’d be fascinated to hear something about how you go about it. Let’s find out more about #ELTbehindthescenes

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Teacher training

As a CELTA trainer and Director of Studies at a school which mostly hires newly-qualified teachers, it’s now inevitable that at least some of the IATEFL Glasgow 2017 sessions I attended were connected to teacher training.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

Here are my session summaries, along with some tweets at the bottom from sessions I didn’t attend.

Applying differentiation in teacher training (Alastair Douglas)

Alastair says that training teachers is just another form of teaching, and I agree! So we need to differentiate training too. I’m not sure why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, or at least, it had in passing, but I’d never really though about how to put it into practice. When training teachers, we’re giving them a model of how to teach.

Just as your language students look to you to provide ‘correct’ models of English, so too will your trainee teachers be looking for good models of teaching in the way you carry out training.
A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training [affiliate link] by John Hughes

For example, on a CELTA course in Vietnam, they differentiated language awareness sessions for natives/non-natives. With native speakers, they focussed on grammar, and with non-natives, they focussed on lexis (e.g. collocations, ‘natural’ language). Alastair Douglas and his colleague wrote this up in Modern English Teacher 24/3. Non-natives could also help native speakers with their language awareness.

On another course, they were working with both primary and secondary school teachers on different ways of presenting language. Here’s an example of a session plan by Jacqueline Douglas:

A final way of differentiating training which Alastair is still experimenting with is the option of using more detailed lesson plans for final lessons on initial teacher training courses, with a more in-depth focus on learner profiles, stage aims and the rationale for them. This allows stronger candidates to really show off what they know about their students and what they can do in the lesson, and balances the extra attention that weaker candidates tend to get at the end of such courses. This idea was inspired by Chris Ozóg.

Other ideas were:

  • workstations
  • tasks with different levels of scaffolding
  • varying the number of questions to answer
  • different activities in different rooms
  • different guided discovery tasks
  • jigsaw tasks
  • get trainees to decide which materials to use (hard/normal)
  • give trainees the option to prepare more before sessions, e.g. through preparatory questions

There are some problems with differentiation:

  • for trainees:
    • overreach, where trainees try to do something harder than they can manage
    • loss of face (hence grading tasks as hard/normal, not hard/easy)
  • for trainers:
    • more time needed for material preparation
    • difficulties with managing feedback (can be through worksheets, sharing in an information gap)
  • for courses:
    • if there’s a set syllabus (but can work within it)
    • assessment – making sure it applies to everyone

Alastair also found that differentiation wasn’t always necessary if techniques were equally new to all trainees. On a course with more and less experienced teachers where they were analysing lexis, he gave more experienced teachers a longer list of items to analyse. Because the techniques were new, it actually took both groups a similar amount of time to analyse the items. A similar thing happened in a CELTA session on using authentic materials, where he divided teachers into natives and non-natives, expecting non-natives to find it easier to identify language areas to focus on. Again, since the techniques were new to all trainees, differentiation wasn’t necessary.

To differentiate effectively, know your trainees, and you can tailor the courses to what is necessary. The more you can find out about the background of trainees, the better. Be explicit about what you’re doing so they can learn more about how to differentiate in their own teaching too.

This tweet was from a talk about mixed-ability teaching, but is relevant here too:

Analysing and reframing written feedback (Kateryna Protsenko)

The word ‘feedback’ only came into existence with the invention of microphones, and originally meant ‘awful noise’. Touching a hot kettle is an example of negative feedback, because you stop doing it. In positive feedback, action A gets bigger, e.g. in a herd as panic spreads, or when a fire alarm sounds, but it can turn negative if people end up doing something too much.

Trainees say written feedback is what they benefit from the most, but how much do we really think about what we write on it?

The biggest problem she found was that ‘good’ was the word she used most. This doesn’t help trainees to develop at all, and nor does it promote a growth mindset, something Kate had originally learnt about at IATEFL 2016 and on her MA at NILE.

Doing the same kind of analysis on weaker lessons using WordItOut showed she was giving much more useful feedback.

She also did a similar analysis with a colleague’s feedback:

Until they used the word clouds, they didn’t realise what dominated their feedback. As a result of these discoveries, Kate and her colleagues put together a word cloud of suggested words to use in their feedback:

Find out more:

Without putting my feedback through WordItOut (yet!) I’m pretty sure that my feedback will reflect similar patterns to Kate’s. I’m going to save her suggested words and have it open next time I’m writing feedback – hopefully what I write will be a lot more useful to the teacher, regardless of how strong or weak the lesson was!

Dare to share! Should trainees share their TP feedback? (Rebecca Brown)

Asking trainees the kind/format of feedback they want seems like a great idea! Why don’t I do this?!

