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

Posts tagged ‘reflection’

5 DOSsing years

Last Friday marked the end of my fifth year as the Director of Studies at International House Bydgoszcz. When I moved here I thought that I would be a bit bored with the job after 5 years and it would be time to move on. I’m very surprised and happy to say that that is not the case at all, and I’m not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. I’ve written this post to share some of the things I’ve learnt from five years as a Director of Studies and some of the highlights of the job for me.

The first photo of me in Bydgoszcz, August 2015

What I’ve learnt

Perspective is difficult to achieve, both for teachers and for you. Once you’ve got it, it’s both important to remember and hard to understand that others might not have it.

Time helps.

Patience helps, both with yourself and others.

Emotional reactions are a normal part of any job, but you need to learn when it’s OK to let them happen and when it’s better to wait.

You’ll deal with the same issues and hear the same complaints repeatedly, and it’s a lot less frustrating when you accept this.

The timetable is a monster.

The effort isn’t seen, the results are. Think about how they’ll be perceived.

There will always be accusations of favouritism, regardless of how much work you put into making things as fair as possible. 

Difficult decisions are still decisions that have to be made. Know that they’re the best decision you can make at that point in time and move on.

Communication is key.

Gratitude makes a huge difference to how everybody feels. Express it sincerely and often.

Managers need feedback just as much as teachers do, but it’s hard to create an environment where you get it. When you get negative feedback, don’t fight it or get defensive about it. Accept it and learn from it. Show gratitude for it. Model how you want your staff to respond to feedback.

Crisis points are where huge amounts of learning happens.

Sometimes your teaching gets neglected when there are so many other things to think about.

You have to take care of yourself and your physical and mental health.

You are not alone.

What I’ve loved

Watching teachers develop.

Seeing their confidence and skills improve week on week and year on year.

Seeing what they go on to do next, and how our school has help them to do that.

Watching senior staff develop.

Seeing how they grow into their roles.

Helping them develop their skills.

Watching myself develop, as a manager, trainer and person.

Learning how to be kind to myself and accept the decisions I’ve made, including when they go wrong.

Improving my communication skills.

Seeing our school grow and change.

Seeing students progress through the school, especially when I’ve made decisions about their progress in the past.

Working with fantastic colleagues who make going to school something I look forward to.

What I’m looking forward to

Trying new things out at our school.

Watching our students continue with their progress through the school.

Hearing about what our teachers do next, both inside and outside teaching.

Continuing to grow and learn, and help others do so.

Seeing what happens next.

Conversation shapes

Have you ever watched in despair as students have a ‘conversation’ which is actually just two monologues? Or tried in vain to interact with a student who only gives one-word answers, however encouraging you are?

I know when I’m B1 or below, it’s difficult for me to pull my weight in a conversation and I need a lot of support from whoever I’m talking to. In the classroom we can provide this support in a variety of ways. We can supply sentence stems that students can complete, we can show them the first two or three turns of a conversation, or we can provide them with a whole range of questions or other functional language which might be useful in the conversation they are having.

These are all interventions we can make before or during students speak in class. But what about after the conversation? How can you help students to reflect on the success of that conversation? Here’s one idea I haven’t tried yet but it would like to: show students the conversation shapes below and ask them these questions:

  • Which shape is like a conversation you might have in your own language?
  • How would you feel in each of these conversations if you were a person A or person B? How actively would you participate in the conversation in each example?
  • Which shape is like the conversation you just had? Do you think you were person A or person B?
  • How successful do you think it was as a conversation?
  • What could you change in the conversation you just had to make it more like shape 3? What help do you need from the teacher to do this?

Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A talking a lot, and B saying almost nothing Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with both A and B producing a single long monologue Blue long thin rectangles on the left are A, orange rectangles on the right are B, arrange to show alternate turn-taking with A and B taking turns of varying lengths, sometimes overlapping

You can download a PowerPoint of all of the images at Conversation shapes if you want to adapt them for your own lessons, though please retain the credit.

I think this activity is an example of metacognition, which is the act of monitoring and making changes to learning strategies you use. The reflection helps learners to become aware of the processes they use when they are having a conversation, and what they can do to have more successful conversations in the future. Here’s a beginner’s guide to metacognition from Cambridge.

What other strategies do you use to help learners have more successful conversations?

The end (kind of)

This is the last of my weekly posts, started when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in Poland. I still have a couple of weeks of work left, but my teaching is done for the year and life outside the classroom seems to be opening up again, so this is a general reflection on what I’ve learnt since lockdown started.

Personal stuff

When we first went into lockdown I thought that it was going to be very difficult for me because I live by myself. I thought I would get lonely and depressed because that’s what’s happened to me before when I didn’t have friends I could easily meet. However, it was the complete opposite. I don’t think I have ever felt more connected to the world and to my friends and family since I started living abroad. As we all discovered the power of Zoom and how easy it is to connect groups of people for all kinds of different reasons I started to have regular group meetings with three different lots of friends as well as regular conversations with my mum and with two other friends. Together with professional conversations and online events, my social life has been very full, including games afternoons, pub quizzes and just having conversations on every topic under the sun, starting with the inevitable “What it’s like for you there now?”

Apart from the social side of things, I have continued to work on my cooking and baking. I can now confidently bake with live yeast, and have added a range of meal options to my menu, including pizza and experimenting with chickpeas. I have had more time to cook and bake than previously and I hope to maintain this to some extent when life opens up again completely.

Health-wise, it was a challenge not having physio for so long and since I went back a couple of weeks ago it has been quite painful, but nothing I haven’t had to deal with before. I have bought a bike and started to use it in the last couple of weekends and I’m really enjoying the new places it can take me to, including where I am standing right now. I dictated most of this post into my phone while standing in the forest taking a break from a bike ride. 🙂

I have hugely enjoyed all of the cultural offerings which have been made available to us during lockdown. I have watched almost all of the productions from the National Theatre and have learnt to notice staging in a way I never had before because of their simple but incredibly effective productions. I have filled a lot of gaps in my Shakespeare knowledge, watching at least five plays which I had never seen before, and appreciating all over again why he is such an amazing playwright. I’ve also seen a few musicals, and other plays and productions I would never have considered watching if it wasn’t for lockdown. I have given money a few times and hope to continue being able to support the arts in more ways after this.

Final lessons

My final two lessons with my groups were a grammar, vocabulary and writing test which involved me making sure they could all access the test successfully, then waiting for them to finish and providing activities for the fast finishers.

In the final lesson I shared the test results and we looked at websites that the students can use to practice English over the summer.

In the last Polish beginners lesson we did general revision from our 20 or so hours of lessons this year. We started with an ELTpics image of a person which my students had chosen and they answered simple questions about the person in a Google Doc. To help them do this we had Quizlet breaks, replaying set from earlier in the year including demonstrating the Gravity function. Pat way through the lesson we added a second image to the document and they answered more questions about that lesson. The lesson was only 1 hour long, so we didn’t have time to create conversations between the two people set in some of the locations we have practiced language for this year, for example the supermarket, the train station, or the police station. I think the structure of this lesson works nicely, particularly for the small group of three students I had, and it’s a lesson that worked very well in an online setting because we could move smoothly between the documents and the Quizlet sets.

My teaching

Like pretty much every teacher in the world, my teaching has undergone a huge transformation over the last 3 months. I have gone from knowing nothing about Zoom to being able to run a range of lesson types on it and integrate lots of different types of activities and tools to make sure that my students benefit from the lessons. I have learnt that it’s an incredibly versatile tool, and I know that it will be a part of my teaching from now on. I have also been able to incorporate many things that I probably could have used in a face-to-face classroom but never had the incentive to do so, or tried once a long time ago and never used again. There is no doubt in my mind that my teaching has developed a lot due to the challenge of the last few months, and I have found it very exciting and interesting to try to work out how to teach in this different way. I wish that it didn’t need to have happened in this way but I think that education will be richer for it.

Training and conferences

Today I attended the #excitELT conference online, which was a great format – 15-20 minute presentations, followed by 20-30-minute discussions in small groups with Google Docs, followed by a 5-10-minute round-up and a short break before the next session. This is just one of the new training formats I have been privileged to take part in over the last three months. I previously wrote about the IH Moscow event which I attended which had short presentations by lots of different teachers, and I will shortly be sharing a post by Alastair Grant about the weekly We’re all in this together meetings which features very vibrant chats run via Zoom based on prompts or guest speakers. If you know of any other interesting new training formats, please let me know.

All of this has come about out of the need to provide training and support with the sudden move to online teaching, and it has yet again demonstrated the innovation of the teaching community. A lot of conferences have had to move online and this has broadened access to these events, and enabled a wider range of speakers to take part. I hope that these models are maintained when the pandemic is over, and we can continue to look for new and innovative ways of supporting as many teachers as possible.

Management

The pandemic has probably thrown up the most challenges for me as a manager. Working with the rest of the management team, we were lucky enough to have two days to make the transition to online teaching and be able to provide training for our teachers to make this move as effective as possible.

I have had to learn to be more effective with my email communication, as in the beginning there was so much information which needed to be given to the teachers, and the only way to pass it all on seemed to be via email. I tried to speak to every teacher over the phone or on Zoom at least once a week. While this was not always possible I know I managed to speak to people at least every two weeks. I created a virtual staffroom on Zoom so that people could meet me easily and I could remain as accessible as possible, as I would in my office at school.

We continued with weekly meetings and workshops, and I tried to maintain the social aspects of this by having some time for us to have a chat at the beginning of the meeting before we started the main event. I’m not sure how successful these things were, and the last three months have shown areas where our admin needs to become more efficient, as it’s not possible just to pop into another room and have a quick chat with somebody if there’s a problem. When you have to make an appointment or send yet another email, it’s all more screen time and shows up the holes in the system.

We now have two weeks at the end of the school year to try to work out some of these problems before the summer, and I have time during the summer to think about what I can do to improve the situation. The fact that we will inevitably enter some new mode of working in September gives us the chance to have a kind of reset. I’m not sure we would have done that without the need to work in such a different way during the pandemic.

Reflection

Writing weekly posts since the beginning of the pandemic has allowed me to really think about what has happened to me and to our profession and lives over the last 3 months. I have thought about my teaching more deeply than for a long time. Overall, I know that I have been very lucky to always have a little bit of freedom during lockdown, to continue to have work to keep me busy, to have a range of challenges, and to not have to deal with the challenges of having children suddenly at home. I have been very grateful for the support and comments I have received in response to my posts.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope that the end is in sight for you as well before too long. I hope that the end is really here for us in Poland too, and that it’s not a false sense of security before a second wave comes. As always with these major events, we are reminded that life is short and we never know when it will change dramatically, so we should continue to live every moment to the best of our abilities, including when we are in lockdown. Good luck and stay safe.

Tips and useful links

If you need to present from PowerPoint via Zoom, go to File > Set up show > Browsed by an individual (window). (Thanks Kelly Cargos)

If you’re having trouble downloading the chat now, there’s been a setting change in the latest version of Zoom, which you may need to change back. (Thanks Ruth)

John Hughes has five activities for introducing Zoom to students, including functional language they may need to use when things go wrong.

Peter Clements talks about peer observation, and what’s changed with it since he’s started online teaching.

Rachel Tsateri talks about connecting classrooms using Flipgrid.

Jade Blue suggests four activities to help teens build social connections.

ELT Campus has some incredibly useful tips for giving instructions online, and a whole series of webinars for teachers on how to teach English online. Thanks to Katherine Martinkevich for bringing their site to my attention on her ever-useful blog. She also led me to this Padlet of fun activities for the Zoom classroom.

Sharon Hartle reflects on the experience of teaching online at Verona University, and provides tips on using a combination of Moodle and Zoom.

Leo Selivan has a Zoom activity using the photos of the week on BBC, The Guardian or The Atlantic.

James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni have taken the CELTA course online.

Hana Ticha was back in the classroom with some of her younger students.

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

TEFL (online) Tantrums (guest post)

Last weekend my colleague Ruth shared a poem by her friend, Jenna Edmondson. It made me laugh and I think a lot of teachers can empathise with it right now. Jenna kindly agreed to share it with the wider world on my blog. Thanks Jenna!

TEFL (Online) Tantrums

Just a second, I’m logging on

Teacher can you hear me?

Oh no, what’s wrong?!

I didn’t realise I was doing a hearing test today

Teacher can you see me?!

Yes I can, go away

I’ve 2020 vision of how this will pan out

Now please be quiet, no need to shout

Wait a moment are we all here?

Maria was signed in, now she’s just disappeared

Pablo please, can you unmute your mic

I can tell you’re not listening, you’re playing fortnite

OK class, cameras on please

I want to check you’re not watching TV

Great, now Maria’s back let’s begin

Teacher I can’t see you

(Honestly it’s fine)

Have you tried logging out and back in?

Let’s not waste any more time.

Can we check the homework? Page 52

I haven’t done it teacher, I didn’t know what to do

Well, the instructions were there in the chat and classroom

I had too much work

                           a project

                        a test

Ok class, just give me a rest,

Teacher Maria’s in the list twice

Great, I don’t know why

Maria is that your evil twin

Perhaps one of you

could speak or type?

I don’t mind which

ignore the glitch

Just please join in

Teacher Can I go to the toilet?

Yes…you are at home

You can do what you like

Just don’t take your phone

What’s that sound

Quick run for cover

Oh you’re just eating your mic

Or were you fighting your brother?

Maria, Question 1; oh, where has she gone?

Can you please tell me the answer, anyone?

Teacher you’re muted

We can’t hear what you said

OK, I type, let’s do some speaking instead

Can I work with him

Can she work with me

Teacher Sara can’t talk

OK you can work in 3s

5 minutes, great off you go

Pablo click on the link

Leave me alone

Give me time to drink a tea

Give me strength

For my headache to leave

I join the room

SPEAK ENGLISH please

And what is this you’re drawing

All over slide 3?

Answer the questions,

That’s all you’ve to do

Or there’ll be no more games or breakout rooms.

TEACHER kahoot!

Is that my name now?

Right let’s try

Everyone-phone’s out

I’ve got no data

The wifi’s gone

What’s the code

My battery’s run out

(Turn down the kahoot theme tune

This is torture, can we end this soon?)

Teacher I’m bored

Thanks, me too

I’m trying my hardest

What about you?

Time for a video

Let me share the screen

no, mute your mics,

just listen to me

now there’s an echo

I can hear myself speak

God I sound awful

I can’t hear myself think

Let’s stop this now

It’s time to say goodbye

Oh Maria, you’re back!

With your parents… hi!

No I can’t go through her progress with you right now

If she was here the whole class we’d have something to talk about

Teacher it’s the time

Teacher bye

Bye Teacher

WAIT I haven’t given you the homework yet

Now half the class has gone

and we’re back to square one

I’ll mute myself before I say something I regret

The Teacher Show has come to an end

I’m slowly going round the bend

I’ve planned for hours and taught for less

Please believe me, I’m doing my best

I can see my flaws on the screen for six hours straight

I’m not a vain person but this angle’s not great

I struggle through when the tech is down

And try to ignore family in the background

The reality is that the time goes quite fast

I think most students enjoy this virtual class

As I do too, now and then

But I can’t wait to be in the classroom again!

 

Dear Class,

With each day we’re closer to the end of term

And I hope there’s a lot you’ve learned

Hopefully patience; to be kind to others and yourself

To know you’re resilient and to appreciate good health

That the book doesn’t have the answers

Maybe your parents or teachers don’t too

If you want to learn something it has to come from you

Go from these few months knowing you can cope

And see you back in the classroom soon, I hope.

My name is Jenna Edmondson and I’ve been teaching English for 13 years. I’ve worked in Hong Kong, Sydney and now Spain. In my free time I love writing poetry (and occasionally performing it) painting and making silver jewellery. I really enjoy teaching and the connections we make with people, and putting these small observations into words. I studied English Language with Linguistics at the Uni of Sheffield and have always been interested in word play and sharing a love of the language with other people. I currently teach at ELI (English Language Institute) in Seville.

Calmer seas

The title of this week’s post is inspired by Zhenya Polosatova. I’ve just read her post comparing the current situation to being in a boat – you can’t decide how the sea behaves, or what the weather conditions are, but you can decide what’s happening in the boat. I feel like this is the first week that’s been anything approaching a standard 5-day work week since the middle of March when all this started. The seas are definitely calmer now. About 90% of what I did was what I’d normally be doing at this time in the year: teaching, helping teachers, admin work for this point in the year, and some forward planning for next year. I feel like most of us have now reached the acceptance stage of the change curve, and some are moving to the problem solving stage.

1. Blame others. 2. Blame self. 3. Uncertainty/confusion. 4. Acceptance/Rationalisation. 5. Problem solving. 6. Moving on

Away from work, I’ve been going back to some of my favourite books in the past few weeks. I read Winnie the Pooh again after a gap of at least 20 years. I’d forgotten how full of wisdom it is. Here’s my favourite, a reminder not to worry about things you can’t do anything about:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought. Piglet was comforted by this.

My Zoom lessons

Testing times

Our first elementary teen lesson this week was a test lesson as we’ve reached the end of the unit. Revision was creating sentences from pictures using all the different forms we’ve studied, and a few minutes playing collaborative Quizlet Live with a bumper set of vocabulary (I described how to play this on Zoom here). The test was done through Google Docs, as described in the ‘Testing’ section of last week’s post. These were some of the problems I had and how we resolved them:

  • Before they started, I shared my screen and demonstrated how to fill in the test.
  • One student couldn’t copy and paste the link, then was pasting it in the search bar, not the address bar (she’s 11). The other students explained to her in Polish, and I managed to get her to share her screen to check she was pasting it in the right place.
  • Another student couldn’t open the link at all. I sent her a version of the link I’d shortened using bit.ly so she could type it out more easily. (Top tip: you can edit the link so it’s words instead of a random string of letters and numbers. Don’t use capital letters as the links are case sensitive.)
  • The same student then couldn’t edit the document. She hand-wrote the answers in her notebook. I saw her notebook and know she did this, but am waiting for her to email them to me!
  • Speaking to students to solve problems disturbs the others. For the second class, I created three breakout rooms. You can rename rooms, so I called them ‘Doing test’, ‘Problems’ and ‘Finished test’. Once all students had their tests open, I moved everybody from the main room into ‘Doing test’. You can move students from one room to another as needed during the test by clicking ‘reassign’ next to their names. This is also a good way to keep fast finishers engaged.

Problems, Finished, Doing the test

  • I had all of the tests open in separate tabs so could see that everyone was working, and roughly how far through they were. This is a low stakes unit test, so I’d asked them to put their books and phones on the other side of the room, but wasn’t too worried if they cheated – at least they’d learn something that way (I know none of mine did though – the test was well within everyone’s capabilities!)

With the first group, dealing with the test problems meant it took almost the whole lesson. With the second group, they had a few minutes at the end. When asked what they wanted to do, they said play Quizlet. Half of them played Match, posting their fastest time in the chat box, and the other half played individual Quizlet Live. This worked really well for 10 minutes, and I know they were all actively engaged, though I wouldn’t do it for much longer than that in a lesson as both of those are receptive, and there’s no productive practice there. It was a nice reward for getting through a whole unit of the book while being taught online 🙂

Pacing makes all the difference

We started a new unit in the second lesson, Entertainment. The first set of vocabulary is TV programmes. I thought that since the students enjoy Netflix, this would be very motivating for them. This was true, but it was too much so in the first group! It felt like chaos at certain points, when they all shouted over each other debating which shows are good and bad entirely in Polish. This was entirely my fault: I’d let test feedback drag on for too long in the first part of the lesson (20 minutes instead of the 10 I managed in the second lesson), and they’d lost interest, which meant that it was hard to get their focus back, and chaos ruled for most of the rest of the lesson. One student out and out told me he was bored!

As part of the test feedback, I experimented with annotation tools for the first time, having seen a teacher use them successfully during a drop in observation on Tuesday (thanks Ash!). I only realised I could do this once I’d already lost the first group, so it wasn’t very efficient as I tried to work things out on the spot. With the second group it worked like a dream, and I could hear them asking in Polish ‘What’s teacher doing to the screen? How’s she doing that?’ 🙂 I’ll definitely use annotation tools again, but plan more carefully how and when.

To introduce 12 items of vocab, we broke it down into 4 groups of 3, with the following sequence:

  • Look at four pictures on the slide. What kind of shows can you see? Call out.
  • Reinforce any they already know. e.g. Yes, well done! 4 is a reality show.
  • Fill the gaps by introducing the other words, combined with the drilling below. If they were confused, elicit Polish examples of each type of programme.
  • Drill the words a few times. Go backwards and forwards to keep reminding them, in as fun/pacy a way as possible. e.g. word 1, 1, 1, word 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, word 3, 3, 3, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1 2, 3 2, 1 3, word 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2 3, 4 3, 4 2, etc.
  • They copy the four words into their notebooks, along with an example of that kind of show (in Polish if necessary).
  • Repeat the cycle for 5-8. When drilling flick back to the 1-4 slide sometimes and re-elicit some of the words. Then repeat for 9-12, going back to 1-4 and 5-8 sometimes.

This kind of sequence works well in a face-to-face classroom, and I think it was passable in Zoom, but I feel like there are probably other more efficient ways to introduce these words. Let me know if you have one!

I held up a mini whiteboard and demonstrated step-by-step the creation of a TV guide, inspired by another drop-in observation (thanks Jodie!). The students made their own in their notebooks as we went along, ending up with something like this:

Sandy vision: Tigers on TV, Tram time!, Science today

They then copied two questions into their notebooks: ‘What’s your TV channel?’ ‘What’s on at 6?’ This enabled them to go into breakout rooms and get a fuller TV guide. I realised afterwards that I should have added ‘What’s that?’ to give them a clear question for the genre. Both groups were engaged with this task, and there were some very creative TV programmes.

With the second group, there was time to drill this conversation and for them to practise it in breakout rooms:

What are you going to watch? I'm going to watch _____ What's that? It's _____. That sounds great! Me too! / That sounds boring! I'm going to watch ____. It's a ______.

This is their first encounter with the grammar we’re going to (!) study next week. Thanks to Jude G for suggesting the use of pictures and colour-coding to make the turn-taking clearer and to brighten up the slide.

Polish

In our Polish lesson we had a similar short dialogue between a victim, a police officer, and a thief. As well as using pictures and colour-coding, I also held different toys up to the camera who was speaking as I introduced then drilled the conversation. We all agreed that this made it much clearer which student (there were only 3!) should be speaking at each point.

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Bydgoszcz bear (the victim), an IH money box (the police) and the penguin from the Wrong Trousers (the thief)

Mini reflection

If nothing else, teaching on Zoom has finally got me into the habit of providing very clear functional language and making sure students write it down, something I’ve only ever done sporadically before.

However, yet again there was no movement in any of my lessons (apart from at break time!). I’m finding it challenging to incorporate movement seamlessly with these groups, and the activities I’ve used previously involving movement meant me speaking a lot, and the students not really producing much (an 80-20 ratio according to the observer who saw me run it). Something to think about more for next week…

Management

The only major thing that came up this week was figuring out a way to test the youngest students’ progress (beginner/elementary 7/8 year olds). We realised that if you display the questions one at a time on slides, the students can write the answers in the chat box and you can then download the chat to mark later. For students with minimal literacy, they can be given two options and just type 1 or 2. To push them a little, you might have a choice of words for an item, or you show them the vocab and they type the word. (Thanks Char!)

Of course, this is also an excellent time to re-consider the place of testing in our classrooms, and decide how necessary it actually is. This ‘long read’ from the Guardian is worth it to see what one family have learnt from two months of home schooling in Italy, and how it’s changed some of their attitudes to education.

Useful links

Lots of teachers are sharing their reflections on the current teaching situation. Here are a few I know about:

  • Rose Bard in Brazil, teaching small groups in Brazil
  • Hana Ticha, teaching secondary in the Czech Republic
  • Emma Johnston, teaching private language school students in Chile
  • Rachel Tsateri, teaching private language school students in Spain
  • Naomi Epstein, teaching deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel

I’ve linked to one post per blog, but it’s worth exploring: there are lots of useful things on all of their blogs. It’s interesting to hear how different people are adapting to the situation, and what they’re learning in the process.

If you prefer to listen rather than read (well done for getting this far down my post!), TEFLology created a podcast episode with the reflections of Anna Loseva (in Vietnam), Rob Playfair (in the UK) and Mustafa Nazari (in Iran). TEFL Commute have started a new series of short podcasts called Who’s Zooming who?

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

My IATEFL history

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

Glasgow 2012

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

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

The PLN after my talk

The PLN after my talk

The Twitterati after my session

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

Liverpool 2013

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

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

Harrogate 2014

This photo is in my office:

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

My IATEFL 2014 birthday card

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

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

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

Manchester 2015

A great quiz night team:

Quiz team

Ela’s surprise baby shower:

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

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

I shared lots of other conference photos in this summary.

Birmingham 2016

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

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

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

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

Glasgow 2017

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

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

Brighton 2018

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

James Taylor, Sandy Millin, Phil Longwell

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

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

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My conference summary is here.

Liverpool 2019

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

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

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

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

2020 online get-together

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

The world is changing

The title of this week’s post is inspired by this cartoon from Michael Leunig which appeared on my facebook stream this week:

The world is changing - it's always changing. Our lives are in danger. We are in lockdown. Life is always dangerous. We were never free. Many of us could die. We all get our turn. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Nobody _ever_ knows. This makes life interesting. We don't know what to believe any more. Keep an open mind. This also makes life interesting. We are living in strange times. When were we _NOT_ living in strange times?Thanks to Lesley Cioccarelli for bringing it to my attention.

The personal stuff

This week has been my first full week of being at home – I left the flat on Saturday morning to do lots of food shopping, then the next time was Friday morning to treat myself to a 30-minute walk for my birthday (which was far more stressful than I expected as I was constantly looking to see what everyone else was doing).

I live by myself, so the thing I was most worried about when I knew that we might end up being at home was feeling isolated, but actually I think I feel more connected than ever. Yes, I don’t have actual humans in front of me, but I’ve had more social conversations with friends in the last few days than I have for a very long time, and my birthday was far more fun than I expected. It included a virtual birthday party (thanks Laura!) and a group of teachers playing online games from Jackbox (thanks Connor!).

It’s been a week of learning to adjust to the new normal, and of maintaining a sense of perspective: my birthday was the day the world hit the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide. Just over 20% of those people have recovered, but over 50,000 have died.

If you’re not already, please, please, please STAY AT HOME. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, the weather is getting nicer in the northern hemisphere as spring arrives. Walks are good for your mental health, but how far do you need to go? Can you stay close to home? Have you got a garden you can go out in instead or a balcony you can use? By staying at home, you are protecting other people, and giving health services and scientists valuable time to respond. You’re also reducing the likelihood that COVID-19 will enter your home in the first place. Please also think before you buy anything that needs to be delivered – do you really need it? Is it worth putting that delivery person at risk?

THANK YOU to those who are continuing to do essential jobs, like working in health services, making deliveries of food and medicine, and caring for vulnerable members of the community, and to every single one of you who is staying at home.

Management

On Tuesday and Wednesday I worked my way through all of the teachers, having a 10-15-minute chat with each to find out how everything’s going. Somebody from the IH DoS group suggested this – I can’t remember who, but thank you very much! This covered each teachers’ groups, their 121s, whether the tech was working, their general mental health, and any other problems or questions. I’m really glad I did this, and hope to repeat this periodically while we’re still on this pattern. I learnt that attendance is generally very high, barring a handful of students with tech problems (many of which were resolved between the first lesson and second), some exam students are handing in more work than ever, some teen groups are speaking more English than ever (they can feel the need for it now!), teachers are experimenting with functions on Zoom, and we’re still a strong community.

My Zoom lessons

This week we revised comparatives and added in superlatives in my elementary teen lessons.

At the start of Zoom lessons, I prefer to have something that students can get on with using the chat box for the first few minutes while we wait for everyone to join the lesson and deal with any technical problems. We repeated the comparatives challenge from last lesson the first time round, then in the second lesson one student called out an adjective, and everyone had to race to write the comparative and superlative forms. This helped me to see what aspects of the form students remembered and what they needed to revise.

