STOP and reflect: A four-step action plan for lesson reflections

Last year, I did a guest blog post for the British CouncilVoices” website, after winning the Teaching English blog of the month award. I wrote about using reflection as a tool for developing your teaching. (You can read the post here.) I’ve recently revisited that post and have now created a visual that succinctly captures the (hopefully!) snappy little acronym I created for it.

The acronym is:

STOP!

Step back; Take stock; Open your resources; Plan for next time

Let me know what you think! :-) (And compare what the visuals make you think with what I actually wrote in the blogpost linked to above!)

Scloud

Step Back

Tcloud

Take Stock

Ocloud

Open your Resources

Pcloud

Plan for Next Time

Little thing, BIG difference! (A reflective challenge)

I had to complete an appraisal form recently, in which one of the questions asks about input from workshops and feedback from observed lessons, and whether you’ve implemented this or not. At IH Palermo we are lucky enough to have workshops timetabled in to our week on a regular basis (once every two weeks) as well as formal and informal observations, both of which are developmental. In addition to the two formal observations I’ve had as part of the in-school development programme, I’ve also had four further observations due to doing the IH Young Learners and Teenagers training certificate. A fairly predictable result of this is that as well as experimenting with all (not all, I’m working on it but there’s a heeeeuge amount to be going on with!!) the theory I was exposed to during my M.A. in ELT with integrated Delta at Leeds Met and what I’ve added since through my own reading and exploration, I’ve been systematically incorporating things picked up, both from workshops and all those many observations.

Following the reflections required by the above-mentioned form, I’m going to share one of those things with you now. Just one. One tiny one. And, as you can gather from the post title, it’s a tiny thing that has made a BIG difference! Once you have read mine, I invite you to share something of your own (as a post on your own blog – post a link to it in the comments section of this post so that everyone can have a look – or simply comment on this post) that you have tried out during the last year and which you have found makes a difference.

To stand or not to stand? That is the question! Teacher position in the classroom…

Adults

And it’s a question I didn’t ask myself until after my first formal observation here, when my DoS gave me the post-observation feedback. It had been an adult class of pre-intermediate learners. He told me I tended to tower a little over the students when monitoring. I was a bit confused. So my DoS stood up, came round to my side of the desk and demonstrated: first he stood next to me and spoke, then he squatted down next to me and spoke. That visual explanation made a powerful impact. He then suggested I also try sitting down more in general – for example when doing feedback or during discussions. I went away and duly tried this (both monitoring from lower down and sitting more), and other things that had come out of the observation feedback, and found this eeny weeny-seeming little thing of teacher position made a really big difference. It created a more intimate atmosphere in the classroom. The level of banter increased. And, I suspect, the learners left the room with less of a crick in their necks than previously! ;-)

Teenagers

For some reason, though, I only tried it with my adult classes. Fast-forward some number of weeks and I was observed teaching teenagers, for my first observation on the YL course. It hadn’t occurred to me, for some reason, to transfer this particular feedback gained during my adult class observation to my teenager (13-15 year olds) classes. This came out in the feedback, and off I went to implement it. To sit down at suitable moments. Again, it led to a much more relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, with my teenagers being more willing to speak up.

Young Learners

Fast-forward a few more weeks (months?) to another YL observation, different observer, different age group. This time we’re talking 10-12 year olds. You don’t sit down for them, right? Well, I didn’t anyway. No. In fact, I made them all dizzy with the amount of time I spent moving around, including when I was giving instructions. Again, during the feedback, this observer also suggested I might like to sit down more in my lessons. I wasn’t convinced, but I was hellbent on implementing all the feedback and sorting out my YL teaching. And hey, guess what? It made a difference. With my 10-12 year olds, sitting down while I gave them instructions (in combination with having moved their desk-chairs closer together to make a smaller horseshoe) helped them to focus better while I was giving them instructions. Why? Their eyes weren’t moving around all over the place following me, and getting distracted by other more pretty things on the walls or on other students’s desks etc in the process. Spending more time at their eye level in general (both in terms of sitting and monitoring) has also decreased the distance between us, making, again, a more comfortable atmosphere in the classroom. I see less of the tops of their heads, they see less of my waist and chin – everyone’s a winner!! :-p

Over to you!