One trainee said ‘The more feedback, the more you can improve’. Trainees said they often reread feedback more than twice. Oral and written feedback were considered equally important, but trainer feedback was considered more important than peer feedback.

Sharing feedback is something I’ve suggested with TP groups who have gelled well, and some groups do it without prompting. I often ask candidates if they mind me sharing aspects of their plan, materials, or feedback with other trainees during oral feedback, telling them exactly what and why I want to share it – nobody has yet said no, and some trainees have told me how much it has helped to see exactly what it is they should be aiming for. I’ve never done a survey of this kind though, probably because I’ve always been a ‘guest’ tutor – maybe one day if/when I regularly work for the same centre, I’ll experiment more in this way!

Getting teachers to act on teaching practice feedback (Tracy Yu)

Tracy did a survey with her trainees and found that over 70% of her trainees spent less than one hour reading their written feedback throughout the whole course. She wondered how to get them to apply the feedback more to future TPs. She also asked them what they would like to do if they could have an extra 30 minutes with their tutors: the main answer was to get 30 minutes of feedback and advice on their lesson plan before they taught, including reminders before the next lesson of what was discussed after the previous lesson.

Since then she has started to do the following:

  • Use Review – Reproduce – Retain to counter the effects of the Curve of Forgetting. Trainees review what they have learnt from feedback, and reproduce it in a different form (I think), helping them to remember their feedback better.

She also reminded us to ABD: Always Be Demonstrating! Don’t just preach to the trainees, show them how you want them to teach and how to respond to feedback.

Tracy says that we should be doing less feeding back and more feeding forwards, leading to the next TP, rather than looking back. A lot of training centres don’t give feedback on the plan before the TP, even though tutors think it would help. Time is an issue though.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a tutor is trainees who seem to have the same issues over a number of TPs, and who don’t seem to be reading their feedback at all, since it normally contains suggestions for how they can counter these problems! I like the idea of feeding forward, but I’m still not quite sure how to go about it.

The three talks above were all part of a forum on TP feedback. Here are some of the points from the Q&A afterwards:

  • One trainer suggests them starting written self-reflection immediately after lesson, pausing for oral feedback, then going back to finish it later.
  • A recent Delta trainee questions how easy it is for trainees to reflect effectively immediately after a TP, when you’re still in the heat of the moment.

Tracy works for the TEFL Training Institute, which has a blog and produces podcasts.

Easing the pain of language analysis in initial training (Bill Harris)

‘LA’ can mean language knowledge, language analysis, linguistic competence or language awareness. Different qualifications use different descriptors for the ‘language’ component:

  • CELTA groups language analysis and awareness, including strategies for assessment
  • Trinity defines it as just language awareness (I believe – I wasn’t keeping up well at this point!)

Bill did a survey with 72 trainers and 51 ex-trainees, asking 6 questions related to LA on courses. These included ideas about confidence with language before/after TP, books that are recommended on courses, whether is LA compulsory, and a few more I didn’t get!

Swan is the book most courses recommend, followed by Scrivener, and Parrott [affiliate links]. More trainers recommend Parrott, but trainees don’t buy it. A Twitter discussion after the conference showed that this is partly because it is very expensive to buy in Asia – I’m not sure how many of Bill’s respondents were based in that part of the world. My personal favourite from this list is Scrivener for trainees, especially because a lot of schools have a reference copy of Swan, which I believe is best used as a final resort if you can’t find the answer you need elsewhere! I think Parrott is useful, but Scrivener more closely reflects classroom practice.

Trainers comment that trainees get better at LA sheets in response to feedback. (see also ‘Desert island descriptors’ below)

Most native speaker trainees were petrified of LA before the course.

(Sorry, but I can’t read it any better now on a larger computer – you’ll have to ask Bill for it!) He has tried workshops where they do poster presentations on different areas of LA.

Bill believes the Language Related Tasks assignment should reflect Language Analysis as closely as possible. When putting together the LRT, some tutors put language in context (which helps trainees to understand it), others decontextualise it (so trainees practise creating contexts for language).

Bill Harris’s final word on Easing the pain of LA: hit them with as many support mechanisms as you can!

Desert island descriptors: where do our values lie? (Simon Marshall)

Simon has been teaching CELTA for 35 years’ and has trained in 22 countries, and is very positive towards the course, but he still has questions about the way it has developed over time. There are 42 descriptors in the CELTA 5 booklet, and a candidate is supposed to achieve all of them in 4 weeks.

He wanted to know which CELTA criteria trainers tended to consider more important than others, as many of us (me included) feel that the criteria are not all created equal. His survey asked us to choose the ‘most important’ descriptors from each section, and many trainers said it was hard to choose, as it depends on the stage of the course. Despite that, he came up with clear findings:

Part of Simon Marshall’s aim was to see how important language teaching really was on a language teaching course – both related descriptors appear here, which reassured him (and me!)

