Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation (3)

Meeting three already? Yup! This term is flying… (For previous and future write-ups, see here!)

Today we started with a 20 minute meditation as the consensus was it was much-needed (we have a lot of marking going on at the moment so everyone is a bit frazzled). Again, everyone agreed that it felt shorter than 20 minutes but minds managed to fit a lot of wandering in (unsurprisingly!). My mind certainly did a lot of wandering and I did a lot of bringing it back to the breath/various body parts/sounds as the meditation specified, as well as acknowledging to myself that I *was* finding it difficult and that that’s ok. (As vs. getting cross/impatient/frustrated about it!)

We agreed we felt better afterwards but one of us also said she was starting to feel angry that modern life requires this kind of thing in order to feel better. Another said that rather than getting angry with modern life, better to flip it and focus on what there is to be grateful about – using the example of well actually modern life is better than life for Louis XIV, who had candlelight only, no showers, less choice in terms of food. And then we talked about gratitude in general, coming back to the concept behind No. 11 in 30 Ways to Mindfulness. There was talk of a longitudinal study that one of us had read, which showed that people who kept a gratitude journal were happier than the control group who hadn’t. However, we also agreed that even if you didn’t necessarily write it down all the time, training your brain to perceive in that way is helpful. I used my own second week as an example:

I forgot to record anything on Monday, did too many on Tuesday (much like Week 1, my recording is hit and miss!) etc.

We also discussed how using meditation with students was going. Largely good but as some groups have changed (got large numbers of different students) due to post-late-arrival setting, there have been some teething issues around that. The good news is, the teachers in question want to persevere! We then talked about to integrate Mindfulness into our teaching beyond just doing a meditation at the start of the lesson. I told them about what I had done in our first listening lesson this term, which was to draw attention to the fact that the mind DOES wander and it’s normal for it to do so – the key is to notice it and bring the attention back. Obviously very important when you have a long listening recording (lecture) to listen to and make notes on, especially when exam questions follow – which is what we are preparing them for, as well as for university study of course. I used this slide to illustrate it:

We then brainstormed other ways of integrating it. So, for example, after students have listened to a recording, getting them to reflect on how they listened – did their mind wander a lot? Were they were aware of it? Did they bring it back? Did they keep bringing it back each time it wandered or did they give up? That kind of thing. A similar reflection could be done after any given task, not only listening. (The mind will wander indiscriminately, not only during listening recordings :-p ) We acknowledged also that doing the meditation at the start of each lesson is also attentional training so it supports this kind of metacognitive approach, helps students to train their brains/get better at managing/directing attention.

We all came away feeling much better and happier at the end of the session – and it went really quickly! (Possibly because we spent the first 20 minutes meditating!) 🙂

Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation (session 2)

Today (Thursday 10th October 2019), our Using mindfulness meditation scholarship circle met for the second time. This time, there were 12 of us including me (last time – write-up here – it was 8 including me)! 3 new, 1 back from leave who had already been planning to come. There will be at least one more, who is on leave this week, joining us next week too. I hadn’t expected such a positive response to start with, never mind growth week on week! (Speaking of week on week, all write-ups will become available here!)

Today, we started with a 10 minute meditation (10 minutes and 10 seconds to be exact) and this time we all found it felt shorter. There were comments around mind wandering, so we talked about that being normal, it’s just what the mind does. So it’s not about “emptying the mind”, but about noticing that it has wandered and bringing the attention back.  That led nicely onto the “training the puppy” analogy that I learnt about on the Futurelearn Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance course (which I am currently doing for the second time!) – the mind is like a puppy that you are trying to train to sit and stay. It will wander off repeatedly. You need to bring it back repeatedly and GENTLY. If you shout at it/get cross/get impatient, it will just try to run further away.

Next, we talked about meditation practice and I gave out a printout of a pdf of tips for establishing and maintaining a mindfulness meditation practice. One of us said she doesn’t like routine, so doing it at the same time every day/week doesn’t work for her, another recognised that you can meditate for any amount of time – it doesn’t have to be a big chunk of time it could just be a few seconds, ten seconds, thirty seconds of bringing focus to the breath/the body/sounds. That moved us on to talking about informal mindfulness practice as well. We talked about mindful eating and the eating a raisin/piece of chocolate mindfully exercise, about savouring what is happening in the moment e.g. a shower, and being fully present. We talked about mindful walking (in my case often mindful running!) and forest-bathing (one of my favourite things to do, in conjunction with running!).

At this point I asked if anyone had looked at the 30 ways to mindfulness pdf that I had emailed out after the end of the last session. (Click on the image of it below to go to Life-Resource, where the download of this is available!)

Inevitably, a couple had but most hadn’t and those that had hadn’t got as far as trying anything. So I told them about the one I had tried, which was Day Eleven – Be Grateful. Since Friday last week I have been writing down 3 things each day that I am grateful for on that day. Not the big things like family, friends etc, but small and specific things. I used a sticky note on my laptop desktop to record them. Here is what I ended up with between then and today:

Obviously I haven’t yet written down anything for today but today’s session will feature! As you can see, my counting skills leave a little to be desired. On Tuesday I only managed one, on Wednesday 4, and three for the weekend as a whole rather than three each for Saturday and Sunday! However, despite my ineptitude in recording, I was thinking about it each day – noticing when good things happened and thinking I could record them, even if I didn’t necessarily get round to it! For me that is a win enough – it pushed my perception of each day to be more focused on the positive rather than the usual negative! And I really noticed it, in terms of that extra positivity going on! So I can definitely recommend no. 11.