I challenge you to reflect on what is it, what little thing, has made a big difference to your teaching during the last year. And I look forward to hearing about it! :-)

Q&A webinar with controversial Sugata Mitra – Saturday!

Following Sugata Mitra’s controversial plenary on the final morning of IATEFL 2014, some educators were up on their feet applauding, while others were up in arms. As there was no time for a follow-up Q and A with Mitra at the conference, IATEFL has since arranged a webinar for this purpose. Here are the details as quoted from the IATEFL website:

Questions and answers with Sugata Mitra
19th April 2014, 5pm BST

Sugata Mitra will answer questions following his plenary session on ‘The future of learning’ at the IATEFL Annual Conference in Harrogate on Saturday 5 April 2014. If you have questions that you would like Sugata Mitra to answer during the webinar, please send them to Marjorie Rosenberg atmarjorie.rosenberg@besig.org or post them under the webinar announcement on the IATEFL group Facebook page. There will also be a chance to pose questions live to Sugata Mitra in the chat box during the webinar.

To join us, please click here

You do not need to register in advance to join this webinar, just click on the link above and then:

Select the “Enter as Guest” option, write your name and country, then click “Enter room”

You can check your local time here

We are looking forward to seeing you online!

 

Share the details with anybody who might be interested – it should be an interesting occasion! :-)

Helping pre-intermediate learners with listening: focus on weak forms

Introduction

My starting point for this activity was Sandy Millin’s Stepping into the real word: transitioning listening workshop at IATEFL 2014. In particular, it was this section of notes that I made during her workshop [my complete notes for the workshop here]:

Weak forms

“Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.”

Counter-intuitively, I used a course book listening for my adaptation of this sequence. It was an interview with Jessica Ennis soon after she won the World Championships. (Of course, since then she has done rather well in London 2012!) There were a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, weak forms were in evidence. The TRB doesn’t say anything about the origins of the recording or how it was made, but it’s clearly at least trying to be authentic and challenge the learners’ listening skills (it’s a purely listening skills focused sequence the recording forms part of). Secondly, I felt that the book didn’t fully exploit the recording in the afore-mentioned sequence – it only had two fairly brief listening activities and a discussion activity attached.

 The sequence I devised, however, could be used with any listening recording –  basically, the sequence fits in after learners have listened to a recording for meaning.  I used a guided discovery approach with the goal of awareness-raising and metacognitive development, as well as the specific focus on weak forms.

Time:

45 minutes

Materials:

A listening recording – authentic or otherwise – where weak forms are in evidence; guided discovery handout (available here). [Handout optional - as long as you had some sample grammar words to display, you could do the whole sequence by feeding in the instructions/questions orally as you go along!]

Procedure:

  • Fold up the handout so that learners can only see the first question:

“What two things do all these words have in common?”

  • Let learners look at the words (a sample collection of grammar words that have weak and strong forms – I took a screen shot from Sandy’s slides, as she had prepared just such a sample using a word cloud creator like Wordle, to save me some time!) and discuss the question together. My learners found this challenging so I gave them some clues to help: “One of the two things is related to the type of word; the other is related to pronunciation“. One of my learners did then say “they are weak forms”, cleverly enough, so I expanded her answer to include that these words have both strong and weak forms, and they are all grammar words and grammar words are often weak unless we want to emphasise them for a specific meaning-related reason.
  • Unfold the handout and get learners to look at the sample collection of grammar words and work in pairs to assign each a strong and weak pronunciation. We did an example together first – also identifying that the strong pronunciation is the dictionary pronunciation but the weak pronunciation is often used when the word is used as part of a sentence, unless the word is being emphasised to express a particular meaning – then they worked in pairs for a few, then we went through some together to see what they had come up with, until one of the learners said “Is it my hearing or do they all change to the same sound?” – cue introduction of the schwa! and me acting a weak, frail, hunched over little person to visualise this friendly, neighbourhood weak sound! – and a bit more discussion, which culminated in them saying that they wanted to hear the weak sounds in conversation. – Which was exactly what I had planned…
  • [If it hasn't already been discussed within the previous step, ask learners how they think this phenomenon - weak forms - could affect them when they listen to people speak]
  • Direct them to the transcript of whatever recording it is you are using for this sequence, in my case the interview with Jessica Ennis. Get them to work in pairs, look at the grammar words in the transcript and decide if they think those words are pronounced as strong or weak forms. [I let them do it for the first part of the transcript, to get them thinking about the role of those grammar words in the given sentences and the likely resultant pronunciation but then stopped them to move onto the next stage in the sequence, as time was limited. However, I don't think it's necessary to do the entire transcript anyway, as it could get a little arduous!]
  • Play the recording again. Get learners to check what they have already discussed and continue the process but as a listening exercise this time, underlining strong forms and/or circling weak forms. Let them compare afterwards and give them the opportunity to ask about any they aren’t sure about.
  • Let them experiment. Ask them to work in pairs (or whatever number suits your recording/class numbers) and read through the transcript aloud together, each taking one of the roles, and using the weak forms they have identified. Encourage them to say the sentences quickly as speed influences pronunciation of weak/strong forms, so by speaking quickly, the weak forms are more likely to occur!
  • Play the recording a final time. This time, learners should mutter along with the transcript, again giving them the opportunity to listen and also feel the pronunciation in their own mouths as they produce. I deliberately did the last two stages in this order, as I felt they’d be more successful with the muttering if they had had the chance to try it out previously and therefore had more familiarity on their side, having thought about the links between meaning and pronunciation of the grammar words. [This shadowing/muttering along with a recording is an activity I picked up during my Delta]

