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

Posts tagged ‘IATEFL’

My IATEFL history

Today was supposed to be the first day of IATEFL Manchester 2020, but what with one thing and another during The Great Pause, plans have changed, and instead it’s the first day of the IATEFL Global Get-Together. Inspired by Katherine Martinkevich and a huge bout of nostalgia, here is a self-indulgent post of some of my favourite photos from the IATEFL conferences I’ve been lucky enough to attend, along with links to my talks from each year. Putting it together led me down a lot of rabbit holes of talks and links I’d forgotten about!

Glasgow 2012

My first conference, which I attended when I was lucky enough to win one of the two IH John Haycraft classroom exploration scholarships, alongside Ana Ines Salvi, who has now become a friend.

Go online: getting your students to use internet resources was my first IATEFL presentation, and I’m very pleased to see that the tools I spoke about then are almost all still available. Quizlet and Edmodo are particularly useful right now. These two photos were taken at the end of my talk, and summarise the key part of the IATEFL conference and organisation for me: the people.

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk

The Twitterati after my session

The Twitterati after my session 🙂 (photo by Cecilia Lemos)

Liverpool 2013

One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had, with these wonderful people:

I presented about the Personal Study Programme at IH Newcastle, where I was working at the time.

Harrogate 2014

This photo is in my office:

It was my first IATEFL birthday, with Ela Wassell getting lots of people to sign a card for me.

My IATEFL 2014 birthday card

The day ended with a birthday meal at Wagamamas, with a waiter holding a lighter over a plate of plain rice and chicken for me to blow out while my friends sang happy birthday. This was the second week of my crazy diet – without my IATEFL friends, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants and push them to cater for me.

My presentation was Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening.

I was also very excited to take part in the Pecha Kucha night with these fantastic people, talking about 19 things I’ve learnt about as an EFL teacher. < You can still watch the PKs in that post.

Manchester 2015

A great quiz night team:

Quiz team

Ela’s surprise baby shower:

This was the first year I attended a Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event, probably the single most useful day I’ve ever spent at IATEFL. It was called The Material Writer’s Toolkit.

My talk was called Write more! Making the most of student journals.

I shared lots of other conference photos in this summary.

Birmingham 2016

This was the first year that I attended as part of the IATEFL Membership Committee (now the Membership and Marketing Committee), and the first year I mentored another presenter. This was the year the IATEFL blog was born, which I curated until September 2018, and through which I met a lot of wonderful people and enjoyed hearing their stories. (The blog now lives here and is called Views.) It was great to feel like I could give something back to this community that has given me so much.

I was excited to see my name in print for the first time:

My talk was Taking back time: how to do everything you want to do.

Here’s my summary, with lots of my people photos.

Glasgow 2017

I took part in the Pecha Kucha debate on whether teachers should be paid more than bankers. There’s a recording in my summary blogpost. I didn’t present as my talk wasn’t accepted (completely justified – my idea was very wishy-washy!)

Apparently this was the year of no photos – I was clearly too busy having fun, including another IATEFL birthday, this time on the day of the MAWSIG PCE 🙂

Brighton 2018

By this stage, IATEFL is about meeting up with old friends.

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

James (who appears in both of those photos) showed a group of us around the stunning Brighton Pavilion, seen in the background below beyond other friends.

I presented my first How To session, jointly with Mike Harrison. We told people How to use social media at IATEFL and beyond. Mike also produced a fantastic Sketchnote version of my talk, in which I introduced ELT Playbook 1 for the first time:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My conference summary is here.

Liverpool 2019

The inaugural TEFL Commute Games Night took place in Liverpool, immortalised in this podcast episode:

It was the third time I had an IATEFL birthday, my favourite kind of birthday 🙂

I How To-ed again in Liverpool, this time on How to present at an international conference. This morning was supposed to be a reprise of this talk for Manchester. My main talk was called Examining the impact of a low-level of teacher proficiency on student learning, in which I described my experienced of teaching Polish with a B1 level in the language.

I haven’t got round to writing up my tweets into posts from Liverpool yet – it’s a good job I’ve got another year to do it 😉 though hopefully it won’t take that long!

2020 online get-together

This year life is all a bit different. Instead of another MAWSIG PCE yesterday, and day one of the conference today, it’s day one of a two-day online get together. It’s open to anyone, and videos will be available to members afterwards. So far I’ve attended two fascinating sessions by David Crystal on language change and Tammy Gregersen on teacher wellbeing. The full programme is here. I’ll be speaking as part of a panel on online learning at the end of day 2. See you there!

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 🙂

[This collection of reflections also looks back on IATEFL Birmingham 2016.]

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.

Conversion

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?

Benefits

  • 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.

WE MUST STOP THIS DISCRIMINATION

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.

Dyslexia

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 Pixabay.com (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!)

Plenaries

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! 🙂

COCA

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

SKELL

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.

Extras

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

IATEFL Manchester 2015: A summary

This has been my most enjoyable IATEFL conference so far.

Starting with the MaWSIG PCE (Materials Writing Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event) and ending with Carol Ann Duffy’s plenary, I was privileged to see a range of quality talks covering all kinds of areas which I summarised in the posts below:

I gave a talk on using journals with students which went well, despite a couple of initial technical hitches – thanks for your help, David! I missed a few talks I wanted to see, but have managed to catch up with at least some of them through the power of the internet.

I was very happy to win two prizes, one of which was a book which was on my wishlist, and I also bought myself a couple of other books I wanted.

The conference centre, Manchester Central, was excellent: easy to get to, easy to navigate, clean, modern, and with excellent wifi – I never had to fight it once! I managed to tweet throughout: according to the downloader I’ve used to help me compile my posts, I sent about 1500 tweets during the conference! I appreciated the responses I got which justified me doing so. Those tweets have also enabled me to put together my blogposts after the conference.

However, as always, the highlight of the conference was the people. I met a few members of my PLN (professional learning network) who I’ve been wanting to meet for a very long time.

Sandy with Tyson Seburn

Lots of the lovely followers of my blog came and said hello and thank you – it makes it all worth it! There were also lots of comments about how much tweeting I did and Jo Budden challenged Joe Dale and I to a tweet-off. Next year?

Sandy Millin and Joe Dale

Our team came joint second in the quiz night:

Quiz team

There was a baby shower, with lots of PLN love.

I caught up with good friends, and missed a few who were absent (See you next year, Katy?).

James, Laura and Sandy

I had dinner with CELTA and Delta trainers, and very much enjoyed listening to their stories, as well as lunch with my fellow curators from ELTpics (We missed you Julie!) I also had lunch with my CELTA tutors, being able to properly catch up for the first time since I finished my course in February 2008.

And that’s not to mention all the random encounters in passing throughout the conference:

Marjorie and Sandy

Thank you IATEFL, and see you in Birmingham next year!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: The ones I missed

For various reasons, not least the sheer size of the conference, there were various talks I missed during IATEFL. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve managed to catch up with some of them through tweets, videos and/or blogposts. Here’s a selection of them:

The ear of the beholder: helping learners understand different accents – Laura Patsko

Laura’s talk was on at the same time as mine so I wasn’t able to watch it. I know it started with her ‘having a cold’ to demonstrate how we can make meaning evefn when the sounds we hear don’t correspond with our expectations, and I’m intrigued to hear more about her suggestions. She’s shared her presentation, and hopefully there will be a video of at least some of it soon!

Here’s one of her tweets from another point in the conference:

Fostering autonomy: harnassing the outside world from within the classroom – Lizzie Pinard

Lizzie‘s talk was also in the same slot as mine and Laura’s – so many possible times and they put us all on in the same one! Lizzie has written a lot about autonomy on her blog, and demonstrated it with her own Italian learning. The aspect of learner training is key when trying to encourage autonomy, and is one I’m sure Lizzie’s presentation would have helped me with. Thankfully, she’s blogged about it as has Olga Sergeeva, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it first-hand. I’m hoping the gods of IATEFL shine on all three of us next year and put us on at separate times!

Where are the women in ELT? – Russell Mayne and Nicola Prentis

As with last year, the talk which Russ was involved in is one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. Nicola and Russ picked a subject which is another very important discussion point, after Russ tackled the myths of EFL in 2014. [Original text (see comments for why I’ve kept this) As with last year, Russ’s talk is the one of the ones which seems to have taken on a life of its own after the conference. He has a way of picking subjects which are very good discussion points, and this year he was ably assisted by Nicola Prentis.] Their talk immediately followed my own and was in a tiny room, so I knew it was wishful thinking to believe I might get in, but I tried anyway. A whole group of us were waiting outside, disappointed. Last year Russ’s talk was officially recorded (content is currently being updated on the IATEFL 2014 site), and Russ and Nicola have recorded their own version this year – thank you! This area is one of particular interest to me, being a woman and in ELT as I am. 🙂 Through the Fair List, I’d become aware of the fact that plenary speakers at conferences are often men speaking to a room full of women, which seems odd. As I understand it, Russ and Nicola were questioning the fact that men feature dispropotionately at the ‘top’ of the ELT profession, despite it being a female-dominated one in general.

They did an interview about it which you can watch as a taster:

Here are two of the blog posts which were triggered by their talk, both of which have fascinating discussions in the comments which are well worth reading:

  • He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Steve Brown highlights the amount of time that the ‘big’ names highlighted in Russ and Nicola’s talk have been at the top (something which they mentioned in their interview too)
  • P is for Power: Scott Thornbury questions the balance of power in the ELT profession, not just in terms of gender, but also covering native/non-native speakers and the socio-economic circumstances that teaching takes place in.

Russ and Nicola have also set up their own website to examine gender equality in ELT, with a lot more information about their research. At other points in the conference there were tweets about increasing the number of non-native speakers visible at conferences and in the global community.

Walk before you run: reading strategies for Arabic learners – Emina Tuzovic

I saw Emina speaking about helping Arabic students with spelling at IATEFL last year, and she subsequently very kindly wrote a guest post summarising her talk for this blog. I’m hoping to encourage her to do the same again this year, as her ideas are very practical and deal with areas which there isn’t much coverage of in the literature I’ve read.

People, pronunciation and play – Luke Meddings

Luke shared a couple of his ideas in an interview:

I really like Luke’s focus on playing with language, which is something I’ve become more and more interested in.

Olga Sergeeva went to Luke’s talk and wrote a summary of the whole thing, although she admitted it was difficult because they were laughing too much!

Tools, tips and tasks for developing materials writing skills – John Hughes

John has shared his slides, which gives me a taster of the tips he has for developing these skills. I think the most important idea is to ‘develop a materials radar’, which echoes what Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones talked about in their presentation on using images at the MAWSIG PCE.

Technology

Mike Harrison talked about using Vine to make short videos, and Shaun Wilden and Nikki Fortova looked at apps on the iPad to do the same.
Here’s an idea from Nicky Hockley to use a mobile phone to practise past continuous:

If you’re considering whether to use technology in your class or not, this handout could be useful:

Random tweets

These are things which I retweeted because they made me think. I’m sharing them here to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts and to see what you think. They’re loosely grouped into topics where possible.

Student abilities
Memory and engagement

These link back to Joy Egbert’s plenary.

Materials design and the importance of editors

An opportunity for anyone wanting to get into materials design?

This looks amazing!

…and on Twitter!

And if you decide to self-publish:

Research

Patsy’s accompanying blogpost is available on the OUP blog.

Empowering teachers

Yes, yes, yes to all of these!

Training and professional development
Management

(Hoping the rate of sickness at IH Bydgoszcz doesn’t go up when I take over as DoS!) 😉

About language
Pronunciation
Dyslexia
Miscellaneous

Other people’s blogging

Lots of people were blogging throughout the conference. You can find a full list of all of the IATEFL Manchester registered bloggers on the ManchesterOnline site.

IATEFL Manchester Online 2015 registered blogger

As always, Lizzie Pinard was very prolific, and has helpfully indexed all of her posts. Apart from the plenaries, I only went to one of the same talks, so there’s a lot to catch up on! Olya Sergeeva also has an index of the posts she wrote about the sessions she went to, including some which I’ve linked to above. Tyson Seburn wrote about his bite-sized takeaways from the conference. Jen McDonald summarised the talks she saw in short paragraphs. The British Council had a number of roving reporters at the conference, one of whom was David Dodgson.

IATEFL online

Apart from the many sources I’ve mentioned above, there is, of course, the wonderful resources that is IATEFL online, full of interviews and recorded sessions, at least some of which I hope to find the time to watch at some point in the future. Are there any you would particularly recommend?

IATEFL Manchester 2015: In the classroom

I’ve moved away from the classroom over the past year, so for the first time at IATEFL I didn’t go to many talks which fitted this category. I got some interesting ideas from all three talks, and can’t wait to try to put them into practice when I finally do get back into the classroom in September!

A new way to teach reading – Ken Lackman

Ken‘s title seemed like a pretty dramatic claim, but that’s exactly what he showed us, and I really want to try it out!

He started by telling us some of the problems with the traditional approach to reading, mostly the fact that many of the skills used in the classroom are not easily transferable to real life. Students don’t have tasks like a pre-set gist question or vocabulary that somebody else has pre-selected from the text for them when they read texts outside the classroom.

He decided that there must be a better way to prepare students for reading in real life, and this is what he came up with, working through a demo lesson based on a short story as an example for us. You can get the story Ken used with us (A Secret Lost in the Water) as well as more information about the whole process by going to his website, clicking on Activity books > A New Way To Teach Reading > IATEFL.

  • What are the key characteristics of a short story? List them.
    e.g. Only two or three characters. One or two settings.
  • Turn these characteristics into questions. e.g. Where is it set? What is the relationship between the characters?
  • Show students the title. They add to the list of questions.
  • (Optional: Collect questions on the board.)
  • Choose one of the questions as a good gist question.
  • Read for gist, answering the question selected. As a side note, one of my favourite moments of the whole conference was how Ken got us to read fast: everybody stood up, and had to sit down once they had the answer. Still standing after everyone else has sat down? Too slow!
  • Choose other questions from the list as comprehension questions.
  • Read again more slowly to answer them.
  • Underline any words which you’re not sure of the meaning of.
  • Choose one of the words and analyse it to try to decide the meaning: What part of speech is it? Are there any clues in the parts of the word (e.g. prefixes/suffixes)? Do the adjacent words help? Come up with a synonym or phrase which you could replace it with and try it in the space. Does it make sense? Repeat as necessary.
  • Choose 10 collocations that you think are really useful for you.
  • Compare your list with a partner.
  • Divide the class into groups, each with a different coloured board marker.
  • Groups come up with discussion questions related to the text. They can’t be yes/no questions and you shouldn’t be able to find the answer in the text. Write them on the board.
  • Students choose some of the questions from the board and discuss them.

This strategy was very engaging as all of the questions were written and selected by us, and we managed to create the questions before we’d seen the text, in a way that is eminently transferable to any text type and can easily be used outside the classroom too. Repeated practice using the same lesson structure will make students more confident with their reading, and similar staging can also be applied to listening too. It encourages greater awareness of the conventions of different genres which should have a knock-on effect with writing too. If students are unfamiliar with a particular genre, you can analyse it with them the first time they see it. Vocabulary is chosen by the students rather than the materials writer, and they decide what is and isn’t useful for them. There is a lot of processing, which aids memorisation, and students are able to check it in a dictionary too if they want to. Coming up with their own discussion questions promotes critical thinking and a deeper reading of the text.

Recoleta church book

Academic reading circles: improving learner engagement and text comprehension – Tyson Seburn

Tyson’s EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students often have trouble understanding texts to a deep enough level to be able to discuss them intellectually or engage with them in their written work. When reading, they tended to treat texts very superficially and only deal with problems with lexis, with looking at the concepts at all. Academic Reading Circles were developed out of the idea of literature circles as a way to address this by dividing students into small groups and assigning them different roles to break down a text. Each group works on a single text and has time to prepare before the lesson. They then come together and share their knowledge to build up a deeper understanding of the text.

  • Leader: gauges group comprehension and situates the text for the other students, dealing with the purpose for reading, source, target audience, etc. They create one or two questions about the text to gauge understanding.
  • Contextualiser: picks out contextual references like times, dates, places and people and finds out more about them.
  • Visualiser: finds anything from the text which can be visually represented, e.g. maps, photos, videos, etc.
  • Connector: makes connections to outside sources, for example other events, other sources or their own experience.
  • Highlighter: focuses on linguistic problems, e.g. unknown vocabulary, topic specific language, anything which shows the feeling/attitude of the author.

The students deal with up to five texts per term, and no more than one per week, rotating the roles through the term. Academic reading circles lead to deeper comprehension and their writing also improves as a result, including a greater use of topic-specific language.

Lizzie Pinard wrote a summary of the session. You can read more about Academic Reading Circles on Tyson’s blog, and he is working with The Round to produce a book about them. I’m sure there must be away to apply this approach to other kinds of reading group too.

Classic exercises and why they work in the 21st century – Hanna Kryszewska

Hanna is the editor of Humanising Language Teaching magazine (always looking for articles!), which has a section called ‘Old Exercises’. These act as useful reminders of things you might have forgotten. She is also a believer in ‘thinking routines’, the idea that we need to make thinking processes visible to students. This can be draining but is very useful, so should be done little and often. Here are examples of classic activities combined with thinking routines:

  • Questions: Show students an artwork/poem. Give them post-it notes. Every time they have a question, they write it on the post-it and stick it to the board. The questions can be as deep or as trivial as they like. Students then go away and find the answers to their questions.
  • Tug-of-war: Show an image/quote etc conncted to an issue which could be debated. Hanna’s example was images of the Aral Sea showing how it has dried up over the last few decades. Students put their opinions on post-it notes, then rearrange them according to where they would fit in a debate. It’s a good way of dealing with potentially controversial issues.
  • Numbers: Students chose numbers which are important to them, then share why with other students. They aren’t forced to give information which they don’t want to, as would be the case if the teacher supplied questions for them to answer.
  • Mingle: Find two things in common with each person in the class. You can’t repeat them. Once they’ve finished, each student draws around their hand. Other students write what they learnt about their classmates in the relevant hand.
  • Thank you: Stick a piece of paper on each person’s back. Students write what they’d like to thank each person for – again, it can be as trivial or as deep as the students want.
  • All correct: In an multiple choice exercise which should have only one correct answer, get the students to justify why any of the answers could be right. This works particularly well with answers where changing the tone of voice could make a big difference.
  • Senses: Dictate the five senses. Then dictate random words, with students deciding which sense to allocate it to. They then share answers.
  • Map: In a similar way, give students a blank map. Dictate words and students write them where they ‘should’ be, entirely based on their own opinions, before sharing answers.
  • Playing cards 1: Hanna has a set of playing cards with pictures of artworks on them. She selects three at random and arranges them on a piece of paper. Students have to justify why they are arranged like that.
  • Playing cards 2: Each group gets 6 cards. They choose 3 and arrrange them. Other groups then have to say why they were arranged like that. They can then compare their justifications.
  • Exploiting the coursebook: After using a text, students are challenged to write questions to which there are no answers in the book/text. Another group then gets the questions and has to rewrite the text to include the answers.
  • Vocabulary: Draw a picture of a bicycle, but you can only include the parts that you know the names for in English. Choose which six items you need to learn to be able to compelte your picture. This is particularly good for mixed-level groups.
  • Shapes: Each group gets five slips of paper. On each they write one part of the body and arrange them into the approximate shape of a body. The teacher can offer/add more words. Students then group the words according to different categories, e.g. touching the bed/not touching the bed, important for work/not important for work.
  • Points of view 1: Have three chairs. Each represents one role, e.g. mother, daughter, dead guinea pig. Students ask questions and decide who should answer them, e.g. Was she a good owner?
  • Points of view 2: Set up a roleplay situation, e.g. breakfast time. Students start the rolleplay, but anyone watching can step in and take over at any point.

By encouraging visible thinking we encourage different points of view, build community and encourage critical thinking. You also move away from the ‘tyranny of the correct answer’. Start with simpler activities (like numbers/mingle) to introduce these ideas slowly and to build an atmosphere of sharing in the classroom.
You can find out more about thinking routines in the book Making Thinking Visible [affiliate link].

