EVE-LAC TESOL Mentorship Program (final presentations)

Having participated in one EVE mentoring program, working with teachers from Africa, I was very happy when the opportunity came up to do it again. This time there are 8 teachers from across Latin America, presenting on a range of different topics. My mentee was first to present.

[I will add a link to the recordings when they become available]

#Memes: preparing EFL learners for intercultural communication on social media – Jessica Rivas (Venezuela)

Jessica started by reminding us that memes can be offensive and not for everybody. Not every meme we see is one we can identify with.

Do we prepare our studenst to face intercultural communication on social media? To understand that social media is a bridge between different cultures? It comes with risks, challenges and threats like those of memes above.

Here are some ideas you can use to help our students to understand this:

  • Discuss. What are the characteristics of memes? What is the process of their creation? What is their relationship with culture? What concepts are involved in the meme?
  • Reflect. What is the purpose of the meme? Who is the intended audience? Who created it?
  • Introduce. What memes are related to the learners’ culture? What stereotypes or prejudices might they be sharing?
  • Compare. How does this meme relate to memes from similar or other topics? How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to other people’s lives?

This could also be a starting point for research done by students about memes they have seen.

An English teacher in a Honduran town with limited resources – Luz Milda Bohorquez Paz (Honduras)

This map shows were Luz lives in Honduras.

As English teachers, Luz says that we need to be empathic, adaptable, creative and tolerant. Love and passion should also be part of our job.

She works in an incredibly challenging context, with 620 students in public school, with only 2 x 45-minute lessons with her students each week. There are limited resources, no books, no copies, and a lack of government support. There are high levels of poverty, and many learners work in agriculture and go to school as well. There is limited connectivity. Luz has a high workload, and there isn’t enough practice time for her students. She has to find resources on her own, and be creative to design engaging lessons. She aims to empower learners so they know English is useful, and sometimes uses her phone to provide an internet connection. Luz encourages her students to create project work and work on topics.

In the future, Luz would like to create an audiovisual lab for her students. She is hoping to apply for grants and/or work with her learners to bring technology closer to her learners, engaging them more, exposing them to innovation, and providing access to opportunities with learners in other parts of the country of the world.

Prioritising Mental Health in a University Context – Patricia Gomez (Paraguay)

This is a definition of mental health. Patricia believes this is vital for university students to have, particularly to stop them from quitting their courses. At the university where Patricia works, only 10% of students graduate. Only 1% of the health budget in Paraguay is dedicated to mental health.

Patricia studied at the same university and felt very supported by her professors and classmates, but she felt the need for institutional support too. When she started her research she discovered that a Bienestar Estudiantil (student wellbeing) department exists, for wellbeing, but the office is 6km away from their faculty, and it’s hard to get around! The service has existed since around 2009, offering support with academic and administrative processes, and helping disabled students with access.

She interviewed some of her students in the English language program to find out what they knew about it. More than half of the students didn’t know it existed, and 94% of the 18 students didn’t know how to access the department. These are some things students said in her survey:

This is what the students wanted from the department:

Most of these things are actually provided by the service, apart from mental health professionals, but there is only one person responsible for a whole department.

Patricia suggests:

  • Create a wellbeing hub. She recognises it might not be possible to build an office or hire more staff. The University of Oxford describes this as “an online gateway that makes it easier for all to find and access wellbeing and support services.”
  • Build peer support networks. Train students to volunteer to be good listeners and help those who are struggling, and how to redirect students if they need professional help.
  • Promote wellbeing activities. For example sports, exercise and recreation, as well as socialising.

These should have a positive impact on our students.

Intentional teaching: engaging students with ADHD – Anabell Rodriguez (El Salvador)

Classroom management is often a challenge, especially for new teachers, and many teachers have little or no training for working with students with special educational needs. This can be discouraging for both students and teachers.

Before we start, Anabell reminded us that all our students have superpowers. We should see them with eyes that see what they CAN do, not what they can’t. We also need to work with other people in our organisation, and in our networks to learner more about strategies to help us work with our students. We need to work from the heart, and remind students that we love them and we want the best for them.

What happens in our classrooms and why?

  • Obtain adult attention. Students want adults to talk to them or look at them. Criticism and yelling are also attention, though it’s for negative reasons. We need to provide them attention for things that are positive, for example praising them for opening their books and being prepared for the lesson. They get a boost for this, and we reinforce positive behaviours. Students will then tend to perform these positive behaviours more.
  • Obtain peer attention. Students want other students to talk to them or look at them. Laughing, touching and fighting are also kinds of attention. Ask the students to do things which play to their strengths. For example, if a student is great at drawing, ask them to draw flashcards for you, then tell the other students who did it. In Anabell’s experience, that meant that a student was then asked to draw things for other students, and became much more engaged in the whole classroom environment.
  • Avoid or escape. The student doesn’t want to do the work or be in the room. They may also not want to be with certain peers. Students don’t have intrinsic motivation, so we need to work with extrinsic motivations. Encourage them based on what you know they like. For example, tell them that they can listen to some of their favourite music at the end of the lesson if they’ve worked successfully. Or let students work alone rather than making them work with peers.

Functional Behavioural Assessment and Behaviour Support Plans:

  • A: Antecedent e.g. when Maria is asked to do work in a group…
  • B: Behaviour e.g. …she gets out of her seat and walks around the classroom…
  • C: Consequence e.g. …As a result, she does not work with the group.

The hypothetical function of her behaviour is avoiding group work. Here are some possible solutions people came up with for this situation:

  • Ask her how she prefers to work, for example individually.
  • Assign people roles within the groups, so they are all clear what to do. Make sure she understands that she is needed in the group too.
  • Let her monitor the class with a specific role during the activity.

It’s important for us to identify the antecedents and consequences, not just the behaviours, to help us come up with alternative solutions.