Next we finally got onto the topic of what we want to get out of this scholarship circle! (Though, given the membership increased so much this week, it’s just as well we didn’t get round to it last week!) Here is what I managed to get down of what came out of that discussion:

  • to be less stressed (this connects with doing a meditation at the start of each session)
  • to learn how to do it with students/increase confidence around that (this connected with a discussion about concerns around student reactions and the importance of it being optional and so forth)
  • to have a week where people can practise what they would do with their students on us! (so, connecting to the bullet point above, to help people build confidence)
  • to have a session where people can make recordings of themselves doing it (one of us is going to bring in some equipment for that) as some members have decided that they would rather do it with the students than lead it, or are not comfortable leading it for various reasons.
  • to work on the English pair of shoes visualisation (this idea came out last week and is being carried forward)
  • to bring it into our professional lives more – start module meetings with a short meditation, start marking week sessions with a short meditation and so on (which I think is a brilliant idea!)
  • where needed, to change our mindset from “there’s no time for this in class” to “there’s not enough time *not* to do this in class” (i.e. the resultant improvements in focus are needed for effective study/use of class time.

Finally, I challenged everyone to try and do a meditation or two (of whatever length) between now and next session, AND, of course, to pick something to try from 30 ways to Mindfulness for the next week. (I’m going to continue with the Being Grateful one but pick something as well!)

Our time seemed to be up very quickly but what a lovely session it was, once again. As I said earlier, definitely on my gratitude list for today! 🙂

Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation

Today (3rd October 2019) was the inaugural meeting of the USIC@the ELTC Using Mindfulness Scholarship Circle.

We created this scholarship circle to:

  • to explore the use of mindfulness (both formal and informal) for ourselves as teachers.
  • to explore the use of mindfulness (both formal and informal) with our students

There were 8 attendees including me.

We started by doing a 5 minute guided meditation (called The Full Stop), played through my laptop. Interestingly, one of us thought it had lasted a lot longer than five minutes while others thought it had only been 2-3 minutes. Once the recording had finished, we discussed how it felt. The plan is to do a guided meditation at the start of each session (varying from 2-20 minutes in length). A couple of us mentioned a feeling of “twitchiness”, including around the eyes. (It was suggested that closing eyes generates a feeling of vulnerability and this was the first time we had meditated in a group like this before so that was perhaps to be expected.) I found it more difficult than usual because my brain kept wanting to wander off into thinking about what was going to happen next in the scholarship circle (I suggested its creation so I was nervous!! 🙂 )! We also talked about how it can be difficult to put in place and sustain a regular meditation practice (so I plan to bring a printout of a pdf of tips for just that which I got from the Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance Futurelearn course I did earlier this year to share with everyone!).

We then moved on to talk about our personal experiences of Mindfulness (I won’t go into mine again, I already talked about it here) and about how using it with students had been going so far. Our term only started at the beginning of last week so it’s early days but a number of us had been trying it with students following the TD session I did about it based on this post. So far, so positive, in terms of student response from both foundation and pre-masters students. Not everybody who attended today has tried it with students yet  but they have plans afoot now 🙂 . We also discussed the student experience here, the pressures they face, and how our mindfulness/meditation initiatives could be helpful for them in that context. One of the things we have decided to work on is a meditation/visualisation script to encourage students to get into an English frame of mind at the beginning of class. Watch this space! We also shared resources that we have used and Lilian Eden sleep meditations were mentioned by one of us as a Really Good Thing for sleep. I mentioned Padraig O’Morain,in particular his books e.g. Mindfulness for Worriers.

We were also supposed to discuss/pin down what we want to get out of this circle and how it’s going to work, but time slipped away so we have relegated that to next week. We did agree, though, that developing our own meditation practice by starting each week with a meditation is a definite must. You can’t pour from an empty cup and all that. I have also suggested, in my follow-up email after our meeting, individually trying out an idea (picked individually at random rather than as a group) from 30 ways to Mindfulness

(scroll right down….keep scrolling…or if it is your first time to visit the site it will probably appear as a pop-up when you land!) from Life-Resourceful, to try out and share experiences around in our next meeting next Thursday. We’ll see what the take-up is next week and beyond!

There are loads of possibilities with this circle, but I don’t want to dictate what we do. It’s important to me that what we do and where we go is a group decision and that the space remains a stress-free one rather than something that becomes an additional burden on teachers’ workload. I have no doubt that it will be enriching for us all and our students (both directly and indirectly!).

Looking forward

In my latest TD bulletin (the one which also inspired me to blog about my “first class of the year”‘s!), in the “Food for thought” section, I offered teachers a number of reflective questions to help them think backwards to last academic year AND forwards to the one that lies ahead:

  1. How did last academic year go for you?

  2. What went well? What two things are you most proud of? Why?

  3. What two things did you do with your students last year that you would do differently this year? Why?

  4. What new things did you try? Why? How did it go? Will you use them again this year?

  5. What new things are you planning to try this year? Why? What effect do you hope they will have?

  6. How do you hope to grow as a teacher this year?

 

So, I thought I had better answer them myself! (Edit: I started, and then term kicked off. Now in week 2 so still early enough days to merit getting round to finishing and publishing!)

1.How did last academic year go for you?

I have already answered number 1 here – a post about the various things I felt I’d achieved during last academic year, with a positive slant to counteract the normal negativity bias that the human mind proffers. It’s just as well I did, as though I have only been back 4 days, there was also an intervening 4 week break, so last academic year seems an awfully long time ago already! For the rest of this post, I am going to focus on the teaching portion of my job here (rather than the TD coordination or ADoSing!).