Two books about professional development

When I was at IATEFL I decided to use some of my birthday money to buy a couple of books in the sales on the final day. Because of my current role as a CELTA tutor and my move into management as a Director of Studies, I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development recently. I thought it would be a good investment to read some of the literature about it and get a few more ideas about how to help the teachers I work with to continue their development. Here are brief reviews of the two books I bought. Clicking on their titles will take you to Amazon, and I’ll get a few pennies if you decide to buy them via these links.

The Developing Teacher – Duncan Foord

The Developing Teacher cover

Books in the Delta Teacher Development Series (DTDS) are always easy to read and full of great ideas, and this one was no exception. I saw Duncan speak at IATEFL 2012 and as well as being a good communicator, I got the impression he must be a very good person to work for because he seemed to really care about the people he managed. That care comes across in this book.

Each DTDS book is divided into:

  • Section A: a look at the current theory underlying the area being discussed;
  • Section B: practical ideas to try out;
  • Section C: further areas to explore.

In this case, section B was further divided into five areas of investigation or ‘circles’, moving out from the teacher and gradually involving more and more participants:

  • You
  • You and your students
  • You and your colleagues
  • You and your school
  • You and your profession

(I don’t have my copy in front of me, so I hope I’ve remembered those correctly!) Each circle starts with a checklist of possible tasks, where the reader is encouraged to identify what they have already done and what they would like to try. This is then followed by a variety of different activities, broken down into the aim, the reason for doing them, and the steps needed to achieve them.

Section C focused on longer term projects, such as how to set up action research. The projects could draw on some of the activities from section B, or be completely independent of them.

Overall, I felt the book would be particularly good for less experienced teachers or for those looking for inspiration to put together a professional development programme, and less so for more experienced teachers. Through the schools I’d worked at and the online development I’ve done, I’d tried most of the ideas already. There are still some I’d like to experiment with, though I can’t recall any specific ones now a few days after I finished it. It will be a useful book to refer back to when I want to try something a bit more unusual for my development.

Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning – Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell

Professional development for language teachers cover

This is the first book I’ve read from the Cambridge Language Education series, which Jack C. Richards is also the series editor for. It was easier to read than I expected – even though this has been the case with most of the methodology books I’ve read, I’m still pleasantly surprised when they are written in such an accessible way.

It is divided into 12 chapters (again, no copy here so do correct me if I’m wrong!), plus a brief introduction explaining how to use the book. Each chapter focuses on one particular approach to professional development, including:

  • Observations
  • Teacher journals
  • Critical incidents
  • Case studies
  • Action research

In each case, a definition is given and the benefits and potential drawbacks of engaging in this kind of development are examined. This is followed by a step-by-step guide to how to approach it. Throughout every chapter there are vignettes to show real-world examples of how they were used by teachers around the world.

I had only heard about the concept of peer coaching from Ela Wassell in the last year, but this book had a different definition of it, seeming to express it as something closer to a form of delegation of training. Critical incidents was a term I’d heard, but didn’t really understand before reading this, and case studies were completely new to me. The information about action research and teacher journals complements Foord’s book, and taking the two together would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to try either of these for their development.

One frustrating thing for me was the lack of a contents page or index, so you have to flick through the book if you want to find a particular section again. The depth of the book was useful to me as an experienced teacher, as was the way that the chapters and ideas fed into each other. For example, critical incidents were suggested as possible fuel for a teacher journal. However, I feel this depth and difficulty of navigation might be off-putting to newer teachers, and they may feel overwhelmed. For them, the suggestions in the book may need to be mediated or introduced chapter by chapter rather than being read in one go as I did.

Having said that, it has given me a lot of ideas for possible professional development sessions over the next couple of years – I just hope I can remember some of them!

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Professional Development and Management

From August I’ll be the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in Poland, and in preparation for this I’ve been reading and listening to blogs, books and podcasts about management. Observation will also be a key part of my role, as well as being relevant to my work as a CELTA tutor. I’ve therefore grouped the talks I saw at IATEFL on these topics into a single post.

Forum on peer observation

This was my first experience of an IATEFL forum, and I decided to go on the spur of the moment. I’m glad I did, as it gave me ideas for how to encourage teachers to take part in a peer observation programme, and showed me some of the potential problems with setting one up.

EFL Teachers and Peer Observation: beliefs, challenges and implications – Gihan Ismail

Gihan works at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. She decided to research how experienced EFL teachers (5-20 years) perceive peer observation, in contrast to most research which focuses on relatively inexperienced teachers.

Experienced teachers had multiple identities as teachers which came into conflict when considering peer observation, contrasting their personal identity and the value of the observation to them as individuals with their professional identity and observations as CPD (continuing professional development). Her findings showed that there was a relatively negative attitude towards peer observation, despite experienced teachers knowing that it can be beneficial. This encompassed the following factors:

  • School culture.
  • How the outcome of observations may influence their career.
  • Psychological/emotional tensions, including a potential distrust in the peer doing the observation.
  • Feeling threatened because there’s a risk that they might lose some of their reputation if the peer doesn’t understand what they are doing.
  • A rejection of changes in their habits: comfort zones are difficult to leave.
  • Doubt in the outcome of any changes they might make as a result of observations.
  • The potential stress involved in participating in peer observations, and the fact that this can be avoided by doing other forms of CPD, like going to conferences.

Their beliefs were also shaped by past experience and ‘professional coursework’ (e.g. formalised training, books read).

Most studies focus on external factors influencing whether teachers are willing to participate in peer observation schemes, but Ismail found that actually internal factors were dominant. For example, issues like fear and/or a potential loss of face in front of a less experienced colleague were more likely to make teachers want to avoid peer observation than factors imposed by their employer. It wasn’t helped by the fact that in most cases there was no pre-observation meeting to set up what the observed teacher and the peer wanted to get out of the observation. Her research suggests that teacher needs should be examined more carefully in workplaces, where student needs tend to dominate and teachers’ needs are secondary.

Peer observation: introducing a system that actually works for everyone – Shirley Norton

Shirley described a successful peer observation scheme which was set up at the London School of English, where teachers have between five and thirty-five years of experience.

Before the scheme was set up, peer observation was:

  • officially encouraged, but rarely happened unless there was an inspection.
  • management-led, with teachers being told who they should see.
  • contrasted with the atmosphere of collaboration in the staffroom: you can’t come into my classroom!
  • mostly focussed on quality control, rather than developmental aims.

To be able to implement a peer observation scheme which would work, they started with a questionnaire to collect opinions about peer observation, and discovered many points which echoed Gihan’s findings in the previous presentation. Everyone agreed peer observation was a good thing, but nobody actually wanted to do it!

All the research Shirley did said that teachers need to be involved from the beginning when setting up schemes like this, so that’s what she did. They had a focus group discussing the possible benefits of peer observations and potential obstacles. All ideas were accepted, and they came up with over 100 obstacles! Previously, this is where they had stopped when thinking of such schemes, but this time they went through each obstacle and came up with potential solutions. This led to the creation of clear guidelines for the scheme, including the role of the observer and the teacher, how to give feedback, and how to focus on development rather than judgement. Throughout her talk Shirley emphasised the importance of these guidelines, and the fact that a peer observation scheme is unlikely to be effective without them. Guidelines on feedback are particularly important, as this is where observation systems often fall down. Here are some examples:

  • Problem: Increased workload for teachers.
    Solution: No formal paperwork required for management. Peer observation is supposed to be development, and there doesn’t need to be proof of this. It’s between the teachers involved.
  • Problem: Lack of management buy-in.
    Solution: Make it a sacred part of the timetable and find a way to ensure it is never dropped.
  • Problem: There’s no chair for the observer.
    Solution: The teacher doing the observation provides the chair.

Spending time on these ‘what ifs’ makes teachers more relaxed and more likely to want to participate. No matter how minor they may seem, these are genuine fears which may scupper your programme, so you need to take them seriously.

The scheme has gone through various incarnations, with Shirley trying to match teachers up with their observation wishlists (logistical nightmare), then telling them who to observe (teachers were unhappy), before finally settling on teachers deciding for themselves (success!)

Now each teacher has an allocated week in the school year which is their opportunity to peer observe. Within that week they are allowed to choose anybody to observe and they will be covered if necessary to enable them to do so. This happens regardless of anything else going on in the school (illness, inspections etc) as otherwise the programme would fall apart. Up to two teachers may have the same week allocated – more than that makes it difficult to cover everyone. Even generally disengaged teachers did peer observations willingly with this system. As for those being observed, you can only say no to somebody coming into your classroom if you’ve been observed within the previous four weeks. Observations are included on the school’s weekly planner and email reminder is sent out to those being observed. Management doesn’t tell them who or what to observe: that is entirely up to the teachers involved. The only requirements from management are that each observation has three steps: pre-observation meeting, observation, post-observation meeting (these can be as long or as short as the participants like). Everything above is codified in the guidelines for the scheme.

Overall, the aim of the scheme is to share best practice, with everyone learning from each other.

Peer observation: making it work for lasting CPD – Carole Robinson and Marie Heron

Maria and Carole work at NILE, where there is a relatively high turnover of teachers. These are the benefits of peer observation as they see them:

  • New ideas.
  • Learning ways of dealing with critical incidents in the classroom.
  • Building peer-peer trust.
  • Observing learners from a different perspective (when observing a class you also teach).
  • Extended professional development.
  • Enjoyment!

They have tried a variety of different peer observation systems. An open-door policy was seen as being too radical, so they decided to have a sign-up sheet instead. Teachers have been issued with red cards which they can put outside their door if they feel it would be a bad time for an observer to come into their lesson. Although they have never been used, it makes them feel safer and more willing to accept observers.

Because of the problem of cover, many observations are only 10-minutes. These are particularly useful at the beginning of a class as teachers are more likely to be willing to relinquish their students to another teacher at this point while they go and observe. Once every two weeks, they also run workshop sessions for the students which require fewer teachers than traditional classes do, leaving teachers free to observe other classes.

Other possible observation systems are:

  • Blind observations: The lesson is discussed before and after it happens, but there is no observer in the room during the class.
  • Video observations: The lesson is discussed before, videoed on a mobile phone, then specific sections of the lesson are watched with the observer. This removed the fear of having another person in the room.

The pre-observation chat is very important, regardless of the manner of observation. This is when the focus of the observation is decided on as well as how feedback will be conducted.

To reduce paperwork, teachers only complete an observation log showing the time, date and focus of observations. No other paperwork is required by management. To maximise their potential, observations take place throughout the year, rather than only once or twice, and they vary in length to help teachers fit them in. Teachers are encouraged to keep a reflective journal of what they have learnt from the observations, both as observed and observer. They don’t have to show it to anyone, but can if they want to: What have I learnt? What questions does it pose?

Peer observations are also the subject of workshops the school holds, including discussion about how to develop the scheme further. These workshops take the form of debates and happen every 2-3 months, covering a whole variety of topics (not just peer observations). They sound like an interesting idea, and one I’d like to experiment with.

Better together: peer coaching for continuing professional development – Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell

Ela has been telling me about the peer coaching project she has been running with Dita over the past year since it started, so I had to go to this talk to find out how it all panned out in the end 🙂

Dita and Ela met at IATEFL Harrogate last year, and quickly realised that they had quite similar teaching profiles in terms of their experience and length of time in the classroom. They were also both based in Oxford.

Ela returned to the classroom at around the same time, having taught 121 for a long time. She asked Dita to observe her to check some of her classroom management techniques. Dita asked Ela to observe in return because she didn’t want to get stuck in a rut. They found the experience so useful that they decided they wanted to turn it into something more formal, and their peer coaching project was born.

Peer coaching is:

A confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace.

Robbins, P (1991) How to plan and implement a peer coaching programme Alexandria, VA; Association for Supervision Curriculum Development (may be a slight mistake in the reference – tweet not clear)

Or, as they said:

Reflecting together, learning from each other.

Their project involved:

  • Listing their individual and professional goals before the project started.
  • Meeting regularly to discuss their lessons, things they had read/watched and teaching in general, working together to solve problems and build their knowledge. Because they were working with an experienced peer, the discussions could go into a lot of depth. They supported each other as critical friends.
  • Observing each other’s lessons for specific details. They originally taught at different schools, but Ela later moved to Dita’s school. They told their managers what they were doing, and received support with timetabling (among other things) to make their project possible.
  • Audio and video recording lessons.
  • Giving feedback to each other on lessons and suggesting small tweaks they could make to change them.
  • Keeping a teaching diary, which formed the basis for future meetings and ideas for observations. Ela colour-coded hers: change, improve, important.
  • Teaching each other’s classes: they could focus on their learners while the other teacher led the class. When students asked why this was happening, it evolved into a discussion about the nature of teaching and learning, and students were interested in how they were developing their teaching. As a result, Dita became more comfortable with asking her students for feedback on lessons.
  • For Dita, the project encouraged her to leave her comfort zone, and she decided to work on a CELTA at a different centre, giving her more material for development and reflection.

These are the benefits of peer coaching according to Dita and Ela:

  • Easy to incorporate into your work schedule (especially with the support of managers).
  • Inexpensive.
  • Two heads are better than one!
  • You build a closer relationship with a colleague.
  • Hands on.
  • In depth.
  • Mutual motivation because you don’t want to let your peer down.
  • Can see continuity and progress throughout the year.
  • Fun!

Here are their tips if you’d like to set up a similar project:

  • Choose the right person.
  • Set up ground rules, including confidentiality and how you will give feedback.
  • Decide what forms of coaching you will include (see ideas above for inspiration).
  • Set goals before you start and review them regularly.
  • Create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Decide what you hope to achieve with the project as a whole.
  • Inform management and gain school support if possible.
  • Be open and honest about what you are doing.
  • Evaluate the project when you have finished.
  • Share the results.

Because there was no requirement to grade or assess the lessons, they both found it very liberating and learnt a lot.

I’m here to improve and to learn.

Their students also benefitted. They both gained confidence in their own practice and abilities as teachers, as well as the courage to experiment more with their teaching.

Here’s Olga Sergeeva’s summary of the talk.

Dita and Ela also spoke to IATEFL Online about their project. You can watch the interview here:

Lesson jamming: planning lessons in groups – Tom Heaven

I was interested in this session because IH Bydgoszcz has a system of lesson planning in groups, and I wanted to see how someone else uses the same technique.

Tom is a member of a group called Berlin Language Worker Grassroots Association (or Berlin LW GAS for short), which was set up for a whole range of reasons, one of which was to help reduce the feeling of isolation among the many freelance teachers working in Berlin.

Lesson jams were designed as a fun way to get together for a few hours with other teachers and be inspired by each other and a random prompt (you might find some inspiration on my other blog!) to come up with a lesson plan. There is a step-by-step process for this, culminating in each group sharing their plan with everyone there. The aim of the jam is to be creative and to learn from each other. They also share the final plans on their website, and they’re currently looking for more ideas on how to work with the finished products after the lesson jam. So far, they’ve had two very successful jams and will continue to hold them in the future.

If you’d like to set up your own lesson jam, there is a downloadable guide including all of the stages on the Berlin LW GAS site.

Aspiring to inspire: how to become a great LTO* manager – Fiona Thomas

(*Language Teaching Organisation)

What is the difference between an inspiring manager and a mediocre one? How does an inspiring manager make you feel?

How an inspiring manager makes you feel

Why is it so hard to be inspiring? It requires time to connect with people at an emotional level, and if there’s one thing managers are short of, it’s time. Our stress levels build up because we’re constantly ‘on’ and this leads to us ignoring the warning signs of stress until it’s too late, much like boiling a frog. This leads to us becoming uninspirational micro managers.

To combat this we need to stake a step back and analyse what we are doing with our time. Fiona suggested creating a pie chart and using this to decide whether you are spending appropriate amounts of time on each area. These are the categories she suggested:

  • Operations management;
  • Strategic management;
  • Being an academic expert/mentor;
  • Emotional intelligence.

Fiona decided she was spending too much time on operations management and looked for ways to delegate some of the more administrative parts of her job. Technology could also help you to make some of these areas more efficient. This frees time to focus on developing ‘distinguishing competencies’, thus making managers more inspirational. These differ from ‘threshold competencies’, which are the minimum skills required to do your job. For a DoS, this would be areas like timetabling and conducting observations. ‘Distinguishing competencies’ include:

  • Social intelligence: understanding relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence: being aware of your own emotions.
  • Cognitive intelligence: interpreting what is happening in the world around you.

Research shows that outstanding managers create resonant relationships with the people they manage. This reminds me of the idea of one on ones from the Manager Tools podcast I have been listening to, which seems like a very effective way of building up these relationships. So what is a resonant relationship? It’s one which:

  • Communicates hope: the belief that the future will be good and things are possible;
  • Reminds people of the purpose of the organisation and encourages a shared vision (If you have a mission statement, refer to it!);
  • Demonstrates compassion (showing that you care and that people feel you care) – following the recipient’s agenda: what motivates them?
  • Shows mindfulness (you are ‘with’ the people you manage, not thinking about other things) and attention. Be fully aware of where you are and what you’re doing. If you know it’s not a good time and you can’t give your full attention, act accordingly: postpone the meeting, ask to speak to them at a specified later time, etc.
  • Has participants who appear to be authentic, genuine and transparent and act with integrity;
  • Includes quality time spent with the people you manage, in which you learn about their aspirations and motivation – it’s easy to make assumptions about people if you don’t get to know them properly;
  • Spreads positive emotions: the more powerful your position is, the more likely your emotions are to affect other people.

Fiona was put this talk together as a result of a free 8-week Coursera course she followed called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence, which she highly recommends. Her blog contains many more insights into managing LTOs.

In summary

These talks have given me many ideas for how to implement observations when I become a DoS, the most important of which is to make sure that any peer observation scheme comes primarily from the teachers themselves. I am also more and more sure that I want to include one on ones in my timetable for next year to get to know the people that I am working with as quickly as possible. Lots to think about 🙂

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Materials writing

Following on from the excellent MaWSIG pre-conference event, I ended up going to quite a few more talks related to materials writing during the conference. Here are summaries of said talks.

Designing materials: from theory to practice? – Sonia Munro and Susan Sheehan

Sonia and Susan work on the MA TESOL at the University of Huddersfield. The course originally had only a traditional dissertation at the end of it, but they have now added the option of a more practical materials design project rather than a dissertation. Students have to create 15 hours worth of classroom materials for a specific context and do a 30-minute viva. The only course participants who now do a dissertation are those who are required to do so by external forces, such as those who are being funded by a Ministry of Education. All others opt for materials design.

Why did they choose to offer this alternative? Feedback on the dissertation module was not as positive as for other modules on the MA, with participants complaining that they couldn’t collect the necessary data from their students over the summer. Materials design doesn’t just help those who are creating materials; it also helps teachers to be more critical when choosing materials for their students.

The viva allows participants to show the theoretical underpinnings of their materials, but Sonia and Susan noticed that there was a huge range in the ability of course participants to do this. Tomlinson (2003) mentions that many established writers start with intuition based on their own experience in the classroom, but MA students don’t have that luxury and must demonstrate that they have clear reasons for their materials design. In the viva, they have to present their materials and demonstrate the theory behind them, then participate in a discussion building on this. Some participants could do this easily, but others were unable to demonstrate any awareness of theory at all. To be successful, they need to:

  • Draw on a wide range of sources, not just readings suggested by tutors;
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with theories and sources;
  • Show a clear relationship between theory and practice, demonstrating they understand this;
  • Analyse materials that are typically used in their context and use these as a springboard for their own materials;
  • Notice the good points and limitations of the materials they use as a reference;
  • Show an awareness of their context: What are the constraints? Are these materials appropriate?