Exploiting the chat box part 1: functional language

In the first lesson, the context for introducing superlatives was a multiple-choice quiz about geography. For example: Which is the longest river in the world? In order for students to do this in breakout rooms, they need some functional language. Here’s how I staged this:

  • Get them to open their books to the quiz page and show me.
  • Lay the book face down (I showed them this on my camera).
  • Tell them: “You’ll work together to do the quiz. You need some English to help you. Look at the chat box.”
  • Paste the first phrase with one word blanked out (I had them all prepared in another document). Elicit the missing word – a student comes on the microphone to say it.
  • If nobody can guess, give them the first letter.
  • Gradually add letters until somebody knows it.
  • Ask all students to copy the phrase into their notebooks.
  • Repeat for the other three phrases.
  • Paste all four phrases into the chat and ask students to check they have them all.

We had four phrases in total, and the chat looked like this by the time we’d finished:

Exploiting the chat box part 2: post-activity feedback

As students returned to the main room after they’d completed the quiz in breakout rooms, they wrote all of their answers in the chat, but nobody pressed enter until I counted down 3-2-1. That way I could see everybody’s answers at the same time, and there was no risk of copying from other people. It’s also a good way of double-checking that everyone participated (though I knew they had from popping into the breakout rooms). We then checked the answers as a group, with me telling them the answer and them debating if they disagreed. Feedback took 5 minutes, but they were definitely engaged throughout. Here’s what our chat looked like at the end of this stage:

Both of these strategies worked really well and I’ll definitely use them again.

I didn’t think this one through properly…

In contrast, the final activity of the lesson absolutely didn’t work the way I wanted it to. The vision:

  • A student calls out an adjective.
  • Everybody runs to find something ‘superlative’ matching that adjective, e.g. the oldest, biggest…
  • We choose which is the ‘superlative-est’ in the class.
  • Students write a sentence in the chat box using the superlative.

The reality:

  • A student chose ‘long’.
  • Everybody went to find the longest thing they could. This took about 3-4 minutes.
  • I tried desperately to get students to produce a superlative sentence in the chatbox.
  • Instead, they told me the measurements of the thing they’d got, and in some cases wrote it in the chatbox (the funniest was the pug who accompanies most lessons, who I now know is 26cm long thanks to T and his ruler!)
  • I realised that any sentence they produced needed the word ‘thing’ as we hadn’t specified a noun and few people knew the names of the things they’d grabbed.
  • I tried not to laugh at the inappropriateness of the sentence I was trying to elicit: ‘XYZ has the longest thing’. Oops!

The whole process took the final 7 minutes of the lesson – thankfully I’d already set their homework, so I could just let them go once we were done.

If anyone has an idea for how to exploit students’ environments to produce superlative sentences at elementary level, please comment!

Raising interest

The second lesson was based around a cartoon story in the coursebook about the characters going camping. I had the first panel on a PowerPoint slide, and used a simplified see – think – wonder thinking routine to raise interest. Students wrote sentences starting ‘I see…’ in the chat box for 90 seconds, then ‘I think it’s / he’s / she’s…’ for the next 90 seconds. I tried to elicit potential problems when you go camping, including some of the language they’d shared in the chat box – the first group didn’t get it, but the second group did (they’re a little older). We then watched the story video to check their predictions. I’m still feeling out how much I can push this level – my teen experience is limited, and I’ve only had these groups since late February.

Performing a story

After checking comprehension of the cartoon story, I wanted to experiment with students performing it. I’ve had mixed success with this kind of activity in the physical classroom and haven’t tried it with these groups before, but it seemed to work quite nicely in the end, with students generally engaged, and a few of them getting really into it.

  • (Group 1 only) Microphones off: I read the story line by line, students shadowed my reading.
  • (Group 2 only) Microphones off: I drilled some of the words group 1 had struggled to pronounce.
  • Breakout rooms: in pairs, students decided who’d play each character. They read out the story a few times. When I dropped in, I corrected pron and encouraged them to add emotion.
  • Main room: pairs performed one panel each, with everybody performing the punchline of the story together.

Zoom learning, tips and activities

  • Various posts/articles have been shared about privacy/security problems with Zoom this week. Zoom are working hard to combat these issues as quickly as they can. We’re already using waiting rooms on all of our classrooms, so teachers have to approve anyone who joins. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read any of the links, but thanks to Phil Longwell for linking to this video produced on April 3rd:

 

  • When students are having connectivity problems, try communicating with them using the ‘rename’ function, as they may not be able to hear you or use the chatbox. I haven’t tried this year, but it might work.
  • There’s a lag of 5-10 seconds between when you share a screen and when the students can see it.
  • Some students appear twice in the room, with a separate video/audio feed. We suspect this happens if they’re on mobile devices and use the ‘dial in’ function for audio, though we’re not sure. This is a function you can disable in the settings. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If students are working in groups on different Google Docs simultaneously, you can have them all arranged on your screen at the same time. You can then highlight anything that’s a problem for them to sort out. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • If you want to screen share and also see all of your students at the same time, arrange your screen(s) so that the software/document to share only takes up half of the screen. Share only that document, not the whole screen. Then use the other half of the screen for their videos: click on the gallery view icon, and resize the box until all of their videos are there. This is particularly useful if teaching young learners. (Will hopefully have a screenshot of this next week)
  • After setting up breakout rooms, go to each briefly to check everyone is on task. Then stay in the last one for a little longer to do some correction/upgrading. Vary which room is last each time. If time, sit in one or two other rooms for a longer period too. This ensures students still get hot correction/upgrading of their spoken language, without it being in front of the whole class.
  • Breakout rooms have various options, including:
    • Move all participants automatically – this means students don’t have to click on anything.
    • Close automatically after X minutes – good for timed activities.
    • Countdown timer after closing – I’ve found 30 seconds allows students to finish what they’re saying and come back. 60 seconds is too long if everyone comes back except one student!

Zoom breakout rooms options

  • Post-activity feedback ideas:
    • Teacher reads out answers (good if only one or two are there)
    • Student reads out answers
    • Nomination chain
    • Chat box simultaneous typing (see above)
    • Chat box – fast finisher types
    • Teacher types in chat
    • Display on slide/doc and screen share
    • Display with one or two mistakes for students to find
    • Display on course book software (if you have it) and screen share
    • Any other ideas? Please comment in the chat
  • ‘What’s missing?’ works really well and can be run in a range of ways (thanks Jodie!) For example, a series of pictures on a PowerPoint slide with a white box on one of them. Screen share the slide on edit mode, students say/write what’s missing. Stop screen sharing, move the box, share, repeat. Alternatively, students go to breakout rooms. They show the pictures in their books/on homemade flashcards, but cover one up. Their partner says what’s missing.

Questions I/we have

All ideas gratefully accepted – please add comments!

  • How can you quickly ensure students have successfully completed activities in their course books/notebooks during the lesson, especially if their video isn’t working or the image is poor? (I’m mostly taking it on trust at the moment, but maybe you have other ideas)
  • Providing feedback on spoken language is challenging to do evenly across the group (and I only have 8-11 students!) I feel like the balance has shifted from the physical classroom. There I can give hot feedback on speaking to everyone throughout the lesson, and spend a little more time with individuals on writing while ‘ignoring’ others at that moment (obviously not ignoring them, but that’s the best description I can come up with!) Online, they get lots of hot feedback on writing in the chat box, but when speaking in pairs/groups I have to ‘ignore’ the others as I can only be in one breakout room at a time. It’s great that everyone is getting so much writing practice and feedback, but we don’t want to neglect their speaking. Apart from ‘sitting’ in a breakout room as mentioned in the tips above, any other ideas for what we could do to increase feedback on speaking?

Useful links

Laura Patsko did a webinar called Moving your instruction online – fast!

Russell Stannard continues to add to his Zoom playlist, including ideas for keeping lessons student-centred.

A timely reminder from Kirsty D. Major, just as I was about to post this: Walk a mile in their shoes – or stay a day in their self-isolation house.

And, as every week, this one: Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post.

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

The transition to working from home

The week started with a discussion with the school Director in which we decided to switch to working from home. Our teachers had been working from school for the first week of online teaching, and Poland is not (yet) on full lockdown, but it’s safer for all of our teachers to make that shift. Tuesday was about getting everybody set up at home, including me.

Management

I don’t think I’ve ever used my phone as much as I did on Thursday – 7 or 8 calls, none of which was shorter than 15 minutes, plus texts, WhatsApp messages, facebook messages, emails, and a Zoom call. It was really hard to know what to focus on! In between all of that, I did manage to update everybody’s timetables and get them sent out, but it took all day. It made me appreciate how much I benefit from being able to just pop to the staffroom or reception to pass on messages or ask questions when we’re at school. Thankfully on Friday things had settled down somewhat. We ran our weekly meeting and workshop via Zoom, looking at examples of online dictionaries and corpora.

I feel like the biggest management challenge for me in the coming weeks will be loneliness and a lack of balance in my interactions, missing informal chats in between bursts of work, as most conversations I have during the working day will inevitably be problem solving. That’s something I’ll need to actively seek out. On the plus side, it was nice to eat lunch in my own kitchen 🙂

Yet again, I’m incredibly grateful to the rest of the management team (Grzegorz, Ruth, Emma) and the office staff (Mariola, Sandra) for all of the work they’ve put into making the transition smooth and keeping lines of communication open. And to the teachers for all of their hard work!

My Zoom lessons

This week, we practised weather phrases and introduced comparatives. I’ve stuck to using the chat box, screen sharing, audio and video this week. That’s enough, I think, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself or the students too much.

I taught my first Polish lesson online too. There were three students and we did parts of the body, making use of teddies to show the parts of the body that are more challenging for the camera to get to, like ‘back’, ‘foot’, and ‘legs’! It was pretty entertaining 🙂 After every few words, the students predicted the spellings in the chat box, so we did more work on sound-spelling relationships, and looked at some plurals in the process too.

I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot more focussed correction than I can in the physical classroom, and my teen students have definitely had a lot more writing practice in the last two weeks.

I started using nomination chains, with each student saying who the next one to speak would be. This is something I generally avoid in the face-to-face classroom – I’d always associated it with feedback stages that go on for too long and in which students lose interest and the pace drops. In Zoom it worked really well for creating prompts for activities that everybody could participate in, as in the two examples below.

Drawing activity on Zoom

To test what weather students knew, they looked at a weather map of Poland and wrote their ideas in the chat box. I then filled in a couple of gaps by referring them to their coursebook and checking problem phrases.

Once I knew they had the basics, they all got a piece of (real) paper. I said a kind of weather and they had to draw it. We then had a nomination chain of what to draw next, and I joined in. After each one, they put their paper to the camera once they were done and I helped anybody who didn’t understand and commented on any similarities, for example “Look, N, we’ve both drawn a sad flower for ‘It’s dry'”. If their camera wasn’t working, they just had to say they’d finished.

I elicited the questions ‘What’s the weather like?’ and ‘What are you doing?’ by drawing a gapped sentence on my paper and getting words from the students. They copied it to their paper and again showed me when they were finished.

Equipped with the question and their pictures, students went into breakout rooms. They showed each other pictures and asked the two questions. If they didn’t have a camera, they asked ‘What are you doing?’ and the other student guess the weather ‘Is it sunny?’

This worked quite nicely for an activity I made up on the spot, but could probably do with a clear communicative purpose if I did it again.

Comparatives challenge

I choose two things, for example ‘summer’ and ‘winter’. The students wrote their ideas for ways to compare them in the chat box. I praised their attempts, especially if they tried to write more complex sentences, and corrected those who needed it, mostly using prompts: ‘W, how do you spell ‘than’?’ ‘T, you need an extra word.’ The students wrote the corrected sentence in the box without prompting. Once everyone had a couple of ideas, a student chose the next two things to compare.

This also worked well, with students being quite creative with their ideas. It was a good game to focus on the form of the comparative structure, but didn’t really have a clear communicative purpose again. Definitely something I need to focus on in next week’s lessons.

Zoom learning and tips

In breakout rooms, students can share their screen with each other. (Thanks Jude!)

Last week, Ash mentioned putting all of the Google Docs your students may need into a single folder and sending them one link. This week, he’s updated that to suggest numbering them in order to help you and the students work out what’s next. It seems like such a simple thing, but hadn’t occurred to me!

Useful links

If there’s one thing we’re not short of right now, it’s links to further development (sorry for adding to them!) Anyway, here are a few you may want to explore.

Activities

Tips and advice

  • Susan Lee Scott works in Vietnam, where she’s now been teaching online for 8 weeks. Here’s her advice.
  • Russell Stannard has a full set of Teacher Training Online videos connected to using Zoom, including a 12-minute guide to using breakout rooms.
  • Julie Moore has tips on ergonomics when using a laptop to work from home, helping you to reduce the aches and pains which I know I’m already feeling.
  • I shared Phil Longwell’s Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing post last week, and will continue to share it – so much useful advice here.

To finish off, here’s an infographic from Angelos Bollas about how to plan and run activities in breakout rooms:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

Moving a school online: reflections from week one of using Zoom

Our school, IH Bydgoszcz, has successfully completed a week of teaching teen and adult groups using Zoom. We’ve made plans (largely facilitated by Ruth and Char – thank you!) to move our young learner classes online, with a staggered start – half from Monday 23rd, the rest from Monday 30th. Our teachers are still able to go into the school building, which has made it easier for us to support them with problems throughout the week, and to continue to share ideas.

This week has truly demonstrated the power of a supportive team, as we all simultaneously became beginners again in our move to online teaching. Ruth and Emma, our ADoSes, have worked tirelessly to support teachers in their planning (often more so than me as I’ve often been coordinating other things). Grzegorz, our Director, and Mariola and Sandra, our office staff, have helped it all to come off smoothly. But of course, without the teachers’ willingness to try this, we couldn’t do anything – thank you, thank you, thank you! We’ve had generally good feedback from our students so far, and attendance has been pretty high. This is testament to everyone’s planning and hard work to make it all happen.

Reflections on my Zoom lessons


I’ve now taught three lessons on Zoom (you probably have more experience than me!), two with one group, and one with another. They were all with high beginner/low elementary (A2.1) teens, aged 11-13.

I really enjoyed them 🙂 It’s been a fantastic chance to get to know my students better. We’ve had visits from a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and a sister. 😉 One student spontaneously played her piano and violin during the break – I had no idea she was musical. We’ve also had a toy sword, spontaneous dancing, putting on make-up, and rather more eating than I would have liked!

Lesson 1 was an introduction to Zoom. We then played a guessing game. Students went to their kitchens for 3 items of food or drink (our most recent topic in class), which they had to keep secret. In breakout rooms they asked ‘Have you got a…?’ ‘Have you got any…?’ to guess what they others had. If they were right, the student had to show it on the camera. When they came back to the main room, they typed what they’d found out in the chat box. For example: ‘Sandy has got some oranges.’ ‘Sandy hasn’t got any cheese.’ This activity went down really well, lasted for about 15-20 minutes, and was a great opportunity to use their homes.

Most of the students adapted to Zoom pretty quickly, though two students still struggled to find functions at the end of lesson 2, and one student missed the Zoom tutorial in the first lesson. Another had huge connection problems in the first lesson, but this was much better in the second.

Lesson 2 was a continuation of our book (Project 2 from OUP), planned mostly by Jude (thanks!) After revision and a homework check, I screen shared a Quizlet set to introduce country vocab, with students calling out the words on their microphones, or writing them in the chat box. We stopped every few words for them to call out what they could remember. They matched the words in their books. To prepare for a short listening, I asked them to type what these measurements could be: 1000m, 6km, 10,000m etc e.g. a river, a bridge, a road. We listened to the audio – they filled in the correct number. We checked them one at a time using the chat box. I then introduced them to ‘high’, ‘wide’, ‘long’ and ‘deep’ from the listening by using gestures and asking them to draw different arrows next to the words in their books, e.g. an up arrow for ‘high’, a down arrow for ‘deep’. I set up the homework (the reading from the next page of their book) and did the first example with them. For the last couple of minutes they typed all of the new words from the lesson in the chat box.

If I taught the lesson again, I’d skip me introducing the vocab through Quizlet. Instead, I’d send them the code quizlet.com/491240605 and get them to play Quizlet match and learn modes – they’re used to doing this from classroom lessons. I’d then do a quiz, showing them three or four pictures at the same time and getting them to write all of the words. The listening and adjectives were fine, but there wasn’t much time left by this stage. I’d like to have something creative in every lesson, and I assumed we planned this but 5 days later can’t remember what it was! There certainly wasn’t time for it in the lesson.

Overall, I think my students have done more writing this week than in the entire proceeding month, and they’ve spoken to students in the breakout rooms that they wouldn’t dream of talking to in class, both without any complaints. Classroom management has been fine, because I can switch off microphones and videos if necessary – often the threat of this is enough to get students to concentrate again. If students consistently misbehave, you can put them into the waiting room for a minute or two to calm down, or speak to them individually in a breakout room (thanks for that idea Jude).

Let’s see how long the novelty of online learning lasts!

Zoom troubleshooting

  • Do a sound/video check at the start of each lesson. Get students to switch on their sound and video to make sure it’s working. If they’re having problems, put them in the waiting room (three dots in the top right corner of their video = move to waiting room) and let them come back in again. They may need to restart their computers/apps.
  • When one student is having lots of technical problems, give the others something to do while you help them out. You could put them in breakout rooms, with the ‘tech problem’ student in a room by themselves for you to help. Or give others something to do in their books. Make it clear to the other students that you’re helping the person with technical problems and how long this might take. If the technical problems are coming and going, make sure that student is in a 3, not a pair, when put into breakout rooms.
  • It’s better to have your computer plugged in or not at all through the lesson – it might not cope with the transition between two different battery settings. (Thanks Connor!)
  • If you’re having problems with the internet connection, switch off the video. If you’re at home, ask other people not to use internet-heavy apps at the same time as the lesson, like streaming.
  • If students are using Zoom on their phones, they need to be looking at the video (not the chat/participants list/screen share) when you put them into breakout rooms. That’s where the message pops up to invite them to the room. Alternatively, tick the option that says ‘Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically‘ and it doesn’t matter what they’re looking at!
  • If you’re kicked out of the meeting, one of the students will become the teacher with host privileges. Log back in, and (I think!) you’ll automatically become the host again.

Zoom tips

  • With small groups, prepare a piece of scrap paper with all of your students’ names before the lesson. Write C for computer/M for mobile/T for tablet – check what device they’re on as they come in. Don’t assume it’s the same as the previous lesson. That way, if they can’t find something, you know what instructions to give them to find it (the menus are different on different devices). I also used my list for noting which groups I’d put students in, tech problems they had, and how many K points (classroom management points) the group had got, plus reminders to myself about problems with Zoom/things to consider next time.
  • Recurring meetings: extend the date on your meetings for ages. If you let the last date pass, you’ll have to resend new links later. (Thanks Ruth!)
  • When you’re on mute, hold down space bar and speak – students will hear you only while the spacebar is depressed. (Thanks Emma!)
  • Make sure you remind students how to find functions – don’t just assume they remember.
  • In some browsers (Android phone?), the participant menu is a speech bubble with three dots in it. This is almost the same as the ‘more’ button, so students may be a little confused. (Thanks Ruth and Jude!)
  • Students can use the chat while in breakout rooms, but only they can see it. Nobody from another breakout room or the main room can see it. If you join the breakout room, you can’t see what’s come before, only what’s added after you join. A student without a working microphone can therefore still participate in the activity. (Thanks Connor!)
  • You can make the chatbox text bigger/smaller when you’re on a computer (not sure about a phone). Click into the chatbox. Press CTRL and + to make it bigger (CMD + for Mac), CTRL and – to make it smaller (CMD – for Mac), and CTRL and 0 to make it the default size (CMD 0 for Mac).

Google Docs tips

  • If you’re coupling Zoom with Google Docs, make the files directly on Google, rather than on Word then uploading them. If you have pre-existing Word documents to upload, make sure you save it as Google Docs if you want students to edit them. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes things a little smoother.
  • If you’re using lots of Google files during a lesson, put them all into a single folder and send students the link to this before/at the start of the lesson. Then tell them which file you want them to open at the right point in the lesson. You can change from can view to can edit during the lesson if necessary. (Thanks Ash!)
  • Create designated sections of the document for students to write in. For example, we used red team/blue team/green team/purple team in the lesson I described above. (Thanks Jude!) Once students have accessed the document, ask them to write their name next to their team colour – this helps you to check instructions. (Thanks Connor!)

Lesson planning tips

  • Plan for a 60-minute lesson, not a 90-minute face-to-face one – everything takes longer! However, if you often spend a lot of time dealing with classroom management, you may find that your lessons are faster thanks to mute/stop video buttons. 😉
  • Keep the lessons simple. If you’re going to try something new, stick to a maximum of one new tech tool per lesson to avoid overwhelm.
  • Have a couple of zero-prep revision games to play at the end or discussion questions where they can go into breakout rooms, e.g. Pictionary, define the word and guess it (from anywhere in the book).
  • Put students into breakout rooms for the amount of time that you have groups. For example, if you have 3 breakout rooms, put them in there for a minimum of three minutes. If you have 5 breakout rooms, 5 minutes. 10 rooms = 10 minutes. That gives you time to check them all. It’s probably not really worth putting them in there for less than 3 minutes though as it’s a lot of faff and time, and sometimes the tech breaks!
  • Include breaks in the lesson. We normally have one 10-minute break in our 90-minute face-to-face lessons, but with my students I changed this to two 5-minute breaks. Even if you don’t normally have a break, it’s good to include stretching time and eye breaks to reduce muscle pain and eye strain. If you’re having problems with your neck or back because you don’t have an ideal position/posture, consider raising your computer. For example, put a couple of reams of paper under a laptop, or even put a chair on the desk and stand up during the lesson.
  • Include time when students don’t need to interact. For example, a drawing activity. They could switch off their video/audio while they’re doing this, then switch it on to signal that they’ve finished. You can switch off yours too.
  • You can ask students to do grammar controlled practice at home because they have grammar references, then use the lesson for problem solving, rather than trying to present the grammar from scratch.
  • For vocabulary, supplement with Quizlet sets – students can hear the pronunciation and practise the spelling.
  • Reading can be done for homework. You can check reading in class, or students can email you the answers to use it as an assessment. You can also do listening this way by emailing the audio to students (though be aware of copyright rules).
  • At the end of the lesson, consider sending an email summarising the content of the lesson, and including the homework, especially for teens e.g. Today we learnt some Zoom vocabulary from this Quizlet set quizlet.com/xxxxx. We practised how to use Zoom. The homework is WB p39 Ex 6. See you on Wednesday!

Activity ideas


Here are some activities that (might?) work via Zoom, some of which we’ve tried, some of which we haven’t. If you want more, take a look at Ideas for adapting group lessons to working on Zoom.

  • At the start of the lesson, display a puzzle, a Where’s Wally image, or an Every Picture Tells a Story ELTpic on the screen. Students write what they can see in the chat box – higher levels could imagine what’s happening, or what people are saying (reported speech revision?) This gives time for you to help people with connection problems. (Adapted from Lisa Wilson’s idea to display a wordsearch.)
  • Show an album from ELTpics that is connected to your lesson topic. Students brainstorm what they can see in the chatbox. Give them a sentence frame if you don’t want them to just write single words, e.g. There’s a… / There aren’t any…
  • To get students (of all ages!) moving, play run and touch. (Thanks Rosie!) e.g. run and touch something blue, green, red, new, old, wooden, metal, complicated, funny…
  • Ask students to make things out of the objects around them. For example, make a person, a house, etc. Other students have to guess what they’ve made. If planned with the responsible adult in advance, this could work particularly well with children – they could have a plate of e.g. pasta to make pictures out of (not rice – it’ll get stuck in the computer!)
  • With smaller groups, experiment with all of the students having their microphones on simultaneously at certain points in the lesson. For example, this worked really well with the homework check and drilling in my lessons. Students can also drill without their microphones on – they can practise repeating, then come on the microphone when they’re more confident.
  • Use Jazz Chants for drilling. Your students can make them too. They can say them with the microphone on or off.
  • Total cloze: before the lesson, write a sentence on a Word document. Set the text to white, but the underlining to black. Share the screen. Students guess what words are missing. If they guess correctly, you change the text colour to black for that word. (If you have a less fiddly way of doing this, please tell me!)
  • Organise for remote guests to visit the lesson. Students can prepare to interview them, or to listen to a short speech/presentation from the guest. There are lots of people looking for things to do right now!
  • Ask if you can observe other teachers remotely by joining their class as a student – this is much easier now. Make sure that schools and students are OK with you doing this if you’re the observed teacher before you invite anyone else in. (Please don’t ask me for the moment – I’m not quite ready!)
  • Fast finisher idea: students can build up a single picture using all of the vocab introduced during the lesson. For a few minutes at the end of the lesson, or as a warmer at the start of the next, they hold up their picture to the camera and describe what’s in the picture. You may need to demo this is a whole-class activity in a previous lesson.
  • Get students to write emails to their future selves using FutureMe. These are incredible times we’re living in right now, and it could really help them to consider that this is not how life will always be. (I hope!) 

Useful links

Here are a handful of the many, many resources that have been shared in the past couple of weeks. Feel free to add others in the comments:

The rest of the series

Each week I’ve summarised what our teachers and I have learnt during the transition to online teaching. Every post includes some tips about using Zoom, activities we’ve tried out (many adapted from the face-to-face classroom), and reflections on how my teaching and management have been affected by working from home. Here are all of the posts so far:

You may also find some other posts on my blog/which I’ve written useful:

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay kind. And stay at home (if you still have to!)

IH AMT conference 2020

This year’s IH Academic Managers and Trainers (AMT) conference happened in Greenwich from 9th-11th January 2020. As always, I enjoyed the conference and learnt a lot, which I’m looking forward to putting into practice as much as possible.

You can read about previous AMT conferences I’ve attended in 201420152016, 2019 (I’ve attended them all since 2014, but forgot to write about some of them!)

ih logo

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about at this year’s conference. (As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own, not those of the speakers – please correct me if needed!)

Managing performance in ELT

Maureen McGarvey asked us to draw the organisational structure and consider the organisational culture of our schools. She emphasised that without knowing the structure and culture of our school and how teachers perceive them, we can’t effectively manage performance at our schools. We need to clearly articulate the culture of our school to teachers, as you bring the culture with you from previous places you’ve worked. This can be one source of frustration for managers, and may lead us to think staff are being pig-headed, when in fact they’re butting up against the culture of the school and their perceptions of it.

She surveyed staff about how they want to be managed, using 5 questions:

  • What do you expect/would you like your line manager to do for you in terms of support and development across the year?
  • How would you like your line manager to manage your performance across the year?
  • What systems does your LTO (language teaching organisation) have in place for managing performance, as far as you’re aware?
  • Do you think the systems you identified are adequate? Any amendments or changes you’d suggest?
  • How would you like your line manager to deal with performance issues should they arise?

This threw up lots of interesting responses, mostly connected to personal awareness. When we talk about change and CPD as managers, we tend to present it as data. But those who changes or development are being ‘done to’ perceive it through their anxieties and fears. We need to create personal connections with staff and follow up regularly, not just check in once or twice a year. The survey showed up various variants on the idea of “regular, brief, human conversations” and “personal, face-to-face” contact, including a key focus on positives. Performance management isn’t just about managing negative performance and dealing with problems, but also about helping good teachers get better.

IH update

Every year we hear about the exciting things happening across the network. This year I was particularly interested in new IH Online Teacher Training Courses, including a new series of modules for Academic Management. If you do 5 of them, you can get the IHWO Diploma in Academic Management.

Blocked by our expertise

Monica Green summarised a Harvard Business Review article called Don’t be blinded by your own expertise.

She reminded us that an interested beginner draws on every possible resource to learn, but that as we become experts in a particular area, we often stop doing this. We can also become poor listeners as we assume we already know things.

