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

Posts tagged ‘professional development’

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials Development module (week three)

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things whic h I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here are the posts for week one and week two.

Unit 5: Exploiting texts

  1. If you need a text (written or spoken) for your materials, where do you usually look, or do you write your own?

It’s a mix. I’ve learnt that it can often be faster to write my own text if I have a very specific idea about the type of information or language I want to be in it, rather than going down a rabbit hole. Otherwise, the majority of the texts come from the internet now, but the exact source depends on the learners.

2. What factors do you consider when choosing a text?

Learner interests and needs, linguistic complexity, cultural context, engagement, how much modification it might need, how much planning time I have, what kind of activities might work well with the text…

3. What are the pros and cons of writing your own texts?

Pros:

  • You can include the language you want.
  • You can direct the topic and content to what you need / what learners are interested in.
  • Personalisation is easy – sharing information about the teacher, or including references to learners or local culture.

Cons:

  • Language level can be challenging to maintain.
  • It’s easy to get carried away.
  • It can take a long time.

4. How do you feel about using authentic texts in the context you write for?

They can be very useful, depending on the learners’ needs. But copyright can be a pain! I’m quite used to adapting activities and texts if necessary (though thereby reducing the authenticity), so it’s fine.

5. How do you feel about the reading and listening activities in a coursebook you know well?

The reading and listening activities in Project 1 4th edition, which I’ve been using this year, were sometimes way above the level of the learners I was working with, and only the strongest learners could understand them. The listening was often very fast and contained a lot of information close together. The Mut and Millie stories worked really well – there was enough time to process the information and it was spaced out. We skipped the majority of the end of unit extra reading and listening because the students were quite demotivated by how hard they found it.

Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom

These are my notes based on the article of this name in ELT Journal Volume 55/4, October 2001, pp. 347-353, by William Guariento and John Morley.

Authentic texts

Reasons to use them:

  • Helping learners improve their “receptive competence in the target language” (p347)
  • “To bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and ‘a student’s capacity to participate in real world events’ (Wilkins 1976: 79)” (p347)
  • Maintaining or increasing students’ motivation, because they’re interacting with ‘real’ language. (p347)

[This need to bridge the gap is an important one to fill, since many coursebook texts are still quite divorced from examples of real-world texts, particularly regarding listening. That’s why workshops like this one are needed!]

It is generally possible to select texts that will stretch the learner in terms both of skills development and of the quantity and range of new language.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

They describe the fact that this is possible at post-intermediate level, but that at lower levels, learners may feel frustrated, confused and demotivated using authentic materials unless there is very careful selection of the text and tasks. (p348) However, it can be challenge to “seamlessly” execute simplification of texts, for a range of reasons (p348):

  • Technical and sub-technical words are removed from writing, therefore removing clues to context.
  • Listening texts are shortened and redundant features which could provide useful repetition are removed.
  • “The co-ordination of natural speech gives way to subordination” [I think this means that where two speakers might work together to arrive at meaning, it becomes more like two monologues slotting into one another, with little repetition or overlap – a pattern of question > answer > question > answer for example. Please correct me if I’m wrong!]

Partial comprehension of text is no longer considered to be necessary problematic, since this is something which occurs in real life.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 348)

The emphasis can shift to helping students to develop “effective compensatory strategies for extracting the information they need from difficult authentic texts” and to “make the most of their partial comprehension”. (Guariento and Morley (2001: 348).

[I agree with this – I think one of the most useful things we can for our students is help them to learn to deal with the fact that they will be unlikely to understand everything they read or hear. Especially at lower levels, this can make some learners feel quite stressed, and can be demotivating. If we help them to focus on what they can understand, and what they can do with that knowledge, it can be a real confidence boost.]

The text can stay the same, but the task can change. Having said that, we might want to consider how much comprehensible input learners therefore have exposure too, how authentic the tasks are which we ask them to do, and therefore how authentic their responses are. (p349)

[For me, this is a very important area to consider. We want to help learners to realise that they can work with real-life texts, but if those texts are always going to be above their heads, they need to very resilient. Therefore, we need to work with a mixed diet of authentic and simplified texts, with the balance between the two varying by level. We should use at least some authentic texts, even with low-level learners, to given them that connection to the real-world that makes them feel like what they’re learning is real language, but without overwhelming them with how much they can’t understand yet. By providing simple, achievable tasks to go with the authentic materials, we can aim to give them that sense of achievement.]

Task authenticity

Guariento and Morley identify “four broad schools of thought regarding task authenticity” (p349):

  • Authenticity through a genuine purpose (p349-350)
    Is there real communication for a genuine purpose? Is the focus on meaning?
  • Authenticity through real world targets (p350)
    Does it have a clear relationship with real world needs, for example buying a train ticket or taking lecture notes?
  • Authenticity through classroom interaction (p350)
    “Breen (1985) argues that the most authentic activities exploit the potential authenticity of the learning situation.” For example, discussing the usefulness and appropriateness of teacher feedback or of different homework tasks.
  • Authenticity through engagement (p350-351)
    Is the student engaged by the topic and the task? Do they understand its relevance and purpose? Did the students have any say in the selection of the task?

They acknowledge that these four schools of thought might not have much in common at first glance, but that it might be possible to “devise learning situations in which the four can operate in conjunction” (p351)

Authenticity and task difficulty

Skehan (1998) identified the elements of task difficulty as:

  • Complexity of the language
  • Cognitive load
  • Performance conditions [which I think means how the task is actually set up e.g. interaction pattern, scaffolding etc.] (p351)

They list a range of ways in which even relatively simple tasks can still be authentic, and therefore used with low-level students (p351-352):

  • Playing bingo
  • Remembering items from a picture
  • Playing verbal hide and seek
  • Finding the odd word out of a series
  • Surveys
  • Buying a train ticket
  • Ordering a coffee
  • Booking a hotel room
  • Asking for directions
  • Completing questionnaires or surveys, including as part of course evaluation

One common theme of many of these is a game-like quality. They mention Willis (1996) as a “useful source of genuinely communicative activities which can be used with beginners and young learners”.

Conclusion

The separation between text and task maintained thus far is a rather artificial one; in the real world, language input and language output usually occur as part of an integrated process of communication.

Guariento and Morley (2001: 352)

Integrating input and output, reception and production, mirrors real world communicative purposes, and therefore moves towards authenticity. (p352)

Issues in materials for developing receptive skills

These are my responses to questions we were asked.

  1. Why do we use listening and reading texts in class? Try to think of several reasons.
  • To engage learners.
  • To provide exposure to language input.
  • To develop reading / listening skills.
  • To act as model texts for students’ speaking / writing production.
  • To stimulate discussion.
  • To introduce different viewpoints into the classroom.

2. Do you think we can really teach reading and listening, or only give practice? Why?

I think it’s possible to teach students to become better readers and listeners. We can develop their knowledge of skills and strategies for approaching reading and listening texts, and increase their tolerance of situations when they don’t understand every word. We also need to show learners how to get huge amounts of exposure and practice themselves – with that kind of practice, they are likely to acquire the language much faster.

3. What are some of the differences between working on reading and listening in class?

Reading allows students to go back over the text, whereas listening is ephemeral. Students can read at their own speed, whereas they have to listen at the speakers’ speed. In reading (what Cauldwell calls) the sight substance remains constant regardless of the context, whereas the sound substance can be different depending on a huge variety of different factors, many of which students are generally unaware of. In reading, it’s easier for learners to answer questions without fully understanding what they are, lifting stretches of text from the original, whereas with listening this is generally more challenging.

4. Do you use literature in your materials or classes? Why or why not?

Very rarely, not least because for the last few years I’ve only had one group a week and have had a coursebook to work with! When I taught a lot more, I’ve used Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Good Omens, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It took a while to create the materials, but the students generally enjoyed the results and found them to be motivating and engaging.

My beliefs about using texts and developing reading and listening skills

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing reading and listening skills. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! [Note: I’m very sleepy right now, so not sure how coherent these are!]

  • The meaning of texts should be focussed on as a priority, before they are used for language work.
    Why? We process the world by seeking meaning. If we skip this step in materials, learners will be trying to find the meaning anyway, so won’t be concentrating on any other tasks we might give them.
    What does it entail? Having meaning-focussed activities before any language work.
    But…? I don’t think you can argue with this!
  • We should teach listening and reading, not just test them.
    Why? Exposure is not enough to improve listening and reading skills. Learners need to know about strategies they can use to improve their comprehension, and to reflect on what went wrong if they didn’t fully understand a text.
    What does it entail? Inclusion of activities focussing on listening and reading sub-skills, such as micro-listening, or understanding discourse markers and how they can help you navigate a text. There should also be opportunities for developing metacognition, and for learners to share strategies they used to understand – not just what was the answer, but how did you work it out. This should also build confidence, as learners realise that it is possible to improve their skills, and they are not just a ‘bad’ listener/reader.
    But…? How do you decide what sub-skills to focus on for each text? Different learners will be at different stages of reading/listening development – how do you cater for these different levels? Are some of these skills transferable from L1, so do we need to spend time teaching them?
  • There should be a range of different types of text and activities.
    Why? Because this is what learners will encounter in the real world. They need strategies to deal with different text types. This is also more likely to keep learners engaged.
    What does it entail? Different genres, different voices/accents/dialects/ages, different layouts, different lengths. Varied activities include confidence-building activities, comprehension activities, skills training, authentic tasks which reflect the real world.
    But…? How do you decide what to prioritise? Should all activities be authentic? There is a limited amount of space in materials, so how can you provide extensive listening/reading practice too?
  • We should respect copyright when selecting texts.
    Why? It takes a long time and a lot of effort to produce materials. We are also demonstrating ethical and legal behaviour to our students. It’s also a legal requirement in many places.
    What does it entail? Being aware of local copyright law, especially regarding educational fair use. Getting permission to use texts, preferably before you create the materials which go with them. Perhaps creating our own texts from scratch, for example by recording friends and family, with the necessary permissions from them to share those texts more widely (though issues of audio quality may come in at that point).
    But…? What if we don’t have the money to pay copyright fees? Should texts be free for educational use?

Reading and listening activity types

We were give some interesting links to help us to find other ways of working with texts. A few activities which were new to me and I particularly liked included:

  • Reduction: Turn a poem into an advertising slogan.
  • Interpretation: What questions would you wish to ask the author?
  • Creating text: Use the same title, but write a new text.
  • Analysis: Work out the ratio of one-word verbs to two-word verbs.
  • Analysis: List at the words to do with (the sea, movement, ecology, etc) in this text.

Listening comprehension

As optional further study, we were given this 5-minute video to watch about listening comprehension:

It’s a useful brief introduction to how listening comprehension works, including the concepts of bottom-up v. top-down processing and the idea of schema, if you’re not already familiar with them.

Text-driven approach

[I came back to this once I’d finished unit 8, as I felt like I couldn’t fit everything in during the week. I managed it in the end, but definitely felt better for deciding to leave this until later!]

These are my notes based on the section ‘A text-driven approach to materials development’ in the chapter ‘Develoing principled frameworks for materials development’ by Tomlinson on pages 99-114 of the second edition of Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013, Bloomsbury) [Amazon affiliate link] Note: I highly recommend you read this yourself if you can, as my notes below are very opinionated and you may want to see the original first! In my week two post, I shared a table summarising the stages of this approach, though it seems to only have six stages, whereas the chapter describes eight, and they seem slightly different.

Tomlinson says that he found his text-driven approach “helped writers (mainly teachers with little previous experience of materials development) not only to write principled and coherent materials quickly, effectively and consistently but also to articulate and develop their own theories of language learning and language teaching at the same time” (p100)

Stage 1: Text collection

Find texts “with the potential for engagement”.

By engagement, I mean a willing investment of energy and attention in experiencing the text in such a way as to achieve interaction between the text and the senses, feelings, views and intuitions of the reader/listener.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The aim is to “achieve the affective impact and the deep processing which can facilitate language acquisition.” (p100)

[This sounds all well and good to me, but seems to put a lot of pressure on the person sourcing texts to find something which seems transcendent in some way, as well as on the materials writer not to mess that up!]

There is a caveat that reflects my point somewhat:

Obviously, such texts cannot be easily found and certainly cannot be found quickly in order to illustrate teaching points. […] It is much easier and much more useful to build up a library of potentially engaging texts and then to let the texts eventually selected for target levels determine the teaching points.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

The library development stage is ongoing and context free. Its purpose is to create a resource with the potential for subsequent matching to particular contexts of learning.

Tomlinson (2013: 100)

[Still not 100% convinced by this idea. I think we inevitably keep texts which we think might be potentially interesting at some point in the future, but you’d still need a massive bank covering a wide range of different contexts / topics / text types etc. to draw on if you want to narrow it down at the next stage. Of course, all of this also assumes you can get the permission to use the text from the copyright holder!]

Stage 2: Text selection

Select from your library: one text for a lesson, or a number of texts for a set of materials / textbook. Because the materials are text-driven, Tomlinson emphasises that this should be criterion-referenced. He lists a possible set of criteria on p101.

[While the criteria look like they could be very useful, it does seem very ambitious that he would only use a text which had achieved a 4 on all of the twelve areas. Again, it feels unlikely that you’d find many texts which managed that, if you’re working as an individual. Maybe if you’re part of a large group you might find some texts like this?]

One note which he makes is:

Usefulness for teaching a particular language feature is a dangerous criterion as this can tempt writers into the selection of texts which do not engage the learners and which, therefore, do not help them to achieve durable learning of the teaching point.

Tomlinson (2013: 101)

He also highlights that even on EAP and ESP courses, we should include some variety of materials, not just focussed on the subject matter – he mentions the example of including poetry on courses for pilots, and for diplomats. (p102) He comes back to the importance of affect, and avoiding having learners whose brains are “focused narrowly on […] low level linguistic de-coding”, saying that “This means that the learners are not using their whole minds, that a multiplicity of neural connections are not being fired and that meaningful and durable learning is not taking place.” (p102)

He advocates the use of literature:

[not the “classics of the literary canon, but] well-written texts which narrate, describe, argue or evoke in ways which encourage the reader to respond in personal and multidimensional ways, and which leave gaps for the reader to fill in

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

I find the following suggestion to be very narrow and to limit the learners’ possible uses of and exposure to English, linked also to my agreement with Gadd in unit 6 below, even though it is for the well-meaning reason that the aim isn’t to engage all learners with one text, but to engage most of them in a class and all of them over a course.

The best way I have found of achieving this is to make sure that many (but not all) of the texts relate to the basic universal themes of birth, growing up, going to school, starting a career, falling in love, getting married and dying (though this is a taboo topic in some countries).

Tomlinson (2013: 102)

While I believe this could potentially be a fruitful approach in a short course or a single set of materials, I don’t see how this could work long-term over a number of years to create a fully-rounded English language user.

Stage 3: Text experience

Experience the text (read/listen to it) again to reflect on your experience with it and “try to work out what was happening in your mind during it.” (p102) If you can’t re-engage, perhaps choose different materials.

[This is the point at which I got particularly frustrated with reading this chapter. It all sounds lovely, but really not practical at all!]

Stage 4: Readiness activities

Come up with activities which “get the learners ready for the reading experience.” (p103)

You are aiming at helping the learners to achieve the mental readiness which readers take to L1 texts and to inhibit the word fixation and apprehension which L2 readers typically take to texts (Tomlinson, 2000b).

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The aim is to get learners to think, to “open and activate their minds”. (p103) He lists a variety of ways to do this, which seem like fairly standard pre-reading activities to me, with the possible exception of mime, which I’m not sure I could persuade the majority of my students to engage in.

The important point is that the lesson starts in the learners’ minds and not in the text and that the activities help the learners to gain a personal experience of the text which connects it to their lives.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

OK, that wording is quite interesting – to some extent, it echoes the questions Why should they care? which I’ve previously written about.

Stage 5: Experiential activities

These are activities which are designed to help the learners to represent the text in their minds as they read it or listen to it and to do so in multidimensional ways which facilitate personal engagement.

Tomlinson (2013: 103)

The activities should be mental, “contributing to the representation of the text.” There should be no writing or discussion, as this risks interrupting the processing of the text or making it more difficult to process it. Examples given include:

  • “visualise a politician as they read about him, using inner speech to give their responses to provocative points in the text”
  • “trying to follow a description of a journey on a mental map”
  • “thinking of examples from their own lives to illustrate or contradict points made in a text” (all p103)

The activities can either be given through concise instructions just before reading/listening as part of a more participatory approach, with learners contributing to the text. For example, the teacher reads the text, pauses, and learners shout out predictions of the next work or phrase; a similar approach with dictation (especially for poems) – write, pause, compare next line; the teacher stops before the end of a text and the learners write the endings (all p104 – there are more there)

[There are some interesting ideas here, and ones which I haven’t seen before, but I’m not sure how well they’d work with some text types. I can see them connected to literature, and some more story-like non-fiction, for example descriptions of processes, but not with texts which don’t follow that kind of story structure.]

Stage 6: Intake response activities

These are activities which help the learners to develop and articulate what they have taken in from the text.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Learners reflect on the mental representation they created in stage 5, rather than returning to the text. These activities don’t test comprehension.

[Learners] cannot be wrong because they are not being asked about the text but about their personal representation of it. However, it is possible that their representation is only partial (or even superficial) and the process of sharing it with others can help to extend and deepen it.

Tomlinson (2013: 104)

Suggestions include visualising, drawing or miming what they remember, summarising the text to somebody who hasn’t read it, or asking clarifying questions to somebody who knows the text well. (p105)

[I think you’d really have to manage learners’ expectations throughout this whole process. They’d need to know why they were doing all of this, why it will benefit them, and why they haven’t paid any attention to the language in the text yet. That could say something about the general way in which we use and approach texts in the classroom, but it also seems to me a question of efficiency. If you only have 90 minutes in a lesson, this seems like a lot of time with not much happening – there haven’t been any opportunities for upgraded language by this stage in the lesson, for example. It could work well as a one-off, but I’m really not sure about it as the basis for a series of materials.]

Stage 7: Development activities

‘These are activities which provide opportunities for meaningful languag eproduction based on the learners’ representations of the text’ (Tomlinson, 1999c, p. 63)

Tomlinson (2013: 105)

Examples given include writing part 2 of a story when they’ve heard part 1, rewriting a location-based story so it’s set in their own town, or creating a new advertisement based on one they’ve seen.

[These activities seem quite engaging and reflect task-based approaches quite closely, as the focus is on meaning, but learners have the opportunity to draw on the source text if they want to. However, it relies on teachers noticing opportunities to input new language, and learners being able to draw new language from texts and each other, rather than only sticking to what they know already.]

Stage 8: Input response activities

Learners return to the text, doing closer study which helps them “to make discoveries about the purposes of the language of the text.” (p105)

Interpretation tasks

Learners consider the author’s intentions, and develop critical and creative thinking skills. (p105) On p105-106, Tomlinson gives the following examples:

  • Deep questions
  • Debates about issues in the text
  • Critical reviews of the text for a journal
  • Interviews with the characters
  • Interviews with the author

[Most of these seem to imply that learners have a relatively high level of L2, or conduct these activities in L1. They would need a lot of scaffolding to be able to participate in many of these tasks, though I don’t deny that they could be engaging and fruitful with the right teachers and students.]

Awareness tasks

Learners might improve their awareness of:

  • language use
  • communication strategies
  • genre characteristics
  • text-type features (all p106)

They look both at this text and other, equivalent texts for their research.

The important point is that evidence is providing in a text which the learners have already experienced holistically and then they are helped to make focused discoveries through discrete attention to a specified feature of the text. That way they invest cognitive and affective energy and attention in the learning process and they are likely to increase their readiness for acquisition (Pienemann, 1985; Tomlinson, 1994b, 2013)

Tomlinson (2013: 106)

Tomlinson suggests that learners can revise the product of stage 7, based on the findings of stage 8. [Definite TBL influences here.]

Using the framework

Tomlinson says you can use it flexibly, though some stages probably need to precede others. You don’t need to use all of the stages, and you can decide on the weighting of the stages based on learners’ needs.

It is useful, though, for the materials developer to include all the stages in the actual course materials so that the teachers (and possibly the learners) can make decisions for themselves about which stages to use and what sequence to use them in.

Tomlinson (2013: 107)

Tomlinson describes using it to quickly create materials for a cover lesson, and to help teachers to produce an effective unit of material. [I wonder whether he’s used it to create whole coursebooks or even series of books.]

The sequence of activities on p107-109 for a 90-minute lesson based on a poem about an old lady are quite nice, and I could see myself picking and choosing from them for a one-off lesson. The news articles / online example on p111-114 also seems interesting for self-access or independent study, or for some kind of longer project with learners on an intensive course – it looks engaging and motivating, but again you’d need to justify it to the learners and train them in this approach. Still not convinced this approach is useful for larger materials writing projects though…

Unit 6: Affective factors in materials

These are my ideas to start the unit.

  1. What do you understand by ‘affect’ in language teaching?

These are the emotional and human factors which can influence learning, for example whether a learner is feeling stressed, excited, bored, hungry, cold, etc. When they are dealing with too many of these issues at once, it makes it harder for them to learn (their affective filter is up). Some aspects of affect can help learning though, for example if they are motivated, they will be likely to study for long and take more in.

2. Why is affect so important? Can you think of any personal anecdotes that illustrate this?

Because it takes up space in our brain and influences our attitudes to learning.

For example, right now I’m really tired and struggling to concentrate because I was very hot last night and didn’t sleep well (the heatwave has arrived in the UK!) This means that I’m not really sure how much I’ll retain from what I’ve done today on the course, and I’ve skipped some of the more cognitively challenging parts like reading a chapter from a methodology book. I’m aiming to come back to them when I’m feeling more awake!

3. What is the materials writer’s role in regard to affect?

A writer needs to consider what kind of support/scaffolding learners might need to complete tasks, reducing the likelihood of learners feeling stressed or anxious. They need to include activities which encourage learners to reflect on their learning, boosting their confidence and making plans for their future learning, again reducing stress levels and helping learners to feel they have some kind of control over what they’re doing. Writers also need to include good quality teacher’s notes, so that the teacher feels prepared and knows how to deal with different issues, and is also slightly less likely to feel stressed going into the lesson and transfer this to learners.

4. How affectively engaging do you think most of the materials used for your context are?

It depends on how well we’ve chosen our coursebooks! Generally I think they are quite engaging and encourage personal responses, but to some extent that’s due to how we train our teachers to use the materials. As a rule, materials are becoming more intrinsically engaging, at least as far as I can remember.

5. Do you know anything about gamification? If so, what do you think of the concept?

Yes, I’ve read a fair amount about it and attended conference talks connected to it. I think it’s one possible tool we can use to engage learners, and it can work really well for some learners, but it depends very much on the way it is used. If it creates a lot of extra work for the teacher or the students, or if it is just used for the sake of it, it’s not worth it. But if it’s incorporated in a principled way, it can prove very motivating.

6. Note down three elements of successful speaking materials and three elements of successful writing materials.

Successful speaking materials:

  • Promote extensive speaking, not just short answers.
  • Engage the learners and make them want to speak, not just do it because the teacher told them to.
  • Provide support for the learners, for example planning time, reflection on their performance, etc.

Successful writing materials:

  • Have a clear audience and communicative purpose.
  • Provide support for learners, for example through genre analysis or providing a model.
  • Incorporate achievable tasks for all learners, not just the strongest/most confident in the group.

A definition of affect

Aspects of emotion, feeling, mood or attitude which condition behaviour.

Arnold and Brown, 1999. Affect in Languag Learning. CUP

Humanising the Coursebook

We read an interesting article by Brian Tomlinson from the September 2001 HLT Mag. No notes, as I could highlight the Word document 🙂 Reminds me that I should go back and look at my copy of Humanising your Coursebook by Mario Rinvolucri [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]

Gamification in education

I’ve read and heard a bit about gamification already, but it was interesting to explore it in a little more depth and think about how I might want to incorporate it into my own materials.

This was a fun introduction to different kinds of reward (2 minutes), focussing on piqueing interest rather than extrinsic rewards:

This TEDx talk by Gavin Pouliot had some interesting ideas:

  • Include different levels of choice: legendary is the highest level he mentioned.
  • Personalise learning: let learners be whoever they want.
  • Let students make their own world, for example through a digital portfolio.
  • Allowing cooperation and competition, though not assuming all learners want to work in the same way. For example, giving XP for completing certain tasks.
  • Gamificiation requires teachers to really know their learners and requires learners to know what works for them.
  • Allow learners to retry when needed to build mastery and competence, not just rushing them on to the next thing.
  • Assessment can be done in different ways, for example through badges.
  • Be clear where pathways/skills lead so students know why they’re doing activities.

This infographic provides a particularly useful summary, including this clear definition of gamification:

The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.

The key elements of gaming which the infographic suggests we could use for educational purposes include (please look at the infographic for full information – this is just a quick reference for me!):

  • Progression
    • Levels
    • Points
  • Investment (pride in your work)
    • Achievements (public recognition)
    • Appointments (challenges)
    • Collaboration
    • Epic meaning (sublime or transcendent)
    • Virality (involve others)
  • Cascading information (unlocking more)
    • Bonuses
    • Countdown
    • Discovery
    • Loss aversion (avoid losing what you’ve gained)
    • Infinite play
    • Synthesis (multiple skills needed)

This article from TESOL by Deborah Healey mentions lots of game mechanics which could be useful. These ones extend the list above:

  • Behavioral momentum (tendency to keep doing something you’re already doing)
  • Ownership (publishing work, autonomy/learner choice)
  • Blissful productivity (we like working hard and feeling productive)

We were also given a one-hour webinar by Elena Peresada on how gamification works, which is worth watching for all of the examples of gamification Elena has used in her lessons (the first few minutes are missing):

She talks about game components as the first level of gamification:

  • XP points
  • Leaderboard (can be divided into smaller segments so it’s not just bottom v. top, for example going up through ranks)
  • Badges
  • Progress bar
  • Goal
  • Avatar
  • Levels

Class Dojo can be a useful tool for this, but you can’t divide your leaderboard into segments.

Learners became more engaged, nobody was a loser, and learners started to ask for extra assignments to keep up with their classmates and get more XP. However, it was short-term motivation and the learners focussed on points, not English, with some learners cheating to get more points. There is purely a focus on extrinsic motivation, so it doesn’t work in the long term. It’s therefore important to move to higher levels of gamification.

The second level is game mechanics:

  • Meaningful choices
  • Tries and fails

When you play a video/real-life game, this is what keeps you going. These make gamification different to school. For example, we don’t read instructions before we start a video game: we start and see what happens. At around 20 minutes, Elena gives an example of a haunted house game she used with her students. Learners could remember a lot of vocabulary after the game because they were emotionally engaged. They repeat the activity multiple times willingly.

She uses a framework of different activities with different point values, where learners can decide what they want to do – this can be as simple as allocating point values to activities you are already using.

You can turn activities into games by adding small mechanics to them, for example Find Someone Who becomes a game if there is a goal and a time limit [though I’d be wary of the competition element that might generate].

The third level is dynamics, often through storytelling:

  • Emotions
  • Narrative

One way to create a narrative is through a simple framework, like this:

Empire, Friends, and Reddit: Once upon a time there was a lonely orphan..
 Who was friends with two social outcasts...
 The trio lived happily until the evil...
 Tried to take over...
 The
 Muggle/ Gotham Galactic
 The
 The
 Middle
 The
 Pride
 Wizard
 City
 Empire Xingdom Earth Jungle
 Lands
 Worlds
 Thankfully [hero] defeats [villain] with a...
 AND EVERYONE
 LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
 pleated jeans
Every epic movie.
Original by Pleated Jeans (though I can’t find the link!)

Elena uses a lot of RPGs in her lessons – I’ve seen examples of her talking about this at IATEFL, and they seem great! Her learners are very engaged and talk a lot in lessons. These are examples of the games Elena and Studycraft have produced (site is in Russian).

She recommends exploring https://yukaichou.com/ for more information. He has a framework called Octalysis covering many different elements of gamification.

Speaking and writing materials

We were asked to look at supplementary materials to see how writing and speaking are dealt with and answer a range of questions.

For speaking, I thought it might be interesting to look at materials I’ve previously posted on my blog. I chose something from 2011 for working on FCE Speaking part 3 (in the old version of the exam – can’t remember if it’s still the same part!) The activity was designed to practise the format of that part of the exam, encourage students to converse rather than monologue (though I don’t seem to have explained how that aim should be met), and practise holiday-related language. As written, it is product oriented, because there is no explicit strategy development – I may have included it in the lesson, but I didn’t in the blogpost – it’s a long time ago and I don’t remember! (Note to self: include strategy development in activites you post on your blog, where relevant!) Possible ideas for strategies which could be explicitly practised would include turn-taking strategies, interrupting, and asking follow-up questions. I also didn’t explicitly mention what preparation they had for the practice tasks, though I suppose by creating the pictures themselves they at least had some level of input into the task, thinking about the language they might use to describe this kind of picture. Overall, the activity is fine, but the teacher’s notes could be a lot more useful!

For writing, I chose a Learn English British Council resource for B2 Upper Intermediate on writing an informal email to a friend. The activity is designed to focus on phrases which you might use in an informal email – it’s language focussed, rather than really developing writing skills. The focus with the phrases are formal v. informal, coming up with appropriate replies, and prepositions (mostly) in informal email phrases. There is no strategy development and the learners don’t actually write an email as part of the activity – instead they write a comment about the best way to stay in touch with friends you don’t see often. It is kind of a product-oriented reading activity more than a writing activity, although the main focus is on functional language. These activities could be useful language preparation for writing an email, but they would need to be supplemented by content preparation activities, and an actual writing task, along with (ideally) some writing strategy development. Examples of strategies you could include would be identifying what to reply to in an email you receive, drafting and editing an email, or checking an email for overly formal language.

My beliefs about speaking and writing materials and making materials affectively engaging

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for developing writing and speaking skills and recognising affect. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Speaking and writing materials should include opportunities for learners to develop their skills, not just practise them.
    Why? We need to help learners to develop strategies to become more fluent communicators, building their confidence and supporting them in producing better quality, richer speaking and writing.
    What does it entail? Including specific activities focussing on strategies such as turn-taking, interrupting, planning and editing writing, and using useful chunks of language. Also, including reflection on the success of speaking and writing to develop learners’ ability to notice what works and doesn’t in specific contexts.
    But…? How do you decide which skills should be developed in what order? How do you fit strategy work into the limited space available in published materials? How do you ensure that reflective questions home in on the most useful aspects of the strategy being developed?
  • Speaking and writing activities should be as authentic as possible, with a clear aim, audience and communicative purpose.
    Why? If learners can see the point of activities, they are more likely to be engaged by them. Changing the audience for speaking and writing changes how that speaking/writing might happen, for example, the level of formality, so we need to include this in the activity. Having a communicative purpose gives learners a reason to speak, listen, read and write, rather than just because the teacher told them to.
    What does it entail? Ensuring the aim, audience and communicative purpose are clear to the learners. These should reflect real-world tasks whenever possible, but if that’s not possible (for example in exam preparation courses), they should at least be clearly engaging for learners, thinking back to Guariento and Morley above and the four schools of thought regarding authenticity.
    But…? How do you make sure that tasks are achievable for (especially low-level) learners if they are real-world? What do you need to include in the teacher’s notes to give teachers flexibility when adapting the materials, rather than dictating how to set up the activities? How do you help teachers to personalise and localise tasks?
  • There should be an opportunity for learners to prepare the content and language of what they are going to say and write.
    Why? Their output is likely to be richer if they have had time to consider it first. It could also reduce their stress levels, and help their communication to be more fluent, especially if they’ve had the opportunity to ask about useful language.
    What does it entail? Including explicit preparation stages in materials, with a specific focus on content and on language. Making sure teachers know the usefulness and importance of these stages through including information in the teacher’s notes. This could also be tied up with strategy development, as mentioned in my first belief above. It could also include rehearsal stages, visualisation, or use of the inner voice for speaking. For writing, it might include brainstorming ideas and writing a plan.
    But…? Will learners always have preparation time when speaking or writing in the real world? If not, how will this approach prepare them to produce language when they’re put on the spot? How much does this approach balance accuracy and fluency of production?
  • Affective factors should be taken into consideration within materials.
    Why? If learners are disengaged, feeling stressed or anxious, lack confidence, or feel demotivated, learning is unlikely to take place. They are less likely to want to or be able to push themselves to speak or write, particularly at length, and may drift off when reading and listening. Learning English may feel like a chore or a stressful experience, particularly speaking/writing, and learners are likely to try to avoid it in the future.
    What does it entail? Choosing engaging topics, encouraging learners to personalise and/or localise topics when they want to, providing scaffolding and support, including opportunities for reflection on performance, introducing strategies to help learners deal with challenging situations, focussing on what learners can do/produce, and helping learners to see their strengths when speaking and writing. In materials, this can be done through carefully staged activities, the use of clear aims and reflection activities, and the inclusion of strategy training, as well as the choice of topics.
    But…? To what extent is this the materials writer’s job v. the teacher’s job? What happens if learners want to keep some kind of emotional distance in their language learning? How do we teach teachers and learners to reflect effectively on speaking and writing performance? How do we overcome the fact that many learners may be reluctant to write (or, less commonly, speak) in their language, and therefore might carry over those emotions to English?

Adapted speaking materials

I have decided to adapt the FCE speaking activity I wrote about above. My evaluation criteria are:

  1. To what extent do the materials develop the learners speaking skills?
  2. To what extent is the aim, audience and communicative purpose of the speaking activity made clear to the learners? [Note: This should potentially be 3 separate criteria as it covers 3 areas.]
  3. To what extent do the learners have the opportunity to prepare before they speak?
  4. To what extent are learners likely to be affectively engaged with the activity?

They should be graded 0-3, with 3 being the best.

Based on my criteria, this is my evaluation:

  1. Grade = 1
    There is some repetition built into the activity, but otherwise there is no skills development.
  2. Grade = 2
    The audience and communicative purpose are clear – it’s FCE speaking, so the audience would be the examiner, and the communicative purpose is to answer the two questions selected. The aim is less clear, other than repeating the activity – there’s no specific learning/skills upgrading/language upgrading aim, just getting practice.
  3. Grade = 1
    They drew the pictures, so may have thought about some of the language. There’s no specific preparation stage for either language or content.
  4. Grade = 2
    Because the learners drew the pictures, they are likely to be engaged in discussing them. However, the questions come from the teacher. Learners could also be more engaged if they knew there was a clear aim and some form of upgrading of their language, boosting their motivation.

Possible adaptations:

  • Include an aim or can do statement at the beginning of the materials, for example ‘I can interact successfully with a partner when making decisions related to holidays.’
  • Ask the learners to generate the questions discussed.
  • Include a preparation stage at the start of each activity cycle, where learners can ask for any vocabulary or phrases they might need.
  • Include a reflection stage at the end of each activity cycle, where learners reflect on their interactive communication by answering a few short questions. In the teacher’s notes, suggest ways of improving learners’ interactive communication depending on their self-assessments, for example functional language phrases which could be fed in, or the use of a visual reflection tool like conversation shapes. These act as strategy work and shift the materials to be more process-oriented.

Towards less humanistic teaching

These are my notes based on an ELT Journal article by Nick Gadd (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 223–234, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.223). My partner on the course read the article this one was responding to: ‘Towards more humanistic language teaching’ by Jane Arnold (ELT Journal, Volume 52, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 235–242, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.3.235). They’re from the Point and Counterpoint section of the journal.

Gadd starts off by charting the history of the term humanism, moving from the “outwardly directed humanism of the Renaissance” to the “inward-gazing humanism of the twentieth century.” (p223) He refers to Hunter’s historical survey of how English teaching (in secondary education) has developed in England since the 1800s:

He points out that the teaching of English in schools has frequently involved three separate elements: linguistic and grammatical knowledge, aesthetic and literacy appreciation, and ethical or personal self-knowledge.

Gadd (1998: 223)

The interesting question here is:

Why is it, for example, that maths or science teachers rarely feel that they have a duty to undertake any kind of operation on their students’ feelings, or to improve their souls, in the way that many English teachers do?

Gadd (1998: 223-224)

[I wonder to what extent this is still true, with movements like mindset theory encouraging teachers to consider attitudes to learning across all subjects.]

One problematic idea connected to humanism from the early 20th century was an example Hunter/Gadd gives of “moral training designed to reform the personalities of problem populations and make them easier to control” (p224).

In TEFL, Gadd mentions Stevick (1980) as an advocate of humanism:

For Stevick, its basis is the desire of every student and every teacher to be ‘an object of primacy in a world of meaningful action’. He therefore believes it is essential for teachers to take into serious consideration what goes on inside and between their students.

Gadd (1998: 224)

Elements of Stevick’s work Gadd mentions include students developing and exercising initiative and co-operation, and increasing learner empowerment. There is also the idea of reconciling the ‘performing self’ and the ‘critical self’ [I’m not entirely sure what this means]. (p225) Some potential problems with humanistic teaching which Stevick identifies include (p225):

  • “Teachers who abdicate responsibility for structure and input, leaving it all to the initiative of their students.”
  • “Too much focus on the students’ own experiences and inner selves is unhelpful.”
  • It becomes “an excuse for the teacher to dazzle students and colleagues with their educational originality and virtuosity.” (cf. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society)

Gadd describes Stevick as a ‘pragmatic humanist’, as opposed to a ‘romantic humanist’.

A common view is that it is the primary task of the English teacher to encourage and advance the development of the students’ inner selves, and that to this end the greater part of the work done in the language classroom should be devoted to the students’ feelings, experiences and ideas.

Gadd (1998: 225)

The teachers’ role in these cases appears to be that of a kindly confessor or therapist.

Gadd (1998: 226)

The principles of this more romantic humanism are summarised like so:

Students should draw predominantly on their own feelings, ideas, and experiences in order to learn English; some forms of expression are more genuine than others because they derive from the true inner self; English teachers should not limit themselves to language but should teach students to be better, nicer people, power in the classroom can be devolved from the teacher to the students. To sum up, this kind of teaching focuses attention on nurturing the student’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 226)

[I think this is the problem I’ve always had with what I previously understood about humanistic approaches – it all felt overly touchy-feely and far too personal, sometimes invasively so, limiting the world down to the people in the room and their experiences, rather than reaching out into the world and learning from external sources. I’ve seen that it can be more than that, connected to dealing with issues of affect and engagement, engaging the whole person rather than students being depersonalised language learners, but it’s still something I need to learn more about to be truly comfortable with incorporating these aspects in my work and materials.]

Gadd points out that these ideas of romantic humanism are predominant in supplementary materials, rather than mainstream coursebooks or EAP/ESP texts. (p226)

Gadd’s counterarguments are (I think) strong (p227), and seem to some extent to reflect my comment above:

  • “It is based on a view of the English teacher’s role as a monitor and nurturer of the student’s inner self which, while well established, is presumptuous and of doubtful value.”
  • “It leads to the students being taught an inadequate number of registers of English, and thus hampers their progression towards independence as language users.”
  • “A focus on the inner self as a source of learning does not encourage or permit the students’ intellectual and cognitive development.”

Gadd goes on to contrast humanistic approaches with the ‘rhetorical tradition’.

They emphasized the skills needed to be an active member of a public community, rather than a mere communer with oneself, or passer-on of one’s private feelings to select individuals.

As Hunter says, it is a grave mistake to imagine that these skills, which make students active and powerful in the public sphere, are any less ‘human’ than those which focus on the private self.

Gadd (1998: 227)

It is this position [of moral and ethical surveillance] which romantic humanist teachers still desire to occupy today, hoping to shape the learner’s personality and impart values education. Leaving aside the question of what gives English teachers the right to impose their moral and ethical values on their students, it is certainly disingenuous: for while this moral training is going on, humanist educators contiune to deny their own power and claim that it is the students, not the teachers, who are in control.

Gadd (1998: 228)

[I’m very grateful to Gadd for putting into words some of the vague feelings I’ve had about this kind of teaching before!]

Other potential problems with romantic humanism:

  • It’s a product of western tradition, and therefore may not be appropriate in other cultures. (p228)
  • It results in an extremely limited used of language, focusing only on the private self. (p229)
  • It relies on a limited range of register: “friendly, informal, even intimate”. (p229)
  • They limit the learners to “being able to chat with friends and commune with themselves. They are not of much use in training students to participate in public or academic spheres.” (p229)
  • Learners may have different levels of educational experience or come from quite different cultures, meaning they cannot rely on learner-based teaching and they may get frustrated if the teacher refuses to give instruction. (p231)

[These are summarised much more concisely as just three main points in the conclusion on p232-233 of the article.]

He contrasts the process approach to writing to the genre approach, emphasising how the latter seems to have become dominant in English teaching in Australia (note: this article was written in 1996). He talks about how at lower levels, writing texts are “completely personal and based on the immediate world of the learner” but that they become more abstract at higher levels.

This is an acknowledgement that the learning process involves a movement beyond oneself […] and underlines the need for us to lay aside the notion that the purpose of speech and the written word is to express one’s inner self.

Gadd (1998: 231)

Gadd believes that he has a responsibility for more general education, not just English, partly because he teaches a lot of adult migrants who may not have had much school learning in the past.

This involves factual knowledge about the world but also intellectual skills. It involves developing the ability to reason, interpret, synthesize knowledge, evaluate and critique different points of view, and construct an argument. Little of this can be achieved if the students remain trapped within the prison of the self.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[This seems to closely reflect the modern focus on critical thinking, and higher-order thinking skills.]

He talks about an example of working on advertising, based on a humanist activity from a supplementary book, or a serious unit of work on the topic drawing on lots of different input.

At the end of this our students are gong to be able to produce much more informed opinions by drawing on knowledge outside themselves.

Gadd (1998: 232)

If our sole aim is to fill thirty minutes with uninformed talk, then it may not be necessary for them to be encumbered with much actual knowledge. If, on the other hand, we seek to educate in the much broader sense, then there are no short cuts. We have to move beyond the self, and explore the great world which lies beyond it.

Gadd (1998: 232)

[A much more erudite way of expressing what I mentioned in my earlier response to this article!]

In the conclusion, Gadd mentions that the need for teachers to understand their learners’ psychology, as advocated in Stevick’s pragmatic humanism, “enables the teacher to ensure that teaching and learning are at their most effective”. (p233). [I agree that this is useful, and that’s why I’m so interested in the work of Sarah Mercer and co.]

Unit 7: Visual design and image

Elements of design

These are my ideas of what contributes to design:

  • Colour
  • Layout
  • Font
  • Text size
  • Use of images
  • Other stylistic features such as quotes, stylised headings, etc.
  • Space (is there any?!)

The NILE list was longer (of course!) They are listed below, along with my ideas for good design criteria for each of them.

  • Headings and icons
    Consistency in the use or omission of icons
    Transparency in the meaning of icons – I shouldn’t need to look at a key to work out what they mean
    Headings should indicate the function/aim of each section
    Headings should be a different size (font?) to the main text so they clearly stand out
  • Sequencing and Numbering
    Numbering should be used for all activities
    It should follow across the whole spread, rather than restarting in each section/for each new skill – there shouldn’t be multiple Exercise 1’s on the page for example!
    The sequence of activities should be clear from the layout
  • Text
    The font should be clearly legible, preferably sans serif to help learners with SEN.
    The text size should be large enough to read easily, and suitable for the target age group of the learners (for example, senior learners may benefit from a larger font).
    The amount of text should be suitable for the level and age of the learners.
  • Colour
    SEN-friendly, with useful contrasts (for example, dark text on a light background)
    Consistency in the use of colour, for example one unit = one colour, or one type of spread = one colour (reading = green, listening = blue, etc.)
  • Page layout
    Space should be available on the page – not too cramped
    Use of columns if applicable/appropriate
    Texts clearly separated from other elements, e.g. instructions
  • Consistency
    Different pages of the same materials should clearly belong to the same resource!
    Icons, colours, use of headings, and layout should remain consistent, so I know where to find things on the page.
    When consistency is disrupted, this should be for a clear reason, for example a different kind of unit.
  • Back of book reference pages
    Should be easy to find
    Should be clearly laid out
    Audio scripts should be legible – not so tiny that you need a magnifying class!
    Activities should be clearly differentiated from information, for example in a grammar or vocabulary bank
    If applicable, an index should be included
  • Cover
    Needs to tell me the level and target audience of the materials
    Should include a short blurb telling me what’s different about these materials
    Should include information about other components of the course
    Should have the book’s name, author, publisher etc. clearly visible
    Age appropriate
  • Images
    Should be included as a resource for the materials, not just to make it look pretty
    Should appear throughout the materials, breaking up large blocks of text
    Shouldn’t appear behind texts – this makes the texts harder to read, especially for learners with SEN
    Age appropriate
    Culturally sensitive

It’s just occured to me that ‘Contents’ / ‘Scheme of work’ should be added to this list. This should be clearly laid out, with the main aims of the book in earlier columns. Page numbers should be referenced for each of the elements, not just the first page of the unit.

We were referred to this critique of a coursebook page by Jason Renshaw (I miss Jason’s blog – it was very influential on me when I was first starting out!) It demonstrates really clearly how important design can be to learning, and includes this quote:

But if you feel, as a teacher, that my analysis and objections to the layout here go beyond simple fussiness to an essential understanding of how important content and layout can be for practical classroom application as well as independent learning efficacy, you may be asking yourself how and why it happens in coursebooks.

(and then I scrolled down to the comments and realised the first one was by me, in 2011!) 🙂

Why do we use images in materials?

These are my ideas:

  • To support vocabulary learning.
  • To clarify the meaning of grammar.
  • To create/set contexts.
  • To illustrate texts.
  • To prompt discussion.
  • For prediction or summarising activities.
  • To make texts seem more realistic, for example mocking up an email.
  • As part of diagrams – to show sequences.
  • As design features, for example the icons for a chapter heading.
  • To create image-based activities, particularly for YLs, for example colour XYZ red, colour ABC blue, etc.
  • For decoration / To break up the page.