These are the main problems their MA students had in the viva:

  • Only citing a narrow range of authors.
  • Not referring to SLA (second language acquisition) theorists.
  • Sticking to authors writing about materials design only.
  • Not referring to authors specific to their context (e.g. EAP).
  • Not mentioning issues like Global English or English as a Lingua Franca.
  • Conflating literature and theory and not going deeply enough into the theory.
  • Not demonstrating enough criticality: for example by comparing authors or mentioning the weaknesses of the research. Being quite superficial.

To increase the students’ engagement with theory, Susan and Sonia would like to:

  • Make the use of theory more explicit and show students how to find theory more usefully.
  • Emphasise that theory is the core of the module.
  • Stop students from getting lost in the aesthetics of the materials – they tend to spend too long on this and not enough time on the theory.
  • Train students to do better literature searches.

I haven’t done an MA yet, but would like to at some point in the future, so I think this will come in very useful when I get to that stage.

Frameworks for creativity in materials design – Jill Hadfield

I’ve been connected to Jill on facebook for a while, and she’s been able to help me out a couple of times, so I went to this talk to be able to meet her in person for the first time. It gave me lots of ideas for potential workshops in the future, and furthered my understanding of some of the principles behind materials design, following on from the talk above. It’s also encouraged me to consider in more depth the principles I believe in/follow/use (What’s the right verb?!) when designing materials, teaching, and training.

When Jill was writing her latest book, Motivating Learning [affiliate link], with Zoltan Dörnyei, she started keeping a reflective journal to help her uncover the principles behind her own writing. She then analysed her journal and categorised her comments to try to find underlying patterns. She was motivated to do this by theorists who posited that materials writers tend to rely on intuition rather than theory, but as she said “We do have principles, but we’re too busy writing materials!”

Jill divided up the principles from her journal into two areas: framing principles and core energies. Framing principles ask questions like ‘What makes good materials?’ Here are some of Jill’s examples:

They are a kind of limit, and you shouldn’t include anything which does not adhere to one or more of these principles. In contrast, core energies suffuse your work. They are the underlying themes of your materials, which resurface again and again, but may not be obvious in every activity. In Jill’s journal, these were Affect, Creativity and Play. The example Jill gave to show the difference between the two types of principle was that she believes all activities should be communicative (framing principle), but that there are times when activities should be cognitive, logical or serious depending on the aim (which could be seen as contradicting some of her core energies).

In analysing her journal, Jill realised that she wrote most when she was dealing with problems, and very little when the writing was going smoothly. She seemed to have a lot of tacit principles underlying her writing. Here are some of them:

  • Does this activity fulfil the aim in the best possible way?
  • Is the staging in the best logical sequence?
  • Does staging scaffold the students by providing achievable steps?
  • Are the groupings appropriate to the task and do they provide variety and balance of interaction?

She also noticed a system of checks and balances that stopped her forward progress at times. These included trying out the materials by putting herself in the position of the teacher (imagining), the student (trying out), or the writer explaining the materials to the teacher (dialoguing). Through this process, she sometimes discovered that her activities didn’t do what she wanted them to, which meant she had to rethink them.

Once she has finished writing, Jill uses checklists based on questions formulated from her principles. These help her to ensure quality, coverage (a range of activity types/interaction patterns etc) and analyse covert syllabuses (a hidden agenda). Covert syllabuses can be positive, for example by promoting rapport within the group through activities focussing on dynamics and groupwork, or negative, such as those implied by the kind of images that might be chosen to illustrate a course book (see Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones’ talk at the MaWSIG PCE).

Jill shared lots of possible tasks which you could do to examine your own priniciples, or which could be used as the basis for workshops. Here are just a few examples:

  • Pyramid discussion, where participants first detail their own principles relating to materials design, then compare them with others.
  • Look at the principles you have related to classroom practice and consider them in more depth. Which of them are supported by research? Which of them do not seem to have theoretical support? Why do you think this is?
  • Give participants a range of different activities from published materials, chosen to demonstrate a range of writing styles. Analyse how much they like doing the activity, how often they create similar activities and how much they like creating that kind of activity.
  • Analyse the principles you have come up with in more depth. What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of having these as principles? Can these principles be justified by theory and classroom practice? What questions should you ask yourself about being driven by personal preference in your writing?
  • Dialoguing: participants work in pairs, with one as the classroom teacher and the other as the materials writer. The writer must justify their design decisions to the teacher. Record the conversation, play it back, and see if there are any decisions the writer wants to rethink.
  • Imagining: go through the activity step-by-step, as if you’re using it in class. Record yourself talking through the process, then listen back and analyse it critically. Is there anything you would change?
  • Trying out: put yourself in the students’ shoes. Record your interactions. Listen back and ask yourself questions. For example: Did the activity produce the language required? Did it produce enough of it? Was it engaging? Did everyone have equal turns?
  • Spoken protocols: participants design an activity and verbalise their decisions as they make them. Record this and listen back, with participants trying to verbalise what unspoken design principles are influencing these decisions.
  • Take an activity you have designed and try altering one element, for example, changing it from a pair to a group task. What effect does this have?
  • Develop your own checklists based on the principles you have uncovered. Use them!

Uncovering culture – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

When Ben and Ceri started teaching, cultural content in coursebooks looked very different. It tended to reflect and/or reinforce cultural stereotypes, drawing on students’ prior knowledge of the world. There was a lot of pop anthropology or negative etiquette, ‘othering’ the cultures discussed by distancing students from it: ‘They do it like this, not like you do.’ It also reinforced the idea that everyone in a country acts in the same way: ‘Americans eat fast food’. Subliminal cultural content was also common, for example in the choice of images used.

Ceri and Ben wanted to move from this global, stereotypical image of culture, making it more relevant to the students’ lives, combining the global and the local to make it ‘glocal’. For example, rather than an article describing food of the world, including McDonalds as the food of the USA, you could:

  • Compare menus served by McDonalds in different countries.
  • Question what junk and healthy food really is.
  • Look at the designs of McDonalds restaurants, and how they differ around the world, for example the McCafé.
  • Find local news articles featuring McDonalds.

Continuing the food theme, try exploiting these food flags, designed for the Sydney Food Festival. Each image showcases food typical of that country. Students can identify the food, then decide whether they think it really does represent the country. Finally, they create a flag for their own country and other students discuss whether it’s truly representative.

Food-Flags

Image from peacechild.org

‘Breaking’ stereotypes in this way can be a very productive exercise in the classroom. Something similar can be done with postcards too: do they reflect true experiences of what it is like to be in the country?

Ben and Ceri have written various course books together. The most recent are the Eyes Open series, written for secondary school students and published by Cambridge University Press. They have used ideas to exploit culture throughout, and showed examples like this one during their presentation.

There is a move away from stereotypes, showing a more multicultural view of Britain. Texts also have links to the outside world, so that the restaurant mentioned is a real place which students can visit the website of if they want to.

You need to build a bridge between the materials on the page and the lives of the students. One way to do this is to have the voices of ‘insiders’, rather than ‘outsiders’, talking about their own cultures. The example Ben and Ceri gave was a video about dabbawallas in India, leading on to a discussion of whether this system would work in the students’ own countries: What kind of food would they include in the boxes? Who would cook it?

Another avenue for uncovering culture is to emphasise the trans-cultural flow of ideas, rather than separating out cultures artificially. One way to do this is through YouTube videos and the associated comments, like those by Bethany Mota, who often shares videos about food. The ‘unboxing‘ meme is a productive one, and this video of an American opening a pizza in Korea gives lots of language students could draw on to make their own video, making the connection to their own lives and culture.

Here is an abridged version of Ben and Ceri’s slides.

Can a picture tell a thousand words? – Hugh Dellar

You might think that this metaphor is as old as the hills, but according to Hugh’s research, it was actually coined about a century ago by an advertiser in the USA trying to sell advertising space on the side of trams! Hugh decided to continue this theme by advertising too, in this case the new edition of Outcomes, which he co-wrote with Andrew Walkley. 🙂

Hugh’s attitude to the use of images in materials has developed over his writing career. Originally he thought they were just a way of breaking up the page, and that the focus should be on language, because this is what students learn from. When his publisher changed and he was asked to incorporate more National Geographic content into his materials he was initially reluctant, associating them with doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms and pain! He also highlighted the fact that although many of their images are beautiful, they aren’t necessarily great for generating language. They say 1000 words, so you don’t have to. Instead, he finds images which have the potential to ‘bring 1000 words into being’ much more useful.

So what are the functions of the image in the ELT classroom?

  • To illustrate the meaning of lexis. Learners can label things, but it’s not great for longer phrases.
  • To test whether students have remembered lexis. This is great for nouns, but not so good for things which are more abstract.
  • Decoration.
  • Prompts for grammar drills. Hugh mentioned ‘English for voyeurs’, which is true whenever you use images to practise the present continuous!
  • To check receptive understanding (e.g. choose the picture which shows…)
  • To set the scene.
  • To generate language and ideas.
  • To generate discussion, stories, opinions, etc.

The last three are the ones which are the most fruitful, but they require a certain type of image, preferably with some kind of ambiguity or something unstated.

In Outcomes, the picture above is used to introduce a unit on business. One of the discussion points is why there are no women shown. It then leads on to a unit about business, including making phone calls.

The same principles which apply to images could also be used for videos. Again, just because it’s on YouTube, doesn’t make it interesting. There is no guarantee that the language in the video is intelligible, appropriate for the level of your students, or will ever be used by them again. Once you’ve found a suitable video, you still have to write the materials to go with it too! This is where video content accompanying coursebooks comes in. In Outcomes, video is exploited in a variety of ways, not just for traditional comprehension tasks. It’s also a way of improving students listening skills by analysing small chunks of language, and then attempting to reproduce them to experiment with their pronunciation.

You can watch the whole 30-minute presentation on YouTube.

MAWSIG Open Forum

The Materials Writing SIG has gone from strength to strength since it started a couple of years ago. At the open forum, they updated us on what has been happening over the last year and their plans for the next year, including MaWSIG May, a series of webinars which happened very successfully last year and which they would like to repeat. They also held a raffle, and this happened 🙂

In summary

All of these talks have given me a strong incentive to examine the principles behind materials design in more depth, which is something I hope to do if and when I ever get round to doing an MA! I really like the idea of the Anglia Ruskin course, which focuses heavily on materials design, but unfortunately it’s only available face-to-face and I can’t afford it at the moment. One day…

IATEFL Manchester 2015: CELTA

This was my first IATEFL since I became a CELTA tutor, so I had a whole new set of talks to discover. Here are the three I went to, all of which made me think about how I approach CELTA tutoring and what an ‘ideal’ course would look like.

Strictly Come CELTA: An analogy and some thoughts on feedback – Jo Gakonga

I’ve found Jo’s CELTA training videos very useful and enjoyed a meal with her and a few other CELTA and Delta trainers at the beginning of the conference, so was looking forward to hearing her speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Jo compared the role of CELTA tutors to that of judges on the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Each of them has a distinctive personality and gives feedback in different ways, which reflects our roles as CELTA tutors. She asked us to consider which of the judges we are similar to, and how this may change throughout the course or with different trainees.

She also talked about differentiated grading scales (compared to ‘To Standard’ and ‘Not To Standard’ from Cambridge), and how this can create standardisation issues. On SCD, there is a 10-point scale, but only one of the four judges really grades like this. One of them only really uses a five-point scale, because she never gives lower than 5. In 12 series, one judge has given 113 ’10s’, another 146 and another 35, but they’re all supposed to be grading on the same scale. She used this to encourage us to think about whether differentiated grading is useful or not.

Here are Jo’s slides.

The development of cognitions and beliefs on CELTA courses – Karla Leal Castañeda

I first learnt about the concept of teacher cognitions (what teachers know, believe and think) at the IH DoS conference in January this year. I believe it has a big effect on participants in CELTA courses and how receptive they are to the training they receive. I chose to go to this talk in the hope of finding out more.

In a nutshell, Karla’s research was to investigate what the trainees believed coming on to the course, whether this changed through the course, and how it influenced their performance. She did a combination of interviews and observations with 8 trainees from 3 different courses.

Most of them had unrealistically high expectations of what they might be able to learn on a four-week course, including ‘grammar’, a formula for how to be a good teacher, or a completely new way of approaching teaching. By the end of the course, they recognised that it was impossible to cover all of this within the time constraints, but still found the learning experience to be ‘rich and far from disappointing’. As they said, CELTA can only give them an insight of what teaching is and experience will give them the rest.

They highlighted the importance of planning in their post-lesson reflections, as they realised that problems in the lesson often stemmed from a lack of preparation. Based on negative experiences they had had in lessons, trainees had aspects of teaching they would prefer to avoid after the course, for example, CCQs (concept-checking questions). Despite this, they recognised that they needed to give techniques a fair trial before discarding them categorically, and that a four-week course was not enough time to say that a particular technique would or wouldn’t work.

Coming on to the course, most of the trainees talked about their own previous negative experiences learning languages and expressed that language learning needed to be fun to be effective, with a good rapport between teacher and students. This led to them prioritising fun in their own evaluations of their lessons, often disregarding what the trainer had to say about the lesson in terms of how successful it was if they (the trainees) thought that it wasn’t fun. There was a belief that language teachers need to be different to teachers of other subjects, since language teaching cannot be as teacher-centred as other subjects: interaction is crucial. By the end of the course, classroom management was added to the list of desirable teacher characteristics, in addition to subject knowledge and good rapport with students.

During the courses, there was shift towards a more student-centred approach to teaching. However, trainees stated that when teaching more student-centred lessons they felt less professional, and less ‘teachery’, which echoes my own informal observations of the need for trainees to adopt ‘teacher position‘ to feel like they are being effective and useful to the students. There is a continuous struggle against deeply rooted previously ‘learned’ behaviour, either from their own experience in the classroom or from the ‘apprenticeship of observation‘: what they have learnt from being a student and observing their own teachers.

In the Q&A session at the end, a trainer in the audience highlighted that sometimes we are not very good at managing expectations during the CELTA course, and that perhaps we need to revisit them more often. Another trainer suggested including regular slots in input sessions where you encourage trainees to compare what they have learnt about teaching with their own beliefs about how to teach. This is definitely an area which warrants further research, and one in which I will watch developments with interest.

The natural CELTA – a farewell to language? – Joanna Stansfield and Emma Meade-Flynn

This was the final talk I went to at IATEFL this year, and was a great note to finish on as it inspired me to consider a completely different approach to putting together a CELTA course by rethinking it from the ground up, rather than basing it on more traditional structures.

Joanna and Emma wanted to remove as much of the stress from the CELTA course as they could and make sure that their trainees were as prepared for real-world teaching as possible. To do this, they decided to get rid of language instruction from the timetable, since this is the most stressful area for most trainees.

Temporary bookshelf (binders and a pile of grammar books)

Image taken from ELTpics by Mary Sousa, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

They also tried to integrate the course as much as possible, so everything fed into the teaching trainees would do and nothing felt like extra work, since many trainees find it difficult to prioritise when juggling assignments and TP (lessons). They still had to meet the criteria set by Cambridge though, and demonstrate that their trainees could be effective language teachers. To do this, they changed the course in the following ways:

  • Replacing language analysis sheets with task analysis, focussing on the specific activities that trainees were planning to use. Different sheets were used for receptive and productive tasks. This had many effects on the trainees, for example realising that lexis is important for listening tasks. Trainees also created more meaningful productive tasks as a result.
  • Basing the language skills assignment around task analysis sheets which had been used in previous TPs, with trainees reflecting on what problems the students had with the language and re-planning the lesson in light of this. This is instead of the over-analysis and the added stress of a more traditional assignment, which can create an atomised view of language. It can also mean trainees over-explain to students because they try to give them all of the knowledge they have instead of just what is relevant.
  • Teaching a model lesson at the beginning of the course in the same way and using the same materials that they expected their trainees to use, then incorporating more explicit reflection on the model lesson throughout the first week of input, unpacking the techniques used in it. Trainees were noticeably better at lesson cohesion after this.
  • Adding a 20-minute slot at the end of TP where trainees could speak to students about what happened in the lesson without trainers in the room. This was recorded, and fed in to the Focus on the Learner assignment. Trainees were more aware of their students as people and of their needs, and better able to understand their accents. There was also higher student retention because of this, and this reflects the real world, since student retention is something we all need to be aware of.
  • Encouraging trainees to note questions they wanted to ask the students and their co-teachers while observing.
  • Learning more about students meant TP points weren’t needed after week one, as lessons were based around student needs, although a course book was still used.
  • Changing the layout of the lesson plan, including a column for self-evaluation. Before seeing trainer comments, trainees had to fill in a stage-by-stage reflection, rather than only reflecting on the lesson in general.
  • Integrating assignment 3 with trainees designing materials they would then go on to use (I think – my tweets aren’t very clear at this point!)

They got very positive feedback from their trainees on this course. They developed their language awareness naturally, in a similar way to how teachers do in the real world, and language became much less scary as a result. They also realised how important lexis was and were much better at teaching it because they had built up a good rapport with the students through the 20-minute conversations. Students weren’t afraid to ask how new lexis should be used. Trainees were also much more self-critical and reflective as a result.

This is definitely a course structure I would like to find out more about, and I think it will influence my own course design when I finally put together a CELTA course myself as a Main Course Tutor (I’m an Assistant Course Tutor at the moment).

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Africa

This was the first IATEFL where I saw talks which mentioned Africa at all. I know there must have been related talks at the previous conferences I was at, but they didn’t cross my radar. This year I had no choice but to notice them, as the Monday and Tuesday plenaries were both about the continent, and what a perfect choice that was.

The justice and imperative of girls’ secondary school education – a model of action – Ann Cotton

Ann Cotton’s plenary was truly inspiring and got a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. She described the evolution of the organisation which was to become Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education.

Camfed logo

Back in the early 1990s, Ann was doing university research which involved her visiting a Tonga village in Zimbabwe to find out why girls’ educational attainment was so low. What she saw there surprised her. Contrary to the standard belief that girls weren’t sent to school for cultural reasons, she actually discovered that poverty is the main barrier to girls’ education. The people in the village she visited had been moved there by the government when a dam was built, away from the river they depended on for their livelihood and to land which was not suitable for resettlement. To force people into the cash economy, the government also imposed many different taxes, like a hut tax, a dog tax, and a requirement for a fishing license if they wanted to use the nearby lake for food. There was food aid for the first two years, but after that the people were on their own. In order to meet the economic needs of their families, boys needed to be educated as a priority because they were likely to be able to earn more money later. When Ann arrived, there were seven boys for every one girl at the school. Although Zimbabwe had made huge strides in its education system after desegregation, there was still a long way to go to achieve true equality. It wasn’t that the Tonga people did not want to educate girls, but that they were forced to prioritise boys’ education because of the local economic situation.

They were making the only decisions they could on the basis of economics and survival.

When girls are poorly educated, it has many knock-on effects, including high infant mortality and the exclusion of women from the economy and decision-making. If a girl leaves school young, she will probably marry very soon afterwards because her family will struggle to sustain her financially. Both her and their security depends on her finding a husband. This means she’s likely to become pregnant while still a teenager, and in the villages Ann visited, she would be far away from medical services. If she had trouble during labour, she would be taken to a hospital two hours away for free medical treatment. However, if she died, the family would have to pay for the return of her body, leading to some incredibly difficult decisions. Some families chose not to let their daughters go to the hospital because they wouldn’t be able to get the body back afterwards if anything happened. The people at the clinic thought this meant families didn’t care about their daughters, but again poverty was the true underlying cause.

You have to make the decision that makes the best economic sense.

In all of the research she had done, she had never met the idea that poverty was a potential reason for girls not being sent to school. In fact, there was a huge desire for education, and this inspired Ann to try to do something about it. She felt completely out of her depth, but she knew it needed wider consideration. She abandoned her studies, and started to go to organisations to explain what she’d found, but she met repeated resistance and minds closed to the idea that there might be another explanation for educational and health issues.

When Ann returned to the Tonga village, the chief was very surprised to see her. They called a meeting about how to get more girls in school, and Ann was amazed when hundreds of people turned up. The chief sent out the word to local villages, and when the people came it proved that they really wanted their daughters to be educated. The chief provides the bridge between the traditional world and the modern world, and is trusted by the tribe. They built a committee to decide how to progress, including the chief, educators, people from the health system and the mothers’ support group, ensuring that women were represented in the decision-making too. The Camfed model endeavours to understand the girls’ lives both inside and outside school to make the system fit the child.