The highlights of my teaching experience with young learners at Escuala Vera Angelita in Nicaragua – Fernanda Polanco (Nicaragua)

Fernanda’s school is in a rural area, and is a sustainable school, the first in Nicaragua. They are aiming to integrate all of the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. It’s located within a farm, producing organic food, which is used to feed the students and teachers, some of whom live at the school. There are also donors from the USA who provide things for the school. All of the students are girls who live on campus, who receive everything they need at the school, including food, clothes and healthcare.

Fernanda works to create classroom routines, including using technology like QR codes regularly. She uses a lot of collaborative work to promote interdependence between students. She makes use of the space in the classroom and the outdoor areas of the school to vary lessons.

To help students adjust to the classroom, she uses a ‘sandwich’ of English / Spanish / English. Later she reduces the amount of Spanish she uses once she knows that students feel comfortable.

Own languages are used by learners, regardless of what teachers do or say and they can also be used productively when children / teenagers work together in pairs or groups.

Ellis, 2021

There have been other challenges. Some of her students are complete beginners in English, and some don’t have Spanish either as they come from indigenous groups.

Practical ideas for pure beginners:

  • Story telling
  • Role plays
  • Guessing games (like mime)
  • Recording – students like to listen to their recordings, and this serves as self-assessment
  • Interviews
  • Board games – online and in-person
  • Real-life speaking

These are some of the resources Fernanda uses:

The use of social media in education – Larissa Nunez (Paraguay)

Larissa started by reminding us of some potential disadvantages of social media:

  • Can facilitate cyber-bullying
  • Can promote laziness
  • Can distract learners

Larissa talked about using TikTok for education. She started creating TikTok videos when working with a teenager, and this improved their relationship. There are lots of people using social media for education, including giving live online lessons.

We need to be as curious and innovate as we want our students to be.

She started to promote interesting tips to support her students, first on Instagram, and then on TikTok.

Direct app interaction activities:

  • Making videos – creating short videos using the target language
  • Duetting teacher’s videos, dialogues
  • Recording steps of a project
  • Putting math problems on video and asking to comment on the answers
  • Answering questions via the app

Indirect app interaction activities:

  • Researching a topic and writing a paragraph
  • Critical thinking – using videos for discussion or debate after watching videos
  • Telling the teacher about a TikTok that was funny, interesting, inspiring, that taught you something new, etc. (rather than ‘How was your weekend?’ as an opening question!)
  • ‘TikTok moments’ in the classroom: students can share a TikTok video for other students to see, e.g. study techniques, words they’ve learnt, or something fun in English.

TikTok is also somewhere teachers can learn tips and ideas. Jordan Cotten was one person Larissa found it useful to follow. She also found other teachers from Paraguay, sharing tips relevant to her context.

Advantages of using social media:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Finding tips, ideas and resources created by other students – students are more likely to listen to each other than to their teacher!
  • Distance learning opportunities

On Instagram, Larissa is @misslarinf.

Teaching with magic – Krissia Diaz (El Salvador)

This was a very fun presentation, featuring puppets and magic tricks 🙂

Kris tries to make use of painting, singing, dancing and magic to motivate and engage her students. She was highlighted as an outstanding teching by the Ministerio de Educacion in 2021. Now she’s an instructor for Platzi, helping public school teachers.

Using magic tricks can help students to realise that it’s OK make mistakes. It fosters their imagination, boosts their self-confidence, and can help with content explanation. It encourages students to explain outcomes, going beyond surface explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman, Jody Greig, Miss Nan, and Xuxo Ruiz are all teachers you can find online who talk about teaching with magic. Xuxo Ruiz has written a book called Educando con Magia.

[It’s best to watch the video of this one, as that will make the tricks and ideas clearer!]

Webcomics: in the EFL classroom – Analys Milano (Venezuela)

A webcomic is the younger sibling of comics. There is a sequence of frames with narrative development, with a link between images and text, in both. But webcomics are mainly made to be viewed via apps or websites and consistently published.

Why webcomics?

  • Vocabulary is learnt in context.
  • They are visually attractive, including having distinctive styles according to the authors.
  • They can motivate and inspire through their stories.
  • Students can relate to the stories and talk about their own related stories.
  • They promote reading comprehension.
  • They provide meaningful input.

Webcomics require intensive and extensive reading skills. They require critical reading, and understanding the relationship between context and experience. They also promote critical thinking.

How can you integrate webcomics into your classroom?

  • Focus on grammar: Find a grammar point within the comic and explain it to your classmates – why was it used there?
  • Complete the story: Missing frames, missing lines. Who got the closest to the original story?
  • Fandub: Take a part of the story and ask students to voice the characters themselves. They have to understand the feelings too, not just the words.
  • Translations: [I missed this one]
  • Focus on comprehension: You can link comics to other media, like related videos.

On Webtoon, there’s a comic called ‘Let’s play’, which Analys uses to help students understand social media influence:

We need to take our students’ interests into account – there are many different genres of webcomics. We can create webcomics to create reading habits. Comics can also help with mental health and self-awareness, for example as distraction during the pandemic.

Here are some helpful websites:

[Here’s an extra resource: https://ciell.eu/app/#/home if this is an area you’re interested in.]

26th PARK Conference, 6th November 2021 (face-to-face!)

Today was my first face-to-face conference since before the pandemic started. According the Czech event law, this was required:


Covid-19 Measures
Circumstances force us to check everyone at the entrance. Please have the following ready in paper form or in an app on your mobile phone:

  • A Covid-19 Certificate 
  • Proof of having had Covid-19 recently
  • A negative Antigen test (not older than 24 hours) or a negative PCR test (not older than 72 hours).

We kindly request that everyone:

  • wear a respirator (not a normal mask) for the duration of the conference
  • disinfect their hands
  • wash their hands regularly
  • maintain distances.