To stop being blinded by our expertise, we need to get a sense of wonder back into what we do: ‘I wonder how this works?’ We should also ask ‘What am I not asking you that I should?’ more often to keep in touch with those who are still beginners in our area, or who haven’t reached the same level of expertise that we have. This is just a taster: there are a lot more ideas in the HBR article, which I definitely recommend reading.

ELT footprint

Christopher Graham told us about the environmental impact of ELT, for example the number of students who study English in the UK every year and are therefore flying in and out of the country. Even EU-based students tend to fly, when they could potentially get the train.

He introduced us to the ELT footprint facebook group and website. There are lots of resources available to help you if you want to start reducing the environmental footprint of your school, or teach students about it. These include a charter for a greener school, advice on good practice for events and conferences and lesson plans you can use with students. They are always looking for people to share how they are greening ELT so do get in touch with them if they have ideas.

Listening skills and initial teacher training

Emma Gowing talked about how we can refocus the training of how to teach listening to make sure new teachers are really teaching listening, not just testing it. She suggested the following ideas:

  • Help teachers to write aims that focus on developing rather than practising listening skills.
  • Highlight that comprehension tasks are a diagnostic rather than a teaching tool, to help teachers find out what learners are having trouble with.
  • Avoid right/wrong answers in listening activities. Instead use activities that promote the negotiation of meaning.
  • Get trainee teachers to take notes to identify difficulties.
  • Show how to use the audioscript to isolate difficulties and identify whether the issue was meaning or hearing related (i.e. do they know the meaning of the word(s) but couldn’t identify it in the listening?)
  • Include a ‘listen again’ stage focussed on difficult parts, helping students to recognise why the listening was hard for them.
  • When teaching staging, reduce the importance of preparation stages (lead in/gist) in favour of more in-depth detailed/post-listening activities.
  • Use authentic materials, grading the task not the text, wherever possible.

She has summarised her ideas for teachers in this article for the IH Journal.

Fun at work

Lucie Cotterill’s talk was called The Fun Factor – Let’s Play Leadership. She shared ideas that they’ve used at IH Reggio Calabria to get more fun into the school, and shared the research behind why it’s important to have fun at work. It makes us more productive, improves mental wellbeing, and increases staff satisfaction.

My favourite idea was a Christmas gift they gave their staff. They created a Google form for all staff (including admin staff). Respondents had to share the first positive adjective they thought of for each staff member. One adjective was selected and sewn onto a pencil case with the teacher’s name. All of the other adjectives were put on a piece of paper inside the pencil case. Now the teachers have a reminder of how much they are valued by their colleagues, and they can see it all the time.

Better self evaluation

Manana Khvichia described how they’ve reorganised their CELTA to improve self evaluation and help their trainees to quickly become reflective practitioners. Their CELTA now only has one input session a day and much longer feedback sessions. Self evaluation forms are created personally for each teacher, with the trainer writing a series of questions during the observation. Trainees write their own thoughts first, then look at the trainer’s questions and respond to them. They can do this because they’ve seen models of the trainer’s self-evaluation after the demo lesson on the first day, analysed this together, and had a full session on how to reflect. Feedback sessions often turn into mini inputs based on what the trainees need at that point in the course.

This was the most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, and I’ve asked Manana to write about it for this blog, so watch this space!

What I’ve learnt about teaching training this year

My talk, which is the already a post on this blog.

Drop-in observations

Diana England described what they’ve done at IH Torres Vedras to make drop-in observations more effective for their teachers. She says that having regular drop-in observations makes them a positive thing, not just something that happens when there’s a problem. It also shows students that multiple people are involved in their progress, not just their teacher.

During induction week, the teachers discuss terminology related to drop-ins, and decide on their own definitions, for example of ‘rapport’, ‘classroom management’, etc. They complete a questionnaire to show their beliefs related to these areas. The drop-in observer completes the same questionnaire, with a space at the bottom for extra comments. Post-observation feedback involves comparing the responses to both versions of the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is made up of factual statements, such as ‘I can spot early finishers and ensure they are purposefully engaged’ or ‘I know and use all my students’ names’, with the responses ‘Definitely’, ‘Most of the time’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Not enough’, ‘I need more guidance with this’. This system has evolved over time, so that now the teachers create their own questionnaires, rather than using one developed by the school.

This is definitely something I’d like to experiment with at our school.

Improving the agency and confidence of novice teachers

Marie Willoughby talked about a workshop she ran to help novice teachers adapt coursebooks to make them more engaging. It was much more teacher-centred than her workshops used to be. She designed it this way to help teachers build their confidence and realise that they are able to solve problems and ask for help, rather than relying on their own knowledge and worrying when they don’t know something. This topic was selected following interviews with the teachers, as they said they often used coursebooks to help them plan but didn’t know how to make them engaging for students.

The workshop looked like this:

  • Brainstorm ‘What is engagement and why is it important?’
  • Examine Jason Anderson’s CAP(E) paradigm, as this is how coursebooks generally work.
  • Discuss what engagement looks like at each stage of a CAP(E) lesson and how you can evaluate this.
  • Teachers created a list of questions based on their own experience up to this point to help them consider engagement at each stage of the lesson. The questions showed up their current needs, and formed the basis of group discussions.
  • Session homework was to take a piece of material, choose two parts and evaluate whether they’re engaging, change if needed, then evaluate it afterwards. Afterwards they had to tell a colleague: I did this, it worked. OR I did this, it didn’t.

Marie said that she felt like she hadn’t taught them anything in the session, but that afterwards she got great feedback. It helped the teachers realise that they had the right to change things, and didn’t have to just use them as they were.

She contrasted classic training with agency-driven training. In class training, the outcome is pre-determined by the trainer/tasks, there is a focus on best practice, elicitation and leading questions, and a power differential in dialogue. In agency-driven training, the outcome emerges during and beyond the session, there are no right answers (open-ended tasks), a collaborative effort to explore choices and evaluate (not talking about procedures), and equality in dialogue.

By making this shift, Marie says that she has realised the power of training lies in the process, not the product, of training sessions. Returning back to Monica’s idea of being blinded by our expertise, we need to question our training routines: when are we empowering when helping and when not? Do we praise confidence, collaboration, evaluation and leave it there? Without having to give trainees the answer or find the next step: sometimes we shut down options when we help, instead of letting teachers find answers themselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help trainees, but rather that we should reflect on the help we give.

Sound bites

Chloe Pakeman-Schiavone told us why it’s important for us to work with different accents in the classroom. She talked about how cultural knowledge includes knowing about stereotypical accents and phrases. For example, in the UK we have stereotypical images of what a policeman, farmer, Asian corner shop owner, etc sound like. We know that in real life people don’t always sound like this, but there are a lot of reference points, for example in comedy, which rely on us being aware of these stereotypes.

We should work with a range of accents to help students gain familiarity with different models of speech. The hint that an accent might be present can impede understanding, even if the person speaking if completely clear – we put up mental blocks.

Some resources Chloe recommends are:

Young learner safety

Edward Evans described what they’ve done at IH BKC Moscow to put a policy in place to ensure teachers know what to do to keep young learners safe in the school, and so that the school knows what to do if there is a concern about the safety of young learners.

He reminded us of the importance of considering safety before anything bad happens, rather than only as a reaction. This is especially important in some countries where you might have issues when working with child safety: a lack of good state school policies, an aversion to procedures, training is unavailable, or where child abuse is not a ‘hot topic’. ‘Common sense’ is not a good yardstick for behaviour, as it means different things to different people. Schools need to have clear policies in place.

At Edward’s school, they drew on UK state school procedure to put policy documents in place. These are accompanied by a clear system of which offences lead to a warning, and which lead to instant dismissal. They have reporting procedures in place, along with procedures for how to handle any reports which come in. This is detailed in a two-page document which teachers need to sign when they start working at the school, and every year thereafter to remind them of the policies.

Q & A session

Along with Ian Raby, Giovanni Licata and Jenny Holden, I was part of a panel taking questions from the floor related to various aspects of training and management. I really enjoyed this, but you’d have to ask other people what we said because I (obviously!) wasn’t tweeting what happened 🙂

EdTech

Lindsay Clandfield gave an updated version of his IATEFL 2019 plenary about mythology, methodology and the language of education technology. You can watch the 2019 version of it here, which I’d recommend if you have any interest in how we talk about edtech.

He recommended the hackeducation blog, which looks fascinating.

Coaching and observations

Jonathan Ingham asked whether an incremental coaching model can improve teaching. He works at a college where he observes English teachers, but also teachers of many other subjects, like brickwork, carpentry, and media make-up.

Jonny’s school was inspired by UK state schools who have implemented this model, summarised in this blog post. Rather than 2-3 observations per year, each with a range of action points to work on, teachers are observed every one or two weeks with only a single action point to work on. Feedback is brief and on the same day where possible, with opportunities during the feedback session to practise the changes that the observer suggests. As it is much more focussed, Jonny says that teachers have responded really well: it feels less intrusive, and changes to teaching have been really noticeable. This is something I’d like to try out at our school next year.

Jonny’s slides are available on his blog.

Visual literacy

Kieran Donaghy showed us various frameworks we can use to help students develop their visual literacy. Viewing is becoming the ‘fifth skill’ and has been added to curricula in Canada, Australia and Singapore as viewing and images have taken over from reading and the written word as the principal way we communicate.

He suggested the following resources:

  • Into Film’s 3 C’s (colour, camera, character) and 3 S’s (story, setting, sound) as a way of approaching videos – the link contains lots of examples of how to use them, and questions you can ask
  • The Center for Media Literacy’s educator resources, particularly 5 key questions and 5 core concepts
  • Visual Thinking Routines such as ‘see-think-wonder’ (I’ve used this routine a lot with my teens and they really like it)
  • Ben Goldstein on visual literacy in ELT

He also reminded us that we need to use these methods repeatedly with students – it takes 10-12 times before students can use them independently.

Emergent language

Danny Norrington-Davies described research he did with Nick Andon into how experienced teachers work with emergent language in the classroom.

They found 10 types of teacher intervention in the lessons they transcribed.

  • Explicit reformulation (live or delayed)
  • Recast
  • Teacher clarification/confirmation requests
  • Metalinguistic feedback
  • Elicitations
  • Extensions
  • Interactional recast
  • Recalls
  • Sharing
  • Learner initiated

The definitions of these are available on a handout on Danny’s website.

He also shared work from Richard Chinn into how we can help teachers learn to work with emergent language more quickly. Working with emergent language is a skilled practice, so how can we help teachers arrive at this more quickly?

Burnout

Rachael Roberts finished off the conference by help us to recognise the warning signs of burnout. She gave us the following tips to help our teachers:

  • Cut down on paperwork. Is this actually helpful/useful? For example, do the agenda at the start of meetings to keep focus. Examine marking policies and whether students benefit from them.
  • Help your staff keep boundaries. Don’t expect teachers to reply outside school hours. Expect them to take real breaks. Be clear about your own boundaries as a manager. Only check emails when you know you can actually respond to them – otherwise you’re raising your stress hormones for no good reason!
  • Examine unconscious beliefs you hold about teaching. For example: ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.’ Is sacrifice really the model we want to hold about teaching?
  • Learn to say no to people and projects, and allow our teachers to say no. This includes to things that might be enjoyable, not just things that are difficult!
  • Notice your feelings and attitudes towards situations. If you have a choice, choose to be positive.
  • Where possible, empower teachers to make decisions for themselves.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about why people might be being difficult. Avoid a culture of perfectionism, and show your own vulnerability.
  • Explain the rationale behind what you are doing. Involve and consult staff when making decisions. Be patient with their responses/reactions.

I would highly recommend reading her Life Resourceful blog and joining her facebook group which is a very active community designed to help teachers maintain their mental health.

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I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

10-year challenge

You may have seen the 10-year challenge meme on facebook or Instagram. Here’s my take, and something of a reflection on the decade, one in which I’ve grown and developed enormously as a person, and learnt so much.

Here’s the first photo of me I can find from 2010, from January 9th:

Sandy sitting in an armchair

I was halfway through my second year of full-time teaching after university/CELTA. I’d completed the IH Business English Teaching Certificate and was partway through the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners (before teens were included).

It was another 10 weeks before I presented at a conference for the first time (March 2010 – though I’d attended a few one-day events in Brno, Bratislava and Prague), 6 months before I joined Twitter (June 2010) and 10 months before I started my blog (October 2010).

Here’s a picture of me from Christmas Day, three days ago:

Here are 20 things I’ve done in the intervening period, ready to launch into 2020:

  1. completed the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology, IH Certificate in Online Tutoring, and Cambridge Delta.
  2. started a Masters in Professional Development in Language Education with NILE.
  3. become a CELTA trainer, and worked on 14 courses with a range of great trainers.
  4. realised that I can be a Director of Studies, and been one for 4.5 years.
  5. published 674 blogposts (this is number 675) on this blog, and many posts and articles in other places too.
  6. written three books, and contributed to a few others.
  7. tweeted over 29,000 times, mostly at conferences I think!
  8. helped to curate #ELTpics and the #ELTchat summaries page.
  9. become addicted to IATEFL conferences, volunteered on the IATEFL Membership and Marketing Committee, and set up and run the IATEFL blog for a couple of years.
  10. presented at a lot of other conferences and online events.
  11. been diagnosed and learnt to live with ulcerative colitis and become a much better cook and a considerably healthier eater in the process.
  12. got a Fitbit, and drastically increased the amount of exercise I do.
  13. visited a lot of new cities and countries.
  14. learnt 2 new languages to a reasonable level, and had a go at 7 others to fuel my addiction.
  15. met a lot of fascinating people and made a lot of new friends.
  16. taken around 60,000 photos, give or take.
  17. become increasingly aware of my massively high carbon footprint, and started trying to reduce it.
  18. bought a flat.
  19. found other people who enjoy board games as much as I always have!
  20. learnt to answer back to my inner voice, deal with my thoughts in a much more constructive way, and stay calm and manage my emotions in challenging situations.

So what’s next?

The biggest thing I’d like the 2020s to bring for me is an answer to this 2016 letter, though point 20 means that it’s not even close to the issue I felt like it was before. I don’t think about it anywhere near as much as I used to, but it’s always there a little bit. I know time will tell, and I’m happy either way, but a family would be nice (yes, I know there are other ways that can be achieved!)

Apart from that, more of the same please. That includes the next ELT Playbook, which I’ll be starting soon if all goes to plan. I love my life, I don’t regret anything from the past 10 years, as even the bad things have been experiences I’ve learnt from which have made me who I am today, and I’m excited about what the future holds.

Have a great decade. Enjoy!

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.

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! 🙂

2018 Self-reflection challenge

Happy New Year!

I like a bit of reflection to end one year and start the next. This year’s is brought to you courtesy of the This is Evil blog, via Emma Johnston who did it first. Here are the questions:

As I only spend a few hours a week in the classroom I’ll change some of them to other areas of my teaching-related career.

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

Teaching people how to use Quizlet Live. It’s quick and easy to set up, and students and teachers get really engaged.

I taught a group of elementary men from Yemen in the summer – normally at the end of the lesson they were out of the room like a shot. On the day when I showed them Quizlet Live ten minutes before the end of the lesson, they were still there ten minutes after the lesson finished and hadn’t noticed it was time to go because they were so engaged in the game.

Day 2: most memorable story from 2018

Lots of great memories, but this one was particularly fun…

Presenting at the IATEFL online conference for early career teachers, working with Ruth to talk about how to approach lesson planning. We spent 10 minutes describing our own lesson planning, then 50 answering questions from all over the world. It was an adrenaline rush and I loved it – we could have continued for much longer, except I had to teach and my students were knocking on the door! 🙂 If you’re an IATEFL member, you can watch the recording in the webinars section of the members’ area. If you’re not, why not join?

Sandy and Ruth IATEFL web conference screenshot

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

When you self-publish, create a paperback as well as an ebook. Thanks Dorothy Zemach!

Day 4: the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a trainer

When two teachers who I’d worked with on a technology course at York Associates in the summer took what they’d learnt from me and turned it into their own presentation for their colleagues in Serbia.

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Performing in our flamenco concert in June. It was third time lucky, as I missed the first year due to having a sprained ankle, and the second year due to illness on the day. It was so much fun and I’m really hoping I make it to this year’s one!

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

Erm…not sure.

Day 7: your favourite coursebook in 2018

I don’t really use coursebooks that much, but I really like how useful the Outcomes teacher’s books are, especially if the teacher who’s using them doesn’t have much training.

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

We introduced mentoring at our school this year. Every teacher has been assigned a mentor who they meet for 30 minutes a week. The system was worked out with the help of the senior team at my school, and we have some second year teachers who are also volunteering as mentors. I’m really pleased with how it’s going so far and we’ve had some great feedback. We’ve also got quite a few ideas for how to improve it next year.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Quizlet – games, printable flashcards, self-study at home, Quizlet Live…

Day 10: the best joke you’ve heard in 2018

Not a joke, but something else that makes me laugh. I love the ‘Role call’ videos featuring on James Corden’s show. Here’s a recent one of him doing musicals with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

When Emma got the results she wanted in her Delta 🙂

Day 12: your favourite teaching website in 2018

Probably Hana Ticha’s blog – so many ideas and things to think about!

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

Phil Longwell. Read his blog to find out why. Inspired by Phil, and other educators who are talking about mental health, we have started to make changes to how we provide support at our school, and we are already seeing the results. Some examples include the mentoring mentioned above, a specific session focussed on wellbeing in our induction week, and a generally open atmosphere where we make it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health.

Day 14: the moment in 2018 you realised WHY you’re doing your job

Seeing teachers from our school feeling confident enough to share what they’ve learnt with the wider teaching community, through online conferences (IH  – Emma, Ruth; IATEFL – Ruth and me), the IH Journal (Helen, Amy), and their own blogs (Emma, Ruth).

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

My health, as always.

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher

Networking. Drawing on the knowledge of the amazing teaching community that I’m part of, both online and off.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

I curated the IATEFL blog until August 2018. Reading all of the stories of how IATEFL has helped teachers from around the world is truly motivational.

Day 18: 3 reasons why you became a teacher

  • To help other people.
  • To explore.
  • To learn.

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

The new ‘word’ function on the BYU corpus pages.

BYU corpus word feature screenshot

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

Ask for help!

(and buy my book) 🙂

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

I’m re-reading The English Verb by Michael Lewis [affiliate link – but it’s super expensive 😦 ], which is probably the book that has most influenced the way I think about English. I’m trying to work out how to convey the way he describes language to students and teachers in a succinct and accessible way (watch this space).

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

That people don’t read adverts properly when they apply for jobs, or do and ignore the requirements stated. You’re wasting your time and mine.

Day 23: one thing you want non-teachers to understand

Just because you grow up speaking a language, doesn’t mean you can automatically teach it. You still need to learn how to be a teacher, work hard at it, and continually develop. Pay for good quality, trained, professional teachers, not just the cheapest person who happens to have the ‘right’ passport – all of us will benefit, and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Teaching Polish to our teachers. Although I started with a few lessons in 2017, 2018 is when I’ve realised that I can do it, even as an intermediate learner myself. It’s so much fun, and I can sneak in some teacher training by modelling activities too 🙂

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

Launching ELT Playbook 1, my self-published ebook aimed at helping new teachers. I’m really pleased with the reception it’s got, and am looking forward to finishing the next one in the series.

ELT Playbook 1 cover

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

An ongoing project: my ability to completely switch off – much improved, but not there yet.

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

That I should stop saying ‘I don’t have time’ and instead say ‘I have prioritised my time differently.’ We probably have time to do everything we might want to, but we don’t always make time for it. Life is about choices, and sometimes we choose (not) to do something at a particular time – how we prioritise the things we do is our responsibility, not some abstract thing from outside us.

Also, how much better I feel when I have proper time off, prioritising it over other things. I did know this before, but had forgotten. By the way, thanks to Neil for making sure the CELTA course I did in the summer had lots of space in it for time off and reflection, and for reminding me how much I enjoy riding a bike!

Day 28: which superpower would make you a Super-DoS

Staying calm all the time in all situations. I’m better at it than I used to be, but it still needs work!

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

Reusing language that has come up in class, not just recording it. The recording part has improved massively over the last couple of years, but I need to follow through better.

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

By teaching our teachers vocabulary to name places in a town in Polish. And the second lesson will be introducing a Proficiency group to the joys of pantomimes.

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

To go to my physio appointment at the right time – changes in routine are confusing!

Time travelling

Here are different challenges I’ve completed in previous years if you fancy writing something similar but this one doesn’t appeal:

  • 2013 – WordPress automatic stats
  • 2014 – the ups and downs of the year
  • 2015 – 30 questions to ask yourself
  • 2016 – things I’ve enjoyed this year
  • 2017 – 17 things I’ve learnt in 2017

It’s been fascinating reading back through them and remembering the bad times and the good.

Here’s to a peaceful and prosperous 2019!

Teenagers losing their luggage

Today I taught two low-intermediate teen classes at the same level, covering for another teacher. The first half of the lesson was a test. The topic of one of the recent units they’ve done is travel, so I finally got the chance to try out Mike Astbury’s lost luggage activity, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. The basic idea of Mike’s materials is that students role-play travellers who’ve lost their luggage and airport workers who take the details. Here’s what I did with it.

Setting the scene

You’re going on holiday. You’ve just arrived at the airport. Your luggage didn’t arrive. What’s missing?/What was in your suitcase? How do you feel about it?

I said this and students discussed it in pairs or small groups, then I took a general poll of feelings for feedback. This also served to generate some ideas for later in the lesson.

Describing luggage

I projected the second page of Mike’s handouts with 8 images of different items of luggage. Students had two minutes to describe what they could see using the language they had available. I didn’t really do any feedback for the first group. In the second we talked about Polish ‘It has green colour.’ versus English ‘It’s green.’ which came up for most groups.

I’d prepared pieces of paper with Mike’s descriptions of the luggage which I laid out on the floor. They had to discuss which description matched which item. Feedback was them using magnets to stick them to the board.

We checked them as a class, and I pulled out items of vocabulary to check the meaning. Examples were ‘buckle’, ‘handle’, ‘strap’ and ‘lock’.

They then described the cases again, with me gradually removing the descriptions.

Preparing their luggage

On the board, I showed students what I wanted them to write on the back of their luggage cards.

I handed out one luggage picture per person at random. They had 90 seconds to write a few items that were in their luggage and to make up their address. They then put their luggage under their chairs for later.

Working out questions

I organised students into pairs or small groups, with one notebook and pen shared between them. I displayed the lost luggage form (page 4 of the handouts) on the board and elicited a couple of example questions – a simple one (What’s your name?) and a more challenging one (What time did you land/arrive?)

In their groups, students had to write a question for each part of the form. I told them that flight details are things like the airline (Lufthansa) and the flight number (ZX 123). I monitored closely and did a lot of on-the-spot error correction, aiming for grammatically correct questions by the end of the exercise.

As soon as a pair/group had a full set of questions, they had to test each other by saying e.g. ‘flight details’ with the reply ‘What are your flight details?’ or ‘What was the airline?’ Each group had different questions. All groups had a couple of minutes to try and memorise the questions.

At the airport

Half of the students had time to look at their luggage cards again, then had to hand them to me. That way they were remembering the information, probably imperfectly – I don’t know about you, but I can never remember exactly what’s in my case or the finer details of what it looks like!

The other half lined up their chairs and stood behind them, as if it was an airport counter. They each had a pen and a lost luggage form. They had to ask questions and complete the form as accurately as possible. Then they put their completed form under the chairs and switched roles. When there were three students in a group, first one person had to collect information from both of them, then two of them had to collect the same information from one person. One student in the second group got particularly into it and kept bothering the airport worker by trying to rush them and asking ‘When will I get my luggage back?’ 🙂

Finding their luggage

I laid out all of the luggage on a ‘carousel’ on the floor. Once everybody had performed both roles, they used their forms to try to identify the luggage. They had to give it back to the owner asking ‘Is this your luggage?’

To round it all off, I asked them to put their hands up if they didn’t get their luggage back, and told they how successful our airport is. In both groups about a third didn’t get it, which I suspect reflects real life nicely!

In sum

The activity worked really well with this group of students, although we were a bit rushed at the end. I allocated 45 minutes, but I think 50 would have been enough, and 60 ideal.

I completely forgot to give them tickets from page 3 of Mike’s handouts, even though I’d prepared them, but this didn’t matter as most students seemed to enjoy making up this information. One student got a bit flustered about it though, and definitely would have benefitted from having something to draw on, although she managed to work around it in the end. The rush at that stage probably didn’t help either!

They were a bit confused by the way that we arranged the room for the role play at first, but as soon as they worked out what was going on they seemed to appreciate it.

They were definitely trying to use some of the new language to describe luggage, and I didn’t hear any ‘green colours’ in the second group during the role play 🙂

All in all, I’m really glad I finally got a chance to try out this activity from Mike’s blog. The students were engaged and it generated a lot of language and helped to further practice travel vocabulary and past tense question formation (which some of them had struggled with in the test). It worked well as a task-based lesson, which is something I’m trying to experiment with more, with students pushing themselves to speak as much as possible. Thanks for sharing these materials with us Mike, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at the materials on his blog!

A black cat sitting on a half-packed suitcase

Ironically, I’ve lost my picture of my lost luggage after it was returned to me, so instead here’s a picture of Poppy the cat (not) helping me to pack

Writing ‘ELT Playbook 1’

I’ve been thinking about what support we can give newly-qualified teachers for a while now. I was very lucky when I started out as a teacher, because I ended up in a school with a strong development programme for fresh teachers, but I know that’s not always the case. In February 2018, I published the results of this thinking, which eventually turned out to be ELT Playbook 1. Inspired by a talk given at IATEFL Manchester 2015 by Jill Hadfield, I also decided to document the process behind putting together the finished result, which is what you’ll find below.

The roots of the idea

The original idea I toyed with was to put together an ebook of tasks that could be worked through week by week in the first year after qualifying from an initial certificate course, like CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. Tasks would build on each other and cover areas that had probably been included in the initial course, like classroom management, teaching grammar and teaching reading. I put together a speculative proposal and sent it off to a publisher, but they didn’t accept it as they said they had something similar in the works.

This then developed into something in the form of a course, similar to the International House courses that I’ve done throughout my career. I was thinking along the lines of a CELTA revision course which goes over the main areas of the course again, but with the trainee having more time to absorb the ideas and to experiment with them with real students over a period of time, instead of intensively in just six hours of teaching practice. However, there were various problems with this approach.

  • Participants might not have completed an initial certificate course.
  • The initial certificate might have covered very different areas, so it was hard to make assumptions about what they’d covered.
  • Contexts could differ widely, so it would be hard to produce generic tasks that all participants would work through.
  • The timing of academic years varies widely, adding another variable that would make timing a course very challenging.
  • The whole thing would require a lot of work from the trainer.
  • It would be difficult to decide on assessment criteria.
  • How do you decide how much to charge?

I shelved the idea for a year after this, and continued in my position as a Director of Studies, working mostly with freshly-qualified teachers. Through this job, I developed a better understanding of what teachers in this position might need in the way of early career support.

Initial planning

Gradually I came back to the idea of an ebook, partly due to a very positive experience working with The Round and Karen White. This time, though, it would be arranged such that it could be followed in a range of ways, depending on the teacher’s preferences:

  • from beginning to end of the book;
  • category by category (there are six strands in the book, each with five tasks);
  • by looking at how long a task might take and seeing what can be fitted in;
  • by choosing a task completely at random.

I wrote up the basic idea for the ebook in my shiny new MaWSIG notebook after the Pre-Conference Events at IATEFL 2017, with the initial strands chosen as:

  • Back to basics
  • Exploring your context/The wider world of ELT
  • Being creative
  • Examining language
  • Upgrading skills
  • Health and wellbeing

I also wanted to use the taskbook to encourage teachers to reflect on their own teaching, perhaps through a blog, a teaching journal, or video- or audio-bites. This was partly inspired by Shelly Terrell’s excellent 30 Goals Challenge, something which I took part in a couple of times when I started out with my blogging.