The child is at the centre of everything.

They draw on the social capital of the people in the tribe and of the girls who have been educated thanks to Camfed to strengthen their model. For example, there have recently been severe floods in Malawi which is likely to lead to severe problems with food as the year goes on. Camfed has been providing food which local mothers distribute. They are all illiterate or semi-literate, but can decide who needs extra food based on observing the way the children eat, without needing any tests or scientific basis for their decisions. Ann also mentioned learning a lot from James Rebanks in the book The Shepherd’s Life [affiliate link], where he talked about how much he has learnt from talking to semi-literate people. These are examples of ‘knowledge capital’ and show us that a lack of literacy does not mean a lack of intelligence, and that in fact some knowledge can be lost as the world becomes more literate.

There is an intense arrogance in seeing poor people as potential data points.

It’s important for us to gather information about the situation related to girls’ education. However, we need to be sensitive in how we do this and ensure that the data is returned to the community so that it can be used fully: often it goes up the system and the community never have access to it. Ann gave examples of the power of data to acknowledge and change behaviour. By demonstrating to families how the changes they had made in their approach to girls’ education had impacted on their lives, the communities felt hugely positive and were more likely to continue with these changes.

From a small start, they have grown and grown. In 1991, they supported 32 girls to get an education. In 2014, it was 1.2 million. There is now also a sister organisation called ‘CAMA’ made up of the alumni of Camfed, who are supporting more girls in their turn: 63,274 so far. The organisation spread to Ghana, and now works in five different countries, including Muslim communities where people said the system wouldn’t work. On the contrary: everyone wants their children to be educated!

Camfed has also worked to provide role models. Because nobody from the local tribes had got through the education system, none of the teachers spoke the tribal language. At secondary school, English was the language of education, and the children had had no exposure to it outside the classroom. One of the first things Camfed did was work to reduce the entry requirements for Tonga people to go to teacher training college. As well as the language barrier, there’s also a barrier in the metaphors and examples the children are expected to understand. In collaboration with women from CAMA and Pearson, they are working on materials to reflect the children’s experience more closely, to reduce the feeling of detachment and remoteness of the educational environment the children were entering. ‘Learner Guides’ are the bridge between these two areas. They are young secondary school graduates who work with teachers, bridging the gap between the ‘imported’ teacher and the local children. Because the learner guides are from the local community, they can help with the language, dealing with large class sizes, moderating materials, and providing a friendly face for the children when they come to the school. Parents can see their daughters progressing and earning respect in the local community, with teacher training college being considered the next step.

Ann gave some inspiring examples of some of the girls who have come through the Camfed system, entrepreneurs, doctors, and even a member of a UN advisory committee. Because of their backgrounds, they understand poverty in a way nobody else can, and they are more able to make changes because there is a bridge to their communities. Their communities celebrate them and are proud of them: they are not trying to hold them back at all.

They emerge as extraordinary global leaders who are fighting for change for others like them. What a loss to the world if they had not been educated!

Ann finished with these words:

When everyone thinks the way you do, it’s time to think differently.

Mark Twain

Ann’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. I would strongly recommend watching her plenary, because my summary does not do justice to it at all:

You can also read a summary by Lizzie Pinard.

ELT in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future directions – Harry Kuchah

Apart from a brief stint volunteering at my old primary school when I was 18, and two months at a primary school in Borneo, all of my teaching has been at private language schools, where the largest classes had 16 students. More than half of the classes I’ve taught have had fewer than six students. The majority of the reading I do about ELT deals with similar situations, with the occasional diversion into primary or secondary contexts with up to forty students. I always knew that this was not the reality for many teachers and thought it must be very difficult to teach huge classes, with little chance of seeing progress in your students. Until Harry Kuchah’s plenary on the final day of IATEFL, I never really understood how teachers managed in this situation. He had an inspiring and positive message, and one which I hope to see more of at future conferences.

Harry was the recipient of a Hornby scholarship to study an MA in the UK in 2006. He learnt a lot, but it wasn’t always easy to apply to his context. Even the ‘difficult circumstances’ described in the literature he read were a far cry from his context. He’s from Cameroon, a country with 258 languages and tribes, where French and English are the mediums of instruction. As well as being a teacher, he works for the Ministry of Education as an inspector. The average teacher to pupil ratio is 1:72. It used to be 1:125! This doesn’t take into account the fact that subject teachers teach consecutively, not concurrently, so the maths teacher and the English teacher count as two teachers in the ratio, even though they will actually teach classes that are twice the size (125 each, not 63) one after the other. Many teachers also prefer to stay in urban areas, so rural classes are larger too. Seven or eight students share a single textbook, and three or four sit at a desk designed for two. The ‘Education for All’ movement has led to an increase in the number of pupils at schools, but no corresponding increase in the infrastructure available to educate them. Other initiatives from the ministry, mainly due to the offer of finance from interested third parties, have meant that teachers are constantly required to change their methodology: there have been 12 required changes in pedagogy since 2000, almost entirely influenced by Western pedagogy. It’s impossible to keep up with this rate of change. Teachers are constantly told that they need new training, but there is little or no acknowledgement of the effort they put in. There is severe danger of burnout.

In Harry’s classroom he had 235 teens in a classroom designed for 60. Temperatures regularly reached 46 degrees. Through a process of negotiation with his students, they decided to move outside, and started to have lessons under the trees. They decided that the best thing would be if all of them became teachers, and they worked collaboratively to help each other. His children didn’t have books, so they found texts and produced their own materials. As the teacher, Harry’s role was to check that the texts students brought to him were relevant to the syllabus. You can find examples of the materials he used and his students created on the IATEFL site, for example, a poem they wrote based on Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. I’d highly recommend looking at them: in most cases, the first text is the sample, and the second is what the students produced in response to it, often with much longer and more complex language as they enriched their texts. Another idea was to take pictures students drew in response to a text in one class into another class, with the second class writing original texts based on the pictures. During the plenary, Harry showed us a video of one of his students telling a story based on these pictures: as well as the complexity of the language the child produced, what particularly struck me was the noise of the class. I find it hard to imagine being able to concentrate, having come from the luxury of quiet environments. The materials the students created served as a diagnostic tool for ‘accuracy therapy’ (I love this metaphor!) Harry published his story with Richard Smith in 2011.

English is the life-giving language for many people in the world.

Learners are partners. We can share the burden of low resources with the students, no matter how young they are.

Based on his own experience and the lack of correlation with what he had studied on the MA, Harry decided to do more research. The changes in pedagogy which teachers had imposed on them were confusing and often irrelevant to their context.

Context-appropriate pedagogy needs to be developed across the world.

Harry defines this as:

  1. The aspects of practice which are considered good by teachers (and students, I think – didn’t have that in my tweet!)
  2. Doable within that context
  3. Worth doing within that context

In order to facilitate the development of a pedagogy which is appropriate to the situation in Cameroon, Harry asked teachers and students for their opinions about good/appropriate practice within their context. He conducted interviews with teachers and students, observed classes, and videoed lessons which teachers felt were successful. As a follow-up, he watched the videos in workshop groups with 30 teachers, and fed in information from his interviews with students too. It was the first time this kind of discussion of learning had taken place for any of these teachers or students, and it had a very positive effect, since it emerged that teachers and students didn’t always agree about what was ‘good’. This was an eye-opener for some of the teachers, and led to changes in their approach. For example, one teacher believed that group-work would be too chaotic in his class of 87, then saw a video of it happening in a class of 120, with the children saying how much they got out of it, and was inspired to try it out. Another teacher said they used to underestimate their pupils, but realised they could do more than they thought because of the workshops.

Many of these practices also contrasted with what was recommended by the Ministry of Education, and Harry saw a huge difference between the lesson plans he was given before the class and what unfolded in front of him. Teachers told him that they write the plans to satisfy requirements by following the model they are told to use, but this is rarely what they do in class. The challenges they faced and the huge rate of change meant that many of them employ ‘survival teaching strategies’, which often do not respect the recommendations of the ministry.

Harry believes that teachers are more likely to accept pedagogic innovation when it is seen to come from their colleagues and/or their context, rather than being imposed from above. As a result of this, he is now working with the teachers of the Cameroon teaching association, CAMELTA, to do ‘teaching association research’. After a plenary, 170 teachers wrote three possible research questions each. Working with the IATEFL Research Special Interest Group (RESIG), a questionnaire was created on the basis of these questions and sent out to teachers in CAMELTA, asking for one problem the teachers face in their classroom, solutions they have tried, and whether they work. The idea is to build a bank of knowledge specific to the context which other teachers can draw on. This is still in progress, but they already have 504 responses, with more coming in all the time. The teachers involved feel a sense of ownership, and are participating in research and building knowledge in a way that they wouldn’t have time to do as individuals.

In conclusion, we need to:

  • Create an enabling environment, rather than just telling teachers what to do and how to do it;
  • Incorporate the perspectives of both teachers and students;
  • Negotiate the divergence between these perspectives through critical reflection;
  • …and last, but not least: Focus on the positives and appreciate teachers’ efforts.

Harry’s slides and handout are available along with the session details on the IATEFL online site here. Again, I would highly recommend watching his plenary yourself:

Talk English: from CELTA to volunteer ESOL in South Africa – Julie Douglas

The third talk I went to connected to Africa was about a volunteer teaching project helping .

Julie and one of her colleagues did the CELTA at IH Durban in 2005. At the end of the course, they discovered that many of the students who were coming to the free teaching practice classes wouldn’t be able to continue studying English because they couldn’t afford it. With the support of IH Durban, they started offering free classes to anyone who wants them, particularly refugees who need English to start their new lives in Durban. This has developed into a project called Talk English, which has gone from strength to strength, but still needs the support of as many volunteers and financial backers as possible. You can find out more and donate through their website.

Taken together

These three talks have changed my vision of how English teaching is done in Africa. I wish all three of the speakers continued luck with their projects. I fully intend for my future Kiva loans to go to Camfed projects. I would like teaching association research to take off as context-specific methodology is sorely needed in so many places. Finally, I hope that Talk English finds the permanent location it is searching for and the money to fund it.

IATEFL Manchester 2015: Two plenaries

Before IATEFL 2015 I said I’d try to publish at the end of each day of the conference. I should have learnt by now that there’s no way that will ever happen because I don’t have time to think, much less blog during the conference! Instead I decided to group my posts by themes I found in the talks I chose to see. The first two plenaries didn’t really fit any of these, hence this post. The other posts will hopefully appear over the next few days…

Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT – Donald Freeman

In the opening plenary of the conference, Freeman examined three myths of teaching and ELT:

  • ‘direct’ causality: teaching causes learning
  • ‘sole’ responsibility: as teachers, we’re the ones responsible for what happens in our classroom
  • ‘proficiency’ as the goal of our teaching

I liked the metaphor of a suitcase sculpture called Partir from Florence for how we think about how the language teaching we do in the classroom corresponds to how the students use the language outside the classroom:

Funny things happen to language when it goes to school.

In order to teach language, we have to give it attributes it doesn’t have, like grammar, levels and a division between the four skills. These create the ‘suitcase’ of the metaphor, and lead to ‘The Suitcase Problem’, divorcing language from the kind of settings it will be used in.

Rather than aiming for general proficiency, we need to ‘bound’ the language we are teaching to help the students know what they’re aiming for, and link to the settings it will be used in as much as possible [adding clear contexts].  Based on a research project with teachers learning English for classroom use in Vietnam, for example, Freeman observed that having a clear target setting motivated lower level teachers to improve at a faster rate than their higher-level counterparts when they could choose what to study and when.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.

Engagement principles and practice in classroom learning, language and technology – Joy Egbert

For the second plenary of the conference, Joy Egbert discussed the principles of student engagement and how this applies to the use of technology in the classroom. Her message was that unless students are engaged with the topics we choose and the materials and tools we use to present them, little learning will happen.

She described her own experiences of second language learning with the use of technology, and showed that many students fail to learn languages because of demotivation, boredom and frustration, as well as ineffective teaching and learning. This is something I’ve heard from many people who’ve failed to learn languages, particularly due to negative experiences at (mostly secondary) school.

When students are doing an engaging task, they pay more attention and have a greater chance of success, both linguistically and in the task itself. These are the ‘engagement principles’ she shared for creating such tasks:

  • Include authentic tasks (ones which are perceived as important by the learners, not necessarily reflecting things they would have to do in real life);
  • Integrate connections to the students’ lives;
  • Provide social interaction or deep individual focus. In group activities, allocate roles and gives students a clear reason to listen to each other;
  • Offer practice and feedback;
  • Have a good balance between the level of challenge and the skills the students have (not too easy/hard).

Joy advocated using technology to fulfil some of these criteria, but emphasised that you should only use it if it adds to the task, not for the sake of it. She gave various examples of how this might be possible and emphasised the importance of getting to know your students to ensure that the tools and materials are as relevant to them as possible.

I’m not sure how much of this talk was actually new or thought-provoking to the audience – a lot of it seems like common sense – but it did remind me of the importance of getting to know your students.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.

IATEFL Manchester 2015 MaWSIG Pre-Conference Event

The Materials Writing Special Interest Group is the newest IATEFL SIG, and very active. They have a blog, a facebook page, and a Twitter account.

MaWSIG logo

Each SIG has a pre-conference event (PCE) with a specific theme. The MaWSIG theme this year was The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit and featured a whole range of speakers with huge amounts of experience between them. I’ve done a little materials writing myself, and thought this would be a very useful way to find out more about how to develop in this area, even if none of my materials end up being published. I’m very happy I chose to go to this PCE as it turned out to be incredibly useful, with lots of tips that I can start using straight away, and hopefully build on if and when I get more writing work.

How to write multiple-choice activities – Sue Kay

This was a very practical way to start the day. Sue offered us these tips:

  • Keep options of a similar length and style, preferably short and avoiding linkers – students should be spending time processing the text, not the question;
  • Keep distractors plausible – avoid humorous or silly options because they’re obviously wrong;
  • Don’t have any obviously incorrect answers;
  • Avoid any overlap between options;
  • Make sure questions can’t be answered using world knowledge or common sense;
  • If using an unfinished sentence as the stem, divide it in a logical place (e.g. not in the middle of a fixed expression).

Sue also advises writing the text and the multiple-choice items at the same time whenever possible, unless you have a text which you’re required to base your items on. It’s much more natural than writing the text first, then trying to shoehorn distractors in.

When writing distractors, here are a few techniques you can use:

  • Change the period of time using phrases like I used to…but now I… or Normally…but this time…
  • Compare the desire/hope/intention of the speaker to what actually happened: We planned to…, We thought about…
  • Use unreal past in conditionals or after ‘wish’: If the boss had given me a raise, I’d have stayed.
  • Use negatives or near negatives, especially less common ones: It’s not as if we’re desperate for a car park. or It’s hardly my idea of fun.

To find out more, Sue recommended two ELT Teacher2Writer books: How to Write Reading and Listening Activities by Caroline Krantz and How to Write Exam Practice Materials by Roy Norris.

The role of the image in materials design – Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones

Ben and Ceri shared lots of image banks and showed how the same search of ‘beach’ can yield very different results depending on where you search and the filters you use. Panos seemed particularly interesting. It’s a collection of photojournalism, often accompanied by short texts. Even if you don’t end up using the images themselves, they can provide inspiration for your writing as they are a lot more generative than stock photos. Other image banks are:

Unsplash is a Creative Commons image bank where you can use the images for any purpose, including commercial. They share 10 free images a week. Another option is Death to the Stock Photo. For non-commercial use, there is of course ELTpics, and there are lots of ideas for how to use those images on the Take A Photo And… blog.

On Alamy you can set filters to look for certain kinds of image. For example, if you choose ‘square’ you’ll end up with Instagam influenced shots. As a materials writer, you may have to write an artwork brief to tell publishers what to put with your materials. By experimenting with filters, and telling publishers what you DON’T want, the image is much more likely to be what you’re looking for. Don’t get your heart set an image though, and remember that there is a budget.

Other tips for writing an artwork brief:

  • Consider including sample images you’ve sourced – this can be clearer than describing the image;
  • Explain how the image will be work/be used in the materials, not just what it looks like;
  • If you know what you want, but can’t find an example, describe it in as much detail as you can to make it more likely that the final result is what you envisaged.

We may also need to move away from the traditional image and consider modern types of image such as the selfie, infographics, dronies (new to me!), panodash, Dear Photograph, Draw My Life, memes and kinetic typography. With these, they may be hard to sell to publishers, and they may go out of fashion. To stay up-to-date with images, try these ideas:

  • look out for images being used in adverts, etc;
  • subscribe to adweek for the top 5 commercials every week;
  • follow accounts like @nytimesphoto on Twitter;
  • subscribe to Unsplash for weekly emails with taster images;
  • [my addition: download the Guardian app for images from Eyewitness]

Images have four roles in materials:

  • scene-setting
  • illustrative
  • decorative
  • driving force

When choosing your image, consider which role it will play and choose accordingly. For example, CAE images tend to be mid-shot (rather than close up) so you can see the surroundings too.

Find out more at Ben Goldstein’s blog and Ceri Jones’ blog.

A technological toolkit for Materials Writers – Nick Tims

I learnt  a lot of useful tips here!

  • Use multiple monitors so you don’t have to flick between screens too much. (I’m doing this for the first time as a I finish this blogpost!)
  • Get browser extensions to save you time and reduce clicks.
  • Link shorteners (like bit.ly) make huge links to Google Images (for those artwork briefs!) much more manageable.
  • Use ‘Grab’ for Mac or ‘Snipping tool’ on Windows to take partial screen shots instead of copying and pasting things into Paint or other cropping tools.
  • Create custom search engines in Chrome. Go to any site with a search box, right click the search box, add as search engine, create a keyword and you can use that search that site directly from the address bar. It took me about 10 seconds when I just tried it – amazing!
  • Use Evernote to archive texts you find for future materials writing. It appears in Google searches you do later too. (I use diigo which does something similar, although Evernote is more elegant and has a much better app)
  • Macros are ways of using one click to do a series of actions. You can download a whole set of macros from Teacher’s Pet to do things like automatically create matching activites, making activity and worksheet creation much faster. This got a round of applause and a collective gasp from the audience! (Unfortunately there are only versions for Microsoft for Windows and Open Office, but no Mac version – it’s a work in progress according the developer.)
  • StayFocusd is a browser extension you can use to limit the time you spend on particular sites in a single day. Don’t be over-enthusiatic though, because you really can’t get round it!
  • The Pomodoro technique can make you manage distractions. It involves 25 minutes of work, followed by 5 minutes of ‘reward’. That’s also good for getting you to move around. You can download browser extensions to help you with the timing.
  • RescueTime sends you a report at the end of each week telling you how much time you spent on useful/distracting websites. Can be a bit depressing, and Nick says he never gets more than 70% productivity 😉

Nick says that you need to experiment with these tools, and you may need to ‘kiss a few frogs’ in the process of finding what works for you. Here is his handout.

Writing ELT audio and video scripts – John Hughes

John showed us ways of improving our scripts to make them more interesting and add a little drama to them.

To add authenticity, you can record people in real situations. Interesting bits of language come up in this way that you might never consider if you are trying to write things yourself. However, this can be time consuming: from half a day of recording, John only got five minutes of usable audio.

You can also add features such as fillers, false starts, contracted forms, slang and more. This may depend on the publisher and the purpose of the materials (developing language or developing listening skills?), as some markets are resistant to this and prefer the more ‘polished’ nature of traditonal coursebook audio. One audience member mentioned the difference between spoken and written grammar, and there was some discussion of the fact that spoken grammar has only recently started to appear in published materials.

Target language needs to be balanced with incidental language.

Increase the amount of turn-taking to make audio more manageable for students, particularly at lower levels.