Using images in language teaching materials

We read this blogpost by John Hughes about visual literacy in the language classroom.

John starts by defining visual literacy, then describes three levels of visual literacy and how we can use them in the classroom:

  • Basic comprehension and understanding
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘What does it mean?’ Students see pictures to understand and remember words, or predict what’s in a text based on an image.
  • Critical thinking
    The image is ‘read’ and responded to: ‘Thinking beyond the frame’ Using ambiguous images, or speculating on the thoughts of people in the image, or thinking about what happens next – images like this encourage the viewer to ask questions.
  • Creative thinking
    Students ‘write’ or ‘create’ their own images: They can talk about images using Fotobabble [though the old site seems to have disappeared], create an animated movie using Dvolver, or take photos connected to the theme of the lesson.

John says that he won’t suggest that we should ‘teach’ students how to be visually literate, but that an awareness of some of these concepts can help us to exploit images in a wider range of ways, including for higher order thinking skills. [I agree with the fact that as English teachers, it isn’t our role to teach visual literacy, but that’s not to say we can’t use concepts connected to it, and introduce some of them to our students too. It’s as good a topic as any for the classroom, and useful beyond lessons too.]

Next, we listened to an interview with John to follow up on his article.

He starts by describing how much easier it is to access and produce images now, and therefore how much easier it is to exploit them in the classroom.

John describes examples of visual literacy (reading/writing images) in daily life:

  • Clicking on icons on our phones and knowing where it will take us.
  • Sharing images on social media.
  • Understanding road signs.

Some people say that it’s becoming more and more important in our daily lives. There are also new text types, like infographics, which combine texts and images in different ways. Design choices like the use of font and colour are also connected to visual literacy. Because it’s a feature of everyday life, John believes that many students arrive in our classrooms already being quite visually literate. He says that we can take advantage of students’ visual literacy skills. He also says that because it’s so important in our students’ lives, the classroom should reflect that and we should include images and video in our lessons. Having said that, there should always be a linguistic aim because we’re teaching English, not visual literacy.

Choosing interesting images, like advertising, artistic images, or an image where it isn’t clear where is was taken, they can generate discussion and engage students, apart from the critical thinking activities mentioned above.

A 30-second video with just images can be an interesting prompt too: introducing a topic, picking out images and describing them, engaging learners. It doesn’t have to be a long video to be useful.

John mentions one activity from the Hands Up Project, where Nick Bilsborough asks students to draw images and then describe them, as a simple way of encouraging students to create/write their own images. This gives them preparation time and thinking time before they speak, as they can consider what they want to say. Using images in a range of ways like this can make lessons much more memorable and motivating.

It’s important for us to consider the design of our materials, as poor design can distact learners. For example, having images with a listening or speaking activity can gives learners a way into the activity and help to set the context.

John thinks that there are very few lessons that wouldn’t include at least a little visual literacy: diagrams in EAP, charts in business English to communicate visually…

When asking students to create and share images, we need to be aware of rules connected to the images. As long as we keep the images within the classroom, we should generally be safe, but it’s important to check with parents if we want their children to take photos to share.

With technology, there are extra layers of visual literacy too – for example, thinking about virtual environments, augmented reality, or virtual reality headsets.

John tends to set creative image or video activities for homework, rather than in class, as they can be challenging to set up and be quite time-consuming. If they’re done in English, it can work well, but it often works better outsides lessons.

He mentions the Visual Arts Circle as an interesting site to explore if you want to know more about visual literacy and visual thinking.

Finally we looked at John’s ETpedia blog list of 10 visual literacy activities for language learning. I’ve never tried using memes in lessons (idea 5), though I’ve been to an interesting talk about it (here’s a version of the same talk), and seen examples of memes created by teacher trainers (go to the bottom right of the page on a computer to see more!). I also like idea 7, getting learners to guess the question from the answers in a video.

My beliefs about design and layout

These are some of my own beliefs about materials design and layout, both print and digital, and using images. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Layout should be easy to understand and should aid in the use of the materials.
    Why? Bad layout is distracting and frustrating, and requires extra mental effort, which could be dedicated to better teaching or learning.
    What does it entail? Clear headings, numbering which works across the spread (not multiple exercise 1’s on the same page!), images which are close to the activities they correspond to, lines to separate off different sections, boxes and columns used as appropriate, large enough gaps for completing activities, white space for thinking and processing (not having lots of things crammed on a page), icons as appropriate. This should be consistent across the materials.
    But…? What happens if you need to include a lot of information/activities on a page? How much time / money do you have to dedicate to design?
  • Materials should be SEN-friendly.
    Why? What generally helps learners with SEN often helps learners without SEN too. It creates a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Minimal clutter, space around and between text, contrasting fonts and backgrounds (though not stark contrasts), sans serif fonts, lines and boxes to create clear divisions between parts of the text, no text directly displayed on images, minimal use of italics (bold is preferable) – I’m sure there’s a lot more I’ve forgotten!
    But…? What if this makes print materials take up much more space?
  • Images should be varied and representative.
    Why? Varied images allow for varied activities and materials. Considering representation is important, as it reduces the potential distance between learners and materials. If all of the images are stereotypical, only taken from Western culture, or only relate to middle-class lifestyles, they could create distance or dissatisfaction for learners. It also makes for a more inclusive learning environment.
    What does it entail? Drawing on diverse, age-appropriate, sources for images. Having a checklist of factors to include / check for, for example a balance of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages, body types, building and landscape types, etc.
    But…? How can you possibly include everybody in your materials?
  • Images should be exploited within materials.
    Why? Decorative images are fine, but there are so many ways in which images can be exploited to benefit the learning process. These can often be particularly motivating and engaging, as well as memorable.
    What does it entail? Including activities which exploit materials in a range of ways throughout the materials, both for more basic activities like clarifying the meaning of language, and for higher-order activities, like suggesting possible contexts for ambiguous images.
    But…? Nope, can’t think of a counter-argument.

The interpretation of illustrations in ELT materials

These are my notes based on the article of this name by Martin Hewings which originally appeared in ELT Journal Volume 45/3, July 1991, Oxford University Press, pp. 237-244. It looks at how learners from different cultures perceive illustratoins in language teaching materials. The learners in question were Vietnamese students of ESL in Britain, with the article received by the journal in August 1990. To me, it very much feels like an article of its time, and I wonder how differently the opening paragraphs would be framed it if was written today. Here’s an example:

For those learners who come from an educated, European background, divergence between how publishers and textbook writers intend illustrations to be perceived and how they are actually perceived may rarely be problematic. For those learners with a limited exposure to ‘Western’ conventions of illustration, it may present a barrier to language learning.

Hewings (1991: 237)

While I realise that not everybody has been brought up in the same illustrative tradition, I feel like the advent of the internet and the spread of various aspects of culture globally may mitigate some of this today. It’s not something I’ve ever come across, though it has to be said that the majority of my teaching has been done in Europe and/or in private language schools. The only time I think I’ve heard it might be a problem is with cultures with a different perception of time, who may not interpret a left to write timeline in the same way as I might.

Some of the problems with interpretation identified in the article included:

  • Representation of roles (p238): how people are shown in roles which are challenging to illustrate (for example, criminal, bank manager, lover). The lessons the article draws are “if students are not able to make the connection between the cues (age, dress, etc.) and the particular stereotype or role, they will get the answers wrong; and secondly, the even if they do make a connection, it may not be the connection that the teacher or materials writer intended.” (p239)
    [I feel like we have moved on a long way from the kinds of illustrations which might have appeared in materials in the 1980s, as well as the kinds of activities based on stereotypical roles described in the article, so I would hope this would no longer be a problem.]
  • Representation of situations (p239): how pictures are used to establish locations or situations, including if people are in the image too.
    [Same point as above]
  • Representation of topographical space (p240): plans or maps.
    [The question asked by researchers seems odd here – they ask which rooms are upstairs and which are downstairs, which seems designed to prompt misinterpretation when no stairs appear on the plan in question. I would sincerely hope the second example given would never appear in modern materials, not least because the question is so generic.]
  • Symbolic representations (p241): symbols, speech/thought bubbles in cartoons.
    [OK, some of these might cause problems, but many of these symbols feel fairly international now from my experience of travel. This would depend more on the learner’s world experience I think – there may be a point here for modern materials writers.]
  • Graphic representations (p242): charts, graphs, diagrams, visual organisers, tables.
    [I think learners from all cultures could potentially have problems with this – it’s not just the difference between the materials writer’s culture and the learners’. We spend a lot of time learning how to interpret this kind of representation during our schooling, particularly in maths lessons, and inevitably some people find it more challenging than others. All teachers/materials writers should bear that in mind when using this kind of illustration.]

Having disagreed with a lot of the first part of the article, the reminders in the second part are quite useful (p243). They can be summarised as:

  • Be aware of your cultural bias when interpreting an illustration.
  • Remember that not everybody sees illustrations in the same way you do.
  • Students may not have the skills to interpret an illustration in the way that is needed to complete a task. Be aware of this, and be prepared to provide extra support if necessary.
  • Problems of perception should be differentiated from problems with English language. When checking answers, check which of the two has happened. [Not the point Hewings made at all here, but the one I’ve chosen to take from it.]
  • Ask questions about the illustration itself to check interpretation, before using it to introduce the context or practise language.

Unit 8: Teacher’s notes / Trends in language materials / Course review

Teacher’s notes

These are my answers to questions we were asked.

  1. How do you use teacher’s notes in the published materials you use?

I rarely use them now when working with coursebooks. I might refer to them to double-check answers, or if I’m feeling particularly uninspired and am hoping the teacher’s notes might prompt some ideas. If it’s a new coursebook series, I might flick through the pages at the front to see if there are any useful ideas, such as a page of flashcard activities in a YL teacher’s book. I’m more likely to read teacher’s notes in supplementary materials, where the activities are often not as transparent on the page.

2. How do you think less experienced teachers use them?

It depends on whether they’ve realised/been shown that they might be useful. I’ve found teacher’s books to be quite hit and miss. As a relatively new teacher, the Straightforward Pre-Intermediate teacher’s book by Jim Scrivener was fantastic – it was full of ideas for exploiting activities, and included lots of methodology tips. English File and Speakout teacher’s book have often been quite useful in terms of potential grammar problems, cultural notes, and some ideas for extension activities or extra support. The Outcomes teacher’s books are like a mini teacher training course and are potentially very useful for new teachers. Other teacher’s notes are glorified answer keys, and not necessarily that useful.

3. What is a Teacher’s Book for? How many reasons can you think of?

  • Providing answers
  • Providing inspiration
  • Activities for extra support, fast finishers, extension activities, alternative warmers etc.
  • Identifying potential problems with activities, especially with grammar or vocabulary areas, but also with skills tasks. Even better, suggesting solutions for how to deal with them!
  • Homework ideas
  • Professional development for teachers
  • Justifying the methodology/beliefs of the materials
  • Links to other resources, e.g. extra activities in the TB / online

4. What else might a Teacher’s Book include besides notes for the teacher.

  • Supplementary activities
  • Answers
  • Tapescripts
  • An explanation of the thinking behind the book (beliefs, etc.)

5. Look at some teacher’s notes. [I chose the English File Intermediate 3rd edition Teacher’s book] What do you notice about how the instruction to teachers are written? Do you have any reactions to this? You might like to consider:

Consistency of wording? Generally quite consistent.

Sentence length? Relatively short, generally connected by ‘and’ if there are multiple clauses.

Imperatives or descriptions? Descriptions to introduce each unit, with imperatives in the activity notes themselves.

Use of metalanguage? Only metalanguage that students might be expected to know too, with the occasional word like ‘elicit’. Otherwise fairly minimal.

Layout of stages? Very clearly broken down. Each stage is a new point in the instructions.

Current trends in language teaching materials

This is a word cloud I made based on some of the comments we were shown connected to trends that various materials writers noticed:

21st~century~skills
emotional~intelligence
cross~cultural~communication
developing~the~whole~child
creativity
imagination
leadership
citizenship
higher~order~thinking~skills
problem~solving
digital~literacy
collaboration
communication
enquiry~based
multiple~literacies
visual~literacy
intercultural~awareness
lexical~phrases
discovery~learning
meaningful~visual~support
cultural~diversity
CLIL
projects
video~based~narrative
author~teams
inclusivity
adapted~for~learners~with~dyslexia
texts~only~used~for~language~focus
little~critical~reading
little~reader~response
exam~and~assessment~focus
tied~to~official~exams
measurable~progress
global~standardised~curricula
digital~practice
assessment~software
flipped~classroom
Made using http://wordclouds.co.uk based on materials from NILE

Another trend I’d add to this list is a move to include more strategy training connected to skills, particularly listening, in general English coursebooks. Pronunciation is now being treated for both listening and speaking in some materials.

If you’re interested in possible current/future trends, the closing plenary from IATEFL 2019 might make interesting watching for you, particularly Katherine Bilsborough talking about materials.

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials Development module (week two)

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week two of the course, things which I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provide. The notes are there for me and they don’t cover every section of the course, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading or this course yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests adn the things which stood out to me. Any one section from it could easily be a post in itself, but I want to keep it all together, and you don’t want me to share hundreds of posts 😉 I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course. Here is the post for week one.

Unit 3: Cognitive Demand

Interested to get some proper theory on this, as that was the topic of a recent couple of posts (one, two) on my blog 🙂

My answers to a sentence completion task:

  1. When I give my learners material that is too difficult for them, they get depressed and demotivated. Some of them give up. If I’m lucky, they ask for help, but only once they’ve already struggled for a while.
  2. When I give my learners work that is too easy, they either (a) get complacent, (b) get bored, or (c) mess about, the last one particularly so if they’re young learners or teens.
  3. Somebody once said “Every class is a mixed ability class”. My class is a mixed ability class! (Because I completely agree with that statement – not thinking about any one particular class)
  4. When it comes to working things out for themselves, most of my learners are able and willing to try, especially if they’re older. For young learners, young teens, lower levels, those with prior history of problems with education (particularly connected to dyslexia and other working memory problems), this may be more challenging though.
  5. For my learners, critical thinking is something I don’t specifically talk about – I’ve learnt more about it over the past few years, but have mostly worked with very low levels over the last couple of years, so it’s been a challenge to incorporate it.

How cognitive demand affects learners

These notes are based on videos we watched on the NILE platform.

If the cognitive demand is too high/the materials are too difficult, there are high levels of frustration which means there’s no learning and demotivation. The effects include learners speaking L1, getting anxious and stressed, a drop in confidence. With adults who are paying for their lessons, they might be particularly frustrated.

If materials are too easy, learners are not challenged or engaged. Again, they’re not learning. Sometimes it can be a confidence builder if learners feel they have achieved something, but only when used in moderation. It can seem patronising for learners, as well as boring. Parents and learners might be annoyed that they’re not learning.

In mixed-ability classes (all classes!), materials which can be used flexibly and/or which include suggestions for differentiation in the teachers’ notes can be particularly useful. Tasks which can appeal to a range of levels work well: scaffolding for lower levels, and providing extension tasks for higher levels. Tom Sarney gave the example of reading questions which start easy and get more cognitively challenging, and Carole Robinson suggested providing a glossary or images to help learners understand a text.

Materials requiring learners to work things out for themselves can be good if it provides learners with a push, but if they work things out too easily then it might not be motivating for them. Claudia Rey mentions working within the ZPD, helping learners to work things out for themselves with a little guidance. For teens, it’s helpful to push learners to work independently – this doesn’t just help them with their English, but with life skills too. Tom Sarney mentions an enquiry-based approach. Adults may be more likely to want to work independently in their studies, though we may need to give them the tools to do this.

Critical thinking is important at all age groups and levels, not least because it’s in such demand in work. The challenge is the balance between language skills and critical thinking. In some contexts, there may be resistance to critical thinking activities. Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a useful way to incorporate a range of different thinking skills. With young learners and teens, you need to develop these skills. With adults, you can consider critical thinking skills to help you make materials more interesting.

We could learn from video game designers, who need to create the correct level of challenge to keep us playing.

Questions in language learning materials

These are my ideas about characteristics of good questions in language learning materials:

  • They need to be answerable! Or lead to some form of meaningful discussion about possible answers if they’re questions which are more philosophical in nature.
  • The language of the questions should be at or below the current language level of the students.
  • The language learners need to use to answer the questions should be available to them, for example language they have previously been introduced to. If they need new language to answer the questions, it shouldn’t get in the way of smooth communication.
  • Discussion questions should motivate a genuine exchange of information, rather than being pure display questions.
  • Comprehension questions should require responses spaced throughout the text, rather than being bunched too closely together. They should also not be answered by information in the first sentence or two.
  • You should include a wide range of different types of questions.

We were asked to look at a double-page spread in a coursebook, find the questions, and identify the reasons for them.

I looked at the sample unit for the student’s book of English File Intermediate third edition on the OUP website. These are the questions I found on pp. 4-5, and the reasons I think they’re there: (Note: I only selected things which were phrased as grammatical questions – there were lots of other things for learners to do)

  1. Vocabulary: Can you think of…ONE red fruit, ONE yellow fruit, ONE green fruit? (etc. – a quiz with 6 questions)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To assess prior knowledge.
  2. Vocabulary: Listen to these common adjectives to describe food. Do you know what they mean?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  3. Pronunciation: Look at the eight sound pictures. What are the words and sounds?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To stimulate learnes to remember (if they’ve used a previous book in the series)
  4. Pronunciation: What part of the symbol tells you that a sound is long?
    To assess prior knowledge.
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  5. Listening and speaking: questionnaire with 5 questions (I’ll call these 5a when referring back to it)
    (before listening) To engage learners in the topic (they’re about to listen to people answer the same questions)
    (before listening) To activate schemata related to the listening they’re about to do.
    (after listening) To stimulate language use. (they answer the questions themselves)
    (after listening) To encourage personalisation.
    (after listening) What do you have in common? (I’ll call this 5b) To improve group dynamics, as learners learn more about each other and find out what they might have in common.
  6. Reading: Are the foods in the list carbohydrates or proteins?
    To assess prior knowledge.
  7. Reading: What kind of food do you think it is better to eat…for lunch if you have an important exam or meeting? (etc. – this is one of 4 endings to the question)
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To share ideas.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
  8. Reading: Look at the title of the article. What do you think it means?
    To engage learners in the topic.
    To stimulate learners to think.
    To activate schemata related to the reading they’re about to do.
  9. Reading: Find adjectives in the article for the verbs and nouns in the list. What’s the different between the two adjectives made from stress?
    To guide learners to notice.
    To guide them to form hypotheses.
  10. Reading: Three questions following the text, for example How often do you eat chocolate? Does it make you feel happier?
    To encourage personalisation.
    To stimulate language use.
    To stimulate learners to remember (vocabulary covered previously could be re-used here)
    (final question only) To stimulate learners to think more deeply

This was an interesting process to go through!

We were referred to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Diana Freeman’s Taxonomy of Reading Comprehension Questions, and the idea of moving from conrete to abstract questions Mike Gershon as ways of checking that you have included a range of questions in your work. (Mike Gershon has a resource called ‘The Bloom Buster‘ with hundreds of question stems.)

I find Bloom’s Taxonomy to be pretty abstract, and often struggle to work out which category particular questions or activities might fall under. I feel like it could potentially be pretty overwhelming when used as a way of generating questions too, though The Bloom Buster I’ve just mentioned could be a useful tool if you’re feeling writer’s block. Diana Freeman’s taxonomy is the most useful of these categorisations for me, as it’s specifically connected to EFL, and the three main categories of content, language, and affect seem like they are the most useful way of breaking down questions I’m likely to be working with. The way they are sub-divided incorporates some of the complexity of models like Bloom’s Taxonomy, but in a way which I find to be much more accessible. Of the ones we’ve been introduced to, this is the model I’m most likely to use when checking questions/instructions I have produced or looking for inspiration for my materials. The downside is that it’s specifically aimed at reading comprehension, though I think the main categories could be adapted to other areas of materials.

Looking at the same coursebook double-page from English File as before and attempting to use Freeman’s taxonomy, I think I can see the following types of questions:

  1. (not sure – doesn’t really map onto this taxonomy – probably a Language question?)
  2. Language: Lexical
  3. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  4. Language: Form (? might not be possible to map onto this taxonomy)
  5. 5a: Content: Textually explicit (if memory serves! I don’t have access to the transcript/audio now)
    5b: Affect: Personal response
  6. Language: Re-organisation (matching)
  7. Affect: Personal response
  8. Content: Inferential
  9. Language: Lexical
  10. Affect: Personal response

Based on the prompts we were given about problems with questions, these are my tips for writing good questions, some of which are still the same as when I started this section, and some of which are more specific 🙂

  • Use display questions with caution – don’t overdo them.
  • Aim to convert closed questions into open questions when appropriate, to increase thinking and language output.
  • Limit memory testing questions to testing memory! If you want to teach and you want learners to learn, use a wider range of question types.
  • Make questions specific, so it’s clear what kind of answer is appropriate.
  • Keep question wording/structure simple, so that learners have cognitive space left to give complex answers, rather than struggling to understand the question. (this refers back to the language level in my ideas)
  • Make sure that if a range of answers are possible, you don’t rely on learners getting one specific answer for the next stage of the materials. Avoid ‘guess what I’m thinking’. (this refers back to ‘make sure they are answerable’ in my ideas at the start)
  • Have a clear pedagogical purpose in mind for questions you include in materials.
  • Check that questions require genuine understanding, not just lifting of information.

Effective instructions

These are my ideas for what makes for clear instructions in materials:

  • Use imperatives.
  • Keep sentences short and language simple.
  • Have one idea per sentence in the rubric, or, if necessary two which are linked by a simple conjunction, like ‘and’.
  • Break down stages of activities into separate instructions or parts of the task as needed. (Stage instructions.)
  • Include all of the instructions that a learner would need to complete the task. Don’t leave them guessing or struggling to work out exactly what is needed. For example, tell them where to write the answers.
  • Include parameters where appropriate, for example time limits or an indication of the number of items learners should think of.
  • Wherever possible/appropriate, supplement instructions with a worked example of what learners are expected to do.
  • Design : Make sure that instructions stand out from the rest of the text.
  • Design: Avoid having instructions run over to a new line wherever possible – this can make it easier for learners with dyslexia to follow.

There were a few extra points in the materials we were given on the module, but this was a pretty good start. I’m afraid you’ll have to do the course to get the full list!

Think globally, act locally

We watched this talk by Alan Pulverness.

Before watching: When and why do you usually adapt materials?

I adapt materials all the time – I rarely use materials exactly as they are in class, even if that’s what I planned to do when I started the lesson. I adapt them for a wide range of reasons (in no particular order):

  • To be more engaging for learners (I hope!)
  • To make them longer/shorter
  • To add/decrease challenge for the learners
  • To change the presentation style, for example pulling out images to work with them separately without the text to distract the learners
  • To localise them, for example adding references to Polish culture
  • To match my teaching style
  • To change the structure of the lesson, for example reordering the stages to fit my learners’ needs more appropriately

Before watching: What kinds of adaptations do you make?

I might adapt/add to/change:

  • The layout
  • The presentation
  • The content
  • The questions asked
  • The task
  • The amount of support provided
  • The examples given
  • The language covered
  • The instructions

And probably more!

While watching: Why adapt materials?

Materials adaptation can span a range of procedures from adding carefully contextualised role plays with the objective of providing more opportunities to communicate to not finishing a pronunciation drill because of time constraints.

Islam and Mares (2003)

…to make material more suitable for the circumstances in which it is used; to compensate for any intrinsic deficiences in the materials.

McGrath (2002)

From conscious (designing extras) to less conscious (making decisions in the lessons), we all do it, to a greater or lesser extent. No coursebook is ever perfect.

What are the limits of the course book? These are possible answers according to Alan Pulverness:

  • Fail to provide: choice, variety, topicality, phonology
  • Not provide enough of: practice, assessment, productive skills work
  • Course books expected to provide: texts, language information, visuals, structure
  • Should be provided by the teacher: warm-up, presentation, practice, consolidation
  • Could be provided by the learners…

Clarke (1989) in an ELT Journal article called something like ‘Why leave it all to the teacher?’, says that the learner can play a role in adapting materials too:

  • Learner commitment: enlist them to take a fuller part in the lesson
  • Learner as materials writer and collaborator: as consolidation or extension exercises, use in revision, maybe with other groups
  • Learner as problem solver: give learners a materials design task as a problem which they can solve, for example adapting it for stronger or weaker students (not sure I agree that this is a good idea)
  • Learner as knower: put them in a position of authority for example about a particular area of language
  • Learner as evaluator and assessor: can peer review, suggest further adaptations

Alan suggested some ways that learners could adapt materials:

  • selecting texts
  • extending texts
  • creating tasks
  • constructing activities
  • constructing texts

He told us about some research by Yan (2007) published in HLT Magazine about trainee teachers and their adaptation of materials. They did this for a range of reasons:

  • Integrating traditional and communicative methods.
  • Catering for students’ needs.
  • Integrating listening and speaking skills into lessons based on reading.
  • Meeting teachers’ own preferences and needs.

Cunningsworth (1995) gives the following reasons for adapting materials in Choosing your coursebook [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]:

  • Classroom dynamics
  • Learner personalities
  • Syllabus constraints
  • Availability of resources
  • Learners’ motivations and expectations

Alan gives the following suggestions for when you might want to adapt materials:

  • To provide more systematic grammar coverage
  • To provide more practice activities
  • TO make texts more accessible
  • To provide more challenge / more support
  • To make tasks more meaningful
  • To devote more attention to phonology
  • To replace inappropaite content
  • To provide greater visual impact
  • To provide more authentic language input
  • To provide variety, topicality, engagement

Islam and Mares (2003) give these reasons for adaptation:

  • To add real choice
  • To cater for different sensory learning styles (!)
  • To provide more learner autonomy
  • To encourage greater use of Higher Order Thinking Skills (according to Bloom’s taxonomy)
  • To make language input more accessible
  • To make language input more engaging

Alan lists various problems with materials:

  • Mismatch with curriculum goals
  • The textbook as de facto syllabus
  • More material than time available
  • Dependence on technology / supplementary components
  • Written for the widest possible audience
  • Culturally inappropriate

While watching: So what can we do about it?

This was Alan Pulverness’s summary:

  • Extension: How can I augment it?
  • Modification: How can I change it?
  • Supplementation: What can I bring to it?
  • Substitution: What can I replace it with?

Alan Maley (1998) suggests the following:

  • Omission
  • Addition
  • Reduction
  • Extension
  • Rewriting/modification
  • Replacement
  • Re-ordering
  • Branching

McGrath (2002) has the following principles motivating change:

  • Localisation
  • Personalisation
  • Individualisation
  • Modernisation
  • Simplification
  • Complication
  • Variation
  • Extrapolation (taking what’s there, following the logic and adding more)

Check that your adaptations are:

  • Principled rather than ad hoc, when possible
  • Informed by evaluation
  • Responsive to learners’ needs (and wants)
  • Proactive or reactive (what fits in this situation?)

While watching: What can you adapt?

Language:

  • Instructions
  • Explanations
  • Texts
  • Exercises
  • Output

Process:

  • Classroom management
  • Modes of interaction
  • Activities
  • Tasks
  • Learning styles

Content:

  • Topics
  • Contexts
  • Cultural references

Level

  • Linguistic demands
  • Cognitive demands

Everything basically!

While watching: How do you approach materials adaptation?

Ideally, there should be some kind of flow…

  1. Textbook evaluation.
  2. Identify strengths and shortcomings.
  3. Consider principles for adaptation.
  4. Decide on specific adaptations.

While watching: Caveats

  • Don’t adapt or replace too much! Otherwise you become a materials designer [I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it could lead to overwork, stress, a loss of continuity, learners/stakeholders who are frustrated at wasting money on materials they never use…]
  • Make sure that adaptation is principled.
  • Avoid replacing one routine approach with another – be creative.
  • Don’t be self-indulgent – be self-critical.
  • Be congruent…

Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving ‘congruence’…The good teacher is constantly striving for ‘congruence’ among several related variables: teaching materials, methodologies, students, course objectives, the target language and its context, and the teacher’s own personality and teaching style.

McDonough and Shaw (2003)

i.e. take into account all of the variables when deciding on adapting your materials…no easy job!

Advice to a new or inexperienced teacher who is unsure how to adapt coursebooks

This is a short email I wrote as a forum task:

Dear new teacher,

You’ve been given a course book which doesn’t work for your students. What should you do? Ask yourself:

– Look at the pages. What do my learners most need to practise/learn?

– What should therefore be the main lesson aim?

– How will I prove learners have improved their performance connected to the lesson aim?

– What activities on the page could I use unaltered? What small tweaks could I make to engage, support or challenge learnes more?

– How long are those activities likely to take? What stage of the lesson are they best suited for?

– What other stages are needed to ‘glue’ the course book activities together? For example, do you need to add preparation before speaking? Or extra language clarification? Or feed in functional language before pair work? Is there anything on the page you could adapt or re-write to help with this?

– Look at your plan so far. Does the lesson flow? Is there a clear context tying activities together? How will you introduce the context? Using the coursebook, or supplementing from elsewhere?

– Look at the whole lesson. Is there enough practice of the language or skill the aim focusses on? Can you exploit the activities you’ve already selected in other ways to add practice? For example, adding post-listening activities to focus on connected speech.

– Go back to the aim. Does the plan really fulfil it? Will you definitely know that learners have improved?

– After the lesson, ask to what extent did the adaptations I made benefit my learners?

By repeating this process of experimenting and reflecting, you will get better and better at adapting coursebooks successfully. When you’re ready, you can also research the theory behind coursebook adaptation, but until then, good luck!

Sandy

Differentiated learning

In the feedback on an assignment I did, our tutor referred be to the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiation, and particularly this interview with her.

These were quotes which I found particular interesting.

Differentiated instruction assumes a more positive mindset: Let’s assume they can all do good work, and let’s attend to the ways that they need us to teach them in order to get there.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

It’s really important for kids to come together and understand and appreciate their differences, and to be willing to help one another succeed—as opposed to the cut-throat competition that sometimes goes on in schools.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

If what you differentiate is boring enough to choke a horse, you’ve just got different versions of boredom.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

These are some of the principles of differentiated learning which Carol Ann mentions:

  • Respectful tasks: “everybody’s work needs to be equally engaging, equally appealing, and equally important” with every students having to “think to do their work”.
  • Flexible grouping: systematically moving kids into different groupings, so they can see “how they can contribute in a variety of contexts”, not just arbitrary groupings or at the same skill level. Examples of grouping types given are:
    • similar readiness groups
    • varied readiness groups
    • mixed learning-profile groups
    • interest groups
    • mixed interest groups
    • student-choice groups
  • Teaching up: start with “high-end curriculum and expectations” then “differentiate to provide scaffolding, to lift the kids up”, rather than starting with “grade-level material and then dumb it down for some and raise it up for others”.
  • Ongoing assessment: “continually checking in on who’s where with the knowledge and understanding I’m trying to teach”, not just through formal quizzes and tests, but also by “systematically watching kids, taking good notes, checking work regularly and closely, and asking good questions”

I’m sure there are more! Her book The Differentiated Classroom, looks like a good place to go if you’d like to find out more [Amazon affiliate link].

Unit 4: Language input and output

Language input

How do you feel about the way grammar is dealt with in the books you use?

It’s good enough, though formulaic in many ways. Learners will only pick up the grammar when they are ready to, regardless of the order in which it’s introduced in the books, though having grammar in materials can help them with this. The rules vary in quality, truthfulness (i.e. how fully applicable they are to any example of that language point), complexity and accessibility – for example using lots of metalanguage in a book aimed at beginner 10-12 year olds. There are generally plenty of different types controlled practice, and some freer practice and/or personalisation opportunities. Over the time that I’ve been using coursebooks, I’ve noticed that it’s generally become much better contextualised, and there is a shift in some books to move slightly away from a fully traditional grammar syllabus, such as in the Outcomes books.

How do you feel about the grammar syllabus in one coursebook you use?

I don’t have any particular feelings about the grammar syllabus. If I’ve chosen to use a coursebook, it’s because I think that the grammar syllabus has the potential to work wirth my students.

Can you think of some different approaches to teaching grammar?

Task-based learning – working on grammar as the need arises.

Grammar reference tools

We looked at three different grammar reference tools which we might want to refer to when developing materials. The pros and cons are related to materials development and are my responses.

British Council – Eaquals Core Inventory for General English (2010)

Pros:

The core inventory table is available as a single page, and therefore very easy to refer to.

The appendices map a range of different areas: written and spoken text types (p36-37), functions/notions (p38), discourse features (p39), grammatical forms (p39-41), lexis (p42), topics (p42). These are all potentially useful reference points.

p43 onwards contains a comprehensive list of exponents which were considered core, and which appeared less often – this would be a great starting point for example sentences in materials. There are also some short texts showing how some features can be used in context, for example ‘describing places’ at A2 on p47.

It summarises common practice in the industry in a descriptive way, so materials created could be slotted into industry standards.

It shows the “extent of agreement between the different types of sources” and “the broad agreement” across the profession regarding consensus on when particular language points might be introduced to learners, so a materials writer would be more likely to introduce level-appropriate language points, if creating a grammar syllabus is an important factor for them in materials design. (quotes from p18)

The scenario on p14-15 shows an interesting structure for considering how to approach planning lessons and/or materials for a given situation, in this case a business meeting. There are more scenarios from p26-35. Each scenario shows an overview (what is needed to succeed in this situation) and implementation (one way in which this might be transferred to the learning process).

It is aware of its own limitations (p20), emphasising that it can act as a point of reference but that needs analysis should “give the basis for actual teaching”:

Cons:

It implies a somewhat linear study of grammar, vocabulary, topics, etc. though it does specify that “the language point appears at the level(s) at which it is considered of most relevance to the learner in the classroom.” (p11)

There is some overlap in levels. A2 covers elementary and pre-intermediate. Elementary is included in A1 and A2.

Although there is a lot of consensus in levels A1-B2, there is less consensus for C1. The consensus which does exist throughout may well have been influenced by previous editions of similar documents (such as the Threshold Level, 1976), meaning it’s potentially somewhat self-perpetuating: learners are taught those items at those levels because people have previously decided that’s what they should learn, and they decide what they should learn based on what is taught to them at those levels.

C2 is not included – consensus was only shown regarding preparation for the CPE exam. (p20)

It’s based on a range of sources, but this doesn’t included learner language (I think).

Some items appear in multiple places on the summary page on p10-11, such as collocation and colloquial language (B1, B2, C1) or leisure activities (A1, A2, B1) – this makes it seem very generic.

There are numbers throughout the list of exponents, but no clear information about what those numbers actually refer to (at least, not that I could find!)

English Grammar Profile 

Pros:

It’s very comprehensive.

It includes definitions and examples of each item to make it easy to understand what grammar feature is being referred to.

It was compiled from learner data. There are learner examples, both corrected and uncorrected, for every item. The learner examples are taken from a range of different language backgrounds, and include information about when they were collected and what level the learner was.

It can be searched and filtered by level.

It allows you to see progression across levels in terms of how a single grammatical item might be used.

The levels are colour-coded, making them easy to pick out from a longer list.

The grammar spotlight posts analyse the database in an interesting way to show what kinds of language learners are likely to use at different levels, including how this might differ depending on their language background, if relevant.

Lists can be downloaded.

It’s free!

Cons:

It could be quite overwhelming to navigate due to the amount of information included.

There’s potentially far too much information for any single level. For example, filtering by A1 gives 109 items, so it might be hard to select which could be the most useful to include in materials.

It only covers grammar items, or very fixed lexical expressions containing grammatical words, for example ‘might as well’. (The English Vocabulary Profile also exists – we’re focussing on grammar in this unit of the course though)

The data was compiled from exam scripts, so the conditions learners produced the language in was controlled. I think they may also be written scripts (though I’m happy to be corrected) so it doesn’t feature examples produced when speaking.

Global Scale of English Teacher Toolkit 

Pros:

It breaks down levels more than the CEFR does, including pre-A1. It also includes A2+, B1+ and B2+, which the other two resources we’ve looked at don’t.

It can be filtered by language skills, rather than only grammar or vocabulary.

It can be filtered for academic learners, adult learners, professional learners or young learners (6-14) for skills. Grammar and vocabulary have fewer options in this case.

The GSE allows finer grade filtering than the CEFR due to its use of numbers.

Lists can be downloaded.

There are resources linked to some of the grammar can do statements, which might provide inspiration for materials design.

Grammar can do statements come with a sample structure, examples, and related learning objectives which are functional, for example “Can form questions with ‘what’ and ‘who’ and answer them.” is connected to 20 different possible learning objectives.

It has a text analyzer you could check your writing with, which could be useful for rewriting or selecting what to include in a glossary.

Cons:

It could be quite overwhelming as there is so much possible information.

It could imply a very linear ‘first learn this, now learn this, now learn this’ approach (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this, but can’t think of it now!) which might seem somewhat mechanical.

Overall

I think if I’m writing materials for a specific level, and especially if I decide that having a grammar component is important, I would potentially use the BC/EAQUALS core profile as a starting point, then supplement it by referring to the other two databases, comparing what I found in each to help me decide on my grammar syllabus. This would obviously also be connected to a needs analysis and my own predictions of what language learners might need in given situations.

What is practice?

(My ideas)

  • Why do language learners need to practise?
    Without practice, learners will never activate their knowledge. They also need the opportunity to experiment, and to get feedback on their efforts. The more practice they do, especially if it is accompanied by useful feedback, the more likely they are to remember language they are trying to learn. Without feedback, they may remember this incorrectly though.
  • What are some elements of an effective practice task?
    It has a clear pedagogical purpose.
    It’s engaging.
    It’s motivating.
    The instructions are clear and achievable.
    It practises what it is supposed to practice. Anything else it practises is within the learner’s skillset.
    There are clear opportunities for feedback, and the feedback provided will enable learning.
  • What is the difference between an activity for practising language and testing it?
    Activities for practising language include feedback on performance, and the opportunity to repeat the activity again. Learners would ideally get support while they are completing the activity if they need it. Activities for testing language are far less likely to include feedback. Support is not available during the activity, and it’s much less likely that repetition will be built in.

Review and recycling

(My ideas)

What do we mean by recycling language?

Reusing it in different contexts within materials so learners get multiple exposures to the language. Encouraging learners to recall and reuse language in later practice activities covering a range of contexts.

What are the benefits of recycling?

  • Learners get more exposure to the language, making it more likely they will be able to recall it later.
  • Learners see the language in a range of contexts, building up their awareness of possible collocations and co-text.
  • They are able to get feedback on attempts to use the language in a range of different ways.

How do we incorporate recycling into our materials?

  • Building in a spiral syllabus.
  • Including revision activities.
  • Providing opportunities for learners to reuse language in later tasks.

[I feel like I should definitely have more ideas than this, but I’m out!]

Yep, there were a lot more ideas in the unit, though some kind of overlapped with what I said.

Quotations about teaching grammar and my reactions to them

Despite the advent of the Communicative Approach over recent years, and despite the daily evidence offered by learners that the difficulties they encounter in using another language to encode their own meanings to do with lexis and (in the spoken mode) with phonology, the dominance of grammar in teaching materials remains high, to the point of obsession.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 329

I agree with this. Most teaching materials I’ve used seem to prioritise grammar, with the grammar syllabus forming the core of the book. There is a fair amount of discussion about this within the teaching and materials writing community as far as I’m aware, but it’s a challenge to shift away from this due to the expectations of many different stakeholders. Some minor attempts have been made, such as the local coursebook Bruno Leys spoke about at IATEFL 2021.

input + output (interaction) + affect + cognition > meaningful purposeful interaction > language acquisition

Mishan and Timmis 2015 p. 25

That seems like a reasonable sequence of events and set of parts in the formula. The challenge for a materials writer is making sure that affect, cognition and meaningful purposeful interaction are all referenced in the activities.

Many people involved in ELT – and that includes learners – have considerable difficulty accepting exercises which do not have clearly demarcated right or wrong answers. Unfortunately, however, language – and that includes grammar – is frequently not a matter of correct or incorrect, but possible or not possible.

Stranks in Tomlinson 2003 p. 337

I think some learners may have trouble with understanding that grammar is not always correct or incorrect – they struggle with the idea of language as choice. To some extent, I think this is due to them having done lots of activities in the past which are correct/incorrect, and therefore relatively easy to administer and mark. Our challenge as teachers and materials writers is to help learners to move away from this, and to feel comfortable with the uncertainty of language, while still building their confidence in their own ability to understand and produce ‘acceptable’ language in a given situation.

Why is ‘grammar’ equated so much with verbs?

Buckmaster 2001

(I’m really happy that this source exists – I’ve never seen it before. It seems to build on ideas from The English Verb by Michael Lewis, one of the books which has most influenced my thinking about language.)

Tense, aspect and voice seem to be a huge part of the way which languages carry meaning, and each language seems to have a different way of approaching their verb system to a greater or lesser extent. These systems rarely map cleanly onto each other, making it challenging to directly transfer knowledge of one language to another language. The verb system also influences the way in which we perceive actions and how they might be divided up: for example, in English we might perceive actions as factual, remote, before but connected to a later event, or in progress, whereas in Polish we might perceive actions as complete or incomplete. Because of these differences, we therefore focus a lot of our grammar teaching on verb forms to help learners to see how the languages differ. This is not true to the same extent in other areas of grammar, or it can be much easier to clarify how differences work between languages, for example in the system of comparatives, or the use of adverbs.

The exercise format should reflect the objective of the exercise […]. Worksheets which do not necessitate language production or which closely control what students produce will have at best an indirect effect on their ability to produce language fluently in less controlled situations.

McGrath 2002 p.94

To some extent this is true, but control over production can be useful in the early stages of understanding a new language point, or attempting to produce the form correctly. There should be a range of different types of practice activities, including ones which encourage learners to “produce language fluently in less controlled situations”.

Research on methodology is inconclusive, and has not shown detectable, lasting and wide-ranging effects for implicit versus explicit instruction, for inductive versus deductive learning or separated-out study of structure versus incidental focus on form during communicative activity.

Swan 2006 quoted in Mishan and Timmis 2015 p.153

This doesn’t surprise me, as it would be very difficult to tease out any of these variables in long-term research. Each of learn differently and have so many different opportunities to get input. Ultimately each person has to find what works for them, and that may be different for different people. What we really need is instructions and activities which engage learners and keep them coming back. For some learners that might be listening to somebody else explain language and processing that explanation for themselves, for others it might be picking things up as they go along. For some it might be experimenting with language in real life, for others it might be completing practice activities and getting a confidence boost when they realise they’re right. Each to their own! As materials designers, we need to include a range of activities and types of instruction to appeal to a range of learners, and to cover our bases when it comes to SLA research.

Beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions

These are some of my own beliefs about materials for teaching grammar or functions. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long! The principles are numbered so I can refer back to them in the section below, rather than to imply any particular order – I think they’re all equally important.

  1. Language should be clearly contextualised, and the context should be exploited to support understanding.
    Why? Decontextualised grammar or functions involve learners trying to figure out when or where the structures might be applicable. By providing a context, you are already helping them to see how the language can be used in longer discourse, rather than only seeing individual sentences.
    What does it entail? The context needs to be understood before any study of the language can be effective. This can be done in two main ways: by providing the context, through supplying a reading or listening text, or by creating a space for the language to potentially be produced, through a speaking or writing task. In the former case, you can work with the text for comprehension, then highlight the language. In the latter, learners can focus on the task, then teachers can help them to notice gaps in their language and how to fill them. The context also shouldn’t be abandoned or lost once the language study starts – there should be references back to the context, and it should continue to be a part of the activity sequence.
    But…? How do you deal with the fact that grammar or functions can appear in a wide range of different contexts? How do you balance understanding the context and understanding the language?
  2. Learners should be engaged in the language clarification process.
    Why? I believe that learners are likely to switch off or miss key information in pure lecture-style/text input language clarification. By providing opportunities for some level of interaction, they are more likely to process the input they are being given regarding the language.
    What does it entail? This could be done at a low level by creating gaps or options in rules. At a deeper level, it can be done through more detailed guided discovery, asking questions to help learners to find the rules themselves. At the deepest level, it could be through asking learners to formulate rules for themselves, as Danny Norrington-Davies suggests in From Rules to Reasons [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link].
    But…? Just because learners have participated in formulating a rule for the use of particular language, how can you guarantee that they actually know it or will remember it? If they are formulating their own rules, how do you check that the rules are ‘correct’ or applicable to other contexts? How much support do learners need to be able to create rules themselves? How do you make sure this process is engaging rather than intimidating or off-putting?
  3. There should be plenty of opportunities for learners to practise the language and to get feedback on this practice.
    Why? Without practice, input is just information. It won’t be transferred into long-term memory, nor will it become automaticized as part of the skill of understanding or using English. But practice without feedback is just testing – they need to happen together.
    What does it entail? Practice opportunities should be varied, including opportunities for a focus on different areas of the language (meaning/use, form, pronunciation), different levels of control and support (controlled, semi-controlled, freer – not necessarily in that order!), different activity types (spoken, written, games, etc.), different interaction patterns (individual, pairs, groups, teams, whole class). Obviously not all of these can be included for every grammar item or function mentioned in the materials, but there should be suggestions for how activities could be tweaked in the teacher’s notes, and a range of activities across the materials. Feedback suggestions should be built into the teacher’s notes, with ideas for how to make the most of the learning opportunities available in feedback stages, rather than simply giving information about what was and wasn’t correct and moving on.
    But…? How do you decide what practice activities to include in the main materials, what to suggest in teacher’s notes/other supplementary materials, and what to leave out? How much space and time is available in the materials to include all of these different practice opportunities?
  4. Language should be revised and recycled.
    Why? Once is never enough! Learners need multiple exposures to new language, both receptively and productively, for it to be available to them for understanding and use. Multiple exposures also mean building up a better awareness of when it is and isn’t possible/appropriate to use a given grammatical structure or functional exponent.
    What does it entail? Including opportunities for revision or recycling in materials, using a range of different techniques. Some of the ones mentioned on the course include end of unit reviews, self-assessment activities, writing personalised questions, useful language boxes, task repetition and revisiting texts.
    But…? There is a limited amount of space in materials and a lot of language ground to cover – how do you balance these two issues? Is recycling and revision the responsibility of the teacher or the materials writer, since different students will have different needs?