This made me feel much better about going to the conference, though it did involve trying to find respirator masks in the UK. This proved impossible (even normal masks were challenging to find!) and I ended up ordering them online from a Czech company and collecting them from a parcel box once I’d arrived in Brno…the miracles of the internet!

Mark Andrews, Nikki Fortova, me, and Phil Warwick during the panel discussion to round off the conference

I presented a talk called One activity, multiple tasks, and took part in a panel discussion at the end of the day. These are my notes from the sessions I attended – the opening plenary and two other talks.

The next PARK Conference will be 2nd April 2022.

Going with the flow: Making our learners fluent, well, actually confluent! – Mark Andrews

Mark started by playing a little of Smetana’s Vltava. Write the name of a river you like, 3 words to describe it, and think about what it might be like to talk to the river. Mine: Kennet, changeable, mixed, shallow.

Confluences have been a big part of Mark’s life. He grew up in Appledore, and lived in Belgrade.

Listenership is a concept he’s interested in.

A conversation is not a monologue, it is two- sided, we not only express our thoughts but we listen to the expression of other people’s thoughts.

Harold Palmer, 1921, The Oral Method of Teaching Languages

Mark believes we need to create more activities which build confidence in our learners, but also prompt more spontaneous reactions. How do we put the con(fluence) back into conversation? There are still lots of students who do English at school for 10 years but aren’t able to speak English.

Try this structure:

  • The thing is…
  • The other thing is…
  • The (worrying/strange/etc.) thing is..

Have you ever taught this?

  • You see…
  • I see… (to mean I understand, is often taught quite late)
  • Well,…
  • OK,…
  • Right…

We separate productive and receptive skills, but what about interaction. [I believe the CEFR does highlight interaction now…]

We can use a corpus to find common phrases from interaction.

The exercise above is a kind of drill. It doesn’t separate accuracy and fluency…maybe we should be combining them more.

Teacher talking time has been a taboo for a long time, but maybe we can say short things and get students to react.

  • Did you?
  • Really?
  • What happened?

How could we react? What could we say?

The COBUILD project and John Sinclair had a revolutionary effect on language study. Developing the largest English language corpus led to many changes in research.

IRF:

  • Initiate
  • Response
  • Feedback

…is a common classroom pattern. Feedback is often ‘good’ – we don’t take the opportunity to push the conversation further. Wong and Waring (2009) showed that teacher falling intonation signals the end of conversation and closes the door for student interaction.

Discourse analysis started in 1975, finding out how real communication really happens.

Push learners beyond IRF: Tell your partner about your last week. Make sure you both speak at least 4 times.

How collocations with ‘vaccine’ have changed over the last few months

A lot of repetition is good for learning languages. Mark gave lots of examples of what linguistics calls ‘vague language’, but they’re the lubricants that make fluent communication possible. We can do this in the classroom, like this:

These writers make listeners feel like we’re fluent.

Etymology is interesting to learn too. [The slide above shows one of my favourite Czech words, and I never knew where it came from!]

Hello? Goodbye? Or…

  • Hi
  • Hiya
  • Alright?
  • See ya
  • See you later

You can introduce this kind of diversity of phatic communication even at very low levels. Get the students interested in language right from the start.

Teach them how to build relationships, not just engage in transaction.

  • Do you want a drink?
  • No. (I’m OK for now. Thanks, but not now…)

‘Must’ in spoken English is used almost exclusively for speculation, but we associate it with obligation.

Good listenership involves responding.

We can drill this kind of thing fairly easily – getting students to respond in simple phrases.

Going back to the start of the talk: I talk like a river is the Best Children’s Book of the Year 2020 according to Publishers Weekly. It was written by somebody who stutters, about overcoming it. It could be a way to think about how to encourage children/ students to talk. Some people have a bad experience in the first year of English classes, and are quite ever after.

Here’s Ed Sheeran reading the story:

Definitely worth watching!

The Sounds and Shapes of Words: Teaching reading effectively – Steve Lever

Steve was presenting a hybrid session from Greece, something I think will be increasingly common in future conferences. There was a facilitator in the room and Steve was on the screen.

He discussed teaching early literacy for young learners, including how frequency can influence your choice of what to teach.

We watched a scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy’s Cuban husband is reading in English, demonstrating the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation.

How many characters are there in the English alphabet? Not 26 as you might think, but 52, as capitals and lower case look different.

How many sounds are there? 44, depending on the variety.

How many spellings represent the English sounds? 250

How many consonant clusters are there in English? 30 initial and 100 final

Why have capital letters increased in importance? Because keyboards use them.

A letter may have more than one phoneme. A phoneme may be represented by more than one letter or combination of letters.

These are all issues those learning to read in English have to contend with.

We associate meaning with sound. Reading is not an innate, natural skill. Learners go from the letter to the sound to the concept. Readers become prudish when we see the image of the word and automatically get to the concept of the word.

Early literacy teaching has moved towards a frequency focus: what are readers most likely to encounter?

A possible sequence:

  1. Introduce most common sound pictures in CVC words. Single letter consonant pictures: b p t d l m. Single letter vowel pictures: a e i o u.
  2. Introduce consonant blends (2 letters, 2 sounds): st, br, bl, gr etc.
  3. Introduce digraphs: sh, ch, etc. (2 letters, one sound)
  4. Introduce split vowel digraphs – explore magic ‘e’: Tim/ time
  5. Introduce proper vowel digraphs: ai in rain, ou in house etc.
  6. Make learners aware of initial, mid, final position sound pictures.
  7. Present alternatives: snow/now, dog/egg.

Frequency: /k/ in duck (3), kitten (2), queen (5), school (4), cat (1). Which is most common? I think ‘cat’ – I was right! The numbers in brackets show you the order from most to last frequent.