Stick to a limited number of speakers, and differentiate them through accent, gender and use of names to help SS follow the turn-taking.

Video helps you to show context, whereas you need to set up the situation more clearly if you’re writing an audio script. With video, don’t state the obvious. Show, don’t tell.

To add drama to your scripts, we can learn from Kurt Vonnegut. He said that in a good story you need to have a clear central character who wants something. You can then add drama by applying the ‘try it three times’ rule. The first two times the character fails to get what they want, but on the third attempt they succeed. This can give you more opportunities to showcase the target language, and in a more natural way than a short two or three line dialogue might. It also gives you the opportunity to add characterisation.

The final idea was to video the same scene twice, once running smoothly, and the second with the ‘try it three times’ rule. Students can watch both and compare the difference.

John has many ideas for writing materials on his blog, and has written a book about writing audio and video scripts for ELT Teacher2Writer. Here are his slides from the presentation.

Writing ELT activites for authentic video and film – Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher

Kieran is the man behind the very successful Film English website on which the majority of the videos have little or no dialogue. He’s particularly interested in exploiting images used in film. Anna is an ELT film-maker, and her opening quote was that there is an increased demand for authors who can write for video, film-makers and script-writers, so this is definitely an area to develop your skills in if you want to get into materials writing. Together they’ve written a book for ELT Teacher2Writer including many more ideas than those below.

Videos need to be consciously integrated into course material, rather than used as an add-on or as glorified listening comprehension. It particularly needs to match the topic, with a language fit as secondary. To aid comprehension, follow these guidelines:

  • Use dialogue which is clearly enunciated and not too fast.
  • Include a high degree of visual support.
  • Ensure the soundtrack is not too loud or distracting.
  • Have only one person or character speaking at a time.
  • Include supporting, titles, subtitles or graphics.
  • Reduce the number of dialects and/or strong regional accents.
  • Use a slow, clear voiceover or narration.

Keep videos to 2-5 minutes to hold the attention, and make repeat viewings easier to fit in. Try to use different activities for each viewing. When choosing a video, consider the relevance and interest of the topic, the cultural backgrounds of your students, and their experience of the world. You can also ask your students about the kinds of videos they enjoy watching. Vimeo Staff Picks, Future Shorts, BBC Earth and National Geographic are good places to look for videos.

Once you’ve chosen one, follow a three-step approach to exploit it. Editors often recommend the structure and/or the kind of activities they would like you to use, and you should ask if they don’t.

  1. Pre-viewing
    e.g. Look at the stills and have a discussion/complete the sentences with the missing words. (could be used to pre-teach vocabulary)
    Match collocations.
    Complete a summary/review.
  2. While viewing
    Don’t overload the students at this stage – stick to short answer tasks like true/false or ‘Number the sentences in the order you hear them’. The answers should be from the video, not from their knowledge of the world. Ask questions in the same order as they are in the video, and spread them evenly throughout.
  3. Post viewing
    Draw out the key concepts of the video in some way, for example through a discussion or a longer project. Students could also make their own version of the video or a follow-up to it.

Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers – Julie Moore

Julie started by telling us that she can’t imagine writing materials without a corpus, and once she told us the range of things she uses it for, I’m not surprised!

  • Ask questions like ‘How do we use…?’ ‘Do we say…?’ ‘Which is the most common…?’ ‘What’s the difference between…?’
  • Find natural examples.
  • Get inspiration for the context you introduce language in.
  • Search for collocations. Once you’ve found that a collocate exists, click through to read examples.
  • Expand the range of words which you collocate with a key word.
  • Check your intuitions.
  • Find phrases and chunks of language.
  • Do a ‘context search’ to find words around the key word, accounting for variable collocations or ones which might have other words in the middle of them.
  • Examine British/American/global English variations.

Corpora can’t do everything though. They’re not good for:

  • Searching for language features that don’t involve specific language chunks, e.g. present continuous to talk about the future.
  • Getting longer stretches of complete texts – these are still subject to copyright. This also makes it difficult to use corpus examples for things like discourse markers which require longer texts.

SketchEngine is a good tool for searching within corpora. Know your corpus! Think about British v. American English, the kind of texts used to build the corpus (e.g. newspapers, stories, academic journals…), spoken v. written language, expert v. student writers… Choose a corpus based on the text types your students will have to produce. Here are some ways you can access a corpus:

Ways of accessing a corpus

Other useful tools you can use to analyse language are Vocab Kitchen (breaks down the language in a text by level), Google NGram Viewer (showing changes in language use over time) and the Macmillan Online Dictionary. Dictionaries with CD-ROMs in them are particularly useful because of the advanced search tools which are often available on them. Julie has put more information about using these tools on her blog.

Finally, don’t accept everything the corpus tells you blindly. If it looks like a strange result, question it. Go deeper by clicking on the results to see the longer text, and look carefully at where the examples are taken from.

Tailor-making materials from an ESP perspective – Evan Frendo

Evan works mainly in the corporate sector, and has spent many years developing materials specific to his clients.

Corporate culture can influence the materials you make as you need to fit them into the training culture of the organisation. The needs of the business take priority over the needs of the individual students, and the focus is more on training than education. Materials tend to have a short shelf-life and may need to be frequently updated depending on the market. When creating tailor-made materials, you don’t need to worry so much about PARSNIPs (the topics which are often avoided in more commercial materials) providing the people you are creating the materials for are happy for them to be included. However, sometimes even in ESP they can cause problems. Evan was asked to use the longer term not the shorter term in some materials for oil workers (see photo below), even though ‘pig’ is a very generative term and is in common usage across the industry, including in the Middle East: Have you pigged the pipeline? Is the pipeline piggable?

When designing your own materials in these situations, you need to find the gap between ‘where they are now’ and ‘where they need to be’, then create materials to move the students from the first point to(wards) the second. This involves in-depth needs analysis which can be done through:

  • Analysing real texts that the students will need to be able to read/write. Tools like WordSmith can be useful here.
  • Finding out about the specific terminology students need, and what they are aware of already. Many of these may be well above their ‘level’ if they were in a traditional EFL environment.
  • Interviews with various stakeholders, not just the students and their managers.
  • Recordings (e.g. of meetings, telephone conversations).
  • Field notes (e.g. a day in the life of…, collected by shadowing somebody using the target language/doing the target job).

The materials you put together need to reflect the target discourse, which is why such in-depth research is vital. It shouldn’t be about what we as outsiders perceive to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather what is required within the organisation/industry you are creating the materials for. Genre is a key focus, including how to handle different/international understandings of those genres. For example, presentations may be done differently in different cultures, and there may be varying requirements for the amount of information included on slides depending on what they will be used for after the presentation. Use experts to tell you what counts as “successful communication”.

Communication style can be as important, if not more so, as lexis and grammar. Many learners don’t care about accuracy in the traditional sense, they care about meaning. They are often not aiming or a native speaker model, with English as a Lingua Franca becoming instead.

Ultimately, the materials you create must be evidence-led, not intuition-led.

Adventures in self-publishing – Christien Lee

What should you self-publish?

Something which fills a gap in the market, has good sales potential and where there is limited competition. Do your research! Christien decided to publish a print self-study guide for an English test in Canada, with an online component.

Print or e-book?

What are your audience likely to respond better to? Print can be considered more trustworthy, and for some people they prefer it because they’re more familiar with it. It can reduce the ease of pirate copies being distributed. Cost is also a factor here, as you need to spend more money up-front if you choose print.

Why self-publish?

Traditional publishers offer more cachet, better production values, no up-front costs, and you should get either commission or royalties. However, there is no guarantee of publication, it takes a long time to get products to market, you get less money and there is a delay in payment. Sales might also be quite low depending on how much the publishers choose to promote it.

Self-publishing means guaranteed publication, a short publication process and returns of up to 70% of sales. The disadvantages of it are that there is no guarantee of a return on your investment, and you may lose money due to upfront costs. There is also more work pre- and post-publication if you choose to self-publish.

How do you go about it?

You can use crowdsourcing, freelancers, friendsourcing (my favourite new word of the day!) or go it completely alone. The latter option is difficult as you need to deal with editing, layout, audio (maybe) and many other options, so it’s a good idea to look for specialists to avoid too much work for you. VoiceBunny is a tool you can use for audio: post a project on the site, and people can audition to be allowed to record for it.

Where should you publish it?

Amazon has a system called CreateSpace which is a print-on-demand service. You could also use book distribution systems like Draft2Digital, Lulu or Smashwords. Wayzgoose Press is a publisher which is somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. The Round is specifically aimed at ELT authors looking to publish something a little different from what traditional publishers offer.

Ensuring quality

Christien was putting together a test preparation book. When putting together something like this, it’s particularly important to provide a quality product. Questions need to match the original test for length, genre, register, topic, difficulty, distractor patterns and more. Here are some tools you can use to check that your material is at the right level:

Developing online content

If you decide to create online content to accompany your book, WordPress with premium options is a good choice as you can get features like a login-only area and a shopping cart. Articulate is a versatile tool for creating professional-looking online courses. Christien described it as ‘like PowerPoint on steroids’!

Problems with self-publishing

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, money and work involved in self-publishing. Be prepared for everything to take longer than you expect!

Other summaries of the day

Lizzie Pinard wrote four blogposts covering two talks in each:

Olga Sergeeva has summarised the whole day in one post.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus writes beautiful SketchNotes of the talks she goes to, and the MaWSIG PCE was no different:

Finally, if you want to follow the day as it unfolded, Sophie O’Rourke, part of the MaWSIG team, put together a Storify with tweets from the whole event.

Write more! Making the most of student journals (IATEFL Manchester 2015)

In this presentation I spoke about writing journals with students in a variety of different contexts, including both monolingual and multilingual classrooms. I also talked about my own experience of using a journlal for my Russian learning.

I find journal writing to be a very rewarding process for the students, and I learnt a lot from going through the process myself, including improving my spelling, increasing my vocabulary, and learning more about my teacher. As a teacher, reading my students’ journals was a great way to learn more about them, including their needs as language learners. I’d highly recommend trying it out. 

Here are the slides, including information about what exactly I mean by journal writing and tips on how to set it up. All of the links in the slides are clickable.

There is no commentary on the slides as there is a recorded version of the same talk available from the TOBELTA online conference from August 2014, which you can read more about and watch via this link.

At the start of my presentation

(thanks to David Petrie for taking the photo)

Follow IATEFL 2015

I’m about to leave for the IATEFL 2015 conference in Manchester, where I’ll be going to the Materials Writing Special Interest Group pre-conference event today, The Materials Writer’s Essential Toolkit. If I can connect to the wifi, I should be tweeting throughout on the #IATEFL hashtag on Twitter. You can also follow the online coverage, including some live-streamed and recorded sessions (not mine), and interviews throughout the conference:

IATEFL online Manchester 2015

I’m hoping to publish a summary at the end of each day, but that will depend on how motivated I’m feeling and how tired I am 😉 There will inevitably be a plethora of blog posts from lots of people throughout the conference. After it’s finished, I’ll tidy up my posts and add links so you can find them. I hope to see some of you there, and if you’re not, to be able to share as much of this experience with you as possible!

Arabic students and spelling (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

At IATEFL Harrogate I watched a presentation which went a long way towards answering a question I posed on this blog a while back: How can we help Arabic learners with their huge problems with spelling in English? It was given by Emina Tuzovic, and she kindly agreed to write a guest post sharing her tips for my blog. What with one thing and another, it’s been a while in coming (she finished it for me 6 months ago!) but I hope it was worth the wait!

Emina

Emina

A couple of tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic learners

Any TEFL teacher who has experience teaching Arabic learners is acquainted with the difficulties they face when it comes to spelling. I would like to share some spelling tips which helped my Arabic students improve this skill.

First of all, I would pre-teach what vowels, consonants and syllables are as well as highlight the difference between sounds and letters. This is important for Arabic learners as when they learn English, they need to deal with the following:

  • a new script;
  • numerous spelling patterns;
  • a complex and very often unpredictable system of mapping sounds onto letters (Arabic has a regular 1-1 sound-letter conversion);
  • a different reading direction (Arabic is written from right to left).

Therefore using the appropriate ‘labels’ will make your explanations much clearer. Also don’t forget that a phonemic chart looks like another script for this group of learners. Therefore I tend to avoid it if I can, especially transcriptions of whole words. Instead of writing a phonemic on the board, I prefer writing another, high-frequency word with the same pronunciation of a sound in question, e.g. moon; rude (/u:/).

Vowels

As you have probably noticed it is the spelling of vowels that creates most difficulties for Arabic students. One of the most effective tasks for this group is simply gapping the vowels:   e.g. _xc_pt (except)   vs   _cc_pt (accept).

‘Problematic vowels’ are down to L1 interference. Firstly, in Arabic short vowels are in most cases not written down but only indicated by diacritics. For that reason, they are frequently glossed over by the students when they read in English (which consequently results in the poor spelling of vowels). Secondly, Arabic only has three long and three short vowels in comparison to English (5 vowel letters and 20 sounds!).

Therefore when I board new vocabulary (especially multi-syllable words), I mark vowels with a colour pen and break the words down into syllables which I subsequently drill in isolation. This is very important as many Arabic students will otherwise either guess the vowel or simply omit it when trying to read a new word.

Vowels

Breaking down words into CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) patterns is also important as it helps students visually memorise lexical items. I try to encourage my students to practise words by writing them down, not typing them up on the computer. This will help them consolidate the visual form of the words which is absolutely vital if you want to be a good speller! (e.g. they need to see how differently words such as play and blue look like). I also try to get the students not to only copy the word but use the Look, remember, cover, write, check method. I get them to look at a word for about 20 seconds and try to memorise it before covering and then trying to recall it. In this way you know the students have used their processing skills to retain the item instead of just copying it.

Noticing patterns

As teachers, when we teach spelling, we tend to focus too much on spelling and pronunciation irregularities (e.g. plough, cough, etc.) rather than teaching spelling patterns. If you need to check these and the rules associated with them, I suggest using the guide on the Oxford Dictionaries website. In relation to this, I try to get my students to notice the most common letter strings (e.g. sh, ch, spr, ure, etc.) and encourage ‘active reading’ where they look for letter strings and spelling patterns. When they record vocabulary, encourage the use of spelling logs as a separate section of students’ vocabulary books (based on a spelling pattern, e.g. ie vs ei, rather than just randomly recorded vocabulary).

When revising new lexis, I sometimes use magnetic letter strings (rather than only letters) which I simply ordered off Amazon! Here is the link if you’d like to buy your own magnetic letters [affiliate link, so Sandy gets a few pennies if you order here!]

Magnetic letter strings

To get a closer insight into spelling games based on spelling patters, I would recommend Shemesh & Waller’s Teaching English Spelling [affiliate link].

[Note from Sandy: another good spelling book is Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners by Johanna Stirling]

Building up confidence

I have noticed that my Arabic learners are well aware of their poor spelling. In order to build up their confidence, they need to be shown that they have made progress.

I usually set up a routine: for the first or last 5 minutes of the class we revise vocabulary from the previous day (e.g. spelling bee) or I might give them a spelling test either every day or every other day. In this way they will soon get the sense of achievement.

I also try to praise my students for using a correct pattern (e.g. *reech, *shef, etc.) even though the word might not be spelled correctly.

Morphology

When it comes to spelling, morphology plays a very important role, too. Highlight the root, suffixes and prefixes of a word and encourage students to create word families. Based on their L1, Arabic learners will be familiar/will be able to relate to this concept/aspect of learning the new vocabulary.

Morphology

Avoid the following…

One of the common spelling activities you find in various coursebook is unjumbling letters (e.g. *fnsniuoco-confusion). However I would not advise these exercises for Arabic learners. Individual letters shuffled around might only confuse them as these exercises do not contribute to consolidating the visual form of a word.

Another exercise which particularly lower-level Arabic learners might not find useful is crosswords for the same reason as listed above (words are often presented vertically and in divided block form).

Spelling games on the computer

Students can check the following useful websites if they want to practise spelling in their own time:

This task is particularly of interest for Arabic learners as there are a lot of vowel changes between the three verb forms (e.g. drink-drank-drunk).

The first two tasks in the next group are very useful for consolidating the visual form of the word:

If students enjoy playing spelling bees, spellbee.org is an option. However, you need to register.

In terms of spelling software (which has to be downloaded on your computer), there is a lot to choose from. However, the vast majority is designed for native English speaking children and is therefore not the best tool for ESL learners. After having done some research into those, I’d recommend ‘Speak n Spell’. Although there are some issues with the audio, it’s still worth having a look.

Other useful websites

This is an excellent website by Johanna Stirling which gives tips on how to improve spelling in Arabic as well as Chinese speakers.

THRASS chart (phonics chart): Although this chart is not free (from £2), it’s a very useful tool to memorise phonics and consequently spelling patterns.

Thrass chart

To my knowledge not much has been published to solely cater to Arabic learners’ difficulties in spelling. In the classroom I frequently use Harrison, R. (1990; 1992) Keep Writing 1 and Keep Writing 2, published by Longman [affiliate links]. These books are specifically aimed at helping Arabic learners with their writing. At the end of each chapter you can find spelling exercises.

By incorporating the things mentioned above in my lessons, my Arabic students managed to considerably improve their spelling in a fairly short period of time. I hope you find these tips useful too! You can write to me on emina.tuzovic@londonschool.com.

References

About Emina

I’m currently teaching at the London School of English

I’m Delta-trained and doing my PhD in visual word recognition and recall in Arabic ESL learners at Birkbeck College, University of London.

How does the Silent Way work in the classroom? – Roslyn Young (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

Despite having read a bit about it for Delta, I never really got how The Silent Way worked. Roslyn Young’s IATEFL Harrogate 2014 session changed all that, and while I don’t believe it will change my teaching completely, it’s something I’d be interested in trying out with lower-level groups, particularly if I ever get to teach beginners again.

[Note: this post was written during Roslyn’s session, hence the narrative style.]

Roslyn has been using The Silent Way since 1971, so has many years of experience.

She introduces us to how Cuisenaire rods are used in The Silent Way.
She shows us a rectangle chart and teaches us some Japanese, by giving us a single sound and pointing to the rods on the image and getting us to repeat the sounds. She mouths sounds, pointing to more rectangles. By pointing rapidly, we make words. She uses a lot of gestures and mime, but no sound. There’s a lot of laughter in the room. By pointing at rods at the bottom and top of the chart, she shows us pitchs.

Roslyn teaching us Japanese using a Cuisenaire chart

Roslyn teaching us Japanese using a Cuisenaire chart

After about two minutes, we already know that Japanese has a pitch system. The rectangle also shows us the five vowels of the system.

Her job as a language teacher is to make us aware of all the problems we might have to deal with as learners of Japanese.

The chart also shows us the consonants. It’s a map of the whole sound system of Japanese.

She teaches all ages using this method.

She also has a rectangle chart for the sounds of English, including stress and reduction. The colours go from language to language, so the same sound is connected to the same colours in different languages.

The learning process according to Gattegno

There are many theories about how we learn. This is how Caleb Gattegno, creator of The Silent Way, sees it.

  1. There is something to learn. (e.g. in the Japanese chart there are two lots of vowels marked, so the learner sees there’s something to learn)
  2. We learn through awarenesses/movements of the mind. They might be things that you notice visually, audibly. They can be internal or external awarenesses. You have to be ‘present’ to what you’re doing to learn. It’s the stage of ‘exploration’.
  3. This is where things become automatic. At the start of this stage, they’re not automatic, but at the end they are.
  4. Transfer. Anything I’ve learnt in my life is available at any time that I want to use it.

Saying more

There are charts for beginners using the same colours as the rods. You can point to different words to build up sentences.

Roslyn using the word chart

Roslyn using the word chart

What should we be teaching?

Beginners’ books normally start with the same structures: Hello. I come from…, adding vocabulary…

The Silent Way is completely different. It asks what you can give the learners in the time you have them. It requires you to give them everything they might have trouble learning without you, like pronunciation and structures.