At IATEFL 2017 I was very happy to see Sarah Mercer’s plenary, where she focussed a lot on the psychological health of teachers, which validated the decision to include the final category. ‘Health and wellbeing’ then became the first one that I wrote notes for when I had nothing else to do on a train journey to Torun. I decided at this point that I would like to include a quote before each strand and each task which would somehow link it back to the literature and back up the suggestions I was making. Hopefully this would also give teachers an idea about where to find out more. It would also force me to do research to support my ideas, and not just include things I instinctively felt would help.

The name The Teacher’s Taskbook came to mind pretty quickly, and after searching for it a few times and discovering that the title didn’t seem to be in use either for a book or a website, I decided it was worth using (though see below…)

As I thought about the ebook more, I realised that 30 tasks wouldn’t be enough, and have since decided that I’d like to put together a series of ebooks, so watch this space for more!

Developing the structure

At the beginning of June 2017 I watched a webinar by Nik Peachey about becoming your own publisher, organised by the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG, and available on the IATEFL webinars page for IATEFL members if you’d like to watch it yourself. He shared lots of tips from his own experience of self-publishing.

A few days later I came across a blog post by Adi Rajan on Open Badges for CPD. Although I’ve been somewhat sceptical about badges in the past, I thought it might be a good idea to offer people the chance to collect badges to document their progression through the tasks in the book.

On the same day I decided that if I want to put together a series of books, and perhaps accompany them with badges, it would probably be a good idea to have a logo, but had no idea what I wanted to do. See below…

A few months later

It’s now 4th July 2017, and things have moved on a bit. I’ve got a clear idea for the structure of each task, with about half of the tasks now written out on paper, plus the titles for the rest of them, and a bit of my introduction. I’ve also changed the title from the original idea of The Teacher’s Taskbook: Year One, which I thought was a bit too functional, to ELT Playbook 1, inspired by a conversation with Adi Rajan. To find out why I chose this title, take a look at the introduction of the book 🙂

Other things I’ve done:

  • Sketched out a rough logo with a graphic designer friend.
  • Researched the possibilities for awarding badges, though the costs for many of these seem to be quite prohibitive.
  • Decided to use icons for sections of each task, inspired by Nik Peachey’s webinar mentioned above. Watching another webinar by Lindsay Clandfield today, I came across The Noun Project, which is the perfect source for my icons – I’ve just paused in my search to write this update!
  • Started a spreadsheet to keep track of what I spend when preparing the book, though there are no entries yet.
  • Shared the idea with a few people, and it seems to have got a positive response so far. Here’s hoping I can get it published by September, ready for the new school year in a lot of the world!

Draft one complete!

It’s 16th August 2017, and today I’ve finished hand-writing the last of the tasks. I decided to write everything out longhand first as I find it easier to think of ideas that way (unless I’m blogging!), and it meant that typing up the tasks would then be a process of redrafting. By limiting myself to one small piece of paper, it also encouraged me to keep the tasks short and of a similar length.

I started typing up some of the tasks a couple of weeks ago, in between some teacher training I was doing. I’ve now got about 24 of the 30 tasks on the computer, and will hopefully type the rest of them up tomorrow, as well as looking for the quotes to accompany each task.

I’ve also contacted an editor in the last couple of days, as I want to make sure a professional looks over what I’ve been doing before it goes public. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been building up a list of questions I’d like her to answer, covering things I’m not sure about or which I think could be expanded or changed.

Coming together nicely

A couple of weeks ago I sent off a complete typed first draft to my editor, Penny Hands, along with a list of questions I would like her opinion on and some of the conventions I’ve used throughout the book. These are both things I’ve picked up as tips during previous IATEFL MaWSIG events – the Materials Writing SIG is a great one to join if you’re interested in writing materials at all. They have so much helpful advice.

I’ve also just had an email from my friend who’s working on a logo for me. She sent me a range of different options for me to choose from. It was very exciting to think about which one most suits the idea I have for the book, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final results.

So that’s it for 18th September 2017: apart from choosing the logo, I’m taking a short break as our induction week started today. It’s a very busy time for me, helping new teachers settle in at our school and working out the timetable. Listening to them talk about qualifying and hearing their hopes and fears for their new jobs and lives reinforces my feeling that a book like this is necessary – I hope it proves that way!

Looking back at my previous entries in this post, it doesn’t look like the book will be ready by the end of September, but hopefully it won’t be too long after that. I’ve also now decided against awarding badges with the book, as it seems like it would involve a lot of complicated logistics and/or a large financial outlay on my part. If anybody has suggestions for how I can get around this, I’d really appreciate them!

Here’s a quote from a blogpost I read today which kind of chimes with what I’d like ELT Playbook 1 to do:

Maybe the provision of so much scaffolding for trainees on a course like the CELTA helps fuel things ‘forward’ and accounts for why I’ve enjoyed and been positively affected by it so much…scaffolding which does provide ‘data’ (written and oral feedback galore), at least some collaboration (in teacher-tutor guided lesson co-planning, minimally), plenty of non-written forms of reflection (though I do wish I’d already have tried giving the option to replace written post-feedback reflections with other kinds!), and detail, detail, and more for sure. Now if this aspect of an intensive one-month course like the CELTA could just be unfurled, exploded, and evenly distributed throughout an entire career path!

Collaboration

In the last week I’ve received logos for the different parts of my book, which I really like. For me, they capture the essence of ‘play’ which I would like to be central, while also incorporating both analogue (book) and digital (the mouse) elements. This one’s my favourite colour too 🙂

ELT Playbook 1 logo Back to Basics

Designed by Ola Walczykowska

A couple of days ago I got an edited version of my book, along with a few questions covering areas which I’d been a bit concerned about too. One of these is how much I’ve emphasised the community/sharing in many of the tasks. While I believe this is an important element to the book, I don’t feel that it should be highlighted as much as it is, as I don’t want people to feel like they have to share with the community if they don’t want to. I think it should be an option that’s available, but not something obligatory. I’m going to try to rewrite the reflection ideas to make them mirror my beliefs more.

It’s the beginning of October, and I originally hoped to publish the book in September, but I’ve now realised I was too ambitious in terms of managing my time around my work. I’m not going to put pressure on myself for the sake of having it published – I’d rather it was ready to the standard I want it to be, and that I have a work-life balance, than that it’s published before it meets the standards I want it to.

Editing

A month later on the 29th October, I’ve finally got time to take a look at the edits that Penny has suggested, almost all of which I’ll keep, as they certainly upgrade the text. I think it’s really important to have a professional editor for a project like this, as Penny has caught many things I wouldn’t have noticed. She’s also been able to point out some of the ways in which my book might not be clear to a reader, like places where some of my assumptions have come across. The biggest change is the addition of a subtitle: ‘Teacher development in an online community’, which conveys what I hope is one of the key characteristics of the book, as can be seen in this section from the introduction.

Learning together

A key objective of ELT Playbook is to give teachers who are new to the profession the chance to become part of a wider community. You can find other members of the community on the following social media channels:

Via these forums, you will be able to benefit from looking at and commenting on the reflections of other people, and sharing your own reflections if you want to.

We also took out a quote which didn’t really fit the structure of the book. I liked it though, so I’m going to share it here 🙂

Many teachers find that writing a short journal about their experiences and lessons is a great way to reflect constructively on their teaching. Putting your ideas down on paper sometimes gives you a clear perspective on the problems and issues that arise, and may help you to reflect on possible solutions. These days, more and more teachers even make their experiences public by sharing them on blogs. It might be worth reading some of them to discover you are not alone!

John Hughes (2014) ETpedia: 1,000 ideas for English Language Teachers. Pavilion Publishing and Media, page 25

Another thing I’ve really benefitted from when writing the book is sharing the concept with friends and colleagues, and taking on board their ideas and suggestions. For example, this week my friend Natasha suggested publicising the book using the #weteachenglish hashtag on Instagram, something I’d never heard of before.

Finally, I now have a cover (though the subtitle means it’ll need a bit of editing). Thanks to Ola, Penny and Natasha for their help!

A bit of a hurdle

I’ve just looked at the 2nd edit of my ebook, and in Penny’s email she let me know about something that had never occurred to me: if you use a lot of quotes in your work, it’s a good idea to find out whether you need permission to use them or not. This is something I now need to follow up on, as I don’t want to get into trouble. This is why it’s important to have an editor! Thanks Penny 🙂 (though it does mean delaying the publication date while I make sure…it’s 20th November, and I’d hoped to publish next weekend)

Hiatus

Oops…it’s Christmas Eve and I haven’t looked at my book for over a month. Instead I’ve been prioritising differently at weekends and doing a lot more baking, as well as consciously trying to relax more. However, if I ever want this to be published, and to get back the money I’ve paid my editor it’s time to crack on again. So Guys and Dolls is on TV, and I’m refamiliarising myself with the manuscript. (I don’t usually double-screen, but Christmas is different…)

A few hours later, and I’ve responded to all of the comments from Penny, and added a few quotes to try and balance out the male/female balance. I’ve also managed to write a contents page for ELT Playbook 2, which I hope will make the process of writing the follow-up a little faster than this one!

On Boxing Day, I’ve opened it up again and spent another 90 minutes or so checking all of the hyperlinks in the document, and adding a further reading section to make it easier for readers to explore further if they want to, as suggested by a couple of people. I’ve now sent it to my mum for a final proofread before I write to the publishers to ask for permission to use their quotes.

Permissions

29th December – Things I have discovered while writing to publishers to ask for permission to use quotations from their books:

  • I should have written down ISBNs for every book. I can find them on Amazon, but it would have been faster to write them down originally.
  • It’s easier to do this with the books in front of you, not in a different country (they’re in Poland, I’m in the UK for Christmas!)
  • Each publisher does things very differently. My favourite is Cambridge at the moment, because they currently grant permission to use up to 400 words of prose freely as long as it is accompanied by a full citation (according to their permissions page as of 29th December 2017) [Please check there – don’t take my word for it!] Some publishers require word counts, some have email addresses, some have forms to fill in. One publisher has a Word form to fill in and send back, where the formatting is quite troublesome. Another couple use external sites to do their permissions.
  • If a publisher no longer exists, you might be able to find out who bought their list using the Association of American Publishers lookup function.
  • Some places charge, some don’t. This is something to factor in when you’re thinking about costs.
  • Asking for permissions takes a good 2-3 hours if you decide you want to use 30 or so quotes from at least 15 different sources!

A major change

11th February – by a week ago, I’d only received about 25% of the permissions I need to publish the book. Apart from that, everything else is ready. After discussing it with a couple of people, I’ve decided that the inclusion of quotes in the book doesn’t add enough to the book to justify the amount of work it’s taking to get permission to use them, and that a further reading list is enough of a pointer. It’s disappointing as I do think they added something, but if I want to write a series of these books (and I do!) then I need to make the process as easy to repeat as possible.

In the last week I’ve also decided that the official launch date will be Valentine’s Day, a nice easy date to remember, and conveniently in the middle of a two-week school holiday, so I have time to get everything finalised before I publish, including putting together a blog to complement the series, an idea I toyed with previously and have now decided I definitely want to have.

The big day!

14th February 2018 – I went through the book one last time, making a couple more minor tweaks and making sure that none of the questions referred to the quotes I’d removed. I also set up the facebook page, and put together a page of content for the new ELT Playbook blog explaining what the book is and where to get it from.

Once everything was ready, I uploaded the ebook to Smashwords and Amazon’s KDP platform. These were the hitches:

  • My cover image was a bit too small for Smashwords. I used http://resizeimage.net/ to make it the required 1400 pixel width.
  • When I downloaded a sample .epub file from Smashwords, I noticed that the icons for the sections were all giant, even though they were only about 2x2cm in the file. I then had to save small versions of each icon onto my computer, and replace 214 of them. Luckily that only took about 20 minutes, and also reduced the file size from 10.5MB to 1MB, which means Amazon will hopefully not charge me as much when people download the file.

A few months down the line

It’s 3rd June 2018, and the ELT Playbook 1 ebook has now been available for a few months. By my calculations I’ve sold 22 copies on Smashwords and about 21 copies on Amazon (it’s a bit harder to work it out there!) I’ve talked about it at IATEFL and in a webinar for EFLtalks.com (see below), as well as in passing at the IH Torun Teacher Training Day and in a webinar for International House as part of the latest Teachers’ Online Conference. IATEFL was also a great opportunity to get ideas from people like Dorothy Zemach about what to do next with the book and the series.

As part of the prep for IATEFL 2018, Rob Howard gave me the excellent idea of making postcards advertising the book, with a space to sign or write notes on the back, and I was one of the authors who benefitted from the chance to do a signing session at the independent publishers’ stand.

ELT Playbook 1 postcards

On 2nd May I went back to the idea of badges that I discarded earlier as being potentially too much work. This was as a direct result of the fact that thus far nobody has posted their responses to any of the tasks on the social media platforms (facebook, Twitter and Instagram) – I just need somebody to be first, so if that’s you, I’ll be incredibly grateful! If you complete all of the tasks in one section or in the book, you can get one of these badges:

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

The badges aren’t proper Open Badges, as the expense of me paying for an Open Badges scheme is prohibitive, but I think these ones will do for now. I look forward to adding names to them and sending them out!

Rereading this post before I publish it, I also noticed that in the end I didn’t use the subtitle that was suggested ‘Teacher development in an online community’ – I can’t remember why, but I suspect I simply forgot about it. What do you think? Should I use it? I ended up adding the strapline ‘Learning to reflect, together’ on the ELT Playbook blog – maybe that would be better?

It’s been great to hear people’s responses to the book and the idea of a series, and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out any of the tasks. I already have the contents page for two more books (ELT Playbook 2 and ELT Playbook: Teacher Training) and have started writing tasks for the teacher training book. I can’t wait to share them with you, so watch this space!

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?

Why won’t they speak?!

Following on from Monday’s lesson, I deliberately made sure that my intermediate class today would have lots of opportunities to speak, starting immediately with the first activity. I hoped this would make a difference to the atmosphere in the room, and briefly, it did. After a while though, regardless of what I tried to do to get a response, it seemed that nobody wanted to say anything. I’d done everything ‘right’: put them in pairs, given them thinking time, played music (at their request) so they weren’t speaking into silence, suggested possible answers (yes, no, maybe for some questions), given them chance to make decisions (do you want to listen to anything again, or shall we move on?) and was generally greeted with silence, increasingly so as the lesson progressed. There were only 6 students, we’ve been working together since the end of September, and they seem to be quieter and quieter rather than more confident as the year goes on. They get on well with each other, and have been happy to speak to everyone else in class when we do mingling activities. I’d spoken to each of them individually during tutorials before our winter holiday in February, and talked about reasons to speak more and what might be stopping them. I know that none of them are particularly introverted in Polish and have regularly heard them conversing without any problems, even with people they don’t know. So what was stopping them?

I decided to ‘pause’ the lesson as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. On the board I wrote a long list of possible reasons that could be stopping them from speaking, then stood in front of it and told them about my experience of learning Polish. I didn’t speak at all really during my first year, once I’d realised that I was mixing Czech, Russian and Polish and people couldn’t understand me. The turning point came when I went for a flamenco weekend. When people asked me conversational questions, I had two choices: ignore them and stay silent, or try to reply. Because I felt comfortable, I tried to reply, and this made me realise people could understand me, which was the kick-start I needed to start speaking. I haven’t really looked back since. I asked the students to look at the list of reasons on the board and write as many of them as necessary on paper I gave them, or any other reasons they may have for being reluctant to speak. Here are some of them (I probably had about 15 in all, but don’t remember them all now):

  • I don’t know enough words.
  • I’m worried about my grammar.
  • I’m worried about my pronunciation.
  • I’m not interested in the topics.
  • I don’t have enough time to think.
  • It’s too quiet in here.
  • Sandy scares me – she puts too much pressure on us.
  • I don’t have any ideas.

A couple of students mentioned being tired, and one said ‘Just a bad day’. Afterwards I asked them if they’d be comfortable sharing their feelings with their classmates. They agreed, so I put them in a circle and left the room, telling them they could choose whether to speak Polish or English, and suggesting they respond to each other, not just listing their ideas, telling each other whether they feel the same. They opted to have the discussion in Polish, and exchanged a little, though it was mostly monologuing. I could hear some of it from outside, but the background music and my intermediate Polish meant I couldn’t catch all of it.

When I returned to the room, I then spoke to them in my best Polish, saying something along the lines of ‘Language is communication. You’re here because you want to speak more, but if you come and sit in silence, then it’s just grammar, and you can do that at home. I’m making a lot of mistakes right now, but you can understand me, right? Grammar is not the important thing, communication is.’ I then switched into English and said that I’m tired too, and while I can try to give all 7 of us energy, it’s hard work and I need them to help me. I also explained a bit about the process of learning, going from knowing nothing to things being automatic, saying that some bits of their English are already automatic, things like using ‘I’ in the first person, or being able to spell ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without thinking about it. To help them make more things automatic, I need to be able to hear them so I can correct them if necessary, and they need to practise more.

We spent the last few minutes coming up with either/or debate topics, like cats or dogs, winter or summer, PC or PS…which they wrote all over the board. They will be the topics for a speaking assessment we’ll do next lesson, when I’ll see whether they can use the phrases for giving examples and expressing your opinion which were the actual topic of today’s lesson, as well as monitoring their interactive communication. They’ve got five days to think about what we discussed, practice the phrases and mentally prepare themselves for the assessment – I told them what it would involve and what they’d be marked on. I’ll be interested to see if any of this makes a difference…

At the end of the lesson, one of the students checked a bit of extra homework she’d done, and stayed for longer than the rest. I asked her if she thought this kind of discussion was useful, and she said she hoped it would help. She mentioned that at school, sitting in silence and listening to the teacher is considered respectful, and at uni you sit in silence because you’re taking notes, and you work out how to understand them later, so this is quite different for her now she’s an adult. As well as contained this idea to make me think, it was also the longest stretch of English I’ve heard from her all year. As I keep telling all of them, they’re much better than they think they are!

Colouful speech bubbles

Discussing it with my colleagues afterwards, one suggested that it could also be because we’re at (I hope!) the tail end of winter, a lot of students have been ill recently, it’s still dark and pretty cold, and maybe that’s tipping over into a relative lack of enthusiasm in the classroom – it’s definitely reduced as the year has progressed. Another said it could be a good idea to ask them to have discussions in Polish first, then in English, which I’m certainly going to try. I’ve only ever used that strategy once or twice, and it’s always worked before. She also suggested getting them to set goals, even if it’s just ‘I’ll answer three questions in class before Easter.’ That fits in quite nicely with the topic of our next lesson.

Do you have any other thoughts or suggestions on this? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a class quite this silent before!

Teaching the same thing all over again (paragraph blogging)

This week I’ve taught six 90-minute classes at a company, working through needs analysis and getting examples of speaking and writing as we are working with them for the first time. I had the same plan for all six lessons, covering every level from elementary to advanced, but it panned out completely differently in each group. The general structure was:

  • Students write questions for me and their teacher (who was observing and data collecting), then ask them.
  • Annotate a copy of the contents page of the book they’ve been using for lessons before we started teaching them, to show which things they’ve done, what they’d like to do, and what they’d prefer to avoid.
  • Individually, divide up 40 points between the speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation to show their course priorities (an idea I adapted from Teaching English One-to-One [affiliate link] by Priscilla Osborne and now use all the time!). Write this on the back of the contents page.
  • Write a paragraph about their job, roles and responsibilities, when/if/how they use English at work, their hobbies, and anything else they choose, also on the back of the contents.
  • Extend the paragraph by finishing various sentence starters from a choice of 10, such as:
    • I prefer English lessons which…
    • I am confident/not confident about ____ in English because…
    • I generally have good/bad memories of learning English/Russian/German/… at school because…
    • A good English teacher…

Pretty straightforward, right? None of the lessons are encapsulated in that plan though! At various points this week, I (sometimes with my colleagues) have done error correction based on questions, looked at the grammar of questions in general, created indirect questions, discussed at length good places to visit in London, talked about the etymology of Wolverhampton and Chichester, discussed learning strategies and how to make English a habit, shared websites that can be used in addition to doing homework, explained various Polish/English differences, discovered all seven students in a single class prefer dogs to cats, encouraged (elementary) students to speak up so that I can give them feedback and then praised them a lot for speaking pretty much only English for 90 minutes, and probably many more things that I’ve forgotten. It’s a reminder, if one was needed, to teach the students, not the plan 🙂

Lady Wulfruna statue

Lady Wulfruna, the source of the name of Wolverhampton – Image by David Stowell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why I don’t have a smartphone (paragraph blogging)

This is my phone. It is frequently the butt of jokes, especially when people know about my online presence. And I don’t really care: I do not want or need a smartphone. I know that having one would actually cause me more problems than not having one in my life as it is at the momtent. My Nokia does everything I need it to: make calls, send texts, cost me a minimal amount of money (about 50 Polish zloty every three or four months or so, depending on how much I use it – that’s around £10/€12), only need recharging for a couple of hours once a week or so, fall apart when I drop it (about once a week!) and be easy to put together…and all for only £10 three and a half years ago. At one point, I did have a secondhand iPhone for a year, and it was undoubtedly useful. It got me started with recording my steps using a pedometer app, it got me into reading ebooks when I had to commute on the Tube during London 2012, and it can be useful to quickly check something when I’m out. But…I generally spend 5-7 hours a day at work on a computer, plus another 1-3 hours at home. Most weekends I probably spend a minimum of 6 hours each day in front of screen, and often more. I have an iPad (2, hence the photo quality above), a pedometer, a camera, an iPod shuffle, and a Macbook. I do not have any notifications switched on, and I try very hard to switch my computer off by 9:30pm in the evening if I’m not using it to watch a film on my projector. I look at social media when I want to, not when my phone dictates and my hormones respond by telling me I need a fix – and I still spend too much time scrolling. I do not need more screen time. On nights when I have switched off the computer in good time and had a couple of hours with no screen  before bed, I sleep better. Sometimes I get text messages like Google map links when people assume I have a smartphone, and sometimes I think maybe I should invest, but then I think I can’t be bothered with the mental effort of having to control my impulse to look at it all the time. Like not having chocolate at home, it’s easier just not to buy it in the first place! 

Inspired by Matt Noble

If you’re interested in breaking up with your phone, there’s an interesting interview with the author of a book of the same name on a recent Science Focus podcast (from 16:07 onwards) with tips on how to go about it.

Starting out

Yesterday we finished induction week for our teachers, including nine new to school, and five who are completely new to teaching. This, and Tyson Seburn’s recent post ‘Frosh me‘, made me think back to when I was just starting out. Depending on how strictly you define it, I could select a few different points to focus on.

I’ve been keeping a diary since I was 17, and now that I have my own flat, I’ve recently been reunited with my boxes of diaries again for the first time in many years. Writing this post was the perfect excuse to have a look back through some of them.

Malaysia

My first ever lesson was working with children in the jungle in Borneo. I got incredibly homesick while working there, and filled multiple notebooks in the 8 weeks I was in the village. If I could go back and do it again, I would spend a lot more time talking to the people in the village and getting to know them better. Instead I stayed in my room, wrote in my diary and cried a lot for most of the first three weeks. This wasn’t helped by us having absolutely no contact with the outside world, not even letters unless somebody was driving out to the local town which was 3 hours away – we got letters once in that time.

We had a couple of chances to observe classes before we started teaching. One of my main memories is watching a middle-aged male teacher use his knuckle to hit a little girl behind her ear when she couldn’t answer his questions. In my diary it says:

[B]’s english lesson was dire and he was amazed that the children didn’t understand – he hadn’t ever prepared his lesson!

I don’t seem to have mentioned the corporal punishment in my diary (not sure why) – it was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that, and it really shocked me. About seven weeks after that, my final two lessons with the two girls he taught and two others who joined them later made me cry because it was the first time I really knew that somebody had learnt something because I’d taught it to them. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.

Paraguay

Starting out in Paraguay during my year abroad from uni, I decided to take a photo of myself before my ‘first ever lesson’. I suspected I would be doing this for a while 😉

Me before my first lesson in the Anglo

There’s some form of getting-to-know-you activity on the board behind me – no idea what. To the right of the board is something students asked me about pretty quickly. I assumed it was just another pretty picture, like the other posters in the classroom. A couple of months later I found out it was actually Adrian Underhill’s phonemic chart! Unfortunately the diary I wrote about this lesson in was in a bag which was stolen a few months later. What I do remember is that the class was 6:50-7:50 in the morning, and there were only three of us teaching at that time. It was a lovely group of students, ostensibly preparing for FCE, but probably about two levels lower if I were to placement test them today!

CELTA

My first day of CELTA was almost 10 years ago – I started it on 17th October 2007.

And so it starts…

I walked to Elvet for our first CELTA class. There are 8 of us: me, […]. We played some introduction games, then did some admin, including receiving our files. We met the students for about half an hour in a very noisy room (!), then discussed which groups we thought they should be in.

I don’t remember any of that! This is when I’m really glad that I write my diary 🙂

My first teaching practice was a week later, and I was first up:

The students didn’t arrive until 6:30, so I started about 6:35. There were 7 Japanese girls who came together, 2 Chinese women, a Ukrainian, a Yemeni woman, a Polish woman, and 2 Polish men called Przcemek! I had the first slot, doing the ‘small difference’ – everyone’s name on the board, on person goes out of the room, 2 swap places. […] Afterwards we had feedback – no major problems – and divided up our roles within the group.

I don’t remember that activity either, and don’t think I’ve ever done it since. It seems like it could be fun with low-level groups, especially with kids. These were pre-intermediate adults. I also know that it’s Przemek, not Przcemek now 🙂

Summer school

My CELTA was part-time during my final year of university, so that I would be ready to teach full time once I left. I had my graduation ceremony in Durham on Thursday, mum and I drove down south via Wolverhampton to drop off my things on Friday, induction for summer school started on Saturday, and our first lessons were on Monday. It was quite hectic, and I was a bit scared of teaching teenagers.

This was when I discovered just how small the EFL world can be. I had applied for jobs with IH at four different schools, which I had to put in priority order. I had no idea, so just picked at random. 1st was a school in a relatively small city in Poland (not Bydgoszcz!) that ran a young learners course, which I thought might be useful. 2nd was Brno, because it was still a small-ish city. 3rd was a capital city, and 4th was Odessa, purely because it was by the sea! On arrival at summer school, I discovered that two of my colleagues had worked at the Polish school previously and didn’t really like the town, so I wasn’t that disappointed when the school said they had all the teachers they needed. Two of my other colleagues were Czech, and from Brno. Everything they said about the city made me desperate to go there, so when I had my interview a week into summer school, I was really hoping to be successful. Thankfully I was, and I still have a very soft spot in my heart for the city – everything they told me was true!

Brno

Brno Cathedral

Brno Cathedral on my first morning in the city

This is where I really feel like I started out – all of the other places feel like pre-cursors. This was a full-time, nine-month contract in a professional school. I was made to feel welcome as soon as I arrived, and still am every time I go back.

This morning I was up and ready pretty quickly. Mum and I got to Stansted at 11, had a drink, then did my check-in. They didn’t weigh my hand luggage so I added in my extra books. We had lunch at O’Neills. I went through security at 12:50, luckily very quickly as I had just realised boarding should have closed at 13:10 – not that they started letting us on until 13:15 – and after I’d run too! :s Apart from that, the flight was uneventful and we landed 5 mins early.

As we flew in, the main thing that struck me was how many trees and wooded areas there are around the city – might even get me walking more! [It didn’t much!] SV, the school director, met me at the apart [sic!] and drove me to my new home. A flat (13) in a red block in the Vinohrady area of the city – think the street is Mutenicka. She gave me a map of the city and showed me where the school and flat and how to travel between them.

[Note – I’m disappointed in the level of my English here – must have been tired!]

The next day:

I left at 8:15 to walk into Brno – it took 55 mins – a bit too long to be a regular occurence! I found the school, wandered around the city, found the cathedral & then went shopping at Tesco – very confusing as it had 4 floors & you had to pay separately on each :s I went back to school and was introduced to I and E in the office, P & Magdalena? [It wasn’t!] I went for lunch with P, & she then took me to Vodafone to buy a SIM card. I couldn’t work out where to get the tram from so got it from the first stop outside the centre, then had to get off as roadworks meant it was going an unusual route. I tried out my Czech, but had to rely on the pointing rather than the answer.