At one point during this sequence of activities the issue of ELF pronunciation was also raised - the learners were wondering about the necessity of speaking like this, as they felt it would be very difficult to [of course], so I said that this depended on their goals: that use of weak forms/stress can make it easier for native speakers to understand, but that if they are speaking to other non-native speakers, then understanding is much easier if you don’t use weak forms. And I also pointed out that whether or not they wanted to speak to native speakers, focusing on weak forms as we had done in this lesson would help with listening, which they fully agreed with.

At the end of the lesson, I asked if it had been useful and the answer was a very heartfelt “YES!” :-)  Certainly a lot of interesting discussion was generated and the learners appreciated the extra time spent working with the recording and these words that give them so much difficulty in understanding.

I’m planning to adapt the sequence for use with my other pre-intermediate learners [who are lower in the pre-intermediate level] by using it with a notoriously challenging listening that’s coming up in their course book]. With either class, having done the sequence using a course book recording, I’d like to revisit it [not repeat the whole sequence obviously, but apply the concept] with them, using a more authentic recording. I’d also like to extend the concept by devising an activity that gets them to use syntactic and contextual clues to identify weak forms within utterances they have not seen a transcript for.

Thank you, Sandy, for the inspiration! :-) (As well as Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 and Field, 2009, of course! – They always influence what I do with teaching listening!)

References:

Field, J. (2009) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Millin, S. (2014) Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening   ( http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/iatefl2014/ )

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and learning second language listening: metacognition in action. Routledge

listen

image taken from google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification/ http://www.pixabay.com

 

IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place!

IATEFL 2014 was awesome and I blogged a lot during the couple of days I was there for.

Here is an annotated list of the blog posts I wrote, as I thought this would make them much easier to negotiate!

This post is mostly a summary of MaW SIG’s last SIG day session “So what does that involve? Incorporating general vocabulary into topics” by K Woodward et al. (the et al. is Liz in this case!) – their tagline: “For sound pedagogical reasons, vocabulary books and course books often teach vocabulary in topic groups. However, there is a danger that general vocabulary may be neglected. With reference to the Richmond Vocabulary Builders, this talk considers how seemingly general or abstract words cab associate quite strongly with particular topic areas and asks whether vocabulary materials can reflect this” – and the MaW SIG Open Forum meeting.

The last post I published was actually the second I wrote while at IATEFL  and is a summary of Graham Hall’s advice to anybody who is looking to get published in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal) or another academic journal.

This is a summary of Kathleen’s plenary given on the Thursday morning, in which she an argues for  “an approach to learning that seems inefficient may actually be efficient in terms of reaching educational goals in lasting ways.” 

Nigel discussed these three different threads of research done on textbooks, including the importance of doing them and the limitations associated with them, arguing that they provide  framework on which to base textbook research. He also discussed the contents of his newest edited book of textbook research. Here is his tagline: “ELT textbook/coursebook research is criticised for its lack of rigour. I present examples of three types of textbook research to be found in a new book. English Language Teaching Textbooks: Content, Consumption, Production. Content studies focus on what textbooks include and exclude; consumption studies examine how teachers and learners use textbooks; and production studies investigate how textbooks are written.” 