/i:/ is tree (3), key (4), me (1), pony (5), beach (2)

3 key skills:

  • Blending (running sounds together)
  • Segmenting
  • Phoneme manipulation (how a word sound changes if you change one of the letters within it)

We’re not looking at saying the names of the letters, we’re looking at the sounds of the letters.

Sight words (e.g. the, and, to, he, she, that, in, it, is, are, be, but, one, said, was, at, I, you, he, she, his, her…):

  • Build learners’ confidence
  • Help children focus on more challenging words
  • Provide clues to understanding the meaning of a sentence/ text.
  • Many sight words defy decoding strategies.
  • Builds learning behaviours that will help learners read new and more complex words.

Practical tips:

  • Balance ‘sound’ approaches with letter pattern and ‘sight word’ activities. Encourage recognition of patterns, getting learners to actively focus on words in a text. Work with words systematically and in context.
  • Get learners into the habit of ‘looking with intent’ – paying attention to the eyes.
  • Point out that print is all around them (this really helped me with Cyrillic). You could have labels or word cards around your classroom.
  • Take an interest in words as you read. Ask them to predict the spelling of one or two words before you read for example.
  • Encourage students to take mental pictures of words in their mind.
  • Get students to write down words and to see if it feels right.
  • Be multi-sensory.
  • Word shapes – what words are above, below, on the line? You can draw lines around the word for the shape, or have hand up for above, down for below, flat for on.
  • Show words on the screen. Close your eyes. Which word is missing?
  • Bingo works for writing and reading.
  • Overwriting/Tracing works for letter formation. Green dot where we start to write it, and a red one where we stop, without fully writing it.
  • Visualise words within words. An animal in education: cat. A part of the body in learn: ear.

Angels or Demons? ADHD and other white elephants – Claudia Molnár

What does SEN look like? All of these people have/had one or more of dyslexia, ADD or ADHD.

Fragile X syndrome was new to me – it’s a mutation in the X gene which brings many other things with it: dyslexia, dyscalculia, limited short term memory, limited executive control, emotional behavioural diaorder, autistic spectrum disorder etc. It’s rarely tested for.

Many people with SEN go undiagnosed for a while.

Teachers of English do not usually get adequate preparation for teaching children with SEN, or we might not be told about a diagnosis, or we might suspect but not be able to communicate that with parents.

Meeting the needs of children with SEN requires a lot of commitment, energy, professional knowledge and skills. Not only do English language teachers need specific knowledge and skills to accomplish this important task, but the crucial pre-requisitve for success in the EL classroom is their cooperation with class teachers, specialists in school or local community, and parents.

Claudia Molnar

How do children learn a foreign language? Exposure, repetition, etc. These are hard enough anyway, but can be much harder with the additional barriers to learning caused by SEN. Building confidence is important.

Inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity: 3 features common to ADD/ADHD, though they might be differently balanced for different people.

Symptoms of inattention:

  • Failure to give close attention to detail or making mistakes
  • Often forgetful in daily activiites
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Often losts things necessary for tasks of activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Difficult sustaining attention during activities
  • Difficulty in following instructions for activities
  • Avoidance of activities that require sustained mental effort
  • Often has difficulty organising tasks and activities

Hyperactivity can easily exhaust people. Symptoms of hyperactivity:

  • Often fidgets with hands or squirms in seat
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is not appropriate
  • Often leaves seat in situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often ‘on the go’ or acts as if ‘driven by a motor’

Symptoms of impulsivity:

  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Makes important decisions without considering long-term consequences
  • Reckless behaviour and accident-prone
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn

Potential knock-on effects, which can also influence each other:

  • Segregation
  • Anxiety
  • Motor skills problems
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Phobias
  • Insomnia/sleep disorders
  • Emotional disorders
  • PTSD

What does that mean for language learners? Bilingual learners with ADHD have more difficulty with code-switching, not necessarily being able to keep up with which lanugage they are supposed to be in. The lesson they had immediately before might influence their ability too, for example if they had a German lesson before their English lesson. Translation activities could be quite challenging. Claudia is running studies on this now.

Dyslexia manifests itself in different ways with different people. Again, it can have huge knock-on effects on other areas of people’s lives, not just the stereotype of problems with reading. [Note: Dyslexia Bytes has excellent resources to help you.]

People with dyslexia might use their peripheral vision more than those without it.

Ways we can adapt our lessons in a range of ways for successful inclusive practice:

  • Applying appropriate teaching methodology
  • Using appropriate teaching material
  • Having extra time for individual work with the child
  • Acquiring specific knowledge, skills and experience in dealing with diversity in class.
  • Adapting the curriculum

Considerations when planning:

  • Pre-teach vocabulary
  • Give learners a title/ context when writing
  • Allow learners to draw rather than write everything, they speak it loud
  • Give them the opportunity to discuss the difficulties they have and share possible solutions through peer discussions.

Go back to basics. Think about how to make things easy access.

Reading:

  • Don’t insist that all learners read aloud
  • Use prediction techniques for each upcoming section
  • Read short sections
  • Stop and ask Wh- questions for comprehension and clarification, and to check predictions
  • Use visuals – images, comic strips (see the CIELL project), etc.
  • Repeat these steps for each section.

Writing:

  • Build in planning time (as a group)
  • Brainstorm text organisation
  • Create sub tasks for the writing process
  • Give enough time, release the pressure of in-class writing (though might be a problem for exam prep)
  • Set a linguistic focus (e.g. use of mixed past tenses) (Komos, 2020)

All SEN students can learn! But we may need to find ways to change our teaching to help them to learn.

Claudia finished by sharing this video:

Dyslexia Bytes – Q&A with Martin Bloomfield

I first met Martin Bloomfield when I was a trainer on summer courses at York Associates. I’ve seen him in action doing presentations and running an incredibly engaging guided tour of York, and can spend hours talking to him 🙂 I’ve been watching his Dyslexia Bytes community grow over the past few years, and am very happy that Martin agreed to share the story of the site with you here.