Evaluating digital activities

We were asked to think of a grammar or functional area that we are likely to teach or write materials for soon, find three different resources, and evaluate the activities according to the beliefs we noted.

I selected ‘English for travel’ as this is an area I’m interested in writing for, and decided to particularly focus on checking into hotels. I did a Google search for English for tourism: checking in at hotels and found three resources from different websites of varying quality and for different audiences. The numbers refer to the principles in the section above in this post.

The first resource is two gapfill pages from Learn English Feel Good, which I’ve never come across before. It’s designed for self-study, and I think it would probably be best for intermediate due to the types of phrases included. There are two pages with short gapped written conversations between a hotel clerk and a tourist. The first conversation has somebody turning up at the hotel and selecting a room during the conversation. The second conversation has somebody with a reservation who wants to see the room before they pay.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used within a conversation. There is not other support for understanding the context, for example pictures or a video.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Each sentence is a 3-option multiple choice activity – learners could guess if they don’t already know the phrase. There is no language clarification at all, much less any which might involve cognitive processing of the meaning of the phrases.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There is only one practice activity, and it is the same format for both conversations. Learners could do it as many times as they want to, but they would have to create their own supplementary activities, for exampe by looking at the phrases, hiding the window, and trying to write the phrases elsewhere. Learners are probably unlikely to know this kind of activity or do it if they do know it. The feedback only says whether something is right or wrong, not why, so learning is likely to be minimal – learners can just try again until they get it right, but won’t necessarily know why.
  4. Revision / recycling
    This is not present in the materials.

The second resource is a podcast from British Council Premier Skills English. It’s designed for self-study, but could be used by teachers as the basis of a lesson plan. It would probably work best for pre-intermediate and above as it’s fairly straightforward but there’s quite a lot of input. It’s the first in a series of four podcasts on the topic of English and Tourism. There is a transcript to accompany the podcast, as well as a vocabulary activity and a description of some key phrases and how they’re used, divided up to correspond with the four sections of the podcast: introductions, problems at reception, resolving problems, and costs and changes. There’s then a gapfill to practise the key phrases, a quiz, and a hotel review writing task which learners can respond to by writing in the comments.

  1. Context
    The phrases are used in a clear context: a conversation between a customer and a hotel receptionist. The conversations are somewhat buried in the rest of the podcast, but they clearly follow the football theme of the website, and listeners are likely to be familar with the format of the podcast. The context is introduced clearly, including listeners being told that the role play will be in four sections. After each section, the language is dicussed. There is a question to answer when listening to each part of the roleplay to help learners focus on comprehension. The context is very rich, and contains a lot of potentially useful language. It is referred back to in the clarification.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    The language clarification is all described, with no pause or questions for learners to think about their own answers. Learners are passive during the language clarification process. They can hear the clarification in the podcast, read it in the transcript, and read a slightly different version of it on the webpage.
  3. Practice opportunities
    There are no practice opportunities in the podcast, and the written task of describing a hotel stay is connected to the vocabulary rather than the functional language of checking in. There are two written practice activities on the webpage. The first is a gapfill, with each sentence missing one word from each sentence, though sometimes these are functional language, and sometimes they’re vocabulary. The second is a quiz, but you could only see if it you log in. I imagine it’s possibly multiple choice, but I don’t know.
  4. Revision / recycling
    The hotel review allows revision of the vocabulary, and learners could read each others’ reviews to see the vocabulary used in multiple contexts. They could listen to the podcast or read the information as many times as they want to, but there are no opportunities for retrieval practice.

The third resource is a lesson plan from One Stop English and is available at elementary and intermediate – I looked at the elementary plan. It’s a complete lesson plan with teacher’s notes, and also covers checking in at an airport. The plan is aimed at learners who are 16+ years old and should take 90 minutes. There is a warm up to elicit vocabulary, a mime to introduce the topic and elicit more collocations, whiteboard work to focus on the vocabulary in more depth, revision of numbers, eliciting questions hotel reception staff might ask (the first stage of the actual functional language), a running dictation of a conversation / an ordering task (depending on the teacher’s choice), dialogue practice with the option of changing the dialogues, and a role play.

  1. Context
    By the time the phrases are introduced, the context of checking into a hotel is clear. They are within a short dialogue, and a sample answer is provided with a longer version of the conversation (in one of the pdfs – slightly confusingly, there are two very similar pdfs!) There’s no clear language clarification in the notes, so it’s not clear whether the context would be referred to again for this, though the dialogues are reused in stage 7.
  2. Engaged in understanding the language clarification
    Before they see the dialogue, the learners are given the opportunity to come up with their own possible questions, meaning they will be processing the meaning themselves. It’s not clear from the teacher’s notes in stage 5, but presumably the assumption is that the teacher will upgrade any language they produce to ensure that the questions are correctly formed. The ordering task involves the learners in processing the meaning, although again there doesn’t seem to be any feedback or meaning checking included in the teacher’s notes to ensure that the learners have got it right.
  3. Practice opportunities
    The main opportunity to practice comes in the dialogue (stage 7), with learners repeating the task multiple times and reducing the amount that they look at the dialogue as they go through. They also change roles. There is then a freer practice activity (stage 8) consisting of a role play with learners switching roles multiple times. To some extent the running dictation (stage 6) is also a form of practice, as they say and/or write the phrases, though if they don’t know what the phrases mean this stage may not be particularly useful in fixing the language in learners’ memory. There is an extension activity for stronger students related to including requests in the check in conversation.
  4. Revision / recycling
    There are lots of opportunities for the learners to revise the language through the task repetition in the dialogue and the role play.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (1)

These are my notes notes based on a chapter by Tomlinson (2013) in the book Applied Linguistics and Materials Development [Amazon affiliate link]. He also edited the book and it was published by Bloomsbury.

Some terms defined at the start of the chapter (p11):

  • Second language acquisition: “the process by which people acquire and/or learn any language in addition to their first language. It is also the name of the academic discipline which studies that process.”
  • Acquisition: different definitions depending on the researcher: “the informal, subconscious process of gaining a language from exposure and use”; Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the initial stage of gaining basic communicative competence in a language”
  • Learning: “the deliberate, conscious study of a language in order to be able to use it”
  • Development: Tomlinson (2007a, p.2) “the subsequent stage [after acquisition as defined above] of gaining the ability to use the language successfully in a wide range of media and genres for a wide variety of purposes”

Most researchers seem to agree that learning is insufficient and needs to be at least supplemented by acquisition.

Tomlinson (2013: 11)

What we know about the process of SLA

It is facilitated by (headings lifted directly from the chapter):

  • A rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
    Rich = “contains a lot of implicit information about how the language is actually used to achieve communicative effect and that it provides natural recycling of language features (Nation, 2011)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    Meaningful = “relevant to the learner and the learner is able to understand enough of it to gain meaning from it” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Affective and cognitive engagement
    “Learners who are stimulated to laugh, smile, feel joy, feel excited and feel empathetic are much more likely to acquire communicative competence […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Positive emotions seem most likely to stimulate deep processing (Craik & Lockhard, 1972) and therefore to faciliate language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Negative emotions […] are much more facilitative than no emotional responses at all.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Self-confidence and self-esteem are also important aspects of affective engagement, as is feeling positive about the learning environment.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “If they do [use high level mental skills], they are much more likely to achieve deep processing and to eventually acquire language and develop language skills […]” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
    “Put very simply, in order for learners to acquire a second language they need to think and feel in the process of acquiring it.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 12)
  • Making use of those mental resources typically used in communication in the L1
    Examples include our inner voice, visual imaging, motor imaging (“to recreate movements which are described”) – collectively “multidimensional mental representation” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “L2 learners rarely make use of these mental resources at all. [For a range of reasons, they engage in] linguistic micro-processing which takes up all the brain’s processing capacity.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Tomlinson and Avila (2007b) has suggestions for activities to help with this.
  • Noticing how the L2 is used
    “Noticing linguistic features in the input is an important facilitator of language acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    “One way of doing this is to draw the learner’s attention to language features in use either through direction of through making the understanding of that feature important for task completion. This does not lead to instant acquisition of the feature but it does contribute to and can accelerate its eventual acquisition.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
    Two approaches are suggested to help learners achieve what Pienneman (1985) calls “psychological readiness”: learners “respond personally to the content of an engaging written or spoken text and then go back to make discoveries about the form and function of a particular feature of that text” / “a form-focused approach […] in which learners first focus on the meaning of a text and later focus on the form and function of a specific linguistic feature (through instruction and or consciousness raising)” (Tomlinson, 2013: 13)
  • Being given opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
    Output = “producing language for communication” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “It can provide learners with contextual feedback, it helps to automatize language, it constitutes auto-input and it can elicit further comprehensible input too.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14) [I’m not sure what ‘auto-input’ is.]
    Pushed output = “communicating something which is not easy to express” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “[Pushed output] can be particularly beneficial as it stretches the learner’s capabilities by making them make full use of their acquired language and of their strategic competence, as as providing opportunities for new but comprehensible input from their interlocutors who are helping them to negotiate meaning.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “This would suggest that setting learners achievable communicative challenges is likely to be more useful than providing easy practice.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being encouraged to interact
    “It helps to make input more comprehensible, it provides meaningful feedback and it pushes learners to modify their output.” especially when communication breaks down (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “Such communication is contextualised and purposeful, it is relevant and salient, it is generally comprehensible and it promotes meta-talk about the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
  • Being allowed to focus on meaning
    “Learners are more likely to acquire forms if their primary focus is on meaning rather than form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    “However it does seem that more attention to form is needed as the learner progresses to advanced levels.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14)
    Possible approaches suggested are an “experiential approach”: “learners first experience an engaging text holistically, respond to it personally and then return to the text to focus discretely on a salient feature of language use”, what Long (1996) calls a “form-focused” approach, rather than a “forms-focused” approach (on a “predetermined, discrete form”); “language awareness approaches”: “learners first experience a form in use and are then helped to make their own discoveries about it”; “consciousness raising approaches”: “learners are guided towards finding out how a form is used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 14-15)
  • Other generally accepted features (all taken from Tomlinson, 2013: 15):
    • being relaxed
    • being motivated to participate and to learn
    • being help to develop an emerging interlanguage which gradually moves closer to the target language
    • developing hypotheses about how the language is used for communciation
    • being catered for as an individual
    • making full use of non-linguistic means of communicating
    • being ready to acquire a focused feature “which can be powerfully influenced by materials which create a need to ‘know’ a language feature in order to complete a motivating task and by materials which help learners to notice a particular feature being used” (Tomlinson, 2013: 15)
  • On the same page, Tomlinson also says there are other features which he discusses in other literature (Tomlinson 2008, 2010, 2011a):
    • Allowing for the inevitable delayed effect of instructions
    • Impact
    • Self-confidence
    • Relevance
    • Self-investment
    • Positive attitudes
    • A silent period at the beginning of instruction

SLA and published materials

So many areas to consider! In the next part of the chapter, Tomlinson analyses a number of global coursebooks to see how their practice matches up to this theory.

I found that none of the coursebooks focus on meaning, that they are all forms-focussed and that the majority of their activities are language item practice activities. Some of the coursebooks provide some opportunities for noticing and most make some attempt at personalization. None of them, however, offer a choice of content, route or activities.

Tomlinson (2013: 16)

The mismatch between SLA theory and practice is demonstrated in a number of ways on p16-17. By implication, any materials which want to match up to SLA theory should:

  • Include more use of literature
  • Use longer and more complex texts
  • Include activities which focus on use, rather than practice
  • Choose topics and activities which stimulate affective responses
  • Ask learners to think for themselves and be creative
  • Aim to vary approach, not only using conventional practice activities like T/F, matching, gap fills, sentence completion, role play, working in pairs to compare ideas
  • Recycle language in use
  • Encourage learners to speak or write at length
  • Encourage learners to interact for a communicative purpose and at length
  • Focus on form, not on forms

Some ideas for ways to vary materials from p17 which I might want to include in materials I create for this module are:

  • Visual imaging tasks
  • Inner speech tasks
  • Extensive / creative writing with an audience and a purpose
  • Tasks offering choice
  • Different versions of texts for learners to choose form
  • Thinking tasks
  • A meaning focus

On p17-18 Tomlinson lists various reasons why this mismatch between SLA theory and materials might exist, the biggest of which I think is the “massive mismatch between typical examination tasks and SLA principles”.

Unanswered questions in SLA research

One question he asked is “Is there a natural sequence in langauge acquisition?” (Tomlinson, 2013: 19) This answer appeals to me:

One plausible explanation for similarities in sequences of acquisition is offered by MacWhinney (1987; 2005). His competition model claims that what learners can pay attention to at any one time is limited and that they filter out features of language when they listen to a second language. Learners gradually get better at processing sentences and mental resources are freed up to focus on more complex features of the input. […] What is essential for communication is learned before what is perceived as redundant.”

Tomlinson, 2013: 19

Another area discussed was text enhancement (TE) “(e.g. colour coding, boldfacing, audio repetition) as a means of drawing [learners’] attention to salient features of their input”, as proposed by Sharwood Smith (1993) (Tomlinson, 2013: 19). “Lee (2007) found that only when input has been understood can learners attend to form.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

I foudn it very interesting that three of the questions included in Tomlinson’s list demonstrate that three things which feature in a lot of materials and which I personally find to be useful don’t necessarily have any SLA research behind them:

  • Do controlled practice activities facilitate acquisition?
  • Does memorization facilitate language acquisition?
  • Do repetition derills facilitate language acquisition? (Tomlinson, 2013: 20)

It would seem that many coursebook procedures have become accepted as dogma to be followed, even though there is little research or even anecdotal evidence to support them.

Tomlinson, 2013: 20

Suggestions for applying SLA theory to ELT materials development

  • Task-based materials “provide the learners with a purpose and an outcome […] which can only be achieved through interaction in the L2.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)
  • In problem-based approaches “learners communicate with each other in order to solve a problem.” (Tomlinson, 2013: 21)

There is an example from task-based materials of instructions Tomlinson wrote for learners, where the first time they listen and visualise what they’ll do, and the second time they listen and do (making use of mental resources…)

  • Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approaches “help learners to acquire an L2 by teaching them a subject, topic or skill they are interested in through the medium of the L2) (Tomlinson, 2013: 22)

Some examples of wording I think might be useful from CLIL instructions Tomlinson wrote:

Visualize your idea in action and talk to yourself about its potential applications.

In your group help each other to understand any ideas which were not completely clear.

Reflect on your presentation. Decide how you would make your presentation even more effective if you had to give the presentation to another company.

Tomlinson, 2013: 22-23
  • Text-driven approach (Tomlinson, 2003): “Text-driven materials are determined by potentially engaging written and/or spoken texts rather than by language teaching points. The learners’ interactions with the texts drive personal response activities, thinking activiites, communication activities, creative writing activities and language awareness activities, as well as often inviting supplementation with other locally appropriate texts.” The table below outlintes a “flexible text-driven framework” (Tomlinson, 2013: 24, based on Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2004)
(Tomlinson, 2013: 24, based on Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2004)

Overall

This was a very useful summary of SLA theory, and has really got me thinking about the materials I have created in the past and might create in the future, and how they (don’t!) match up to this theory.

My answers to some of Tomlinson’s 2013 questions

Is SLA primarily implicit or explicit?

I’ve learnt lots of languages in lots of ways, but I’ve always felt that until I was actually using the language myself and getting lots of exposure, I wasn’t making progress. In Polish, I’ve done almost no explicit study and I’ve never had lessons, but have reached B2 level over a period of 6 years. I had a largely silent period for the first year, and I have only done explicit study when I felt that I was ready to learn a particular feature, for example looking up how to form conditionals or comparatives in a grammar book. I’ve never completed a grammar exercise. In Mandarin, I’ve done only explicit study over a period of about 10 years, but can say almost nothing and am possibly at A1 level, but probably still pre-A1. Based on this experience, I would say that SLA is primarily implicit, but that explicit study can provide a boost which helps with noticing and to make leaps in progress.

Is there a natural sequence in language acquisition?

Yes, I think there is, though I really like the explanation given by MacWhinney for why this might be. Again, having learnt various different languages, I tend to find I learn different structures at similar levels. For example, comparatives and superlatives at about A2, conditionals come at B1 – though I can’t produce them until B2 and higher. This is because of their importance in what I’m trying to communicate (I don’t really need them earlier, and/or I don’t have enough other language to think of trying to build them myself). I’ve noticed a similar process in the first language acquisition of friends’ children, and in the problems learners have at different levels.

Are the factors which determine the effectiveness of language acquisition variable?

I think that individual learners will learn in different ways for a huge range of reasons, including educational background, culture and engagement. I think these factors might be variable between learners, but not within an individual learner, if that makes sense!

Does text enhancement facilitate language acquisition?

I find it quite distracting as a learner, and find it much more useful to notice features of a text myself, focussing on the areas which I feel are important for me at that point in my study, or on something which I find interesting about a text. I think it might help some learners to find their way around a text when it comes to a specific focus on the language, but I believe it’s better for learners to enhance the text themselves than for it to be provided by the writers.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (2)

These are my notes based on Tomlinson’s 2008 chapter ‘Language Acquisition and Language Learning Materials’ in English Language Learning Materials (Contiuum 2008) [Amazon affiliate link].

One of my arguments is that many ELT materials (especially global coursebooks) currently make a significant contribution to the failure of many learners of English as a second, foreign or other language to even acquire basic competence in English and to the failure of most of them to develop the ability to use it successfully. They do so by focusing on the teaching of linguistic items rather than on the provision of opportunities for acquisition and development. And they do this because that’s what teachers are expected and required to do by administrators, by parents, by publishers, and by learners too.

Tomlinson (2008: 3)

That’s quite some statement!

He goes on to share a slightly different list to the one in his later chapter (above) of what is required to facilitate language acquisition, “a rich experience of language in use” whereby:

  • “the language experience needs to be contextualized and comprehensible
  • the learner needs to be motivated, relaxed, positive and engaged
  • the language and discourse features available for potential acquisition need to be salient, meaningful and frequently encountered
  • the learner needs to achieve deep and multi-dimensional processing of the language” (Tomlinson 2008: 4)

He suggests the use of extensive reading and extensive listening to provide exposure to language.

It is my belief that helping learners to notice features of the authentic language they are exposed to can facilitate and accelerate language acquisition. […] This is particular true if the learners are stimulated and guided to make discoveries for themselves […] and to thus increase their awareness of how the target language is used to achieve fluency, accuracy, appropriacy and effect.

Tomlinson, 2008: 4

It is also my belief that helping learners to participate in meaningful communication in which they are using language to achieve intended outcomes is essential for the development of communicative competence. […] Practice activities which have been designed to give the learner frequent opportunities to get something right make very little contribution to language acquisition because they don’t add anything new and they make no contribution at all to language development because they focus on accurate outputs rather than successful outcomes. What the materials need to do is to provide lots of opportunities for the learners to actually use language to achieve intentions and lots of opportunities for them to gain feedback on the effectiveness of their attempts at communication.

Tomlinson, 2008: 5

There is a long list of conjectures Tomlinson has arrived at from his experience as a language teacher (2008: 5-6). Ones which particularly stood out to me were:

  • Learners gain from sometimes being allowed to hide and from not always being put under a spotlight. [makes me think of this]
  • Those learners who participate mentally in group activities often gain more than those participate vocally.
  • Reading should be delayed in the L2 until the learners have a sufficiently large vocabulary to be able to read experientially rather than studially and then extensive reading should be introduced before intensive reading. [Not sure I agree with this – I think that reading is one of the ways they will gain this vocabulary, and you can start with short texts. Extensive reading is definitely highly beneficial though.]
  • Learners should be encouraged and helped to represent language multi-dimensionally. [makes me think of this]

Tomlinson implies that the following are desirable for ELT materials to promote language acquisition and development (2008: 6):

  • Using different genres, text types and multimedia to provide a rich experience
  • Provide an “aesthetically positive experience” through illustration and design
  • Help learners to make discoveries for themselves
  • Help learners to become independent learners
  • Provide opportunities for extensive listening/reading
  • Help learnres to personalise and localise their language learning

Some of the problems he mentions connected to the fact that many ELT books are selected by adminstrators, and none by teachers, are (2008:7):

  • Colourful photographs in the top right-hand corner to pass the flick test
  • As many words as possible on a page “to achieve optimal coverage at an acceptable price”
  • Uniform unit length and format = makes timetabling, teacher allocation and teacher prep easier
  • Tasks replicating conventional test types = facilitates exam prep

Many of them [educational publishers] try to add as much educational value to their products as possible but for all of them the main objective it to make money. […] What this situation means for writers of commercial ELT materials is that they can at best try to achieve a compromise between their principles and the requirements of the publisher.

Tomlinson, 2008: 7

Other generalizations he makes about problems with many coursebooks are (Tomlinson, 2008: 8):

  • Underestimating learners’ language level and cognitive ability, especially the treatment of low-level English learners as intellectually low-level learners.
  • Simplifying language presentation and therefore impoverishing the learning experience.
  • Using PPP > creating an illusion of language learning, results in shallow processing [I think this might have changed a little in more modern materials, though I’m not sure processing is necessarily deeper]
  • Ensuring most activities are easily accomplished > memorisation, script repetition, simple substitution / transformation
  • Trying to teach language features during listening/reading activities, and therefore confusing language learning and skills development [again, I think this might have changed somewhat now]
  • Bland, safe, harmonious texts and activities which don’t stimulate thinking and feeling [there’s more of an attempt to include critical thinking in materials now, but I’m not sure this has moved on much beyond what Tomlinson stated]
  • “Not nearly enough experience of language in fully contextualized use”
  • Focussing on comprehension over enjoyment in listening and reading [at least, that’s how I read it…a little unclear to me!]
  • Not exploiting what’s available outside the classroom
  • Decoding OR encoding, not multidimensional activities “involving the use of the full resources of the brain”

He describes some examples of locally produced materials which he feels have been developed in more principled ways, while acknowledging the need for “due consideration being given, of course, to the face validity and conformity to market expectation which is necessary to ensure profitability”. (Tomlinson, 2008: 9)

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Materials Development (2)

These are my notes based on’Second language acquisition research and language-teaching materials’ by Rod Ellis (2010) in Harwood, N. (ed.) English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice (CUP, 2010).

Some definitions to start (Ellis, 2010: 33):

  • An “unfocused task” elicits general samples of language use, “although it may be possible to predict a cluster of features that learners are likely to need when they perform a task.” (Ellis, 2010: 36)
  • A “focused task” elicits use of a specific linguistic feature, often a grammatical structure
  • In any task, “the primary focus must be on meaning and achieving a communicative outcome”
  • Task-supported language teaching: “focused tasks support a structural syllabus”
  • Task-based language teaching: “the syllabus is specified only in terms of the tasks to be performed”
  • “Interpretation activities”: “aim to teach grammar by inducing learners to process the target structure through input rather than by eliciting production”, with the example given of bolding a target feature in a written text
  • “Structured input activities”: “force processing of the targeted feature by requiring a response from the learner”, with the example given of choosing a picture that correctly matches a sentence learners hear
  • A “consciousness-raising (CR) task”: assisting learners to discover how a grammatical feature works for themselves, focussing on understanding rather than the ability to use it.

Despite this activity and our growing understanding about what learning an L2 entails, doubts exist as to whether the findings of SLA are sufficiently robust to warrant applications to lagnauge pedagogy. […] The fact tha tmost teacher education programs include an SLA component is testiomny to the conviction that it has relevance to language pedagogy.

Ellis, 2010: 34

SLA and “tasks”

Ellis (2003) identifies various criteria for a task of which the main ones are (quoted in Ellis, 2010: 35):

  1. There is a primary focus on meaning.
  2. The students choose the linguistic and nonlinguistic resources needed to complete the task.
  3. The task should lead to real-world processes of language use.
  4. Successful performance of the task is determined by examining whether students have achieved the intended communicative outcome.

2 cannot be met if there is a model which learners are given and they substitute items in it.

3 requires some kind of gap (information / opinion / etc.) to lead to a negotiation of meaning.

4 must be met for it to be a task, and not a “contextualised grammar activity” (Ellis, 2010: 35) – Ellis gives examples of both on p36-37.

Focused tasks are different to contextualised grammar activities because the latter specifies the target feature to be used, whereas the former doesn’t. They have two aims, to “stimulate communicative language use” and to “target the use of a particular, predetermined target feature and provide an opportunity to practice this in a communicative context”. Ellis notes that learners may not use the targeted structure in focused tasks: “success depended on whether the target structure was one that the students were already in the process of acquiring.” (Ellis, 2010: 37) A dictogloss is an example of a focused task.

The rationale for using tasks according to a number of SLA researchers is that (Ellis, 2010: 39):

  • “Learners will only succeed in developing full control over their linguistic knowlege if they experience trying to use it under real operating conditions.”
  • “True interlanguage development (i.e., the process of acquiring new linguistic knowledge and restructuring existing knowledge) can only take place when acquisition happens incidentally, as a product of the effort to communicate.”

[I’ve never experienced TBL as a learner, but I definitely feel like both of these statements are reflected in my experience of when I feel I have made the most progress as a language learner, experimenting with the language and finding out the limits of what I can produce.]

Task-supported language teaching features tasks as the final step in PPP, acting as ‘text-creation’ tasks which follow on from ‘text-manipulation’ exercises (Ellis, 2010: 39). The idea is that you move from teaching grammar explicitly (declarative knowledge) to exercises (proceduralizing the knowledge) to tasks (automatizing the knowledge through real-life communicative behaviour). The problem is it implies language learning is sequential and ignores the time-lapse involved in language acquisition. It also encourages learners to focus on form, not meaning, during the task, so it ceases to be a task in the definition Ellis gave.

Task-based language teaching

Task-based language teaching features tasks as “the organizing principle for a course” (Ellis, 2010: 40). Attention to form can be pre-emptive (asking questions about form) or reactive (corrective feedback). It can also be done through posttask activities. There are various forms in which tasks can appear (Ellis, 2010: 40-41):

  • “humanisitic exercises” (Moskowitz, 1977) [one example was given, but I’m not 100% sure what these are – I think there ones focussed on information about the people in the room]
  • “procedural syllabus” (Prabhu, 1987): ” a series of meaning-focused activities consisting of pretasks, that the teacher completed with the whole class, followed by tasks where the students worked on similar activities on their own”
  • with a “metacognitive focus for learner-training purposes”

Some of the contructs and theories TBLT draw on include (Ellis, 2010: 41):

  • Teachability (Pienemann, 1985) – whether learners are actually ready to acquire the target structure. This causes problems as learners may not be ready for the same structure at the same time, and is contrasted with following their own “internal syllabus”.
  • “Implicit knowledge”: “linguistic knowledge that is intuitive, unconscious and proceduralized” which is “acquired incidentally as a response to the frequency of sounds, syllables, and words in the input that learners are exposed to – that is, it involves associative rather than rule learning”
  • “Focus on form” (Long, 1991): requiring learners to “attend to form while they are engaged in trying to communicate”, for example proactively seeding input with the target structure, or reactively with corrective feedback)
  • Noticing (Schmidt, 1994): “acquisition takes place when learners pay conscious attention to exemplars of a linguistic form in the input”, meaning that at least some of the process of acquiring knowledge needs to be conscious.

Although there’s no guarantee that learners will do what the task designer intended: “there is no necessary relationship between task-as-workplan and task-as-process” (Seedhouse, 2005), “to some degree at least, it is possible to predict the language samples that result from particular tasks” (Ellis, 2010: 41-42).

Task design

Ellis (2003) proposes a frameowrk for “distinguishing the design features of tasks”. This is an example, accompanying a task shown in the chapter:

Ellis, 2010: 42

Some of the terms are defined as follows (Ellis, 2010: 42-43):

  • “tight” organization: it “structures the interaction that the learners will engage in”
  • split information: the participants have different information
  • required interaction: “the task cannot be performed successfully unless both students speak”
  • “convergent”: “the aim is for the students to agree on a solution to the task”
  • “closed” scope: only one correct answer

What design features of tasks are likely to be effective in promoting L2 acquisition? (Ellis, 2010: 43) – with the caveat that SLA research so far (by 2010) shows the relationship between tasks and language use, NOT language acquisition:

  • Jigsaw tasks have the “greatest psycholinguistic validity” according to Pica, Kanagy, and Falodun (1993), drawing on Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (1996): “when learners engage in the effort to negotiate meaning as a result of a breakdown in communication, their attention will be direct to linguistic forms in a way that promotes acquisition”.
  • Tasks need to be varied “so that they induce learners to attend to different aspects of language use at different times”. (based on Skehan (2001), Cognitive Approach to Language Learning)

When designed tasks, you might choose to start from (Ellis, 2010: 43-44):

  • a task function, e.g. describing a person
  • a task genre, e.g. information gap
  • a task frame, i.e. “giving consideration to a cluster of factors such as the participatory organization, skills to be practiced, timing, and teacher roles”

SLA and grammar teaching

Interpretation activities

They are a type of comprehension activity in which learners process the target structure through input. They “require learners to process the target structure in order to arrive at the meaning of the text.” (Ellis, 2010: 45) with learners creating a kind of “form-function mapping” – they can’t avoid the target structure in the activity, they have to understand it to achieve success in the activity.

Input-enrichment activities include enriched input with frequent and/or salient examples of the targeted features. There is an example on page 45. It may be a simple listening or reading text, a text with features highlighted, or a text with follow-up activities “designed to focus attention on the structure” – “questions can only be answered if the learners have successfully processed the target structure.” “Input flood” through a number of texts is needed to have a real effect on their acquisition of the target structure, but this is ineffective for some structures according to the studies Ellis quotes. (2010: 45) For this to be effective, learners need to notice the target structure, though they don’t need to be intentionally focused on it – enriched-input tasks “aim to assist noticing by increasing the salience of the target structure in the input.” Ellis contrasts this with traditional grammar activities, saying that the latter “may result in explicit knowledge rather than implicit knowledge”. The benefit of input-enrichment activities may be that they “reinforce the learning that results from a more traditional, explicitly instructional approach”. (all quotes: Ellis, 2010: 46)

Structured-input activities don’t just present enriched input (the stimulus), but provide “some instruction that forces [learners] to process it (the response)”. (Ellis, 2010: 46)

  • “The stimulus can take the form of spoken or written input.”
  • The response is generally either completely nonverbal or minimally verbal, for example T/F, tick a box, select a picture, draw a diagram, perform an action.
  • A suggested sequence is attention to meaning > notice form and function of the grammatical structure > error identification.
  • Learners should be able to “relate the input to their own lives”.
  • There should be a focus on common errors, as well as correct usage.
  • Immediate and explicit feedback on learners’ response to the input is necessary. (Ellis, 2010: 46-47)

There is an example of an activity on page 47. The grammar teaching approach is called Processing Instruction, defined by VanPatten (1996: 2) as “a type of grammar instruction whose purpose is to affect the ways in which learners attend to input data.” (Ellis, 2010: 47)

Consciousness-raising tasks

These tasks “make language itself the content by inviting learners to discover how a grammatical feature works for them”, with grammar the topic to communicate about. The focus is on developing understanding rather than noticing. (Ellis, 2010: 48)

Characteristics of CR tasks include (Ellis, 2010: 48-49):

  • An attempt to isolate a specific linguistic feature for focused attention.
  • Data to illustrate the targeted feature, and maybe an explicit rule describing or explaining the feature.
  • Intellectual effort is needed to understand the targeted feature.
  • Maybe learners need to verbalize a rule describing the structure.

Data might be (Ellis, 1997, summarised in Ellis, 2010: 49):

  1. authentic v. contrived
  2. oral v. written
  3. discrete sentences v. continuous text
  4. well-formed v. deviant sentences
  5. gap v. non-gap (i.e. each learner has all of the information, or learners have different information)

Operations learners might perform on the data could be (Ellis, 1997, summarised in Ellis, 2010: 49):

  1. identification (find the TL)
  2. judgment (is it correct? is it appropriate?)
  3. completion (complete a text)
  4. modification (e.g. replace this with this)
  5. sorting (categorising)
  6. matching
  7. rule provision (“state the rule they have discovered”)

A CR task constitutes a kind of puzzle that, when solved, enables learners to discover how a linguistic feature works.

Ellis, 2010: 49

There are examples on page 50 and on page 54.

The justification for CR tasks is that explicit knowledge is needed to help learners “notice the gap between the input and their own interlanguage” and that “learning is more significant if it involves a greater depth of processing”. (Ellis, 2010: 50) One caveat is that “learners need sufficient proficiency to talk metalinguistically about the target feature” (Ellis, 2010: 51) [though the study which lead to this conclusion had learners from mixed L1 backgrounds – I wonder whether it’s necessary if they’re allowed to discuss the language in L1?]

Other limitations are that CR tasks may not work well with young learners, learners need a certain level of metalanguage [though Danny Norrington-Davies’ approach in From Rules to Reasons may counter this somewhat – Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link], and they may not appeal to “learners who are less skilled at forming and testing conscious hypotheses about language”. (Ellis, 2010: 51)

Ellis offers tham as a “valuable alternative to direct explicit instruction”. (Ellis, 2010: 51) He acknowledges that they are increasingly common in materials – I think that this is true too, though I think with only limited variety regarding the data and operations mentioned above.

That’s it for week two. Next week: Units 5, 6, 7 and 8. I spent a lot of time reading articles and a day doing other work this week, so didn’t make it to unit 5 as promised last week!

NILE MAPDLE MAT: Materials Development module (week one)

This is my second NILE MA module, Materials Development for Language Education, abbreviated to MAT. I have previously complete the Trainer Development module. You can see my related blog posts here.

Here are various bits and pieces from week one of the course, things which I wanted to remember, notes I’ve made while reading, and on-going tasks we’ve been asked to provude. The notes are there for me, but you may find something useful in there, or something you’d like to investigate further. Please note: this is not intended as a subsistute for doing this reading yourself – it’s very subjective and based on my interests! I’ll post one of these in each of the three weeks of the online course.

Unit 1: Introductions

My metaphor for coursebooks is that they can be a guidebook:

  • It shows you where you can go, but you can pick and choose.
  • There are lots to choose from – different styles suit different people.
  • Some people don’t bother with them and prefer to explore by themselves.
  • People use it in different ways: some read cover to cover, some dip in at random, some know exactly what they’re looking for.
  • You can pick up all kinds of interesting or unusual ideas from it.
  • They can inspire you to want to try new things, or tell you more about places (methods) you were already familiar with.
  • It can date quite quickly!

Initial beliefs about Teaching, Learning and Materials

These are some of my own beliefs about teaching and learning materials, compiled at the start of the course. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Teaching and learning materials should be engaging for both learners and teachers.
    Why? If teachers or learners aren’t engaged by the materials, they won’t want to interact with them, and they are less likely to be open to learning/teaching with them.
    What does it entail? This involves having a clear and transparent aim for the use of the materials, which both learners and teachers can see will develop the English level of the learners. It also involves choosing engaging topics, with clear reasons for learners to care about the topics and the aims of the materials. Those reasons are most likely to come from helping learners to personalise the topic in some way and/or connect it to their own experience. Good design is also an important component of engagement – we have to want to pick up the materials / open the website.
    But…? Who decides what is engaging? What role does the teacher play in bringing materials to life? What about self-study materials which need to be self-mediated? What about learners/teachers who feel uncomfortable sharing personal information?
  • Materials should enhance and support the learning experience for all learners.
    Why? If they don’t do this, then they’re making our jobs harder in some way! Materials which don’t support the learning experience add unnecessary barriers for learners and teachers, and can demotivate them.
    What does it entail? A smooth User/Learner Experience (UX/LX) is important – finding your way around the materials easily and with the minimum of stress. This should be true for every learner, not just those who are neurotypical. We need to make sure as many learners as possible are catered for with our materials. This can be done through design aspects, such as our choice of fonts or spacing, as well as through the types of tasks and the options we provide within materials.
    But…? How do we know that materials which work for one learner will necessarily work for another? Is there enough space in the materials to provide the necessary support? Or enough time to create materials with this level of scaffolding? Is it the materials job to do this, or should it be the teacher’s?
  • Materials should provide opportunities for interaction.
    Why? We learn better when we are actively involved, rather than passively receiving information. We retain new knowledge for longer.
    What does it entail? This interaction could be with other people, for example sharing or explaining ideas. It could be interacting with the materials themselves, through creating our own notes (as I’m doing now!), diagrams, or summaries of the information. Each of these methods force us to process the content of the materials in some way.
    But…? What if learners don’t want to interact with others or with the materials? What if they prefer to just be ‘fed’ information? What happens if you’re working with large groups? How can you manage noise levels during social interaction, or monitor effectively online, or check that they have processed information effectively when they interact with the materials by themselves?
  • Materials should not just be about language; they should also include learner training, and, where necessary, teacher training.
    Why? We often make assumptions that learners know the best way to learn, but this is rarely true unless they are very experienced language learners, and even then they might pick up something new. Teachers also benefit from support within materials – this is a very valuable avenue of professional development.
    What does this entail? Materials should be accompanied by teacher’s notes, explaining the rationale behind methods used, and feeding in variations and extra ideas to support teachers, as well as cultural or other supporting information as appropriate. Learner training can be highlighted by feeding in ideas directly in learner materials, or via teacher’s notes, showing tips and tricks to help them become more effective language learners, and encouraging them to reflect on the learning process and what does and doesn’t work for them. This is particularly true of areas like revision and memorisation, where our instincts might run counter to what science shows are effective learning strategies.
    But…? Is it the job of materials to teach teachers? How do you decide what assumptions you should have of learners’ language learning skills or teachers’ methodology knowledge in terms of what you decide to highlight/omit?
    Note: I believe this is to some extent what Allwright (1981: 9) calls ‘guidance’ [see quotes below for full reference].

What do we want teaching materials for?

I found this quote from Allwright thought-provoking, partly because of my interest in classroom dynamics, but also because of how many people I know who think they ‘can’t’ learn languages because, I suspect, of attitudes that were ‘available to be learned’ in the classrooms they studied in:

Attitudes

It is well accepted that one of the goals of school language instruction is to improve the attitudes of speakers of different languages to one another. However seldom this may be achieved, the development of positive intercultural attitudes remains important, but it is not often discussed as part of the content of instruction. Even where attitudes are not being explicitly ‘taught’, however, they are almost certainly ‘available to be learned’ in any language classroom, from the teacher and from everyone present. They include attitudes to learning, of course, and not just language or intercultural attitudes. To summarize, anyone involved in the management of language learning has necessarily to deal with attitudes as part of what learners may learn.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p8

Another quote from the same article:

‘What activities, or what learning tasks, will best activate the chosen processes, for what elements of content?’ A less deterministic version of this question might be ‘What activities of learning tasks will offer a wide choice of learning processes to the learner, in relation to a wide variety of content options?’ This amendment suggests, I think correctly, that we can neither predict nor determine learning processes, and therefore perhaps should not try as hard to do so as we usually do in our teaching materials.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p9

It’s interesting that this quote is nearly 40 years old, and yet the concept of learner choice with regards to processes or content is still not really all that common within materials.

Allwright also mentions the implications for teacher training of his views of materials. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Teachers, it appears, seem to do ‘all the work’ and exhaust themselves in the process. [Allwright goes on to describe the results of this, such as failing to present the language to be learned as clearly as intended]

If, however, we entertain the possibility that teachers are not just doing ‘too much’ work, but doing work that the learners could more profitably be doing for themselves, the immediate implication for teacher-training must be that teachers need to be trained not to do so much work, and trained instead to get the learners to do more. Hence the concept of ‘learner-training’, since it is unlikely that learners will be able to share the burden without some preparation.

Teacher ‘overload’ often entails learner ‘underinvolvement’ since teachers are doing work learners could more profitably do for themselves.

‘Involvement’ means something akin to Curran’s ‘investment’ (Curran, 1972 and 1976), which suggests a deep sort of involvement, relating to the whole-person. [including decision-making and management of language learning]

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p10

I think this is a balance many teachers, particularly those new to the profession, struggle with – they feel like they need to be seen to be teaching demonstrably to meet learners’ expectations. It’s a real challenge for them to let go. This reinforces my belief above about the importance of teacher’s notes and guidance in terms of how to use materials and how to learn effectively.

He goes on to suggest how teachers can share their expertise with learners, without imposing it on them, in order to make learners more independent:

I suggest that teachers, in addition to their role as ‘activities managers’ in the classroom, need to accept the roles of:

1. ‘ideas’ people, ready with practical advice about language learning strategies and techniques, both for classroom and for outside use;

and 2. ‘rationale’ people, ready to discuss language learning and justify their opinions and advice.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p14

For me, this demonstrates the importance of teachers being (language) learners themselves, as they can then share ideas and rationale that have worked for them. While it’s obviously possible to be an excellent language teacher without ever having learnt another language, I do think it can make a huge and very valuable difference (said as an avid language learner myself!)

This is the final sentence from the article:

The most important point for me is that materials should be related to the conception of the whole of language teaching and learning as the cooperative management of language learning.

Allwright, R. L. (October 1981) ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/1, p16

I feel like this is far from true in most materials and most contexts – the teacher uses the book they have chosen/had chosen for them, and they manage the language learning, with learners the somewhat passive recipients of this learning management, regardless of how active they may be in a given lesson. This teacher-/materials-mediated learning may fit into a broader plan of what learners are doing to improve their language, for example through self-study, but there is rarely a connection that could be described as ‘the cooperative management of language learning’.

Why use textbooks?

Robert O’Neill wrote a (kind of) response to Allwright’s article. This is my favourite paragraph from it, particularly the third sentence and the final one.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p107

Even though technology has moved on a lot, and textbooks are more often than not ‘glossy, glittering products in full colour’, I think they are still good value for money and easy to use.

Further down the same page, we find:

In my opinion it is important that textbooks should be so designed and organized that a great deal of improvisation and adaptation by both teacher and class is possible.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p107

I’m not convinced how possible this is in the market-driven production of coursebooks which we have today, in terms of how materials writers might put products together: everything needs to have its own USP, and be seen as a complete package. Having said that, this view has implications for teacher training and learner training: both need to know how to improvise and adapt materials as appropriate to meet language learning goals. O’Neill goes on to share his own implications for teacher training:

There can be no model of an ideal teacher, or lesson, or learner (or textbook). […]

A teacher-training programme must seek not to mould all teachers according to a pre-conceived notion of what teachers should be, but must try to build on the individual and differing strengths of each teacher so as to make the maximum effective use of that teacher’s qualities.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p108

I think all I can say to that is: Amen!

O’Neill gives an example of a textbook unit with three different objectives designed to cater for learner choice. This is an idea I’d like to explore further, based on his statement that:

There are many ways of designing textbooks so that they can be used by a variety of learners with a variety of ultimate goals, and so they can be taught by a variety of teachers with a variety of teaching styles.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p108

I found myself nodding along to the final paragraph of the article. It’s over a page long, but I feel like these excerpts summarise O’Neill’s ideas:

Textbooks can at best provide only a base or a core of materials. They are a jumping-off point for teacher and class. They should not aim to be more than that. A great deal of the most important work in a class may start with the textbook but end outside it, in improvisation and adaptation, in spontaneous interaction in the lcass, and development from that interaction. Textbooks, if they are to provide anything at all, can only provide the prop or framework within which much of this activity occurs. Textbooks, like any other medium, have inherent limitations. The authors of textbooks must make it clear what those limitations are.

O’Neill, Robert (January 1982) ‘Why use textbooks?’ ELT Journal Volume 36/2, p110-111

The roles of English teachers and materials

This section is a copy of a(n over)long post I put in the forum – I doubt it makes sense without the article itself! The post was based on McGrath, I. (2013) Teaching Materials and the Role of EFL/ESL Teachers, Bloomsbury pp. 2-24

  • Which of the models (Figs. 1.1 – 1.4) best represents your relationship (and that of your learners) with materials?

I think 1.3 (pdf p17) or 1.4 (pdf p18) most closely represent my relationship with materials, depending on who I’m using them with. With adult groups, I think I’d lean more towards 1.3, with learners taking more responsibility for creating content and with less of hierarchical nature in the relationship. With teens and young learners, I suspect it’s more 1.4, with the materials taking precedence in many ways, but trying to feed in bits and pieces of the children’s lives, largely because I feel less confident teaching them – the materials may serve a little as a crutch here too. My role is to try to reduce the distance between the learners and the materials, especially with teen books (the bane of my life!)

  • How important for you are the advantages listed in Section 2.3?

As a new teacher, coursebooks were particularly useful for me, and I still find the ‘visible coherent programme of work’ (point 2) to be helpful, though I’m better able to make one of these myself now.
The time-saving element (point 1) is also very important, as it often takes much longer to create the programme of work and find the materials for it yourself than it does to riff off a coursebook.
I learnt a lot from Teacher’s Books, especially English File and Straightforward, when I was a new teacher, due to the clear methodological input in them (point 3).
I also agree with 4, 5 and 7, though I’m not so sure about point 6 in the age of the internet and (for many people, though not all) instant access to up-to-date cultural information.
I’ve found integrated resources to be useful as well, particularly photocopiable extras and suggestions for varying activities – seeing these has provided a lot of the input I’ve had in terms of my own ideas for materials design and different ideas for engaging activities for learners. As a DoS, having editable tests available has also been useful, although they often require a fair amount of work before I’m happy putting them in front of our students! Coursebook software is also very popular at our school, with the Oxford Discover Futures being the best example I’ve used so far.

  • Or are you one of McGrath’s ‘doubting voices’?