Yep, I had to attend my own talk… ;-)  This is a summary of what I discussed (issues with current materials, a possible way to address this, and my own example of how I attempted to do so, using these materials) and a list of references that I used.

My round-up for day two focuses on the many reasons for coming to IATEFL again and again. And why I hope to be back again next year! :-)  How many square with yours?

This is my summary of what Michael Hoey told us about his corpus linguistic theory and how it supports Krashen’s monitory theory and Lewis’s Lexical Approach.

Julie used Oxford EAP Advanced to discuss ways of dealing with mixed-discipline EAP classes so that this becomes a benefit rather than a drawback. This post is my summary of the talk. Here is Julie’s tagline: “The reality of many EAP classes is a mix of students from different disciplines, which can make it difficult to please everyone. In this talk, I look at some practical tasks, from Oxford EAP Advanced, to help students, especially at higher levels, transfer academic language and language skills learnt in class into their own academic discipline.” 

Sandy’s workshop was very practical, outlining the issues with teaching listening in the language classroom and suggesting various activities to help deal with the problems that arise. This post is a summary of her workshop. Here is her tagline: ““I’ve studied English for years, but I can’t understand anyone!” This was a common complaint from my students on arrival in the UK. This workshop introduces you to practical activities and materials you can use to help students transition from understanding scripted listening materials to feeling comfortable with real-world English” 

Cecilia talked about the benefits of observation and how to ensure that these are mined rather than passed over. This is my summary of her talk. Here is her tagline: “There’s a general consensus on the many benefits of observation. It is well known and discussed in training sessions, books and forums. So why are many teachers still resistant or threatened by it? In this session, I will share a program and forms developed after research, trial and error, trying to overcome resistance and make observation truly effective for teacher development. 

Amy described a project she has been involved with at IH Newcastle. Her tagline is: “Through the experience of establishing an extensive reading (ER) library within the Personal Study Programme (PSP) at International House, Newcastle, this talk will reflect on how we can use ER to promote and support learner autonomy as a whole. It will discuss the practicalities and pitfalls of such an approach and review experimentation with a reading-aloud group.” 

This was a practical session, using training modules published by ELT Teacher to Writer to guide the audience through various elements of materials writing for your own class or a wider audience: We looked at how ELT publishing works, the importance of good rubrics (instructions on learning materials) and how to write them, writing grading readers and writing critical thinking activities. This post is a summary of their workshop. Here is their tagline: “In this session we will give you a taste of the ELT Teacher 2 Writer training modules. We will present practical tasks designed to give you advice and guidance on how to write materials for your own classes or for publication, and step-by-step instructions for developing specific writing skills. There will also be a chance for questions and discussion.” 

Here, my touch-typing skills were put to the test: Trying to keep up with Pecha Kuchas is no mean feat… but I think I just about managed to capture at least the essence of what was a lovely evening of entertainment by a fantastic group of presenters.

This is a summary of what turned out to be a very controversial talk. So controversial, in fact, that IATEFL has organised a Q&A session this coming Saturday (19th April) for people to respond to this plenary. From standing ovations to outraged messages on Facebook and Twitter, Mitra seems to have attracted the entire spectrum of responses. Perhaps the best thing about this is: he has got us all talking!

This talk looks at the blurry line between spoken and written language, and focuses on developing fluency for writing in situations where the pressures of speaking (in terms of being able to produce in the moment, at speed, under pressure) are evident, e.g. sending messages on mobile phones and online instant communication. This post is a summary of the talk. Here is Fiona’s tagline: “How well are we equipping learners of English as a second language with the necessary skills for communicating in today’s online communities? And what are the skills they need? This talk will explore a new aspect of written fluency – the ability to write speedily, relevantly and concisely – and offer practical ideas on how to develop it.” 