If the 5 descriptors on the graph were like the Premier League, it would have an influence on how courses are run, and which sessions were included. Rapport was one of the key descriptors identified, but it rarely appears on courses as a session: we seem to know what it is, but it’s hard to pinpoint: we know it when we see it. Being more independent is part of what we’re grading trainees on (see page 14), but there’s no specific descriptor for it now, although there used to be.

Out of 85 respondents, nobody chose the ‘writing’ descriptor, or any of the following, as the most important:

Simon Marshall emphasises that this seems bizarre in terms of value and confusing in terms of achievement. He reiterates that he’s not anti-descriptor in general. For me, some of the wording is confusing/unclear, and I really think they need to be updated, especially to reflect the fact that trainers know that some criteria are more important than others, but they’re all displayed equally to trainees.

To supplement his research, Simon asked a school he used to send trainees on to about how they were doing. The manager said they were good in lots of ways, but knew nothing about language. When reflecting on observations he had done, Simon noticed that:

  • CELTA graduates:
    • used a lead in/warmer, checked instructions, included lots of activity types, and plenty of social engagement…
    • but when he observed them teaching language, they could do it a bit, but they didn’t look as if they felt comfortable…
    • and when they did activities, there wasn’t much afterwards in terms of error correction, feedback, or building on language.
  • Non-native non-CELTA graduates:
    • used no warmer and lots of instructions
    • were ‘language-obsessed’ – L1 translations were possible, they could answer students’ questions, less communication
  • Watching a German CELTA graduate:
    • she hit the ball out of the park!
    • a range of activities…
    • but she also knew the language well, and could answer the students’ questions.

The same graduate wasn’t allowed to teach above B2 in one school because she was a non-native  – she was ecstatic for the opportunity when she moved schools. As Simon said, this is very wrong.

When Simon did his course in the 1970s, 7 of his 9 TPs were language-focussed, and he got a lot better at language over the course (echoing what Bill Harris said above about trainers noticing trainees improving their LA). Now, CELTA assessment criteria state  that weak lessons at the beginning of the course won’t be held against you. You can get through the course with only two language lessons, one of which is often early in the course. So if you only have one language focussed lessons that actually counts, how can you actually improve?

As Simon highlights, skills lessons are largely laid out for you in books, so perhaps we should shift our focus, and therefore also prioritise the descriptors more clearly. Echoing Bill, Simons says LA could also be described as language affinity, language aptitude, language affection? Do they like language? Do they show any impression of being comfortable with it? Language awareness also includes being ‘on the prowl’ for language that comes up in the lesson. We’ve got to make them technicians.

In conclusion, maybe our CELTA mission should be: to train language teachers who can teach language! (Though the course can’t all be about grammar!) I think this would be a much more useful mission for a lot of our trainees, although we’d have to think carefully about how to differentiate to cater for both native and non-native trainees. I certainly agree that the criteria drastically need to be updated or at least ranked in some way – come on Cambridge!

Tweets from other sessions

As an adaptation of the Desert Island Discs format:

Tweets from ‘Addressing the apprenticeship of observation: ideas for pre-service training’ by Joanna Stansfield (International House London) & Karla Leal Castaneda (Freelance):

From Teti Dragas’ session on using bespoke video observations as part of teacher training:

Jacqueline Douglas talked about using CELTA criteria on written feedback forms:

Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.

http://vocabkitchen.com
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.

www.vocaroo.com
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.

http://www.timeforkids.com
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).

http://www.puzzle-maker.com
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.

http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/young-learners-english/
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).

 

Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training (guest post)

So I want you to tell me what you think went well, what you think didn’t go so well and what you would do differently next time…

Sound familiar? If you’re a teacher trainer, academic manager or even just a teacher who has been through a training course, then the above is probably burned into your brain and has become a mantra. In initial teacher training, at least in my experience, these three points form the start of the post-lesson discussion. And the reason? Reflection.

Most teachers, I hope, would agree that reflection is a useful, maybe even vital, tool for professional development as it helps us dig into what we truly believe in order to then subject it to scrutiny, with the final goal being improved practice. The question I ask myself, though, is would someone on an initial training course (CELTA/CertTESOL) see things the same way? Do they see it as a route to professional competence or merely another hoop to jump through to satisfy the tutor on the other side of the table? Are the reflections that follow the prompts a genuine attempt to understand what just happened to them in the previous 45 minutes? Or strategic responses to tell the tutor what they want to hear? Or even in some cases an attempt to rescue a failing grade by showing real awareness of their class? Only one person in the room truly knows the answer to that question, but, again, from my experience I’ve had reason to believe that required reflection in such stressful circumstances doesn’t always lead to genuine reflection and may in fact be counter-productive.

I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I came to the conclusion that forced reflection will always be unreliable, so can you engage the trainees in genuine reflection during teaching practice?