Not catering for the whole person, etc: I think this has improved over recent years, though there’s still a real need for a well-trained teacher to mediate the materials for learners and bring them to life. The arguments about catering for different needs regarding who learners are likely to interact with are also being addressed in some modern materials, though there is still a way to go. A wider range of voices can be heard, not only British, American and the occasional Australian or Irish speakers, though they are very much still in the majority: “native speaker norms continue to dominate”. One example of a new course trying to change this norm to some extent is National Geographic’s Voices, which aims to take a more global perspective. The idea of a hidden curriculum or what Jill Hadfield calls a ‘covert syllabus’ is a very interesting avenue to explore too.

Not reflective of research, etc: While there is still work to do in this area, I believe most global coursebooks are now based on corpus research, though many are still heavily influenced by the grammar syllabus. Outcomes by Walkley and Dellar is an attempt to create a more lexically-led syllabus, while still having the overt grammar syllabus many stakeholders might look for in a coursebook. The most recent studies quoted were in 2010 – I’d be interested to see how this has changed in the intervening 11 years. 
In coursebooks I’m aware of, task design has also improved, though this is again not universal. Some books still isolate grammar and present it out of context, but the vast majority of global coursebooks I’ve come across now use a reading or listening text to introduce new language points in context – they don’t always capitalise on this later in the sequence though, with the context being abandoned once rules or practice activities come into play.
The issue of misrepresentation and underrepresentation in coursebooks has also received ever more attention, though changes in global coursebooks are still somewhat glacial in pace! James Taylor and Ila Coimbra have worked on an independently produced series called Raise Up! which aims to be more representative of the real world than a typical global coursebook. I’ve also recently seen examples of other minor changes, such as a family featuring two female parents in a global teen coursebook (a Cambridge one, I think?) Gone, too, (I hope!) are the mother doing all of the housework or the female secretary supporting the male boss in images, though more diversity would still be good to see here.

Marginalise teachers, etc.: 
(pdf, p12) “If teachers hand over responsibility for decision-making to textbooks, the argument goes, this reduces their role to that of mere technicians.” – if they are passive in this, then yes, but it is up to schools, trainers, and managers to make sure that this is not the case, and that teachers are supported in finding their way around the materials, and trained in how to exploit them effectively to meet learner needs. Teachers also need to tell learners why they are making changes: as Bolitho says (pdf, p20), “learners are entitled to know why they are asked to behave in certain ways…and how they can learn most effectively.”
(pdf, p12) “There is now a real danger that it is the coursebook which determines course aims, language content and what will be assessed.” – this was certainly true at our school to a large extent, but I disagree with the wording ‘a real danger’ (note: the section on Control, pdf p22, counters this statement in a way I agree with). For our brand new teachers, this was a boon – 80% of our teachers are in the first 3 years of their teaching career, and this enables us to provide some level of standardisation across the school and maintain a high level of quality in our general English and exam classes (potentially dealing with the deficiences/limitations of new teachers). We train teachers in how to exploit the coursebook and learn more about their group students to adapt it to their needs, as well as learning to critique materials and decide what is good and bad about them (moving towards a difference perspective, reflecting the Harmer quote on p14 of the pdf of reducing “unthinking coursebook use”, as well as the final paragraph of the whole excerpt about implications for teacher education). With 121 and ESP groups we may or may not use a coursebook. Our books are chosen in a (somewhat!) principled way by an experienced senior team who know the school well, and our typical students, somewhat because we are still working on developing these principles (the section on Choice from p20-22 of the pdf is interesting regarding this) 

Unit 2: Learners and Context

The implications of context on materials

Here are three different ways in which context might vary, and my ideas about what implications this might have for a materials writer.

Socio-economic profile

  • Being ‘seen’ in the materials – not only portraying affluent people, but having a range of images shown or experiences described.
  • Realistic target uses of language, for example writing focussing on a range of different genres, not only essays (these may only be relevant for those going on to further study), or doing what Bruno Leys described in The Grammarless Syllabus and focussing on functional language exponents rather than grammar study for learners most likely to use English in vocational contexts, such as working as a mechanic.
  • Acknowledgement of challenges and affordances of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, e.g. time available for learning, money available to invest in learning/opportunities/extra materials/resources, space available for study – for example, materials which require learners to pay separately for access to audio which they then need a quite place and a strong internet connection to access may not be achievable for some learners. On the other hand, learners with a lot of time and money available may require materials which provide lots of in-built opportunities for extending their learning.

Noise tolerance

  • Having quiet/loud variants of the same activity.
  • Balancing the amount of individual and pair/group work.
  • Providing information in teacher’s notes about which activities are likely to be noisier so that teachers can warn colleagues in advance.

Teacher’s training and experience

  • The amount of guidance needed in teacher’s notes: balancing spoon-feeding with support.
  • Providing opportunities for extending/adapting/reducing materials so teachers can use them flexibly.
  • Being aware that materials are not always going to be used ‘as is’ – this may mean including information in teacher’s notes about which activities are reliant on other activities, and which can be used in a more stand-alone way or in a different order.

Considerations I need to remember when writing possible materials for students at IH Bydgoszcz

This is a selection of possible areas based on what we’ve looked at in this unit. I’d be interested to hear what you would add.

  • Age
    Will the materials be for very young learners? Young learners? Teens? Adult groups? Properly adult (i.e. 22/23+) or including older teens/university-age students too?
  • Level
    We teach everything from beginner to proficiency! Also, have students worked through our school to get to this level or have they joined the school at this level? That has implications for the ‘coverage’ of the level and how spiky their profile might be.
  • Resources
    Assuming we’re teaching face-to-face, we have projectors and access to the internet. Teachers can also write on the whiteboard to highlight things on projected materials. Learners have coursebooks, so am I writing a coursebook unit? Or supplementary materials? Or stand-alone units?
  • Time
    Courses are generally 90-minutes x 62 lessons per year, running twice a week. Materials need to comfortably fit that time, with some flexibility for teachers to choose what to use. Time for assessment and building good group dynamics also need to be built in.
  • Socio-economic profile
    As learners can afford private language school classes, they are probably in at least a middle-income bracket. Many of our learners come from families with occupations such as medicine, teaching, law or engineering featuring strongly, or families own their own businesses. Manufacturing and agriculture are also strongly represented. As far as I know, students can all afford holidays, many of them abroad and often in quite far-flung places, despite the Polish zloty being relatively weak compared to the Euro/Pound/Dollar.
    Catholicism is an important cultural influence, and caution should be exercised when dealing with potential ‘hot-button’ issues. Particularly controversial areas in Polish politics in the past few years have been abortion and LGBT rights.
  • Number in class
    Although some students have 121 classes, most students study in groups of 6-12. Materials should include opportunities to exploit the small group nature of the courses.
  • Classroom layout
    Student chairs have small desks attached which can be folded down out of the way. These can be arranged in many different ways. There is a teacher’s desk with connections for a projector, speakers and the internet – this can be move a little, but not much. There are two display boards in every classroom for student work and other important information. Materials can make use of the opportunity to reorganise the furniture, and to display information in different places in the classroom.
  • Noise tolerance
    Teachers generally expect other classes to be noisy at points and quiet at others, though occasionally parents complain if they think there is too much noise when they are listening from outside. Most activities that would be classed as noisy are possible within the school, provided they are balanced with quiet activities too.
  • Collectivism vs individualism
    Learners expect to have individual attention from the teacher, but are also happy to work in groups. Family is very important, and from my observation I believe it is the defining social unit in society. Learners who come from a family background which is considered non-traditional within Polish society may be reluctant to share this information as it can be potentially stigmatising, so this is an area to be treated with potential caution when writing materials. There is generally respect for people in positions of power, including teachers, though there may also be cynicism depending on the people involved. [Please note, these are my personal impressions and should be taken as such. These insights are very interesting and (possibly) more scientific, and seem to reflect at least some of my impressions.]
  • Learner expectations
    For YLs and teens who have come through our school, they expect engaging lessons with lots of speaking, a bit of writing, and enough of a language focus for a clear sense of progress. For adults, or teens joining our school after learning elsewhere, they tend to expect a strong grammar focus with plenty of speaking. Learners expect their teachers not to speak/know Polish, and for lessons to be completely in English, with materials fully in English to reflect that. Adult learners may expect ‘serious’ lessons, especially older learners who have been out of education for a long time. They may be reluctant to do activities which they feel are too childish or game-like.
    Most learners are quite motivated, and if they aren’t, adults tend to quit the course. Teens may be forced to continue by their parents, though thankfully they are very much in the minority. Many students come to us for 6 or more years, working towards Cambridge First or Advanced exams over a period of time. They expect to be trained to succeed in these exams, so materials need to help them achieve this goal, while also catering for the smaller number of students who don’t want to take exams.
    Learners (and parents) also expect high quality classes and to have a clear sense of progress over their time at the school. Materials need to factor in opportunities for assessment to help learners to notice this.
  • Teacher’s training and experience
    The majority of teachers at the school are within the first three years of their career, with an initial CELTA or CertTESOL certificate. Some come to the school with a little prior experience, but most may have only done a few weeks teaching, if any, before they join the school. Materials therefore need to provide guidance and support, be clear and flexible, and be accessible to early career teachers, without assuming too much prior knowledge about how they can be exploited. There is support at the school to help with this, but we also aim to make teachers as independent as possible, so materials which help with this would be a boon.

Cultural appropriacy

‘PARSNIP’ topics are often considered taboo. We were asked to consider whether these topics are appropriate or taboo in the culture we work in. These are my answers for Poland.

  • Politics
    You’d really have to know your group, as politics can be very divisive and controversial in Poland, especially since 2015 or so. As mentioned above, issues such as the politics of abortion and LGBT rights are particularly divisive.
  • Alcohol
    This should be fine, though portrayals of drunk characters may not be.
  • Religion
    Poland is very strongly Catholic, and many issues are tied into religion. Questioning faith or the church would be very controversial. I would generally avoid this topic, unless it was a group I knew well and they specifically asked to be able to talk about it.
  • Sex
    Because of religion as well as the politics of abortion, I think this would be a topic to avoid.
  • Narcotics
    I don’t think I’ve ever come across any particular issues with this, but I’d avoid it as it may trigger religious or political topics.
  • Isms (such as communism or atheism)
    Both communism and atheism are probably topics to avoid, not least because of Poland’s difficult history. However, with a group you knew well who had asked to talk about them, they could be discussed civilly and safely.
  • Pork
    This is Poland’s national meat 😉 so it wouldn’t cause any issues.

Beliefs regarding vocabulary in materials

These are some of my own beliefs about vocabulary in materials at this point in the course. The ‘But…?’ part is possible arguments others might have against these beliefs, not necessarily reflecting what I think. I haven’t included the counter-arguments as that would make it very long!

  • Learners need to be exposed to the same vocabulary in context and in a range of different ways.
    Why? Context aids both understanding and retention. A range of contexts helps learners to see the spread of where the vocabulary can and can’t be used. It also provides exposure to a range of typical co-text – other vocabulary and grammar which typically co-occur with the target items. Fluent language use requires collocational awareness, which cannot be developed if words only appear in isolation.
    What does it entail? Providing repeated encounters with the vocabulary within the materials, for example in a reading/listening text, in vocabulary focussed activities (such as matching definitions), and in models for speaking/writing activities. Highlighting co-text and context and drawing attention to collocations.
    But…? There’s a limited amount of space in materials and a large vocabulary load: how do you decide what takes precedence? How do you ensure that all vocabulary is encountered sufficiently without contrivance?
  • Vocabulary work should provide opportunities for learners to use the vocabulary actively.
    Why? Learners need to experiment with the language and get feedback on how successfully they’ve used it, for example whether they have chosen the correct vocabulary item for a given situation. Saying vocabulary enables them to practise the pronunciation, and writing it, to practise the form.
    What does it entail? Including activities such as opportunities for personalisation, categorisation, and speaking and/or writing using the new vocabulary.
    But…? We need to be clear whether vocabulary is introduced for receptive or productive use. There’s a large vocabulary load, and it’s difficult to provide opportunities to use all vocabulary actively. Learners may be reluctant to experiment with new vocabulary, particularly if they don’t feel confident about it, and may stick with vocabulary they already feel comfortable using.
  • A key component of learning vocabulary is memorisation.
    Why? If we don’t remember the word/chunk, we can’t use it! A larger ‘in-built’ vocabulary store allows more fluent use of English across all areas: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
    What does it entail? Including memorisation stages in the activity sequence, and showing learners why these are useful and how they can work with the same techniques themselves. Including spaced repetition, and requiring learners to attempt to retrieve vocabulary from their memory rather than the teacher/materials always supplying the vocabulary for activities.
    But…? We have translation software and dictionaries, so we don’t necessarily need to memorise vocabulary – we can look it up when we need it. Some people find it difficult to memorise language particularly if they have problems associated with their working memory, and others find it boring or demotivating.

How are materials evaluated at IH Bydgoszcz

We mainly evaluate materials when we look at the spread of coursebooks we use each year to help us decide what was (un)successful, what we want to keep and what we want to replace for the following year – this is ‘pre-use’. We also evaluate potential new materials to use at the school – ‘post-use’. We only do informal evaluation ‘in-use’, listening to teacher and learner comments about what they (don’t) like about books and considering how our use of them may need to change based on teacher/student needs as we go through the year – this is particularly possible if the senior team are teaching from the books themselves. These are some of the ways we evaluate materials:

  • Flick test
    First impressions of the book, including whether teachers/students are likely to want to pick it up, density of information on the page/throughout the book, general impressions of the design (for example, does it look old-fashioned?)
    + Provides a quick way to remember which book is which!
    – Very superficial.
    – Publishers expect this and might put the ‘shiny things’ in the top right corner to appeal to those flicking through.
  • Teacher questionnaire
    For books we’ve used previously, we have a short questionnaire for teachers based on various aspects of the book, including usability, general suitability for their groups, topics, engagement, level of challenge, grammar and vocabulary covered, skills work, whether they would want to use it again.
    + Gives teachers a say in the materials evaluation process.
    + They have first-hand experience of using the materials with students, so their opinions are valuable.
    + It tells us what teachers are looking for in coursebooks in general, informing our decisions about which ones to adopt.
    + Getting a range of opinions about the same books can tell us how they suit different teaching styles / groups.
    – It’s not obligatory, so we only get a few responses.
    – It can take teachers a while to complete.
    – It’s very subjective.
    – Teachers haven’t been trained to complete such questionnaires, and may only have limited awareness of what makes good or bad materials, especially if they haven’t been teaching for long and have little to compare their current coursebooks to.
    – The questions were created by me based on previous experience, without necessarily having a grounding in theory.
  • Trialling materials in class.
    Some teachers might volunteer to test out a lesson or two from a coursebook we’re considering using.
    + We can see how it might work in practice, including possible student responses.
    + It’s practical, using the materials rather than just discussing them.
    – It’s only a snapshot – sometimes one lesson has been fine, but the book as a whole has not worked for our school/ teachers/ students.
  • Student feedback
    Either based only on the book students have been using, or showing them a range of possible books for their level.
    + They’re the end users of the book, so they should have a say in what materials are chosen.
    + Students who have learnt English for a while have quite a good idea of what might be a good/bad English coursebook would be for them.
    + When they can compare books, students can be very responsible and offer considered and useful insights into the materials which teachers/ managers may not have seen.
    – Some students don’t take it seriously.
    – Students don’t necessarily have anything to compare the materials to, and they don’t have training in recognising good/bad materials.
    – It can be very subjective.
    – It can be quite superficial: for example, the design or the topics can influence them, without regard for the quality of the language work.
  • Comparative evaluation
    This is largely connected to the language and skills syllabus, looking at how the coursebook fits into our overall selection of coursebooks, what the progression is from one level or age group to the next is, and whether there is the coverage of language we’d like.
    + This helps us to provide some level of standardisation across the school, and maintains our sense of progression.
    + As it’s partly based on a list of grammar items compiled a few years ago, there is consistency from year to year.
    + We have practice at doing this now, so compare a wide range of different factors, for example: language clarification, topics, skills coverage, flow of units, length of units, and many others.
    – There’s a risk of trying to find a book which is the same as ones we’ve previously used – we may be less likely to take a risk.
    – We may end up focussing too much on the grammar syllabus, without considering other areas as much.

Materials and culture

I’ve put this paragraph here because I need to think about it – definitely requires some more processing before I can fully take it in I think!

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 446, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459

Another interesting quote from the same chapter:

As readers, we should always be ‘suspicious’ of texts and prepared to challenge or interrogate them. However, in the foreign language classroom, texts are customarily treated as unproblematic, as if their authority need never be questioned. Learners, who may be quite critical readers in their mother tongues, are textually infantilized by the vast majority of course materials and classroom approaches.

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 451, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459 (my emphasis)

This sentence is part of a section on ‘Critical Language Awareness (CLA)’, the idea that “language is always value-laden and that texts are never neutral” (ibid.) This is not something I’ve ever considered before, though I’m not really sure how you would go about remedying this in mainstream materials production, or even in the small amount of materials I’ll be creating for my MAT assignment. I wonder whether the increased inclusion of critical thinking tasks is enough, though ones I remember seeing don’t necessarily ‘challenge or interrogate’ texts in the materials. This is what they go on to suggest as a possible solution:

Pulverness, A. and Tomlinson, B. (2013) ‘Materials for Cultural Awareness’, page 451, in Tomlinson, B. (ed) (2013) Developing Materials for Language Teaching, pp. 443-459 (my emphasis)

I think some of the questions they mention are reflective of some of the critical thinking tasks now included – I wonder how they would rewrite the chapter if they published it today?

Evaluation of materials

These notes are based on chapter 3 of McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, looking at close evaluation when choosing a coursebook. They are my summary of the main points of the chapter to refer to when writing my MAT assignments, so there’s not much commentary.

The first section concerns using a checklist. The examples of published checklists include the following variants in design:

  • Rating systems
    Value x Merit = Product (from Tucker (1975: 360-1)): Value rated 0-5, Merit 0-4
    Weight / Rating: Ratings 4-0
    Rating and comments: Ratings = Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent (1-4)
    Yes / No / Comment
    Tick boxes (next to some quite long questions, not always with yes/no answers!)
    Yes / Partly / No: scored as 2, 1, 0 respectively
  • Categories
    Pronunciation Criteria (3) / Grammar Criteria (4) / Content Criteria (3) / General Criteria (8)
    General (4) / Speech (4) / Grammar (3)
    Factual Details (16) / Factors (17)
    No categories – only 3 long questions
    Language content (5) / Skills (6) / Topic (7) / Methodology (7) – though somewhat misleading as the questions are long and often cover multiple areas
    Does the book suit your students? (10) / Does the book suit the teacher? (10) / Dose the book suit the syllabus and the examination? (10)
  • Criteria expressed as:
    Noun phrases of 3-7 words
    Statements of around 10 words
    Nouns, occasionally with adjectives (max. 4 words)
    Yes/No questions, all at least 10 words long
    Yes/No questions, sometimes followed by information questions, all at least 5 words, but averaging at least 10
    Yes/No questions, varying in length from 4 to about 20 words

Potential problems with textbook evaluations based on checklists (based on McGrath, 2002):

  • If you decide to have a specific number of items in each category (like the final one which has 10 questions in each), you may exclude important information or include trival questions to make up the number. (p42)
  • Weighting is complicated – it’s important to ensure that different items are weighted appropriately. (p42) This is especially important as weighting can help you to differentiate between materials which may seem to have a similar number of strengths and weaknesses. (p52)
  • Having the same kind of response to every question might not be appropriate – some may lend themselves to a score, others to a comment for example. (p42)
  • It’s important to only have one focus per question. (p42)
  • You need to consider the difference between answers of ‘No’ and ‘Not applicable’, especially if connected to weighting. Do you ignore statements which are ‘Not applicable’? What does this do to your total scores if you have them? (p42-43)
  • Transparency of criteria (p44) – “certain concepts […] may be unfamiliar to or only partially understood by potential teacher-users. (= you very much need to be aware of the target user your checklist)
  • Criteria date – they need to “reflect new insights into language description, theories of learning and teaching and changes in society.” (p47)
  • Evaluation is values laden. (p48)
  • The conflicts “between breadth and depth, between informativity and economy, between the needs of the evaluator and the needs of the checklist designer – if these are different people, and between the forces of conservatism and innovation.” (p48)
  • Making a final decision can still be difficult, as you might struggle to “reconcile strengths and weaknesses in the same textbook” (p53)
  • You have to ensure validity and reliability, perhaps through arriving at a consensus for criteria (inc. involving end users) for validity, and carefully briefing evaluators for reliability. (p53)
  • They can “encourage rather superficial judgements.” (p54)

McGrath (2002: 43) comments that while published checklists “vary considerably in their scope, form, detailed criteria and the terms used to describe criteria”, most make reference to:

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p43

Specific areas which criteria might I might want to include when compiling my own list, in no particular order and taken from throughout the chapter:

  • Representation: gender, disability, ethnicity etc.
  • Learner training
  • Purposeful communication (key word!)
  • Rehearsing for real-world target language use
  • “Opportunities to express their own meanings in their own words” (p46)
  • Balance between meaning/use and form
  • Inclusion of pronunciation work
  • Varieties of English represented
  • Authenticity of language
  • Opportunities for assessment

This sums up some of what I’ve written about elsewhere in this post:

The reality is that evaluation is value laden, and this will be less of a problem if evaluators (1) look critically at the criteria formulated by others; (2) are aware of their own values; and (3) in specifying criteria for use by others, investigate and take the values of the ultimate users into account.

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p48

McGrath describes some of the potential conflicts inherent in creating evaluation checklists:

McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p48

The challenge is to “minimise the chance of decisions being taken on the basis of individual subjective judgement.” (p48)

When deciding how to format a checklist, McGrath mentions the following (p48-):

  • Including a summary of basics about the book at the top. (e.g. title, publisher etc.)
  • Decide between (a combination of?) open-ended questions and questions/statements/prompts requiring a tick/score: the latter allows easier comparison and can be completed faster, the former adds information
  • Consider the order of categories / criteria, including whether any overlap
  • Rating, weighting and scoring:
    Rating is often 3-5 points – picking 4 means the evaluator has to make a decision.
    Weighting could be scored, or a system like A / B / N – absolutely essential, beneficial / preferred, not applicable (Skierso, 1991), rated as 4 / 2 / 0 if a numerical score is needed
    Score = R(ating) x W(eighting) (p50)

Improving your evaluation:

  • McGrath advises piloting a checklist if at all possible (p51), preferably against both a familiar and an unfamiliar book.
  • Daoud and Celce-Murvia (1979) suggest group evaluation, by three experienced teachers. (p52 of McGrath), thus creating discussion, a more thorough examination, and shared responsibility.
  • Teachers may need time to understand the checklist, especially important if different teachers have the responsibility for evaluating different materials. Some kind of practice (standardisation?) would be useful by working through a familar book and “checking that all would make similar judgements about its key features”. (p52)
  • In addition to using a checklist, do an in-depth analysis of one or two units, along with analysing some specific features, for example the treament of a particular grammatical feature (Cunningsworth 1995 in McGrath 2002: 54). This “affords an insight into the view of language learning on which the materials are based” (McGrath 2002: 54). However, this can create a lot of demands on the evaluator, requiring a lot of effort and analytical expertise. (p55)
McGrath (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, p56

That’s it for week one. Next week: Units 3, 4 and 5.

Reflections on leaving IH Bydgoszcz

For almost half of my professional life, I’ve been working as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz: six years here, out of a total of thirteen. To say it’s hard to leave is an understatement, but it’s time for the next person to take their turn, and for me to go on to new adventures.

Most of the teachers finished their contracts a couple of days ago, so now we just have the last few lessons to finish, and a few days to prepare for next year before our summer break. I’ll be back briefly in August and September for the last part of the handover, but my full-time management of a team of 20 teachers has come to an end.

TL;DR: the word cloud shows some of what my job has involved over the past few years, and just how much I’ve learnt 🙂

A list of all terms in the word cloud (repeated to show relative size):
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
International~House~Bydgoszcz
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
Director~of~Studies
creating~teams
management
teaching
training
workshops
meetings
Google~Drive
online~registers
continual~assessment
creating~tests
choosing~coursebooks
recruitment
interviewing
communication
IH~CAM
induction~week
timetabling
teaching~Polish
teaching~teens
teaching~young~learners
advising~students
dealing~with~complaints
dealing~with~mental~health~issues
organising~cover
problem~solving
Zoom
responding~to~COVID
teaching~online
classroom~dynamics
observations
drop~in~observations
video~observations
tracking~development
professional~development~interviews
choosing~groups
choosing~teachers
tracking~student~progress
contacting~students~and~parents
streamlining~processes
motivating~teachers
encouraging~teachers
training~senior~staff
supporting~staff
making~decisions
being~inspected
mentoring
managing~performance
dealing~with~difficult~people
letting~staff~go
tracking~overtime
managing~pay
updating~contracts
cooperating~with~other~schools
organising~social~events
sharing~what~we~do
Teacher~Training~Days
references
placement~testing
level~meetings
SEN
guiding~professional~development
offering~advice
calming~people~down
letting~people~cry
crying
responding~to~staff~feedback
answering~emails
speaking~to~publisher~reps
managing~resources
checking~reports
writing~reports
managing~my~time
scheduling~meetings
managing~remotely
attending~conferences
representing~the~school
bringing~back~ideas
creative~thinking
chatting
socialising
maintaining~a~positive~environment

Coming to Bydgoszcz

In January 2015, I was at the IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference, representing IH Sevastopol. A few days earlier, we’d decided that I wouldn’t be returning to the school full time as there weren’t enough students to justify it. I was a DoS without a school. Then I sat next to Tim, who changed my life in one sentence: “We’re looking for a new DoS next year.” A couple of weeks later I was in Bydgoszcz for a long weekend. I shadowed Tim for two days, during most of which I wondered how he managed to juggle so many things and thought I wouldn’t be able to do that. Thanks to his confidence in me, and that of Luke, Sam and Lisa, I was persuaded to take the position, and after that initial wobble I’ve never regretted it.

The Director

Grzegorz Chruszcz started IH Bydgoszcz in 1992, and the school wouldn’t be what it is without his vision. He cares so deeply about every aspect of the school: the teachers, the students, all of the other staff. He’s easily the best boss I’ve ever had, and I feel very grateful to count him as a friend too. He’s been by my side during all of the ups and downs of the past six years, professional and personal. Together we’ve celebrated successes, made difficult decisions, and striven to maintain the best quality school we can, while caring for all of the people involved. Grzegorz has been particularly amazing during the COVID pandemic, driving all over the city to drop off things we needed to keep on working from home, and bringing us Easter gifts along with the less exciting masks and disinfectant we needed to stay safe.

The senior teams

Luke and Sam were my first senior team. They had been working at the school for a few years before I came along, and gave me all the support I could have wished for to learn how the school worked and to settle in.

Helen, Rose, Sarah and Nick were my next team. They joined the school while I was here, and really helped me to grow and refine the systems that make the school run.

Emma and Ruth have been my senior team for the last two years. They have helped me to deal with so many challening situations during that time, including but not limited to the pandemic of the last 15 months.

I know that the school is in safe hands as Emma takes over as DoS next year, and Ruth stays on as ADoS. They’ll have the support of Connor and Ash, our two new senior teachers, staying at the school to take the next step in their careers.

The teachers

Whether they’ve stayed for one year or far longer, the teachers I’ve worked with over the past six years have been professional, caring, enthusiastic, and willing to learn. They’ve dealt with all kinds of different things being thrown at them, and provided the feedback and support we needed to keep on improving the school. Many of them I now count as friends, and I’ve really enjoyed continuing to see what they do after they leave the school.

Watching brand new, fresh-off-CELTA teachers come into the school, and turn into confident, competent, flourishing teachers over the course of their time at the school has been one of consistent privileges and pleasures of working at the school, and is one of the things I’ll miss the most.

The important people!

Mariola, Sandra, Marta, Monika: running the office of such a thriving school isn’t easy. Dealing with all of the admin of managing hundreds of students across four locations, contacting parents and students, running a Cambridge exam centre, and dealing with paperwork and the random questions of a team of twenty plus teachers, many of them foreigners, is really not easy, but the ladies in the office have always supported us and kept everything running smoothly.

Ania manages the accounts and accommodation for our teachers, and Marek manages the IT sides of things, both dealing with my random questions and last-minute requests admirably and with a smile on their faces.

Pan Wlodek, and the sadly missed Pan Piotr, the caretakers, greet students with a smile as they come into the building. Pan Piotr ran a mean barbecue for the end of year school social, and Pan Wlodek fixes everything which goes wrong in the school flats, apart from all of the things they do around the school. They may not speak much English, but they always find a way to communicate with the teachers, often prompting much hilarity 🙂

The school

We are lucky to have the whole school building to ourselves. Grzegorz has created a lovely environment for us to work in, with well-equipped staffrooms, and a wonderful office for me right next to them. The classrooms all have their own personalities, some including original features from the building like ceramic stoves, while others have balconies. There’s a garden area at the back, and a conference room and ‘club’ area for socials and other events. I’ve also had the chance to travel out to other schools in the area where we rent classrooms, and companies where we teach too.

The overall environment in the school is one of support. Questions fly around the staffroom, and there is always somebody to answer them. Feedback runs in every direction, including upwards, and we all improve as a result. As Emma put it so well, there is a lack of ego. I will miss being part of such a strong team at the school, year after year.

So what have I learnt?

So, so much!

I think the biggest area I’ve developed in has been my ability to manage my emotions, especially during challenging situations. When I first came to the school, if somebody got angry, I would probably be likely to raise my voice back and argue at a similar level. I’ve learnt to stop myself from doing that, to stay calm, and to know when to walk away from a situation and come back later when we have both calmed down. I also used to get very emotional when we received staff feedback. I’ve worked with our staff reps over the last few years to move towards more balanced feedback, but have also learnt not to take things to heart so much. Many of the most useful changes I feel I’ve been able to implement have come as a direct result of the feedback staff have shared with us.

Those who’ve been with me at the school for a while know that I still cry, but it’s pretty much always happy tears now. One of my happiest memories was during the craziness that was the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We had decided to close the school for two days to give us all time to learn how to use Zoom. Watching the whole team rise to the challenge and support each other made me realise (yet again!) just how privileged I was to work at this school with this team of people, and I ended up crying while I watched them all working together.

My communication skills have developed hugely. I choose my words more carefully, and slow down and reflect on the potential effect of what I’m saying or writing much more than I did when I first became DoS. I’ve also improved my ability to share information effectively in meetings and emails, and to keep everyone who needs to know in the loop with information. We’ve strengthened systems to communicate with students and parents across the school, and to share relevant information about students within the school. Thanks to the hard work of the teachers and the office, I feel like as I leave we’re in the best position ever with regards to everybody knowing what they need to know about student progress, and about the needs of students in their groups.

Introducing Google Drive is probably the biggest change I’ve implemented over the past few years. We moved from paper to online registers in my second year. The registers have been refined since then to meet the needs of the teachers and the school, making it ever easier to complete admin requirements, track progress, and write reports…though I still have to remind myself to stay calm when asking teacher X or Y to complete their registers for the umpteenth time! We use Google Forms to collect information about various things across the school, and as a key step in teachers communicating information to parents and students – it’s something of a running joke that I create a form whenever I need to know something 😉 My ability to exploit the functions of Excel and Google Sheets has grown exponentially, and there are all kinds of functions and formulae that I can work with now, but had no idea even existed six years ago. We also use Sheets to track things like report writing and checking, information about struggling students, and who needs to create tests by when. We’ve also introduced online placement testing, thanks to the support of Barrie at IH Seville.

When I started at the school, there was already a very strong focus on professional development, particularly on supporting early career teachers. There are weekly workshops, collaborative planning meetings, regular developmental observations, and the chance for returning teachers to do the IH Certificate in teaching Young Learners and Teenagers (IHCYLT). To that mix, I’ve added mentoring and video observations (somewhat accidentally!) I’ve become much better at understanding how collaborative planning meetings can be organised to best scaffold teacher development. We now get regular feedback on the success of our workshops, though there’s still work to be done on evaluating the long-term effectiveness of our workshops. My workshops are tied much more strongly to what actually happens in the classroom, including time for teachers to consider how they can apply what they have learnt rather than just throwing information at them.

Interviewing potential new teachers was one of the biggest challenges for me when I first arrived. I didn’t really know what questions to ask or how to structure an interview. Thanks to other IH DoSes and Josh Round, we now have a much clearer process, including a pre-interview lesson plan task, and a consistent set of interview questions. As I became familiar with the kind of questions it was and wasn’t useful to ask, I also became more comfortable with personalising interviews to each applicants. All interviews are now conducted by two members of the senior team, which has removed some of the issues with recruitment we had earlier on in my tenure as there is always somebody else there to discuss things with.

I’ve learnt how to manage the puzzle that is the timetable, aiming to provide teachers with the most friendly timetable I can. This includes carefully considering the levels they teach, the double-ups they have, the one-to-ones they work with, the hours they work within a single day and across the week, and many other factors. I’ve become more efficient at this over the years, and I don’t think I’ve had any complaints for at least three years, so hopefully I’ve been doing something right!

I have tried to introduce more standardisation across the school, with clearer guidelines for teachers and senior staff about different processes they are involved in. For new processes, this has generally created two or three years of teething problems – you know that the process is working when people don’t remark on it any more! These have included standardising continual assessment and testing, how information is communicated outside and within the school, and how information is recorded. We also have a bank of ‘how to’ documents which any of us can refer to. This maintains institutional knowledge, meaning that it isn’t lost when staff leave the school. Hopefully it makes things easier for teachers working with new kinds of classes (for example, conversation classes or exam clubs) and senior staff joining the management team.

My time management has gone from strength to strength. I’ve always been pretty good at juggling things, but the challenges of managing a team like this have really pushed me. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different ways to track the tasks I need to complete and the meetings I need to have – it took about three years to settle on the system that works for me. My weekends have also become much more clearly delineated, and I’ve learnt to say no to things outside school at challenging periods of the year, choosing when is best for me to take on extra responsibilities – I’m looking forward to having more flexibility to choose how I manage my time as I move to freelancing!

The last thing I’d like to highlight is just how supportive the wider International House community is. IHWO have always been on hand to answer my questions, as have other DoSes who I’ve got to know from the online community and by attending the IH AMT conferences. Many of the changes I’ve made within the school have been inspired by what they’re doing, from big things mentioned above to much smaller things like Monica Green mentioning how important it is to say positive things to people too. I hope I already did that, but until I heard her say it, I wasn’t conscious of how often I did it. Since then, I’ve tried hard to keep my communication as balanced as possible, and encourage teachers to come to me with positive things too, not just when they have problems (I need balanced comments coming my way too!)

What’s next?

Having developed so much over the last few years, I’m really looking forward to passing that on to others as much as I can. Once the handover to Emma is complete, I’ll be fully freelance from October. I’m aiming to work on a combination of projects, including training for others and on my own courses (watch this space!), CELTA tutoring, materials writing, methodology writing, working on my own books, and consultancy work. I’m also planning to complete my NILE MA. If you’re interested in working with me, please contact me via Twitter @sandymillin or on my Work with me page.

Farewell IH Bydgoszcz! On to the next adventure…

Bridge Education Best EFL Blogs list

Best blog for ELT thought leadership
Sandy Millin

Sandy Millin

Who should read it? ESL teachers interested in keeping up with the latest conversations happening in ELT, including information about using technological resources, book reviews, Delta resources, news about conferences, and more.

It was lovely to see my blog featured on Bridge Education’s list of best EFL blogs. Although I knew the article was being written because I was interviewed for it, I had no idea what the final results would be. ‘ELT thought leadership’ isn’t something I’ve ever considered I do, but I’ll take it!

The other 5 blogs on the list are all worth checking out – there really is something for everyone: they cover ESL, pronunciation, working with refugees and immigrants, business English, young learners, and technology tools, just as a starting point. It’s also worth looking around the Bridge Education website, for example the Professional Development section. (Please note: I don’t know anything about their courses at all, and this should not be taken as an endorsement of them – I have no connection with Bridge other than my blog appearing on the above-mentioned post!)

Thank you Catarina and Bridge Education for including me!

Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield (review)

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

KEY DETAILS

TitleClassroom Dynamics

Author: Jill Hadfield

Publisher: Oxford University Press

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

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: Amazon

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

WHAT’S IN IT?

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

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

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

Good points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm…

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

Other suggestions/ideas for tweaks/improvements include:

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

General comment

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

Exploiting online CPD (KOTESOL plenary)

On Sunday 21st November 2020 I took part in the 2020 KOTESOL Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter Thanksgiving Symposium. The theme was ‘Looking towards 2021’, with the idea of moving beyond the survival skills most of us have been working on in 2020 for the new world we find ourselves in.

My talk took a fresh look at a subject I’m passionate about, online professional development. This was the abstract:

In an increasingly online world, there are a huge amount of opportunities for teachers to access professional development via the internet, but it can be challenging to know where to start. I’ll introduce you to a range of online professional development resources which you can use, and offer you advice on how to decide which ones might be right for you.

I presented without slides, instead using the summary below as my guide and showing the relevant resources as we arrived at them. It’s a whistle-stop tour, with the idea that you can get an overview, then come back to this post as many times as you like to explore the resources.

Why?

This question is two-fold.

Firstly, why is online professional development generally worth exploring? I’ll answer this one.

  • It’s (mostly) free.
  • It’s available whenever and wherever you can get internet access.
  • It’s wide-ranging: there’s a plethora of resources to choose from.
  • It can fit around you: you can exploit it as much or as little as you like, at whatever time and location you choose.

Secondly, why might you specifically want to exploit it? You’ll need to answer these questions for yourself.

  • Do you want to only consume content, or create your own content, for example building up an online portfolio, or both?
  • Do you want to explore broadly and dip into lots of areas, or have a more targetted approach focussing on specific puzzles or questions you have?

When?

Because resources available online are limitless, it can be hard to know where to start, and you may experience a feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the beginning – I certainly did! One way to combat this is to decide how much time you can dedicate to exploring, and how often you want to dive in. To some extent this will be determined by your answers to the second question above.

You may decide to set aside a dedicated hour or two a week, or five or ten minutes a day, to make professional development a habitual part of your routine.

Alternatively, you may decide that you prefer to set aside a few hours now and again to do a deep dive and really explore a particular area or resource.

Of course, this can change over time, but having an idea before you start can help you to decide what resources are most appropriate for you to explore, and/or whether it’s really worth starting that blog/podcast/Twitter account you’ve been considering.

It can also remove unnecessary pressure on yourself if you feel like you have to explore everything or produce the most amazing content ever seen in English language teaching – neither of these are likely, so accept it now and move on. You’ll be in a much healthier place if you go in with realistic expectations 🙂

How? What?

This list is in no way exhaustive, and if I wrote it again tomorrow, next week or next year it would certainly look different. Please comment if any of the links stop working or you have other resources to add to the list.

Consuming content: targetted research

If you have a specific topic or puzzle in mind, you have two options to find useful resources.

  1. Choose one of the general interest resources below, then search their website for keywords connected to your topic.
  2. Explore my bookmarks. I’ve been curating a list on diigo for 10+ years, adding anything which I think might be vaguely useful to anyone else, anywhere. You can try to read my mind and figure out which tag I might have used or do a general search in my bookmarks. Here’s a more in-depth introduction to what diigo is and how it works.

You might not find anything at first, but try different keywords and different resources and you’ll inevitably find something.

Consuming content: general interest

It’s very easy to end up down a never-ending rabbit hole with a list like this. Rather than trying to explore everything, consider your answers to the questions above, and choose the way in which you prefer to consume information, then select one or two resources to look at initially. As you explore, you’ll find that some types of development work for you, and others are less engaging. For me, I spend most time on blogs and blogging, and a little time on podcasts and Twitter, but I know there is so much more out there. As time goes on, you can return to the list and investigate other resources which take your fancy. Bookmark this page 🙂

Listen

Three TEFL podcasts I enjoy are:

  • The TEFL Commute – Shaun Wilden, Lindsay Clandfield and James Taylor present the podcast that’s not about language teaching, but the subject always comes up. Episodes are generally 30-40 minutes. In 2020 they did a series of 10-minute episodes covering a range of different topics connected to online teaching, including lots of ideas for the classroom.
  • TEFLology – Matthew Schaefer, Matthew Turner and Robert Lowe produce a range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too. Episodes are generally 40-60 minutes.
  • TEFL Training Institute podcast – Ross Thorburn presents ‘the bite-sized TEFL podcast’, originally with Tracy Yu, and now with a wide range of guests. Episodes are generally 15-30 minutes. I reviewed the podcast here.

Watch

There are lots of options in this category, but I’ll just explore three: webinars, lessons, and YouTube.

Webinars

A webinar is an online presentation, similar to a conference session. One example is the presentation at KOTESOL which this blogpost is based on. They can range in length from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours, and might be a one-off event or part of a series or event like an online conference.

You can either search for a particular topic e.g. ‘business English webinars’/’English reading skills webinars’, or find providers who have a large collection of webinars and explore their catalogue. For example, here are all of the IH Teachers’ Online Conferences (TOC).

Other providers include publishers like Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan or Delta publishing, teaching associations like IATEFL, TESOL or EAQUALS (though recordings tend to be available to members only), or schools who run training events online, like IH Moscow or IH Bucharest. It’s generally possible to subscribe to a mailing list to find out about upcoming events.

Here is my diigo list of webinars to give you a starting point.

Lessons

There are hundreds of lessons available to watch online. I compiled a list (warning – clicking on the link opens a very bandwidth-heavy page!) which you can choose from. This is a great way to observe other classrooms, pick up activities and techniques, and hone your observation skills.

YouTube

Apart from webinars and lessons, there are lots of ELT-related YouTube channels. Any large organisation probably has a channel. Publishers often share short tips, like these ones from Cambridge on ideas for teaching outside the classroom. International House has a series of Timeless Teaching Tips. I’d welcome links to channels from individuals which I could also recommend.

You can watch hundreds of grammar presentations on YouTube to get ideas for how to explain grammar to your students, though this comes with a caveat: just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a model you want to follow. Philip Kerr explains. This could be a good way to hone your skills by working out what not to do!

Read

Again, there are various options here. I’ll look at blogs, magazines, and journals.

Blogs

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, from light bite-sized activity ideas to lengthy in-depth research-based posts. They’re written by people from all walks of ELT: teachers, trainers, materials writers, researchers, lexicographers, and those who don’t fall into any one particular category.

You can find blogs in many different ways:

  • Search for topics of interest plus ELT blog, e.g. ‘young learner ELT blog’.
  • Look at the blog roll on somebody’s blog (mine is to the right if you’re viewing this on a computer) to see who they recommend.
  • Search for a big organisation like a publisher or teaching association, plus the word ‘blog’.
  • Explore my list of diigo links.

Once you’ve found a blog you like, you can subscribe to it, either by getting emails when a new post appears, or using a blog aggregator like Feedly to collect new posts in one place. I explain how Feedly works in a paragraph and a few screenshots in this post (press CTRL+F/CMD+F on a Mac and type ‘Feedly’ to find it quickly).

Here are four blogs which are currently active to start you off:

  • Kate’s Crate – Katherine Martinkevich links to articles she has read with a short paragraph explaining why she thinks they’re interesting. Good for business English, management and teacher training.
  • ELT planning – Peter Clements shares activity ideas and reviews of resources, plus concepts he’s learnt about in his own professional development. Posts vary in length. Good for young learners, teens, and learning about a huge range of concepts and resources across all areas.
  • What they don’t teach you on the CELTA – a group of bloggers covering a wide range of different topics, particularly relevant to private language school ELT. Many are aimed at relatively new teachers, but posts often make me think too.
  • TEFLtastic – Alex Case is probably the most prolific ELT blogger on the internet, constantly sharing new resources. His blog is a goldmine of resources covering every area of teaching you can possibly imagine.

Apologies to blogging friends who I haven’t included – there are so many great blogs out there!

Magazines

Most ELT magazines require a subscription, but some are free. Even paid magazines tend to have some free content, such as sample issues. They cover a wide range of topics in a single resource. Here are a few to investigate:

  • IH Journal – although it is called a journal, it’s more of a magazine in my opinion. Completely free, with articles available separately or as part of full downloadable magazines. Many articles are written by IH teachers past and present, but other writers are featured too. (Disclaimer: I’ve written a regular article for every edition for a few years now.)
  • English Teaching Professional (ETp) and Modern English Teacher are both published by Pavilion Publishing and Media. They feature articles from around the world and across the teaching profession.
  • EL Gazette – this is more news-based, so is a good way to get a sense of the wider profession. It also has a reviews section.

An alternative source of magazine-type content is newsletters if you are a member of a teaching association or special interest group.

Journals

Journals are generally peer-reviewed and edited, as opposed to blogs where the writers can publish whatever they want to. They are generally more academic and research-based than magazines. Some are behind paywalls, but KOTESOL have compiled a long list of ELT journals with free content available. LearnJam have a shorter list of 5 online journals, including some which are subscription-only, with more detailed information about each journal. Although the ELT Journal from OUP is subscription-only, the ‘Key concepts‘ section of each is freely downloadable, and is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about research.

Study

So far all of the resources can be accessed in under an hour, but you might prefer something more in-depth or structured, and the internet can provide this too.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free programmes which run for a few weeks. They generally involve you studying at your own pace and participating in text-based discussions. FutureLearn and Coursera both have various courses connected to ELT. I found the Coursera Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach course particularly useful, as well as the FutureLearn Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching one. Courses are free, but you can get a certificate if you pay.

The International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) is a very active community run by teachers, for teachers. They run a variety of courses, from basic TESOL certificates to ‘Advanced Skills’ courses, with tutors from all walks of ELT. Their Teachers’ Room is open to all members to participate in discussions.

The Association for Quality Education and Training Online (AQUEDUTO) is an accreditation body for online teacher training. They have a directory of courses which have been checked for quality.