I’m so pleased I wrote about it in this much detail (though you might not be!) It brings back my feelings of disorientation, and the little things that I found so challenging. That was the first time I’d been to a country where I wasn’t already at least intermediate level in the language, so it was a huge challenge for me when I’d been used to at least being able to get my basic message across. It really motivated me to try and learn more Czech as soon as I could!

Induction started a couple of days later. This is what I wrote at the end of my diary entry for that day:

I’m now exhausted and have information overload!

Our Brno induction was just three days, and in Bydgoszcz our teachers have a week. I feel for them 🙂 On Thursday (two days ago as I write this) I gave the teachers their timetables, having run around like crazy for most of the day to get them finished. The session immediately before they get their timetables is an activity swapshop which everyone contributes to, which was inspired by my first week at IH Brno. Most of the teachers new to the school seemed pretty nervous when they came to see me, whereas the returners were very calm. Here’s what happened when I got my timetable in Brno:

The afternoon started with the other half of the swapshop, then a meeting with other teachers doing the same intensive courses. [Students had 3 hours a day, Monday to Friday, with a different teacher each day] I”ll be doing KET on Monday afternoon, which means they’ll be absolute beginners (!), followed by FCE on Tuesday morning. We then had to wait for ages to get our timetables. I replied to stuff on facebook, hung around for a bit, went to get a holepunch [all the important things!], then ended up having a manic hour between 5 & 6 when I got my timetable, went to the copy shop to get copies of my passport photo, went to the transport shop with D to get my travel pass and got my books from the office. It sounds simple, but in reality involved climbing 2 flights of stairs about 10 times, coupled with a lot of manic stress. I got it all in the end through, as well as my local health insurance card.

I find it odd that I wrote far more about the manic hour than about my timetable. I guess I had no real idea what any of the classes meant for me, apart from the absolute beginners, which I was clearly a bit worried about. I had remembered the waiting, but not the ensuing crazy hour or two. Hopefully it wasn’t quite the same for our teachers – maybe they’ll tell me if they read this 😉 I also had no idea that the swapshop I remember so well from Brno had also been almost immediately before we got our timetables – there’s a funny kind of symmetry.

The second weekend involved another learning curve:

After lunch I put some washing on, which took ages as we [my flatmate and I] couldn’t work the machine. I planned FCE, interspersed with monitoring the washing. It eventually turned out that the machine wouldn’t spin, so my clothes are stuck in it. There was a burning rubber smell, and I have a nasty feeling the fan belt might have broken. I phoned S, not expected her to be able to do anything, and she hasn’t replied yet.

Neither of us had ever encountered a top-loading washing machine before, and we had no idea you were supposed to lock the drum before switching on the machine. The result: it did half a spin, tipped all my clothes out, got stuck, and tried to continue. That was a valuable life lesson as I’ve lived with many similar machines since! 🙂

My first class was with a 121 student. I was driven out to the car showroom he owned, about 20 minutes from the centre. For the whole journey, I remember wondering why this 50-something successful businessmen should listen to me, 23, fresh out of uni, and just embarking on this career. I didn’t mention any of those feelings in my diary though, only that:

He needs a lot of work on accuracy when speaking, but is generally a pretty good communicator.

He ended up being one of my favourite students, and I taught him for three years. 🙂

In sum

It’s been fascinating looking back at my old diaries and seeing what I did and didn’t choose to write about. There are lots of little life lessons scattered in just these few incidents, some of which I’d remembered when and where I learnt them, others that I’d completely forgotten.

What do you remember about your first day(s)?

Questions

As an experienced language learner, I know that it’s important for me to speak as much as possible in order to improve my language. That can be easier said than done though (no pun intended).

Since I came back to Poland after a few weeks away this summer, I’ve noticed I’m much more confident when speaking Polish. There’s been a real difference in my interactions, which I think marks a step change in my progress. Reading Scott Thornbury’s recent post W is for (language learning in) the Wild, I finally realised what this difference is: questions.

Let me explain.

In my first year in Poland, I went through somewhat of a silent period. Having previously learnt Czech and Russian really helped my understanding of Polish, since they are all Slavic languages. However, it meant that whenever I spoke, it was some kind of weird mix of all three languages, and people often struggled to understand me. Without realising what was happening, I mostly stopped trying to interact, and would switch to English whenever I knew it was possible.

Last summer, I went for a weekend away with organised by my flamenco teacher in Bydgoszcz. At least half of the people on the trip couldn’t speak English, but they were curious about why I was there, and wanted to share their own experiences of English and/or the UK – many of them have family who live there. They were also very patient with me, and supported my efforts to communicate.

A few fellow flamenco learners in the beautiful surroundings of Gzin

A couple of weeks after that I moved into my new flat, and shared it for six weeks with the previous owners, who didn’t speak English. I’ve written previously about that experience of immersion and how much it helped my confidence.

Despite these positive experiences, I still felt like I could only make statements, or follow where my conversation partner led.

Now I’ve realised that I’ve started to be able to instigate conversations too, because I’ve begun to experiment with asking questions. I’m still not hugely confident with the grammar of questions, and mostly stick to question words and rising intonation, but I now feel like I can steer what’s happening or fill lulls in the conversation when my conversation partner has run out of things to ask. It also now feels rather less like the Spanish inquisition.

What particularly made me think in Scott’s post was the fact that the Japanese hitchhiker he describes had been prompted to use a particular list of questions by his English teacher. Maybe I should come up with a list of Polish questions that I can use in a variety of situations, to help improve my confidence and make it easier to start conversations.

Have you ever done anything like that with your students? What kind of questions would you include on the list?

Going through the attic

Over the long May bank holiday weekend I’ve spent a lot of time in the attic of the house I grew up in, finding all kinds of ‘treasures’ and things I’d completely forgotten about. This page was in a notebook which I think I was writing in while I was working in a factory in Germany during the summer of 2003. It shows a list of things I wanted to do at that point in time – I’ve clearly long been into writing lists of goals!

Some of my old possessions: my aims in life when I was in Germany in 2003

Looking back on the list of things that I prioritised as an 18 year old, some things haven’t changed:

  • I still want my (hypothetical) kids to speak more than one language.
  • I would love to find a partner.
  • One day, I’ll add playing an instrument to my daily habits, and I’ll make some form of progress with it.
  • Australia is still a dream destination, though now I think it’s topped by New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea… looks like I’ll just have to do a tour of East Asia and Down Under 🙂
  • I’d like to be able to ride a horse, though I’m not quite sure my body will be up to it. At some point, I’ll have a go and see what happens!

I’ve achieved three things:

  • I teach 🙂
  • I’ve bought a flat – it has two floors, so it’s almost a house 😉
  • I own a Traveller’s Atlas.

Some things are highly unlikely:

  • See Will & Grace be recorded – although they’re returning for a new series, I’m pretty sure I won’t have enough time or money to make it over there!
  • Go to a Robbie Williams concert – again, money and time make it unlikely, though maybe, just maybe…
  • Have a company in Germany. I love the country, but I didn’t know about the rest of Central Europe back then 🙂 Also not sure I can be bothered with the stress of owning my own company!

I’m part-way there with a couple of them:

  • I finished my degree, but clearly didn’t know that a Masters normally comes before a doctorate 😉 Not sure if I’m enamoured enough of studying to pursue that one through to it’s conclusion, but you never know. I have a tendency to get bored and then agree to things that I occasionally regret when I’m in the middle of them!
  • At one point at the end of my degree, I was C1 level in three languages, French, German and Spanish. Pretty sure that counts as fluent 🙂 And I’ve made a start with quite a few others

And I don’t really remember what these were for:

  • Japanese business: I’m pretty sure I never intended to be part of a Japanese business. Maybe I just wanted to keep learning about some of their management techniques which I’d been introduced to at school?
  • Psychology: I’m guessing that’s something else I wanted to find out more about. I should probably rekindle that interest, especially following Sarah Mercer’s IATEFL 2017 plenary.

So there you have it: proof that dreams don’t just come true, they evolve and develop 🙂 What do you think your 18-year-old self dreamt of that you’ve achieved now? And what is still a work in progress?

Behind the scenes

in response to Sandy Millin:

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

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

How could I refuse? Thanks for the invitation T!

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

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

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

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

Graph showing tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day in the last year

Tweets per day April 2017

Guess when the conference was

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

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

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

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

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

My desktop as I prepare my post-IATEFL blogposts

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

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

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

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

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

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: 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!

2016: things I’ve enjoyed this year

After a year that has come across as pretty negative in many ways, it seems like a good idea to focus on the positives that have been thrown in my direction. Here are some of the things I’ve enjoyed in 2016:

Reading other people’s blogs

It feels like Elly Setterfield (aka The Best Ticher) has been blogging forever, but it turns out that she only started out in March 2016. In that time, she has produced various gems, including but not limited to beginner’s guides to teaching kids, teens and beginners, a series of posts about surviving summer school, and tips on some of the non-teaching aspects of being an EFL teacher, like what (not) to pack for your first job, avoiding illness, and spending Christmas abroad. They are full of useful, easy-to-understand tips. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Elly last week. We spent nearly three hours chatting, and it could have easily been much more 🙂

Teresa Bestwick has moved back into teaching from management this year, and has chosen a different area to focus on every fortnight for her professional development. Each Fortnightly Focus is a post on her blog, and has given me lots of ideas for how I could work on my own teaching and to pass on to my colleagues. It’s definitely something I’d like to play with if and when I ever return to a classroom full-time.

It’s always worth reading Michael Griffin’s blog. His series entitled ‘Please teach them English‘ was prompted by an initial post he wrote, then continued with the help of a few guest writers. It looked at the clash between teaching English and 21st century skills from the perspective of a teacher, a language school manager and two different students in the ‘class’. As well as the fact that it was thought-provoking, I particularly enjoyed the unusual form, as it was written as a series of emails and diary entries.

Laughing at YouTube

I’d never really watched that many videos on YouTube, but this year that changed. When I’m looking for five minutes of laughter, I find myself heading over to watch clips of James Corden and co., listen to interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch or relive old Kermodian rants. Here are a few of my favourites:

Attending conferences

Two conferences particularly stood out for me this year.

IATEFL is always the highlight of my year, and this one was especially good for me because it was in Birmingham, just 20 minutes away from where I grew up. As well as learning a lot (as always!), I got to relive memories of my childhood and share them with my friends. Here’s a video made by the organisers that gives a taste of the 50th anniversary conference:

TWIST 2016 was organised by the LangLTC school in Warsaw in November. It was probably the most representative conference I’ve ever been to, with what I considered to be an appropriate balance of male/female, native/non-native, theory/practical across their programme. It was also great to be able to introduce some of my colleagues to teaching conferences for the first time.

Going to the cinema

For the past couple of years I’ve had an unlimited card from my local cinema, which has enabled me to see a whole range of things. Particular highlights were:

  • Arrival

  • Zootopia (though I’d like to see it again in English!)

  • Deadpool (which also allowed me to Vancouver-spot!)

Learning

This year I’ve been able to make massive strides in my Polish, progressing to what I would guess is around low B1 level. A couple of months ago I decided to return to Mandarin as well, largely thanks to memrise. Having a few other people who are using the site and seeing their points each week is motivating me to do more – clearly I’m a sucker for some aspects of game-based learning!

2016 has also been the year when I’ve finally started to get a handle on task-based learning, something I’ve always wanted to find out more about but never really had time to. I dived into the world of MOOCs, and the Coursera one about TBL and reading started me off with really investigating TBL. I’m now reading Doing Task-Based Teaching [affiliate link] by Dave and Jane Willis to deepen my understanding, and am hoping to experiment with some of what I’ve learnt once I’m back in the classroom.

Working abroad

I’ve been lucky enough to take my first trips to Italy and Kazakhstan this year, both helped along thanks to people I’ve previously met (thanks Marcus, Julie and Iryna!) This enabled me to experience the beauty of Italy…

View from the Duomo terraces

View from the Duomo terraces, Milan

Varenna

Varenna on Lake Como

Bergamo from San Vigilio

Bergamo from San Vigilio

Venice - gondola and coloured entrance

Venice – gondola and coloured entrance

Verona - view from Castel San Pietro

Verona – view from Castel San Pietro

…and the warmth of the hospitality of Kazakhstan.

Aktobe collage - top left = blackboard with Sandy's name and dates of her visit, top right = teachers using Quizlet Live, bottom left = teapot and bowls, plus food, bottom right = Sheraton hotel and sculpture

Hopefully it won’t be the last time I go to either place!

At home

Exploring Poland has also led me to further appreciate how under-appreciated it is. A few days in Gdansk and Sopot with my friend showed me some of its beauty:

Gdansk town hall

Sopot

Even closer to home, it’s been a pretty momentous year for me as I became the owner of my very own flat, something which I wasn’t sure would ever happen. Now I finally have somewhere to put all of those ‘things for my future house’ I’ve been collecting on my travels…I just have to get them over to Poland from the UK!

But probably the biggest joy is watching my cousin and friends whose families are expanding. It may sometimes feel like my facebook stream is full of babies and small children, but quite frankly that’s infinitely preferable to some of the negativity that it’s been filled with at certain points in the year (and yes, I have been guilty of adding to this). When you see the pride and joy of a new parent, and the happiness of a child exploring and experiencing the freshness of the world, it’s hard to stay negative for long. The Internet can be a wonderful place.

So that’s my New Year’s Resolution: focus on the positives in life, and notice myself enjoying them. When it all gets a bit too much, move away, and come back to a post like this to remind myself of all of the things in life that are there to enjoy. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you who read this blog, and thank you for your support!

500 (+1)

About two weeks ago I shared something without realising it was the 500th post to appear on this blog. Wow! That’s quite a scary thought.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me throughout, to the people who’ve offered me advice on how to improve my blog, pointed out my typos, shaped my teaching ideas, shared and commented on my posts, and to those of you who are reading all of this stuff that I write. I find it constantly amazing and humbling to know that so many people have spent time visiting and using my blog. It started out as a way of building up a professional presence online (that seems to have worked!) and of sharing some of my assignments from my IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology. It’s developed into a place to share activities, offer advice (hmmm…), and appreciate my luck in being part of this career and this community. Although I haven’t managed to write as many posts over the last year, I’ve still got a lot of ideas, and I keep hoping I’ll be able to put more of them out there.

Here are a few stats for you:

  • 500 posts
  • 350 views/220 visitors so far today
  • 825,948 all-time views
  • 440,570 all-time (or at least since they started counting) visitors
  • 11,180 views on 1st May 2014, my best views ever in a single day (on a post I didn’t even write!)
  • 31 comments by Rachel Daw, my number 1 commenter!
  • 1,493 subscribed followers/606 WordPress followers (no idea how much of that crosses over…)
  • Useful links for CELTA: my most popular post this year (ever?)
  • And the one I find the most breathtaking: countries people have visited from in 2016 (white means no visitors from there so far):

sandy-millin-blog-world-map-of-visitors-2016

Thank you so much to everyone who has made this possible!

On immersion

For the past six weeks or so I have been sharing a flat with a couple who only speak a few words of English and German. When I moved in my Polish was probably hovering around A2, having received a boost over the summer from my reading, writing and use of a grammar book. I was still quite hesitant about speaking, and had only really started to build my confidence during a weekend away organised by my flamenco teacher, again with a few people who didn’t speak any English but who still wanted to communicate with me. Both the people on the flamenco weekend and the couple I was living with were great interlocutors for me, patient, happy to rephrase and repeat themselves as much as necessary, and supporting me in trying to communicate my ideas. The woman I lived with was also very good at correcting me consistently which had a massive impact on my grammar.

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren't dancing flamenco :)

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren’t dancing flamenco 🙂

Six weeks on, it’s like I’m a different person. I feel like my Polish is probably now into B1. I can speak about most everyday things, my accuracy has improved in quite a few areas, and my confidence is at similar levels to my much stronger languages. I’m not normally shy about pushing myself to speak, which is why the last year has been so strange for me as I was very reluctant to speak Polish if I didn’t have to. I felt like I didn’t really know what language I was speaking in, and it was a real mix of Polish, Czech and Russian. I’m very glad to be past that point, and feel like I’m now in a very good place to continue improving.

On reflection, I’m also wondering whether having such a long (almost) silent period has also helped me to speak more fluently and more confidently at this point than at the same point with other languages. A year of building my vocabulary and listening to and reading whatever I could has certainly helped me improve my understanding, and I feel it’s also made me more accurate when I finally did speak, although I’m sure Czech and Russian probably also had something to do with it.

This is the most conscious I’ve ever been of my speaking progress, as I’ve either already been at least B2 when I’ve been immersed in a language, or I haven’t been in a complete immersion situation for more than a couple of hours at a time. Six weeks of having to speak Polish most mornings and evenings for at least a few minutes meant I had no choice but to communicate. Talking about things which were relevant to me and trying to explain things which had happened during a very eventful few weeks, sometimes with Mr. Google’s help, extended my language and provided a huge amount of motivation.

I know that it’s theoretically possible to create similar situations through the use of Skype conversation partners for example, but I’ve never had the motivation to do it before, confident that I’d eventually learn as much as I needed to through constantly plugging away at the language. After this experience of immersion, I think I might try harder to recreate it with the next language I want to study (not sure what yet!)

I’ve only had two or three Polish lessons, and I’m wondering just how much and how accurately I can learn without having any, even though I know I definitely want some at some point as I need correction. Watch this space…

On leadership and teamwork

Zhenya has just posted her answers to the 11 questions challenge (Thanks! See mine here and here) and posed some of her own, including three which I’d like to respond to here.

Have you ever tried to lead a team of people? If yes, what are your impressions and learning? If no, would you like to (one day)?

I’ve now been working as a Director of Studies for two years in two very different schools. The first was small, with only a handful of part-time teachers and one other full-time teacher (the school Director) besides me. Most of the time I was teaching full-time as well as being the DoS. The second has about 20 teachers, including me, and I only teach for a couple of hours a week. I work in close collaboration with two ADoSes and the school Director.

I had an excellent induction, but have also learnt an incredible amount on the job, not least in the last two weeks. It has not just taught me about what it takes to manage a language school, but also about working with a team of diverse personalities, and about my own personality. It has shown me how I and my team respond to a crisis (or five!), how everybody’s personalities and characters can complement each other to complete a team and also how sometimes there are things I just don’t or can’t notice which I need other people to be willing to share with me.

It’s not an easy job, but it’s not impossible either, and the challenges it throws at me keep me interested and invigorated, if a little tired at times 😉

When do you think someone is ready to be a leader of a team?

Not long after becoming a full-time DoS, I wrote some advice for people considering moving into management. It includes a series of questions you can use to help you decide whether you are ready to be a manager.

For me, it’s important for a leader to have experience of being part of a team or environment similar to the one they are managing in. That way they are much more likely to be able to empathise with their team. If they are ready to learn what it takes to be an effective leader, then they are probably ready to become a leader. If they think they know it all already, then I would probably steer clear!

What’s your best tip on working with people?

Communicate.

And remember that part of communicating is listening.

Listening attentively

Without good channels of communication, it’s impossible to work effectively with people. There will always be rumours, backbiting and negative comments if people don’t understand what is going on and why.

You also need to be willing to listen when members of your team have something they want to tell you, whether it’s positive or negative (and let’s face it, it’s usually negative). Don’t get defensive or be accusatory – let them talk, and find out what they need from you. Sometimes it’s just to let off steam. Sometimes they don’t know what they need, and you need to help them work towards finding out.

Another part of communication is about being open to the world around you. By learning more, you will be able to connect more easily and effectively with more people, which will hopefully benefit both you and them. By being open, team members are also more likely to be willing to share those things with you which you can’t see, as I mentioned above.

How would you answer Zhenya’s questions?

Things I’ve learnt about my teaching this week

This week I have taught:

  • 3 hours with my new upper intermediate adult class (who are actually mostly older teens);
  • 3 hours of cover with a low A1 kids’ group;
  • 2 hours with a 121 who I’ve been working with over the summer;
  • 3 hours of cover repeating the same lesson with two different high A1 adult groups.

This is easily the most teaching I’ve done in a single week for over two years, since I started out as a CELTA tutor and then a DoS. It’s also probably the largest number of students I’ve had contact with in a week since I finished my Delta. While it’s been pretty tiring on top of my DoS responsibilities, it’s also been very invigorating, and has helped me to realise a few things about how my teaching has developed over the last couple of years of self-reflection and training others.

I never used to enjoy teaching kid’s classes. Despite knowing the theory of how to approach them, I could never put it into practice. I’ve now spent a year working in an environment where there is a lot of training for teaching kids and teens, with teachers who are great examples to learn from, as well as tried and tested routines and discipline systems which are used across the school. I was also the local tutor for a teacher doing the IHCYLT for teaching young learners and teens. This was useful revision, as it’s six years since I finished mine. I discovered that I now really enjoy these lessons 🙂 It’s been a long time coming! Having the security of routines wasn’t just good for the kids: it also meant that I knew what to do at any given time in the lesson, especially for the all-important beginning and end of the lesson. It probably helped that it was a relatively small group, but I felt in control throughout the lesson, and felt that my plan was right for the level and interests of the kids. This is a huge step forward for me, and I’m even considering timetabling myself for a kids’ class next academic year, something I was very reluctant to do before (!)

Another area where I’ve noticed a massive improvement is my activity set-up and instructions. This is particularly important for lower levels, and between the four lessons I taught with them last week, I only had one activity where the students didn’t understand what I wanted them to do. This was entirely my fault, as I knew it would be a potentially complicated activity, and I hadn’t thought through the instructions carefully enough, but I managed to rescue the situation pretty quickly through a demonstration, which is what I should have done to start off with. Although I still forget them sometimes, demos have now become much more natural for me, and have led to a massive decrease in the amount of time I spend setting up activities and solving problems when the students don’t understand what to do.

With the upper intermediate group, I also set up a series of routines right from the first lesson. One of these is journal writing, and another is extensive reading, something which I already knew was useful, but now understand more of the theory behind thanks to the Coursera course I’ve just completed.

My 121 student showed me that my language awareness is now pretty comprehensive, as I was able to deal with pretty much any language question she threw at me without having to look it up. When I did need to use a reference tool, I was able to confidently access a corpus, something which I had no idea how to do a couple of years ago. I also managed to explain some of the fundamentals of grammar based on what Lewis says in The English Verb [affiliate link] using this diagram, something which I’d like to develop more in the future – this one was created on the spur of the moment!

Rough diagram based on Michael Lewis's The English Verb

The way that my own teaching has come on makes me feel much more confident about supporting all of the teachers I’m working with. We’ve got another exciting year ahead at IH Bydgoszcz, and another great team. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us.

The pains of being abroad

I have been so homesick that it hurt three times in my life.

The first was in Germany when I was 18 and working in a factory for six weeks at the beginning of my gap year. I was staying with a family friend, but two weeks after I arrived, she went back to the UK for the summer, as she did every year, leaving me alone in her house. She’d introduced me to a few people in the tiny Bavarian village she lived in, but it was during the 2003 drought, absurdly hot and with only 30 minutes rain during the whole time I was there, so I didn’t really want to go outside once I got home from work. I stayed in the house as much as I could, and ended up being by myself all the time. The only way I got through the day doing the dullest job I’ve ever done was the thought that at about 6pm every evening I could watch Will and Grace, one of my favourite programmes at the time, plus occasionally being on the same job in the factory as someone my age, who unfortunately lived in a completely different place and was impossible to meet up with after work. On the last weekend I finally did a bit of exploring, visiting Regensburg by myself. I wish I’d discovered I could go off on adventures by myself earlier, but I’ve certainly never forgotten it!

The second time was a few months later, working at a jungle school in a (very) rural village for the second half of a four-month volunteering trip to Borneo. I was there with two other girls my age who had been in the jungle with me. Unfortunately I didn’t get on very well with one of them, and the second one became more and more like the first as our seven weeks in the village went on. They spent all of their time together. I only had 8 hours of teaching a day, and spent a long time planning, but once I did that I didn’t have much to do to fill my time. Instead I shut myself in my room with the fan on (when the electricity generator was working: during school hours and 7-10p.m. every night) and wrote pages and pages in my diary, consisting mostly of lists of things I would do when I got back home, and all of the things I missed. Sometimes I would use my book to try and learn some Bahasa Malay, but I spent very little time with the people in the village unless we were explicitly invited to their houses.

Jungle Tree

The third and final time (I hope) was in Paraguay. I worked there from July 2006 to June 2007 as part of my year abroad from university during my languages degree. I’d decided to go to South America and France, but also need to practise my German. I knew there were a lot of Mennonite and other Germans in Paraguay, so wanted to find a German family to live with. The first person I found fell through in November, and my (very) split shifts meant that I’d had huge trouble making friends beyond the three people I went with, who had all found their own friends by this stage. Skype was only just starting to grow, and I couldn’t really speak to my family much and the bandwidth wasn’t good enough for video. It was the year that facebook was opened out to the world, proving very important to me, but it didn’t really become popular until the end of my time in Paraguay. This was my longest ever period of homesickness, lasting about a month. I was very disillusioned by Paraguay, sad that I wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas, and feeling incredibly lonely. So what did I do? I stayed at home, cried, and generally felt sorry for myself.

In both Borneo and Paraguay, I managed to turn it around, and ended up crying my eyes out at the end because I didn’t want to leave. In both cases, this was because I found ways to fill my time and crush my homesickness. In Borneo, this was by helping the kids and the other two English teachers at the school to create a snakes and ladders board:

Borneo kids with Snakes and Ladders board

In Paraguay it was by finally finding a German-speaking family, starting classes at the Goethe Institute, and helping to sort out the resources in the school library.

The most important thing, though, was that I had to stop wallowing in the feeling, tell people about it, and go out and do something about it. Since then I have never really felt homesick for more than a day at a time. It’s never possible to completely avoid the feeling, especially if things aren’t going well at home, and you can’t be there, but you can reduce the likelihood of it striking. Remember: you are not alone, you are not the only person who feels/has felt like this, and you are not impinging on other people if you tell them how you’re feeling. Good luck!

This post was inspired by Elly Setterfield’s post Teaching English Abroad: What if I hate it? which is full of great advice for new teachers. I highly recommend reading her blog. Thanks Elly!

Two years as a CELTA tutor

Having written a post about my first year as a full-time DoS a few days ago, it occurred to me that this time two years ago I was training up as a CELTA tutor, and that it would be interesting to write a similar post about that journey. Then I realised I’d kind of already done that by reflecting on a year of CELTA 🙂 It turns out I’d already mentioned a few things that being a CELTA tutor has taught me, but here are some that I missed:

  • The mix of personalities in a TP group (the group of up to 6 teachers who observe each other and work together in teaching practice – real lessons) can make a real difference to how you need to work with them, and tutors need to learn to read this, as well as how to support the individuals and encourage them to work together as a group.
  • A lot of trees are sacrificed during a CELTA course, and many of these end up in trainees’ folders, which are often a good three or four inches (7-10cm!) thick by the end of the course.  Input session notes should therefore be as concise and easy to navigate as possible, and trainees should be encouraged (or sometimes told how!) to file them in a logical order. Sometimes it’s amazing to see how challenging organising a set of handouts can be for some people!
  • There may be a lot of right ways to do things as a teacher, but the amount of information overload on a CELTA course means that for some trainees it’s often better to give them only one option, walk them through it step-by-step, and let them see the results, before offering them other options later if they have the mental processing space with everything else they’re being asked to take in. Otherwise it can get too overwhelming. Simplify.
  • Whenever possible, showing concrete examples of things you’re suggesting is much easier for trainees to take in than abstract talk. This particularly seems to apply to requesting a more detailed lesson plan: showing trainees what to aim for tends to result in much more solid planning, and in turn, much more confidently delivered and useful lessons.
  • The CELTA is as much of a learning experience for the tutors as it is for the trainees. Through reflection and experience, we can become better tutors, but we also learn a lot from our trainees, who bring so much life experience to courses. For example, on the course I’ve just finished I learnt about daily life in South Africa, something I knew very little about before.