What is your own experience with dyslexia and how has it affected your teaching?

In a way, being dyslexic made me want to become a teacher! As an unrecognised dyslexic, I’d had so many horrible experiences at school that affected me so negatively as a child (and therefore into adulthood) that one of my reasons for going into education was to retrospectively somehow “right those wrongs”! I didn’t want others to suffer in the same way that I’d done.

I found school life completely dis-spiriting. Childhood is supposed to be the best time of your life and my overwhelming memories of school (where I spent most of my childhood) are miserable, suffocating, demeaning, humiliating, terrifying, and genuinely heartbreaking. No child should have to go through that. And my memories aren’t unique – you ask just about any dyslexic person, and they’ll tell you the same. Education has to change.

But there were other ways it affected me as a teacher – when I was working as a Business English teacher in Germany, I noticed that a lot of intelligent students I came into contact with hadn’t been doing very well in their lessons, and I recognised my own dyslexia signs in them… so I taught them appropriately to how I wish I’d been taught, and their results went up! This led to the school asking me to give some dyslexia awareness workshops to the other teachers, and that was really the start of my deeper engagement with the subject – twenty years ago. It gave me a very student-centred perspective, always keeping in my heart the sensitivity that not “getting something” when learning is an emotional and psychological issue, at least as much as it is a learning issue.

How widespread is dyslexia?

Did you know different countries define dyslexia differently, and even some countries – such as those with a federal state system – have different official definitions within their own boundaries? And then, within these definitions, different organisations around the world apply different measurements to dyslexia.

This is important because these two facts lead to vastly different understandings of dyslexia, vastly different figures for how many dyslexic people there are in the world (Turkey puts it at 0.05% of the population; while Nigeria puts it at 33% of the population), and hence vastly different national, governmental, and social approaches to dyslexia. If we took those two extremes in global terms, for instance, we’d have to conclude that somewhere between 3,750,000 people and 2,497,500,000 people have dyslexia worldwide. This would equate to a difference in estimates of 2,493,750,000 – nearly two and a half billion people – more or less the combined populations of China and India! And with such differing views of what dyslexia is, there follow different approaches to the law, to funding, to education, to social programmes, to awareness raising, and to workplace accommodations.

Dyslexia does not “belong” to the Anglo-American world; yet almost all research and perspectives are focused on the Anglosphere, and carry with them Anglo-American “white” cultural biases and preconceptions. This risks marginalising BAME dyslexics, and the different impacts dyslexia has on cultures whose language is non-alphabetic, or whose cultures involve interactions which will be differently affected by dyslexia.

What is Dyslexia Bytes and how did it start?

Dyslexia Bytes is an online “one-stop shop” to show an international, intercultural perspective on what dyslexia is. It acts as an information resource about dyslexia facts and statistics, helping people understand what executive function difficulties dyslexic people have, what benefits research shows dyslexic thinking to have, and how educators, businesses, and law-makers can understand dyslexia from a variety of viewpoints.

It began life as a way of bringing together people from around Europe who had attended my SEN (dyslexia, autism, ADHD) workshops and training courses to allow them to exchange experiences once they got “back to work”. There’s a Facebook Dyslexia Bytes group open to anyone who wants to join, that can act as a space for such discussions! It quickly developed into a dyslexia awareness resource website, with key tips on understanding dyslexia, weekly video releases (also available on a YouTube channel) to inspire conversations, and even a Twitter presence!

Martin has worked in the field of intercultural ethics and dyslexia awareness for twenty years, speaking in front of the British Government, the British Swiss Chambers of Commerce, departments of International Trade, and international conferences worldwide. He holds visiting lecturer positions at universities in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland, trains teachers from around the European Union, and is currently authoring a chapter for a major publication on Innovative Teaching for Early Years Education.

He was a top three finalist in the Bank of England Innovation in Enterprise awards, initiated and presented the UK’s annual Dyslexia In Business award, is a finalist in the 2020 British Council Innovation in ELT awards, and sits on various international advisory committees for inclusion and neurodiversity. Currently driving pan-European projects to provide a consistent and interculturally-acceptable measuring tool for dyslexia assessment across the EU, and to provide free online Special Educational Needs training to schools around the continent, Martin runs the Dyslexia Bytes project, and is also completing his PhD at the University of York, England.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyslexia, I would definitely recommended exploring Dyslexia Bytes for yourself. Two other useful resources I’ve regularly used are ‘Special Educational Needs’ by Marie Delaney and Jon Hird’s website. You might also be interested in the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (IP&SEN SIG).

On fonts

Every morning I use the Memrise app on my iPad to learn a little bit of Mandarin. I’ve been doing it on and off for about seven years now, and almost every day for four years. Since it’s the only way I practise Mandarin, I’m still very much A0, though my progress has been slow, but steady.

Occasionally, I use the browser version of Memrise rather than the app, and it inevitably results in a bit of depression! I always score much, much lower, with only around 10-20% accuracy, compared to my normal 80% or so.

I think the reasons for this are threefold:

  • There is a time limit for typing in the browser – I often need a lot more time than it allows to pull the characters out of the depths of my memory.
  • On the app, I have the option of a kind of multiple choice, where I can select from a limited range of letters that make up the word rather than typing from the whole keyboard. These letters generally appear in a similar pattern each time the same word comes up, and if I think for a while, I can normally get to the right answer. I have it set to automatically accept the answer when it’s correct, so I can keep trying until I get it right. Not necessarily great for my long-term retention though, as I don’t end up repeating the problem words as much.
  • The fonts are different. This is the biggest one for me. Words I’ve been seeing for years in the same font, such as ‘good’ (part of the word ‘hello’, so introduced on day 1!), look completely different and I can’t recognise them at all. I got that one wrong this morning, as well as ‘teacher’.