Producing content

Online professional development isn’t just about consuming resources created by others. You can also learn a huge amount by sharing content you have created. The act of preparing your thoughts for other people to see/hear forces you to reflect on what you want to say and how best to say it. It can also start conversations which take you in directions you’ve never considered before.

Write

Writing gives you the chance to take time over framing your thoughts, and go back and edit. Looking back over things you’ve written in the past is a fascinating way to track your professional development over time – I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would be now when I started my blog ten years ago.

Twitter

Writing tweets can be a great way to get started with writing your own content. You can join in discussion in Twitter chats like #eltchat, ask questions, or answer questions from other educators. To find people to follow, find out who is sharing on a hashtag like #eltchat, then see who they are following. You could also start by following me @sandymillin.

Blogging and commenting

Explore your ideas in writing, share activities, and build a portfolio. I’ve written a fuller post on making the most of blogs, including advice for how to start your own and what to write.

If you’re not ready to start your own blog, commenting on other people’s posts with your own thoughts is a good way to start writing too. I don’t think I’m the only blogger who really looks forward to conversations in comment threads on my blog.

Interviews and discussions

The internet gives you direct access to members of the ELT profession from around the world. A polite email with some questions or thoughts about their work, or even a request to interview them, might bear fruit for you. Or perhaps you could write to the author of a book you’ve read about how you’ve used their ideas? Or ask an academic some questions about their research? You never know where these conversations might lead.

Speak

If writing isn’t your thing, you can also use the internet to speak about your ideas. This could be public, for example by creating a podcast or a YouTube channel, or private, maybe by arranging to interview somebody who works in a similar context to you, but in a different country.

Podcasting

The book Podcasting and Professional Development: a Guide for English Language Teachers by the creators of the TEFLology podcast is a good place to start if you want to find out more about how to create your own podcast. A lot of this advice would also be relevant to creating a YouTube channel. (Disclaimer: my blog is mentioned in the book!) (Affiliate links: Amazon, Smashwords)

Reflective practice groups

These are self-selected groups of teachers who come together to discuss a particular topic as equals. The range of potential topics is limitless. All you need is at least one other colleague who is willing to meet you for an hour or two, and you’ve got a reflective practice group. Zhenya Polotosova and Anna Loseva have written quite a lot about participating in groups like this. You can find out more using this list of bookmarks.

So what?

Once you’ve put in all of this effort to start developing online, what can you do with what you learn?

Share

Once you’ve found or created something, share what you’ve learnt with somebody else. This might be in your staffroom, or on social media. There are active communities of teachers on facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It can take a little time to be brave enough to share in one of these communities (I lurked on Twitter for at least 6 months before I joined in), but if you take the plunge, you have the chance to learn so much.

Reflect

Ask yourself questions about what you’re reading and producing:

  • How will you apply what you’ve learnt?
  • What else do you want to learn about?
  • Who else do you want to learn from?
  • What biases might the people you’re learning from have? How can you get a fuller picture?
  • Are you satisfied with your progress with teaching puzzles? What other puzzles do you want to explore?

If you’d like more reflection questions to answer, I’ve written two books of them: one for relatively new teachers, ELT Playbook 1, and one for teacher trainers, ELT Playbook Teacher Training. You can find out all the information about how to buy them on my books page.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing
ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

What’s next?

I hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour through the world of online CPD useful. I’ll leave you with three questions for you to think about and comment on below if you like:

  • What area or resource will you explore next?
  • What have you tried above?
  • What else would you recommend?

Lessons learned: First steps towards reflective teaching in ELT (review)

I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!

Key details

TitleLessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT

Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell

Publisher: Richmond

Year: 2016

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)

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

What’s in it?

Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):

Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.

Written in accessible language.

Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.

There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.

Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.

Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.

Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.

Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.

The 12 main sections of the book are:

  1. Learning about our students
  2. Reflective teaching
  3. Observation: a learning tool
  4. Managing our classrooms
  5. Lesson planning
  6. Organizing language lessons
  7. Understanding and teaching language
  8. Developing literacy skills
  9. Developing oracy skills
  10. Integrating language skills
  11. Assessment and evaluation
  12. Mindful, corrective feedback

There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.

Good points

The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.

The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.

Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.

The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.

Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.

Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):

  • 159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
  • 175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
  • 181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
  • 184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
  • 242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
  • 271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
  • 384-385: the characteristics of a good test
  • 386-389: practical advice for writing test items

Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.

Areas to improve

It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.

Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.

One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:

For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)

Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.

Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.

Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.

Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.

General comment

It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.

ELT awards

What is the function of awards within a profession?

I’ve just asked Google that question expecting to find some kind of philosophical discussion on the topic. Instead I found links to all kinds of different awards schemes across a range of professions: engineering, medicine, project management, human resources, safety professionals, supply chain professionals, recognition professionals, and yes, even education.

The closest thing to an answer I could find came from the Wikipedia ‘award‘ entry, on page 3 of my search:

An award, sometimes called a distinction, is something given to a recipient as a token of recognition of excellence in a certain field.

Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Award on 21st August 2020

According to the references, this is a combination of definitions from the Oxford and Cambridge dictionary definitions.

I tried a new search: Why do awards exist?

That got me what I was looking for. Buried in amongst all kinds of discussions of film and TV awards ceremonies are a few interesting posts, starting with How important are awards anyway?:

We all apply with the same goal in our mind – to win. If we lose (and it has happened), we get irritated. Maybe we say: ”Heh, what do they know.” But then we try to figure out why we lost. We try to learn from each new contest, and we try to figure out how to be better.

Move on to page 2 of the search, and you get Awards: why you want them and how to get them. I’m not sure what an ‘Extension program’ is either, but there are some interesting quotes in there, like these:

Awards are the most conventionally accepted method for proving to others that your work is necessary, complete, and effective.

On the surface, applying for awards may seem self-serving, or even pretentious. Winning awards, however, does much more than bring attention to you as an individual. Documented proof that programs are of the highest caliber facilitates recruitment of external support and resources for future programs (Bradley, Driscoll, & Bardon, 2012). Administration, funding agencies, local governments, and even potential future employers acknowledge the value of peer recognition. Agencies with funding and in-kind resources tend to divert their efforts toward projects with the greatest potential for success. They often base decisions about who might be qualified to accomplish a task on prior successes of individuals or agencies under consideration.

How To Go After Awards And Recognition (And Win) and why it matters is from Forbes:

After all, if there’s one thing that can make us as women squirm uncomfortably, it’s nominating ourselves for awards and public recognition. Some may not be drawn to the competitive rivalry of a contest. For others, they may erroneously see themselves as not-strong-enough a candidate to apply in the first place. And yet, the effects of not self nominating can be far reaching.

Putting our distaste for self-promotion aside—awards, funds and recognition are a form of currency. In the world we live in, they matter. They are bargaining chips! They can help you demand a higher fee as an entrepreneur, reinforce your request for a higher corporate salary to your employer, and provide external validation of how you measure up against your peers.

Decide today, right now, that you are a worthy applicant for that interesting award, publishable article, or conference presentation. Then go for it.

Going after, and winning, awards makes you more appealing to employers and clients, yes. But it can greatly help you materially, and perhaps most underemphasized, it can permanently lift your confidence. […] By applying for recognition, you too will learn a lifelong skill – how to identify and speak about your value…and how to bet on yourself.

The last article I’ll quote from is The benefits of awards — even if you don’t win, which is full of lots of useful ideas and tips:

But recognition aside, merely applying for awards or seeking to be nominated also brings a multitude of career benefits. Putting together an award application can help you reflect on your skills and career progress. It may push you to become more competitive by filling gaps in your CV and increasing your visibility. Seeking out senior colleagues who will cheer for you can help you build a strong support base for the future. Competing for awards also creates an opportunity to receive useful feedback about your work and how you are perceived from those who nominated you or awards committees, Gomez notes.

Studying the award criteria and looking at past winners may help you get a sense of what you want to strive for and identify skill gaps. Trying to fill these gaps will not only increase your chances of getting the award, but also put you in a stronger position for your future career planning and progression, Maguire says.

Current awards in ELT

Philip Kerr recently wrote about Current Trends in ELT, including mentioning the British Council ELTons awards for innovations in English Language Teaching. This is one of the quotes which prompted this post:

You could be forgiven for wondering what is especially innovative about many of the ELTon award-winners, or indeed, why neophilia actually matters at all. The problem, in a relatively limited world like language teaching, is that only so much innovation is either possible or desirable.

The ELTons are one of only three awards schemes I can think of within ELT. The other two are both related to balance and representation at conferences. The Fair List was set up by Tessa Woodward to encourage gender balance at UK ELT events. Eve: Equal Voices in ELT recognises events for parity in gender, highly proficient speakers (not just native English speakers), and how representative they are of their local teaching community.

The ELTons has a glitzy awards ceremony (not this year of course!), with various categories recognising innovation and a lifetime achievement award. The Fair List has an awards ceremony at IATEFL each year (again, not this year). EVE has a calendar which they will include events in which meet the parity requirements, and award a badge recipients can display. All of them are useful for highlighting achievements of the ELT industry, and I think The Fair List and EVE have gone some way to starting discussions about and encouraging change within conference line-ups. Just being shortlisted for an ELTon can increase the profile of a project and (presumably) increase sales/buy-in/author profiles.

(Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any from this list.*)

Accreditation and inspection schemes, such as those from British Council, EAQUALS, AQUEDUTO (online training) and IH inspections for affiliated schools also fulfil some of the functions mentioned in the quotes above: they require data gathering, identify gaps and encourage applicants to fulfil them to meet requirements. The resultant badges that those who pass the inspection can display are a sign of professional recognition/recognition by the profession, though there’s no official awards ceremony for any of them.

Applying to present at conferences also prompts reflection and can lead to increased professional recognition too, and is open to individuals, thereby meeting some of the requirements mentioned in the first part of this post.

What’s my point?

I’m not really sure…this blogpost is more about thinking out loud than an actual point!

To my knowledge, the awards schemes which currently exist in ELT focus on innovation, lifetime achievement, and conference line-ups.*

Accreditation schemes are aimed at organisations.

Maybe there’s room for something else, awards which are more wide-ranging. Something which demonstrates the range and scope of our profession. Something which individuals can apply for, not just organisations. Something which can throw a spotlight on more than just the big names and recognise those unsung members of our profession who work away diligently year in, year out.

What could we recognise?

Here are some possible award categories:

  • Teacher
  • Trainer
  • Manager
  • Materials writer
  • Support/Administrative staff
  • Course
  • Course provider (school/educational organisation)
  • Employer
  • Methodology book/materials
  • Training course/event (including conferences)
  • Teaching association
  • Social media group/account

I’m sure there are many more I haven’t thought of!

How could it work? What are the problems?

Allow time for nominations. For example, nominations include 5 reasons why that nominee should receive the award, and what makes them unique/different compared to other possible nominees.
How long? Who nominates (the potential winner or a third party)? What needs to be included in a nomination? How are the nominations submitted? What about GDPR?

Anonymise the nominations. Remove any identifying features.
Who gets that job?! How long would it take?

Have a panel for each award, or one for all of the awards. Each panel member creates a long list of four nominations who they think should receive the award.
Who would be on the panel? How do you remove bias and ensure representation within the panels? How long would that process take? Who would pay for the time or would it have to be voluntary? 

Combine the separate long lists into a master long list. Each panel member individually comes up with their own shortlist of three nominees who they think should receive the award with reasons.
As with the previous point.

The panel meets to discuss the shortlists and negotiate who should be the award winner. One person from the panel is selected to check the votes and make a note of the eventual winner.
How long do you allow for this? How do you de-anonymise the nominations and ensure the winner remains a secret?

Run an awards ceremony. Glitz! Glamour! Awards!
Who pays for it? Who presents the awards?

Will it ever happen?

Unlikely!* Somebody would need to pay for it, and within ELT that normally means publishers sponsoring the event. Somebody would need to organise it, and that requires a lot of time.

But still, it’s interesting to think about.

What impact could an awards ceremony that’s more wide-ranging have on the profession? Would it make it feel more like a profession? Would it lead to any changes, as The Fair List and EVE already seem to have done? What do you think?

*Search first, write later (!)

I got to the end of this post and did a Google search for ELT awards. It looks like some of my questions are answered by these awards and my post is a little more pointless than it was before, but I’m not going to rewrite it now! Here’s what I found:

There are ELT Excellence Awards in Greece – it costs quite a lot to apply. Presumably that covers some of the costs I mentioned above, and public schools get one free entry each, but that still rules out individuals applying. It covers a wide range of areas, including a few I hadn’t thought of.

The Pearson English Global Teacher Award gives five winners the chance to attend the IATEFL or TESOL conference all expenses paid. It looks like it really does recognise individual teachers. I can’t find information about how to apply, but I think you probably apply yourself, doing the job of encouraging teachers to identify and speak about their value, as described above.

Oh, and there’s this post from David Deubelbeiss about teacher of the year/best teacher awards and how they’re a pet peeve of his, providing a useful balance to points above. You should definitely read that too.

Choose-your-own workshop – noticing progress

The idea

Sometimes a chat over dinner can be a wonderful catalyst. A couple of weeks after IATEFL 2019 I went for dinner with a colleague. We discussed all kinds of things, and one of the things that came out of the discussion was a plan for a different kind of workshop, one where the teachers chose the topic. 

This plan was inspired by sessions I attended during IATEFL, and my reading for the NILE MA trainer development module. It’s a general format which could be applied to any workshop. Each section should last about 15 minutes.

  • What you (want to) know: In groups, teachers brainstorm what they know about the topic and write the questions they have about it. You can do a quick survey of how confident the teachers feel about the topic. You can prepare prompts to help the teachers direct their thinking if you want to.
  • Investigation: Teachers find out more about the topic using whatever resources they choose from whatever you have available. If you don’t have much, you could use my diigo links as a starting point. This step could take longer if you want it too. Emphasise that there won’t be time to look at every resource – they should pick and choose one or two things to read/watch/listen to.
  • Sharing: Back in their original groups, teachers share what they’ve learnt. They add to the brainstorms, discuss whether their questions were answered, and think about what other questions they might have.
  • Forward planning: Teachers decide how they can apply what they’ve learnt in the session to their own teaching. 
  • (Brief) Feedback: Get feedback from teachers on how the session went and how confident they feel about the topic now.

Noticing progress

On discussion with the teachers, we chose the topic of noticing progress for this experimental workshop. These are the slides I used:

The letters on the slides (A-E) refer to the five areas on slide 2 to help teachers choose which resources to investigate during step 2 of the session.

Teacher feedback on the workshop

These comments are shared with permission.

Positives:

(my reflection) Preparation before the session meant that I was free to monitor, answer questions and feed in extra information during the workshop.

I enjoyed this session and being able to share ideas with others and find out what they learnt as it gives me ideas which I didn’t think of. Charting ideas on paper as a team works well and is encouraging and confidence boosting. I would like to do another session like this.

I like that I can go back to the powerpoint afterwards and check out what my group members have told me about. It’s nice to have a lot of options (choice). I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Good balance of self research and group feedback. Self-driven= more natural and less ‘forced’.

Can go at our own pace and do what interests us.

I really liked how personalised it was and practical. I think this type of session helps people know what’s out there. I’d definitely do this again – thank you very much!

I liked the freedom to look at what I wanted and it was nice being in groups with people who were interested in different things. Can we do something like this again please?

Time to research independently. It was good to have a range of media (video, reading etc) for different preferences.

Own pace and autonomous.

Autonomy, could learn what I wanted, not dictated to. Discussion at end was good in groups.

Good staging, reading time, multiple sources and discussions.

I liked how there was more time for personal reading (being an introvert).

Time to digest before talking. Could explore what interests me/will be useful for my students. More like this please.

I liked the staging and found it very logical and useful. I think I would’ve liked more time alone to read/watch/get the input but appreciated that this was quiet and independent this week. I would like to do workshops in this style again.

Could focus on an area I was interested in.

Freedom to research what you’re interested in and what you need. Good stages to gain information from others and share ideas/knowledge. An interesting workshop – would be great to do again!

I enjoyed having quiet time to read and learn about things. I also liked not having things thrown at me. Timing was adequate. We should now go and explore on our own. I think more time would have resulted in us just sticking to one particular topic, instead we want to look at as many different things as possible. Please let’s do this again!

Generally like the format.

Areas to improve:

(my reflection) The session worked really well, but the slides took a long time to compile. If I ran it again, I’d include a lot fewer resources to choose from, not least because it would take less time to put together! On the other hand, this workshop can be reused again in the future as is with no preparation at all.

People need to be able to speak/discuss what they want to e.g. one classroom is for silent investigation and another classroom is for teachers to discuss with each others. [Note: during the investigation stage I asked teachers not to discuss anything as some teachers present struggle to concentrate when reading with noise in the background. I told them they’d be able to discuss everything later.]

The titles and summaries on each slide could have been clearer e.g. a summary such as ‘This page has lots of ideas for…’

Hard to find a specific direction.

Timing was OK, although not really enough time to explore properly/in enough detail.

I think the initial brainstorm could be a bit shorter.

There were too many options (things to look at/explore) – not enough time for detail.

Would be good to have a follow-up session of what we’ve tried and how it went. Have several rooms with ‘noise levels’ so those that want to discuss and research at the same time can – more sharing will happen if we can talk.

Very broad – a lot of information to sift through.

Put the stages of the workshop on the board too please.

Would be good to have a bit more time in the research stage.

Maybe too many points to discuss? 3 might work better than 5. 

As you can see, the workshop went down well, but as always, there’s room for improvement 🙂 

A blogpost of blogposts

I use Feedly as a blog reader to collate posts from the blogs I follow. I love the simplicity of the format, and being able to see at a glance what is waiting for me to read. I generally look at it for a few minutes each day, sharing posts that I think would be useful for others on social media and bookmarking them for future reference using Diigo.

Since I started reading posts on my phone this workflow has become a little more convoluted, and I often end up emailing myself things to bookmark for later as it’s not as convenient to bookmark from my phone. This post is a collection of many of those posts as I clear out my email folder, and could serve as a good starting point if you’re looking for blogs to follow. They show a cross-section of what I read, and demonstrate just how varied the ELT blogosphere is.

On a side note, if you’ve considering starting a blog but think ‘Nobody will care what I write’, remember that there’s room for all kinds of teachers and writers, and your voice is interesting too. You never know what will click for somebody else when they read what you write. The blog is also there as notes for yourself later – I’m often surprised when I come across posts from my archive!

Happy reading!

A robot lying on a lilo, with text below

Health and wellbeing

Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar on Mental health, resilience and COVID-19, adding her own experiences too. Lizzie also recommends Rachael Robert’s webinar on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals, and shares how she has been managing her workspace and mindset while working from home. I’ve been doing inbox zero for about two months now, as recommended by Rachael in a talk I went to in January, and it’s made me feel so much better!

If mental health is important to you (and it should be!) here’s my list of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT.

Activities for very young learners and young learners

Chris Roland’s ETprofessional article on Managing online fun is full of activities and classroom management tips for working with young learners online.

Anka Zapart talks about the benefits of online classes with very young learners, many of which are applicable to young learners too. She shares a useful site with online games with VYLs and YLs, and introduced me to colourful semantics as way of extending language production for children. She also has a very clear framework for choosing craft activities which would and wouldn’t work for a VYL/YL classroom, and this example of a very reusable caterpillar craft.

Pete Clements has a lesson plan for young learners (and older ones too!) which combines all kinds of different areas: environmental awareness, drawing, used to, modals of advice…all based on a single student-generated set of materials.

Activities for teens and adults

Making excuses is a game to practice making requests and making excuses, including both online and offline variations, from Mike Astbury’s incredibly practical blog.

Jade Blue talks about the benefits of drawing to learn language, including a range of simple activities that should help students to remember vocabulary and grammar structures, and process texts they read and listen to. She also shares ideas for exploiting authentic materials, both for intensive and extensive use.

Ken Wilson has started to post English language teaching songs he and colleagues wrote and recorded in the 70s and 80s. They still seem very relevant now and could still promote a lot of discussion. The first three are What would you do? (second conditional), It makes me mad (environmental problems) and Looking forward to the day (phrasal verbs / the environment).

Rachel Tsateri shares 10 simple and practical pronunciation activities (useful for listening too).

Leo Selivan has a lesson plan based on the Coldplay and Chainsmokers song Something just like this. David Petrie using sound effects as the basis for a review of narrative tenses.

Julie Moore has written ten posts with vocabulary activities based around coronavocab. The last one has examples of phrases which learners might need to describe how coronavirus has changed their lives.

James Taylor has a lesson plan about helping students to set useful goals for their language learning. If you’re interested in making and breaking habits, you might like James Egerton’s 11 lessons from The Power of Habit (not an activity, but relevant!)

Alex Case has hundreds of resources on his blog, for example these ones demonstrating small talk using specific language points.

Hana Ticha has an activity for promoting positive group dynamics called the one who.

Cristina Cabal has eight different activities based around the topic of travel.

Online teaching

Marc Jones suggests ideas for and asks for help with speaking assessments online when your students just won’t speak.

Matthew Noble is writing a teaching diary of his fully online blended Moodle/Zoom courses, with lots of interesting insights and learning shared. Here’s the post from week two (on building group dynamics) and week five (on making sure your computer will work properly and encouraging students to have good online etiquette).

Rachel Tsateri shows how to exploit Google Jamboard as an online whiteboard, including vocabulary revision, brainstorming, and sentence structure activities.

Naomi Epstein describes the journey she went on when trying to add glossaries to reading texts for her students, and the problems she encountered when she was on a computer but they were on a phone.

John Hughes shares three ways you can exploit Zoom’s recording feature in lessons.

Teacher training

Zhenya Polosatova has been sharing a series of trainer conversations. This interview with Rasha Halat was fascinating. I also liked this parachute metaphor from a conversation with Ron Bradley.

In my trainings I like to use the example of the students taking a class on how to fold a parachute that will be used the next day to jump out of an airplane. The students tell me “It was a wonderful class—the teacher explained and showed how to fold the chute step by step. Then the camera moves to the students and they are taking notes—very engaged in the lecture. They all pass the written test. The question is, will they now be able to successfully fold their parachutes in a way that they will have a successful jump? What would you suggest that the teacher did differently? I have always loved Michael Jerald’s (my SIT TESOL Cert trainer) question(s), “What did they learn and how do you know they learned it?” Now we are talking about skills, not knowledge—and effective communication is a skill. The parachute teacher had no way of knowing that they would be successful, even though they had aced the written test. So, whether or not face-to-face or by way of video, the nature of student engagement is the most important issue. It needs to be observed!

Zhenya also wrote about a reflective activity called Four suitcases, which could be particularly useful for anyone feeling down about the current state of the world and their place in it.

Jim Fuller has recently completed the Cambridge Train the Trainer course. His weekly posts about the course were good reminders of what I did on my NILE MA Trainer Development course last summer, including this one on exploratory talk and observation and this one on course design and developing as a trainer.

You might also want to explore my Useful links for teacher training and consider purchasing ELT Playbook Teacher Training. 🙂

Materials writing

Pete Clements offers advice on finding work as a writer, including various smaller publishers you probably haven’t heard of.

Julie Moore talks about reviewing in ELT publishing, something which helped me get my foot in the door for occasional work with some of the big publishers.

Distractions can make the writing process much longer than it needs to be. Rachael Roberts offers tips on how to deal with them on the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MAWSIG) blog.

John Hughes has a comprehensive selection of tips on materials writing on his blog, for example this checklist for writing worksheets or these tips on writing scripts for audio recordings. Explore the blog for lots more.

Professional development

Chris R from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA suggests a range of techniques to help you teach more student-centred lessons. Stephen J has written an accessible beginner’s guide to task-based learning and describes one way he worked with learners to make the most of a coursebook he was using, rather than mechanically moving from one page to the next. Charlie E shares ideas for recording and recycling emergent language which pops up during a lesson, including an online variant.

In a guest post on the same blog, Kip Webster talks about the importance of explicitly teaching directness and indirectness, particularly for maintaining group dynamics, and taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during lessons. In another guest post, Miranda Crowhurst shares an excellent range of tips for using social media to advance your teaching career. (As you can see, it’s a blog well worth following!)

If you’re thinking about alternative approaches to lesson planning post-CELTA, Pete Clements talks about the steps he went through when moving towards materials-light teaching. This reflects my experience too.

Monika Bigaj-Kisala reviews Scott Thornbury’s Uncovering Grammar, which helped her to change her relationship with grammar in the classroom.

Pete Clements reflects on the differences between an MA, PGCEi or DipTESOL, all of which he’s done. He also hosted a guest post from Michael Walker on the benefits of student and teacher reflection journals, particularly how it worked as an avenue for him to get regular feedback from his students which influenced future lessons.

Russ Mayne shares 5 non-evidence-based teaching tips, all of which I agree with.

Helen Chapman answers the questions Should I teach in English in Morocco? in this very comprehensive post (not necessarily professional development, but doesn’t fit anywhere else!) You might also be interested in a similar but less comprehensive post I wrote about why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations.

Questioning our practice

Philip Kerr’s posts are always thought-provoking. Mindfulness for beginners questions the strength of research behind the attention mindfulness is now receiving in education.

Russ Mayne asks should we use translation software, especially questioning its role in EAP contexts, and how we might need to update our teaching and assessment criteria to assess the inevitable student use of this ever-improving tool. He also writes about retraction in ELT and shares examples of research which has been retracted. (This BBC Inside Science episode has an interview with Stuart Ritchie which I would also recommend.)

Classrooms and coronavirus

David Petrie talks about how he helped his exam students prepare for doing speaking exams in masks.

Alex Case shares ideas for coronavirus changes for EFL classes. While this might be tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure some of them aren’t that far from things we might be seeing in our classrooms/schools over the next couple of years!

You might also be interested in my post on social distancing in the ELT classroom.

What have you been reading recently? What currently active blogs have I missed here?

Online CELTA week 4: rounding up

On Monday 6th July 2020 I started training on my first ever fully online CELTA course on Zoom. On the same day, Stephanie Wilbur also started online CELTA training for the first time, but on a different course. We’ve decided to compare our experiences. The post below covers week four, the final week. Here’s week one, week two and week three.

What were the highlights of this week?

SM: As always in week 4, it was great to see so much of last week’s hard work paying off. The lessons were much better contextualised, and practice had a much clearer communicative focus, with trainees commenting in self-evaluations and feedback on the fact that lessons seemed to flow better and students were more engaged. Although this is something we discuss earlier in the course, it’s normally not until week 4 that trainees have the mental space to really think about this in their planning, and that some of them manage to conquer high levels of teacher talk and teacher-centredness. This was my favourite comment (quoted with permission):

The student focus really paid off and it was incredibly gratifying to see them figuring out problems with each other – I know they learned something from me and that’s an amazing feeling! (Terri Barker)

Language clarification was much stronger, timing tightened up with more realistic planning, and the pace of lessons improved and became more varied. It’s also great to see their teacher personalities develop as their confidence increases.

In input, I ran the YL and teen session using a project-based approach which worked even better than I’d hoped. I divided the trainees into six groups, two each for each age group (VYL, YL and teen) based on a Google Form I’d sent asking them about experience they had with each age group. I supplemented their knowledge with a list of resources for each age group, then set this task:

(Image of Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible, with the following text:) Your mission, should you choose to accept it… For your age group, answer the following questions: What are the characteristics of this age group? What can they do? What can’t they do? What kind of activities work well with them? What doesn’t work? What can go wrong in the lessons? What can you do to prevent/resolve these issues? What sources did you use to gather this information? Summarise what you learn in a method of your choice (document? slides? pictures?) in the folder. Be prepared to tell others about it. You have 45 minutes.

The presentations and documents they produced were full of great ideas. They then had fifteen minutes in new groups of three to share what they’d compiled, five minutes per person. When we came back together I told them this was project-based learning, and in the follow-up email I told them how to set up successful projects. I’ll definitely try input like this again, not least because they did all the work during the session!

Lessons from the classroom (assignment 4) is my favourite assignment, because trainees use this to reflect on their progress over the course and think about how they’ll continue to progress. It’s a fascinating insight into what they feel they’ve gained from the course, and the areas that they want to focus on after they’ve finished. I also like it because most people pass it first time, so there’s a lot less marking 🙂

SW:  I’ve watched so much development over the course and especially this week, watching them crack things that they had trouble with. The resistance that some trainees show in week 3 disappears in week 4 as they adjust to the higher level and expectations of the second half of the course. They can reset their priorities as the result of even short conversations as trainees realise what’s important. One example this week was rushing through lessons to get to the end, versus changing their planning to fit everything in more successfully. Once trainees made that switch, their lessons were so much more successful.

Everybody had good final lessons. It was fantastic watching one trainee who lacked confidence in her abilities make improvements in the final two weeks – she was a different teacher when she came out of her shell, with great rapport and better teacher presence.

How did trainees work with language during this part of the course?

SM: I continued to emphasise the fact that the bulk of lessons should be based around practice rather than teacher presentations, and there were almost none of this kind of presentation this week. Trainees commented that students know the rules but can’t apply them, making it easier for me to highlight the importance of feedback after practice activities, and clarifying why an answer/piece of language is right or wrong, not just what the ‘correct’ answer/piece of language might be.

SW: In the second half of the course, we did a lot more task-based learning. In my demo lesson at the start of week three, I showed trainees how to record emergent language and exploit it in the lesson. This meant they were working with emergent language a lot more in the second half of the course.

What teaching tips did you give teachers this week?

SM: As we had quite small groups of students and were often waiting to get extra students at the start of the lessons, I agreed with the teachers that I would start timing the lessons when they gave a signal, rather than starting automatically when there were two students. This gave them a chance to chat to the students a little before the lessons, rather than only interacting as part of the lesson itself.

In Zoom, you can click the three little dots at the bottom of the participants list and select ‘Play enter/exit chime’ or update your settings to make this the default for all meetings. This helps you to notice when somebody joins or drops out of the meeting, without having to double-check the list.

When you’re sharing documents, you can make them quite small on your screen and still have other things open to work on. For example, have the PowerPoint slides in one corner, the videos underneath and a document to the side to type into. Then share only the PowerPoint rather than the whole screen.

I reminded the trainees that videos and microphones don’t always need to be on, and encouraged them to switch off when reading things in input, and to suggest it to the students during reading and listening tasks during lessons. This makes a difference to the dynamic in the lesson as it gives students some space to process what they’re seeing/hearing.

I also continued to encourage trainees to really think about when to share their screen and when not to. All of my group successfully managed to run some activities without any slides, including much greater use of the chatbox, mini whiteboards/pieces of paper (especially for pronunciation features), and even just speaking (which we often seem to forget!)

SW: gyazo.com is a screen sharing piece of software – you take a screen shot and get a link which you can share instantly. This helped the students who couldn’t take screen shots.

It’s important to think about formatting – not everybody has access to Microsoft. We need to consider that students might not be able to or know how to open things we send them. We recommended pdfs and screen shots throughout our course.

What did you tell trainees about the next steps?

SM: In the jobs session, we talked about the fact that the market is currently very competitive. In another year, CELTA graduates might find a job quite quickly, but now there are a lot of experienced teachers who are also looking for work. Not getting offered an interview isn’t necessarily about trainees not being suitable, but more about the fact that it feels like much more of an employer’s market at the moment as there are so many teachers looking for work. It’s important to persevere and not give up.

SW: At the end of every CELTA course we talk about what life after the course is like. It’s harder right now to prepare trainees for the world after the course as we don’t know what it will look like, and what opportunities and problems they might have. Throughout the course I did a lot of work telling them about the difference between the online and the face-to-face classroom. This week I did the CPD session and the job session, talking about how to get support in post-CELTA jobs, but there’s so much more uncertainty than before. We don’t know how trainees will get support if the only work they can find is teaching fully online as freelancers and they never have the support of a staffroom.

Within a couple of years of working full-time in the past, you’d know grammar and understand it yourself if you were getting support. But now we don’t know how the first two years will shape up if schools are thinking about being online more than supporting the teachers with that? New teachers need to prompt senior teachers to keep sharing ideas in an online school.

How did you end the course?

SM: After their final TPs, I always ask peers to reflect on how each teacher has improved over the four weeks of the course. This time, I added a row to the Google Docs they’ve completed in peer feedback each day, asking them to identify what they’ve learnt from watching that teacher. The positive, supportive comments were fantastic 🙂

Throughout Friday I had a few opportunities for individual chats with trainees in my TP group, and heard some lovely messages about what they’d gained from the course and from getting feedback during observations.

Friday night at the end of a CELTA is normally my favourite part of the whole course. We tend to go out for a meal, and that’s when I really feel like I get to know the trainees, because they’re no longer worried about passing the course is being assessed. It provides some kind of closure. We had a final 30-minute session after their unassessed TP finished, with the main course tutor setting us a couple of ‘treasure hunt’ tasks. We had to find a piece of headgear, then a timepiece, in each case describing what it was and why we’d picked it. This was a fun bit of movement for the final session. We then shared memories in the chatbox, and we’d taken a group photo/screenshot in the morning. After all the trainees left, I spent a couple of minutes chatting to my colleagues, but I have to say it felt like a bit of an anti-climax when I closed Zoom at 6pm. I took myself out for food and spent the evening with friends, but it wasn’t the same. That’s the one thing I’ve really missed with doing the online course.

SW: After we finished the admin, we took a group photo and chatted for a bit, including sharing memories and ideas. The trainees planned a virtual wine and cheese party together. There was some closure, but I feel like we needed some kind of closing activity. It felt strange ending the course because it felt somewhat sudden. Some of the trainees sent me a message after we finished, which was really lovely.

If I run an online course again, I’d like to put more thought into a closing activity, for example doing something social online together with the trainees at the end of the course. I think this should create a better sense of the ending of the course.

What do you think 100% online trainees will need support with when they go into a physical classroom?

SM: As somebody who employs a lot of post-CELTA trainees, I need the fact that trainees were on a fully online course on the report so I know what training to give.

The main areas I think trainees will need support with are:

  • teacher presence in a physical classroom
  • monitoring when everybody is talking at once
  • using the space in the room
  • including movement in the lessons (though this is also true online!)
  • teaching using paper/physical coursebooks e.g. pointing to the exercise on the page while giving instructions
  • choosing when and when not to use the whiteboard

SW: CELTA graduates will need support with realising that the physical classroom is not that different to the online classroom. They’re going to feel different sitting in front of a group of people, or standing up with people in front of them, but this is a confidence issue rather than a problem. They could observe a group from the back of a room to see what’s the same or different. Identify what’s the same in a physical classroom, for example breakout rooms is the same as moving chairs to set up pair work. The videos they’ve seen are mostly in physical classrooms, but real-life observation could be useful.

Monitoring and pair work are different, but once CELTA graduates see it in action and do it themselves a couple of times they’ll feel much more confident. The skills are the same – instead of ‘turn off your camera’, they have to sit there and not interrupt. It’s a modified version of what they’ve already done.

Board use could be an area to work on, but people use PowerPoint in the physical classroom too. Planning a PowerPoint means they’ve thought about their board work before the lesson and how to lay everything out. Another important area is different ways of doing feedback, especially if they’ve only taught quite small groups online.

What should we consider when training online? What do we need support with as trainers?

SM: Trainers still need support and training in learning how to use the platform successfully so they can pass on this knowledge to their trainees. In input, if trainers don’t know techniques, they can’t demonstrate them to trainees. I feel like although there has been a little support, trainers have mostly been expected to figure it out for themselves, and are only one step ahead of their trainees in some cases. On the flip side, this has forced us all to be creative and I believe it has injected a level of excitement into courses which might have been run in a very similar way for a long time.

As time goes on, we need to remember to describe and exemplify the parts of our online teaching which have become natural and second nature, in the same way as we would in a physical classroom. This is particularly important online as trainees can’t see what we’re doing, whereas they might be able to pick things up from just watching us in an offline classroom – we need to comment on this to make it clearer to them.

Many people are feeling screen fatigue, especially this summer. I think it’s hard to get students who will commit to the lessons (though this can be true offline too!) Perhaps somebody could create a central database where students can sign up and trainers can tell them about courses. (Sorry that this won’t be me!)

SW: We need to remember that it’s not really that different. CELTA online is not a whole different course – there are so many similarities to the offline version. We’re still doing the same things as trainers. We still want trainees to do the same things. We need to keep looking at what matches up between online and offline. Technology can be an issue for some trainees and trainers, but it’s definitely something that can be learnt. Both Sandy and I have watched trainees over the past month who’d never used PowerPoint or other technology before the course, and are using the technology in a way that doesn’t stop them from demonstrating they are perfectly good teachers at the end of the course.

Because the course is online, we can market it to trainees and TP students anywhere, not just in the town or city where the course is based, but also (for example) people in villages who might not have known about courses before.

If we use a model of combined synchronous and asynchronous provision, the idea that you have to show huge amounts of learning into a crammed four-week course while you put your life on hold and (often) move to a new place no longer holds true. That idea can make the course seem impossible to some people, but an online or blended CELTA makes it feel more possible. Flipping the course completely could allow more time for feedback, if trainers have time to create the input to prepare such a course.

Time management is another area where trainers might need support. Everything takes longer in input, as it does in lesson. What are our priorities? How can we tighten our sessions up? How can we make them more efficient?

When will you run your next course?

SM: I only do one CELTA course a year, so I won’t be doing another one until at least next summer. At present it’s impossible to say if that will be online or face-to-face, and what kind of protective measures we will need by then. Right now I’ve got a few weeks holiday, then it’s back into my other life as a Director of Studies and working out what our school will look like from September.

SW: I’m going into a face-to-face course next week. I’d thought of everything except for passing things around between trainees, then asked myself ‘What if it’s paperless?’ Now I’ve done a course online I realise that a paperless course is possible. We’ll have an online portfolio, an online CELTA 5, and have handouts on a shared drive or email them to trainees. It’s easier for assessors too because they don’t have to chase things up – everything is more easily available for them. Trainees can email handouts to students the day before and students need to bring a computer/tablet for the lesson. If they need a pen, they have to take it from a pre-set box at the door, then return it to a different box. Pens will be sanitised before and after the lessons. We did this for IELTS exams I’ve been running, so I know it works. With all of these innovations, we don’t need to pass this things around, and thereby reduce the risk of infection. We’ll also be wearing masks throughout and using face shields.

How do you feel about online CELTA now?

SM: It’s definitely here to stay. The course was just as vigorous, just as useful, and just as successful as the fully face-to-face version I’m used to, and I’d be happy to employ graduates of fully online courses (not something I would have said in March). I think that the future is probably a blended course, with 3 hours of face-to-face TP and 3 hours online (I seem to remember reading that there’s a centre which is already doing this, but can’t remember where), with a mix of input online and offline.

SW: I wasn’t convinced about online CELTAs at the start, but now I’m a convert. We’re doing the same thing and the criteria are still relevant. I made sure to let what’s important in the face-to-face classroom guide my messages about what’s important in the online classroom, especially monitoring. I feel strongly that we should be monitoring and grouping in similar ways to the offline environment. You allow students to be in pairs and groups online for the same reasons as you do offline, and you don’t sit in breakout rooms all the time hovering over them, just as you wouldn’t stand over students in the classroom. I’m coming away from the course feeling like we’re sending a solid group of teachers out into the world.

That seems like the perfect note to end this mini-series on. Thanks very much to Stephanie for agreeing to meet me each Saturday to compare notes. It’s been fascinating learning about how everything is the same same, but different when running an online CELTA. I’ll be interested to see how teacher training continues to develop and evolve as the world settles into new patterns over the next few years, and to what extent the online CELTA model is part of that.

Online CELTA: the trainee perspective (guest post – Yawen)

Yawen Jin was one of the trainees on the online CELTA course I’ve just worked on. She’s one of two trainees who’s agreed to write about her experience (Nadia’s post will appear tomorrow). I think you’ll agree that this post is useful for anybody doing the CELTA in the future, whether online or off! Thanks Yawen!

My experience

I heard before I started CELTA that I could only sleep three hours a day on average during the four weeks. Therefore, I felt very complicated feelings. I signed up and tried to pass the interview because I had great expectations for CELTA, but at the same time, I was afraid that I would not survive. A friend even told me that on the first day of her face-to-face CELTA course last year, one of her classmates left the class crying because of stress and never went on with the class. Maybe what she said was exaggerated, but after experiencing it, I also felt that the course intensity, homework and lesson preparation content were quite a lot. However, in the end, I did it, and the rest of my classmates also did it. It has been proven that if you attend classes well, participate in discussions, help each other, complete tasks on time and do what trainers suggest you do, you can and you will survive. So, there is nothing to worry about. There will be nothing to lose by taking this course, and there will be a lot of growth for each of trainee.

Now, let’s talk about my experience over the last four weeks. The first two days of the first week I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I used to feel anxious in order not to feel too much pressure. Therefore, I rechecked my schedule, reviewed the input lessons, confirmed what I had to do, and right after I had done these three steps, i.e. I made a detailed plan, and then the pressure came on me. It took me a long time to prepare for one lesson, often up to eight hours to make a high-quality PowerPoint and write a lesson plan. It was often necessary for me to stay up until three in the morning, sleep for about five hours, and continue on with a full day of classes. Besides, there were one or two assignments (four in total) to be written every week, and the first weekend I had no rest at all. Even when I was sleeping, the dream was about how to prepare for the class and there were fragments of the input classes.

At the beginning of second week, I felt my mental and physical state was very bad, so I asked two classmates to talk about it. Because there was no private communication before, I didn’t know what other students were like and how they felt about the course. But after the communication, I found that everyone was happy to help each other, such as sending me the methods and websites to relieve mental stress and improve sleep quality. In fact, I found my classmates who looked very energetic had to work very late as well, but they had been working very hard. I felt that even though we were attending classes online, we were all in a group rather than a single person. Then I became more and more accustomed to CELTA’s rhythm, and the time for class preparation was reduced. After each teaching practice, the trainer and other trainees need to give comments on each class. Often the evaluation contained a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and also included objective suggestions. In this process, everyone had more confidence. For example, in the beginning many of us felt that they have little strengths, and lots of weaknesses, but after some time we thought we actually had some advantages. For me, when I was in the third TP, I suddenly released myself and no longer felt nervous. Others commented that they found the strength of my personal charm and self-confidence. This is due to my every effort and every encouragement and recognition from my lovely trainer and trainees in the team. (Another important point is that I learned a lot of useful information and skills from the daily input lessons, and then used them in my own TP, which often produced some good responses.)

By the third week, each group had to change a trainer. The new trainer of our group is a very energetic person who loves education and is willing to discuss and solve problems. (The owner of this blog, Sandy :p) Her requirements were more strict than the previous trainer, which made our workload heavier. And in my observation of her classes, I could say that student-centered teaching method achieved the best degree in my opinion. That is to let the students learn by themselves or let students help each other to learn then achieve the learning outcome. When I was learning educational theory in the uni, I knew the benefits of such a teaching concept and thought I could do it if I wanted to. But after the first two weeks of TP, I tried to spend more student-time each time, thinking that I did quite well, and it seemed that STT might not be added any more. But her demo lesson made me stop being self-satisfied and feel that there was so much to improve. For the first TP in the third week, I agonized for three days but still didn’t reduce the TTT much. Then I communicate with her for a while, she found out I give yourself too much pressure, so she gave me some advice on her experience and her, and told me she had also frets about how to reduce TTT in the past and every step grows through experience. The most important point is that this course values the growth of each trainee, so do not be too anxious.

Therefore, I tried to prepare for the class with a relaxed mood. Although it took a lot of time to increase STT, I made great progress. It should be mentioned that after the members of our group gradually got used to the new trainer, everyone’s growth was remarkable, that is, the so-called strict teacher produced brilliant students. And as the team members got more familiar with each other, everyone was supporting each other and cheering each other on. Although the first half of the third week seemed to be harder than the first week, the rest of the one and a half week were very happy. It is no exaggeration to say that up to the last stage, I felt sad for the end of the course, because this praiseworthy experience, the good atmosphere of mutual support and the fact that I enjoyed every day of lesson preparation and teaching, they made me feel happy and fulfilled.

There are a lot of details to remember these four weeks. First of all, the three trainers were very patient and supportive, and they encouraged trainees to deal with the problem actively and they shared a lot of resources. They all have different teaching styles, and we can learn different teaching methods from their courses. It should be mentioned that in these four weeks they were offering help and support to each trainee. Secondly, even if trainees are from different countries, different cultures and different languages, we always cheer each other on. We were happy to share our own stories, sometimes also talked about our own country’s culture, future plans and interesting views. It’s an amazing experience and I’m sure everyone learned a different kind of wisdom. For example, I feel the power of others to believe in their dreams, and also found different life attitudes. It was all fun and gave me courage. Thirdly, it’s important to believe in yourself. At the beginning of the course, it is necessary to adapt to the pace, but after the initial adaptation period, everything will become more interesting. As long as you can find the fun, it won’t be as difficult as you thought. In the end, you will be glad to have taken such a valuable course. I do love CELTA and the people I met in it.

Tips

  1. Do exactly what trainers say

The trainers are experienced teachers, you can discuss questions with them (because there is no standard answer for some questions). But in the general direction, especially the suggestions for improvement must be followed (just my suggestion). This will definitely help you progress faster and more efficiently.

  1. Manage your time and materials

You need to be clear about your goals and plans for each week to help save time. You also need to organize your documents every day, whether it’s printed or in a folder on your computer. It’s important to keep your documents in order!

  1. Prepare the materials you need

I bought books that might be useful (including Teaching English Pronunciation, Grammar for English Language Teachers and Learning Teaching) before the course started. In this way, I won’t be in a hurry when I need materials (in fact, I don’t need to buy any books myself. The trainer has distributed the resources we needed, but I like reading paper books). Prepare white board, white paper and notebook at the same time.

  1. Watch your diet and sleep

When you’re in a high-intensity class, not eating well only makes your body feel more uncomfortable, and you don’t get as little sleep as the rumored average of three hours. The time required to write each assignment is not ten hours, but three to six hours is enough if you concentrate (and even less if you are a native English speaker).