2. What two things am I most proud of?

  • The improvement in my students’ performance over the academic year, knowing that I did everything I could to help them along that path.
  • That I pushed myself to try new things in the classroom rather than just staying in my comfort zone.

3. What two things did I do with my students last year that I would do differently this year and why?

  • I finished my lessons generally with productive activities. The way I want to change things up this year is to allow more time for feedback/reflection/evaluation afterwards – both in terms of the given activity and the lesson as a whole.
  • I used listening logs with them. It worked well and their feedback at the end with regards to using them was positive. But this year, or at least for this term as in January I will be pinged into to January start student classes due to my January cohort ADoS role, I have much lower level students. So I still want to use them but I want to give students more guidance, make it more scaffolded.

4. What new things did you try last year? Why? How did it go? Will you use them again this year?

  • Doing a short mindfulness meditation with the students at the start of every lesson. I did this for two terms, and their feedback at the end was very positive around focus, concentration and relaxation (in opposition to stress). I did it because I’d learnt about Mindfulness myself and come across lots of research to suggest it is helpful for students as well. I will definitely be continuing!
  • Using Quizlet live with students in class to review vocabulary. It worked really well with my foundation students, as they were a) fairly young (I know not a necessity), b) generally a bit knackered (lots of studying in all their subjects) and c) responded positively to the bit of geeing up that Quizlet live provided. I used it to liven up vocab review, motivate students, wake them up a bit, change the pace of the lesson. I will keep using it but I want to also work more on getting students to use the sets independently as well.

5. What new things are you planning to try this year? Why? What effect do you hope they will have?

  • I want to encourage growth mindset use so I am planning to incorporate advice from Chia’s EtP article about it into my teaching and read around it from other sources with a similar goal too.
  • I want to incorporate a range of flipped learning opportunities more consistently as I believe it will really help my learners to access the course content more successfully.

6. How do you hope to grow as a teacher this year?

  • I want to make use of all the tools, techniques, materials and methodologies at my disposal to ensure that my lessons help students get as much as possible out of them. This is in terms of content, how I deliver that content, lesson structure, incorporation of mindfulness-linked strategies, metacognitive strategies, encouragement of growth mindsets and more. This term I have a lower level group and a mid-level group, so a different set of challenges to the high-level group I had for a few terms last year.
  • I am also going to be participating in a peer observation programme, so I hope to gain new ideas from those I observe and insights from those who observe me, to enhance my practice.

If you decide to answer these questions and write a blog post about it, please do share the link to it in the comments!

Using Mindfulness with Students QandA

Yesterday I did a short TD session with the teachers in my team about using mindfulness meditation with students. This is not a write-up of the session, as the ground it covered is already largely covered in the afore-linked-to blogpost but I thought I would make a note of the questions my colleagues asked and my answers, as it is possible that others reading my blog post about using meditation with students, or who are just thinking themselves about using meditation with students, might have similar questions floating around in their heads!

Did you do the meditation at the start of every class?

Yes, every single class for two terms! And also when small groups of students came to do their seminar discussion exam, I led the meditation before starting their exam so that they would be calmer.

Did you use the same meditation every time?

Yes, the same one every time! So the students were familiar with and knew what to do/how it works etc. I think it also means that students can focus on the meditating, not on processing what it is that they are being told to do.

Did you get bored of doing it?

No, I found it a lovely, peaceful way to start each lesson and bring the class together into a space of readiness for learning.

What about getting the students to lead it?

I didn’t try that but I don’t think I would because I want them to just be able to benefit from those couple of minutes, and not have to take the responsibility of leading it which might be quite stressful for some (which would be counterproductive!).

Did you notice a difference in their behaviour between the term when you didn’t do it and the terms when you did?

The key thing for me was that once we did the meditation each lesson, they were with me and focused on what was to come. (And if you look at the feedback from them in the blog post I linked to at the start of this one, you’ll see focus and concentration were the major themes!)

What about lower levels?

This wasn’t actually a question, but we also discussed about how it would work for lower levels and the consensus was that you could simplify it right down so that you say much less and have longer silences. So that there are fewer, simpler words but the meditation takes the same length of time. But also, provided you give them time to look at the print-out in the first lesson and they can check any unknown vocabulary, and provided you then use the same meditation consistently, linguistic issues can be dealt with early on.

Do you have any more questions about it? Feel free to comment with and I will happily add them and answers to this post!

First class of the year

You have a new group of students in front of you and all you know about them is their approximate level. What do you do? This isn’t a trick question, this is what all teachers face at the start of each academic year and whenever else in between times that they are given a new group to teach for an extended period of time.

Where I work, there are no regular lesson materials for the first two-hour lesson. “Teaching proper” begins in the second two-hour slot of the week. In the first lesson, we have the luxury of time to spend getting to know our students and introducing them to what the AES (Academic English Skills) course looks like. At this point, I have taught a fair number of “first class of the year”s (especially as in January, being a January cohort ADoS, I switch from teaching September starters to January starters so two terms in a row, I get “first class of the year”s).

In my role as teacher development coordinator, I send out regular “bulletins” with links to content to help teachers develop and change up what they do in the classroom. The first bulletin of the academic year (which I have already started working on – I started towards the end of last term and have done a bit this week too – though I don’t start back at work til Monday!) is focused on beginning of the academic year-related content and one section is dedicated to ideas for making the first class of the year a fruitful one. So it is that I have been reading a range of content around first lessons, in order to select suitable links for the bulletin, and, thus, inevitably, reflecting on my own first lessons past and to come.