The browser version

The app version

I feel like this gives me a little bit of empathy with people who have dyslexia, understanding that a word can look completely different in different typefaces, and therefore unrecognisable. These two may not seem that different, but the serifs and line thicknesses add extra detail. I’m used to the more simplified version in the second image.

I knew about how challenging different fonts could be theoretically, but feeling it myself as a learner is different. This is why we should keep learning ourselves! Something to remember when making materials and tests.

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Materials writing

As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday 🙂 This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.

MaWSIG logo

There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.

The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)

Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:

The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.

The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.

As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!

In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:

  • Find out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
  • Work on the next thing: Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
  • ‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop  working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
  • ‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.

Daniel wrote up his talk for the MaWSIG blog.

Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)

Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related to working with an editor included helpful, supportive, communication and collaboration, and negative ones were things like frustrating, struggle and even nightmare!

Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:

  • Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
  • The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
  • A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
  • Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
  • Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
  • Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…,  I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
  • There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so the Society for Editors and Proofreaders can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
  • Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents 🙂
  • It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
  • Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
  • To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
  • Julie Moore suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
  • If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)

One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook, Richer Speaking.

To find out more about what it’s really like being an editor, you can take a look at the Catch the Sun blog. I’d also add the LibroEditing one. You can read Penny’s write-up of her talk on the MaWSIG blog.

In conclusion:

What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.

I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!

A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)

These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.

  • Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
  • Remember that you’re always negotiating, not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
  • Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
  • Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
  • A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.

Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)

Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals! Interpersonal skills are a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking. Authors (each person?) can collaborate on many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:

  • Concept of product
  • Visiting markets/teachers
  • Selection of artwork
  • Choosing the title/cover
  • Involvement in the piloting process
  • Audio recordings
  • Proofing stages
  • Marketing and promotion

I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.

What does creativity need? For Maley and Bolitho it’s time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.

Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities! Dorothy Zemach talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!

Tweets from other sessions

An alternative definition of PARSNIPs (normally the areas which rarely appear in coursebooks, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) and one I prefer:

On principles for materials writing:

Tips for new authors:

The next few tweets are from Dorothy Zemach‘s session on self-publishing ELT materials:

(The ELTFreelancers website)

On accessibility, and gaps in the market:

(and this is one of the reasons I wrote my Rethinking the Visual series – making it up as I went along!)

Special guest host Scott Thornbury talks to Angelos Bollas about representation of LGBT people in teaching materials, and the impact that can have on LGBT learners.

(for more information about Field’s views on listening materials, take a look at my listening and pronunciation post from this year’s IATEFL)

Special Educational Needs by Marie Delaney (a review)

Special Educational Needs cover

I picked up Special Educational Needs [affiliate link] at IATEFL just before Marie Delaney’s talk on the challenges and opportunities of teaching students with SEN, which I summarised here. It is part of an OUP series called ‘Into the classroom’:

Into the Classroom explains new developments in teaching, and how to introduce them into your classroom. Short, easy to read and practical, this series helps you make sense of new developments that you need to bring into your classroom.

Short: yes, definitely. It’s an A4 book, with just 101 pages from start to finish, including three appendices, two of which contain key terms with clear jargon-free definitions.

Easy-to-read: it took me about four or five hours over the course of two days. It’s laid out in logical sections, starting with a general overview of SEN, then general tips for teachers, then individual chapters focussing on the main SEN that an English language teacher may have to deal with, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism. Suggestions and tips are all signposted and easy to find. The pages are well-spaced out and easy to navigate.

Practical: all of the tips seem like they should be easy to implement, although as Marie says in the introduction, it’s better not to try and do it all at once, especially if you have little previous experience with SEN. Throughout the book, tips on how to communicate with parents/carers and the students to find out what works for them are given. There are key sections on building self-esteem, and on helping other students in the group to work with those with SEN to reduce the feeling of isolation and increase empathy. The fact that one size most definitely does not fit all is emphasised, and there are many ideas for how to differentiate your lessons to ensure everyone is getting what they need.

The only slight problem I have with the book is frequent mentions of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners, rather than focussing on varied activities. This is a minor point though and does get in the way of the general usefulness of the book.

You can find sample pages from the book, along with supplementary materials to extend some of the chapters, in the OUP Teacher’s Club. It requires free registration, but there’s a lot of useful stuff in there, and I’d recommend it! I only seem to be able to find links to the e-book at the moment, which is about £11. I suspect that means the paperback version is still very new, and perhaps at IATEFL they had some of the first copies.

This book would be very useful for anybody who would like a beginner’s guide to SEN and practical tips for how to support students who have them. Special Educational Needs [affiliate link] is one of the quickest and easiest to read methodology books I have ever come across, and it would definitely tempt me to read others in the series. Highly recommended!

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Supporting students

This post brings together talks on a variety of topics which I have loosely grouped under the heading ‘supporting students’. It covers SEN (Special Educational Needs), dyslexia, students who find English scary, and other areas of inclusivity.

If this is an area that you’re interested in, you should consider joining IATEFL’s proposed new Special Interest Group (SIG) on Inclusive Practice and SEN. They need fifty people to sign up to be able to found the SIG.

Forum on special educational needs

Phil Dexter, Sharon Noseley and Sophie Farag presented in the forum on SEN. Phil gave a general overview of what SEN are, Sharon focussed on SEN in British universities (EAP – English for Academic Purposes) and Sophie suggested ways for teachers to adapt their lessons, not just to help students with SEN, but to help all students. You can watch the whole session here:

Impairments are not identities, but they can affect access.
– Phil Dexter

This makes me think of two recent podcasts I’ve listened to: Sign Language on Martha’s Vineyard from Stuff You Missed in History Class and Why I’m not just blind from BBC World Service’s The Why Factor – both podcasts I would highly recommend. The sign language episode talks about how it was normalised on Martha’s Vineyard, and everybody could use it regardless of whether they were deaf or not. The Why Factor talks about how blindness can come to define the identity of many people with little or no sight, and about society’s reactions to them.