  1. Find some help and don’t be alone

People under high pressure tend to be mentally fragile. If only a person silently thinking and suffering, will only make themselves more painful. Communicating with other trainees will help you solve problems, maybe help you with practical problems like preparing for class, or maybe relieve pressure. People will meet different difficulties, and it’s helpful to try to ask for help. Me, in particular, had planned to learn and digest the stress on my own from the beginning, so I felt extremely anxious. But it’s much better to talk to someone.

I’m Yawen Jin. I have been teaching young learner English in an educational institution for two years. I then completed a master’s degree in Education Studies at the University of York, followed by CELTA in July 2020. In the future, I will continue to engage in the English teaching industry that I love.

If you’re one of my other CELTA trainees reading this, let me know if you want to write too!

Dyslexia Bytes – Q&A with Martin Bloomfield

I first met Martin Bloomfield when I was a trainer on summer courses at York Associates. I’ve seen him in action doing presentations and running an incredibly engaging guided tour of York, and can spend hours talking to him 🙂 I’ve been watching his Dyslexia Bytes community grow over the past few years, and am very happy that Martin agreed to share the story of the site with you here.

What is your own experience with dyslexia and how has it affected your teaching?

In a way, being dyslexic made me want to become a teacher! As an unrecognised dyslexic, I’d had so many horrible experiences at school that affected me so negatively as a child (and therefore into adulthood) that one of my reasons for going into education was to retrospectively somehow “right those wrongs”! I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way that I’d done.

I found school life completely dis-spiriting. Childhood is supposed to be the best time of your life and my overwhelming memories of school (where I spent most of my childhood) are miserable, suffocating, demeaning, humiliating, terrifying, and genuinely heartbreaking. No child should have to go through that. And my memories aren’t unique – you ask just about any dyslexic person, and they’ll tell you the same. Education has to change.

But there were other ways it affected me as a teacher – when I was working as a Business English teacher in Germany, I noticed that a lot of intelligent students I came into contact with hadn’t been doing very well in their lessons, and I recognised my own dyslexia signs in them… so I taught them appropriately to how I wish I’d been taught, and their results went up! This led to the school asking me to give some dyslexia awareness workshops to the other teachers, and that was really the start of my deeper engagement with the subject – twenty years ago. It gave me a very student-centred perspective, always keeping in my heart the sensitivity that not “getting something” when learning is an emotional and psychological issue, at least as much as it is a learning issue.

How widespread is dyslexia?

Did you know different countries define dyslexia differently, and even some countries – such as those with a federal state system – have different official definitions within their own boundaries? And then, within these definitions, different organisations around the world apply different measurements to dyslexia.

This is important because these two facts lead to vastly different understandings of dyslexia, vastly different figures for how many dyslexic people there are in the world (Turkey puts it at 0.05% of the population; while Nigeria puts it at 33% of the population), and hence vastly different national, governmental, and social approaches to dyslexia. If we took those two extremes in global terms, for instance, we’d have to conclude that somewhere between 3,750,000 people and 2,497,500,000 people have dyslexia worldwide. This would equate to a difference in estimates of 2,493,750,000 – nearly two and a half billion people – more or less the combined populations of China and India! And with such differing views of what dyslexia is, there follow different approaches to the law, to funding, to education, to social programmes, to awareness raising, and to workplace accommodations.

Dyslexia does not “belong” to the Anglo-American world; yet almost all research and perspectives are focused on the Anglosphere, and carry with them Anglo-American “white” cultural biases and preconceptions. This risks marginalising BAME dyslexics, and the different impacts dyslexia has on cultures whose language is non-alphabetic, or whose cultures involve interactions which will be differently affected by dyslexia.

What is Dyslexia Bytes and how did it start?

Dyslexia Bytes is an online “one-stop shop” to show an international, intercultural perspective on what dyslexia is. It acts as an information resource about dyslexia facts and statistics, helping people understand what executive function difficulties dyslexic people have, what benefits research shows dyslexic thinking to have, and how educators, businesses, and law-makers can understand dyslexia from a variety of viewpoints.

It began life as a way of bringing together people from around Europe who had attended my SEN (dyslexia, autism, ADHD) workshops and training courses to allow them to exchange experiences once they got “back to work”. There’s a Facebook Dyslexia Bytes group open to anyone who wants to join, that can act as a space for such discussions! It quickly developed into a dyslexia awareness resource website, with key tips on understanding dyslexia, weekly video releases (also available on a YouTube channel) to inspire conversations, and even a Twitter presence!

Martin has worked in the field of intercultural ethics and dyslexia awareness for twenty years, speaking in front of the British Government, the British Swiss Chambers of Commerce, departments of International Trade, and international conferences worldwide. He holds visiting lecturer positions at universities in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland, trains teachers from around the European Union, and is currently authoring a chapter for a major publication on Innovative Teaching for Early Years Education.

He was a top three finalist in the Bank of England Innovation in Enterprise awards, initiated and presented the UK’s annual Dyslexia In Business award, is a finalist in the 2020 British Council Innovation in ELT awards, and sits on various international advisory committees for inclusion and neurodiversity. Currently driving pan-European projects to provide a consistent and interculturally-acceptable measuring tool for dyslexia assessment across the EU, and to provide free online Special Educational Needs training to schools around the continent, Martin runs the Dyslexia Bytes project, and is also completing his PhD at the University of York, England.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyslexia, I would definitely recommended exploring Dyslexia Bytes for yourself. Two other useful resources I’ve regularly used are ‘Special Educational Needs’ by Marie Delaney and Jon Hird’s website. You might also be interested in the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG).

Professional Development beyond CELTA (guest post)

When a Twitter account called What they don’t teach you on CELTA started to pop up on my stream I was intrigued. Looking at their tweets, it seemed they were trying to fill the gap in post-CELTA development that I’m hoping ELT Playbook 1 also helps with. This is one of my main areas of interest for all the reasons Chris Russell describes below, so I was very pleased when he agreed to share the story behind the site and the Twitter account with us. Thanks Chris!

As for many of us, lockdown has been a strange time for me. Along with some colleagues, I’ve spent most of it furloughed and with a desire to do something productive with all that time on my hands. Fortunately, my colleague Stephen, an experienced teacher, teacher trainer and examiner, identified a problem waiting to be solved.

He got a few of us together on Zoom and asked us to think back to our early days of teaching, and all those moments we cringe at: the overly-ambitious lesson plan; the activities that fell flat; the grammar explanations that confused more than helped. CELTA and equivalents are great courses, but there’s only so much that’s possible within the confines of a month-long course. They should be one of the first steps on a journey in learning to teach, but for many it seems that their professional development doesn’t progress much after it.

As we thought of those moments, we wondered if there was a way of others finding a kind of shortcut. Especially those not lucky enough to work in a school with a supportive manager and opportunities for professional development. For teachers who have some experience, but aren’t ready to be thinking about doing a Delta or Master’s yet. We toyed with a couple of names, but ultimately settled on What they don’t teach you on the CELTA.

The name is a little tongue-in-cheek, and not intended as a criticism of CELTA per se, but an acknowledgment of its limitations. It can’t teach you everything. Cambridge are quite open about this: it falls under the ‘foundation to developing’ stage of their teaching framework, rather than ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’. We also noted the number of job opportunities that simply require a CELTA-qualified candidate, without asking for relevant experience or offering sufficient support to newly-qualified teachers, perpetuating the myth that CELTA is the final destination, rather than a first step, in ELT.

So, with our combined experience as teachers, teacher trainers, DoSes and language learners, we got writing, trying to help others benefit from our experience. We thought about what we wish someone had told us in our first years in the classroom, from the websites we now can’t imagine living without to knowing how to deal with classroom cliques. We’ve also thought about the things we do in class now, almost as second nature, like correcting students effectively and dealing with being observed. We don’t intend to imply that none of what we discuss is actually covered on any CELTA courses! However, expecting trainees to retain all that knowledge from such an intensive course doesn’t seem realistic, and so we hope some reinforcement will prove useful.

We know there are lots of other resources out there, but we don’t feel there are enough aimed at this audience – likely time-poor (planning and teaching 25 hours is a very tough ask at first!) and in need of a bit of guidance. The industry churns out lots of CELTA graduates, but how many really last in ELT? I’ve seen some have an initial unfulfilling year and never return – could some more support and development have helped them have a better time and retained them? Those staffroom tears and breakdowns that I’m sure many of us have seen really shouldn’t be the norm. I’ve also seen plenty of teachers with many years of experience, but whose teaching ability seems to have stagnated early, doing a disservice to their students and perhaps limiting their job satisfaction.

A blog certainly won’t solve all those issues but we hope to provide some help as well as to start a conversation around this issue within the industry. If nothing else, writing it has helped us reflect on our journeys within ELT and been a mixture of interesting and cathartic, emphasising the good that can come out of blogging and reflection – another important tool in professional development!

Chris Russell is a CELTA- and Delta-qualified English language teacher who has been working in ELT for 8 years in the UK, Spain and Poland. He recently took on the role of school director at Alba English in Edinburgh. He blogs with some colleagues at https://notoncelta.com and tweets at @ChrisRussellELT.

A selection of short webinars to help you teach under 18s

Here are eight of my favourite sessions from previous IH Teachers’ Online Conferences. They cover various areas of working with:

  • very young learners/VYL (aged 2-6)
  • young learners/YL (aged 7-12)
  • teens (aged 13-16)

There are tips for classroom management and activity ideas, both for online and offline teaching.

All of them take less than 20 minutes to watch, and are full of useful ideas.

Routines in the VYL classroom

Lisa Wilson, IH Palermo

Time: 18:28

Very young learners

Dorka Brozik, IH Moscow

Time: 13:46

VYLs – what works well with them in a digital classroom

Justyna Mikulak, Lacunza IH San Sebastian

Time: 17:25

Engaging kids through Zoom

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone, IH Pescara

Time: 16:57

Ideas for YL vocabulary activities involving movement

Shannon Thwaites, IH Reggio Calabria

Time: 13:44

Implementing classroom management procedures (YLs and teens)

Glenn Standish, IH Torun

Time: 16:26

Class contracts

Estelle Helouin, IH London

Time: 12:11

Ways to ungrumpify and motivate teenage learners

Rachel Hunter – IH Torun

Time: 11:40

ih logo

The IH World YouTube channel has lots more webinars where these came from. Which ones are your favourites?

ExcitELT 2020

One of the positives of the situation in the last 3 months is the fact that many events are now held online and are therefore accessible to people from a wider range of locations. This was the case for the ExcitELT conference, held online on Sunday 14th of June 2020. I joined around 40-50 other teachers from all over the world to talk about overturning norms in ELT. As the conference was based in the Japan time zone it meant 7 a.m. start for me, but it was well worth getting up for!

The format of the conference is worth mentioning as I think this was one of its great strengths. Each one hour block was broken into three sections. First we had a short presentation from one or two people interested in that area. Then we went into break out rooms on Zoom in small groups of three to six people. We had access to a Google Doc containing questions to help us talk about the topic. We made notes in the document during or discussions and the final few minutes of the block involved a summary of interesting points which came up. This format works really well as it allowed us to dive into a topic in more depth and share our experiences of it. I feel like this led to a richer conference experience and I hope more conferences are run like this in the future.

(Note: you might also be interested in reading Zhenya Polosatova’s much more concise and pro-active reflections on the event!)

Overturning norms around teacher conformity – Anna Loseva

This was the first of two topics from the conference which I had never considered before. Anna invited us to think about which areas teaching involve conformity. Examples might be the feeling that we need to get particular qualifications to progress in the career, the pressure to conform to student expectations like playing lots of games, or perceived market pressures such as the perception that students only want teachers who grew up speaking English.

Anna started to think about teacher conformity when she was looking for a job in Vietnam. A lot of people advised her to get CELTA to make the job hunting process easier, including me. Anna decided that if she did this and got a job it would validate the system which says that CELTA is worth more than a teaching degree and the many years of experience which she already had, though she also acknowledged the usefulness and worth of a CELTA course. She managed to get jobs and has proved to herself and others that it is possible to work in a foreign country teaching English without getting a CELTA first. This prompted her to ask when conformity is and is not useful, which was the topic of our group discussions.

How can conformity be helpful?

  • It helps us to learn new things from people around us as we trying to fit in. This is especially true for new teachers fitting into the profession.
  • Our group discussed the need to know what the rules are or might be before you feel comfortable breaking them.
  • If we conform to a particular set of requirements, for example how a course works within a school, it can make it easier to support each other. We have a common point of reference for discussions and a kind of shared language.
  • Having restrictions can push our creativity.
  • It helps us to learn the culture of the system, for example how a local education system works.
  • It helps us to know when we have met expectations.
  • It allows us to set standards, and develop and evaluate ourselves and others against those standards.

How can conformity be detrimental?

  • It can lead to burnout, frustration and disappointment.
  • Students and teachers can end up losing motivation.
  • Students don’t necessarily know what is best for their education, so if we conform to their requests or expectations all the time it might be detrimental to their education.
  • When people conform without questioning it can lead to keeping guidelines which we no longer need.
  • The rules which we conform to might be outdated or inhibit creativity. They can limit autonomy and differentiation.
  • We might end up doing things which we do not understand the reason for or the point of.
  • Constructive disobedience can lead to progress and innovation. Making mistakes and trying something new are useful paths towards development.
  • We can forge our own path.

Thinking points

Anna left us with two questions to consider.

  • Do you see some of the accepted norms in our industry as questionable? Should they be questioned?
  • Is gaining approval important where are you? Is it a big part of ELT culture?

This session was a great way to start and really set the tone for the rest of the day.

Overturning norms related to teacher well-being – Tammy Gregersen

Tammy introduced us to the concept of positive psychology. She described the difference development based on strengths can make compared to development based on a concept of deficit and what’s missing. She introduced us to the work of Seligman, who says that if you use your ‘signature strengths’ you:

  • Have more ownership over development and feel more authentic
  • Have an intrinsic motivation to use your strengths
  • Have a more rapid learning curve
  • Feel invigoration, not exhaustion
  • Have a sense of inevitability with the feeling of ‘try and stop me’
  • Excited about displaying what you are good at
  • Feel creative and one stupid shoe projects revolving around your strengths
  • Engage in continuous learning
  • Own your strengths

(Apologies for any mistakes while paraphrasing – its from 2008 but I could find the original list!)

Tammy asked us to do a survey our strengths. We had to take the top five and find two of them which we had in common with another member of our group. We then had to consider two ways we could use our strengths in new or novel ways in the next 2 days.

Since I did the survey, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the top five things which came up from my list. I was very pleased with the points that it picked out because they are all things which I have consciously tried to develop in myself:

  1. Hope
  2. Curiosity
  3. Love of learning
  4. Gratitude
  5. Leadership

When discussing it with my friend later, we talked about how this type of survey could feel like an equivalent of a silly quiz in a magazine telling you what kind of person you are, but the fact that it keeps going round in my head means I think that this could be a very interesting avenue to explore. I’d be interested to know how similar or different the ranking of the 24 strengths on the list would look if I did the survey again in a few months or years. I also want to find out more about positive psychology and Seligman, starting with exploring his website Pursuit of Happiness in a lot more depth.

Overturning norms around ELT conferences – Shoko Kita, Tim Hampson, Peter Brereton

One of the reasons which I wanted to attend this conference was the fact that the ExcitELT team have been running interesting conference formats for the past few years. In this session they asked us to think about three main areas:

  • How to make conferences more diverse
  • How to narrow the gap between the presenter and the audience
  • How to make conference has more friendly and accessible, including more affordable

They started with this quote from Haruki Murakami:

'If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.'

The questions which we were given to consider are useful for anyone who wants to plan a different kind of conference I think. They were:

  • How can we address and balance all areas of diversity?
  • How do we reach a wider range of participants?
  • How do we follow up on new presenters?
  • What can we do differently to make parents more welcome and make sure we have an affordable family policy?
  • Can video or online sessions be used for people who are distant? How can video sessions be more interactive?
  • What are the time demands of social events organized alongside conferences? Does this affect who got to them?
  • How much time is optimal between sessions for discussion?
  • How can you overcome the problems of one-time workshops?

By organizing an online conference which included a lot of group discussions and responses to participants’ experiences, the ExcitELT team started to work towards answering some of the questions that they posed. I will be interested to see how new modes of training and conferences develop in the post-pandemic era.

Overturning norms around second language teacher education – Geoff Jordan

Geoff started his presentation by describing the current training norms in place for elt. He described the craft model of CELTA where you hone techniques to become a teacher and the applied science model of university degrees where you learn the theory and think about how to apply it to the classroom. Norms in in-service teacher education include observations, sponsored courses, seminars and conferences, and perhaps also visiting trainers.

Geoff says that these methods of training pay little attention to how people actually learn a second language and lead to inefficacious teaching as most teachers use a course book to implement a grammar-based synthetic syllabus.

He described a common norm now of training focusing on teacher cognitions, which requires teachers to understand and articulate their own beliefs, assumptions and knowledge (BAKs) about the subject matter and pedagogical practice. These BAKs explain the mismatch between what teaches are told and what they actually do, and between what teachers say they do and what they actually do.

Geoff would like us to change the norms of second language teacher education sorry that we concentrate on doing real, relevant things in the target language, not just talking about the target language. He would like our teacher education to support and sustain this model, recognizing that implicit learning is the default mechanism of second-language learning. Focusing on BAKs ignores the elephant in the room of the form of the syllabus and how it is delivered.

To make these changes Geoff wants us to push for reform of the CELTA, conferences, and in his words ‘globetrotting gurus’. He wants us to encourage locally organized second language teacher education, promoting teacher collaboration, local teacher organizations, and ensuring that local teachers can discuss local issues. Above all he says that the guiding principle of second language teacher education should be to promote efficacy.

Neoliberalism in ELT – Tim Hampson

Tim’s talk was a replacement for a presenter who couldn’t attend and I’m glad to have seen it because it was another idea which I had never considered before. Despite having listened to the BBC sociology podcast Thinking Allowed for many years I had never really understood the concept of neoliberalism, so I will start with one definition which Tim gave us which I think was very clear.

Neoliberalism believes that free markets and competition maximize human well-being.

Harvey (2005:21)

One of the key points of neoliberalism is the fact that it seems to be a pervasive ‘truth’. It’s difficult to imagine a world that is not neoliberal, and it just seems to be the way things are. Some of the ideas that this leads to can be questioned. For example there is an idea that when individuals make choices, the result of your choices is what you ‘deserve’, but my choices as a white British middle-class woman with a university education very different to those of poor black man in the deep south of America. Another idea is that competition drives progress, but we can ask what that competition is, what that progress is, and whether it is actually beneficial.

Linked to neoliberalism is the idea of cultural, linguistic, economic and social capital introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. For example by learning English you might gain linguistic capital which you can turn into economic capitals by getting a job, or social capital by using your accent to fit in or helping you to interact more smoothly which leads to social connections or a job. Examples of English being seen as cultural or linguistic capital include learning English to get into a university course as a basic requirement, even if the course doesn’t require you to use English. English is also used as part of a drive to internationalize universities. Some people have to get an English certificate to look good in the job even though they may never use English at work. There is also the thorny question of learners asking how they can sound more like a native speaker, as there is a perception that a native speaker accent could give you more capital. In a neoliberalist view of the world it might feel like everyone is trying to gain capital, as it is hard to see the world in a different way once you know about this theory. But are they really?

Tim pointed out that we might view learning English for social or linguistic Capital as being preferable to learning full economic capital, but often you have to be in a place of privilege to even have the choice of prioritizing social or cultural capital Iva linguistic capital. Learning a language to get a job is just as legitimate as learning it for social or cultural reasons.

In our discussions Tim asked us to consider what kinds of capital are present in ELT and how we think about them. As he said, this idea of capital is an interesting lens through which to consider our profession.

Overturning language ideology norms – Heath Rose

The final session of the day was led by Heath Rose, who writes a lot about global Englishes. He started by telling us about how we might teach English as an international language, based on proposals by Galloway and Rose (2015:203):

  1. Increase World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) exposure in the curriculum. This will reflect ‘the complex reality of how English is used worldwide’ (Saraceni, 2009).
  2. Emphasize respect for multilingualism.
  3. Raise awareness of global Englishes.
  4. Raise awareness of ELF strategies.
  5. Emphasize respect for diverse English-using cultures and communities.
  6. Change teacher hiring practices.

Heath suggested ideas such as using a listening journal to encourage students to listen to a wider range of English voices, or you think a presentation to ask them to research different types of English. He talked about getting students involved in discussions about Global Englishes, raising their awareness and helping them to consider the identities as multilingual language uses. Accommodation strategies which we could teach students include helping them to deal with speakers of greater or lower proficiency than themselves, dealing with speakers with different accents or cultural norms, and helping them to join different linguistic communities.

Some of the barriers we discussed were the lack of suitable materials, knowing how to assess language and the requirements of particular exams, teacher education and training, an attachment to ‘standard English’ by stakeholders such as parents, and teacher recruitment practices. In our group we focused a lot on the final points and on the fact that in some countries it is very difficult to challenge days due to circumstances beyond the school’s control, such as national visa policies. However we all agreed that it is very important to do what we can.

Overall thoughts

As I hope you can say from what was described here, this was a very different kind of conference and one which has given me a lot of food for thought. If you get the chance to attend, I would highly recommend it. Thank you to Shoko, Tim and Peter for organising it, and to all of the attendees who shared their ideas and experience.

We’re all in this together (guest post)

Alastair Grant and Florencia Clarfeld have been doing amazing work over the past couple of months, running a weekly gathering on Zoom called ‘We’re all in this together’. I saw Alastair share links on facebook to the resources they created, and it seemed like an intriguing and original response to the crisis and the need for teacher support, so I asked Alastair to tell us more about what the community is and how it’s organised. Here’s his response. Thanks for writing this Alastair! (Note: the post was written on 4th June, but I’ve been slow to upload it so some of the time references are wrong.)

Crises bring out the best and the worst in people, especially on social media. And by midnight on Friday 20 March, a few hours after quarantine was announced here in Buenos Aires, there was plenty of both.

Facebook here is the preeminent form of media (social or professional) for teaching. From posts asking how we would be able to teach our students now, to offers of help with online tuition (most of which came at a price), Facebook seemed have become a pedagogical free-for-all in a matter of hours.

I coordinate the English department of a local secondary school and my teachers wanted ideas and so did I. But it wasn’t only us – everyone seemed to be asking for the same, whether it was advice on using Google Classroom, what Zoom was and how to use Live Worksheets, there was a huge and sudden need. And I wouldn’t call it a need for help with what I’ve seen described as “emergency teaching”. I’d describe our situation more as “response pedagogy”, whereby the way we lead our students (as the original Greek suggests), needs to effectively respond and evolve to fit with a new situation.

Back to Facebook, and there was everything and nothing on offer at the same time. But certainly what there wasn’t, was a space for people to share or ask for advice on teaching under lockdown. Nonetheless, Facebook was still the connecting thread for everyone, so I decided to create a forum for people to share material and experiences of this new way of teaching. And it was a way of teaching that needed to be constructed pretty fast, as here at least, we were in lockdown in a matter of hours, with only the weekend to prepare for a new world on Monday morning.

My partner, Florencia Clarfeld, who has been working on this with me since day one, chose the name of the event which is now a weekly meeting: “We’re All In This Together”. I love the name, because it feels like a counterpoint to the social distancing that has been enforced. We decided that the event should be held on Zoom but that they were to be meetings, rather than webinars. I wanted to give teachers a space where they would be able to share their experiences and ideas rather than just listen to one person speak, because that was not the point at all.

The first invitation to the event drew nearly 200 enrolments. Now, when you ask 200 people, most of whom have never met, to starting chatting about a totally unfamiliar situation, you might well be met with total silence. So I prepared some PowerPoint slides in advance to help things along. The slides were a collection of about six games and warmers and my idea was to show/demonstrate one and then ask the teachers if they had anything similar. So that was the plan. But would it work?

Not only did it work, but something very unexpected happened. As soon as I asked people if they had any similar activities to the one being shown, the Zoom chatbox flooded with links, website names, activities and apps that teachers were using. Without wishing to sound corny, it was quite an emotional moment. So then it became clear that the meeting was going to do its job, whereby the chatbox became the main source of material.

Now after every “We’re All I This Together”, I put the session video and the PowerPoint into a Google Drive folder. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. But, like I say, the real “pull” of the sessions is the chatbox transcript. In every chat transcript (we’ve had eight session so far), there are hundreds of tips, ideas, suggestions, games and activities shared by teachers from all over the world. Each session has its own topic, so future teachers coming to the Drive folder will be able to find them.

For the first Zoom meetings, I had only room for 100 people, and for a while there were many people left outside, which was a great shame. Then we were offered a 500-person Zoom room by a bookshop from called Advice here in Argentina and since then we have had space enough. Until, that is, I invited Dr. Stephen Krashen along to be interviewed on his thoughts about teaching during Coronavirus and his parting of the ways with The Natural Approach. The meeting was oversubscribed but well over two hundred people, so we had to live-stream it by Facebook, the video to which has now been viewed nearly 18,000 times.

Events like this are normally paid, but I believe that under the circumstances everyone should, for example, benefit from the privilege of hearing what Krashen has to say as well as being able to ask him questions. For me, education is both a right and a privilege – but not for a privileged few.

This coming Sunday we have Adrian Underhill joining us for an interview and we expect another full house. [Note from Sandy: this has already happened as has an interview with Sarah Mercer, and the recordings are in the folder.] The generosity of the interviewees is overwhelming. People might well ask for some kind of fee but I have explained the situation and people have been more than willing to be interviewed pro-bono. In Dr. Krashen’s own words, he said, “I’d love to”.

So now the meetings have evolved, just as our teaching has evolved. Some are interviews with inspirational figures from ELT and some are workshops. We want to keep this mix as it is, so that the original mission statement, the “why”, is never lost. We’re All In This Together is a safe space for teachers to share ideas and exchange suggestions and experiences.

There’s a new world coming after COVID-19, and we, the teachers, are the ones who are helping to build it. As always.

Alastair Grant is an English Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ELT materials writer. He is the Academic Director at Colegio Nuevo Las Lomas and a teacher trainer for International House Montevideo, where he runs the Cambridge Delta 1 teacher-training course. He is a consultant on the profesorado de inglés at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires, where he has currently lectured in Discourse Analysis and Methodology.

He holds an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK, has completed the International House Certificate of Advanced Methodology, all modules of the Cambridge Delta and the Cambridge Train the Trainer Certificate.

100 ideas for exploiting activities

On 3rd June 2020, I presented a webinar for IH Bucharest demonstrating how to exploit activities in lots of different ways, with minimal planning required by the teacher. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to use every activity in the same lesson, but the ideas I shared were designed to demonstrate how you can make a single exercise lead to a much wider range of practice activities, depending on what your learners need help with. The slides are here (though they’re much more useful when presenting than referring to them later! See below the slides for a more useful link!):

All of the ideas in the webinar were originally designed for a face-to-face classroom, but most of them can be used as is or with only minimal adaptations in an online classroom. They were originally shared on my blog in the post One activity, multiple tasks, based on a task from ELT Playbook 1. ELTPB 1 is a book of short tasks for teachers to help them reflect on their teaching.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is also available, both at prices designed to fit a teacher’s pocket!

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

During the webinar, I mentioned Sarah Mercer’s CAN DO for improving engagement:

Competence (mindsets and self-determination)

Autonomy (give choices, learning strategies)

Network (of relationships: T-S, S-S)

Do (action to beat boredom)

Oh! (grab and keep their attention)

(from Sarah Mercer, IH Barcelona conference, 7th February 2020)

You can find out more by watching her webinar, the foundations of engagement: a positive classroom culture. She has recently published a book with Zoltan Dörnyei called Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (Amazon affiliate link). I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt it’s full of useful advice!

If you’d like more ideas to make your planning easier, 101 things to do with a coursebook page (all of which take less than 5 minutes to prepare!) covers a whole range of different ways to adapt coursebook activities. Why should they care? has lost of ideas for helping students engage with the materials or activities you are using.

My ebook, Richer Speaking, costs less than $1, and contains 16 ways to adapt speaking activities to help students get more out of them. You can find four of the ideas for free in this post.

Richer Speaking cover

If you’d like ideas specific to teaching online, particularly using Zoom, then try ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom. Some of these may take a little longer to prepare, but I’m a firm believer in teachers doing less work and students doing more!

Let me know which ideas you’ve tried out and how they go with your classes.

Enjoy 🙂

Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing!

In April 2019, Rob Howard edited an edition of the free online teachers’ magazine Humanising Language Teaching. He pulled together various members of the Independent Authors and Publishers group to fill an edition of the magazine with articles from across the world of EFL, including teaching, materials writing, and teacher training.

It is a with great pleasure that I introduce this edition of HLT Magazine. As the organizer of the INDEPENDENT AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS, I have the honor of working with some of the biggest names in self-publishing and this like-minded group of individuals has come together for the third year to help spread the word and give new authors and publishers a voice in the everchanging arena of ELT books, training and “socialpreneurs” that will surely make up a big part of the future of ELT.

My own article, Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing contained a selection of ideas for trainers, managers and materials writers to continue developing their craft. Here’s the opening paragraph:

There is a lot of information out there for teachers who want to continue to develop professionally, and there are a couple of other articles in this magazine about it too. However, there is nowhere near as much information about how to keep developing if you are still involved in language teaching but not in the classroom every day, for example working in academic management, training teachers, or writing materials. Although you can continue to use many of the methods recommended for teachers, such as writing a reflective journal, it can be difficult to know where to find specific resources relevant to these career paths. This article aims to remedy that.

You can see the full contents page here – there’s plenty of good stuff to read in there!

I’m in IA&P because of my books Richer Speaking and ELT Playbook 1/Teacher TrainingClick on the links to find out more and learn how to buy them. Right now, I’m also working with Freeed to find 30 people who will win copies of ELT Playbook 1. The competition closes on September 30th 2019.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

ELT Playbook 1 giveaway (with Freeed.com)

It’s giveaway time! I’ve teamed up with Freeed.com to give you the chance to win a copy of ELT Playbook 1. 

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

ELT Playbook 1 contains a selection of 30 tasks to help teachers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on the areas that seem to cause most problems for those new to our profession. It is based on my work as a CELTA trainer and as a manager of newly qualified teachers. There is also an associated online community where participants can choose to share their reflections and learn from others using the book, taking the first steps to building up an online support network. By sharing your responses to the tasks, you can also earn badges to display on your social media profiles or CV.

Freeed is a global discovery platform for teachers to connect and easily share their ideas and the resources they create. The new ELT community enables English Teachers to extend their professional network outside the walls of their own school and hopes to help teachers to feel less isolated when preparing for classes.

As you can see, helping teachers participate in communities is important to both myself and Freeed, which is why I think this giveaway is a great idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing your ideas and sharing my own!

How to enter

The competition is being hosted on Freeed and will run from 16th – 30th September, 2019.

To enter, you’ll need to do these 3 steps for a chance to win.

  1. Sign up or login to Freeed
  2. Write a short article in the ELT community.
  3. Share the article on Twitter using the hashtag #ELTplaybook

For more information on the giveaway, head to my Twitter @sandymillin or see the @freeedcom twitter page.

The 30 lucky winners will be announced via my twitter account on Friday 4th October, 2019.

Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Habit formation: 5-minute tips for improving your English (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

Teaching English Associates names word cloud

This month’s contribution offers a wide range of ways for you or your students to get 5 minutes of English into your/their lives every day. What tips would you add to the list?

Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

This is part of a series of posts summarising the contents of some of the books I’ve read for the NILE MA Trainer Development module. They aren’t really intended as traditional book reviews, more as a way of reminding myself of what’s in each book and helping other people decide which ones might be useful to them.

Key details

TitleTrainer Development

Author: Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho

Publisher: Self-published

Year: 2007

Place of publication: Published online

Affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository (I’ll get a few pennies if you use one of these!)

Other links: Lulu

What’s in it?

12 chapters:

  1. Inside a training course 1
  2. A framework for training
  3. Working with groups in training
  4. Working with participants’ experience
  5. New and shared experiences in training
  6. The awareness-raising process and its consequences
  7. Talk in training courses
  8. Creating meaning: new learning
  9. Planning for action
  10. Feedback, assessment and evaluation in training
  11. Inside a training course 2
  12. Developing as a trainer

Chapters 1 and 11 describe a training course in full, with commentaries from the authors describing the principles the courses demonstrate (they ran one of the courses each). Chapters 2 to 10 expand on these principles, including acknowledging potential problems if you follow through with them in your own courses, all drawn from the authors’ experience. Chapter 12 summarises these principles and shows how the two authors have developed and will continue to do so.

235 pages of content, including a range of activities that can be used in the training room. These often have examples of responses to the activities taken from Wright and Bolitho’s real courses. There is a focus on the processes of training, and social and affective factors trainers should consider. There are also quotes from their previous course participants throughout to support their points.

Comprehensive list of resources for trainers (a little out-of-date now, as the book was published in 2007, but a lot is still relevant)

No index, and the typos are somewhat distracting at times, especially in chapter 11. One or two diagrams are missing and page numbers are sometimes incorrect when referencing other parts of the book.

What I found useful/thought-provoking/myself saying ‘yes!’ to

(These could be concepts, ideas or descriptions. Please note that quotes are obviously decontextualised here, and for the full effect you should read the book. Bold and italics are from the original source, not mine.)

The focus on starting from where the trainees are:

We have to be prepared to start where they are and to make the journey of professional learning with them, hand in hand, rather than starting from where we are, exhorting them to come over and join us and follow us. (p225)

We believe that the participants themselves are the preferred starting point in training courses. They come to courses with experience. They also possess a system of beliefs, attitudes and values about teaching and learning, and about how people relate to each other in a variety of contexts. They also come with expectations. We believe that it is imperative that a course begins with an exploration of all these elements, in any order that seems appropriate to the group in question. (p4)

Work from existing to new knowledge and constructs. (p16)

Training means change, and change isn’t easy:

Even if participants volunteer for courses (as opposed to being ‘selected’), they do not, as a rule, come looking for change. Or they might be unaware of the need to change in order to accommodate new knowledge or skills. (p107)

By involving them [participants] in activity to experience new ways of teaching and learning, we may invite irritation, anger, fear or silence. Reactions are more often than not defensive, no matter how well intentioned or motivated a group might be. (p108)

The unknown is frightening, possibly overwhelming. (p107)

As well as being uncertain, unable to make decisions, believing contradictory ideas, holding opposing positions, we are also ‘fragile’. We want the new awareness to go away. Its consequences scare us. (p107) [I’ve realised this myself over the past couple of years, and have therefore been more forgiving of trainees/new teachers when they’re stressed, and have been able to stay calmer myself when helping them.]

Talk is an important part of this process (Chapter 7):

We need to move away from a transmission approach to training towards a more participatory one. (p122) [This is something we’ve been trying at school over the past 6 months or so, based on an instinct of mine and my colleagues but without really knowing why or how to do it – this book helps! We’ve had good results so far.]

Change is unlikely unless we make our principles public. (p78)

The role of talk in the processing of ideas is pivotal, and the generous allocation of time allowed for focused discussion of issues is crucial. (p8)

…with the trainer’s role being one of facilitator and summariser:

We often find that, in the excitement of open discussion, so many ideas are reverberating around the training room that no-one can see the wood for the trees. Our responsibility in this case is to pull things together, to pick out and highlight key themes from the discussion so that a set of priorities emerges for the group to focus on. (p123)

True learning and development are about something deeper:

The real confrontation on any training course is between each individual participant and herself. The sense participants make of a course is essentially derived from the degree to which they are prepared to explore their own thinking and to relate it to their own context in the light of wider trends and findings. (p98)

The challenge for us, as tutors, is to provoke and promote the kind of thinking and conceptualisation which reaches the level of values and beliefs, and which involves participants in a principled reappraisal of their practices. (p227)

…and it takes time:

Our experience is that professional learning cannot be hurried if it is to be valuable and that time spent on follow-up procedures […] is an investment in depth and quality of learning. (p89)

People change and develop in unpredictable ways; the messages in a course component may take years to digest, and it may only be 5 years after a programme that real summative feedback can be given, usually by the participant to us. (p188)

This also means it’s worth following up on a course six months or so after it’s finished [I’m going to try this with the course I’m currently running]:

Many will not really know what the course means to them until long after it is over, and they have had time to digest all the ‘lessons’ they have learned and to try out their ideas in practice. (p177)

It gives us more useful balanced feedback than we could ever get through reviewing the course formally on the final day. (p177)

Emotions are integral to training, but rarely acknowledged as such:

When a trainee learns how to teach she makes a huge personal and emotional investment in the process, which is very close to our being or essence. (p106)

We believe that in the initial stages of reflection, participants need to ‘unload’ their feelings about an experience before proceeding to describing or reconstructing it. (p26)

The emotional side of being a trainer is one that poses us some of the greatest challenges in our own development and learning. (p61-62)

We would contend that one of the key development areas for us as trainers is in understanding the world of the emotions. (p106) [I think this is important for managers too.]

It’s important to be careful with our words and work on our interpersonal skills:

Participants are often at their most vulnerable in one-to-one sessions (especially after the high level of emotional investment in an observed lesson or an individual presentation in the training room). (p226)

[When we feel frustrated, often due to our expectations of participants] An ill-chosen comment in such circumstances can have a negative effect that is difficult to ‘undo’ later. (p228)

Some of our participants may not even be fully aware that they are ‘censoring’ their own contributions, since the avoidance of self-disclosure or public self-doubt may be so ingrained in their ways of behaving. (p71)

Listening is a key part of this, but it needs work:

A commitment to listening attentively to a participant as they make a contribution is not easy. (p119)

We have, on occasion, sat in with participants as they attempt to resolve a problem. It demands intense patience and we find ourselves having to resist the temptation to offer solutions. (p56)

Group formation and group disbanding are both really important, shouldn’t be rushed, and should involve the trainer where possible (p36, p180):

When things have gone wrong in a training group, and we wish to diagnose the problem, we find that this is a good place to start – to ask whether or not we have done enough facilitation of the ‘getting to know you’ process. While we can attempt repair, we have often, to our cost, found that it is difficult ever to achieve this fully. The learning experience suffers as a consequence. (p49) [Definitely something I’ve experienced with a couple of English classes, and to a lesser extent on training courses.]

We see it as a major task of the trainer to provide the conditions for the group to explore this experience [the collective experience of the group], to share their diversity and to establish points of commonality. (p113)

Trust and honesty are the basis of effective communication in groups, and are built progressively (and not without difficulty) through activities which promote disclosure. […] Disclosure can help to build mutual respect, and enable members to cope with the inevitable conflicts and disputes that characterise a working group. (p112)

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted. (p36)

Add destabilisation and uncertainty to the group process, where people are struggling to establish identities and relationships, with perhaps undeveloped communication skills, and the training room is an even more stressful environment. (p107-108)

Thinking questions can be added to the end of written summaries of discussions and prompt further reflection. (p102-103)

‘Suitcases’ are a good way to start and/or end courses (mentioned on p44-45 and on p181, plus in an article we received when we were in Norwich)

Activity grids and ‘degridding’ (mentioned in chapter 5) can be used to go deeper into activities done in the training room. [Something I’m learning to do more consistently.]

It is necessary to go beyond the activities themselves and to ‘excavate’ them to uncover the principles which lie behind them. (p90)

In order for meaning to be derived from any activity, structured and, if necessary, guided reflection need to take place. (p25)

Better to explore activities in depth and to gain insights that are generative than to attempt to cover too much and spread ourselves to thinly. (p90)

All of this reading I’m doing is worth it!

Professional reading has a vital part to play in teacher and trainer development. It is an opportunity to be alone with ideas, to make connections, to find support, to open horizons, to excite, to inspire, to consolidate and to help gain ownership of ideas. (p156)

Part of the process of training should be to enable participants to select and add to their bookshelf titles which they find useful. (p155)

…but it’s vital that theory is connected to participants’ experience whenever possible:

We have found that completely abstract ideas on training and training processes mean little to participants without the concrete reference point of personal history or shared experience in the training room. (p29)

Experienced teachers and trainers have often well-developed and well-thought-out personal theories on teaching, learning, people and so on. These personal theories inform action and reaction. They are usually developed, maintained and used unconsciously. (p144)

Training that explicitly draws upon participants’ personal theories and the capacity to theorise is likely to be perceived as more ‘relevant’ by participants. […] A specific time when we can do this is when exploring training or teaching experiences. (p144-5)

Assessment on training courses should be as practical as possible, reflecting things they need to do in their professional lives (Amen!) and should be based on clear(ly communicated) criteria. (Chapter 10)

Assignments should have professional face validity. (p175)

We believe that the basis of a developmental assessment and evaluation system is the effective communication of intents, purposes, process and outcomes. (p173)

For training to be truly effective, it’s important for trainees to do some form of action planning at the end of their courses, both to summarise what they have learnt and to prepare for the transition (back) to their workplaces. (Chapter 9) [I’ve tried this for the first time on the course I’m running at the moment for participants leaving after one week, and I think it worked pretty well.]

Our aim is always to try to pace our courses in such a way as to allow time and opportunity for participants to plan for this [their return to teaching or training] towards the end of their course by bringing together the ideas they have accumulated and putting them into some kind of organised framework for implementation on their return to work. (p158)

There is no guarantee that transfer will take place, that participants will change and develop, and adopt new principles, and put them into practice. (p168)

We can easily forget the strains on a course participant whose worldview has been disturbed to the point that they are still in flux when the course is finishing. (p168)

They will benefit if they can go back to work not only with renewed vigour and zeal, but with usable materials and plans, and a clear notion of what they might achieve. (p172)

The authors demonstrate a continued desire to learn and be challenged, including in public: [something I hope I share!]

Our knowledge and expertise will always be incomplete. (p1)

We have to remain flexible in order to respond to these twists and turns, and it is from the surprises and unexpected turnings that we learn and develop. (p231)

[Going public] Both of us speak regularly at conferences and participate in other professional activity in publishing, examining and consultancy. In all these endeavours we find our principles challenged, open to the scrutiny of our colleagues and we value this immensely. (p233)

The act of articulating one’s thought processes is a valuable way of clarifying why we take certain courses of action. (p141)

Once we take the decision to involve training participants in an open discussion of training issues, to interact as a learning community, to acknowledge the resources for learning available in a group, and to set out deliberately to understand and work with the social and emotional world of trainees, we create a challenging agenda for all concerned. (p63)

Questions I still have

To what extent could a transmission approach work on pre-service courses? Especially if they really are pre-service and don’t include experienced teachers!

Why has it taken me so long to realise that group dynamics are such a key part of teacher and training?! Really need to find the time to read Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield, which I’ve dipped into before, but never gone through completely. [Amazon affiliate link]

General comment

I really liked this book, and often found myself agreeing with points made about social and emotional aspects of training. I liked the way that the two courses described were for teacher trainers, so there was a kind of meta aspect in two of the chapters. All of the activities described as part of those courses could be adapted for other training contexts. There was a real sense of the authors’ voices, and what it would be like to be trained by them. I also liked the exploratory nature of the book, with the recognition that they are not ‘finished’ as trainers and still have things to learn.

Trainer Development – a NILE course

I’ve just finished two weeks at NILE in Norwich where I completed the face-to-face component of the MA Trainer Development module. It can also be attended as a stand-alone course, without the MA.

The course consisted of three sessions a day of input covering a wide range of topics including:

  • working with teachers’ beliefs
  • input and process options for sessions
  • planning different course types
  • course design
  • mentoring
  • evaluating published training materials
  • observation and feedback

Our group of six had two trainers who shared the sessions between them. I was particularly impressed at how seamlessly the sessions fed into each other, something I hope to achieve if I’m co-training in the future. Briony and Simon were very receptive to our needs and requests, and were able to adapt sessions and the course as a whole to meet them. They are very knowledgeable about teacher training, particularly in terms of where to find extra resources to explore areas further. They also practise what they preach: I think I learnt as much from observing them in action as I did from the actual input itself, especially regarding techniques and activities for reflection on sessions and the course as a whole.

The course was well-paced, and allowed plenty of space for discussion and reflection on the concepts we were learning. It was a great chance to learn from the experience of the others in the room, and to think about my own training in the past and future, both as a participant and trainer. Towards the end of the course we had a chance to try out what we’d learnt by micro-training, putting together 40-minute workshops for our colleagues.

If you’re interested in reading about some of the concepts we discussed on the course, these are the blog posts I wrote as I went along:

To complete the requirements for the MA module, I now need to write three assignments in the next six months. This is not required if you attend it as a stand-alone course. I will continue to receive support for this from one of our trainers on the face-to-face course – I like the fact that I won’t just be interacting with a name on an email address, but somebody who I’ve got to know and who knows me.

For anyone who would like to find out more about becoming a teacher trainer or developing their knowledge of training-related theory, I’d highly recommend the two-week NILE Trainer Development course, whether or not you want to do an MA with them. They also offer a range of other face-to-face courses, mostly in the summer, and online courses which run all year.

Teaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning by Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts summarising the contents of some of the books I’ve read for the NILE MA Trainer Development module. It’s not really intended as a traditional book review, more as a way of reminding myself of what’s in each book and helping other people decide which ones might be useful to them.

Key details

TitleTeaching Language Teachers: Scaffolding Professional Learning

Author: Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Education

Year: 2012

Place of publication: Lanham, Maryland

Affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

What’s in it?

8 chapters:

  1. Becoming a Teacher of Teachers [ToT]
  2. Views of Teacher Knowledge
  3. The ToT’s “Tool” kit
  4. Designing Lessons, Courses and Materials
  5. Assessment Of and For Teacher Learning
  6. Observation of Teaching and Learning
  7. Teaching Teachers Online [I didn’t read this chapter, as it’s not currently relevant to me]
  8. Sustaining Professional Learning

Each chapter starts with a quote, a list of objectives, and a few questions for the reader to think about, plus space to write notes to answer them. It ends with a conclusion summarising what was covered in the chapter.