My “first lesson of the year”s

To me, the most important thing that should happen in that first lesson of the year is that I learn all my students’ names and they learn one another’s names too, as I feel this is essential for a conducive environment for learning: students need to be comfortable working together, so they need to know who one other are.

The activity I always use at the start of a lesson with a new group of students who are going to be my students for a term or more is a variation on the “I went shopping” memory game. Very simple, very straightforward: Student A gives their name and something they like (E.g. My name is Lizzie and I like running), Student B introduces Student A and then themselves (E.g. Her name is Lizzie and she likes running, my name is Bobby and I like football) and so on until everybody has introduced themselves and all the students who have already had a turn introducing themselves. While this is unfolding, I am silently repeating all the names along with the students (and chipping in to help when anybody struggles) so that once everybody has introduced themselves and their classmates (and the one who went first has to then introduce everybody!), I have a go. Obviously, the larger the group the longer this activity takes but I firmly believe it is worth the time taken. Simple but reliable, and the students tend to have a bit of a laugh doing it, which also helps break the ice and relax them a bit.

Once names are in place, I want to know a bit more about them all. In this slot, I don’t always use the same activity. I’ll use any activity that will get them talking to each other, learning about each other and sharing what they learn with the rest of the class, as well as ensuring that I tell them a bit about me and let them ask any questions they might have, which I answer as long as they are within reason. For ideas of such activities, see my Back to school-related links post. I tend to be strict on timing with this one, ensuring it doesn’t run on for too long so that there is still time for everything else I want to do!

Now that I know the students a bit, and they know me, it is time to focus on the course content so that they have a picture of what to expect from their 5 hours a week of AES classes for the next three terms. Each student receives a workbook and in the workbook there is a lot of information about the course. So for this element, I tend to do a workbook quiz i.e. give students a list of questions, the answers to which are in the workbook and have them work together to find the answers. This way, as well as ensuring that they have the information they need, they have the opportunity to practise working in a group. As well as going through the answers to the questions once they have finished (eliciting answers but also giving them a bit of a chance to sit and listen while I elaborate), this then provides an opportunity to get them to reflect on the effectiveness of their group work and how to improve it for future lessons when it will often feature.

In the powerpoint for the first lessons, there are two sentence starters – something like “I am excited about studying here because…” and “I am nervous about studying here because…” Generally students discuss these in pairs or small groups. This stage helps them realise that they are not alone in their feelings and that their classmates are all human too. This time I am toying with the idea of getting them to write their completions on a whiteboard (one board or half of a board, depending on the room per sentence starter) and getting them to identify the themes. With the “nervous about” board, we could look at each theme and brainstorm suggestions to ease those nerves. This time, I would like to perhaps also use this as an opportunity to cultivate growth mindsets: reframe the “nervous about” elements in a positive growth-conducive way. Turn any “I can’t’s” into “I can’t YET” and so on. This article by Chia Suan Chong has other ideas for cultivating growth mindsets which I will be referring back to in my preparation for this lesson and beyond.

Finally, I like to use the first lesson of the term to introduce regular features of the course. So, provided the students are already streamed and good to go:

  • get them registered on the Google+ community for their class, ensuring there is some content already there for them to dabble with.
  • introduce them to Quizlet and Vocab.com, again getting them to join the classes I’ve set up
  • and this time round, introduce the idea of doing a meditation at the start of each class, and have a go at doing one so that students know what to expect at the start of the next class

I don’t want to overcook things, so something like the listening logs, which will become a regular feature, I will leave til the first listening lesson of the term.

I like to finish off the lesson with a bit of fun – “How many of your classmates names can you remember?” (also to review that information and hopefully lodge it more firmly in their minds and mine) – and a preview of what’s to come in the rest of the week (has typically been a listening-based lesson in the second two hour slot and some sentence structure in the final one hour slot, but there have been some syllabus changes so whatever it is that is there) and set any flipped learning content I want them to look at in advance of those lessons.

So, that’s my formula, refined over the terms/years. Each stage has a clear goal and the activities tend to work quite nicely to achieve those goals. I always really enjoy those first lessons, getting to know my new students and getting things set up for an effective term/year of learning for them.

What do your first lessons of the year tend to look like? What are any of your go-to activities?

Using mindfulness meditation with students

Last academic year, having discovered mindfulness myself and done a 4-week Futurelearn course (Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance – next starting on 7th October and highly recommended!), I decided to experiment with using a mindfulness meditation with my foundation class students in their second and third terms. I finished the course sometime around the end of their first term, so the beginning of term two seemed the logical time to jump in, if I was going to do it.

As it was the first time for me to try something like this with students, I was very nervous about it BUT my belief in the potential benefits for them gave me the courage to try. Just prior to the first lesson of term two, I adapted the shortest mindfulness meditation from the Futurelearn course (the “Comma” – so called as you can use it to draw breath briefly and reset throughout the day) so that linguistically it was more accessible to my students. I didn’t have to make many changes as I had a high level group, but with lower level students I would make further adaptations/simplifications. In the first lesson of term, I distributed print-outs of the meditation and asked students to look at it and discuss these questions in pairs:

  1. What is this? What is it for?

  2. Why do you think it is called “Comma”?

  3. Have you used anything like this before?

  4. What could be the benefits for using it on a regular basis?

The “Mindfulness meditation: Comma” was obviously a give-away with regards to the what, and being Chinese students the concept of meditation was familiar to them. Once they had discussed the questions in pairs, we discussed them as a whole class. The fourth question is particularly important, as by talking about the potential benefits, you create some buy-in for when you then go on to say that the plan is to use this meditation at the start of each class.