What Roslyn wants them to learn is the mindset of how to relate to people in the English language. You can do this by placing yourself in time and space. They can learn vocabulary without her. She wants to give them those things that they won’t get outside her lessons, focussing principally on pronunciation to start with. This will give them a grounding for self-study later.

The next step

She pulls out a couple of students, and they follow instructions, using the language in a ‘real’ context. This is after about five hours of language.
e.g. Take a rod. Give it to him.

A student might suggest ‘Take two rods and give it to her.’ At this point, Roslyn will hold up her hands and point out ‘Take two rods and give them to her’ on the chart. This helps students to learn the meaning of ‘it’ and ‘them’. This is how the Silent Way advances, by students taking leaps and the teacher helping them. Every time, communication has already taken place, and the Silent Way shows them how to express it correctly. The students are talking to each other the whole time. The only time Roslyn speaks is for classroom management. Silent Way is about expression.

“The person I talk to most is myself.” Language is about understanding my world in terms of what I think, what I say – you say things in different ways in your head until you work out what you want to say.

Connected speech

The chart shows different pronunciations of the same spellings, like ‘there’ and ‘there’, showing the different functions. The chart also has dots showing words which might have different pronunciations, like weak and strong ‘a’. Students learn this from the very beginning.

The initial English rectangle chart includes schwa, schwii (short /i/, like at the end of ‘happy’), and schwu (short /u/, like at the end of ‘shadow‘).

Spelling

There is a similar chart to the rectangle chart, showing all of the spellings for each sound. Those written in a smaller font appear less often, and students notice this and realise they don’t have to focus on those sound patterns as much.

Silent way spellings chart

Silent Way spellings chart

The colour-coding mean that there is an immediate way into reading off new words that students have never seen before.

This still works for colour-blind students, as people work via the geography of the chart as well as the colours.

Why use The Silent Way?

You subordinate your teaching to the student’s learning. It helps the students undertake their learning in a very orderly way.

By repeatedly doing something you create experience, like an apprentice learns from a master craftsman. You then order that experience to create knowledge, like a craftsman writing a book. Somebody picks up that book, but that doesn’t give them the knowledge. They still have to build up the experiences. You can’t transmit knowledge, but you can give students experience. Silent Way gives them that experience by getting students to speak as much as possible, with the teacher acting purely as a facilitator.

If you’d like to see more examples of the Silent Way charts, try Donald Cherry’s website.

IATEFL Harrogate 2014 – a summary

[I wrote the first half of this post back in May last year, and now that it’s February 2015, I thought it was probably time to finish it! The first sentence is still true though, so I won’t change it] 🙂

IATEFL Harrogate was over a month ago now, and I’m still digesting what I learnt there. In this post I’ll attempt to summarise my conference experience and the talks I attended based on tweets and blogposts from the week.

Wednesday 2nd April

English and economic development – David Graddol’s plenary

David gave a lot of evidence about the relationship between English learning and economic development. The quotes above were the most interesting, because it questions the standards we set for school leavers, and the reasons why we require potential employees to be able to speak English. What is the point of training learners to a standard that isn’t good enough to get them a job? And/or what is the point of forcing students to learn more of the language than they’ll ever need to be employed? And is English just another piece of paper to show you’re qualified, or is it actually a necessary skill? You can watch a recording of the plenary.

Due to the dodgy wifi, I blogged the rest of the talks I went to on Wednesday:

I also liked these tweets from Hugh Dellar, because the first one summarises how I felt there too. I don’t drink though, so I’ve only experienced the second one via other people’s delicate heads! 😉

 Thursday 3rd April

It was my birthday so I decided to have a slow start! 🙂 Ela Wassell started my day off beautifully with a card which she’d got signed by lots of people there. Thanks Ela! My IATEFL 2014 birthday card I Speak Meme – Nina Jerončič How to use memes in the classroom, in the talk with the best title of the conference. She might be writing a guest post for me summarising the talk, although since I asked her a long time ago and forgot to remind her, I’m hoping that she’s still willing to do it!

How does the silent way work in the classroom – Roslyn Young ‘The Silent Way’ explained in such a way that I finally understood it!

Adam Simpson and I were interviewed by Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock from British Council Teaching English. We spoke about blogging and offered advice to those of you who(‘d like to) blog.

Mark Hancock’s talk ‘Pronouncing meaning – rhythm and stress games was full by the time I arrived, but he’s shared the materials on his site.

Practical pronunciation ideas for teaching in an ELF context – Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson Lots of things you can do to help your students deal with English as a Lingua Franca, in both multilingual and monolingual classrooms.

While I’m on pronunciation, Richard Cauldwell’s name was mentioned a few times during the day, and his book ‘Phonology for Listening‘ [affiliate link] was one of my birthday presents (thanks again Ela!). When I’ve read it, I’ll share my impressions, but until then, here’s what Hugh Dellar has to say:

Mike McCarthy ‘Collocation and the learner: wading into the depths’ was on at the same time as Laura and Katy. Luckily, Cambridge ELT were tweeting some of the highlights:

I found it particularly interesting that these mistakes could be divided by level:

I finished the day with Lizzie Pinard’s talk ‘Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment in which she described the process of putting together materials to help students take advantage of studying in an English-speaking environment. She later won a well-deserved ELTon for the same materials.

Other tweets which caught my eye on Thursday:

Friday 4th April

I had another slow start on Friday and missed a lot of sessions. The first one I went to was Emina Tuzovic’s ‘Spilling or Spelling? Why do Arabic EFL learners stand out?‘ Emina shared some very practical tips and activities for helping Arabic learners with their spelling, which was something I’d been looking for since I realised they had a particular problem not shared by any other L1 background. Emina was kind enough to write a guest post on my blog sharing ideas from her talk.

I took a break to prepare for my presentation. It’s available as a recording on my blog: ‘Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening‘. I was happy to see so many people there:

Lots of wonderful people at my IATEFL 2014 conference presentation

Lots of wonderful people at my IATEFL 2014 conference presentation

Cecilia Lemos taught us about ‘Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy’, with a very interesting idea about a menu of observation tasks, which I’m looking forward to reading more about when she finds time to put it on her blog 🙂 In the meantime, you can read Lizzie Pinard’s summary of the session.

I used to work with Amy Brown at IH Newcastle, so it was a no-brainer that I would attend her talk ‘Reading for pleasure: a path to learner autonomy?’, especially because it is about extending the Personal Study Programme into a new area – PSP was my IATEFL topic in 2013. Amy discussed a project she implemented in partnership with The Reader Organisation, where trained readers came to the school to run guided reading groups. Again, Lizzie blogged about Amy’s talk.

My last ‘proper’ talk of the day was Pete Sharma introducing the Vocabulary Organizer: a new way to organize lexis’ [affiliate link to Amazon – I’ll make a few pennies if you buy via this link]. This was my only publisher talk of the conference, and I got a free copy of the organizer. 🙂 I really like the fact that there are two separate sections in it for ‘vocabulary to recognise’ and ‘vocabulary to use’. It’s specifically designed for EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students, but I think it might be useful for other students too. You can see Pete’s slides on slideshare.

That night, I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers for the Pecha Kucha evening, which was a fabulous experience. You can find out what Pecha Kucha is and watch the recording here – it’s a very entertaining hour, even if I do say so myself 🙂

Saturday 5th April

Sugata Mitra’s plenary generated a huge amount of debate, which I’m not going to get into here (as I haven’t got round to reading a lot of it yet!) Instead, I’ll give you a link to said plenary, and let you Google ‘Sugata Mitra IATEFL 2014‘ to find out what happened next…

The next talk was a reunion of sorts, since it was given by Teti Dragas, one of my CELTA tutors, who I hadn’t seen since I asked for advice a few weeks after the course finished. Her talk ‘Exploring culture in teacher education: reflections on a corpus-based study’ was based on a module done the MA TESOL at Durham University. In it, she compared Chinese attitudes to teaching and training to those in the UK, and the implications of this on the MA TESOL programme. She recommended moving away from assessed teaching practice towards a more general culture of reflective practice.

My final talk of the conference was another reunion, this time with Alex Cann, who did his Delta at IH Newcastle while I was teaching there. He was presenting on a similar topic to me, ‘Helping high-level learners understand native speaker conversations’. He shared some interesting activities to help students deal with pronunciation issues and activate their knowledge before starting to listen. He also shared my favourite video of the conference, demonstrating the importance of pronunciation and listening:

I wish I’d been able to go to this talk too:

You can see the full text of Anthony’s talk ‘The place is here and the time is now’ on his blog.

Jackie Kay, a poet, finished off the conference with a lovely selection of readings from her work and stories from her life. It was livestreamed but not recorded. Here’s an example of her reading Old Tongue, about losing her accent, so you can hear her lovely accent 🙂

Other people’s blogging

IATEFL runs a scheme where anyone can register as a blogger, regardless of whether they are at the conference or not. This creates a great picture of the conference as a whole, and promotes a lot of discussion. Here is the full list of Harrogate Online registered bloggers. It’s definitely worth taking a look – there are a lot of posts about the conference, and it’s a good place to start looking for other blogs you might want to read in general.

TeachingEnglish highlighted Lizzie Pinard’s coverage of the conference as being particularly good, and I’d second that! You might also enjoy Nicola Prentis talking about a glut of ELT celebrity encounters.

Not done yet…

As I write this [back in May!] I’m over a month behind on blog reading, and still have at least three talks I missed during the conference which I’d like to watch the videos of, with more probably being added to this list as I catch up with my reading. I still have one or two posts in my drafts which I’ll add to this summary as I publish them. I’ve also asked a few speakers to write guest posts based on their talks, which I’ll add too, so there’ll definitely be more to come from this year’s conference. Watch this space!

[February 2015 update: I think I’ve shared all of the planned posts, and I’ve caught up on my blog reading, but I still haven’t managed to watch the videos I want to, starting with Russ Mayne’s ‘Guide to pseudo-science in English language teaching‘ which I’m still hearing about regularly despite it being nearly a year since the conference. Russ, the buzz hasn’t died down at all!]

19 things I’ve learnt as an EFL teacher

On Friday 4th April, I did my first ever Pecha Kucha (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either – PK!). If you’ve never heard of a PK, it’s 20 slides, each on screen for 20 seconds, giving a total of six minutes and forty seconds. The speaker has no control over the slides, and just has to keep up!

There were eight presenters, all of whom were very entertaining:

  • Valeria Benevolo Franca (the host): Keep Calm and Pecha Kucha
  • James Taylor: Just say yes!
  • Bita Rezaei: A manifesto for teachers
  • Damian Williams: Linguistic Landscapes
  • me
  • Thom Jones:
  • Cecilia Lemos: The Ten Commandments of ELT
  • Lindsay Clandfield: memes

The whole event was recorded, and you can watch it below. I’d highly recommend watching the whole thing (it’s an hour), but if you just want to see mine, it starts at 33:15.

Harrogate International Centre auditorium (photo by James Taylor)

As well as being my first PK, it was my first presentation on a stage, or with a microphone.  It was a great experience, and something I hope I can do again in the future!

Other perspectives

Elena Matveeva chose some of my 19 things and expanded on them, as well as highlighting points from some of the other PKs.

Lizzie Pinard blogged throughout the PK evening – I have no idea how she kept up!

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

This is the recorded version of a presentation which originally took place on Friday 4th April 2014 at IATEFL Harrogate 2014.

The abstract

“I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. This workshop aims to introduce you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English.

The summary

Listening is the skill we use most in a second language. We have to understand speakers in many different contexts, of different ages, genders, levels of education, and with a range of accents, both native and non-native. However, this is rarely reflected in the classroom, where listening tends to be focussed on other students in class or on scripted coursebook recordings in ‘standard’ forms of English, mostly spoken by young to middle-aged adults (or overly excited children in the case of young learner materials!). Teachers also tend to focus on testing comprehension, rather than on teaching better listening skills. This results in students lacking confidence in their listening abilities and/or lacking knowledge of how to approach listening in the real world.

The aim of this workshop is to introduce and try out a range of activities and materials which you can use in your classroom to teach listening, rather than testing it. Some of the principles discussed will be based on John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom (Cambridge 2008), as well as my own experience in the classroom and as a second language learner. The workshop will also look at how you can make the listening you use in the classroom reflect the real world as much as possible. Finally, participants will be given the chance to share activities and materials which have worked for them, as well as discussing how to apply the activities from the workshop to their own contexts.

The presentation

You can watch the full presentation in this video:

The books I recommended are:

(These are affiliate links, so if you buy them or anything else after clicking on these links I will get a little money. Thank you!)

I also recommend showing your students how to make the most of podcasts. I wrote a post on my Independent English blog which you can use as an introduction or to find links to some podcasts I recommend.

I’ve previously shared resources related to weak forms, including more word clouds like the one in the presentation.

The audio tracks are not included in the presentation, so I’ve uploaded them to audioboo so you can listen to them and/or use them in class. No copyright infringement is intended.

Slide 6, audio 1

Slide 6, audio 2

Slide 12

Slide 13, audio 1

Slide 13, audio 2

Slide 16

From another perspective

Lizzie Pinard wrote a summary of my talk as it was happening

Andrea at Anglolang including a summary of my talk in her review of IATEFL 2014

Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson look at the talk from the perspective of English as a Lingua Franca

James Taylor wrote a one-sentence summary which made me laugh 🙂

Be the DoS you want to be – Josh Round (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

Josh’s session was part of the Leadership and Management Special Interest Group day.

He has a blog: www.bethedos.wordpress.com.

Josh became a DoS because the previous one left, and that DoS was his only reference point. He started by copying that style, and it took him a few years to develop his own style.

Josh is the chair of LonDoSA, the London DoS association, and that’s also part of what has helped him to develop as a DoS. Part of the session is about meeting other DoSes too, because that can be difficult to do.

Josh Round presenting at IATEFL Harrogate 2014

Manage Yourself

He starts by asking:

  1. What kind of manager are you?
  2. What kind of manager do you aspire to be?
  3. What prevents you?
  4. What gets in the way?

Time management

Time management is all about conscious control of our time. Having an awareness of what we’re doing, when, and how effectively.

Prioritisation is key. You need to decide what is urgent/not urgent and what is important/not important. You can make a quadrant:

Quadrant of urgent/non-urgent etc

We want to be in ‘The Zone’, and according to Stephen Covey, the best-performing managers operate mostly in this place, but it can be very difficult to do that. Tips on how to be in ‘The Zone’:

  • Don’t open your emails until at least 10a.m. You often do your best work first thing in the day.
  • Block off times when you’re available. Everybody needs to know this for it to work.
  • Divide up to do lists. Laura Patsko suggested dividing it by length of task: 15 minutes, 60 minutes, 2 hours plus.
  • Work in different places: go to a different room if there’s too much noise.
  • Give yourself motivational rewards. We all get some form of satisfaction from crossing things off lists.

Delegation

What stops us from delegating?

  • I can do it better. Maybe we’re control freaks!
  • I can do it faster. Training will take too long. But maybe this will be a long-term investment.
  • I like doing it. I’ll keep it.
  • What if they do it better?

Why delegate?

  • To build expertise in your team.
  • It gives you time.

How to delegate

  • Look actively for tasks you can hand over.
  • Identify the right person.
  • Define the task clearly.
  • Monitor but get out of the way.
  • Let them do it their way. Your way might not be the only way.
  • Encourage and give praise.
  • Don’t just delegate tasks you don’t like doing.

Managing your team

Josh shows us a video called ‘Harry and Paul’ about football management. Brilliant video 🙂 Football managers are not always friends with everyone in their team.

Managing teachers

Best practice points

  • Treat everyone as I wish to be treated.
  • Be consistent.
  • Set compelling goals and objectives. Provide challenges.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be visible and approachable. MBWA: Manage By Walking About.
  • Choose to communicate.
  • Hold regular one-to-ones with staff.
  • Be self aware: know what’s expected of you, and remember what you expected of your DoS when you were a teacher.
  • Inject fun. Being enthuasiastic and positive are contagious.
  • Be a role model. Make your goals transparent.

Really like this suggestion from Kevin Spiteri at their school in Malta: a ‘good news corner’ where everything positive goes: positive feedback, babies born, birthdays, great things that are happening at the school.

That’s the ideal, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. People are messy: they respond in different ways. It helps if you have a clear idea of your aims as a manager.

Grow a positive school culture

Josh refers us to Hertzberg: hygiene factors (things which demotivate) and motivators.
Hygiene factors include pay, lack of team morale, admin, work conditions, job security and lack of autonomy.
Motivators include job variety, team morale, freedom to be creative, recognition, challenge and opportunities for growth.
As a DoS, we can help with these factors. For example, change the classes they teach to give them variety.

Be a Developing DoS

What development opportunities exist for ELT managers? You can look for local associations like LonDoSA, or the LAMSIG through IATEFL. These allow us to connect with other DoSes and share best practice.

Leaping before you look – Danny Norrington-Davies (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

Danny was a tutor on my Distance Delta course, and his presentation at IATEFL Glasgow was one of the most useful I went to all week. I’m hoping to be trained as a CELTA tutor in the near future, so this was an ideal talk to go to.

There are three main strands to Danny’s talk:

  1. Encouraging trainees on pre-service courses to work with emerging language during observed lessons.
  2. Exploring how trainees feel before going into a lesson like this…
  3. …and after (both after the lesson, and after the course).

Some issues (from trainees)

  • They don’t believe they can do it.
  • They worry about being put on the spot.
  • They worry about losing control.
  • They like the security of pre-planned input (however much they might moan about planning!)
  • They don’t notice emerging language or “can’t hear it”.
  • They can’t decide what’s important.
  • They worry about putting students on the spot.

Danny believes from this that trainees think emerging language means ‘error’. He says that it’s also about questions students might have, like “What’s the word for ____?”

How do we encourage trainees to work with emerging language

On day 2 of Danny’s courses, they look at the meaning of language from a text he uses. They look at the questions students have in relation to that text. It helps the trainees to notice that they know more than the people they’re teaching – it’s not just about meta-language,

On day 4, they explore the kind of questions learners might have when setting up activities and giving feedback.

On day 6, they look at a coursebook double-page and how five different teachers interpret them. One of those interpretations is task-based learning, another is using emergent language,

On day 9, they have a session on TBL and working with emerging language. They think about what is likely to emerge from the interaction.

Day 9 then has the correction and reformulation slot, after emerging language has been dealt with.

Other parts of course design include:

  • observation tasks which include a focus on emerging language. It’s better as an observation task than as input.
  • no language analysis form in the lesson plan.
  • retrospective language analysis forms, after the lesson.

The data is mostly drawn from students who have done this once from eight teaching practice sessions.

Danny also doesn’t mind if trainees ask for help during their teaching practice, if they get stuck.

Lesson planning

When trainees come to him with these questions:

  • When should I deal with language?
  • What language should I focus on?
  • What problems will the students have?

… he used to help a lot with this, but now he asks ‘Why don’t you see what happens?’

This helps to build up the trainees’ confidence with dealing with language.

Feelings beforehand

“I felt quite nervous about it, not having specifically practised how to do it.” (Elizabeth)
“I’m not sure I’ve planned enough.” (Stefano)
“I was worried about only going into the lesson with a piece of an A4 and an anecdote and every other lesson took a lot longer to prepare, so I was more nervous.” (Neil)

Praise what your trainees are putting in front of you.

How did new language emerge?

From six or seven candidates’ lessons, they came up in questions about texts, Q&As…

How was the experience different?

  • It felt like it went better than when I planned it.
  • I felt like I was really present in the lesson.
  • I felt like I was teaching the students, not the plan.
  • I didn’t concentrate on one particular point, so I felt less constricted.
  • I felt for the first time like I’d actually been teaching, rather than presenting. [this can often be a problem on Celta courses]
  • I felt like a real teacher. (she felt like stuff would happen in the class – students would ask questions, she would answer them)

New techniques and skills

  • “I learnt to listen and help them say what they want to say, rather than make them use a grammar point.” (Ros)
  • “I realised I could take my time, which allowed me to use some techniques I’d learnt on the course.” (Joanna)
  • “I realised I can answer questions about meaning if I know what they want.” (anon)
  • “I realised it was just like monitoring, but to everyone.” (anon)

Planning for future lessons

  • “It was nice not to have to guess what all the problems were going to be.” (Ros)
  • I didn’t have to plan for 24 hours.
  • I don’t need to overplan – if I leave spaces, things will emerge.

