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

Posts tagged ‘reflection’

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)?

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