What are the benefits?

  • It allows students to “arrive” in the lesson
  • It helps them focus their minds into the present, letting go of distractions such as worries generated by the previous lesson, content of conversations with friends, worry about various assignments, arguments they might have recently with friends/family – basically anything that isn’t happening now.

However, I will let the students speak for themselves. At the end of the two terms, having been observed teaching by my line manager who was impressed by the students’ response to the meditation, I gave them a little questionnaire to complete. There were four questions – one about the meditation, one about the listening logs we used at the start of one lesson per week (after the meditation), and then one about what they thought was good about AES (Academic English Skills) classes and one about what they thought would make AES classes better.

100% of them responded positively to the question about meditation (“For terms 2 and 3 we started every AES lesson with a short (2 minute) meditation. I think this was good/not good to do because…”). Here are their sentence completions:

I think this was good to do because…

  • it helps us to relax ourselves, and get our minds back to AES class.

  • It helps to concentrate on lesson better, feels great.

  • It was able to clear the mind and get ready to start the lesson in refreshing feelings.

  • It helps me relax after climbing up 7 floors. It helps me to concentrate easily. It could take up some lesson time.

  • I can pay attention for my AES lesson.

  • It made us focus better in the class.

  • Concentration.

  • This was a very good thing to as it allowed us to focus more.

  • It can clear my mind and help me focus on the tasks and activities.

  • It could help me stop thinking other subject’s work and help me be more focus in class.

  • During this section, I can relax myself before the start of the lesson.

  • It helped me concentrate better in class. I was able to clear my mind of all the unwanted thoughts and focus better. Relax too.

One student was absent. Obviously the clear themes running through the responses are about focus/concentration and relaxation. You might be thinking “but I don’t want my students to relax in my class, I want them to work hard!”. I think though that the sense of “relax” here is in opposition to stress. The students where I work are under an immense amount of pressure, and research shows that when stress goes beyond a certain amount, performance and productivity drop. So, if my students are worrying about all the assignments and deadlines, and what they didn’t understand in the class they had before AES etc etc, they aren’t going to be receptive to what I teach them as they will be distracted by stressing and worrying. Additionally, experience shows that when they are relaxed and engaged (the two are not mutually exclusive), they perform well in class and evidence of their learning can be seen in their assignments. As for the one who said “it can take up some lesson time” – these students have hours and hours of classes a day and I saw them 4-6 (last slot) on a Monday (all three terms), 2-4 on a Wednesday (term 1+2) 3-5 on a Tuesday (term 3) and 1330-1430 on a Friday so particularly for those late afternoon slots, it’s tough on them, so it’s not surprising they welcomed the chance to breathe for a couple of minutes. The benefits yielded in terms of focus were, to my mind, well worth those minutes.

I’m really pleased with the results of my little experiment and this academic year plan to continue my use of the guided meditation at the start of each class. (Basically, I lead the meditation, which begins “Now, with your body balanced in the chair and your eyes gently closed”. The first time you do it, the students might be a bit giggly, looking at classmates with one eye etc but very soon it becomes routine and they do it very calmly.) I will also be leading a short session with my colleagues next week, to share this idea with them so that they can also have a go using it with their students if they want to. I’m planning to get them to do the meditation just as I would do it with my students so that they have a feel for what it is like. Here is a link to the unadapted version of the meditation that I used, by Dr Craig Hassad. It is the first recording in the list – One minute comma.

Do you do any kind of meditation with your students? How has it worked for you/them?

If you are interested in the science behind mindfulness and learning, I recommend this book:

Finally, for those who want to know a bit more about Mindfulness, here is a TED Talk about it by Dr Richard Chambers:

 

End of Academic year (nearly!) reflections

It’s that time of year again (already!). Actually, the term is not quite over – we still have three weeks of tutorials, mock presentations and final presentations/exam marking BUT “teaching proper” finished today (at time of starting to write! now also known as Friday 26th August!) – I had my final lesson with my lovely JFBE1a group (January Foundation Business and Economics – but I teach them AES – Academic English Skills – NOT Business and Economics, thankfully!). I’ve had them for 2.5 terms (not quite 3 as they didn’t become a group until after IELTS-based streaming in Week 4 of their first term here) and it’s been so lovely working with them. They are pre-Bachelor degree students so still youngsters really. We don’t necessarily keep our groups for all three terms – sometimes a group might have a different teacher each term, or one teacher for two terms and another for the third, or one for the first term and another for terms two and three – so I consider myself very lucky to have done so with this group! Our academic years, however, are four terms so I had two groups from the September cohort in the September term (first term of the year), who were also lovely (but seem a long time ago now!).

Aaaanyway, I know very well that I will be, shall we say, pressed for time the next few weeks (!) and then I’ll be on holiday (woohoo!) so thought I would get a head start on the old end of year reflection.

A lot seems to have happened this year!