At the back, there’s one task file per unit, including a way to ‘Act on it!’ (though these don’t seem to be referred to in the rest of the book)

Introduction plus 151 pages of content, 12 of tasks

Comprehensive index and bibliography

What I found useful/thought-provoking

(These could be concepts, ideas or descriptions. I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book or do a search to find out more details.)

Traditions in teacher learning (pp. 8-14):

  • Look and Learn
  • Read and Learn
  • Think and Learn
  • Participate and Learn

Four domains of foreign-language teacher’s knowledge (p28):

  • Language and Culture
  • Pedagogy and Assessment
  • Professionalism
  • Adaptive Expertise
    ‘Adaptive Expertise’ is “the teacher’s process of enacting the other domains in real-life contexts and reflecting on the impact of his [sic.] actions.” It “allows them to effect positive changes in their situation, with the aim of improving their students’ learning opportunities.” “It uses the other types of knowledge to prompt changes in current pedagogy.” (all p28)

The range of ways in which teacher learning can be scaffolded, including through assessment. (whole book, but particularly chapter 3)

The idea that knowledge, skills and dispositions (not sure exactly what the latter are?) can be divided into (p63):

  • essential
  • relevant as support to the essential
  • interesting

…and this implies different approaches to assessment. You can use this to help you decide what to include in courses/sessions.

The ‘Question Exploration Guide’ to help you determine what areas might be useful to explore in a training course. (p65)

The example rubric for discussion board participation in an online course (p72) and assessment criteria for a course and the written assignments on it (p76)

Two different sample rubrics for ‘Teacher’s Use of the Foreign Language’, one analytic/task-specific, and the other holistic/task-specific (pp. 88-89)

The charactistics of constructive formative feedback (p92) and the steps of the CARE model for delivering it (p93), the latter based on Noddings (1984)

List of possible foci for classroom observation (p105, adapted from Diaz Maggioli 2004:86)

The most accessible breakdown I have yet seen of Heron’s six-category intervention analysis (pp. 112-113)

Questions I still have

How do you identify desired results if teachers/other stakeholders aren’t clear about what they want a particular training course to achieve? You can obviously make these decisions yourself, but it’s better to have stakeholder involvement. In that case, how flexible can/should your course be and to what extent is this determined by context? (pp. 57-61)

What might constitute acceptable evidence of ‘expert performance’ on in-service courses? I feel this is much easier to identify for new(er) teachers, or where there are clear teaching standards to be achieved such as on the MA TESOL course that was referred to through the book. (pp. 57-61)

Which of the ideas from this book would transfer from the MA TESOL context to the private language school context and which wouldn’t?

General comment

I think it’s mostly aimed at trainers on MA TESOL courses, rather than trainers in general, and a lot of the descriptions are geared towards “aspiring teachers”. It’s therefore not always relevant to me as I work at a private language school and train teachers on CELTA or other short INSETT [In-service Teacher Training] courses.

Generally very readable, though I had to re-read some of the theoretical sections a few times to get my head around them (not sure if I actually did or not!) Definitely ideas in here which I’ll be coming back to.

Helping teachers to reflect

Reflection is one of the areas of professional development which I’m most interested in, to the extent that I’ve written two books to try and help teachers and trainers to reflect when they don’t have any face-to-face support where they work. Yesterday we had a 90-minute session with ideas for helping teachers to reflect, as part of the NILE MA Trainer Development course.

Reflection doesn’t work

I’ve tried to get teachers to reflect in my sessions. I’m a bit disappointed with the results. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to get them to think. Help!

Here’s a list of questions I came up with to ask this trainer, supplemented with ideas from my partner in the group:

  • What techniques have you tried so far?
  • When did you use them?/At what point(s) in the sessions?
  • Are your trainees ready to reflect? (both in terms of experience of teaching and of reflection i.e. do they know how to do it?)
  • How do you model reflection for them?
  • You said you were a bit disappointed with the results. What kind of results would you like to see?
  • How much time do you give them for reflection activities?
  • How concrete or abstract is the reflection? i.e. Is it based on concrete events or abstract ideas?
  • How personal is it? Do they have to ‘expose’ their beliefs/their classrooms/their ideas in any way?
  • What kind of questions are you using? i.e. Open? Closed? Leading? Hypothetical?
  • What’s the balance of listening to speaking in the reflective activities?
  • How active is the reflection?
  • How consistent/patient were you with setting up reflection? Did you persevere with it?

What would you add to my list?

Reflection on short courses

We also read an article from English Teaching Professional Issue 55 March 2008 (pp57-59) called ‘Time for reflection‘ by Sue Leather and Radmila Popovic. I’m afraid you’ll need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. It talks about “the importance of reflection on short training courses and how to structure and support it.” There are two ideas in the article which I particularly like.

The first is timetabling 30-60 minutes into the daily schedule of the course for reflection, either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. It should be timetabled as ‘reflection’ and not part of another session.

The other idea is including a notebook as part of the course, which will become the participant’s journal. It will be private unless they choose to share it, and could be used for free writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or not.

Has anybody tried either of these two ideas? Did they work for your trainees/context?

ELT Playbook Teacher Training e-books

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is now available as an ebook via Amazon and Smashwords (affiliate links). It’s currently retailing for around £7.50/$8.99 on both platforms.

The 30 tasks in the book are in 6 different categories and are designed to help teacher trainers reflect on their practice (please ignore the ‘coming soon’!):

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

Don’t forget that you can earn badges for your CV/blog/etc. if you share your responses to the tasks using the #ELTplaybook hashtags across social media.

You can also buy the book as a paperback from Amazon and Book Depository.

For teachers

If you’re still in the classroom, you might also be interested in ELT Playbook 1, 30 tasks particularly designed for early-career teachers, but useful to anyone I hope!

ELT Playbook 1 cover

These are the 6 categories for the tasks:

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

…and the badges:

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Buy it at Smashwords, Amazon and Book Depository (affiliate links).

Find out more at eltplaybook.wordpress.com.

Please tell everyone you know! 🙂

Starting my MA

Today I arrived in Norwich, the first time I’ve been here.

A gateway to new places (The Ethelbert Gate, one of two entrances into Norwich Cathedral close. Fittingly, the upper chamber is now a classroom)

I’ll be here for the next two weeks for the MA Trainer Development course, the first module that I’m doing on the NILE MA in Professional Development for Language Education, or MAPDLE for short. For those who don’t know, NILE is the Norwich Institute for Language Education.

I registered for this module in March, got my approval in April, and since then have been doing lots of background reading. This has been fascinating, and has really inspired me so far, with lots of ideas swirling around in my head. It’s also confirmed some of the thinking I already had about what does and doesn’t work in teacher training. The most frustrating thing is that I have so many ideas for blogposts at the moment, and no time at all to write them!

The books I’ve read so far are [Amazon links are affiliate ones, BEBC is the Bournemouth English Book Centre]:

  • Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh (Amazon, Book Depository) – I devoured this, and got so many ideas from it – highly recommended!
  • Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices by Angi Malderez and Martin Wedell (Amazon, Book Depository)
  • Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodóczky (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
  • Advising and Supporting Teachers by Mick Randall with Barbara Thornton (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository)
  • Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts (Amazon, Book Depository)

…and two others from the reading list I read a while ago and keep recommending!

  • Professional Development for Language Teachers by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (Amazon, Book Depository)
  • A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT by John Hughes (Amazon, BEBC, Book Depository) – I think this is the best basic introduction to teacher training

I have another three or four books on my shelf waiting for me to read when I get back to Poland too.

Tomorrow I start two weeks of face-to-face input as part of the blended course, and I will then have until 31st January 2020 to complete three assignments (retrieved from the MA Module -Trainer Development page):

  • A portfolio (50%) containing TWO of the following three options:
    1. A criterion-referenced evaluation of a piece of published training material in relation to a specified context.
    2. Production or analysis of an in-house developmental scheme for monitoring and/or supervision of a specified group of teachers.
    3. A piece of self-produced training material for use on an INSETT or PRESETT course in a specific context, accompanied by a rationale and evaluation.
  • A main 3,000 word assignment (50%) consisting of a fully worked out design for a short in-service or pre-service course for a specific context, including a rationale, a means of evaluation and a statement of staffing and resource provision.

I already have ideas for the two portfolio tasks, and ‘just’ need something for the course I have to create.

Why this MA?

I like the fact that I can pay for the modules as I go along, and that my Delta means that I don’t have to do the Core module. It also seems to be a very flexible course, and you can work around what’s happening in your life.

The assignments look like they will be highly practical and applicable to my job – I prefer that to lots of theory.

The blended modules mean I can spend two weeks in the summer completely focussing on the course, without having to work at the same time as taking in new information. I also get to meet the people I’m doing the course with, something I really feel I missed out on by doing the Distance Delta.

NILE has a great reputation, and I’ve heard lots of good things about the course. I’ve also found them to be really helpful so far.

But mostly, I chose this MA because of its flexibility – I think it’s possibly the most flexible MA in the world 😉 Here’s an excerpt from their FAQs:

Do I have to enrol for the whole MA programme?

Yes, you do need to enrol for the whole programme, but you enrol and pay for each module within it separately, according to your individual needs. There are then two possible exit points where you can withdraw from the programme with a ‘contained award’: a Postgraduate Certificate (after gaining 60 credits) or a Postgraduate Diploma (after gaining 120 credits). The Core module counts for 60 credits and the elective modules count for a further 30 credits each.

Feelings before the course

I was super motivated about the course, and really fired up by all the reading I’d done. Then I had two weeks’ holiday and lost my momentum 😉 …but in the few days since that finished I’ve started to get excited again.

I’m most looking forward to getting external feedback on my professional development, as most of my CPD for the last few years has been things I’ve done independently.

I’m also intrigued to find out who else will be on the course, and to learn more about where they work and who they work with.

It’s also great to be able to really focus on my CPD for two whole weeks, without worrying about anything else (apart from a little recruitment!)

Oh, and I already really like Norwich and am looking forward to exploring it more fully!

Norwich Cathedral cloisters

Watch out for more MA-related posts, though they might be a while in coming (and I still need to write my IATEFL ones too…)

Questions to ask when planning post-activity feedback stages

I recently observed a teacher who wants to work on the feedback stages of her lesson, making sure that she is as responsive as possible to the needs of her learners and helping her as part of her DipTESOL studies. Most of the reading and methodology we’ve found about feedback has been connected to error correction and upgrading language. We haven’t been able to find very much about feedback on content and skills work and how to do it effectively. Please share if you can recommend anything!

In our post-observation discussion, one thing we discussed was the pacing of feedback, and that not everyone was fully involved in feedback stages. Feedback also didn’t really feed into later stages of the lesson. We identified that this was partly because the method of post-activity feedback chosen didn’t always appropriately match the activity itself – something neither of us have been specifically trained in. As a result, we came up with a series of questions to use to help her (and me!) when planning a lesson to work out how to get the most out of post-activity feedback.

  1. What is the purpose of the task?
    For example:
    Is it comprehension of specific information?
    Brainstorming ideas for a storytelling activity?
  2. How can you most efficiently find out whether the purpose of the task has been achieved in the lesson?
    For example:
    By looking at students’ books while monitoring.
    By students putting their ideas onto mini whiteboards, then walking around and looking at other people’s ideas.
  3. What is the feedback stage actually for?
    For example:
    To make sure the students know the correct answers. To get a general idea of how well students have initially understand what they listened to.
    To steal ideas from other students ready to use later in the lesson.
  4. Where is the learning happening? For who? How many students are actively involved in this?
    For example:
    In pairs, students don’t just say what’s correct, but why, referring back to the text/transcript. If they’re not sure about something they circle it. The teacher monitors and notices what is circled to deal with in the next stage of the lesson.
    You ask them to add ideas from other people to their whiteboards.

What other questions would you suggest? Would you use them in this order? Would you edit/remove any?

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

For example, in the lesson I observed there was rather a long listening task where students had to fill in a table with 4 rows and columns about the problems presenters had had during their presentations. Students checked their answers in pairs, then some of them wrote up the notes onto the whiteboard. Of the eight students in the class, four were writing up answers and the others were watching. In the peer check, one student who has general problems with listening comprehension had struggled a little with some of the points in the listening, but most were fine. It took a relatively long time (3-4 minutes) and once it was confirmed that the answers were correct, they were rubbed off the board.

Using the questions above, how would you approach the feedback from the activity in your lesson? How could it feed into later stages of the lesson to develop the students’ listening skills beyond pure comprehension?

Teaching Lexically: Principles and Practice (a review)

Teaching Lexically book cover

I’ve been reading Teaching Lexically [affiliate link] by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley on and off over the last few months (off because other people borrowed it!) and finally finished it this morning. It’s a beginner’s guide to understanding the Lexical Approach and applying it to your classroom practice. The book emphasises the importance of moving away from a ‘grammar + words’ approach and integrating language practice into everything we do in the classroom, providing as much repetition as we can, and helping students to integrate old knowledge with new, rather than treating each area as ‘finished’ or ‘done’.

Teaching Lexically helped me to really understand how the Lexical Approach can work in the classroom for the first time. I found The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis to be interesting, but largely impractical (a hallmark of all of his books, I feel!), and most of the rest of my understanding had come from Leo Selivan’s Leoxicon blog, like this post on lexical activities.

What I particularly like about the book is the way that it deals with each area of English teaching separately and thoroughly: six chapters on teaching vocabulary/ grammar/ speaking/ reading/ listening/ writing lexically, as well as one on revision activities. The layout of section B, with a principle, practising the principle, and applying the principle, is particularly clear and easy to follow, and there are worked examples throughout. It’s really made me think about how I think about language.

Generally I found the structure of Teaching Lexically very supportive, building on previous principles as you work your way through if you read it from cover to cover, or referring back to relevant sections if you just dip into it. I also like the fact that it’s grounded in practicalities, and there was nothing in the book that I looked at and thought ‘this would never work’. It also acknowledges the potential problems that a teacher might have in trying to teach using the Lexical Approach, and suggests some possible solutions.

I feel like this is a book I will refer to again and again. Thanks for writing it Hugh and Andrew!

Online CPD (IH Torun Teacher Training Day 2019)

Probably the topic I’ve presented on the most, but this version of the presentation was with a twist: I had no voice! That means the slides are more detailed than usual as they had to do the speaking for me. Thanks to those who attended and read along 🙂 Since the last version (already 5 years old!) I’ve added a little bit about podcasting and about ELT Playbook.

The slides include clickable links, but for ease of blog readers, I’ve also included a summary with links below as well. Feel free to ask me any questions or add other resources you think are useful for those starting out with online professional development.

Twitter

Twitter and #ELTchat are where my online professional development started, and as I’ve written before, they changed my life. The #ELTchat hashtag is one of the most active English-teaching-related hashtags on Twitter. The peak of activity is from 19:00-20:00 UK time every Wednesday, when a single topic is discussed. This continues for the next 24 hours in a slow burn on that same topic. The whole discussion is then summarised by one person in a blog post. All of the summaries are available in the #ELTchat summaries index, a one-stop shop for a huge amount of professional development. The hashtag is active throughout the week as people share ideas, resources and questions on all manner of ELT topics.

To find ELT people to follow, look at who’s posting in #ELTchat and who they follow. I’m @sandymillin on Twitter if you want to see who I follow.

Facebook

If you have a facebook account already, this is probably the easiest way to start your online professional development. Some people have two separate profiles, or a profile and a page: one for personal use and the other for professional use. I don’t, but only because I’ve been using facebook for so long it would take me hours to separate them now – I do only accept requests from people I’ve interacted with though.

There are hundreds of ELT-related facebook pages covering all aspects of the profession. The biggest is probably Teaching English British Council, which has nearly 4 million followers at the time of writing. The IATEFL facebook group, and those of the Special Interest Groups are another way to get an international perspective, as is the #ELTchat page. For those based in Poland, IATEFL Poland has an active page. Ela Wassell compiled a more comprehensive list of Facebook groups and pages back in 2013, the large majority of which are still active.

Webinars

Webinars are online seminars which you can follow live or watch as recordings whenever and wherever you like. Access to some recordings are restricted to members of particular organisations. There are a huge range of ELT webinars available now, covering pretty much every topic you can think of.

The easiest way to find webinars is to put “______ webinars” into your favourite search engine, substituting _____ for a particular topic e.g. “teaching English pronunciation”, or any of the following providers:

  • Macmillan Education
  • National Geographic Learning
  • International House
  • Oxford University Press
  • IATEFL
  • Cambridge University Press
  • British Council
  • EFL Talks
  • Pearson

If you’re looking for something bite-sized, the IH Teachers Online Conferences include lots of 10-minute webinars. You could also look at my webinar bookmarks, or the regular lists of upcoming webinars posted by Adi Rajan on his blog, like this one for February and March 2019. Adi lists webinars both inside and outside ELT which he considers relevant.

Podcasts

As with facebook, if you already listen to podcasts this is a very easy way to add a bit of CPD to your life. My three favourite TEFL podcasts are:

  • TEFL Training Institute podcast: 15 minutes, 3 questions answered on a given topic
  • The TEFL Commute podcast: 35-45 minutes, magazine style, “The podcast that’s not about teaching, but the subject always seems to come up.”
  • The TEFLology Podcast: Two formats:
    • 45 minutes with three areas: TEFL news, TEFL pioneers, TEFL cultures
    • 30-45-minute interviews with people from across the TEFL profession

The guys from TEFLology have also written a book called Podcasting and professional development [affiliate link] which tells you how you can start creating your own podcasts, as well as providing a longer list of podcasts related to teaching.

Podcasting and professional development book cover

Polish bloggers

Here are four blogs which are written by English teachers in Poland:

Thanks to Hanna Zieba for sharing these links.

I didn’t share any more information about blogs and blogging, because Making the most of blogs was my IH Torun TTD presentation in 2018.

Online bookmarks

I couldn’t possibly keep track of all of these links without the use of diigo, an online bookmarking tool. Here’s my beginner’s guide to diigo in the IH Journal. I’m constantly adding to my professional development links on diigo, and you can also see all of my diigo links ever. They are tagged with different topics to help you find your way around (if you can understand my thinking process of course!)

ELT Playbook

Of course, no presentation I do nowadays is complete without mentioning ELT Playbook, my series of books containing tasks to help teachers improve their ability to reflect on their careers. Each task is accompanied by reflection questions and ideas for ways to summarise your reflections in a blogpost, video or audio recording, Instagram-style post, or a private teaching journal.

ELT Playbook 1 was launched just over a year ago, aimed particularly at new teachers, but also at managers and trainers who work with them, or more experienced teachers who want to go back to basics.

ELT Playbook 1 cover and topic areas: back to basics, examining language, upgrading skills, being creative, exploring your context, teacher health and wellbeing

ELT Playbook Teacher Training is in the final stages of preparation, and will hopefully be ready to buy in the next 2-3 weeks – watch this space! It’s aimed at those new to teacher training, either in training or management positions, and also has tasks which could help those creating workshops or conference presentations for the first time.

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

This should give you a good starting point for your own online professional development. What other resources would you suggest? And what questions do you have?

Being creative 3: One activity, multiple tasks – a minimal preparation workshop based on ELT Playbook 1

Way back in December I ran a 45-minute conference session based on a task from ELT Playbook 1, ‘One activity, multiple tasks’, which appears in the ‘Being creative’ section of the book.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

The book features 30 tasks designed particularly to help new teachers to reflect as they start out in ELT, but they are also suitable for managers and trainers who need ideas for professional development sessions. I was also partly inspired by the ideas in The Lazy Teacher Trainer’s Handbook by Magnus Coney [affiliate link], which advocates minimal planning and exploiting the knowledge in the room wherever possible. The final reason I chose this was that I was running out of time to plan my session as I was organising the whole day, and I needed to run two workshops! The other one was about how to learn a language, in case you’re interested.

Before the session, I choose an activity at random from a teacher’s book. The one I ended up with was to revise future forms, taken from page 146 of English File 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate Plus. It features a page of questions like this:

  1. A   Mum! I’ve dropped my ice cream!
    B   It’s OK, don’t worry – I’ll get / I’m getting you a new one!
  2. A   I’m freezing!
    B   Shall I turn on / Will I turn on the heating?

…and so on. There are 12 mini dialogues like this, each with two options to choose from – students can also tick if both are possible. At the bottom of the page is an ‘activation’ activity, where students write two mini-dialogues, one with will and one with going to. This planning stage took me about 15 minutes – 10 to decide what I was going to do in the session (i.e. which ELT Playbook 1 task I was going to exploit!), and 5 to pick and photocopy the activity.

In the abstract for the session it said that teachers would come away with lots of ideas for how to exploit activities. As the session started, I told them that those ideas would be coming from all of us in the room, not just me!

We started by them completing the original exercise. I demonstrated how to do quick feedback by getting different pairs to write their answers on the board, then just dealing with any questions where there was confusion. We were about 10 minutes into the session at this point.

In the same pairs, teachers worked together to list as many ways as they could think of to set-up, vary or exploit that same activity. They did this on the back of the sheet (minimal materials prep!) I put a few prompts on the board to help, something like: speaking, writing, listening, reading, alone, pairs, groups, class, etc. and elicited one or two examples to start them off. They had 10 minutes to make their lists.

At the same time, and once I’d checked they were all on track, I made my own list* on the back of my paper (minimal prep! Also, I ran out of time to do it before the session and thought it might be useful if at least some of the ideas came from me!)

We put our lists face up on our chairs for the ‘stealing’ stage. We read everybody else’s lists, putting a * next to any activities we didn’t understand. More *** meant that lots of people didn’t understand. This took about 5 minutes, so we were 25 minutes through the session.

Next people added any of the extra activities they liked the sound of to their own lists. 5 more minutes, 15 minutes left.

For the next 10 minutes, different people demonstrated the activities that had stars next to them in front of the whole group. As I expected, most of the ‘different people’ were me – I’d deliberately picked some slightly obscure things to stretch their range of ideas a bit!

In the final 5 minutes, I told them about ELT Playbook 1 and suggested they try this kind of brainstorming with other activities they want to use in class to help them vary their lesson planning. Right at the end, they had to tell their partner one activity they’d thought of or heard about in the session which they planned to try next week. The whole session went pretty well, I think, and I got good feedback afterwards. 🙂

*My list

These are the ideas I came up with in 10 minutes:

  • Remove the options.
  • Mini whiteboards.
  • I say A to the group, they predict B. Then in pairs.
  • Gallery walk (one copy of each question stuck up around the room)
  • Evil memorisation (one of my favourite activities, learnt from Olga Stolbova – the third activity in this blogpost)
  • Say all the sentences as quickly as possible (AQAP on my lesson plans!)
  • Banana sentences (replace the key words with ‘banana’ for partner to guess)
  • Extend the conversations (what was said before/after)
  • Decide who/where/when/why it was said (by)
  • Take the ‘wrong’ answer and create a context where it would be right
  • Translation mingle (students translate one conversation into L1 on a slip of paper, copying the English onto the other side. They then walk around showing other students the L1 to be translated.)
  • One group does 1-6/odd sentences. The other does 7-12/even sentences. Give them the answers for the other half. They check with each other.
  • Say them with different intonation/voices to create different meanings/situations.
  • Remember as many conversations as you can with your partner. Lots of variations for this: freestyle (no prompts), with A/B as a prompt, with (own/sketched/teacher-generated) pictures as prompts…
  • Hot seat/Backs to the board with a picture prompt for student looking at the board to say sentence A, person with back to the board says sentence B in response
  • Board race. Again, lots of variations: list as many sentences/conversations as possible on the whiteboard; teacher/a student says A, teams run and write B; combine with ideas above like banana sentences…
  • Teacher says first half of the sentence, pausing at a convenient point. Students say second half. Then in pairs. e.g. “Shall I…” “…turn on the heating?”
  • Students have A sentences. They write their own Bs on separate pieces of scrap paper, then mix them up. Another pair tries to match the As and Bs together.
  • Change A to the opposite/a slightly different phrase. What’s an appropriate B? e.g. “I’m boiling!”

Thanks to all of the people I’ve stolen those ideas from over the years 🙂

Let me know if you try out the brainstorming activity, the session, or any of the other tasks from ELT Playbook 1. I’d love to know how they work for you!

Helping new teachers survive and thrive – IH World Facebook Live (recording)

Here is a screenshot from the first ever International House World Facebook Live, featuring me and Giuliana Faldetta:

Sandy and Giuliana during facebook live

The topics we covered were:

  • avoiding teacher burnout
  • helping new teachers combat homesickness
  • what to do if a teacher refuses to teach a particular age group, but there is nobody else who can take the class
  • how you can encourage new teachers to engage in CPD
  • what CELTA trainers can do to prepare trainees for the reality of teaching

The recording is available here, though I believe you need a facebook account to watch it. You can also add comments and further questions to the recording.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what we discussed, and what else you’d like to know if you are a new teacher or if you work with new teachers.

International House World Facebook Live: Working with new teachers

In three days’ time I’ll be presenting the inaugural International House World facebook live. This is a great opportunity to find out a bit more about how International House supports new teachers as an international organisation and within individual schools. You can follow the event on facebook where you can also contribute questions to the discussion. There will be a recording which I’ll share afterwards. Hope to see you there!

360 degree CPD (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the blogs section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Anyone is welcome to join in. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.

Teaching English Associates names word cloud

My most recent contribution is about combining being part of the online community (if you want to) and reflecting on what’s happening in your classroom. What do you think? Is it key to be part of an online community to develop professionally as a teacher nowadays?

Free CPD on demand: Boardshare as a tool for unseen peer observation (guest post)

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Dan Baines‘ talk on sharing whiteboards at IATEFL this year, so I asked him to write a guest post to share his ideas, especially because one of the tasks in ELT Playbook 1 is all about taking photos of your whiteboard and reflecting on them. He’s previously written a post on this blog about Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training. Over to Dan…

When I finished my CELTA many years ago in Prague, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job at the school which I took, starting the following Monday. So, after a very brief trip back home to say my good byes and almost missing the flight back to Prague I started work. It was intimidating. I got 2 days of induction and then received my timetable and the intimidation continued. As is the case for many teachers, my first day of professional, paid teaching consisted of more hours than I had taught in the preceding 4 weeks.

At this time, the school had a very large core of teachers and a really communicative staffroom. Most of the teachers were very experienced and many were also DELTA-qualified. Around peak teaching times, the room was buzzing with people talking about teaching: what they’d just taught, what they were going to teach, what had gone well and what had fallen flat. This was the start of my own teacher development story and how I went from being a nervous new teacher who thought he’d be exposed as a fraud any minute to a competent and then a good and confident teacher. The endless discussions filled my head with ideas and the advice and support was invaluable. The teachers I met in the first two years are still some of the biggest influences on my teaching as I sit here a decade and a half later.

That wasn’t the only perk. I had a full-time teaching schedule and paid holidays. I got lunch vouchers, phone credit and a travel pass provided. The money was poor, but I had real job security and after committing to staying a number of years I had my diploma paid for. Teacher development wasn’t only encouraged, it was compulsory and time was set aside for it every week. CPD just seemed… normal. It was what teachers did.

After taking DELTA and becoming a much better teacher, I did what most people in my situation do. I left the classroom and went into academic management, running the CPD programme in a very similar school to where I started (in fact the same school in a different city) with similar working conditions. After a couple of years of this, I returned to Prague and went into full time pre-service teacher training, effectively leaving the world of language schools behind me.

In June 2016 I returned as the DoS of a small language school in Prague tasked with, amongst other things, developing the teachers. The teaching landscape had changed since I began. Teachers on full-time contracts wasn’t the norm any more – they mostly worked on trade licences. There were no paid holidays and cancelled lessons meant teachers not getting paid. Many schools operate more like agencies than language schools, meaning that their teachers spend a big chunk of their day travelling from company to company. Language schools were in so much competition that rather than selling courses on the expertise and experience of their teachers, they sold them on price, the knock-on effect being that teachers were paid less and had no job security.

In designing a CPD programme I needed to find options that would that would meet the needs and fit the schedule of my teachers. I went for the more traditional approaches.

  • Workshops – They were received well. However, it was impossible to find a time when all the teachers could attend. There are many times in the day when none of the teachers are working for me, but none where they aren’t working for someone else.
  • Peer observations – A great development tool and a huge influence on me. Unfortunately, most of our teaching happens in peak times, meaning that if the teachers aren’t all teaching for me at that time, they are for someone else.
  • Lesson planning surgeries – A nice idea, but never took off. Mostly due to lack of time and availability on the part of me and the teachers.
  • Developmental observation – I do this a lot, all teachers are observed 3 times a year with a strong developmental focus. It’s stressful, it’s time consuming and because of clashing schedules, it can sometimes be a week or more before there is chance to do feedback.
  • Action research – This was discussed with the teachers, but the time investment was more than they could realistically commit to as some were working more than 20 classes a week just to pay bills.

If the CPD on offer wasn’t accessible to all teachers equally, it felt token at best and far too exclusive, and therefore pointless at worst. So, the challenge was to create something that was:

  • Free – rent prices in Prague have rocketed in recent years, teacher salaries have not.
  • Inclusive – in the private sector, the working day in Prague is typically any hours between 7.30 – 21.00. Any successful development would be able to be done by all teachers and at their leisure.
  • Guided – autonomous development is one thing, but many of the teachers I employ are fairly newly-qualified. Not everyone is really aware of how to begin their CPD journey.
  • Classroom-focused – much of the teachers’ time is spent in the classroom and many are fairly inexperienced. The development should reflect their daily life.

I’m an occasional Twitter user (@QuietBitLoudBit for anyone interested). I use it almost exclusively for following accounts related to ELT and it could be said that my posts are a bit… samey. Basically, I like posting pictures of my whiteboard after I’ve taught and looking at others. Maybe I’m an exhibitionist and/or a voyeur, but either way, it’s great to see into the classrooms of others and it has given me some great ideas.

If it could give me inspiration, I figured that sharing pictures of whiteboards with some discussion could be an interesting way to carry out professional development with my teachers, so I set up a Facebook group and added some teachers (some local and some from far away). The idea was to post a weekly or bi-weekly “task” for teachers to carry out, which involved taking pictures of and sharing their boards at some point during the lesson. They were then encouraged to comment on the pictures of their peers.

It ticked a lot of boxes. It allowed some form of peer observation, but importantly without the teachers needing to cancel their own lessons or travel. It was development that could be done from anywhere – most of the teachers involved used Facebook on their mobiles, so they could participate from trams or buses as they bounced round the city from class to class or just from home, in bed, at the end of the day. The tasks provided reflection in a guided way, an unseen peer observation task.

This was the first task…

Whiteboard task 1

It was deliberately left very open and general. I posted the first one (a picture of a substitution drill I’d done that day) and encouraged them to do the same. The response was underwhelming. One person responded with a picture and explanation, someone else with a description of an activity (both great), but nothing much else. I decided to change the way the tasks were set up. For the posts that followed I posted my board with commentary and encouraged them to comment on mine and discuss a few questions. There was greater interaction this time with good discussion based around how (or whether) to teach subject questions, confidence using the board and phonology related activities. Some, however, fell flat and got no interaction at all. I was pretty disappointed.

As a final attempt to get some interaction and engagement I mixed it up again. I didn’t post my board, but found two similar boards on Twitter (using #ELTwhiteboard – a great hashtag to look up) and asked members to compare them and find a board that they liked and explain why. This was the first task to get the teachers sharing pictures to discuss and it raised some interesting conversation. It was a small victory, but I was still left disappointed at the relative failure of a project I had such high hopes for.

ELTwhiteboard examples

I decided to seek some feedback on the group and why the teachers didn’t participate. A couple of things became apparent quite quickly. Firstly, sometimes people get so involved in teaching that, unlike me, they focus more on the students than taking pictures of what has gone on the board and simply forget. Others feel that what they have produced just isn’t interesting enough to share with the rest of the group or are too self-conscious to open this window into their classroom. Others just prefer to watch from afar.

The biggest surprise was how positively the group was received. When asking a colleague if she found it useful, it was met with a heart-felt “HELL YES!”. She never gets to see what other people do and even just seeing my boardwork helped her with ideas and made her feel better about what she was doing. Others said it had given them great classroom activities to try out and others just liked reading the discussions under the posts, but just didn’t feel the need to contribute. I’d been disappointed, but only because the project didn’t pan out the way I’d envisioned it. It wasn’t a hotbed of activity, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Teachers don’t need to actively participate to take something from it, or at least that’s how it seemed.

It’s hard to design effective CPD that serves everyone equally and effectively, and this isn’t it, but it is a nice supplement to a more traditional CPD programme and is very easy to set up and maintain. A few things I realised for anyone attempting to do the same:

  • Facebook works well. People use it (at least for the time being) and the nested comments on posts are perfect for replying to other people’s pictures.
  • It needs a “leader”. Someone needs to make the posts that serve as reminder for people to participate. It doesn’t need to be someone more experienced. The person responsible can be rotated.
  • Pictures can come from anywhere. You don’t need to take the pictures yourself. Twitter has a nice community of people sharing theirs that can be good for discussion.
  • Language related tasks work well. They generated a lot of discussion, particularly those tasks related to phonology. Boards showing actual activities also tend to get more engagement.
  • Tasks should be simple. At times I let things become over-complicated and I think they just looked intimidating. One person actually commented that they didn’t know where to begin.
  • Not everyone will actively participate. And that’s just fine.

I’ve checked my expectations and I’m satisfied overall. The group exists and I’m getting back to posting more regularly in it. If people don’t engage, I don’t take it personally and hope that everyone involved takes something from it and that maybe one day they’ll decide to photograph their work and share it with us all.

About the author

Dan Baines

Dan is director of studies at Oxford House Prague as well as a CELTA and Trinity DipTESOL trainer. He really likes whiteboards. Join the group and share your board or follow him on Twitter @QuietBitLoudBit.

IATEFL 2018: The talks I missed

Here’s a selection of nuggets of information from talks which I didn’t manage to attend during this year’s conference but did get bits out of via Twitter. They are loosely categorised to help you find your way around. Thanks to everyone who shared what they were watching! I’ve included videos if they’re available, as I hope to watch them at some point myself.

Looking after ourselves and our students

The talk I most wanted to go and see unfortunately clashed with a meeting I had, but I’m happy to say it was recorded. This tweet says it all:

Phil Longwell used his talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:

He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:

I’ve now added both of these links to my collection of Useful links on Mental Health in ELT. Here’s one of my favourite pictures from the conference too 🙂

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

Me with James and Phil

Jen Dobson spoke about online safety for primary learners. As part of it, she shared this advert which should promote a lot of discussion:

Teacher training

Jason Anderson asked what impact CELTA has on the classroom practice of experienced teachers. The full talk is available here:

Jason’s CAP framework was referred to in (I think!) Judith G Hudson’s talk ‘Helping teachers understand and use different lesson frameworks:

It is explained in more detail in this article and this handout.

Karin Krummenacher suggested an alternative way of approaching CELTA input sessions, starting with a needs analysis and encouraging trainees to go to the sessions they need, creating a flexible timetable. This is an interesting idea, though another person pointed out it could prove quite challenging if some trainees feel like they are made to go to more sessions than others.

Video in Language Teacher Education is a project I’d like to explore further, particularly since we’ve been introducing video observation into our school this year. You can get a taster by watching the videos on their website.

As a polyglot myself (I think I can say that!), Scott Thornbury‘s talk on hyperpolyglots and what we can learn from them would have been interesting. Here are three tweets from it:

This slide from Simon Brewster’s talk made me smile:

Here are some other tweets from the same talk:

Alastair Douglas spoke on why observation is such a key part of teacher training and on how we should rethink observation tasks. You can watch Alastair’s full talk on the Teaching English British Council page.

Silvana Richardson and Gabriel Diaz Maggioli described ‘Inspired professional development’. You can watch their full talk here:

Here’s one tweet from the talk as a taster:

Katherine Martinkovich summarized their talk here, along with a selection of other related ones she saw. You can read their full whitepaper on the Cambridge website. Having now watched the talk, I’m going to look at the CPD I’m involved in and see how we can make it more sustained, as this seemed to be the glaring omission from most of what I’m doing.

In the classroom

If you’d like to examine your use of Teacher Talking Time, here are some aspects you might consider, courtesy of Stephen Reilly:

Thanks to Liam for clarifying that PPBP is Pose, Pause, Bounce and Pounce – there seem to be two alternatives: PPPB or PPBP.

Here’s an idea for Use of English activities from Stuart Vinnie’s talk…

…and another for cloze answers…

There are lots more ideas like this on the Cambridge Practice Makes Perfect site.

Gareth Davies, a.k.a. Gareth the Storyteller, asked whether English lessons are fairytales in disguise. You can get a taste of his storytelling here, in a 1-minute clip which is perfect for the classroom.

You can watch Zoltan Dornyei’s talk on how to create safe speaking environments here. You can also read a summary of his talk here, written by Jessica Mackay. It also seems silly not to advertise my ebook, Richer Speaking, at this point, since it includes lots of ways to extend and adapt speaking activities. 🙂

Edmund Dudley was talking about motivating teenagers to write, and promoting the new ETpedia Teenagers book [Amazon affiliate link] which was recently published.

His slides are available here – I’m already thinking about which teachers I can pass them on to at school!

Another talk connected to writing includes the phrase ‘sentence energy’, which sounds intriguing. That was Sarah Blair’s presentation on ‘Teaching writing visually, which you can watch on the TeachingEnglish IATEFL 2018 page, or get to directly here.

Working with language

Jade Blue had some interesting ideas for using learner-generated visuals to conceptualise language. I know this image isn’t perfect, but it gives you the idea I think. Definitely something I’d like to find out more about, and nicely complementing David Connolly‘s presentation.

Kerstin Okubo described how to help academic English students build their vocabulary for spoken production, not just for comprehension:

I’m not sure exactly which talk this was from, apart from that it was part of the Materials Writing SIG showcase on Wednesday 11th April, but it looks like it could be useful for working out how good a particular vocabulary activity is:

Being critical

Here’s one way to promote inclusivity and a critical approach to materials use by students. I think it was from the talk entitled ‘Incorporating diversity: best practices for materials and/or the classroom’ by Ana Carolina Lopes:

John Hughes discussed critical thinking and higher order thinking skills for lower levels.

Finally, Brita Fernandez Schmidt gave a plenary called ‘Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women’ which generated a lot of conversation. You can watch it here.

 

What else do you think I missed?

Tips for Dips (guest post)

My colleague Helen Rountree is in the process of completing her Trinity DipTESOL. In this guest post, she shares some of the tips she has been given while doing the course. Note: all links to books are my affiliate links to Amazon.

Language Awareness & The Exam

Tips:

  • Do some full, timed practise exams before the day – even it’s just to know what your hand feels like after scribbling non-stop for 3 hours!
  • Revision – with so many language points that could come up, know that you can’t revise everything but learn some general quotes from big names like Parrott, Scrivener, Harmer etc to drop in for different things.
  • If you’re currently teaching, make notes on language points as you teach them – the ones I remembered best in the exams were the ones I’d reflected on after presenting them in class. It also gives you clear examples of what your students found difficult and activities you used.
  • Look back at past exam papers and find the points that come up repeatedly (for example, the classification of conditionals)

Unit 2: Coursework Portfolio

I’ve not finished this unit yet so can’t really give any tips.

Unit 3: Phonology Interview

This is made up of:

  • 5 minute presentation
  • 5 minute discussion about presentation
  • 5 minute transcription
  • 15 minute chat about phonology in general

Tips:

  • The transcription is only 2 lines (max 20 words) but you must note the phonemic script, features of connected speech, intonation, word stress, and tonic symbols.
  • Learn phonemes; use apps like Macmillan’s Sounds and practise writing notes to colleagues/friends in phonemic script.
  • Practise transcribing and timing yourself. 5 minutes seems like plenty of time but under pressure it’s not long at all!
  • Remember you can ask the examiner to repeat the text as many times as you want within the 5 minutes.
  • I found it useful to practise taking random clips from Youtube, transcribe them and then check against a phonemic translator. http://lingorado.com/ipa/ is pretty accurate although it doesn’t have any additional prosodic features.
  • Choose to present on something you have experience with and which is specific to your learners (For ideas look at Swan’s Learner English)
  • When you’ve chosen something your learners have difficulty with, research the background to the problem with reference to their L1 and prepare to explain how you tackle it. This may be a specific activity, it might be a technique for error correction etc.
  • If possible test out your activity/approach with your current students
  • At Greenwich, where I did my interview, they ask for your topic in advance of the onsite practical component but in reality you were able to change your topic up until the week of the interview. They also hold a phonology session in the first week which answered a lot of my questions leading up to the interview. There was also time for us to practise our presentation with our tutor, something which proved invaluable for me.
  • Whatever you choose make sure you know it inside out- ready to field any questions during the discussion after the interview.
  • For the discussion familiarise yourself with the elements of connected speech and be sure to have examples of each one. They love examples!
  • They are likely to ask you questions about anything they think you were weak on/missed during your presentation so if you don’t want to be asked about something get it in your presentation where you are in control and you can rehearse first!
  • Don’t be afraid to “guide” the discussion at the end to something you feel confident speaking about. It’s a conversation, not an interrogation and if the examiner senses you want to talk about something they will respond to it. For example, if you’ve read about English as a Lingua Franca and feel strongly about the value of teaching connected speech it’s possible from the question “How do you help learners with the schwa?” to lead into a discussion about Jenkins et al. and the suggested lack of importance for intelligibility in accurately pronouncing the schwa sound.
  • Get a list of interview questions (in your course materials/ online) and make notes for each question using your own experience and knowledge from your reading.
  • Get a friend or family member to ask you the questions and respond without notes.
  • Read…

Unit 4: TP

Tips:

  • Teach students something they don’t know.
  • Plan for a 45-minute lesson, not a 60-minute one, and use any extra time to reflect, review and recycle.
  • Must pass criteria: x4…
    • Lesson Delivery 1: Teacher creates an environment conducive to learning and maintains levels of motivation and interest. (= rapport and an interesting topic!)
    • Lesson Delivery 2: Genuine and meaningful communication between learners takes place
    • Lesson Delivery 11: The teacher focuses on the use of language in context
    • Lesson Delivery 12: There is clear evidence of language / skills development taking place (= teach them something new)

Pre TP:

  • Familiarise yourself with B2-C1 textbooks and build up a bank of activities and lesson ideas for grammar points which are found at this level.
  • Make and test out some practise lesson plans.
  • Practise writing out your full lesson plan on the prescribed template so you are used to the detail required.
  • Make some model materials you could adapt for different levels/ grammar points.
  • Look into ways to differentiate tasks in class, as it’s something they are keen to see in lessons.
  • Talk to anyone you know who’s already completed the course – they’ll have invaluable advice and tips!

During:

  • Needs Analysis
    • Should be made before you start teaching (normally with your teaching group/partner) in the form of a questionnaire or something similar which can be given to your students before the first diagnostic lesson. It’s also a good idea to set a writing task for homework after the first lesson to get a clearer idea of the students’ interests, language needs and motivations to learn, all of which you can include in your class profile.
    • It’s a good idea to base your needs analysis questionnaire on the ‘class and lesson profile’ document they provide you with so that you can fill all the necessary sections.
    • In your needs analysis questionnaire ask direct questions and use tick boxes.
  • The diagnostic lesson on day 1
    • Teach exactly how you normally teach (bar the nerves of course) and the advice you get from your tutor will be most applicable. I’m not sure if it’s allowed but I also typed up a full Dip-style lesson plan and asked for advice on my lesson planning too, which my tutor gladly gave.
    • Ask lots of questions after this first lesson and pay attention to your tutor’s advice.
  • Deal with each day as it comes and try not to think too far ahead.
  • But stay ahead of your workload by at least 24 hours. Planning on the day of your observation is not advised for as it can lead to unhealthy stress levels (If you have an observation at 3pm on Thursday have your lesson plan and materials done by 3pm on Wednesday.)
  • Work collaboratively with your teaching group/partner.
  • During your lessons and when observing others, write down anything you notice about the students that you can add to your class profile later. They love details!
  • And as such assess the students’ learning every time – like the mirrors in your driving test overemphasise it in all areas of your TP to show you’ve done it thoroughly.
  • Less is more – I found that, for example, for a functional language lesson 6 lexical chunks and 3 lexical items was enough to allow me to also deal with emergent language, set up a full free-ish practice and reflect at the end.
  • Trust your instinct and teach lessons in your normal teaching style with content and language points you feel comfortable teaching. Observations are not the time to try out a funky new method or controversial topic you’ve been waiting to experiment with!
  • But also try not to teach the same lesson structure repeatedly or stay too within your comfort zone – they like to see you incorporate your own knowledge of different theories and styles in lessons.
  • Plan observed lessons where you can show off your teaching – for example don’t plan a 20-minute reading. That’s half your time with you being passive.
  • Take the time to get to know your students outside of class. You want them on your side!
  • Analyse your planning so you know at every stage what you’re doing and most importantly WHY. They will ask you this in the pre-obs and post-obs interviews. It’s even better if you can back that up with your knowledge of teaching/learning theory.
  • Listen carefully to what parts of your lesson they question in the pre-obs interview; it’s often a sign of the part you’ll have issues with/ you’ve not completely thought through. If you have time between your interview and teaching your lesson think about how you can remedy any issues they’ve flagged up. Departing from your plan is not a problem if you can explain afterwards why you felt it was beneficial to do so.

I hope these tips are helpful. Good luck!

Bio

Helen

Helen has been teaching for IH Bydgoszcz for several years and is the current ADOS. This is her 5th year as an ESL teacher and she’s about to complete her DipTESOL.

Making the most of blogs (IH Torun 2018)

Every year in April, our sister school at International House Torun runs their Teacher Training Day, attracting local teachers and international visitors to this beautiful city:

Torun

Photo from my personal collection

My presentation this year was the most recent version of one I’ve done a few times before, now featuring ELT Playbook 1, my ebook for new teachers. If you weren’t there, you can watch a webinar version done for the British Council in 2015, or read a text version based on the presentation I did at Innovate ELT in 2016. Doing this presentation seems to be an annual spring event for me now 🙂 Here are the slides

The blogs which I recommended in this version were:

The reader I use to manage the blogs I read is Feedly, and the bookmarking tool I use is diigo.