My final IATEFL post is a challenge to all attendees of the conference, whether live or aline, to engage with what they’ve been exposed to, to reflect on learning, to experiment with new ideas, to articulate why they disagree with certain things they’ve seen and to think about what’s next on the path of CPD…

I hope everybody who attended IATEFL – live or online – enjoyed it and got as much out of it as I did! :-)

Verb patterns, curiosity and pre-intermediate learners

This is an activity I did with my pre-intermediate learners today, to give them extra opportunity to use the verb patterns that we had looked at in their previous lesson, in a more personalised way. It doesn’t require much preparation, as it mostly draws on learner-generated content – as well as their natural curiosity! What it does require is lots of use of the verb patterns in question, including questions and, potentially, third-person structures.

Time:

+- 40 minutes (could have run for longer but 40 minutes was sufficient)

Materials:

One teacher-made model:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.03

image of “me” taken from openclipart.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification; bubbles from powerpoint shapes!

One learner handout:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.58.13

Here is the power point that I made with both (so that the teacher one can be adapted and projected/printed, while the learner one can be printed…)

 Language focus:

Verb patterns – specifically:

  • I want to – infinitive
  • I’d love to – infinitive
  • I enjoy – verb-ing
  • I’m fed up with – verb-ing
  • I hope to – infinitive
  • I’m thinking of – verb-ing
  • I’m looking forward to -verb-ing. 

[although adaptable to whichever verb patterns you've been looking at which can be personalised...]

 Procedure:

  • Elicit the target verb patterns (that you have looked at in the previous lesson) and board them (if using projection, then in an area of the the board that is not used by the projector screen!) in categories according to pattern.
  • Either project, or hand out printouts of, your teacher model.
  • Put the learners in pairs and get them to look at the model.
  • Tell them these are your answers to the sentence stems given by the verb patterns.
  • Get them to ask you questions in order to guess which stem/pattern each answer/thought cloud corresponds with. (The answers are bare infinitives so there are no linguistic clues and learners have to put the answers into the correct form according to the verb pattern).
  • Encourage them to find out more about the answer once they have guessed correctly:

E.g. :

Learners: Do you enjoy speaking Italian?

Teacher: Yes but there’s something I enjoy more! Guess again!

Learners: Do you enjoy going horse-riding?

Teacher: Yes, I do! Very much!

Learners: Do you do it here? Where do you go? etc

  • Once they have finished guessing and quizzing you, hand out the blank student handout for learners to complete with their own ideas.
  • Put them in pairs (get them to work with a new partner)
  • Ask them to take turns asking questions (and finding out more about their partner’s thought clouds once they have guessed correctly) until they have correctly guessed all of the clouds.
  • Monitor and collect feedback for a delayed feedback slot.

Optional extra:

  • Regroup the learners so that each new group consists of either person A or person B of each of the AB pairs from the previous activity.
  • Ask learners to tell their new group what they’ve learnt about their partner, using the verb patterns.

(I did this with one of my pre-int classes today – the one that had already had progress test feedback because they’d done their tests promptly, and therefore didn’t need class time allocating to that today – following the delayed feedback slot from part one of the activity, and it gave them a chance to act on the feedback I’d given.)

My IH Journal column no.2: learner autonomy and metacognition

My IH Journal (International House Journal) tagline is as follows:

“To celebrate my 30th birthday (18/06/2013), I made an attempt to identify 30 things that I’d incorporated into my professional practice over the preceding year. 30 is quite a large number, but having spent an academic year at Leeds Metropolitan University learning vast amounts while tackling the Delta integrated into an M.A. ELT, I thought I should be able to pinpoint any number of things and by doing so, it would reinforce them in my mind as well has creating a record to look back on. Despite the final length of that blog post, each of the 30 items was only briefly treated. In this column, I revisit that blog post, selecting items and expanding on them.”

For my second column, which recently appeared in issue 36 (Spring 2014), I focused on learner autonomy and metacognition. As I get lots of searches relating to metacognition leading to my blog, I thought I would post a link to this column for any who are interested in this area and that of learner autonomy.

The contents page shows the wide variety of articles and columns that IH Journal has to offer – something for everybody to read, so why not have a look?

Enjoy! :)

Review board-game for advanced level learners

I used this simple board game that I made, with my advanced level learners, to do some post-progress test review with them. It worked well, so I thought I would share it here for anybody else who might like to use it. It took an hour for three learners (my 50% attendance rate for today’s class!) to play the game together.