Some significant impacts

  • It didn’t really impact the course, but now I do it all the time. (Elizabeth)
  • It gave me more confidence in addressing students and braking down barriers. (Neil)
  • It taight me I quite enjoyed teaching, which came as quite a shock. (Neil)

Suggestions

  • You have to encourage trainees. They don’t trust themselves.
  • They need to be reminded that they do have time.
  • They will notice what emerges if they have to. They won’t if they’re teaching their plan.
  • Feed it in early, demystify it.
  • Make sure they know it’s not all about errors and jargon.
  • Encourage them to look at teachers working with emerging language in observations.

20140402-173840.jpg

Don’t believe in fairy tales: critical thinking in teacher development – Damian Williams (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

Damian Williams was a tutor on the Distance Delta while I was doing it, and he has also recently published a book called How To Pass Delta on The Round, in which he mentioned my Delta Quizlet sets. Going to his talk was my first chance to meet him, so I definitely couldn’t miss it!

20140402-154805.jpg

Damian was given a very useful piece of advice by Howard Smith. We think we’re aware of the world around us, but it’s quite easy to miss things. The advice is ‘Be aware’: of different methodologies, of the language, of your students, of other teachers… As teachers there are a lot of things that we take for granted, or take as a given, like the fish who don’t notice the water around them. There are also a lot of things we do in ELT which are not based on evidence or fact. ‘The plural of anecdote is not data.’

Here are some ELT mantras Damian has used, which he’s going to look at in this talk:

20140402-155854.jpg

ICQs and CCQs

If you feel like they’re patronising, it’s probably not the best way to do it. Damian is on a one-man mission to get rid of the term ICQ [good man!] – he says it’s better to do it another way, like working through the example, demonstrating or just checking they’re doing it. There are lots of ways to check: get examples, get opposites, rank things, use translation, show you how to do it (like tiptoe), draw timelines.

Visual learners/auditory learners

There are lots of different definitions of learning styles, but there’s no real evidence for the theory that people learn better by doing things in certain ways.

20140402-161032.jpg

Damian recommends looking at Daniel Willingham’s website, where there is a lot of information debunking the idea of learning styles.

Tenses

There are only two! Tenses are about distance (time, reality, register) not time. They can be ‘close’ or ‘remote’. There are no exceptions to this, and Damian presents it to his students from intermediate level.

Grade the task, not the text

Authentic texts are what learners will come across in real life, but they can create anxiety for teachers and learners. There are problems with inauthentic texts though. Here are some examples from a Japanese book:

20140402-161428.jpg

Damian recommends www.elt-resourceful.com by Rachael Roberts. She bases things on authentic materials, but uses places like http://www.readability-score.com to work out what might be more difficult.

Don’t correct everything

Damian has never heard students complain about being corrected too much, but they have complained about not being corrected enough.

There’s an idea that with fluency we don’t want to interrupt, but we can intervene by waiting until they’ve finished and then correcting them. This can really help with fossilized errors.

Using lots of quotes in my writing makes it sound more convincing

This is something Damian comes across a lot when he’s marking Delta assignments. You need to back up what you’re quoting to show that you’ve processed the quote and understood it, for example by paraphrasing and adding your own experience. This is an element of critical thinking: you have to process it and pull things together, and see things with your own eyes.

Conclusion

Even if you’re not a very experienced teacher, you can still reflect and apply critical thinking.

Damian talks about ‘The Humans’ by Matt Hait, which sounds like an intriguing book. At the end of the book there are 87 pieces of advice for humans. Damian picked out three which reflected his talk nicely, one of which was ‘Question everything’, but I wasn’t quick enough to share the others. You’ll have to ask him what they were!

For a bit more…

Damian writes at www.tmenglish.org and is on Twitter: @DRichW.

He has been looking at the mantras in a bit more depth over at the Richmond Share blog.

Revisiting ELT Mantras #1: Using CCQs and ICQs
Revisiting ELT Mantras #2: Don’t give, elicit.
Revisiting ELT Mantras #3: Visual learners need to see things, kinaesthetic learners need to do things.
Revisiting ELT Mantras #4: Exceptions to the rule

Developing ‘Teaching English’ – Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock (IATEFL Harrogate 2014)

I love the TeachingEnglish facebook page because it has helped my blog a lot, so I really wanted to see Ann and Paul talk about how they do it. I’m also a TeachingEnglish associate blogger for the website, which is a great opportunity.

Paul and Ann are talking about how they are hoping to reshape the TeachingEnglish website to offer better resources for CPD.

Paul starts by sharing the CPD framework the British Council developed. On the site at the moment, you can click on your level of development and that will give resources specific to your stage in your career. They suggest what skills you should have at that level and give you ideas on how to develop them. For example, starter teachers have resources on pairwork or developing rapport, whereas higher-level teachers have resources on things like materials development.

20140402-151136.jpg

Ann talks about their huge success on facebook. They have over 2.2million likes and a 1.5million weekly reach [which is phenomenal!] They started it with the idea that it is not just to promote British Council materials, but a place for people to see what is available in the teaching world in general. The facebook page has it’s biggest audience in India, then Egypt. A lot of people follow it from South-East Asia and Latin America. The people who share resources tend to be European-based, but the discussions are international.

They tried to learn from what is successful in CPD today. Here’s what they focussed on:

  • social media and blogs: it’s crowdsourced, and the validity is from how useful ideas are and how much they’re shared.
  • action research groups: people often go to a workshop given by an expert, but this is only effective up to a point. Paul’s teaching centre set up action research groups where teachers worked with others who were interested in the same areas. They found it was far more motivating for the teachers.
  • free and paid-for online training opportunities: for example MOOCs.
  • government-/institute-funded projects: for example in Malaysia, where there are teacher-led projects.

They compared this with what was offered on the TeachingEnglish website, and found it quite different.

20140402-152150.jpg

The words in the image above show what people are looking for.
The notion of ‘experts’ is changing, and now there are many of them, in the form of bloggers sharing their experience in class, for example.
Voluntary participation allows teachers to decide to what extent they want to be involved, how much work they want to do, etc.

They decided that organising things into career paths might be a more useful way of organising the information. For example, you want to develop your ability to teach teenagers or to write materials. You use the site as a scaffold to work towards your goal, through a series of challenges and goals and expertise to get you there. There may also be an element of gamification to help make it more interesting.

They have come up with a system of four different rooms, with a series of challenges. Here’s a slightly blurry example of the ‘research’ room:

20140402-152919.jpg

You start off with the ‘research’ room to develop your goals, followed by the ‘classroom’ room where you try them out. The ‘classroom’ is not just for teachers: for example, if you’re a manager it might be about how you observe lessons and experiment with this. As you complete the challenges, you collect badges which show how much you’ve done. Then you have the ‘training’ room and the ‘research’ room, which collates all the resources you might need for that topic, since it can be a bit difficult to find what you need on the TeachingEnglish website at the moment. You’re encouraged to reflect on and share what you’re doing.

The idea is that it will work like a good staffroom, but in a virtual context. It’s trying to make the best of what comes from social media, but draw it together in a way that social media might not do. It’s big challenge, but it’s worth us trying to do it as Ann and Paul said.

It’s not up yet, but will be started small and developed over time. They would like feedback on the idea so feel free to contact them.

I think this looks like a fascinating initiative, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Update: here’s an excellent illustrated post about an interview Ann and Paul did during the conference where they also talk about their ideas.

“Chain Reaction” interview with Laura Patsko and Katy Davies

In the lead up to the IATEFL 2014 Harrogate conference, Adam Simpson has started a ‘chain reaction‘ blog challenge:

“I choose two or three of this year’s registered bloggers and introduce them on my blog. These bloggers then in turn choose other registered bloggers and interview them… and so it goes on until you all have a good idea of who will be blogging about this years event.”  

I decided to interview Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson. I first saw Laura present at the IH Prague conference a few years ago, although we didn’t meet until later. Katy and I worked together at IH Newcastle. We all spent a lot of time together at IATEFL Liverpool, and it’s great to see how their shared interest in ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) has developed into the blog they’ve described below. For this interview, I used the same set of questions that Lizzie gave me.

IATEFL Harrogate 2014 banner

Follow the conference and watch recordings of sessions by clicking the image!

Please introduce yourselves

We’re Katy and Laura, and we are particularly interested in the use of English around the world as a lingua franca (ELF). Katy is a full-time teacher at the British Council in Dubai, and Laura is a full-time teacher and teacher trainer at St George International in London. We both became increasingly interested in ELF as we studied for our master’s degrees and conducted research in this field.

Could you give us brief details about your session at IATEFL 2014?

Our session (30 minutes) is based on the fact that many speakers of English in the world today are using it as a means of communication when they do not share a first language. In other words, English is their ‘lingua franca’. They may rarely or never communicate with ‘native’ speakers of English, and are unlikely to need or want to sound like a ‘native’ speaker. Our session will outline some practical implications for this and explain a few basic classroom activities that teachers can use to help their students be more intelligible in an international (ELF) context.

Why are you interested in the area you’ll be presenting on?

When we were researching ELF for our MA courses—and simultaneously teaching full timetables to learners in multilingual classrooms—we began to realise that these students were using English together as their lingua franca, and many of them would use English in this way outside the classroom, too; but it was very difficult for us to help them do this better when no bespoke materials existed for developing this use of English.

Though they have produced many excellent guides on different pronunciation varieties and plenty of resource books full of useful practice activities, ELT publishers are still quite conservative; and very little material exists for teachers working in an ELF context. Most material is based on ‘native-speaker’ norms, but ‘native’ speakers are hugely outnumbered in the world today and many of our students were/are unlikely to use English with native speakers. If they don’t want/need to sound like a ‘native’ speaker, but need to be intelligible to other ELF users, how can we help them do this when knowledge of ELF is still quite minimal among practising teachers and no suitable material exists?

What should your audience expect to learn?

Our audience can expect to take away some simple activities for developing and practising listening and pronunciation in an ELF context. They will learn why this is relevant for so many English language students in the world today, and how it does not necessarily require teachers to dramatically alter their usual classroom practice, but simply reconsider their notions of ‘correctness’ and ‘intelligibility’.

Do you blog? Could you tell us about your blog(s)?

We blog at elfpron.wordpress.com. We aim to make the theory and practice of ELF more understandable and accessible to teachers who are working in ELF contexts, and/or whose students use English as a lingua franca. There are a lot of misconceptions about ELF, which are only perpetuated if people can’t access information about it or have an informed discussion about its principles and implications.

What other aspects of the conference are you looking forward to?

We are looking forward to the great number of other presentations taking place this year regarding the use of English as a lingua franca, the nature of ‘native-speakerism’ in ELT and the practice of teaching pronunciation. And Open Mic Night, of course!

Why did you sign up as IATEFL registered bloggers?

We always have such a great time at the IATEFL Conference and take away plenty of ideas to experiment with in our classrooms. This is the first IATEFL Conference taking place since we launched our ‘ELF Pron’ blog in November 2013, and there are many sessions in the programme that are relevant to this field. We hope to incorporate what we learn from those sessions into the wider discussion on our blog!

After the conference Katy and Laura posted a link to their slides and further resources on their blog.

Teaching English British Council interview – IATEFL 2013

Just before IATEFL started I was interviewed by Ann Foreman and Paul Braddock for the TeachingEnglish British Council facebook page as part of a series of interviews with those of us who have been awarded ‘Blog of the Month‘ (the blue badge at the top of the blog). Each of us will be asked three or four questions suggested by members of the TeachingEnglish British Council facebook page. Here is my interview, talking about IATEFL, building and retaining vocabulary and helping students learn to love English:

Of course! Using the coursebook AND engaging with emergent language – Rachael Roberts (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Rachael Roberts’ talk, taken from my tweets.

Coursebooks and emergent language don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Learning is located in the interactivity between teachers and learners, and between learners themselves. (Teaching Unplugged). To counter Dogme, @jimscriv say it is fairly drastic to dump materials and syllabus and wander naked through the Dogme forest. But Rachael also says you don’t need to go in like a tank either, with so many materials you don’t connect with students. Materials should not be the tail that wags the dog says @thornburyscott, but doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Structure can be very helpful though – we like to have an idea of a series of steps. We might have a vision of a series of steps leading upwards, but students may not feel this. Might wander off/tunnel vision

Emergent language is the idea that a system can emerge from a lot of smaller interactions, like flocks of birds or snowflakes. Sorry…that was emergence, not emergent language! #iatefl @teflerinha says it’s about having a framework, with interaction between CB/EL. These are key ingredients, which could come from people in the room or materials.

20130412-122830.jpg

‘Freeing the classroom from third party imported materials empowers both teachers and learners.’ is a quote from Teaching Unplugged. @teflerinha disagrees with the slavery language here.

The first key is in engaging the learners. What is between the learners and the materials? What is in that gap? .@teflerinha showing us an excellent video from her blog from StoryCorps with an interview between a child with Asperger’s and his mum. She says the video is an example of something that isn’t just going to turn up in the classroom, but students can still relate to it. Materials can help students grow and see new things in a different way, in a way that materials-free perhaps can’t. Teachers should mediate the materials, not be mediated by them. We need to make the materials relevant to the students. For example, when monolingual groups are reading about different cultures, they get something they might not with materials-free.
Get students to write letters to themselves in the future using futureme.org – it will be emailed to them.

The second point is noticing and restructuring. Coursebooks often have lots of them, but you can do more with them. For example, you can turn a coursebook text into a dictogloss/translation. They can see the gap between what they produced/Eng. After listening, students can be asked to notice language which has been used by looking at the transcript. Students could also try some self-recording and transcription tasks. Helps them notice. T can reformulate.

The third point is repeating and recycling. People often complain that coursebooks don’t do enough of this, but impossible to do. To recycle activities, repeat them in different ways, with a different audience/purpose. Listening to a model after doing a task for example. There’s a site called Textivate, which allows you to break up a text. Great for repetition, though not perfect. You can return to the same text later, and do something different with it.

Coursebooks are like recipe books – some people follow them, and some people learn from them and run with it. Rachael Roberts/teflerinha’s website is http://www.elt-resourceful.com if you want to see some of her resources.

Conversation
.@chiasuan now clarifying that she respects coursebook writers and that she learnt a lot from them as a newly-qualified teacher. There are extremes of people who don’t understand how coursebooks/dogme actually work. @irishmikeh says that’s not how writers write: Coursebooks are a tool not a result – that’s not how writers write. As @irishmikeh and @MarjorieRosenbe clarify that. .@hughdellar emphasising recipe idea, that it’s difficult to get to the stage of being a good cook without having internalised recipes. .@elawassell @hughdellar said this means we need to be training people to use materials on their initial courses, not reinvent the wheel

Update:
Mark Hancock on the same presentation

Creative pedagogy, language learning and technology – Graham Stanley (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Graham Stanley’s talk, taken from my tweets.

How many people do you see? It’s a creativity test!

20130412-111233.jpg
(9)
Creativity should be a cental part of what you do, not an add-on.

@grahamstanley is focussing on the activity IWB Island in ‘Language Learning with Technology’ from CUP. Learners created their own islands on paper, and @grahamstanley asked them to add e.g. mountains. @grahamstanley scanned them, then traced over them on the computer, so you can then create something like this.

20130412-111703.jpg
Students created a tourist guide for their own islands. The central island is @grahamstanley’s, which SS travelled too and explored. Students had a copy of a picture of their island, decided on style of government, elected a president and ministers, and chose a currency.
The central island was the location for a lot of fluency games, like ‘werewolf’. Werewolf can be played with 7+ students. The villagers have to eliminate the werewolves, the werewolves eat the villagers. During the day,the werewolves have to pretend to be a villager too. Demonstrates it’s difficult to lie over an extended time. There’s a day phase and a night phase. Everyone closes their eyes. 6 people chosen as werewolves secretly. WWs open eyes. WWs identify other WWs, then choose a victim. Everyone opens eyes, narrator/T points out victims. Villagers identify WWs. While they’re playing, the teacher has to be storyteller. Also notes lang SS using to identify werewolves. To identify WWs, students use sounds they heard to help, and ask questions. Students can produce role cards as villagers. It can be used with many levels – adaptable, language can be changed. You play the game until all of the villagers or all of the werewolves are dead. You can find the rules by searching for ‘werewolf:the game’ on the net.
Rory’s Story Cubes can be used too. There is an app, or you can take the set around the room, ask students to take a photo, then move the dice to the next group. By situating the games in the island, there is an ongoing narrative, and it makes them more real. There’s a continuity.
Graham emphasises that even though he’s written books on technology, he regularly teaches tech-free too. Not always necessary!

Update

Graham subsequently did a workshop for Cambridge English Teacher on the same topic. Andrea Wade wrote a summary of it on her blog.

Bridging the gap: preparing lower-level students for IELTS – Louis Harrison (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Louis Harrison’s talk, taken from my tweets.

Can you match the bridges to their names and identify their countries?

20130412-100931.jpg

Louis is introducing the ‘Bridge to IELTS’ course to help lower-level learners. Is there an intermediary stage between general English and test preparation? Is it possible to give lower level SS pre-prep? The course fits in with students needs and goals in ‘English for test preparation’.
The course is also designed to help SS to prepare for living and working in academic environment. Most of the students Harrison asked didn’t know that IELTS is based on Western academic situations, so couldn’t engage. They asked students what they needed, and decidedd to include these in the lower-level books:

20130412-103311.jpg
The Bridge to IELTS course focuses on grammar and skills, particularly writing, not exam practice. Towards test preparation though, with a heavy focus on study skills. Wanted strong focus on study skills so students could take ownership of the learning process. Bridge to IELTS includes ‘Living IELTS’ – strategies for sounding natural and using the language naturally in the real world.

One of the course features is timed reading and writing to try and improve lower-level students’ confidence. Writing is a great obstacle for a lot of students, and for University of Glasgow it’s the first score they look at. In the Bridge to IELTS writing bank, they help students understand input data, model answers, provide structured support and there is a reference bank of common phrases.

Bridge to IELTS tries to switch between units about academic/university life and general English. It helps with study skills, for example teaching students how to use colours and tables to learn vocabulary. To build confidence, they provide test tips, breaking down the exam, showing them how to practise outside class and do well in exam. Living IELTS gives students language they can use in the test but also outside class. Harrison says we should teach students towards their goal as soon as they are ready,so a pre-preparation course is necessary.

Going multimodal: a different take on academic writing – Ania Rolinska (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Ania Rolinska’s talk, taken from my tweets.

As part of Ania’s Masters, she had to submit two online assignments, so decided to try to replicate this with students.
Gaining knowledge through visuals has gained a lot of power. Yet When we think about academia, we normally think about e.g. isolated writing in the library rather than video projects (except for art/film students!)
There is a fear that the internet is making us stupid (Nicholas Carr -2008), but Socrates said the same about writing 2500 years ago! The internet as a medium of learning puts us in a new relation to writing (Ulmer, 2003). Kress/van Leeuwen 2001 say that we can write with image, audio, video, layout – no modality is superior (nor text!). Ulmer suggests we should teach students how to be literate in many different modes, not just writing. e.g. lateral thinking.
In a multi-modal assignment, all modes have equal weight. They add new layers of information, separate/link domains. They can also juxtapose things to critique or explain. Writing and reading digital assignments is a process of designing – it has a different kind of complexity to an essay.
This is an example of a multi-modal assignment Ania did for her Masters. Layout equalises content.