What blogs are you reading at the moment?

P.S. I’ve also just rediscovered this post in my archive 🙂 What makes a successful blog?

IATEFL 2018: Management, teacher training and development

I started off the IATEFL Brighton 2018 conference at the joint Pre-Conference Event (PCE) run by the Leadership and Management (LAMSIG) and Teacher Development (TDSIG) Special Interest Groups. I have already summarized what I learnt that day, but have included more detailed information from the sessions here, interspersed with ideas from the main conference, hence the combination of topics in the title of this post. This is by far the longest of my IATEFL posts this year, but I couldn’t work out how to separate the streams, so apologies in advance. I hope it’s worth it! 🙂

The #LAMTDSIG PCE was the first time I heard what became one of this year’s conference buzzwords for me: culture. Many speakers mentioned the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of CPD (continuous professional development) within their school.

How can we create a culture of CPD?

The first was Liam Tyrrell, who reminded us that the shared ideas, values and direction that make up the culture of a workplace or team are important. They are what lead to success. Organisational culture is the number one predictor of development outcomes and improved classroom effectiveness, according to Matthew A. Kraft in his 2014 paper with John Papay entitled ‘Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development?

Liam detailed four questions he asked when aiming to change the culture at his school:

  • What does it look like when the culture is changed?
    If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know the steps you need to take to get there? What is the pathway for teachers and the organisation? Small success will carry your organisation.
  • Who are the silent majority?
    Run down the list of names of people in your staffroom. The ones you come to last, or not at all (!) are the ones you probably need to shine a spotlight on. Find out about their successes and encourage them to share them. By amplifying them, other teachers can learn from them too. (Liam credits this idea to @nikkitau from TESOL France last year.)
  • What options can you give to people?
    The trick is not to have everyone doing the same thing (one size fits all), but to have everyone do SOMETHING!
  • How can you get recruitment right?
    Make sure people you recruit know what kind of culture they’re coming into, and that they’re comfortable with that. A team is a delicate balance, and every person entering or leaving it can change the balance, and with it, the culture. Is it better to recruit NQTs who see what you do as norm? Or experienced teachers who can mentor and drive change? Who will be able to create and sustain change?

(Side note: Clare Magee (see below) mentioned that during their recruitment process, they include a description of key challenges in the job, to ensure teachers know what they might be faced with. She also said that whenever possible, they try to recruit two people at the same time so that they’re going through the processes of joining the school together, and can empathise with each other.)

Finally, Liam emphasised that change takes time, and that half of the stuff you try is probably going to fail. This echoes one of my favourite ever things I’ve heard at an IATEFL conference: you have to kiss a few frogs to find the one that’s for you.

 

I am lucky that I inherited a healthy culture of CPD at the school I currently work for, and ‘all’ I have to do as Director of Studies is maintain and develop it, but if you don’t already have that a CPD culture at your school, Liam’s questions and the ideas below could help you to move towards one.

 

As part of the main conference, Oliver Beaumont and Duncan Jameson also described how to create a culture of CPD, using the metaphor of a garden. You have to create the right conditions if you want things to grow there. They centred it around three key words:

  • Engage: if teachers aren’t engaged, they won’t be interested. Show them how CPD can help them, and how it fits in with the school’s vision. Creating the right environment also helps, for example a classroom with posters from previous CPD sessions. Carve out time where CPD is a priority: if you value it, teachers will too.
  • Energise: give autonomy and ownership, and encourage collaboration.
  • Empower: ensure there is meaningful action to follow the session, so they can put what they have learnt into action immediately. If you include feedback and coaching in the sessions, a lot more of what they have learnt will stick.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

Creating a welcoming culture

Patrick Huang described a transgender candidate’s experience of a CELTA course, with important points for the inclusion of all candidates who might be part of potentially vulnerable populations, and regarding culture changes which may need to take place to allow this. He noticed that there might be something different with this particular candidate due to the combination of a typically male first name and female second name – the example he gave was ‘Robin Jane’. Because of this, he asked the candidate to speak to him about their experience and to share what could have improved it. The main things Patrick learned were:

Safety should be key. Candidates should not be forced to disclose whether they are transgender/non-binary. For example, on the entry form, have an option for ‘Other’ in gender, not just male/female. Forcing candidates to select from a closed list of options could also have legal applications on a form if they have to sign something saying they did not knowingly give false information.

A pre-course meeting could include the question ‘Anything else you would like to tell me about yourself?’ rather than anything more direct, like ‘I notice that you…’ Again, this means candidates are not forced to disclose if they are not comfortable doing so.

Toilet facilities should be available for everyone. Consider converting an existing bathroom by changing the signing, for example to ‘Toilets for everyone’.

Pronouns should be used as indicated by the candidate. (If this is something you’d like to find out more about, I would highly recommend the BBC Word of Mouth episode ‘Language and gender identity’.)

For relationships and safety, consider introducing a code of conduct. Discuss these things with staff and candidates, preferably before you have transgender students on your course, so that they are aware of how they can help candidates feel safe. Make sure that this policy is adapted to the needs of individual candidates. There should be buy-in from the community, with the option to opt out if they really can’t cope with the situation.

Teacher-centred CPD

Another buzzword I noticed was bottom-up, with many of the speakers I saw talking about the need to move away from CPD which is imposed on teachers by management from above, and instead to create the structures for teachers to be able to work more independently on areas which they want to prioritise. As a couple of people said, ‘one size fits all’ fits noone.

As part of the #LAMTDSIG PCE, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch from Australia talked about a very successful initiative which some of their teachers started, without prompting from management. They set up a Google Plus space to share 2-minute videos of ideas which make their jobs faster, better, or easier. Other people can comment on the videos too, and it often starts face-to-face discussions too. If teachers still have access after they leave the school, I think this could serve as a kind of institutional memory, and an alumni-type space, which they could still participate in if they choose too. This is probably my favourite idea from the whole conference. Once it was started, the institution ran some CPD sessions on how to create videos and how to interact politely on the platform, both in response to teacher requests.

Other ideas that Fiona and Clare described were:

  • #pdfest, one-day events organised by teachers for teachers to share their practice
  • #meetelt, Pecha Kucha events in pubs
  • #auselt, a Twitter hashtag for discussions (similar to #eltchat)
  • Pineapple charts to organise peer observation
  • A regular newsletter emailed to teachers across their organisations’ various sites
  • The Raise Your Voice choir

They suggested that it might be time to move away from the concept of change, and towards that of evolution and revolution. Hamel and Zanini (2014) say anyone can initiate change, recruit confederates, get involved and launch experiments. It’s not the leader’s job to do the process, but to build the platform. Fiona and Clare also said that in order to get all of these things working, managers should:

Give teachers time and money, and get out of the way!

 

I agree with this sentiment up to a point, but I believe that quite a lot of new teachers probably need a base level of knowledge about the teaching profession and about CPD opportunities before they can organise and run this kind of thing themselves. Most of the teachers at our school are in their first or second year of teaching. I have tried to provide the second-years with more space to direct their own development, but it has been challenging to work out and provide the amount of support that they really need to do this. It’s all well and good saying that they can develop however they want to, but if they aren’t aware of the possibilities and opportunities, it can become very directionless. This is where I think they next idea might help.

 

Josh Round and Andy Gaskins talked about Personalised Development Groups (PDGs), an idea Josh introduced in his school 3 years ago, and in Andy’s a year ago, and which has now gone through several successful cycles. Research which backs up their approach includes the Sutton Trust 2014 report on what makes great teaching. That and other reports show that effective CPD leads to great teaching, so it’s important to get the programme you offer right.

Teachers chose a first-choice or second-choice pathway, which enables them to be put into groups of 6-8 people. These pathways enable classroom-based, collaborative professional development, based on the choices of the participants, rather than the more top-down programmes traditionally offered by schools. They were based on areas that teachers had requested, or where they often needed more support. The school wanted a balance between structure and support, and autonomy.

Of course, PDGs aren’t perfect! Initially, they underestimated how long it might take teachers to come up with research questions, so they started to suggest examples within each pathway. It took time to put the scheme into place: change always takes time to be effective. There can also be problems with some members of groups not fully contributing, absence or sickness, and lack of structure – these are all problems I’ve found with a similar scheme I’ve tried to set up at my school.

Josh and Andy encourage teachers to be transparent with their students about what they’re doing – students seem to really engage with the teachers’ research. At the end of the cycle, there are feedback presentations which have become inspirational to other teachers at the school.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

 

At the #LAMTDSIG event, Ed Russell described using the idea of PDGs at his school, once he’d got over the idea that he needed to ‘do some managing’, a feeling I’ve had occasionally too! As part of this, he created a new screensaver for staffroom computers to remind teachers about the stages of the PDGs. Generally, Ed wanted to make what happened in the classroom as visible as possible so that his teachers could share their practice and learn as much as possible from each other. He said it has led to greater discussion in the staffroom, and more of a feeling of cooperation between teachers. I was pleased that he mentioned using my post of ideas for alternatives to the Friday afternoon seminar as inspiration – always good to know! Ed’s school also used ‘cooperative development’, with one teacher talking for 15 minutes while another actively listened to them, then switching roles. Another change they made was in their use of language, talking about ‘my puzzle’ rather than ‘my problem’. Ed has shared some of the resources he uses on Google Drive.

The language of CPD

Ania Kolbuszewska extended the idea of the importance of language, a particular problem in her large school in Switzerland, a country where people are only prepared to take a risk if they are 100% sure of the outcome! She described her attempts to be more aware of the intercultural aspects of her job, something she had never been trained in. As she said, there is a lot of intercultural training available for students and businesspeople, but nothing specifically for managers in language schools, where we are very often working with people from other cultures who may have different expectations to our own.

In Ania’s experience, her teachers generally felt that institutions benefit from professional development, but teachers don’t really, especially if they’re not being paid for it. For some Swiss people, the status of teachers is like that of actors working as waiters until something better comes along. For others, CPD is a checklist for managers, and not something personal.

Cultural diversity in her school provides an additional problem: not everyone in her team speaks English and not everyone speaks German. She described the problems created by the fact that the term ‘CPD’ in English doesn’t have a direct equivalent in German or French, the two other languages she works with. The translations do not cover the same range of concepts, and are much more connected to training than development. Sending out emails in three languages meant that teachers who spoke more than one might compare the different versions and read into them meanings which weren’t intended. Ania therefore decided to use ‘CPD’ across all languages at the school, as well as replacing ‘workshops’ with ‘labs’, a more universal term which encompasses the idea of experimentation, not just learning. She also renamed all of the types of observation she wanted to use to make them as widely and easily understood as a possible.

The language you teach dictates the way that you teach it.

By making sure that the key terms being used were clearly defined and understood in the same way across the organisation, it has started to contribute to culture change. While Ania acknowledges that this process is top-down, she emphasises that this is to minimise problems with understanding the key concepts, in order to create the conditions for more bottom-up development further down the line.

Another change in their organisation is to have cross-language teams. Previously there were separate heads of French, German and English, but now teams are mixed. Echoing what Liam Tyrrell said (see above), these changes are a slow process, but they are gradually moving towards the CPD culture her school wants to have.

Action research

The cooperative development at Ed Russell’s school mirrors the first talk I went to in the main conference, which looked at how to help teachers come up with appropriate questions for their own action research. Paula Rebolledo and Richard Smith demonstrated a dialogue approach with a mentor to help teacher researchers come up with specific questions. When you’re listening to the potential researcher, you can guide them towards questions by noticing when they say ‘I think…’, ‘I guess…’, ‘I assume…’ For example, if they say ‘I think they enjoy it.’ ask questions like ‘What evidence do you have of that?’ If they have none, that could be one of their questions. It’s important that the listener doesn’t come up with answers, but pushes towards questions.

Potential researchers who don’t have a dialogue partner could use question frames like these:

When checking if the questions researchers come up with are suitable, you can use the slightly rephrased version of SMART:

  • Study-oriented (oriented towards the study of the situation rather than action on it)
  • Measurable
  • Accurate
  • Realistic
  • Topic-focused

If action research is something you’d like to explore further, there is a free publication written by Paula and Richard available on the British Council website: A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. It includes everything (as far as I know!) that was covered in the talk, along with a lot more. You might also be interested in ELT Research in Action, a free ebook edited by Jessica Mackay, Marilisa Birello and Daniel Xerri, published by IATEFL in April 2018.

Supporting new teachers

A cooperative practice of a different kind is mentoring, which Alistair Roy covered in his presentation. After 12 roles in 12 years at private language schools, Alistair has had one mentor. He’s had 26 ‘mentees’, including 7 at one time (as he said, how can you mentor people properly like that?!) When asked whether they’d ever had a mentor, I think less than a quarter of the 100+ people in the room put their hand up to say yes, not including me.

When Alistair asked colleagues for help with how to mentor, he was just given checklists, so he started to talk to teachers about what they want from mentoring. He pointed out the amount of questions that we have on the first day of a new job, and how this is multiplied on your first ever day as a teacher, when you’re on your own in the classroom for the first time. He described the story of one new teacher who was given a checklist of things they should know soon after joining the school, and returned it with more than half of the items marked ‘I don’t know’, even though he knew they’d been given that information. This is something I’ve also wondered about in our intensive induction week model (anyone got any other ideas?!)

The whole situation was very different in his first year as a teacher at a UK state school, where he was given a mentor and an effective and useful process:

Alastair found that a lot of teachers seemed to want mentors in a similar position to them, rather than people with a lot more experience. They wanted people who could empathise with them and remember what it was like to be in their position. Josh Round also mentioned something similar at his school, where they have a buddy system for new teachers, with each being assigned a buddy who has been at the school for a little longer than them.

After 5 years, 91% of teachers who have a good mentor stay in the profession. Only 71% without a mentor do. (Institute for Educational Science) So what can managers do to support mentors? Invest money and time, support mentor and mentee, and understand what it’s like to be in their positions.

Lizzie Pinard summarised the talk in more detail here.

CPD for teacher trainers

Of course, it’s not just teachers who need to develop their practice: trainers do too. This was another theme that I noticed: the desire for more systematic training for trainers.

 

Teti Dragas talked about interviews she had done with teacher trainers to find out their stories, covering how they got into training in the first place and how they have subsequently developed. Her main findings were that trainers developed through building up experience, reflecting on critical incidents, working with and talking to colleagues, and attending events like IATEFL. There was little, if any, formal training for them. Another key way that trainers improved was by listening to their trainees, especially when there was resistance to their ideas. This prompted them to think about why that resistance existed, and how to counter it. Mentoring new trainers also helped. What are important qualities of trainers according to Teti’s interviewees? Knowledge, experience, empathy, reflection and open-mindedness. You also need to give trainees time to change their practice. We also need to keep up-to-date with changes in our field, so that we can give trainees the best possible information during their courses.

If you’d like to contribute to Teti’s research, here are her questions.

 

Jo Gakonga’s presentation was based around the idea that trainers need feedback on their feedback, but that most of us never get it. To get around this, we can audio record ourselves, transcribe a minute or two of the feedback, and reflect on what we hear ourselves say and do. The presentation is available as a mini-course on her ELT Training website, and it’s something you can use for professional development within your organisations. We used the course during Jo’s talk, and I would definitely recommend it. I’m hoping to record myself giving feedback at some point before the end of this school year, having just missed our final round of observations. Jo also mentioned the article ‘RP or ‘RIP’: A critical perspective on reflective practice’, written by Steve Mann and Steve Walsh, which I plan to read at some point.

Trinity and Cambridge

Finally, here are two representatives of the main pre-service training certificates for the private language school market.

 

Ben Beaumont’s talk about the effect of washback on teacher training doesn’t really lend itself to being summarised in a paragraph. However, he did share these Trinity materials designed to help teachers improve their assessment literacy. Each video comes with a worksheet, so they could be used as part of a wider professional development programme.

 

Clare Harrison described extensive research Cambridge has done to find out what changes people want to see in the CELTA course, and what changes have already happened. You can watch the full talk here.

They noticed that the percentage of L1 and L2 speakers of English taking the course is now roughly 50/50, compared to 75/25 in 2005. There are also more and more teachers with experience taking this course, which was designed for pre-service teachers. The ICELT, which was designed for experienced teachers, has a much lower take-up. The young learner extension course and CELTYL both had such low take-up that they have ceased to exist, but there is a huge demand for YL to be added to the course, as well as other types of teaching such as 121 or ESP. As Clare said, these are probably beyond the boundaries of a course designed to last for only four weeks and to train inexperienced people to teach adults, but CELTA seems to dominate the market so much that other courses can’t get a foot in the door. Other requests were connected to the syllabus, such as having a greater focus on digital, but as Clare pointed out, this is entirely dependent on the centre, and she reminded trainers to go back to the criteria regularly to check that their course is fulfilling the needs of trainees. Fiona Price has screenshots of some of the changes in criteria on her blog. There are changes in how CELTA is being delivered too: quite a few courses now embed CELTA in an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, for example. After the talk, Clare asked people for any other ideas they may have. Audience members suggested ideas like a post-CELTA module that could provide an extra qualification (Jason Anderson said this), or post-CELTA or –Delta mentors, perhaps with the option of uploading videos of your lessons to be commented on. There was also the suggestion of recertification requirements. I feel like my ELT Playbook series could address some of these needs, so please do take a look at it if you’re interested!

Find out more

Katherine Martinkevich has short summaries of quite a few of these sessions, plus a few others which I didn’t attend. Gerhard Erasmus summarised the #LAMTDSIG day for the TDSIG blog.

If you’re interested in Teacher Development, you might want to investigate some of the other things TDSIG does. They have an e-bulletin (members only), a podcast and run facebook Live sessions, all of which you can find information about on their website. For managers, you can find out more about the Leadership and Management SIG here. If you’d like to join IATEFL, find out how here.

And if you made it all the way through the nearly 4000 words of this post, well done! 🙂

Inspiring Women of ELT

Inspiring Women of ELT banner

Happy International Women’s Day!

This weekend, March 10th and 11th 2018, the rather excellent EFLtalks is hosting two days of talks with 24 women presenting. Each talk is 10 minutes long, with 10 slides only. Here’s the blurb from the facebook page:

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!!! To celebrate, we have put together two days with 24 of EFL’s top Women from around the world with 10 in 10 presentations – “Inspiring Women of ELT.” We have many prizes and special surprises lined up so don’t miss out. It’s free!! Join us Saturday and Sunday for the biggest Women’s Day Event on the web and be inspired!!

https://www.facebook.com/events/215123952374408/

Saturday’s link : http://integratingtechnology.wiziqxt.com/learner/online-class/306400
Sunday’s link: http://integratingtechnology.wiziqxt.com/learner/online-class/306401

I’m very grateful to Rob Howard for organising this, and very proud to have been asked to participate. I will, of course, be talking about ELT Playbook 1. I’m really looking forward to finding out what these other wonderful ladies have to say. I’ll see you there!

Introducing ELT Playbook 1

Since April 3rd last year, I’ve been working on this, and it’s now finally ready to share with the world:ELT Playbook 1 cover

ELT Playbook 1 contains a selection of 30 tasks to help teachers to reflect on what they do, centred particularly on the areas that seem to cause most problems for those new to our profession. It is based on my work as a CELTA trainer and as a manager of newly qualified teachers. There is also an associated online community where participants can choose to share their reflections and learn from others using the book, taking the first steps to building up an online support network.

Where can I buy it?

ELT Playbook 1 is currently available through the following retailers:

  • Smashwords (available in .epub, .pdf, .txt and more)
  • Amazon.com [coming in the next couple of days after I post this, as soon as the powers that be have approved it!]

All links above are affiliate links, meaning I get a few extra pennies if you buy them via this site.

It costs approximately 6.99 USD, 5 GBP or 5.50 EUR.

If you’d like a taster, here’s the contents page and first task, or you can see a blogged version of the first task on the shiny new ELT Playbook blog. You can also download samples via both Smashwords and Amazon before forking out your hard-earned cash.

Who is this series for?

  • Those who want to develop as a teacher, but who would like some support to learn how to do this, along with clear tasks to work through.
  • Teacher trainers or managers who would like ideas for professional development programmes (though please do credit the source).

And this book?

  • Teachers fresh off their initial training who would like to build on what they’ve learnt.
  • Those who have not yet completed an initial training course and would like something to start them off.
  • Teachers a few years after their initial training who feel they would like to go back to basics.
  • Those who would like to develop in a systematic way but are on a limited budget or working in an environment without available support.

Series aims

  • To provide a series of tasks you can work through to improve your teaching.
  • To help you to build a professional portfolio that can be used to show your development when applying for jobs.
  • To provide guidance in how to reflect on your teaching.

Why ELT Playbook?

According to the Macmillan Dictionary online (accessed 17th August 2017), a playbook is ‘any set of strategies to achieve a goal.’ I believe it is just such a set of techniques and strategies that teachers need to develop both inside and outside the classroom to describe themselves as truly professional. This is reflected in the fact that the term ‘playbook’ has moved from the sportsfield to the boardroom over the last few years.

It is also important to emphasise the ‘play’ part of ‘playbook’. We already have plenty of work to do, so it’s important that any professional development we do complements our work in an enjoyable and stimulating way, rather than adding unnecessary extra stress. None of the tasks should take you longer than 2 hours, and many of them should be achievable in under an hour. They are designed to fit in relatively easily around a busy career and the demands of home life.

How do I use ELT Playbook 1?

You can do the tasks in any order: you could start with something you feel you particularly need to work on, you could complete a whole category, or you might prefer to work through the book from beginning to end. If you do one task a week, you should have enough for an average academic year, with a couple of weeks left over to help you when you are particularly busy at work or home. You can also repeat tasks as many times as you like, perhaps reflecting on them in different ways, or seeing how your responses change over time or with different groups.

That means that just this one single volume could provide you with years of professional development, if you so choose! Having said that, if ELT Playbook 1 is successful, I hope to develop a series of similar playbooks for other areas of ELT, and I would very much welcome feedback on which areas you would find it most useful to focus on.

I hope you enjoy using the book.

Thanks

Big thanks to everyone who’s been involved in getting this ready, though they might not realise they helped me!

  • Penny Hands, for editing it and supporting me through the process of finalising everything.
  • Adi Rajan, for inspiring the name.
  • Ola Walczykowska, for designing the cover and the logo.
  • Lindsay Clandfield, for letting me know about the existence of The Noun Project.
  • Karen White, for teaching me how to deal with icons in ebooks.
  • Mum, always.
  • Everyone who’s listened to me talking about it over the last few months.

It’s taken longer than expected to get here, but hopefully it’ll all be worth it! Enjoy 🙂

The TEFL Training Institute Podcast

I first came across this podcast when I saw one of the presenters, Tracy Yu, speak at the 2017 IATEFL conference in Glasgow. She mentioned it at the end of her talk, and as a huge podcast fan, I decided to investigate.

TEFL Training Institute Logo

Each TEFL Training Institute podcast is about 15 minutes long, with about 12-13 minutes of actual content, once you’ve taken away the introduction and contact information. They’re normally presented by Tracy and Ross Thorburn, though they often have guests too. The podcasts are structured around three questions, which helps to keep them focussed. The questions are always listed at the beginning so you know what to expect. They cover a range of topics, both inside and outside the classroom.

One of my favourite episodes was when Tracy and Ross interviewed Ross’s parents about how they’d managed to stay in teaching for so many years without getting bored or burning out. Other recent topics have included how to make role plays interesting, how to recruit the right teachers and find the right school, and how teachers move into training.

The podcast is great because it’s concise, to the point and has a very clear format. It often makes me think about how I’d answer the questions myself. It feels a bit more practical and relevant to me than some of the other TEFL podcasts I’ve listened to. I also like the fact that it’s put together outside Europe (they’re based in China) as I feel a lot of the TEFL stuff I’m exposed to is highly Euro-centric, with only some things from the Americas or Asia. It therefore broadens my perspective. The one thing I find slightly annoying is the music, but I can skip past that 😉 I’d definitely recommend listening. Which episodes did you enjoy?

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: In sum

These are all of the posts I’ve written about IATEFL Glasgow 2017:

If you’d like to watch other talks and interviews from the conference, there are a few recordings available:

My first IATEFL conference was Glasgow 2012, and it’s interesting to reflect on how much I’ve grown and changed as both a teacher and a person since then.

The IATEFL conference is the best week of my year every year, partly because my IATEFL family just keeps growing.

These are still two of my favourite photos of my PLN, both from Glasgow 2012:

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk

Lunch

Lunch with some of the PLN (photo by Chia Suan Chong)

It’s wonderful to be able to keep bumping into so many people who I know online in the rest of the year as the conference continues, and to meet a whole lot of new people, all of whom are passionate about the job they are doing and learning about how to get better at it.

Generally I find the conference a much more relaxed affair than when I first attended, as I’ve taken a lot of pressure off myself to try and attend absolutely everything, instead going with the flow and listening to how my body feels: there’s a limit to how long you want to sit in a stream of windowless rooms lit by fluorescent strip lighting before you need to go outside! I’ve also learnt to book accommodation as early as possible, and as close to the conference site as possible, making it much easier to pop back and get rid of heavy books and things before the evenings.

The kind of talks I’ve chosen to attend have changed gradually, as there are now more materials writing, management and training talks, reflecting the development in my career, but I still enjoy learning practical ideas for the classroom too, especially since these are the easiest to pass on to my colleagues when I return to school. I’ve also found myself more and more interested in corpora, listening and task-based learning, partly as a result of going to previous sessions on all of these topics at IATEFL.

The International Quiz night and the Pecha Kucha are my two favourite evening events at each IATEFL, and I’ve now been lucky enough to take part in the PK twice, first at Harrogate in 2014, and this year at Glasgow as part of the debate team. Phil Longwell talks about the 2017 PK evening in his post, including a recording of Marisa Constantinides. Shay Coyne was kind enough to record this year’s first ever IATEFL PK debate for your viewing pleasure:

Since last year, I’ve been on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, as part of which I curate the IATEFL blog. Here’s an interview from the conference where I talk about the blog and how you can write for it.

I’m also (I hope!) better at summarising my experience of the IATEFL conference each year. The first time round, there was an emotional and a functional post, and I don’t think I really processed what I’d tweeted. This time, it’s taken me about two days/at least sixteen hours to go through all of my tweets and go down a lot of rabbit holes (!) to put together my summaries of the week, but I feel I’ve gained a lot more from the process than I did the first time round, and I hope readers of my blog have too!

Roll on Brighton 2018!

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Continuous professional development

One of the reasons that I go to the IATEFL conference so regularly is to give me a boost for my own CPD. It’s always a bonus when I get ideas of alternative ways to develop too, and that’s what these sessions reflect.

Glasgow continues to develop

Glasgow continues to develop, and so should we!

Continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)

The opening plenary of the conference gave us an overview of how CPD could be integrated into professional organisations more effectively. You can watch the full plenary at IATEFL online, or read my summary here. 

There’s also an interview with Gabriel recorded after his plenary.

Much CPD is decontextualised, one size fits all, prescriptive, and not relevant to the teacher, leaving 90% of the profession behind, with only a few ‘lighthouse schools’ as the exception to this. A lot of it is self-driven, and it can be very superficial. If they do anything, teachers pick two or three techniques from superficial learning, for example from a one-day conference once a year, and use them too much, meaning it is not effective as it should be. They are often not given the time or support to follow up on CPD, and if an expert comes in to tell them how to teach and they don’t implement it, it’s considered their fault, not the management’s.

Teachers need time, resources and support to ensure that CPD is neither useless, nor pointless. Real life CPD needs to be timely, job-embedded, personalized and collegial. Diaz Maggioli says we need to think in terms of learning communities to come together to investigate areas of mutual interest.

CPD is an investment, not an expense. The end user of CPD is the student, not the teacher, and more investment in CPD benefits everyone.

Diaz Maggioli suggests that every school should provide one hour of paid CPD, away from the students. He’s created a framework: ‘The Teacher’s Choice Framework’ (2004). On the vertical access, we have outdated/updated knowledge, and on the horizontal access, we have aware/unaware. In every organisation, there are people in all four quadrants, for example who are unaware that their knowledge is outdated. Here are some ideas for differentiating CPD to ensure that there is something for people in each quadrant:

  • Mirror coaching: ask a colleague to come and write ethnographic notes about your class. No judgements, just notes about what you do, which you then get. You access your behaviour through somebody else’s eyes, in a way you can’t with video. You can ask them questions too. This is great for teachers who are unaware that their knowledge is updated or outdated.
  • Collaborative coaching: especially co-teaching, which is good for those who are aware their knowledge is outdated.
  • Expert coaching: for those who are unaware their teaching is outdated. This is not a deficit view: you are giving them the strength to renew their teaching.
  • Study groups: a teacher volunteers to show a sample of student work, and explain how they got the students to learn. They have 5 minutes to describe it, then other teachers have 10 minutes to ask questions, then a 10 minute break for the teacher to build a case to respond, then 20 minutes to form conclusions as a group. 
  • Critical friend teams: this works as a sounding board, especially when teachers are struggling with new methodology or classroom management. Some of them look for resources for you, others ask questions. Groups are adhoc, but the results should be recorded. It may lead to ideas like collaborative action research, with teachers planning and implementing ideas together.
  • Exploratory action research: teachers are taught to answer questions that are in their context. They communicate this through posters that they share with their colleagues, and it is highly contextualised. It gives the teachers a voice.
  • Lesson study: a group plans a lesson together, then one of them teaches it while the others observe the students learning, They get together and decide whether it needs replanning, then another teacher teaches it, and the process repeats. It’s also highly contextualised.
  • Learning circles: ad hoc professional development meetings. One person has something they want to find out about. They open the circle by asking others what they know and what they want to know. Teachers work together to plan a project together and implement it. They then decide how to publish the knowledge, and close the circle when they’re ready to do so.
  • Mentoring: working with a more experienced teacher who helps you to work throuh changes. These are more personalised approaches to CPD, and work best when pairs are self-selected. 
  • Professional portfolio: by putting this together, you reflect on your own development.
  • Dialogue journals: work together with another teacher to record your development and ask your own questions.

These are all things which can be done within work time and don’t have to be self-driven.

Follow-up ideas:

  • Explore one of the strategies in depth and share it with colleagues.
  • Help administrators find resources to start a small-scale pilot programme, using money in the budget that won’t be used. Gather evidence, and build a case for the maintenance of the project.
  • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace.
  • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.
  • Join IATEFL, and get involved in the amazing communities of practice that are the SIGs.
  • There’s a summit on the future of the TESOL profession that you can find online and get ideas from.

Blog posts following Gabriel’s plenary:

The selfie classroom observation (John Hughes)

John described six possible observer roles:

  1. As assessor
  2. As trainer (often mixed with role 1)
  3. Observer as peer
  4. As learner
  5. As researcher
  6. As yourself (through photos or audio/video recordings)

The last is the one he terms the ‘selfie’ observation. He did a survey to find out more about these, and shared some of the results with us in the session, as well as on his blog.

Benefits of self-observation:

  • more flexibility
  • can focus intensively on one area over a series of lessons
  • observing students’ reactions is easier
  • you can question your own assumptions
  • more ‘real’, less ‘staged’ than formal observation
  • snapshots of a lesson help you to remember it better
  • observations become then norm, not the exception, so teachers become more relaxed

The #eltwhiteboard hashtag is a good place to find and share pictures of whiteboards. In the session we looked at one particular whiteboard and our impressions of the teacher and lesson behind it. John also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink [affiliate link] and a study about teachers and first impressions, which Gladwell also referred to in this New Yorker article.

If you do decide to video a lesson, remember that you don’t need to watch the whole thing.A lot of self-observations are focussed on what’s being said (e.g. instructions, student talking),more than what’s seen, but remember that you can use different kinds of observation task to help you notice different aspects of the lesson. John has a range of them on his blog. Ways of using self-observations:

  • Observe yourself teaching out of general interest
  • Observe yourself to address a specific issue
  • Personal record-keeping and reflection
  • Part of certification/further study e.g. DipTESOL, Delta
  • Share with other teachers e.g. #ELTwhiteboard
  • Observe the students
  • Videos can be sent to students to help them to catch up on lessons they’ve missed
  • Create worksheets using whiteboard photos to provide a follow-up in later lessons
  • For use on teacher training courses by trainers
  • To enrich a ‘blind’ observation when describing a lesson to a peer

John also highlighted the importance of training teachers to observe, so it’s not just the preserve of managers and teacher trainers. I think this is really important, and takes a lot of the mystery out of the observation process. If you know what’s happening from the other side, it shouldn’t be as scary any more. According to a friend who teaches in state schools in the UK, this is a normal part of training new teachers there – I’m not aware of it happening in any kind of formalised way in ELT.

Developing through IATEFL

Jon Burton is the new CEO of IATEFL. In this interview recorded at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, he talks about what IATEFL is doing to attract younger teachers, and the #myiatefl hashtag which you can use to give feedback on the organisation.

Tweets from other sessions

Me three! I think we all started blogging at a similar time 🙂

Making the most of blogs (IH Brno Sugar and Spice conference, March 2017)

On 4th March 2017, I went back to my roots to present at the IH Brno local conference, this year called ‘Sugar and Spice’.

Brno Cathedral

This one-day conference is where I did my first full-length conference presentation in 2011. That presentation was called A Whole New World of ELT and was about all the many ways you could develop your teaching using online resources. My presentations now are much more pared down and focussed, and (I hope!) more accessible because of that – when I first started I tried to pack way too much in there. I was also seduced by new toys at that point and made an all-singing, all-dancing Prezi, which makes me dizzy looking at it now, and took hours and hours to make. Simple PowerPoint slides are definitely the way to go!

The presentation I did this time round is an updated version of one I’ve done twice before. You can watch a webinar version done for the British Council, or read a text version based on the presentation I did at Innovate ELT in 2016.

The blogs which I recommended in this version were:

I had a brilliant time at the conference, including seeing Hana Ticha present for the first time and taking part in a Live Online Workshop from the conference, which will be available as a recording soon. Thanks for a great weekend, IH Brno!

Incomplete thoughts

All of these are thoughts I want to turn into blog posts at some point, but for now, they’ll just remain as sentences and the thoughts will be pursued in my head. I know there are probably books and blogposts out there which build on some of these thoughts. I may even have read/be reading some of them, and they are shaping these thoughts. But I wanted to have a record of them to see where I am and where I’m going. I may not think any of these things in a few months. In no particular order, but numbered for ease of reference in case people choose to comment…

It’s not a pleasant thought, John, but I have this terrible feeling from time to time that we might all just be human.
– BBC Sherlock, series 4, episode 2

  1. The way I teach and the way I study languages are increasingly at odds with each other. Trying to pull back by changing my teaching, but it’s a long slog.
  2. I’m not comfortable with the term ‘freer practice’. I don’t think it does what it’s supposed to. I also almost never get to it anyway.
  3. Most of a language teacher’s job is nothing to do with the teaching of language, but is in fact about the building of confidence, moving students towards ‘It doesn’t matter’: It doesn’t matter if I make a mistake: the world will not end. It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand everything: we can all do more than we think we can.
  4. Learning to teach and learning a language have a lot in common, in the same way as learning any new skill. Time, patience and an acceptance that you will never be perfect all help.
  5. Prompted by Damian Williams at IATEFL 2016: Language awareness is two-fold: knowing about the language and having an instinct about what is correct. One skill which needs to be focussed on more is writing. Native speakers should be given guidance on how to do this once they’ve left school, not just non-natives. An English teacher should strive to have the best command of the language they are able to, and we should help them to develop this, not just teaching skills.
  6. I kind of think I finally get task-based learning. I’m trying it out. At least I think I am.
  7. There’s not enough of a focus on memorisation within lessons, especially before speaking/freer practice activities. How can students really internalise the language? This is an important step before we can expect them to use it.
  8. Maybe a good lesson shape: meaning-focussed task, build on some of the language students needed or an area you think they would benefit from, memorisation/ internalisation through some kind of challenge, another meaning-focussed task. Don’t expect them to use the language you focussed on: it’s there to be noticed, then actively used when the students’ language system is ready to absorb it after whatever incubation period is necessary. This may vary from student to student. Is that TBL? Dogme? None of the above?
  9. The way we approach grammar teaching across a series of levels confuses more than it helps and is incredibly inefficient in the long run. How can we introduce the more general rules proposed by Lewis in The English Verb as early as possible and help learners see connections? I’ve tried this sometimes, but only really with intermediate and above as a way of clarifying links between grammar structures. What about making that the first way the language is introduced? Would you need L1 to do this efficiently? (I suspect Danny Norrington-Davies may help here, though I don’t have the book yet, so I’m not 100% sure) [affiliate links]
  10. Prompted by Julie Moore at the IH AMT conference: we should differentiate more between the language we expect students to produce, and the language we just want them to understand receptively.
  11. Chunks, chunks, chunks. But how to teach and practise a large enough amount of them so that students really remember them other than through rote learning? And who decides/should decide which ones are worth learning?
  12. If we really want students to get lots of exposure to the language, then the easiest way to do it is probably through listening, since so many of us are plugged in all the time anyway, and it can serve as background noise to life. But then we need to teach students how to listen. And that includes connected speech. But that might not be what they need if they’re in an English as Lingua Franca environment. But then will they get enough listening anyway? But they might get most of their exposure through films, video games and music where connected speech is probably necessary. But but but…
  13. We can’t force our students to be motivated. But without motivation they will never really get anywhere. It’s exposure to the language that provides the tipping point across various thresholds. I’ve only ever really managed this in country, but so so many people don’t get that opportunity, but still manage to get to very high levels in foreign languages. I admire them and would love to know how they do it. Where do they find the time? It’s so much easier to watch, listen to and read things in my language. Two pages a night in a foreign language is enough for me!
  14. Training, blogs and methodology books should never be divorced from a current and up-to-date grounding in classroom teaching. It’s all well and good telling people how to do things, but if you can’t do it yourself, consistently, when you’re tired, overworked, and have a million other things to think about, then it’s all just wishful thinking. We all know deep down that e.g. coursebook-based lessons probably don’t reflect how languages are actually learnt. We all know there are a thousand other things we could do in the classroom that might be more efficient. But time. And sanity.
  15. There are things which are very wrong with the state of ELT and with our profession. We want to change them. But change takes patience and perseverance. Lead by example. Speak, do, don’t shout, show patience. Ranting and railing just get people’s backs up, and may even make people dig their heels in. Be patient. Change will come. Change has already come. Notice what we have done, not just what is yet to be done. Celebrate progress and others will want to celebrate with you.
  16. Mental bandwidth is a thing. You can only think about so many things at once. The balance of how you use your bandwidth changes as you build up experience and things become more automatic. Understanding this idea might help people not to be so hard on themselves.
  17. Training shouldn’t just be about teaching. It should include things about the day-to-day realities of being a teacher. How to manage your time. How to communicate effectively. How to manage your managers. How to find work. How to have a work-life balance. How to avoid ruts. How to stay sane.
  18. My job is not to pull, but to push. Push the school to where we think it should be. Push the teachers to achieve what they can as efficiently as possible. Push people together to strengthen everyone’s networks. Push myself to keep developing, so I can demonstrate what I believe, not just talk about it.
  19. If I really believe something, then I should show it through my actions. Incremental changes in my life have made me happier and healthier. There are more of these to be made, but I am in no rush. I will make them when I am ready. And if I don’t make them in time, then it’s nobody else’s problem but mine.
  20. You can learn from everyone. But you should not let what they think govern what is happening in your head. Your head is your space. You decide who and what to let in.

It looks like some of those thoughts were deeper than I suspected! Maybe this shows you some of my beliefs and principles. I always find that kind of thing hard to pin down. Maybe I’ll get round to writing more about some of these. Maybe not. But now at least some of them are out of my system. Happy New Year everyone!

Happy birthday IHJ!

The IH Journal has turned 20 this month, and to celebrate Dominique Vouillemin has edited a special edition of the journal pulling together the traditional columns and a selection of anniversary treats. His editorial gives you a taster of what’s available. The full edition is available for you to read online or download. My own contribution to the journal is called ‘Travelling back through our profession’, and was inspired by Chia Suan Chong and the TEFLology podcast. It’s on pages 36-37 of the journal, or is on the site.

ih-journal-20th-anniversary-cover

Here’s to the next 20 years!

Travelling back in time

Having recently recorded a lesson, I thought it would be interesting, if excruciating, to go back and re-watch myself teaching from mid-Delta. You can watch too if you want to join in the fun 😉

These are my impressions:

  • I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I’m so much happier and healthier for it! (Yep, that’s the first thing that struck me!)
  • My lessons flow much more now, with better pacing. There’s a dramatic reduction in the amount of time I spend at the board/doing open-class work.
  • I’m more confident when dealing with language now. Much less looking at a piece of paper to check things.
  • My God I was talking slowly! Although that may reflect the level of the students – I can’t remember if it was intermediate or upper intermediate, but I think I could have spoken at a more natural speed.
  • Everything was at the board here and open class. I’d be much less likely to do that now, unless I’m mopping up. I also appear to be telling the students lots of things, rather than checking if they already know it by getting them to discuss it in pairs.
  • My board work was already fairly well-organised, and I was using different colours to differentiate information. I can’t remember what happened in the rest of the lesson, but it looks like I’ve written everything on the board. That must have taken quite some time – time when I wasn’t paying attention to the students…
  • There wasn’t much thinking time for the students after some of my questions. The language appears to be appropriately graded.
  • The staging of the questions appears to be logical and the questions are all clear.

I wrote the above list while watching the video saved on my computer. I’ve just found the original blog post, and noticed some of my opinions/beliefs have changed too. For example “I think I was speaking at a manageable speed, using appropriate language, with some repetition, as you would get in normal language. I do speak faster to these students at times, but I feel in a grammar lesson it’s better to take your time.” which is not what I thought when watching it this time, especially when I realised they were upper intermediate!

Sandy at the board clarifying borrow and lend from a 2013 lesson

I also realised there’s actually another post about an intermediate class, this time with two videos. Here’s what I thought on watching those:

  • My instructions were fine, not as bad as I remembered, but not as good as they could have been. Some chesting of the handout, some instruction checking, instructions before handouts… I think the main problem with them seems to have been a lack of demos/examples.
  • The first time I was drilling without visuals, so students were saying, not reading. This is good! I also made everybody join in. Later in the lesson they were reading from the board though – no memorisation here. There were some supporting gestures and a bit of connected speech (‘to’/’from’) too, plus one example of drilling from phonemes. Now I suspect I’d put structures like “lend sth to sb” into a ‘real’ sentence, like “He lent the pen to her.”
  • I reminded students that “There’s never idle time in classes. That’s your remembering time.” Didn’t realise I was already doing that before – I thought that was a relatively new thing. There are also other bits of learner training: highlight the things you had problems with, use two colours to copy information and a reminder to use Quizlet, which was obviously a routine with this group as I didn’t have to tell them any more about it. I also must have used Edmodo with them, which I’m out of the habit of using with my students now (just some of my trainees).
  • Clear board work again 🙂
  • There was an opportunity for some dictionary work with the prepositions and the money words potentially.
  • I emphasised that the preposition should be learnt with the word: a bit of lexical chunking (though prompted by the book, and not sure I realised I was doing it)
  • Giving students the opportunity to work out the language themselves, although again in open class. Now I’d get students to discuss it in pairs first, then feedback in open class.
  • The borrow/lend focus included students’ names, making it a tiny bit more personal.
  • I made sure I had their attention during the clarification, and gave them separate writing time afterwards.
  • Wait time was better in this clarification than in the first video.
  • Nice bit of comparative linguistics about ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ 🙂

So it turns out another benefit to recording yourself – you can come back to it later and see how much you’ve improved/developed/changed, just as you might by recording a student and saving it for the end of the year 🙂 Oh, and it wasn’t quite as excruciating as I thought it might be!

Watching myself teach (again)

A few days ago my students agreed to let me record their lesson. Thanks very much to Mike for doing the honours! Unfortunately we didn’t get the whole lesson, because the camera ran out of space, but 50 minutes was plenty. I was working with a group of upper intermediate students from English File Upper Intermediate 3rd edition, and this was my tenth lesson with them.

Four images of Sandy in class - two giving instructions, one with a hand up for silence, and one writing on the board

The last time I watched myself was during the Delta, about four years ago. You can see the videos here. I enjoyed the experience much more this time round, partly because I have a great group of students, and partly because I can see just how much I’ve progressed.

My instructions are now almost always clear and concise, and I’m much better at waiting for students to listen to me. I indicate changes in pairs or groupings and wait for students to move before the rest of my instructions, show the materials as I speak, and check instructions so the whole set-up is much more efficient. Monitoring is more consistent, for understanding of the task, task completion and language. I’ve recently started using the board more consistently for emergent language, and am developing the information I include there. I was pleased that I gave students time to write down this language as I don’t always remember it.

There is still the occasional lack of wait time for students to answer my question, I should have introduced the phonemic chart before students looked at the sounds on the board, and I need to incorporate more of the language that I write in my notebook into future lessons, though at least I’m normally getting it into the lesson which I write it down in. In fact, it’s important to get a lot more recycling and revision into all of my lessons.

The part of the lesson which wasn’t recorded consisted of finishing the pronunciation practice, including differentiating between /u:/ and /ʊ/, which the group particularly struggled with, and then giving them some speaking practice about clothes and fashion. For the first time in a while they had a chunk of time to do this, which was long enough for me to conduct a speaking assessment, one of the regular assessments we do. It also gave them freer practice, something which I often struggle to get to, and am trying to work on at the moment.

All in all, I think this was probably my most successful lesson with this group, mostly because for the first time this year I didn’t try to cram too much in. The students were engaged throughout, and I believe we only focussed on the language that caused them problems after we’d completed the initial test.

Tag Cloud