It covers the following areas:

  • Compound nouns from phrasal verbs
  • Language for adding emphasis
  • Inversion
  • Passive distancing
  • Responding to news

It is based on Units 5 + 6 of New Headway Advanced 

Instructions:

  • Put learners in groups of three.
  • Each learner needs a coin/counter and one coin is needed for use by all – to determine the number of squares a player should move forward.
  • All learners should put their coins on square 1 – “Go!
  • Tell learners to take it in turns to toss the central coin. If it lands with the “heads” side facing up, then they should move forward one space. If it lands with the “tails” side facing up, then they should move forward two spaces. If a square has already been landed on and the question answered correctly, that square becomes a “dead” square. Exceptions to this are those squares which require creativity! :) In the case of a “dead” square, the learner would move to the next “live square” beyond it.
  • Each time they land on a square, they must follow the instructions in that square. If they answer incorrectly, they must go back to the square they were in prior to tossing the coin.
  • For the squares that require learners to take a longer speaking turn, to discuss a topic/tell a story, monitor and collect feedback to do a delayed feedback phase with the class at the end of the game.
  • For the other squares, monitor and settle any disputes that may arise!

Have fun! :-)

Innovation in education: looking for learning (British Council Associate blog post 3)

For my third blog post as a British Council Associate, I chose the topic of innovation in education.

This was the brief:

As learning technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our teaching, how can we ensure that pedagogy is at the centre of what we do to increase learning? What tools do you incorporate into your teaching and how do you ensure they help learning?

I shared the approach I use to ensure that the tools I use help learning, and to ensure that pedagogy remains central, using Edmodo and Wordandphrase.info as examples.

To read my blog post, please follow this link.

To see other blog posts I’ve written for the British Council, please follow this link. (Topics so far are: “Course books in the classroom: friend or foe?” and “How does blogging help you to be a better teacher?”)

Thank you, British Council Teaching English, for letting me post alongside some really great bloggers.

IATEFL 2014 – Graham Hall: How to get published in an academic journal like ELTJ

Have just found my notes from this interesting “how to” talk which took place on Thursday morning before the plenary…

An academic journal is a peer reviewed journal.

What makes academic journals different from a newsletter or magazine?

  • It has an editor, makes decisions on what goes in, but the key thing is that the editor has people to help assess the content of articles i.e. peer reviewed
  • There’s a system of peer review: Articles are judged by the authors peers, evaluated on, fed back to editor, who takes action. (Our peers are people in the field)

The key thing to take from this talk is that not all journals are the same! I.e. different journals have different aims/objectives/readerships. Readerships have different expectations.

If you have an idea for an article, if you want to submit to e.g. ELTJ, the editor will have different expectations from Journal x – so submit your article to the journal you write it for, not another. Be familiar with who you are writing for. (I.e. read said journal!)

Why write for an academic journal?

  • As an individual, we might write for an academic journal for professional development reasons.

There are numerous strands to this.

First strand: we are sharing our systematic thoughts about our good practices. Sharing good practice and research. Getting our ideas out there. And people out there in the world can get in touch and things can happen. It gives us contacts.

Another strand = it really crystallizes what we think and what we do. Once it’s on paper, you’ve thought it through far more clearly than if you just talk about it in a bit of a chat. Your thinking develops.

  • For many people in many institutions, writing and being published is good for promotion.

Individuals and the profession both benefit from publishing: Individuals develop as above; ELT develops from the sharing of good practice. ELT will continue to develop as we and others write for journals.

The processes

I’m (the editor, in the case of ELTJ = Graham Hall) on one end of the email, the author is on the other. We will look at both perspectives.

So, you’ve spent some time preparing your article and finally after a week, two, a month of hesitation, you’ve sent it in.

What happens then?

Most journals now accept articles through online systems, an online platform. To simplify information and also provides a really clear record of all submissions and nothing gets lost. It’s very transparent. You get an acknowledgement that it’s in the system.

As editor, GH reads every article that comes in. Then a process where GH decides whether they are likely to be of interest and whether they fit in with the journal – or not.

If an article doesn’t fit at all, immediate rejection: “Really sorry this doesn’t work for our journal for xyz reasons.”