  • My fixed term contract became open-ended (woohoo!), meaning for the first time in my life I now have job security, in as much as it is possible to in this day and age.
  • I did a full year of ADoSing this academic year (my two term ‘trial’ at the end of last academic year went well enough for me to continue in role – always good!) and have continued to thoroughly enjoy working on the ADoS team. I’m a lot more confident now than I was (it really helps having a manager who is very positive about my capabilities!) which also helps – if I recognise my strengths, I can build on them…
  • Recently I took the role of Joint Teacher Development Coordinator for our centre and so far have put out two bulletins, with another – final one for the term – due out next week – very excited about this role and what I can do to help teachers develop!
  • I completed my SFHEA application (yesterday! *also known as Thursday 25th August!) – it’s not ready to submit yet, I need to put it into the portfolio platform when they unveil the one they are changing to from Pebbledoodah, but I’ve done all the donkey work for it.
  • I received two recognition awards from the powers that be (as did the other ADoSes, of course) – one for “‘going the extra mile’ especially with the massive contribution to AES development (in February) and one, “an exceptional contribution award” (today – 26th July – may not still be today when I get round to publishing this :-p )
  • I discovered Mindfulness, and as well as transforming my own life with it, have started to experiment with it in the classroom with promising results thus far – something to build on! (But that’s another blog post, when time allows…)
  • I wrote a book chapter for Routledge Handbook of Materials Development (recently got the first draft feedback back, so it’s back on the “list of things to do” – eek!)
  • I’ve done multiple Futurelearn courses (Dyslexia and Foreign language learning, 2 x Mindfulness, Developing Professional Resilience – which is still in progress) – I love learning!

All in all, it’s been a very positive year despite the tragedy that marked the beginning of it (losing my beloved Alba horse to colic).

A couple of things I realised today (*at time of writing, possibly not at time of publishing!):

  • Some years ago now, I discovered that I didn’t get a CELTA pass A because one of my tutors thought I wasn’t resilient enough. Today I realised that I’m really glad they made that decision. Because, perhaps if success (Pass A) had come easy, I wouldn’t have been quite so determined in all my future endeavours in the profession.
  • I am as excited about the future now (and the possibilities that lie ahead with regards to teaching, ADoSing, TD coordinating) as I was at the end of my CELTA session on continuing professional development/making a career out of ELT.

Things I am looking forward to in the next academic year:

  • Using my role as TD coordinator to build up a culture that puts teacher wellbeing at the centre of teacher development (my current passion!) – already got some innovations in the pipeline (watch this space!)
  • Developing my ‘helping teachers’ skills in my ADoS role
  • Continuing to work with Mindfulness both in terms of myself and in terms of using it with students
  • Continuing to develop and grow as a teacher, try new things in my lessons and make them as beneficial as possible for my students
  • Finishing that darn book chapter! (Well, the next deadline is end of August so that might/should technically happen before the next academic year starts…)
  • Hopefully getting to IATEFL again (I’ve written a proposal but need to go through my institution’s selection process AND – if successful in that – IATEFL’s selection process.
  • Learning more!

(NB As you will have noticed, I have focused on the positive. This is because, thanks to the negativity bias, it would be all too easy to ignore the positive in favour of the negative. Being positive about what I have achieved does not mean the next step is to put my feet up and stop putting any effort in, it just means I will be starting the next chapter with a “can do, can learn” growth mindset rather than an “I’m rubbish, why bother?” fixed mindset. 🙂 )

If you have a September to August academic year, what have been your highlights? What are you looking forward to for next academic year?

Workshop: Supporting our Chinese Learners – Tim Cooper

Earlier this year, in February (I know…I only managed to attend half, then had to teach, then had to catch the rest via a recording when I finally made time to!), I attended a fascinating TD session called Supporting our Chinese Learners by Tim Cooper who works for the university and who delivered this session of his especially for the ELTC. Here are my notes from it(/the recording).

Some statistics:

  • 1 in 5 students at the University of Sheffield are Chinese (!)
  • That’s 2/3 of the international student population
  • 150 nationalities are represented at the university, with the biggest representation being Chinese, mostly from the Eastern Seaboard area of China
  • China is the second largest economy and ÂŁ100 million per year comes from Chinese students

Then we moved on to some history:

  • The cultural revolution impacted students’ parents and grandparents. People were stopped from being doctors (for example) and relocated to work on the land.
  • For a period of time there was of course also the one child policy

A result of these things is that Chinese students are under a lot of pressure to succeed from parents and family.

The social system in China and how it influences Chinese students’ behaviour in the UK both in and out of class

  • The three main doctrines are Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism
  • Due to the one child policy (in a generation since 1979, most families have been affected by the one child policy, with its consequences of gender imbalance and female infanticide – with the two child policy being introduced in 2016), being an only child, they are used to getting what they want and need. Away from that support system, often they want help, they need help, but they don’t ask for help. Silence does not always mean everything is well: among male Chinese students, the self-harm/suicide rate is increasing.
  • “guanxi” –> it’s not what you know but who you know: Chinese students rarely operate in isolation, especially females. They tend towards groups of three – one who is the best at English, one who is the most confident overall and one friend. Being collectivist, they find it difficult to do things as a single person. “Friendship groups” (like described above) work better for them than 1-1 buddy systems with home students or things of that nature.
  • “Saving face” – with friends, class, family, town, is very important. It is possible to lose face forever and no one wants that! This translates into fear of making mistakes/getting it wrong.
  • Young men tend to be clueless, young women tend to be more resourceful, as, if you are a – much-coveted – boy, everything is done for you while if you are a girl, not so!

 Chinese Education.

The system looks like this:

  • Kindergarten
  • Primary School (7am – 5pm)
  • Middle School (7am – 7pm, meal, homework)
  • High School (as above)

It is geared towards acquisition of knowledge and is heavily test-based, and obviously involves very long hours (poor teachers too!)