20130411-181358.jpg
The power relationship between reader/writer is different. It’s more equal as reader decides what to look at in what order. The assignment can be accessed through different sites e.g. start with prezi, move to youtube or vice-versa.
The genre question: not focussing so much on structure (intro, main body, conc), but on what assignment does.
Multimodal assignments are good because it looks at what it means to be literate (processes not skills), intellectual tension (what does it mean to produce academic work). Multi-modal assignments are engaging and enjoyable – you own the learning (more if there are no guides/restrictions). Ania felt she became more self-directed and autonomous as a result of the project. However, these can be problems:

20130411-182312.jpg
The argument can lose it’s strength when it’s multimodal, meaning conclusions are not strong enough. We need to think about the target student: do you need to be an accomplished academic writer before you can work multimodally?
Assessment criteria included core criteria (eg knowledge of acadmaic referencing) plus student’s own criteria (Ania’s included layout, use of video and more).
Assessment of multimodal assignments includes a degree of subjectivity.

No flippin’ idea – Valentina Dodge (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Valentina Dodge’s talk, taken from my tweets.

Flipped learning is from lecturing with the ‘sage on the stage’ – the lecturer puts the video online, class used for enquiry. A lot of the enquiry-oriented models from the flipped classroom were already present in EFL. What is blended learning? The learning cycle includes reflecting, sharing prior knowledge, reading, watching, listening, creating, consolidating, reviewing, questioning, interacting, solving, discussing, commenting. @vale360 prefers the idea of a flow to a flip, including the cloud (web), like the 5E model (explore, explain, elaborate etc). The blending learning continuum has fully online at one end and face to face at the other.

@vale360 created an email course using student examples, mostly online but face-to-face was possible.
Some people want face-to-face because they already have too much screen time.
A workshop model of blended learning is tipped towards online – face-to-face preceded or followed by online. More flipped.
Extra e-study model: coursebooks plus online components – some say this is blended learning. Adds personal study to what is done in class.

Project work = 50/50 face-to-face/online – classwork is totally integrated with online – if you don’t do online, class is difficult. For example, the students wanted to research how journalists track social media. A SS set up a facebook group. All joined! After doing their projects, students reflect on their performance. For example, students were videoed reflecting, and the video was posted on private class wiki. The perfect approach to the flipped classroom Ccording to @vale360 is this project work approach. English360 has resources and content that can help with the blended course. But @vale360 reminds us there is no one best practice and no ‘one size fits all’

20130411-173034.jpg
There shouldn’t be any assumptions about what students can and can’t do. You need guides to the tech/support. There is also no single role for the teacher in blended learning – it’s a learning process. Go local: localize the content of your courses. Failed courses @vale360 has seen have been irrelevant.

Combining teaching, learning and research: an exploratory practice approach – Ana Ines Salvi, Yasmin Dar, Judith Hanks (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Ana Ines Salvi, Yasmin Dur and Judith Hanks’ talk, taken from my tweets.

20130411-160632.jpg

20130411-162121.jpg

They’re going to talk about exploratory practice, teaching and learning, focussing on an EAP context, especially pre-sessionals.
There are seven principles for inclusive practitioner research, after Allwright:
1. focus on quality of life as the main issue.
2. Work to understand it before thinking about solving problems
3. Involve everyone as practitioners developing their own understanding (include learners). By involving everyone in the research it breaks down barriers.
4. Work to bring people together in a common experience
5. Work cooperatively for mutual development.
6. Make it a continuous enterprise.
7. Minimise the burden by integrating (this) work into normal pedagogic practice

Ana worked on 5-week pre-sessional and wanted to combine research and learner autonomy and find SS perceptions. She encouraged collaboration and interaction in the classroom to make decisions/choose topics/tasks for autonomy. The students kept logbooks/diaries to track their learning and sent her an email summarising their learning at the end of each week. One group came up with their own survey to do research based on four questions, then did research. They interviewed classmates, presented their findings to classmates and disseminated the findings to other teachers. Ana’s students did the research and made the posters in four hours over two days.

Yasmin did research for her MA with adult ESOL learners looking into their motivation. Yasmin’s students told each other whether they did their homework, and she eavesdropped with permission. She learnt to appreciate that they were not the same as her in terms of motivation and styles, so she changed her expectations. The main question she investigated was “Why are the learners not taking responsibility for their learning outside class?” Yasmin then repeated her research with EAP students and found they were very similar to her ESOL learners! She then introduced research to her class, asked students what their puzzles were, and they did the research.

Judith asked her students what puzzled them about their language learning experience. They made the posters on the wall. The exciting thing about Judith’s project was learners making the journey of self-discovery themselves, rather the T supplying answer. When doing the poster presentation, students were surprised that the other learners in the group were interested. (The posters in the research talk I’m at are in a lot of depth – it’s amazing what came out of the student’s research.) The research students did was a great way for them to examine their own learning.

Teachers sharing questions they have with the students can be really successful too. People in the room shared their experiences.

Think smart! Developing thinking skills for IELTS students – Sue O’Connell (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Sue O’Connell’s talk.

Sue studied university students (I think – I was a couple of minutes late and missed this!) The main reason IELTS students failed was not speaking or writing skills, but thinking skills.
Sue will look at how to inteoduce critical thinking to students, particularly in terms of generating lots of ideas.
Why should we, as language teachers, concern ourselves with thinking skills? If we’re in eduaction, we have no choice. We’re in the business of brain development (John Medina)
Finding ideas is a huge problem. When you Goolge “i need an idea” you get 2 billion hits. Here a some problems collected from IELTS students online.

20130411-144922.jpg
People have the wrong idea about IELTS. they think it requires a high level of reasoning and ideas, but Sue feels most students have these ideas, but the problem is that they can’t access and apply these ideas. They tend not to engage deeply enough in the topic, or they engage in the wrong type of thinking. There is a lot of research into thinking at the moment. One of the main areas is divergent thinking, Sir Ken Robinson describes it as the ability to see many different ways of interpreting questions, Students often think there is only right way to answer a question. Divergent thinking is also the ability to think of lots of possible answers, try new approaches to old problems, and think laterally. Sue thinks these ideas are all highly relevant to our students.
An experiment was done testing learners for genius level based on divergent thinking. For 5-6 year olds, the percentage was 98%. For 10 year olds, 32% and for 15 year olds, 10%. The good news is we’re all born with the capacity for divergent thinking, but somewhere along the lines we lose it and become convergent thinkers.
We need to help our atudents think more fluently and more flexibly. It’s unrealistic to throw students in at the deep end, so it’s better to nudge them out of old habits, moving them gradually towards what they might need at university,
Safe ground to start with is making lists, for example, what are the advantages and disadvantages of X? Adding selecting and categorising makes it an even better thinking task. For example, make a list of sports and hobbies, each one beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Then look at your list and divide them into any five A/B categories you want to, for example something you do alone/with other people. If you let students work for five minutes or so on this, for the first third of the time, the ideas are fairly routine, the next third are more unusual, and the final third are more original and complex. Therefore, you must encourage students to defer editing (ideas first, then monitor) and don’t stop the idea generation process. There are two stages: possibility (all possible) and practical (what is actually relevant). It’s useful to have a quota and a time limit.
You need to see something from at least three different perspectives to have any kind of depth. Groupwork can give you that. “Good ideas come from crowds, they come from networks” Steven Johnson, the author of ‘Where good ideas come from’
“We don’t pay attention to boring things”: Brain Rule #4 by John Medina. This matters a lot in learning. He always asks a new class how quickly they switch off in a lecture. They normally say 10-15 minutes, so we need to reset the clock with a novel stimulus. The more attention you pay to a stimulus, the more likely it is to remember things.
For this activity, you need a scrap of paper and divide it in half vertically, and you’ll write down seven words. At the top of the left column, you write ‘nice’ and ‘not nice’ at the top of the other. These are the ones Sue dictated (and my choices): lecture (nice), shy (nice), competition (nice), shopping (not nice), grammar (nice), drama (not nice). You have to dictate them quite quickly so people don’t have time to think a lot! Then compare them to a partner and say why. You can also try easy/not easy, relevant/not relevant.
Brain rule #10: we learn and remember better through pictures, not words or “Vision trumps all other senses”. Visual processing takes up about 50% of our brains. We pay more attention to shapes and colours. Venn diagrams are great for categorising. For example, this one for noun formation:

20130411-151936.jpg diviing nouns by -ity or -tion. It can be done physically too:

20130411-152048.jpg You can also use this for formal/informal/neutral.
You can make a three-circle Venn with creatures e.g. horses/humans/frogs – what characteristics are common to each/unique?
Brain rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. John Medina: “To improve your thinking skills, move.” Your brain is likely to be more active walking to work than it is when you get there! People who exercise outperform the couch potatoes (oh no!)
It’s really helpful to encourage students to make thinking visible. For example, mind maps activate the whole brain. They are a proven way to transform information from short-term to long-term memory. There are lots of other ways from Enchanted Learning.
Remind students it’s OK to mistakes: encourage students to choose their favourite mistakes. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson. “When you do something, you might fail, but that’s not because you’re a failure, it’s because you haven’t learnt enough to succeed yet.” Jordan Belfort
In summary, we need to:
– encourage divergent thinking
– help learners to see issues from different perspectives
– use colours and graphics
– exploit the element of surprise
– give permission to make mistakes
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” Albert Einstein
http://www.brainrules.net for John Medina

Technology for teaching pronunciation – Robin Walker (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Robin Walker’s talk, taken from my tweets.

Robin starts off by saying he’s not a Luddite or a technophobe, but he has a certain defree of scepticism. He loves pronunciation though!

These are expert performers at something they have automaticized (sp?) and this is similar to pron. We can learn from professional sport and skills acquisition there, and take this into pron teaching.
We need to think about suitability, choice and sequence when it comes to technology for pronuncation. The app needs to address the problems the learners have (suitability), give them choice, and give them sequence. It needs to give them an explicit intrroduction to what is going to happen, because they are not in the classroom. The app has to contain repetition to make the skill completely automatic. It has to have place (students can choose where to study) and pace (how fast). The app has to offer feedback and correction – without corrective feedback, their neuronal pattern will be reinforced. Progress needs to be shown – if students can’t see this they can get very depressed.

Previous pron technologies include CALL (eg software), but some limitations – doesn’t recognise accent variation. Robin gives the example of Geordie ‘cook’. A tape recorder was used to make sure that pronunciation was part of the mark in Robin’s testing in Spain. Students recorded and rerecorded pronunciation using tape recorders – they were very motivated. Problem with tape recorders was resources – only 2 for 30+ students!

For listening, accent variation is the reality. If we don’t help students get used to this, they will have trouble. You can use the Speech Accent Archive to get students interested in different accents, but it’s based on an unnatural paragraph. www.elllo.org is the English Language Listening Library Online – they can select by accent. Students are interested in the content on elllo, and have to adjust listening to understand accents. They enjoy it!
Judy Gilbert wrote Clear Speech for American English. There is a CUP app to accompany it, although limited choice. Clear Speech has a clear sense of progression, feedback – ticks lots of Walker’s boxes.
Cool speech, hot listening app is highly praised by Walker. It has the tapescript and analyses and breaks it down.

Tuition
The BBC learning English website has pronunciation too. But BBC pron has no feedback, and there’s no indication of how to get it right. It can reinforce problems.
The University of Iowa website lets you look at US English, Spanish or German. It shows animation of mouth, which is very effective.
Macmillan Sounds app based on Underhill’s chart lets you hear phoneme, but no corrective feedback. Great apart from that.

Technology for recording – you can use audacity (but it’s complex for some), Walker recommends WavePad. The wave forms in the reocrdings really help them to see tonic stress in sentences (Eng v Span):

20130411-125813.jpg
Recorder pro is an app where students can send it to you.
http://www.fotobabble.com is fun and interesting – you can tell students how intelligible their English is in general. Listen once only.
Use Dragon Dictate – it changes speech to text on the iPhone. But can have trouble with accents.
You can get Dragon Dictate software too, and train it to understand your accent.
Voice recognition and corrective feedback are the two areas where the technology is still lacking.

To finish, Robin showed us one of my all-time favourite Youatube videos: “Scottish Voice Operated Lift” – watch it!

Puppet-masters and puzzle-solvers: a match made in heaven? – Danny Norrington-Davies (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Danny Norrington-Davies’ talk, taken from my tweets.

DND says his talk came about from observing, because it’s great for stealing ideas, and seeing people make progress. He finds he spends a lot of time in lessons watching the learners and seeing how their learning progresses. SS are the puzzle solvers, T are the puppet masters (in a non-pejorative way), but often miss the puzzles.
He asks: “After output stages, what do feedback sessions usually consist of?” Audience suggestions: asking students how they think it went, plus-minus-plus technique, focussing on mistakes/outcome. DND suggest these puzzles: SS can’t find a word, can’t understand other SS, can’t choose right form, communication breaks down and also that learners speak to themselves! We focus on outcomes, but they focus on puzzles.

Puzzle number 1
The case of the Brazilian astronaut: choose a role model from your culture who speaks good English: if they can do it, you can too. Here is a task. What is the puzzle? do the students solve it?

20130411-104749.jpg
What do you think? Our opinion: the SS can understand and T doesn’t need to intervene.

20130411-104937.jpg
The puzzle is a ‘code-switch’ triggered by the absence of a lexical item. They account for 1/3 of switches, and Ls are aware of them. At the end of the task, DND asked students to brainstorm equivalents to the Portuguese words they needed and they were discussed, but he wasn’t happy with this solution.
Students made posters with a picture of themselves and thought bubbles showing their process/issues. Here are some examples:

20130411-105417.jpg
The poster shows students that they are not the only ones with the same problems.

Puzzle number 2

20130411-105629.jpg
Students didn’t understand each other.
This is an opportunity for noticing:

20130411-105853.jpg
Whenever SS can’t understand each other, they have a question mark on a card they can hold up to elicit teacher intervention.
Students also do some repetition to self (covert repetition) – DND added more of this.

Puzzle number 3
Kenta and Sorour don’t know when to quit.

20130411-110221.jpg
From puzzle 3, Kenta said before ‘if I don’t understand I give up’, but actually he didn’t when trying to understand. So it can be better to ask students ‘what went wrong?’ sometimes, rather than ‘can you correct this?’

DND called his question mark cards ‘intervention cards’ – SS become more aware of calling over the T. Intervention cards meant feedback could include openly discussing events/puzzles, why they used cards, why they didn’t! When they didn’t use their card it was because they solved the puzzle themselves or worked the way around the problem without T. After using intervention cards Danny redid the posters from the start of the course. SS realised their mistakes didn’t matter, when they needed to do more, and ‘I can learn more with my friends but I can call you when I need you’.

By focussing on outcomes in feedback, we can often miss the event of puzzle solving. Ss are happy to talk about these. By focussing on gaps, learners were made aware of the gaps in their own language, and of the impact of that gap. DND’s students were also more willing to discuss strategies. They were quite effective at choosing intervention. Students were more able to see a different actual-self (the student they think they are v. ideal self, they want to be). Using learner extracts and transcripts increases the chances of them noticing and remembering highlighted feedback (Lynch 2007). You can get learner transcripts by asking students if you can record them.

Students can use the card if they don’t understand the teacher too. They had one card per group.

Update:
Mark Hancock on the same presentation

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym? – Leo Selivan (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Leo Selivan’s talk, taken from my tweets.

Leo starts with a brief history of English, with the Norman Invasion in 1066, which brought French and Latin affixes like ‘-ible’ ‘-dict- and more. Here are some examples. This kind of word makes up about 60% of English.

20130410-180248.jpg

This is the pie that makes up English. It’s essentially a hybrid romance language:

20130410-180314.jpg
He showed us this video:
http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=1B8TwBrCIEY&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D1B8TwBrCIEY
When the Normans arrived, most basic words were already Anglo-Saxon. That’s why we ended up with lots of pairs. Here are examples of German/Latinate pairs which are synonyms, or have more specific meanings:

20130410-180705.jpg
By number of words, English is by far the largest language in the world. That’s words, not meanings, excluding technically specific language, new words and variations on the same word.
There are challenges for learners, as they have to choose between different words for the same translation:

20130410-181034.jpg
There are lexical voids in English too (missing words), like we only have one word for ‘no’. But most of the time English is much more lexically dense, for example three English words for the Spanish ‘humido’.
What’s the difference between these pairs of words?

20130410-181412.jpg
Most synonyms are restricted, not true e.g. start/begin – they are based on collocation, register, colligation, semantic prosody.
Leo will focus on multi-part verbs as they are challenging but also creative:

20130410-181708.jpg
Multi-part verbs do not have formal equivalents. Rather, they tend to collocate with different words. For example, here is the spread of ‘investigate’ and ‘look into’ by register.

20130410-182013.jpg
Semantic prosody is the semantic environment a word tends to occur in. ’cause’ often negative, but ‘bring about’ is neutral.
Colligation is the grammatical environment of a word. For example, ‘take in’ is often passive.
Practical ideas: collocation forks:

20130410-182320.jpg
Teach higher-level students affixes, especially if they are Romance speakers.
Look words up twice: once in bilingual dictionary, once in monolingual dictionary for depth of meaning.
Ask students to present the difference between a pair of words.
Try ‘Just the word’ – it’s a great site for collocations and word frequency.
Treat teaching lexis by offering synonyms with caution – we need learners to know how different words are.

Update:
Neil McMahon includes some comments on Leo’s talk in his post about day 2 of the conference.
Jonathan Sayer’s take on Leo’s talk.

Pushing past the ‘intermediate plateau’ – Katy Davies (IATEFL 2013)

Part of a series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add things or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!
These are the main points from Katy Davies’s talk, taken from my tweets.

KatySDavies found a lot of elementar/pre-int students in Dubai, but very few at int or beyond. Even those who do reach intermediate reach a plateau. They get frustrated that progress is not linear any more. Another question is how to improve after you’ve got the basics. Is it a question of piling on more grammar/vocab? Students complain that they’ve already studied things, so you try to give them sth more challenging, but also more obscure.

Katy interviewed her colleagues about how they felt reaching intermediate level in other languages.
These are the three themes that came out of her interviews :

20130410-171607.jpg
We focus on input, but maybe we should be focussing on understanding too. Students need quality listening practice. We focus on input, but maybe we should be focussing on understanding too. Students need quality listening practice. For example, play a recording, stop it randomly, and they predict what’s next. Students are shocked they know! We can show them listening is active, or highlight features of connected speech. Highlight what makes understanding difficult. Connected speech is often in ‘pronunciation’ boxes, but they’re as much/more about listening. If students don’t know these features exist, they can’t focus on them. Raise awareness in short examples, then longer. If students don’t know these features exist, they can’t focus on them. Raise awareness in short examples, then longer.

Raise student’s awareness of how much English relies on pre-fabricated chunks. Whole conversations can be made of them! When highlighting the idea of chunks to int + students, teach them how restricted/free they are e.g. the grammar. Once students know they exist, they can try highlighting them in transcripts/written texts. Students surprisingly good at it! Don’t forget to work with reformulation and drilling, perhaps through jazz chants. Not just for beginners. Once int+ students notice these chunks exist, they can build patterns to try and replace lower-level vocabulary lists. They feel like there’s more structure and less chaos. At higher levels, we’re trying to encourage students to work at discourse level and not word level. Chunks help.

Speaking in conversations is difficult for int+ too – overlapping speakers, responding to other person, backchanneling. @sandymillin: We need to teach them circumlocution – working around words they don’t know. And teach them natives need it too! @sandymillin: Students can see pauses and fillers as mistakes, rather than natural. #iatefl @KatySDavies Ask students to use transcripts and identifying what the speaker is trying to do. “They want to take a turn”. How about asking to record real conversations? It’s great for learners, and they don’t hear it often enough. (Suggestion from Sian Morgan: use recordings of non-native speakers as models for where intermediate could aim to be.)Talk to students about how conversation management differs in their culture. By breaking down the language like this, intermediate students can progress because it’s more manageable.

In conclusion, if you want to help students past the intermediate plateau, try these:

20130410-173608.jpg
Time spent in the classroom should be about using the language, but also about helping students to understand why it’s difficult. We might need to negotiate with the learners, as they may want to only focus on productive skills. There are two people in a conversation!

Update
Here’s Jonathan Sayers’ much easier to read take on Katy’s talk!

Tag Cloud