 Possible reasons:

  • Length. ELTJ = 4500 word limit. But a number of articles come through that are too long.
  • Subject matter: “English language teaching” journal – so something about English literature that doesn’t fit aims will be rejected.

For those that do fit the aims, we then engage in the process of peer review:

  • They get sent out to peers/colleagues, who have about one month to read an article, to consider the article in light of the aims of the journal and whether it would be interesting to readers.
  • The reviewers send the editor thoughts/comments. (Each article goes to two different reviewers.) This takes about a month, when they come back to the editor, who reads the accounts and makes a decision, and passes the decision onto the author. 60 days should be max turn around time, though they try 40-45.

 What decisions might be faced for a peer review journal?

There are 4 decisions:

  • Reject: insurmountable problems to move it forward for publication e.g. topic doesn’t quite work or lack of rigour or systematicity in treatment of data/discussion/argument. Trying to change it would result in a different paper. Important to note, that an author is provided with clear feedback as to why – formative constructive advice for the author to take forward. Everyone who’s been published has had such rejections!
  • Request revision: a paper is seen by the reviewers to be potentially interesting, potential strengths but a few key issues that need to be addressed. But seems that they will be able to be addressed by the author. Email comes back with a series of suggestions. You are given 6 months to revise. After that, you resubmit. And the process begins again.
  • Conditional accept: Great but just a few small things to be tweaked. Email tells you what to change. And if that takes place. It goes forward. Uncommon for first submission, more common for second e.g. after the request revision!
  • Accept: rare to happen first time round – there is going to be something somewhere that needs changing!

Central to decision-making process = peer review.

Who are the peers?

Colleagues in the field, familiar with the journal in question, likely to have been published in the journal, likely to have a degree in the field of expertise in the area of the article.

In ELTJ, there is an editorial panel: 19 people, who work in a variety of institutions and freelance, from all continents. The panel reflects the composition of the profession and the readership/writers: they hail from a variety of fields and countries.

The article is anonymized before review. The author also doesn’t know who is reviewing his/her journal. This is known as double blind review. Reviewers don’t know who the other person is either. So this is for reasons of transparency, so that things are above board, no issues of bias.

 Does it work?

Due to the level and expertise of the reviewers, they look to see if it works – secondary research adequate, methodology rigorous? – but also will the readership “get” this paper? Will it be interesting to the readership? A subjective term, but has to be kept in reviewers’ minds. In the end, the decision about a paper falls to the editor, so if something goes wrong, it’s not the peer reviewer’s fault it’s the editor’s fault. Graham Hall thinks it’s an effective system.

What he (Graham Hall) is looking for:

  • Consistent and accessible – not too much jargon please!
  • Balances between theory and practice (for the ELTJ)
  • Need to include implications for the profession and clear implications for different contexts – so that your article talks to people who work elsewhere too.
  • Demonstration of awareness of recent work/other work in the field
  • 15 references as a maximum

NOT looking for:

  • Not just theory articles needs to be link between theory and practice
  • Not looking for tips – just teaching ideas is better suited to e.g. English Teaching Professional magazine
  • Lack of awareness of other work in the field: GH wants something new or that builds on an idea, or develops it in someway or does something well known in a different context.
  • Not to much concerned with specifics, need to be relevant to other contexts
  • No underdeveloped ideas, please.

 Tips:

Things to consider if you have an idea for any journal

  • Know the journal you want to send the paper to – they differ! Different aims/readerships. Needs to fit what they are about. ELTJ receives around 500 submissions a year so papers that don’t fit won’t get any time. Know the word limits too! You need to access and read the journal in some way. Be familiar with the style/length etc. Look for sample papers online which you can read online. E.g ELTJ has a sample free article form each issue available online.
  •  Study articles in the article closely
  • Read the author guidelines!! All journals have them – with the basics length, references no/how, abstract length etc Follow them! Editors don’t want articles that don’t follow them! Higher chance of success if you follow.
  • Start small. Don’t try to cover too much so that you lack depth. Action research projects and exploratory projects are fine if written up in a systematic/thought through way. Don’t try to get too much into too small a space.
  •  Don’t give up!!!!!!! Everybody who’s ever been published in a journal has had a rejection. The key thing is to look at the advice in the rejection and use it for future attempts. They key to getting published is to keep plugging away. It’s a tricky road, dealing with advice is constructive but takes time.