Phil also showed us a clip from Rosie’s story My autism and me, where a girl with autism takes us into her world, and explains what makes her unique. 1 in every 100 children has some form of autism, but medical labelling can sometimes cause more problems than it solves since so many conditions co-occur or are on a spectrum.

Sharon has severely dyslexic family members, and has seen how dyslexia can affect their lives. She works with university students in the UK, and says that some of the problems her students have may be down to SEN, rather than cultural differences or a lack of English. For example, her son has trouble with telling the time and sequencing events, so how easily could he write an academic essay with correct cohesive devices?

Dyslexia can affect short-term memory and fine motor skills, and can therefore make note-taking in lectures very challenging. It can affect 1 in 5 learners. Some international students studying in the UK are not entitled to support as it comes out of the budget for home students.

English is a dyslexic language…[which]…actually causes more dyslexia than other languages.
– Schwartz (1999)

Sharon gave examples of three students she has worked with:

  • A student from Kuwait, diagnosed with dyslexia at 39 after comments from her English teacher. She was given a report in Kuwait, came to the UK, but it was noticed too late and she had to go home as she couldn’t cope with the pressure.
  • A Chinese student who was always late, handed in work late, and seemed to have no interest in the course. After Sharon spoke to her, it turned out she had trouble telling the time, was depressed because of the lack of support, and had no idea about SpLDs (Specific Learning Difficulties). She was diagnosed at Sharon’s university: “This report is my medicine and you are my nurse.”
  • A Cypriot student found out at 22 she is dyslexic, dyspraxic, and has ADD, after struggling to take the IELTS exam. She was supported through her MA and ended up passing with a merit, having created an app to help dyslexic children tell the time.

Sophie suggested using open-ended tasks in the classroom where possible, as there is no single, right answer, and students can work at their own speed. This benefits all students, not just those with SEN. It gives them the freedom to express themselves in the way that suits them best. Some examples of tasks might be journals, diaries, reflection or response tasks or making posters.

By using a dark font on a pale, non-white background, you can help your students to read slides more easily.

Activities can be differentiated in a variety of ways:

  • by outcome: let students choose whether to make a video, do a presentation or draw a comic strip in response to a prompt.
  • by resource: e.g. longer, more complex texts for higher-level students, for example through Newsela.
  • by task: having different activities for different students, or having a worksheet with tasks which get harder as students progress through it. Have extensions for students who finish first. If students want to work alone, let them, unless there is a key reason why they should work together.
    Listening/reading differentiation example: A writes notes/summary on blank paper; B has gapped summary; C has multiple-choice.
    Writing differentiation example: A has no support, B has guiding questions; C has outline/incomplete text to complete.

Some tools which might be useful:

  • Voicethread: learners can choose whether to respond by writing, recording an audio comment, or recording a video comment. They can also doodle while recording.
  • Quizlet: students can play the games which suit them. It is multi-sensory, you can print a list or cards with the vocabulary, and you can hear the words. [See my student guide to Quizlet]
  • Newsela: up-to-date news articles presented at five different reading levels. You can annotate articles, and many of them have a little quiz.
  • My Study Bar: a toolbar which can be downloaded onto a USB stick and used on any computer. Designed to help dyslexic students read and write more easily on computers.

Other tips that came out of the talks were to recycle more and revise more to help students build on their short-term memory, to use as many different ways of encountering the language as possible (see it, hear it, have a picture etc), and to consider what other ways tests can be administered in, as giving extra time often isn’t sufficient. One audience member suggested using stop-start-continue as a way of getting feedback from students on if/how they want you to change the lessons to suit them better.

Teaching English to students with SEN: Challenges and opportunities (Marie Delaney)

I bought Marie’s book Special Educational Needs – Into the Classroom [affiliate link] just before the talk (and reviewed it later), so I couldn’t miss seeing her in action 🙂 At first glance, it looks like a very practical book, broken into sections with tips for teachers about various different Special Educational Needs, including dyslexia and ADD.

Marie started off by telling us that many boys in the UK would prefer to be thought of as naughty than ‘labelled’ as having SEN. Behavioural difficulties isn’t just about being ‘naughty’ though – these students need more support. Every school should have a register of children with medical conditions of any kind, including epilepsy or allergies, not just SEN.

One of the main problems is that the definition of SEN is quite woolly:

Students have special educational needs if they have significantly greater difficulty [how much?] in learning than the majority of students of the same age and special educational provision [what?] has to be made for them.

Marie’s general message is that it is possible for anyone to support their students, and that we shouldn’t expect to just magically know how to do this. As with any skill, it is a question of exposure, experience, and asking for help when you need it. Remember to ask students and parents, as they probably have a lot more experience of dealing with the day-to-day realities of SEN than you do. They should be able to tell you something about what works for them. Here are some typical teacher concerns:

  • I am not qualified to teach these learners.
  • Other children’s learning will suffer if we include children with SEN.
  • Other parents/carers will complain.
  • It takes a lot of extra planning and different types of activities.
  • These children cannot become independent learners.

Most of the tips are about ‘good solid teaching strategies’ and will therefore benefit all of our learners.