  • Entry into higher education is by way of the Gaokao (and a big exam is taken at the end of this high school). You need a high score to get into a good university. (It is a massive thing, parents come to see their kids off on big coaches to the test centre, there are armed police guards etc!)
  • Education is test-focused not critical thinking-focused.
  • Children are tested once a week from primary school upwards, so children always know their position in the class – top, bottom, etc.
  • The final two years of Gaokao preparation = fats, facts, facts + regurgitation of said facts.
  • In some cases, parents send their kids abroad to avoid Gaokao.
  • The Chinese system (all that testing!) may seem brutal to us but it is reassuring to them because they know where they stand.
  • Critical thinking and plagiarism don’t exist. Teachers speak truth, students write down and regurgitate truth.

Impacts on how they learn here:

  • They are unsettled by a (relative) lack of exams/testing here
  • Failure is confusing – a. “How am I failing when I have paid 20k to be here?” and b. “I didn’t know I was doing badly”
  • Regular little tests can be reassuring e.g. there was a big seminar group, issues with student participation; the teacher introduced a little 5 min multiple choice test done at the start of the lesson relating to previous content and the students were happier and more engaged afterwards, having spent a bit of time in their comfort zone
  • The issue isn’t that plagiarism is complex, it just has no meaning as a concept. “It’s not your own work” is meaningless to them. The reason so many Chinese students get done for cheating and there is a lot of collusion/unfair means is that they don’t understand it. One of Tim’s colleagues said “We are also good at cheating” – a consequence of Gaokao being such a big thing is that it’s a case of any means to an end.

With all of the above in mind, given that we have so many Chinese students here, we need to gain an understanding of where we are with them – their feelings and experiences. We have a big job to do, to meet them in the middle.

In 2012, Tim and colleagues did some focus groups and surveys with little samples, with the following findings:

  • Students tend to seek advice from a friend in the first instance rather than officially.
  • A high proportion of students ignore official university/departmental email. Email never got the same kind of traction in China as it did in the West. Email confuses them with regards to levels of formality required, they are not used to using it as a media. Most students (and staff over there!) use Wechat most of the time. So, at a networking event at Nanjing university, Tim noticed there was a lack of business cards being exchanged and instead it was QR codes, connecting via touching phones and usually/often there was a dancing panda involved! (Very different from “Dear Dr Soandso, it was great to meet you…”!)
  • Wechat is very informal but is used as a means of conveying everything. Emojis are used a LOT e.g. Tim sends a message saying “Shall we meet and discuss x” and the response might be a mouse blowing kisses. That doesn’t mean the person is blowing kisses, just the mouse, the person is just saying yes, great.

What does this mean for us?

  • Emails need to be brief and get to the point as quickly as possible, and ideally include a picture where possible.
  • Use transparent language e.g. “the document you need to open a bank account” not “bank letter”
  • Think about using a Wechat group to tell them when you have sent something important. NB Wechat is monitored in China. So in communication terms, great, but increasingly problematic.

Other findings from 2012:

  • Students can be reluctant to provide undeferential feedback – will always nod and say yes to “Do you understand xyz?” or “Is everything ok?” It means “I respect your authority and am listening (but not  necessarily understanding)”. So you need to find subtle ways of checking understanding. (At least this is something we as language teachers are good at generally!)
  • They are used to being monitored/recorded but this causes worries for example if someone suggests counselling to them – they will worry that it will end up on their academic record (MSc in Engineering, with mental health issues!) so you need to explain otherwise.

2015-2016 findings:

  • 60% of a statistically valid sample experienced difficulty with the expectation of expressing their opinions in class
  • 46% experienced some difficulty in complying with university plagiarism regulations
  • 46% experienced difficulty in working with other students in groups
  • Most students were expecting a more British experience or a warmer welcome from home students

=> It’s hard for them to adjust to independent study requirements at university as vs. reliance on teachers and textbooks (there, each subject has THE textbook). However, most students within the course of their studies will have a successful journey and they will get it, and appreciate it (e.g. critical reading etc) – they just need time to understand the system.

Things to consider:

  • Need to manage expectations with regards to support: the majority come here after 4 years of undergrad in China, aged about 22. During that 4 years, they will have had 24/7 access to a “fudaoyuan” (personal tutor/coach) – these are recent graduates on the bottom rung, who are given a work phone, and told be on on call at any time and to check up on charges regularly. E.g. a student forgets the due date of an assignment, they can call their fudaoyuan up at 1am to ask them; a student who is considering suicide might tell their fudaoyuan as the first port of call; a student who thinks they are pregnant and are worried the family will disown them etc will also call their fudaoyuan. So this is very different to “not after 5pm or at weekends”  We need to explain to students how it works, tell them not to panic if we defer availability, we WILL deal with something and deferring is not personal.
  • With regards to students “always going around in groups” and “always speaking Chinese” – they are far from home, they gravitate towards people in the same boat and agents often even put them on the same flight etc (and remember how you coped when you went to work abroad, at least initially!).
  • Need to make sure students get information about contraception etc. sensitively – local NHS here worked out that a spike in number of abortions was a spike in Chinese girls and approached the university about it. There is a lack of sex education over there and when they come over here they are no longer being watched and this is a consequence of that. There was a campaign about this but it got dropped unfortunately.
  • Whatever students’ IELTS score is when they arrive, it can drop/their language level can regress through lack of use.
  • If they are doing something wrong, we need to meet them half way and help them learn how to do things appropriately here.