I’ve only done two courses over the last year, one part-time in Warsaw and one full-time in Milan.

View from the Duomo terraces

View from the Duomo terraces, Milan

I’ve also worked with a lot of teachers who are either fresh off CELTA or in their second year after the course, including doing formal observations. This has really shown the importance of the caveat (which should appear) on CELTA certificates that the candidate can ‘teach with support’. Although it seems to be forgotten sometimes, CELTA is an initial training course, and those who are newly-qualified continue to need support and development, particularly for the first year or two of their careers when they are building on what they have learnt. I’m lucky to work at a school which gives me the time and space to be able to really support our teachers in this way. An interviewer expressed surprise that one of our teachers only got a CELTA Pass when asking me for a reference for her, because she was so confident after her two years with us that the interviewer thought she must have got at least a Pass B, if not an A 🙂

The combination of these factors, plus having a bit more time to ‘play’ when preparing sessions, and often having 45- or 60-minute input sessions instead of the more standard 75 also meant that for the course in Milan I tried to make my input sessions more streamlined (as well as working on my feedback) and my handouts more useful both during and after the course. I always email them to trainees as well as giving them a paper copy, as I know that a huge binder is not normally a priority in your luggage if you’re moving around from place to place! I’m hoping to share more about how I design my input sessions in a future post.

In the meantime, here’s to another few years of learning and training 🙂

My first year as a full-time DoS

Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”

I saw this quote on Jane Cohen’s blog a few days ago, and feel like it sums up my job at IH Bydgoszcz pretty perfectly, as well as being from one of the managers I admire most.

When my predecessor, Tim, first mentioned the possibility of taking over from him as Director of Studies (DoS) managing a team of 18-20 teachers, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, I’d only finished Delta a year or so earlier, and had done very little teaching since then to see if I could apply what I’d learnt. I was a fledgling CELTA tutor with only four courses under my belt, and still very much felt like I was learning how to do that job. Although I’d worked as the DoS at IH Sevastopol, it was a very different school with a much smaller team of only 3-6 teachers, and where I was still teaching 18-24 hours a week. Thankfully Tim talked me into visiting the school to see what the job really involved.

Less than a month later I spent four days in Bydgoszcz and Torun, visiting the school and the surrounding area and shadowing Tim at school for two days. I spent the first day continuing to think there was no way I could possibly do this job, and it took a couple of conversations with some of the teachers on the second day to persuade me that I would manage it. Thank you – you know who you are!

The result was that when the end of August 2015 rolled around, I found myself moving to Bydgoszcz, and entering a near-empty school just waking up from the summer break for the best induction I could possibly have hoped for. Tim spent nearly three weeks with me, introducing me to various procedures at the school and helping me get a handle on many of the things I’d need to do the job. He’s always been on call to help me throughout the year, and I’m immensely grateful for his help.

At the beginning of September, the senior teachers arrived and together, with Tim’s help, we planned the induction week for new and returning teachers. Throughout the year Luke, Sam and I have worked well as a team (in my opinion!) to support the teachers and keep everything running smoothly. I have relied on their prior knowledge of systems at the school to help me work out what needed doing, when and how. This is also true of the admin staff, and especially of the school Director, who is amazingly supportive, and one of the best bosses I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

Together, we have:

  • placement tested new students and organised the timetable
  • done drop in and formal observations to help our teachers develop
  • provided weekly professional development workshops
  • run collaborative level planning meetings covering about half of the groups at the school
  • had weekly meetings and senior meetings to keep everybody up-to-date
  • organised a teacher training day, two adult social events and two young learner socials
  • run a day of Cambridge mock exams
  • coordinated and checked reports for students
  • organised tutorials and parents’ meetings
  • recruited new staff and organised accommodation for them
  • dealt with problems that teachers, students and parents have had
  • chosen new course books for the next school year
  • and probably many other things which I’ve forgotten!

Needless to say, I had no idea how to do a lot of those things before I started the job! I was lucky to have inherited a lot of systems which I’ve been able to build on, making the whole thing a lot easier for me. A selection of the skills I think I’ve learnt or developed over the past year include:

  • using many features of Excel I had no idea even existed before!
  • how to use Outlook (something I’d thankfully managed to escape before – I hate it!)
  • communication skills: when to listen, what to ask, when to talk, what to say, how to say it
  • awareness of relationships around the school and how they impact on people
  • recruitment
  • balancing timetables fairly and taking into account the needs of teachers, students and the school
  • helping teachers fresh off the CELTA to build on what they’ve learnt
  • classroom management with teen classes (I had my own teen group for most of the year)
  • time management, and knowing how to manage my office door
  • balancing school work and out-of-school activities (I’d say ‘life’, but a lot of it has still been work this year – already have plans afoot to change this next year!)

Of course, there’s still a lot I need to work on, including many of the areas mentioned above. To help me with this, I’d like to get some more formal management training, as like many people I’ve been learning on the job. So far I’ve been relying on a combination of instinct, past conversations with my mum when she was managing a large organisation, Business Studies from school, management books I mostly read as a teenager, and asking for help from my ever-supportive network.

As I enter my second year at IH Bydgoszcz and am now more aware of the background I’m working with, I’m starting to make deeper changes, beyond the occasional rewriting of a document or update of a system. These include modifying the already very strong professional development structure, changing the way registers are set up with the aim of making them easier to fill in, and introducing some shared groups. Watch this space to find out what works and what doesn’t!

Future Learn Italian course – week 3

This is a continuation of my reflection notes made while doing the Future Learn Beginner’s Italian course. You can also read about weeks 1 and 2.

One of the benefits of doing the Future Learn course in the correct weeks is that you benefit from the moderators being online. It’s possible to sign up for a course and complete it whenever you like, but during the set period of the course (in this case six weeks), various moderators are available to respond to questions in the discussion thread, normally within 24 hours. Last week I posted a comment to ask about online dictionaries, and was referred to a list by one of the moderators which included both translation and monolingual online dictionaries. I was impressed at how quickly I got a response. This was useful, though in future it might be more beneficial to have a page on the course where you can go to for extra resources like this, as I would never had found it without the moderator. Moderators would then be able to refer participants to it if they can’t find it themselves.

Another advantage of studying the course in the specified time is the ability to use the tips sent out in the summary email at the end of each week. These are pulled together based on comments and questions from the discussion threads. At the end of week 2, this included a response to user requests which I was very pleased to see:

To help you to practise listening comprehension, a downloadable audio version the dialogues will available from next week.

Perhaps the dictionary links could also have been included here?

Week 3

The video story is working well for me. I’m enjoying learning more about the characters, and am quite pleased that they don’t seem to be going down the line I’ve seen before in this kind of video of boy meets girl, lots of slightly strained sexual tension, then they fall in love at the end of the story. Instead, Mike and Anna both have partners (Sarah and Leonardo) who they tell each other about in the first video for this week, introducing descriptive language. As mentioned previously, I also like the fact that the videos are at normal speed, but you have lots of options to help you: no, English or Italian subtitles; watching at half speed, downloading the transcript, and from this week, downloading the audio.

Generally, the videos are very well produced, both for the story and the language introductions.

As in previous weeks, the ‘Try it yourself communication’ activity again relies on you being able to use the four or five phrases they’ve introduced so far, or going off and finding your own phrases/using what you know already. These are examples of what has been introduced: https://quizlet.com/132508088/focus-on-communication-7-flash-cards/ If they don’t have long, black hair or aren’t tall or thin, there aren’t many people you can describe 🙂 I know they’re trying to separate the functional language and the vocabulary sections, but I don’t really feel like commenting because I don’t know what to say. I feel like a more specific prompt would be useful. This is the task at the moment:

Do you have any questions about how to describe people and things? Are you unsure about something? Share your comments and questions in the discussion below. Don’t hesitate to help other learners if you know the answer, or to share links to helpful resources.

I clicked ‘mark as complete’ without adding anything.

The vocabulary introduction is the next stage. To me, it would make sense to flip these two steps in the course. There is an extra practice activity though you have to do a bit of guesswork – are her eyes green or light? Is her hair short and black, curly and black, short and curly?

Noun and adjective agreement video: refers back to previous grammar units very clearly, so it’d be easy to find them again if you wanted to. Slight confused by this random question at the end of the grammar quiz, which doesn’t appear to practise noun and adjective agreement, and must have slipped past whoever was checking the course!

Mike e Leonardo sono _____. gentile/studenti

The ‘Exploring Italian’ section throws out a whole load of new language again, and does nothing with it apart from showing us a couple of example sentences. The phrases include: “stare insieme con (to date someone)” and “essere fidanzat-o/a/i con (to be engaged to)” Questions in the comments section reflect this: can we have the audio or hear the pronunciation? Speculation on the grammatical forms… On the plus side, the examples mostly use the characters from the video, so at least the context is maintained. [In the end of week email, the moderators said that audio files will be available for these sections from next week. Great to see how they respond to the comments.]

Italian sounds: vowels. Aha, it turns out they can easily put in sound files, as there is one to accompany each of the words used to introduce the vowel sounds. I feel like this would be a more useful way of introducing the vocabulary, or at least they could have a vocabulary list with the audio to accompany the videos so you can listen repeatedly to particular words you want to practise with ease. Lots of comments in this case to show that the differences between /e/, /ε/ and /o/, /ɔ/ haven’t been made clear. It’s OK for me because I understand the phonetics, have lots of practise differentiating sounds, and the example words they’re using to equate the sounds are from English, my mother tongue, but a lot of the course participants will have trouble distinguishing these pairs as they are so similar. A little more explanation would be useful, or indeed, a video showing you the physical differences between the sounds, rather than just an audio file!

The directions video goes nicely with where I’m up to on the Memrise Learn Basic Italian course: level 5 is called ‘Here, there and everywhere‘ and covers directions too (and, randomly, numbers and times!) The first question in the comprehension quiz asks you where Mike wants directions to. The answer was given in the introduction to this video, when the phrase ‘post office’ is pre-taught. This is an example of the importance of choosing which language to pre-teach carefully and/or ensuring that comprehension questions actually require you to comprehend the materials! The use of a map in the video with Mike and a stranger is also reflective of my experience as a tourist. I’m enjoying seeing clips of Sienna, and like the fact that it’s not just in the sunshine! Mike feels like a real person in a real city with (fairly) real reasons for needing to speak Italian.

I like the fact that the ‘focus on communication’ video begins by the teacher acknowledging that although we often use GPS nowadays, it’s still useful to be able to ask for directions. The communication quizzes generally test passive recognition of collocations, which I think is fairly useful. There was another quiz on Learning Apps to help us, this time matching the two halves of sentences. It’s good to explore this app, which I learnt about last week. Lots of people have been motivated to post in the comments, mostly writing short conversations with directions in them. These add extra reading practice. There is also peer support when people have questions about the language, for example what ‘vicino’ means, which was mentioned in the video, but never explicitly taught. I learnt it from memrise yesterday! (They teach it in the next video)

More vocab for directions in a video (the previous video was focussed on communication, or what I would class as functional language). It’s noticeable that the previous three or four stages have had about 200-300 comments, but this stage has nearly 1000. This is the difference when there is a clear task to complete. I’m not sure if this would be possible, but perhaps the interface could be adapted so that you can post your comment, then read the others. At the moment, you have to view all of the comments to see the box to post your own, so often it’s difficult not to look at other people’s answers before you write yours. There are so many different ways that people have chosen to give directions to Mike to help him find Anna – a genuinely engaging and motivating productive task, probably the first one on the course so far!

It’s now two days into week 4 and I haven’t finished week 3 yet, and didn’t have time to do any over the last three days since the last things I wrote…

Because I know I won’t have time to catch up next weekend either, and want to finish the whole thing before I get to Milan, I’m tempted to rush (though not enough to stop writing this!) Instead of watching the full video for the conjugations of ‘andare’ and ‘venire’ I listened to enough to hear the pronunciation of the verb forms, then looked at the transcript. This was probably more useful than watching the video more times as I spent time thinking about and trying to memorise the verb forms, instead of just listening to the next thing the teacher said. I’d like to be able to see the forms and listen to them individually, as I’ve said before about the vocab. Managed to get most of the quiz right, but have trouble with tu/lui/lei endings because of Spanish – I feel like there should be an -s for tu!

Introduction to consonants – good that there are Italian example words which you can listen to as many times as you like. However, I don’t really like the fact that there are English example words because these can be misleading. For example /p/is aspirated in the British English ‘pit’, but not in the Italian ‘papà’, at least that I can hear.

Discussion point task at this point:

Write a description of you or someone that you know in the comments. You may include:

  • Hair colour
  • Eye colour
  • Height
  • Etc.

For example: Mia moglie è bionda, ha gli occhi marroni, non è molto alta, ma è molto carina e simpatica!

I have no idea! I can’t really remember any of these words and initially thought we hadn’t even studied them, then looked back up this post and realised they were at the beginning of this section. Directions in the middle confused me – seems like a very random order! Having looked back, this was my contribution, which required quite a lot of effort to produce:

Mia mama ha capelli longhi. Non ha capelli neri. Lei non è alta, non è piccola.

The final section for the week promises to introduce these things:

You will learn to ask for the time and the related vocabulary. Moreover you’ll also learn the names of public places and the present tense of the verbs ending in –ere and –ire.

This feels like a lot, though it may be the fact that it’s 21:30 as I write this. Not sure I’m mentally in the right place to manage all of this, but I want to try and finish the week!

The video has a few lines of dialogue, then some text messages. I think that’s the first real reading practice we’ve had so far on the course, and it’s an interesting and different way to introduce it, again well-produced too. The subtitles have the times in numbers and in words, which is great. In the comprehension quiz, I have no idea what some of the words in the final question mean ‘Anna incontra Mike oggi pomeriggio:’ but have managed to guess the answer. ‘incontra’ is like ‘encontra’ in Spanish, so I know that means ‘meet’, but I have no idea about the last two words.

How to tell the time: “You have already learned the numbers.” Hmm…not really. I’d recognise them at a push, but I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt them yet. Just started doing them on memrise, which will probably be what helps me to remember them.

There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practise some of the questions. This is good for recognition, especially the scatter mode, which is the only one I can be bothered to play at this time of night. One of my bugbears in general (not just on this course, but in many online materials) is the disregard for punctuation, especially capital letters. Learners need to see how and where capitals are used correctly, as rules for capitalisation vary and some languages don’t have them at all. There are no capital letters at all in the set at the moment 😦

The second video about time has lots of examples of times, in sentences too. Very clear. It was also good that they clarified that in informal spoken Italian you normal use 1/2/3, but when talking about official things e.g. opening hours or train times, you use the 24-hour clock. The ‘try it yourself’ quiz tests whether you recognise if times are formal or informal, rather than your understanding of the numbers themselves.

The extra practice quiz involves writing out a time in words, but only accepts one possible answer in each case, which is a bit frustrating when you have something like 20.45 and there were three possible ways to say it in the video. I couldn’t be bothered with this after one question (again, time of day/tiredness).

The next grammar video introduces new conjugations for verbs ending in -ere and -ire, comparing them to -are. It’s all in a clear table on the slide, so you can see that many of the forms are the same across all three conjugations, reducing the processing load needed to retain the information. “Don’t worry if it seems difficult. It will become familiar very quickly.” – I like these supportive messages 🙂

The grammar test always puts the options in the ‘correct’ order (I, you, he/she/it etc), so if you can understand the question, you don’t necessarily need to remember the verb form very confidently, just the order. Having said that, it’s helping me to remember that -i is a second person ending, not third person (Spanish again), because I keep seeing it in the same position in the list.

The last set of consonants are introduced to round of the unit. These ones are different to English, or have no equivalent. If they have no equivalent, there is an example from Spanish, though I’m not sure these match up, at least to my South American experience. I guess many people may know those sounds, but otherwise it seems odd. I’ve just noticed that all of the phonetic symbols are there too – my eyes had completely skipped over that column with the consonants! Two new symbols in my IPA arsenal now: /ɲ/ for ‘gn’ in ‘gnocchi’, /λ/ for ‘gl+i’ in ‘figli’ and ‘gli+a/e/o/u’ in ‘familia’ etc. The latter sound is equated to ‘ll’ in Spanish ‘llave’ or ‘llamar’ which I don’t think is the same sound.

OK, it’s 22:11 now, and I’m not sure how much of this I’ll actually retain, but I’ve at least seen it. Numbers continue to be a challenge, and I clearly can’t remember the description vocabulary, so should probably revise both of them. I know it’s not going to happen though, because I’m busy and unless it comes up on the course I won’t make the time to do it.

I haven’t downloaded any of the slides or extra resources yet, and just go back to the page I need using the ‘to do’ list if I’m not sure about something. Still feel like I’m learning, but pretty passively. This is mostly my own fault, but I also don’t feel like the course is making me be particularly active at points when I should be able to produce target language. It tests you at various points, but normally before rather than after the fact.

Roll on week four…

FutureLearn Italian course – weeks 1 and 2

I’m in the process of completing the FutureLearn beginner’s Italian course, which is free to participate in, although you need to pay if you want to get a certificate of completion.

While I’m doing the course, I’m hoping to write notes on my responses to the activities from a teaching perspective. Week 1’s are a few general thoughts on the course, and from week 2 onwards they’re quite in-depth reflections on how each activity is set up, my responses to them and what I feel I have learnt/could learn from them. Not sure how useful they are to anyone other than the course creators (or even to them?!) but since I’ve written it, I thought I’d share… 🙂

Very happy that due to a couple of weekends with no other plans and a national holiday, I’m on track with the course (it’s halfway through week 2 on the timeline at the moment). I’m mostly watching the videos in between doing other things, like my physio in the morning or the washing up in the evening, so it fits nicely around life. Not sure if that will continue, but I hope so, since week six is timed perfectly to end on the day that I fly to Milan for my first ever trip to Italy 🙂

Week 1

Videos at normal speed – options for half-speed, subtitles in English/Italian, can watch as much as you like. Pre-teaching some vocab and set up context beforehand – all positive points and help the learner get supported exposure to ‘normal’ Italian. Comprehension task is more of a memory test – can you remember which city she said?

Multiple-choice questions can sometimes be guessed without having looked at the content, but better on this course than on the dyslexia one, where you really didn’t need to read the content to answer them! (By the way, I’m half-way through the dyslexia course and will write about that when I’ve finished it…currently looking like that will be at some point in August)

Jobs – spelling test. Useful! Interesting activity design.

Spelling Italian vocabulary

Scaffolded nicely through the week. Could be useful to have the vocabulary in some kind of clickable form so you can just listen to the words you want to, not all of them (they’ve done this a little with some Quizlet grammar quizzes, but not with the vocab) All slides are downloadable for review, but would be more useful with the sound too

Grammar videos, e.g. intro to regular -are verbs and fare is clear, and he says that it’s normal to make mistakes at the beginning – supportive message. Would be useful to have more time to repeat the phrases after each one, and perhaps a ‘can you remember’ type activity within the video to aid memorisation, though I know it makes videos longer than current 4 minutes.

Week 2

Clear task before you watch video: “Watch the conversation between Mike, Anna and Lisa. Who is oldest? Who is youngest?” Advice to switch off subtitles, or use Italian only – little bits of learner training are useful.

Focus on communcation (ages) – one brief question and answer, then a little test – good way to introduce functional language.

Numbers and age (vocab) – all of the numbers, plus six phrases connected to stages of life (e.g. baby, teen, middle aged) in about 5 minutes. Woah! First time I’ve struggled to keep up (thanks to French/Spanish) – information overload. Receptively (the numbers he asked at the end and the multiple choice – can guess from three options), not too difficult because of other languages. Productively, no time to repeat, though you can watch the video again as many times as you want to and download the slides – lack of opportunity to drill yourself repeatedly on one word. Perhaps better to break into separate videos (0-10, 11-20, 21-100, ages), with some practice between each. A Quizlet set would also be very useful at this point (there have been a few scattered through the course so far, mostly for conjugations)

Grammar – conjugation of ‘avere’ (to have) – practise it alone, then combining it with ‘essere’ (to be) – good to see some revision. Comments on the quiz remind you of which forms you’re using once you’ve answered, though that only helps if you know grammar terms like ‘second person singular’ All quizzes have short sentences – good that it’s not just matching person to conjugation, but giving you a tiny bit of context.

Exploring Italian gives you some useful extra phrases for conversations from the original dialogues, e.g. ‘Veramente?’ ‘Really?’ – not accompanied by audio or any practice at all though. For example, maybe you could watch the original video again at this point to hear them being used in context. Or a little gapfill? Feels like this is extremely useful language that isn’t really being taught

Personal details comprehension questions are pretty impossible – the address one is OK, but you need to memorise an entire phone number, then answer a question using the word ‘indirizzo’, which hasn’t been introduced previously. ‘Mike ha un indirizzo di posta elettronica.’ – I interpreted this as ‘Mike doesn’t like email.’ (!), not Mike has an email address. Again, comprehension questions should be at same time as video, not a memory test.

Introducing formal/informal in a clear, easy way – the clips from the videos are great because they put all of the functional language into clear contexts and add a bit more language around them.

Culturally the difference between via/viale/strada is interesting, and sets you up for the quiz afterwards where you have to decide whether a word is connected to an address, email or telephone number, but that’s a minute that would perhaps be better spent elsewhere.

Lots of grammar terminology being thrown at you in the grammar videos at this point, without necessarily checking/glossing e.g. singular/plural, definite article. Should become clear as you work through the video, but a brief definition/comparison to English the first time it’s introduced might help e.g. ‘singular, when you have one, or plural, when you have many’ (see later…)

Discussion point 2/3 of the way through week two asks you to describe your family. There’s an example, but it’s before you’ve been introduced to any of the family vocab (which is the last third of this week’s course), so it relies on you understanding the example, making guesses, and using what other people have written. I guess it’s test-teach-test, but could be off-putting. Why not get us to do this after we’ve been introduced to the vocab? On the plus side – lots of reading practice in the comments. 859 things for me to read if I so choose 🙂 Comments demonstrate that a lot of the people doing the course have some level of Italian already, as they’re adding lots of things which haven’t been introduced. Fairly normal for a beginner’s course in any of the big languages, but could be off-putting for someone who is genuinely a complete beginner.

Good to see a Quizlet set after the communication video to help you practise some of the family vocab (family, sister, father, mother), along with some of the other things which have come up – extra jobs, one or two numbers. Would be good to have other key family words in there (brother, child, son, daughter, husband, wife) rather than using ‘sister’ so many times, though all sentences seem to be taken from the video – good for context. There’s one English mistake in there ‘How is your family?’ rather than ‘What is your family like?’

Family vocabulary video is good because finally the words are introduced twice over with time for you to repeat them, once in the context of Marco’s family tree, then repeated again. At the end, they ask you to find some words yourself (cousin, grandchild, uncle) ‘using the family tree and a dictionary’. It would be useful if they recommended an online dictionary to use, as for learners with no experience, they will probably just go to Google Translate. Actually, that’s what I did too. From that, I don’t know if ‘cugino’ is the same for masculine and feminine – there’s no information to support the learner as there might be in a learner’s dictionary.

For practice, there’s a link to a crossword. Would be useful to see more of this kind of thing throughout the course as an option to go further. This really tested whether I’d taken it in, and made me go back and look at the words again, something I haven’t really been motivated to do at any other point in the course so far. The only other repetition I’ve done is to watch each video in Italian twice, and to watch the numbers one twice. I didn’t bother to do any more practice with them, as I know I can recognise them, but I’m also very aware that I can’t produce many of them at all. I learnt about a new app in the process which looks brilliant – lots of options for creating interactive activities.

Definite article video is much more scaffolded than previous grammar videos, with an explanation of what that terminology means and when you use the definite article. Grammar quizzes separate the singular and plural articles, and as with all the grammar quizzes, if you get it wrong, there’s a comment underneath to help you self-correct. Might be useful to add one more quiz pulling them together and making you choose between singular or plural. I know that adds time to the week, but the two 10-question quizzes could be reduced slightly to balance it.

Summary of the week video seems a bit pointless to me (but then I’ve never been a fan of that kind of thing!) I just clicked on the transcript as it’s faster to skim. To me it would make much more sense to have the discussion task where you share family info at this point in the week, after you’ve studied it, so you can actually put it into practice.

General feelings about week 2: useful language has been introduced, but there’s a lot of it, and not much opportunity to practise. Receptively, I feel like I know more; productively, I’m not so sure, especially the numbers, and the family words which are more different to English.

Rethinking reflection in initial teacher training (guest post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 1 – Identifying reflection as a rigorous mental process

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

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

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

Stage 2 – Reframing classroom events

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

The students spoke too much L1!

They got all the answers wrong to the grammar activity

Stage 3 – Categorising reflection

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

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

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

Stage 4 – Analysing beliefs about teaching

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

Results

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

References

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

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

About the author

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

Dan Baines

30 questions to ask yourself

This time last year, Anna Loseva posted a list of 30 questions to ask yourself on New Year’s Eve. I thought this idea was so good I set a reminder to answer them, so here goes:

1. The best moment of the year.

This is a hard one to choose – I’ve had a pretty amazing year. Having said that, I think it was probably meeting my best friend’s new baby for the first time 🙂

2. What inspired me the most this year?

The amazing trainers and teachers I’ve worked with throughout the year. I’ve learnt so much from everyone, including remembering what it’s like to be fresh to the job again.

3. The major news of this year.

Becoming the Director of Studies at IH Bydgoszcz in August.

4. Anthem of the year 2015.

Even though it came out in 2013, I only discovered it a couple of months ago:

5. The most important people in my life.

As always, my friends and my family, but especially some of the new babies who have entered the world this year. There have been a lot of them!

6. What was most difficult for me to do this year?

Saying goodbye to Sevastopol again, this time with no prospect of going back any time soon. And hearing about the ongoing problems there, currently including daily power cuts. Thinking about all of my friends who are going through it, and hoping it ends soon 😦

7. What colour was this year?

Erm…not really sure about this kind of question! Possibly blue, but only because of all the blue skies I was lucky enough to experience from February until July as I was in a lot of hot places. Here are some examples from Crimea:

Karadag, Koktebel, Mayak and the mountains of Crimea
8. Which event of the year would I choose to remember forever?

The end of the first week of teaching at IH Bydgoszcz, when I realised that I could do the job and it would all be OK 🙂

9. Which word did I use most often?

Probably ‘amazing’. Because it was.

10. My most ridiculous purchase of the year.

A double bed. Mostly ridiculous because of what it signifies – a complete change in my lifestyle and hopefully being a bit more settled. That and how much I spent on it!

11. I shouldn’t have experimented with …

Saying yes to two writing projects at the same time. Not good for the work-life balance!

12. This year was wonderful because …

I got to live the dream, travelling to Thailand, Palma, Barcelona and Sevastopol, and now living in Bydgoszcz. I made new friends and had a huge range of amazing experiences that will stay with me forever. My health improved once I became more settled, and I can now eat considerably more than this time last year, including enjoying all the Christmas food I missed out on in 2014.

13. Which inner problem did I solve successfully?

Not sure if this counts as an inner problem, but probably the doubts I had about whether it was the right time to take on a DoS job, or whether I needed more experience behind me. It was, and I didn’t: I love it 🙂

14. Who did I hug at night?

‘Bydgoszcz bear’, a gift I was given on my first visit to the city in January, and who has sat by my bed ever since.

15. Whose wedding did I have fun at?

No weddings this year, unfortunately. It was all about the babies instead!

16. What was my average salary this year?

Enough to finally get some savings behind me, for the first time in my career!

17. Did I have a conversation that turned everything upside down in my head?

Maybe not one that turned everything upside down, but certainly a couple of life-changing ones (only one of which is mentioned in that post!)

18. What new project did I start in 2014?

My two biggest writing projects so far: watch this space to find out more!

19. If I could become a superhero for just one day, what would I do?

Fly around the world and give all of my friends big hugs, especially the ones who most need them when they need them, instead of months later when we finally get to meet up.

20. What am I dreaming about now?

A family. And a more permanent home.