The answer…? you can’t. At least, not all of them. Genuine reflection has to come from a place of genuine desire for development and if we’re honest, we have to admit to ourselves that that’s not where the majority of our future teachers are coming from.

In the end, the solution was a simple one: to teach the trainees the benefits of reflection for future development and more importantly how to go about it. This way if they are truly invested in their future development, the tutor can allow the time and space for reflection in feedback. However, for those not interested in future development and more concerned with the certificate they need to secure their visa to work abroad, there’s no need to make them squirm or to elicit the same strategic responses that waste the tutor’s time, their time and the time of their co-trainees.

In response, I’ve created a series of activities designed to lead the trainees through the reflective process and to provide a framework to guide reflection for those interested. This was incorporated into an input session during week 1 of a four-week course.

Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process

The session starts with a look at the stages of a reflective process and trainees organise them into what they feel is a logical order. The aim is to lead trainees away from the notion that reflection is simply looking back and highlight the importance of seeking to name the issue and, more importantly, to devise hypotheses for future action. As a kinaesthetic problem-solving activity it tends to generate a lot of discussion too.

I use this process taken from Rodgers (2002:851) which is a summary of John Dewey. However, the exact process isn’t so important. What’s more important is that there is a framework to guide the trainees.

  1. An experience is required to trigger some sort of reflective thought.
  2. The teacher seeks to interpret the experience.
  3. The teacher seeks to name the problem.
  4. The teacher seeks explanations for the problem and general questions are created.
  5. A concrete hypothesis is developed.
  6. The hypothesis is tested.

Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events

In this stage trainees consider typical classroom “problems” and seek to find potential reasons, encouraging them to think deeper than their initial knee-jerk reactions in the classroom. Once they’ve made a list of reasons they spend some time in groups discussing possible ways of addressing each of them in the classroom, which helps to encourage the hypothesis forming described in the stage 1.

The students spoke too much L1!

They got all the answers wrong to the grammar activity

Stage 3 – Categorising reflection

In this stage I get trainees to look at real reflections taken from recorded feedback meetings (these could also be written by the trainer) to highlight the different angles we can reflect from. They spend some time reading them and then categorise them according to what the teacher is talking about. For this I use four categories inspired by Zeichner and Liston (1985).

  1. Reflection which simply recounts the events of the lesson with no real analysis of them.
  2. Reflection which focuses on what worked and didn’t work and how they could address it.
  3. Reflection which focuses on why the teachers chose to do certain things in the lesson and what they hoped to achieve.
  4. Reflection which moves beyond the lesson and questions larger curricular issues.

There is typically a lot of grey areas here, which is good to generate discussion, and leads to the creation of questions to ask themselves to elicit each type of reflection. This has been identified by the trainees as a very important stage.

Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching

Using the reflections from the previous stage, trainees discuss what the teacher’s beliefs about teaching may be and then compare them to their own beliefs and discuss how aligned they are with how they think languages are learned. This stage should bring the reflective process to a logical conclusion and encourage more critical reflection.

Results

Since introducing this session on the course, feedback has changed. It no longer starts with the holy trinity of feedback questions from earlier, but instead begins with something much simpler: “How do you feel about the lesson today?” Those invested in their own development reflect; not always in useful ways, but as with any skill it takes practice. Those interested in their grade often respond with “How do you feel about it?” or more commonly “Did I pass?” and that’s ok.

References

Rodgers, C. (2002) ‘Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking’ The Teachers College Record Vol. 104, no. 4, pp. 842-866.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. (1985) ‘Varieties of discourse in supervisory conferences’ Teaching and Teacher Education Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-174

About the author

Dan Baines has been teaching English since 2004 and been involved in some form of teacher development since finishing his DELTA in 2008.  He currently works for the British Council in Prague and as a freelance Trinity CertTESOL and DipTESOL tutor.

Dan Baines

A collection of reflections (IATEFL Birmingham 2016)

During IATEFL I was tweeting. I tweet quite a lot during conferences 🙂 The guys from the ever-interesting TEFLology podcast happened to notice, and asked me if I’d like to chat to them about the conference. Obviously, I said yes! You can listen to the resulting interview by clicking on the episode page from the site or via iTunes.

Sandy on TEFLology

If you prefer reading over listening, you might like this post from EFL Magazine, in which I chose my presentation highlights from the conference. Thanks to Marjorie Rosenberg for putting me in touch with Philip Pound, and thanks to Philip for publishing it.

I’d definitely recommended exploring the back catalogues of both the TEFLology podcast and EFL Magazine, as there is a lot of interesting content on both.

And just to make it worthwhile calling this post ‘A collection of reflections’, here’s a link back to my summary of the conference on this blog.

Enjoy 🙂

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)

Evenings

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 🙂

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