  • You might be able to get away with poor instructions with many students, but a student with problems with their short-term memory will need you to give instructions in the order you want them performed, and one at a time so that they don’t forget them.
  • Focus on what they are good at too, not just what they can’t do.
  • To counter parents’ concerns (while still acknowledging them), remind them that there are benefits to inclusion: their children will learn empathy and will get a broader, more diverse view of the world. Research shows that children benefit from this.
  • When talking to parents, focus on the fact that you want to help all of the students to learn as much as possible, rather than focussing on the SEN.
  • Think about how you react if a child says ‘He’s your favourite.’ Children do understand who needs help: ‘I don’t know why you’re upset. I know you’re a kind person and you know that everybody needs more help sometimes.’
  • If you’re planning for hours for something you’ll only use for a few minutes, think again about your planning! [Also generally true of many first-year teachers!]
  • Measure progress, not attainment. Be encouraging and supportive, and don’t focus on marks. Don’t focus too much on behaviour either, as some children may then become disengaged from learning. (Marie told a story of a boy who was proud because he’d sat still throughout a lesson, but when questioned had no idea what subject it was!)
  • Don’t speak to the teaching assistant or talk down to the child. Speak to them in the same way you would any other member of the group.
  • Get students with anxiety to tell you about the feelings they are having. It’s OK to be anxious.
  • Use Find Someone Who… or finish the story type tasks to develop empathy between all of the students.
  • Ask students to show fingers based on how fit they are for learning: 10 is excellent, 1 is I’m not listening [Or ‘give me the prosecco’ in this case! We got an average of five, in the last session of day 3 of the conference!]
  • Edit the language you use. Rather than ‘You’re not listening. Listen.’ which can lead to a defensive response, try ‘I need you to listen.’
  • Separate your description of the behaviour from what you think it means.
  • Get students to share the thought processes behind how they do activities. ‘You’re good at pelmanism/pairs. How do you remember which card it is?’
  • Acknowledge behaviour: ‘I understand you think it is unfair, but I still need you to do it.’
  • Give ‘naughty’ children a job straight away. They are more likely to fight to keep a job than to try to behave in the way you request in order to be rewarded with it.
  • Some children with ADD are hyper-alert and always on the lookout for danger. Ask them where they NEED to sit, e.g. by the door for easy escape, or at the back so they can see everything.

Marie left us with the point that a lot of our approaches imply that the child should change, but what about school systems? If somebody’s wearing glasses, you wouldn’t assume that you know how to help them, so why do we do it if somebody with autism is in our class? Labels mean we might assume that all of our learners are the same. This is not true at all.

We cannot solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking which created them.
– Einstein

Marie’s blog has a lot more information and links to her other books.

Dyslexia

I didn’t attend Jon Hird‘s talk on helping students with dyslexia at IATEFL, as I went to it at the DoS conference. I found it incredibly useful, and would recommend looking at his tips for adapting and creating materials.

How to help students who find English scary (Ken Wilson)

Ken started by saying that the problem with good and bad teaching is that we often know what not to do, but it’s not always easy to say what we should do instead. He also pointed out that none of us in the room were scary, because scary teachers don’t go to conferences 🙂

Question 1: Are they scared, or are they just bored?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell! Students get bored when they sit for too long, when the teacher talks too much, when it’s all talk and no action, when things are too complicated or too easy for them, when they can’t relate to the material, when they’re tired, when the lesson is boring… They might also be suffering from tech withdrawal, so try to include at least one activity where they can use their technology! (Sandy: Kahoot is great for this)

Ken asked his facebook friends what they used to dread about going to class. Here are some of the themes from the answers:

  • The teacher shaming the students
  • The teacher telling them off
  • Reading aloud in front of the class

So, things not to do:

  • DON’T single out a student for criticism.
  • DON’T reprimand students who are already having problems.
  • DON’T grimace!
  • DON’T ask students to do something that you haven’t trained them to do.
  • DON’T ask students to read aloud.

But that’s a lot of ‘don’ts’, so what should we do? Ken has five tips:

  1. Don’t teach grammar!
    Or at least, don’t introduce it as such. ‘Today we’re going to do the present perfect.’
    Instead, teach the language in chunks wherever you can. Have a conversation, tell a story, draw a cartoon, use a diagram, do a role play. Introduce it in context first, and make it fun whenever you can. And most importantly: don’t look like you’ve had an electric shock when you have to correct grammar 🙂

    Shocked man
    Image from Pixabay.com (free use)
  2. Devolve responsibility
    In a class of 25-30, how long is it before you know which students respond best to your teaching method? Pick the ten ‘best’ students in class, ask them to see you after the lesson, then get them to help you support the ‘weaker’ students. ‘When I say get into groups, I want you all to work in different groups, not together. I need you to help me to help everyone.’
    Work with group dynamics and build confidence to help them get to know each other. What makes us different? Get all students to stand up, share statements about yourself (the teacher) and ask them to sit down if the statement is not true. By the end you should find out who is most similar to you 🙂 They can repeat this in groups.
  3. Find out what they already know
    Use this to help you personalise the experience of using coursebooks. At the beginning of the year/book, give students a list of some of the topics in the book, e.g. moon landings, sharks, fashion. Get them to write one fact each on post-it notes, then give them to another student. Don’t read them yourself! Student’s read each others notes, then stick them into their coursebook on the relevant page. When you get to that unit, ask them to tell you what they know about X as a warmer.
  4. Flip the lesson.
    Do the homework before the lesson rather than afterwards to increase their confidence. Anticipate the following lesson. For example, give them the name of a person you will read about. Showing them a picture and ask them to make predictions. Tell them to find another picture of that person at home and send it to the teacher. This will raise their interest.
  5. Mystery tip! Unfortunately Ken ran out of time! Hopefully he’ll share it in the comments for this post 😉

Tweets from other talks

Throughout the conference, I retweet anything which I think is interesting from other tweeters. These tweets are all related to supporting students in some way.

Other areas

Inclusivity was also visible in a few other areas at this conference, from a higher prominence of LGBT issues, to talks on adapting lessons for visually impaired learners and adapting exams for deaf/blind students. [See also my posts about teaching a visually impaired student and my links on integrating every student.]

To finish, here is Thorsten Merse talking about a training course in acknowledging sexual and gender diversity in their work.