21. What do I consider to be my most important achievement?

Having built up enough of  a reputation to be asked to speak at the Innovate ELT conference in May 2016. 🙂

22. This year until this moment in one sentence.

A rollercoaster of emotions.

23. The latest message I’ve sent.

🙂

Yep, that was it.

24. A quote that is most suitable for my year.

Difficult to pick just one, so here are three:

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine

25. Did I achieve everything I’d planned for this year?

The last couple of years haven’t really involved a plan. Things have changed frequently and they’ve brought me to where I am now. I’ve pretty much given up on planning my career – just waiting to see where it takes me 🙂 Lots of ideas, but not much that’s specific!

26. How many new friends did I make this year?

A difficult one to count – lots!

27. Who did I help this year?

Erm…Being completely immodest, I hope I helped CELTA trainees, teachers and students at IH Bydgoszcz, friends, family, randoms on facebook, Twitter, my blog…oh, and cancer research scientists.

28. Where did I travel?

To many more places than I expected, all but one of which I had no idea I’d go to this time last year. What a difference twelve months can make! I feel incredibly lucky.

29. Which projects am I putting off till next year?

The ones I haven’t had time for this year!

30. What do I want to achieve next year?

Ideas brewing for a course, a book, a reinvention of my Infinite ELT Ideas blog, and quite a few things at IH Bydgoszcz. And one or two other things which I won’t write about here…

Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for inspiring me Anna 🙂

Returning to the classroom

On 23rd September 2015 I went back into the classroom properly for the first time in over a year, teaching my first class with a B1 intermediate teen group who will be my students for the whole academic year. As a CELTA trainer in 2014-2015, the only opportunities I’ve had to teach English have been in one-off demo lessons, which aren’t quite the same. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my teaching, seeing trainees do things I know I’ve often been guilty of, then offering advice about how to get over problems like over-complicated instructions and poorly timed lessons. Time to see if I could practise what I preached!

Anthony Schmidt started a blog challenge asking ‘What did you teach today?‘ Hana Tichá joined in and I decided to record my lesson so I could contribute too:

Out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students’ minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

  • Circle game: to learn each others’ names. There are nine students, four girls and five boys, aged 13-15. This took about 10 minutes.
  • Setting up routines: I told students that they should only have pens, paper and books with them, and bags and coats should go on the hooks on the wall. They had time to rearrange themselves. (Five lessons later I still need to remind a couple of them!)
  • Getting to know you: I demonstrated a triangle on the board with three pieces of information about me. In pairs, students had to guess why the information is important to me. Listening back I didn’t give them enough time to guess (less than a minute), so only stronger students contributed in the open class stage. A couple of the boys decided the triangle was an Illuminati symbol, added an eye, and have since put it on the whiteboard at the beginning of every lesson.
  • Students wrote their own triangle with information on it. They had plenty of time to do this.
  • Mingle: students had to find out about their classmates. Instructions have always been a problem for me, and although they have improved a lot, the way I set up this activity wasn’t completely clear. The instructions themselves were fine, but to make it completely clear I should have done a T-SS and a SS-SS demo first. I thought the demo I’d done with my information would be enough, but I didn’t factor in that students needed to make notes based on what they heard. I also didn’t specify before the activity that I wanted them to speak English only, so some of the boys were making it a race at the beginning and doing it in Polish. They had about ten minutes, but it could have been shorter if I’d been clearer.
  • Pair check: students tried to remember one thing about each person in the class. Here I had to remind them to expand on what they said, as some of them started with e.g. ‘Sandy – blue, M – cat’ instead of making full sentences.
  • Open class: I moved students into more of a circle to encourage them to speak to each other, not just to me (although in a relatively small, rectangular room this isn’t easy!) ‘Who can tell me something about A?’ A then nominated the next person who we found out about, and so on. This stage was quite relaxed and there was a lot of laughter, but it was also long and the pace dropped. Students had written their notes on scrap paper, so I got them to put them in the bin before moving on. I do like a tidy classroom 🙂 )
  • K points: this is the school-wide points system used for teen classes. I introduced it to them, telling them what they needed to do to win points as a class, and what would mean losing points. Five of the students had the system last year, so I should probably have got them to explain it (especially because it’s new to me!) but I didn’t think about that until afterwards.
  • Break time: students have ten minutes to go to the club, a room at the bottom of the school with vending machines, tables and places to sit. The teacher goes with them, and if they behave well, they get K points on their return to class.

The second half of the lesson was based on a reading text from the coursebook. There are six classes at the school who are at the same level, and each week the teachers meet and plan together in a level meeting. I’m the level head, coordinating the meeting, but all of the teachers contribute to the plan. We work through the book during the year, but I aim to help the teachers adapt it to their students, as ages range from 12-16, and group sizes from 3-12. What follows is the plan we came up with together…

Capoeira

  • I showed students the image above. We have projectors and netbooks, but they were still being prepared when I did the lesson, so they were printed on a couple of A4 sheets in black and white. In pairs, students had to say what’s happening, who the people are and where they are. One student immediately said ‘capoiera’ to the whole class, which kind of stalled the conversation! I still got them to predict in pairs, then asked that student to fill in the gaps once they’d shared their ideas.
  • ‘Capoeira’ was drilled briefly as students would need to say it a few times during the lesson. I wasn’t bothered about spelling or being completely correct though, since it’s not a high-frequency word for this group.
  • Gist reading: students read the text and matched four titles to the four paragraphs.
  • Feedback: students checked in pairs, then I read the answers and they confirmed them. The whole feedback stage took less than a minute. From my monitoring while they read I knew most students had got it right already, but one student hadn’t.
  • Reading for detail: yes/no/not given task. I demonstrated it first, showing students they needed to underline the answer in the text and write the question number next to it. Students did this without a problem. Meanwhile I was monitoring, and checking answers from fast finishers. They became the teachers and checked specified students’ answers.
  • Feedback: We only focussed on question 6, as students had the rest of the answers. There was a problem with an item of vocab (‘slave’) which I should probably have pre-taught, but it came up in the following vocabulary task too, so I’d decided not to. Oops. I gave them an example and got them to look at the text again for number 6, making sure they all underlined the right sentence.
  • Vocab race: changed student groups so they were working in new threes. I read a definition, students had to find the word in the text, then one person from their team ran to the board to write it. The procedure for the task was clear, and I set up the room to make sure nobody would fall over anything, but I should have made the points system clearer, and drawn lines on the board to show where they should write – one group tried to fill the whole board so the others couldn’t write.
  • Written record: returning to their books, students remembered and wrote the words down. I rushed the set-up of this, and had to repeat my instructions.
  • Preparation for speaking: divided the board in half and elicited ‘martial arts’ and ‘dancing’, one in each half. Students worked in two groups to brainstorm as many of each as they could, then switched to add to the other list. I was prompting students for extra ideas when they ran out, and eliciting corrections of spellings if things weren’t clear. There was a lot of Polish at this stage – I should have offered K points before the task to encourage them to speak English, and perhaps fed in some functional language, like ‘Can you think of anything else?’
  • Speaking: students worked in new pairs (trying to divide up the boys who can be a bit crazy when they work together, and encourage the quieter girls to speak up) to discuss if they’d tried/would like to try any of the dancing/martial arts. To add some challenge, I asked them to see which pair could speak for the longest. They repeated it with a second partner. I could have done a bit of feedback in between the two tasks to make the repetition more useful, but hadn’t come up with anything to tell them! I was taking notes about their confidence when speaking, and some info about what they’d tried/liked.
  • Feedback on content: one student shared their experience of martial arts, and one of dance. Other students were interested in what they had to say, and only those who wanted to contributed – I didn’t force everyone to share something.
  • Setting up homework: students looked at the list of dances and said which three they thought I’d tried. I told them a little about my experiences of dancing, and what I do to keep fit. Their homework was to write 50-100 words about what they do to keep fit – I made sure they wrote it down, and reminded them that if everyone had their homework in the next lesson, they’d get K points.

Reflection

I’m much happier with my lesson pacing now, particularly at feedback stages. They often used to drag, but now I have a range of techniques to call on, and feel like they’re much more appropriate to the stages of the lesson. My monitoring has improved too, which also contributes to making feedback more efficient and useful.

Although my activity set-up has improved a lot, and I’ve drastically reduced the amount of waffling I do, I still need to remember to demonstrate activities clearly before setting students off on them. Since this first lesson, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do that (I had lesson six on Friday) by writing it on my plan – I don’t always remember to do that though.

I sit down a lot more in my lessons now, and that’s made a real difference to the dynamic in the room. I feel like the atmosphere was quite relaxed and comfortable throughout, but that I could still be authoritative when necessary.

I was a bit worried about teaching teens as they haven’t been my favourite age group in the past – I normally prefer adults. However, with the K points system, I feel like I finally have the classroom management technique that was missing from my previous attempts, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of keeping lessons interesting and motivating for the group through the year, and helping the other teachers in our level meeting to do the same. Five lessons later, I feel like I’m getting to know the group well, and am enjoying the lessons a lot more than I expected too. I just hope they are too!

Diary of a new DoS

This is a record of my first three weeks as a Director of Studies at a large school. Although I’ve held a DoS position before, it was at a much smaller school and my job looked very different, consisting mostly of teaching, with some management. Here I’ll only teach one group a week, with the rest of my time focussing on admin and management activities. This diary should give you a taster of the kind of things it involves.

Day 0

I’m on my way to Bydgoszcz, Poland, to start my new job and new life as Director of Studies of the International House school there. The offer to take up the post came when I met the previous incumbent, Tim, at the IH DoS conference in January this year. At the end of January I visited Bydgoszcz for a few days to see the school and decide whether I wanted to work there. I love Central Europe and it seemed like the right step to take, so I accepted after a little persuasion – I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to manage such a big school, but the more I think about it, the more I think I can do it.

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this journey, but it’s only been nine months. In preparation for moving I’ve been using memrise to learn Polish vocabulary for a few minutes every day, have listened to a few management podcasts, and have read management blogs with an eye to what I can bring to the school. Really though, I’m not sure exactly what to expect or what else I can do. Luckily I’ll have three weeks before the teachers arrive and four weeks before classes start to try and get my head around everything.

View from Kaminskiego bridge - sculpture of a man on a trapeze wire over the River Brda

Later: I flew from London to Luton to Poznan, and the director of the school, G, was waiting to meet me at the airport – it’s so nice when someone from the school is there to take care of you when you arrive in a new place. It makes you feel so welcomed. Two hours later, we got to my new flat, next to the university’s botanic gardens, and a ten-minute walk from the school. I think I’m going to like it here.f ☺

Day 1

The first job was to brainstorm all the areas Tim and I thought I needed to know about in order to do the job successfully, then work out where to start. Since writing the initial list, it’s pretty much doubled in length and only two things have been crossed off it so far!

We began with looking at the recruitment Tim had done over the summer and deciding whether we would need any more teachers before the beginning of the year. Tim told me about each of the teachers returning from last year, and we looked at the CVs of the new teachers. That gave me an idea of the team I’ll be working with and I’ve already started to think about what classes would and wouldn’t be suitable for each teacher.

I spent the evening unpacking, making my first trip to the supermarket, cooking, and generally settling in at my flat.

Day 2

Following on from discussing recruitment yesterday, Tim showed me how to advertise jobs on the IH website and we put together an advert to fill our last vacancy.

Later in the day, ST1, the senior teacher from last year, came in for a chat. This was a chance for us to get to know each other a bit and decide what we need to focus on when he comes back to school next week. He also showed me the coursebooks and associated materials available for the teachers and talked me through the school’s placement test, ready for us to begin testing new students next week.

In between all of that I’ve been reading various documents on the computer and generally familiarising myself with the files there, which Tim has thankfully left in brilliant order for me – it’s so much easier taking over an organised computer system and knowing what’s relevant!

Day 3

I started off reading more of the files on the computer and asking Tim a long list of questions based on them. We archived a few things and updated a few others.

For lunch I took advantage of the sunshine and the warm weather to eat outside. Tim told me about a park hiding behind the buildings opposite the school – it took me a whole 30 seconds to get there. 🙂 I think I’ll be spending as much time as I can there in my breaks to make sure I get out of school when I can, helping me in my quest for a good work-life balance.

After lunch we met a potential senior teacher (a returner from last year) and talked to him about what the job would involve. He’s going to think about it and come back to us tomorrow.

We then started out on the timetable, which is probably the area I’ve been most worried about because of the number of permutations it involves. Everything revolves around getting the timetable right, and while I’ll inevitably make a mistake with it at some point, I’d like to put that point off for as long as possible! Tim talked me through his timetable spreadsheet and I made notes with codes and tips. He also explained how the 121 system works.

To finish the day we toured the classrooms and he showed me the technology set-up with projectors and provision for laptops.

Day 4

Tim and I spent a large chunk of today working on the timetable. We started by working out who’s probably going to travel to our other two sites, followed by dividing up teen and young learner classes based on preferences and experience. We’ll continue with adult classes tomorrow.

The teacher we offered the senior position to yesterday accepted, and will henceforth be known as ST2 😉 I’m pleased about this because it means there will be more people to share the workload with, and whose experience and knowledge of the school I will be able to draw on more easily. I spoke to him alone, my first individual act as DoS.

I spoke to G about a couple of conferences I’d like to go to this year, and he is willing for me to attend them as long as I make provisions for any days I might miss. It’s wonderful to be working at a school which is so supportive – exactly the kind of ethos I would like be able to offer to my teaching team.

Tim showed me around Outlook, a programme I’ve mostly managed to avoid so far but will now have to get to grips with. The added challenge is that it’s all in Polish! We weeded out messages which are now irrelevant and saved examples of emails which might be useful to me in the future – it’s good to see how certain communications can be worded to make sure I am as clear and diplomatic as possible when it’s called for.

The gaps in the day were filled with general introductions to standby/overtime, ordering books, the young learner classroom management system, and a few other things which I can’t remember now.

Day 5

After being shown how to use Outlook yesterday I was able to weed out a lot of emails from last year which I don’t need any more, save a few examples of useful communications and organise what was left into folders, meaning I reached Inbox Zero 🙂 I don’t expect it to last…

We finished the timetable so far, adding in the final classes that we didn’t manage to do yesterday. Tim helped me to post my first job advert on tefl.com.

Apart from that I finished going through all of the folders on the computer, deleting old files, creating a few templates for future years and blank documents for this academic year and writing a list of questions to ask Tim on Monday.

All in all, it’s been a productive week. I feel like I have a basic handle on a lot of aspects of the job, and feel much more aware of the kind of tasks my working week and year will involve.

Days 6 and 7

To begin my quest to have a healthy work-life balance, I spent a lovely weekend doing lots of relaxing things, with a tiny bit of finishing off some writing work from the summer and a couple of quick journal articles. I visited the forest park on the outskirts of the city by myself, and went to a food and handicrafts fair and explored the old city centre with a new, local, friend who I met through a member of my PLN (personal learning network).

Myslecinek park

I finished the weekend off by enjoying the final ‘River Music’ concert of the summer, a jazz band playing on a boat outside the opera house in perfect weather conditions.

Boat and crowd in front of the Opera Novy for the 'River Music' concert

Day 8

Today was long! The school has come to life with lots of students coming in for placement tests; the senior teachers were there putting everything back into the newly refurbished staffrooms, and the IHCYLT (IH Certificate in Young Learners and Teenagers) started, meaning we have two trainers and eleven trainees here for two weeks, including our first two young learner/teen groups of this academic year.

I went through applications sent in reply to the advert from Friday and made my first steps in solo recruitment, speaking to some of the applicants on the phone. I’ve realised I’m not really a phone person, and really ought to do something about that!

I shadowed Tim on a few placement tests, getting a feel for the way they are similar and different to ones I’ve done before.

At the end of the day I stayed a bit later to reorganise the big pile of paper I’d built up over the previous week. The main thing I wanted to achieve was to salvage useful notes from a double-sided piece of A4 that has so many ideas, plans and crossings out on it that it’s become overwhelming – I feel so much better now that they’re organised between my weekly planner, my academic year diary and a couple of post-it notes. There’s no organisational task you can’t improve with the right stationery. 🙂

Day 9

Today has been in the diary for about two months, so it was good to finally get to it. The DoS and senior teacher from IH Torun joined our senior management team for the day to plan the shape of our year. This was achieved through a large wall planner and a copious amount of post-it notes, with reference to last year’s year plan. We also tried to move things around to avoid bottlenecks that happened last year. I feel much more prepared for the year now I know roughly what’s going to happen when. It was also a great opportunity to identify areas where the two schools can collaborate and ease the workload for all of us. All in all, a very useful day.

Day 10

Now that the year plan has been done, I feel like the year has started properly and I can begin to get my teeth into it. ST1 and I worked out how many teachers’ sets of books we need, particularly of new editions of books which we’ll be using for the first time. The sooner we get them, the sooner we can plan the pacing schedule for each book for the year in order to help teachers stay on track.

Tim showed me how to calculate overtime each month – it’s quite an overwhelming spreadsheet when you first look at it, but you don’t actually have to enter that much information as most of it deals with automatic calculations based on what you put in. After that we finished going through the questions I’d built up through last week based on the computer system – it was a great feeling to throw away the piece of paper with them all on! Meanwhile, the two STs planned the seating arrangements for the staffrooms and checked what stationery we already have. We also all did a few placement tests. It’s great to know that I have so much support as I’m going through this whole process.

Staff room, IH Bydgoszcz

The whole senior management team looked at sessions for induction week and checked what we already have for them to work out how much planning we each need to do to prepare for it. We also started to consider our first teacher development sessions for the year.
Having finalised everything for induction, I dealt with email from today, following up on a few bits of school preparation with the owner and sending out my first email to all of the teachers, including information about induction and start dates so they know what to expect in their first week.

Day 11

We started the day with a chat about fixtures and fittings with the owner, following yesterday’s email. I also dealt with a few job applications left from yesterday.

Tim and I finalised my job description, updating it from his. The bulk of the day was then spent considering teacher development. The STs worked on the workshop programme for the year, while Tim talked me through the observation process. We also looked at student feedback, dealing with student issues and following up on suggestions from teachers at the end of last year. I also did a 1-2-1 placement test for a high-level student who would like medical English. Can anybody recommend good materials for that?

There were lots of bitty things, and I sense this is going to reflect my average working day much more than some of the others I’ve recorded so far!

On a happy side note, I finally managed to get the wifi connected at home. Without it, I’ve managed to go for a walk each evening and keep working on my cross stitch. On my first night with it, having made sure I went for a walk before I tried to connect to the net, I’m already staying up later than normal to spend time on the computer… Definitely need to stop that if the work-life balance is going to be healthily maintained!

Day 12

Timetabling was the order of the morning, returning to the work Tim and I did last week to update it with information from new placement tests. I also continued to work on recruitment. I went through my contract with the school director, made arrangements with a teacher about the very young learner playgroups and wrote out my to-do list ready for next week. Written like that, it doesn’t look like much, but it definitely filled the day!

Day 13 and 14

To continue the process of setting up my new life, I went to a board game shop which was recommended to me, and where I will probably end up spending quite a lot of time and money! Hopefully it will be the source of a few new friends, especially as my Polish improves. You can also borrow games from there, so I’ll see if anyone from school will join me to play them 🙂 I’ve also registered for the bikes which are all over the city, making it easier for me to travel even further under my own steam. I discovered that I can do the 20-minute walk from my flat to the Old Town almost entirely through or next to parks – amazing!

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum

Day 15

Today was all about two things: recruitment and the timetable. I started by re-reading the school handbook. I first read it in January, when I applied for the DoS job, but had forgotten quite a lot in the interim. Since I was assuming that our interviewees had read it, I thought it was probably a good time to revisit it! I listened in to Tim doing one interview, then did my first one. It was extremely useful to do this because it helped me to notice things I would probably have taken much longer to arrive at if I’d started interviewing alone. The rest of the day was spent beginning to put 121 and business classes into the timetable, a much more challenging process than the groups we started with, as now there are irregular time slots, more preferences, and fuller timetables to juggle with. It’s one big jigsaw puzzle, and we won’t have all of the pieces until late next week, but we have to start somewhere!

Day 16

This was my first day of independence, as Tim won’t be in again until Friday. It gave me a real flavour of what my working days will look like from now on: I planned to do about eight different things, managed about three, and had about six other things added to be done throughout the day. It was actually much more what I was expecting the job to be like when I arrived, so I’ve been grateful for the days when I have managed to do everything I wanted to so far!

I spent a large part of the day with ST1 and ST2, looking at two areas identified as problems last year and coming up with potential solutions for them, resulting in a long email summarising our discussion and a few new tasks for each of us to get the ball rolling. We worked on their training sessions for induction week, and I realised yet again how valuable the experience of being a CELTA tutor for the past year has been, and how much I’ve picked up from my colleagues about what makes a good training session (I hope!)

Other tasks for today included: finalising my contract, interviewing a Polish language teacher, doing a 121 needs analysis, following up on references, playing with the software to accompany one of our course books…and probably a few more things I’ve forgotten!

Day 17

This morning I took part in my first business meeting, when G and I went out to a company to ‘sell’ them the school and tell them what we can offer. Even though I’ve only been at IH Bydgoszcz for a few weeks, having worked for International House for seven years meant I could still contribute evenly to the discussion, something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do before we went.

The afternoon was dedicated to getting my sessions ready for induction week, and checking that ST1 and ST2 were happy with the revisions they’d made to their sessions. I also started planning a placement testing schedule for next week and replied to a few emails.

Day 18

My last ‘free’ day of no teachers, no students and working on my own priorities! We’d already decided that Tim being back on Friday would mean focussing on the timetable, which meant this was my last day of induction preparation. I made sure that I am comfortable with all of the admin systems that I need to present to the teachers next week, reorganised a few of the relevant documents and put together my session. In between those things I placement tested three students, one of whom had spent six months at primary school in the UK. If you have any suggestions for resources for him, I’d be really grateful! I have a few ideas, but more are always welcome. The two STs got through a lot of their pre-induction things too – it’s a pleasure working with two people who are so professional. 🙂

Day 19

Today was dedicated to the timetable. Tim showed me how to calculate how many teachers we need based on the latest information about business and 121 classes, and we fitted as much information as we could into the paper versions of the timetables we’ve been using as a draft. On Monday I’ll need to put it all on to the computer as soon as possible so that we can confirm it with the students. There is still some information coming in with more students signing up all the time, so it won’t be finalised until next week, but I feel like we’ve broken the back of it. I’m happy with the balance of classes, support groups for teachers, and being able to satisfy the majority of the teachers’ requests. As a result of this, I also did my first full job interview and made my first hiring decision. To round off the day, I finalised the induction week placement testing schedule and timetable, and answered last-minute questions on induction sessions from ST1 and ST2.

Church of St Vincent and St Paul

Reflection

Tim has staged this three-week transition process so well that I feel like I really know what to expect from the job. The support I’ve had from ST1 and ST2 has been invaluable in getting my head around the systems at the school, and we’ve already made some slight changes based on feedback from last year. I’ve learnt so much already, and I know that process will continue.

Before I arrived I wasn’t sure how I would manage to juggle everything at the same time, but having this time to settle in before induction and the students’ arrival has given me the opportunity to put various systems in place which I hope will make my job easier as the year progresses. I’ve also been able to kick-start my social life and make myself feel at home in Bydgoszcz, a very important part of having a healthy work-life balance.

I’m looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring, and to sharing some of that journey with you here (although I promise it won’t normally be this long!)

Why people want to come to the UK*

* Or: things I wish Brits would appreciate more

[This post has been sitting in my drafts since the beginning of May. As my facebook wall is now flooded with images of the refugees escaping to Europe, particularly from Syria, it feels like exactly the right time to finish it and get it published.]

It frustrates me when I hear people complaining about life in the UK because they don’t realise how good they have it and they don’t make the most of what they have. That’s not to say there are no problems which we need to solve, but sometimes there is so much negativity, it can outweigh the positives.

I know that a lot of these things are ones I appreciate because I have seen contrasts during my travels, and that many people haven’t been as lucky as I have with their opportunities to see the world and to meet people from so many different countries, which obviously gives me a different perspective on life in the UK. Many people I’ve met dream of coming to the UK and spend their whole lives working towards it. Their dedication is amazing, and I always hope it will work out for them, and that when they arrive they will not be met by negativity.

Here are a few things we have which I am grateful for, in no particular order:

  • very little corruption
  • rule of law
  • effective emergency services
  • a free health system
  • social security
  • education for all
  • one of the most respected university systems in the world
  • good quality roads
  • public transport across the country
  • one of the most useful passports in the world
  • an ethnically and culturally diverse population
  • support for anyone who is discriminated against for reasons of gender, race or disability
  • reliable water and electricity supplies

Lake District tree

  • some of the safest weather in the world
  • minimal threat of huge natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and hurricanes
  • a huge choice of food
  • rubbish collection and recycling
  • very few stray dogs and cats
  • a free press
  • the right to argue with and be cynical about authority
  • the right to vote
  • the right to protest freely

Why shouldn’t we share these benefits with those who need them?

Rethinking the visual, again

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with M, a nine year old from St. Petersburg who spends her summers in Sevastopol. I decided to blog about her classes because I found it very difficult to find information about how to teach a 121 class with a young learner who was almost completely blind, and hoped my posts would help others. Teaching M required me to approach lessons in a completely different way and the result on my blog was the Rethinking the Visual series. If you’d like more background I’d recommend reading them first.

This year I was back in Sevastopol for four weeks to do a CELTA course, and I was very happy when, on my first day at school, M and her mum came in to see if she could have classes for the summer. They’d just arrived in the city and didn’t realise I was there, so there was lots of hugs and laughter 🙂

The first lesson we had was based around a present I’d bought her just one week before at the Casa Battló in Barcelona, without knowing if I’d see her or not.

This is the only picture I can find of the gift – a braille picture of the house. I was so excited when I saw it and bought it instantly because I’ve never seen anything like it before (please let me know if you have and where I can get others!) M really enjoyed exploring it, and we revised some house vocabulary. Using the palm of her hand I showed her where Spain is in relation to Crimea and where Barcelona is in Spain. We also talked about Gaudi.

Over the next four weeks I had eight one-hour lessons with M, and I was very happy to see how much difference another year of school has made to her reading and writing abilities. Last year she vaguely knew the letters in braille, and I needed to refer to my list often to confirm which dots she needed to make some of the letters. She can now read braille pretty fluently, and write it confidently. We wrote down new vocabulary in every lesson, which is a big difference from last year, and she could still remember where Barcelona is and who Gaudi was at the end of the month.

The main problem she still has is that of all children her age (and many adults too!): spelling. Whenever M wrote down new words I always tried to elicit the spelling from her, and she had about an 80% hit rate. During one lesson she asked me about how to know if a word is spelt with ‘c’ or ‘k’. It happened to be the first lesson when I was being observed by A, the teacher who has taken over from me for the rest of the summer. Between us we came up with sets of words to help M remember some spelling rules. I thought we’d come up with most of the c/k rules during that hour, but kept coming across more exceptions or ‘groups’ during the rest of the month – the rules are so much more complicated than you can come up with off the top of your head!

M’s school had lent her two books for the summer, Mary Poppins, and another of short 1-2 page texts accompanied by exercises on topics such as dinosaurs and Tutankhamun. Some of our lessons were spent reading the short texts, with M spelling out any words she didn’t know. We would then take the exercises and answer them orally, and I would try to expand her world knowledge wherever I could. After reading a text about the jungle, she was particularly excited to discover I’d lived in one for four months and asked me lots of questions about the experience. I used her hand again to introduce her to Borneo.

Most of the texts were accompanied by a project, although I don’t think they were designed with visually impaired students in mind. Her school wanted her to do one of these projects as part of her summer homework, but it was difficult for her parents to help her because they don’t speak English. M chose a project about dinosaurs. In it, she needed to find out about different dinosaurs and put together fact files about them. The problem is that she still doesn’t know how to use a computer, so the only ways she can do research are if she is lucky enough to be in a braille library (do such things exist? I assume they must somewhere!) or if someone else does it for and tells her about it, which is what we did. I went on to a dinosaur site and tried to give her as much autonomy as possible by getting her to choose the ones she wanted to find out about and tell me exactly what she wanted to know – I tried to work as a search engine rather than doing the work for her. The project also said that she should draw or find pictures of the dinosaurs, but we ran out of time to do that, so I hope her parents will be able to help her with that.

M really wanted to find a girl in the UK to chat with. She’s ten now and was looking for someone of a similar age. I have a thirteen-year-old cousin so have put them in touch. They’ve sent each other a couple of voice messages. M was very excited by the exchange and is looking forward to having a proper Skype chat with my cousin. If you know a ten-year-old girl with a B1 or higher level of English who’d like to chat with M, let me know and I can try to put them in touch.

The biggest challenge with the lessons this year was that they were at school rather than at her house. In the third lesson, when we were in our third different classroom, I gave her a tour of the school, showing her where all of the rooms and doors were so she could find her own way around and had a better idea of the size of the rooms and school. It was interesting for me to see how being in a different environment affected her confidence initially, and how much more comfortable she obviously felt once she knew the layout of the school.

I did get to go to her house one day though, for pancakes and home-made cake with her family. We explored their garden, full of home-grown fruit and veg, and played with her two little sisters, the older of whom was trying to teach me Russian by pointing at a picture of a unicorn and saying the word repeatedly until I said it back to her 🙂 She was also singing ‘Let it go’ when we arrived, but only knew that line. Films and songs are certainly powerful – she’s four!

I’ve really enjoyed teaching M again this summer. I have no idea when I’ll be back in Sevastopol, or if I’ll be in Saint Petersburg at some point, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll see M again. I really hope I do because she is one of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. She’s already B1 (intermediate) in English, and has just started learning Spanish. I’m sure she’ll be an interpreter one day. I’ll watch her progress with great interest, and I hope I’ll get to teach her again at some point.

Reflections on a year of CELTA training

For the last year I’ve been CELTA training around the world. Here is a collection of random thoughts about what the CELTA does and doesn’t do, and what being a trainer has taught me.

What the CELTA does

Improves the confidence of trainees
Even those who are particularly shy at the beginning of the course are able to stand in front of a group after a few lessons and project confidence, even if they’re still worried!

Shows them some ways of staging a lesson logically
Though of course the list is not exhaustive, it is a good grounding and can help them plan their own lessons later, whether or not they choose/have to use a course book. Simple things like giving students an activity to do before reading/listening, rather than saying “Read this’, then springing questions on them afterwards, or important steps like providing feedback after activities, may seem obvious to a seasoned pro, but they rarely are to a complete beginner.

Encourages trainees to think in depth about planning a lesson and setting up activities
The lessons which fall flat are normally the ones which have had the least amount of thought dedicated to them. One or two of those and the trainees soon realise that they really need to think through what they’re planning to do more carefully.

Makes them think about the instructions are going to give and the way that they talk to a class
I sometimes take for granted how easy it is for me to grade my language for different levels of student, and forget that it takes real effort when you’re a new teacher. The key area which this normally affects is instruction giving and activity set-up, often requiring careful planning.

Starts to make trainees adapt materials so that they are more suitable for their learners
Although this only done to a limited extent on many courses, stronger trainees show they can adapt to learners’ needs by changing the topic of a text or updating it to make it more relevant to the present day. The ‘Focus on the learner’ assignment also encourages trainees to think about learner needs and finding or adapting materials to meet them.

Makes them analyse language so that they are ready to teach it
Teaching grammar is seen as a big scary thing by most trainees, and language analysis is actively avoided by some and misunderstood by others. The same is true of vocabulary lessons, but to a lesser extent. However, once they’ve observed or taught a language lesson they normally see the value of analysing language carefully before teaching it, and this process also encourages them to start using reference materials to help them.

Gives them the basics of theory for them to build on later
A 120-hour course can never cover everything, and doesn’t claim to either. Instead, trainees are offered an overview of teaching, with ideas about how to further their professional development in one or more sessions in the final week of the course. This grounding in theory is a good basis to build on and the reflection built into the course is designed to encourage them to reflect on this theory and to begin to question it.

Gives them a collection of activities to draw on when they go into the classroom
My friend once told me her German teacher used to suggest the only way to become a good language speaker is ‘Vorsprung durch Diebstahl’ (progress through theft – a play on Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’). I think the same is true of any skill you learn, teaching among them. By ‘stealing’ from teachers observed during the course and used in input sessions, trainees have a good bank of ideas to vary their lessons when they first start teaching, and find their teaching style (because let’s face it, that’s what new teachers are doing way more than adapting to their learners!)

Gives trainees the opportunity to observe about 36 hours of classes
When else do you get the chance to observe so intensively, outside of the Delta or something similar? On the CELTA course, trainees are required to observe six hours of experienced teachers’ classes and approximately 30 hours of their peers’ lessons. I often think that this is actually where most of the learning on a CELTA takes place, with the input sessions just providing the language to talk about teaching, and a few of the ideas to steal. Until you’ve seen it put into action and noticed what does and doesn’t work, nothing really sinks in.

Shows them whether they really want to teach or not
Not to be underestimated! By exposing trainees to the classroom and making them teach, instead of just concentrating on theory, the CELTA helps trainees to realise whether the classroom is really the right place for them.

What the CELTA doesn’t do

Show them how to placement test students
The main question I’ve been asked by trainees towards the end of the course or soon after it’s finished is something along the lines of ‘X has asked me to organise some classes for them. Do you know a placement test I can give the student(s) to find out their level(s) and decide which materials to use?’ Thus far, I don’t, so if anyone else can recommend something free, online and fairly reliable, I would be very grateful.

Show trainees how to teach materials-light or materials free
While there are some CELTA courses which focus on this, they are few and far between. I’m not sure what else to say about this as I don’t want to ignite a whole new debate – it’s just a fact.

Tell the trainees everything they ever needed to know about teaching
As I said above, a 120-hour course could never hope to do this. Doing a CELTA is not the be-all and end-all, and does not negate the need for continuing professional development. It is an initial teacher training course and should be treated as such. It frustrates me when a CELTA can trump somebody without a CELTA and relevant experience. If there is no follow-up training or development, it’s worth is diminished. I suspect this is particularly so for trainees who had prior experience before the CELTA, as they may well slip back into old habits (although feel free to prove me wrong!)

What being a CELTA trainer has taught me

How to give clear, concise instructions
And about time too! This is something I’ve always struggled with, and it turns out that watching lots of trainees get it wrong, offering tips on how to do it better, and reflecting on it constantly throughout the year have finally sorted out this problem. I even discovered that I highlighted it as an issue in my own end of CELTA reflection, a document I’d completely forgotten about until I was training as a tutor last August!

How to time lessons more accurately
As with instructions, this is a long-time issue of mine. Again, offering guidance to others on how to do it has really helped me, and I’m much better at prioritising to achieve my aims, something which seems more key in the intensive CELTA input sessions of a four-week course, than it ever did on a seemingly ‘never-ending’ language learning journey (!) I even came up with some formulae after my trainees kept asking for them.

No two CELTA courses are ever the same
While there are the inevitable differences brought on by location and trainees, I didn’t realise that each CELTA course is put together by the Main Course Tutor and others working at the same centre if relevant. It is the result of experience and is constantly tweaked, so each course I worked on this year had slightly different documentation and assignments that were set up in different ways, as well as timetables that we organised very differently from one place to the next. Having said that, all of the courses are judged on the same criteria, covering the same basic set of input sessions, and with the same requirements for teaching and observation. The assessor’s visit on each course and annual Cambridge standardisation ensure that wherever you get your CELTA, it has the same value.

I’m ready for some stability
For anybody coming to this fresh or who has got a bit lost in my adventures of the last year (I don’t blame you – I can’t believe them myself!), this is where I’ve been:

Apart from in Thailand where I had the luxury of nine weeks, I spent four weeks in each place, living in a range of accommodation including apartments, a residential hotel and lodging with two different couples. I improved my packing skills, and felt like I was living out of a suitcase. In between, I was at home for up to a month, ‘camping out’ at my aunt’s house, then off again. I’m really looking forward to my next adventure, when I’ll be moving to Poland to start a new job, and hopefully staying for at least a couple of years, enough time to build up a bit of a (social) life there! I also can’t wait to have my own kitchen again 😉

Map of the places I've visited in 2014-2015

Click the map to see where I’ve travelled this year, including photos

I love my job
Well, I knew that already. But a year of sharing it with other people, and helping them to enter the wonderful world of EFL teaching has reaffirmed it again and again. I have no regrets whatsoever about the career path I have chosen, and I know that I have been incredibly lucky to have the year I have just experienced, despite commenting on the lack of stability above. The people I have met and the places I have been will stay with me forever, and I hope it won’t be the last time I work with these inspiring people or visit these amazing places. Now, on to the next adventure!

To my #youngerteacherself

This is a response to a blog challenge set by Joanna Malefaki, asking what advice I’d give to my younger teacher self. Now that I’ve written it, it turns out most of my advice is about being outside the classroom, but I’m not sure what else I can say!

Depending on how you count it, I’ve been teaching for:

Like Joanna, I think I’d give different tips to each of those ‘me’s’.

On your gap year

I got incredibly homesick for the first three weeks of the six I was at the school in the middle of the jungle. When I left, I was crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go.

Don’t wallow. Go out and talk to people.

Explore the place you’re in, however small it might be.

Our House

 

Find out about the culture.

Immerse yourself in the language.

Don’t be afraid to find out about the people you’re living amongst.

Fill your time.

On your year abroad

I didn’t learn from my experience of homesickness in Borneo, and repeated it all over again when I was in Paraguay, so the advice above would work for this me. There’s more though:

Just because a resource book looks old, doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

Just because a coursebook looks old, it probably means it’s out-of-date and irrelevant 😉

Plan more than 5 minutes before the lesson.

Make sure you know something about the grammar you’re teaching, and don’t just try to wing it.

Learn what those funny symbols on that strange chart on the wall mean – they’ll come in really useful!

Asuncion

Asuncion from the 13th floor

My first job

I spent my next three years working in Brno, which I loved, but…

No matter how much you think it might help, spending every weekend of the first six months of your time in Brno at school planning lessons is neither healthy nor an effective use of your time. Allocate a shorter time to plan, and you will magically be able to do it.

Spend time exploring – don’t wait until you’re about to leave to start, or you’ll never get to the planetarium (still haven’t been!)

Brno

Make more of an effort with the language right from the start. Get a teacher – you need one to make you do the work.

Back in the UK

Two years in Newcastle:

Use the fact you’re in the UK. Take the students on trips. Get them out of the classroom, especially in the summer.

At the park

Invite people into your classroom.

Observe other teachers. Observe yourself.

Remember that however much you might love the north-east of England, it’s a long way from family and friends, and just because you’re in the UK, doesn’t mean it’s any cheaper getting to see them than when you live in Europe!

Delta

Do Module 2 full-time. You’ll get so much more out of it that way.

Do the modules separately, not concurrently.

Make sure you dedicate the time and the effort to actually following through on the PDA (Professional Development Assignment) properly, rather than just hurriedly doing whatever you can to make sure you’ve ticked the boxes. You might find it actually solves some of the problems you have.

When people tell you your instructions are crap, do something proactive to sort it out. Don’t just nod and carry on in the same way. They are, and you’ll save yourself so much time and effort in the classroom by doing something about it.

It’s not worth making yourself ill over – have a proper break before you start.

Sevastopol

Start exploring straight away. You never know what’s going to happen that might stop you.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to do things with you in your free time – you’re not interrupting them, and you never know, they might say yes.

Sandy in Sevastopol

CELTA tutoring

Observe other tutors’ input sessions whenever you can find the time to do it.

Get copies of their feedback so you can become more effective, faster.

Collect as many different ways of conducting TP feedback as you can, experiment with them, and try to find ones which work in different situations.

Don’t overwhelm the trainees with paper – be picky, and get to the point.

Timing, timing, timing – be strict with yourself.

Most importantly of all…

Don’t think twice about diving headfirst into TEFL. It will take over your life in the best possible way, give you experiences you never even knew could exist, take you all over the world, and give you the most amazing life.

Don’t change anything.

CELTA Week Three

Day One

What happens when a CELTA tutor is away?

There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.

We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.

Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people! The lessons were useful for both the trainees and the students, and it was good to demonstrate techniques that can be applied to larger classes.

In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself

Day Two

On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.

Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.

Why do they skip it?

Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.

Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.

Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?

No solutions here, just a general complaint…

And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.

Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!

Day Three

Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.

I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.

In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.

In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.

But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…

Day Four

a.k.a. Assessor Day

The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.

Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.

Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.

If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.

All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.

Day Five

The joys of CELTA are many.

Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.

Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.

Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.

Watching the trainees’ development over the course.

When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.

Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.

When a new input session you’ve never done before works.

Lesson approaches input session

Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.

Teaching people to reflect.

Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.

Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.

Sharing my love of teaching.

Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…

Lesson approaches input session
Hearing that somebody you’ve trained has got a job and is excited about starting their new life.

Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.

(The other posts are here: week oneweek twoweek four)

CELTA Week One

Day One

Information overload, getting your head around so many different things, asking loads of questions, trying to get all the right documents, getting to know everyone…and that was just me!

This is my:

  • fifth CELTA course
  • fifth centre
  • fifth country
  • fifth MCT (main course tutor)
  • fifth set of documents
  • fifth approach to giving TP points (the guidance trainees get for their teaching practice =observed lessons)
  • fifth variation on assignments
  • fifth procedure for doing feedback
  • and probably many other fifths…

It’s a good job I’m flexible, adaptable, and settle in quickly 🙂 I’m looking forward to staying in one place for the next four CELTAs though, if all goes to plan.

IH Chiang Mai

There are worse places to spend the next four months…

15 trainees, 3 TP groups/classes, 2 levels (elementary and intermediate), with another CELTA running parallel with 10 more trainees, meaning 5 tutors in total, plus a tutor-in-training. Lots of people to learn from, and you end up sharing some of the work, which makes things easier.

The 45-minute demo lesson I did tonight went fairly well, as did my Russian lesson in input [note to self: really must learn how to say ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’ in Russian!], although I forgot to set time limits for a few tasks that really needed them, so I dropped a task and still went five minutes over. My instructions have improved a lot since I became a CELTA tutor, but I shouldn’t repeat them so much. I also need to make sure that I anticipate problems with vocabulary a bit more carefully when doing a reading text. Timing and instructions were problems identified by my tutor when I was doing CELTA, and I still haven’t managed to sort them out completely!

Day Two

The joys of using a coursebook you don’t really like for TP (no, I’m not going to tell you which one):

  • when referring to it in an input session on receptive skills, I struggled to find a decent reading text which the trainees could use to plan a sample lesson (most of the ‘reading’ texts in the book were isolated sentences or glorified gapfills);
  • students don’t really need to understand any of the language to answer many questions in the book; they just need to be able to recognise that what they’ve read/heard is identical to what’s in the question;
  • there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, especially in the first week, to help the trainees to be able to use it.

Luckily, I don’t have to write the TP points for it, as my co-tutors have done that. Another plus side is that it’s good practice for the trainees in adapting materials.

The three trainees who taught today all survived their first lesson, and the students seemed to enjoy it. They may even have learnt something! For most trainees, the most important thing about TP1 is getting through the lesson, especially if they’ve never taught before. It’s a scary thing to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers, one of whom is assessing you, and 2-5 of whom are making notes on your every move, and try to behave like this is an everyday occurrence and you are confident and competent in every why, while at the same time a million things are going through your mind, the most important of which is “What the hell am I meant to be doing now?” Well done, guys!

Day Three

Generally on a CELTA course you share input with one other trainer. There are two input sessions a day on most days of the course, each lasting 75-90 minutes depending on the centre/timetable, meaning one each. This week, though, there’s a special arrangement here, where one trainer gets two linked inputs one day, and the other gets two linked ones on day four. Today was my ‘day off’. Why, oh why, did I therefore nearly fail to plan either of my inputs for tomorrow today, given I had all this extra free time?! I wish I knew the answer to that. I ended up managing to do one of them this evening after TP as I unexpectedly had an extra 45 minutes at school, but now I need to go in extra early tomorrow at the start of what is already a long day to put together the other one. Grrr. Must learn from this in future and get to school earlier, as it seems I can’t work well at home at the moment. Normally I’m less productive at school, but here it seems the opposite is true.

On the plus side, because we only have 5 trainees in each TP group, we have a ‘free’ teaching slot every other day, meaning we get to finish 45 minutes earlier, which is nice 🙂 The two who taught today also survived!

Typical TP1 problems I’ve seen (and ones which I’m still guilty of at times!):

  • over-explaining activities, rather than just demonstrating them;
  • echoing all the students’ answers;
  • random words all over the whiteboard.

Amazing things I’ve seen in these TP1s:

  • getting to know the students really quickly;
  • showing real interest in what they’re saying, and treating them as human beings, rather than as learning machines present only for you to teach at;
  • real teacher presence and confidence in front of the class from all five trainees;
  • dealing with materials that didn’t fill the 45-minute slot as trainees expected by filling the time effectively and usefully.

Day Four

Today was a bit of a killer.

The day started with me having to plan the session I didn’t get round to yesterday, then teaching two sessions based on somebody else’s materials because I hadn’t found the time to put together my own for the second session. I had stuff for the first one already, but no time to put together a linked lesson planning session, and there are materials at the school and ready to go for it, so I couldn’t really say no! I’m not a fan of working from other people’s materials as is, and I struggled a bit with the lesson plan in the text-based presentation because I hadn’t internalised it as much as I thought I had, but I managed to survive in the end, and I think both inputs went relatively well.

Because TP finishes so late (20:15), we have delayed feedback the following day. Trainees can sleep on their self evaluation, instead of having to write it immediately after their lesson when it’s difficult to be objective, and the trainer has a bit more time to finish off their feedback too, which is useful for me while I figure out how the documents work here. My favourite comment today was when one trainee described how pleased she was they’d all survived TP1, and that they felt like a family already 🙂 We’ll see if they still think that in three weeks’ time!

TP rounds off the day, and after two inputs in the morning, I was really flagging. At some points I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, but a biscuit between watching the second and third trainees helped me to stay focussed.

When I got home I realised my unusual tiredness today, despite a good night’s sleep, wasn’t just because of the long day. Instead, it was because I’d only had five (small) meals on day three, rather than my usual six, because of the times I ate at. Due to the vagaries of my diet, I have to eat 300g every three hours, and I should avoid snacking as much as possible. I try very hard to look after my health now, and I don’t normally miss a meal. The last time I did it was quite a while ago, and I’d forgotten the effect it has on me. I won’t be doing it again any time soon!

Day Five

As with most of my work, my favourite thing about CELTA is the mix of people I meet. Before the course starts, we put together a document with basic information about the trainees, mostly limited to their prior experience, any languages they speak (for the foreign language lesson) and their age, so we can have a fairly even spread of age/gender/experience between the TP groups. I like to look at it again at the end of week one to see whether the dynamics I expected before the course have played out, and whether there is any other information I can draw on now that I’ve spent a week with the trainees.

There are a lot of people on this course with prior teaching experience. That means that sometimes they know more about things than I do, particularly if they’ve specialised in certain areas. Today I did an input session on phonology to introduce the phonemic chart, and one of the trainees was very helpful when it came to coming up with examples for certain kinds of sound which I had forgotten to prepare, like a glottal stop to show the epiglottis at work.

CELTA is designed for people with no experience whatsoever, so if you do have some, it can both help and hinder you. Sometimes there are bad habits that you need to break, like spending too much time at the board, or treating your adult students like children. That’s not to say that complete newbies don’t do the same too! Sometimes trainees have already done a lot of professional development and self-reflection before the course, and they are aware of the areas they need to work on. They are also already comfortable in front of a class, which can’t be underestimated.

For completely fresh teachers, there are also two types: those who panic when all those staring eyes look at them for the first time; and those who are complete naturals and seem like they were born to teach. Luckily, we don’t seem to have any of the former type on this course.

Regardless of the level of experience, the most common complaint on CELTA is about the workload, and this is compounded in week one by a few other feelings:

  • Information overload;
  • Why does planning take so long? Will I ever get faster at it?
  • How many things do I have to think about?!
  • When can I sleep? No, no sleep. Can’t sleep. Must work.

To anyone considering CELTA, I would always recommend making sure you have at least half a day off a week and that you get a semi-decent night’s sleep every night. Your lesson plan may be perfect, but if you can’t stay awake to teach the lesson, there’s a problem, and you won’t take anything in in input either!

To the trainers, especially if you’re in your first few courses, leave the work at work! If you have to take it home, keep at least one day a week for yourself. For the first time, I’ve managed to not really do any work at home on this course, as I’ve been able to prep my input sessions at school. I’ll also be taking the whole weekend off.

I’ve just sent this to my trainees to round off the week (always my first port of call when wanting to cheer people up or give them a 5-minute break):

Well done for surviving week one!

(The other posts are here: week two, week three, week four)

Life-changing sentences

Have you thought about going to Durham?

The place: The careers department of my school, which was also where all the university prospectuses were kept

The person: Mr. Scotto, the careers advisor

The background: When I was trying to choose a university, I didn’t even know that Durham had one. My knowledge of the north-east pretty much stopped at the fact that there was some coal mining there.

I also didn’t really know how far north it was. Before going on my open day, the furthest north I’d ever been was York when I was about 8 years old. As a child, I thought it was right on the border with Scotland, so panicked when my train arrived in York and I hadn’t got off – I thought I’d somehow missed the station, but soon realised that there’s a lot more of England to traverse before you get to the border!

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

The consequences: I fell in love with the Durham as soon as I arrived. Within a couple of hours I was already imagining what it would be like to be a student there, and I never once regretted my choice. It was also where I did my CELTA.

Graduation day

Graduation day

I loved my three years in Durham so much that when it was time to return to the UK for a while in 2011, I picked the closest place to Durham I could, and ended up spending another two years in the north-east, living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Newcastle bridges

Newcastle bridges

Maybe you should go to Central Europe

The place: Durham University Language Department

The people: My CELTA tutors, Teti and Lesley

The background: I did my CELTA part-time from October to February of my final year of university. I’d always been a forward planner, and come November I was worrying because I didn’t know what I’d do or where I’d go after graduation. I started off by looking for interesting cities, my main criteria being that they should be near the sea, and preferably near the border with another country too. The first city I fixated on was Trieste, Italy, followed by Thessaloniki in Greece a month or so later. Then I remembered that I’d heard about International House and fancied working for them. Scouring their recruitment list, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and nothing really jumped out at me, so at the end of the course I asked my tutors for help.

Brno

Brno

The consequences: I spent three wonderful years at IH Brno, years which gave me the foundations to become the teacher I am today. I fell in love with the city and made lots of friends. I also got to about pre-intermediate level in Czech, which helped a lot with my Russian.

There’s a huge community of ELT people on Twitter

The place: IH Brno

The person: Shaun Wilden

The background: Shaun inspected IH Brno to ensure it met the standards of International House. As part of an inspection, there is always a final meeting with the teachers to summarise what happened during the visit. He threw this sentence out at some point during the meeting, and it stuck with me.

The consequences: Too many to mention! My Twitter account, learning a huge amount from ELTchat, my blog(s), co-curating ELTpics, conference visits and talks, writing work…but most importantly, contacts. Lots and lots of contacts, including some very good friends.

Lots of wonderful people at my IATEFL 2014 conference presentation

Lots of wonderful people at my IATEFL 2014 conference presentation

Olga’s looking for a Director of Studies. Do you know anyone who’s interested?

The place: Brno/facebook!

The person: Pavla

The background: Both years I lived in Newcastle I went for a week’s holiday in Brno and ran around like crazy trying to catch up with as many friends as possible. One evening I was chatting to Pavla about what I was going to do after I finished my Delta. Later that evening, she sent me a facebook message.

IH Sevastopol

IH Sevastopol

The consequences: The next morning I sent Olga an email with my CV, and a week after that I had a Skype interview where she offered me the DoS job at IH Sevastopol.

Sevastopol

Sevastopol

That led to one of the most eventful years of my life (mostly not my doing), learning Russian, teaching a visually impaired student, becoming a CELTA tutor, and therefore being able to travel the world doing CELTA courses.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

We’re looking for a new DoS next year

The place: The IH DoS conference 2015, Greenwich

The person: Tim

The background: I happened to sit next to Tim on the first day of the DoS conference. During one of the sessions we started chatting about the lesson planning groups at IH Bydgoszcz and the importance of professional development for new teachers. He dropped this key sentence into the conversation at some point that day. The next day he said we should talk. On day three of the conference, we did. For nearly two hours.

The consequences: It was a very productive conversation, and three weeks later I was on my way to Bydgoszcz to see the school. Two days into the visit we met with the owner of the school, and I was formally offered the job.

The post office in Bydgoszcz's beautiful neighbour, Torun

The post office in Bydgoszcz’s beautiful neighbour, Torun

That means that at the end of August this year, I’ll embark on the next stage of my career: becoming a full-time manager of a thriving school, with only a few hours of teacher. I’m very excited about this step, and also slightly scared, but I know I’ll be able to deal with it thanks to the wonderful support network I have.

Blogging habits

I’ve recently discovered Zhenya Polosatova’s blog, Wednesday Seminars. She posed three questions about blogging habits which have been answered by many people. You can find links to them in her original post, along with the thinking behind the questions. Here’s my contribution:

What are your 2-3 favorite writing habits/rituals you find helpful?

If it’s in your head, get it out! Writing really helps me to formulate my ideas, especially if I know other people are going to read it (I also keep a diary for myself), and to let go of negative thoughts by pouring them on to the page/screen.

Having said that, for some posts I like to think about them for a while, so that when I finally get to writing them, it’s quite a quick process. Sometimes I don’t have a choice about this – over the last few months I’ve had lots of ideas for posts, but little to no time to do anything about them!

What are 1-2 writing habits you find less helpful, (and would like to get rid of in the new year?)

This is a difficult question. I think this is the flipside of the previous question, in that some of my posts take quite a long time to write, and while I love doing it and love the response I get, I can end up spending way too much time in front of the computer, so I need to find more of a balance.

Pacific Ocean with the sun reflected in it

More of this needed…

 

What is one new idea (tip, habit) you would like to start in 2015, and why?

Not sure about this one either – perhaps it’s something I started doing towards the end of last year. I began to create a draft post for each of the ideas that have been kicking around in my head, in the vain hope that when I have some time to write, I already have at least the title and perhaps a few ideas already written on the paper.

Reading Mike’s comments on Zhenya’s original post, perhaps I should also try to make some of my posts shorter, or break them into separate posts. Not sure if that’s a good idea or not though, as I find trailing through lots of different posts can get a bit annoying sometimes!

[At IATEFL 2014, Adam Simpson and I were asked a series of questions about our blogging. You can watch the video by following this link.]

2014

This is a year I’m never going to forget. It has been a rollercoaster of major lows and major highs, sometimes within one or two days of each other. In so many ways I am not the person I was this time last year. Thankfully, there have still been many more highs than lows, even though sometimes it might not feel like that.

The lows

The in-betweens

  • Being able to see my grandad before he died, and to say goodbye to him in my head
  • Adjusting my view of the media, and not always trusting it as implicitly as I may have done before
  • Becoming a more creative cook because of my diet
  • Visiting Kiev

The highs

  • Learning so much more about my grandad’s life, and how he touched the lives of so many other people
  • Getting my Delta exam results
  • Becoming a CELTA tutor
  • Travelling to the United States and Canada, and to new places in the UK
  • Doing a Pecha Kucha at the IATEFL conference
  • Getting my first materials published
  • Teaching M
  • Losing lots of weight, so that I’m now in the ‘healthy for my height’ category rather than obese, and feeling much better for it too
  • Improving my Russian enough that I can have a decent conversation in it (although need to get back to studying it more!)
  • Making good friends in Sevastopol, and exploring Crimea with them
  • Knowing that two of my very good friends will be having babies next year
  • Christmas with my family

The blog

As every year, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. I particularly like the posting patterns and the map showing where people read my blog – it’s amazing to think how widespread the readership is. Thank you for being there and for supporting me in this ongoing project.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 220,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year everyone!

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