Focusing on adaptation and integration:

  • social activities based on drinking generally have limited appeal
  • culture shock an issue – prolonged feeling of being an outsider/visitor
  • buddying schemes can be beneficial but “friendship groups” may work better
  • need to keep in mind Chinese vs. Western views of health and the body e.g. access to warm water is paramount for female students of reproductive age (to them, losing warm fluid = must replace it with warm fluid!) and there needs to be sensitivity around health issues
  • silence does not equal all is well (as mentioned earlier)
  • students are used to being given homework, can feel lost without it
  • they are under enormous pressure to succeed, consequences of failure are enormous
  • remember, in China, teachers do learning to you, here you have to do it yourself = a big adjustment to make

You can watch a video of the students themselves speaking here.

Finally, and very interestingly, we were given a photographic tour of a Chinese university campus:

Nanjing University, a top 3 or 4 university which has recently expanded with a brand new campus and is very modern:

  • The old entrance in town has philosophical writing of a big figure of that town. You go through that entrance into a campus, a bubble, a safe place. (So students are baffled by Sheffield, they think Glossop Road/West Street is “on campus”
  • Learning takes place in lecture theatres
  • Self study areas consist of rows of desks and chairs – no sofas etc
  • In luxury residences, there are 4 girls to a room. The room has bunks and desks. A thin curtain on the bunk is the only privacy. (Non-luxury = a dorm)
  • Cooking facilities are not important, you go to the canteen which is huge and has lots of choice. HOWEVER hot water dispensers are VERY important! (Lots of machines for that)
  • It is normal/acceptable to fall asleep in the library

Tim concluded by saying that three years ago, getting a degree in the UK was “the biz”, but this is starting to decline. In the world rankings we have slipped behind Australia to third place. So, we need to do more! 75% of students said they were “satisfied” but their expectations are low, so we do need to do more to improve their experience (- or help them improve their experience?) (and our ranking!).

 

 

 

 

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (3.1)

I would say it’s the start of a new term (College term 3) and a new wave of scholarship circle sessions, but, in reality, it’s actually week 5! We had our first session for the term last week and this is me playing catch-up. The beginning of a new term is a notoriously busy time and particularly for the January cohort is a scattergun of coursework draft submission/feedback (+ for me as ADoS, in addition to doing my own feedback, providing support to teachers doing theirs) and speaking exams (+for me as ADoS double marking a portion of those with each of my teachers), so I’m actually pretty glad the scholarship circle didn’t get going ’til last week!

Our agenda was as follows:

  1. Revisit the issue of our research on Quickmarks to see where we are at and figure out our timeline.
  2. Decide on a focus for this term’s scholarship circle sessions
  3. Set ourselves some reading homework

This terms research project update

The consent forms are ready to go and will be sent to:

  • the centre manager
  • the teachers of the students we have identified as the sample who will receive the questionnaire and from which participants for the text analysis will be selected (there are a small number of us and we will only be doing a small number i.e. 1-2 of text analyses each!)
  • the students themselves. (We only need to send a consent form to those selected for text analysis as the consent form for the questionnaire will be built into the questionnaire).

We reconfirmed that we will be focusing on International Foundation Year (IFY) students rather than PMP (Pre-masters students) as PMP students’ course work tends to change dramatically between first draft feedback and final submission due to content tutor feedback, which would affect text analysis possibilities. We are aware that a range of factors influence response to feedback, e.g. age, pathway, language level, past learning experiences, educational culture in country of origin, so have picked IFY students with a particular language level (as defined by IELTS scores) and over the age of 18. This minimises the influence of age and language level factors on response, and avoiding ethical/consent/safeguarding issues that arise when minors are involved.

The text analysis will be done in the early part of next term. There won’t be time this term as once final drafts are submitted, teachers will be busy with coursework marking and then exam marking extraordinaire (biggest cohort of students ever this term). It will have to be the early part i.e. before the end of week 4, as beyond then, teachers will be busy doing first draft feedback for next term’s students. For next term’s students, if we are repeating the research cycle, we can do the analysis in the autumn term.

Focus for this term’s sessions

This term, including the current session, there will be 6 sessions. (Week 10 will be an impossibility due to above-mentioned exam marking extraordinaire!) We have decided to focus on comments, as a logical next step to the focus on Quickmarks that our current research is based on.

At the moment, we do have a generic comments bank which teachers can copy comments from in order to paste them into a student’s assignment. The aim of this is to save time and help teachers by providing them with ideas of what they can put. In practice, fast typists ignore the bank as it is quicker to type what you want to say than it is to read through a bank of comments, decide which one is the best fit and then do the copy-pasting. The comment bank also gets ignored due to it being generic rather than specific to a given student’s piece of work. It was noted that either which way, it is useful for new teachers as an extra point of support.

Going forward, we discussed the possibility of going through the bank of comments as we did with the quickmarks and making them more user-friendly (for students and teachers alike!). One idea was to have a base comment, with space to make it specific by referring to a given student example. Another idea was to refine the categorisation of the comments so that is easier to find the ones you need. We also talked about refining the bank by selecting the best comments with the widest structure and editing or culling any that seemed less useful (much as some of the quickmarks were edited or culled in a similar fashion).

Another issue that came out is the importance of familiarity – be it with the quickmarks or with the comments, the only way for these resources to be used effectively and efficiently is if teachers are familiar with them so that time isn’t wasted through not being sure about which quickmark/comment to use, if there is an appropriate quickmark/comment available etc. Familiarity is also important for students, so that they are better able to recognise what their feedback means and what they need to do. To address this, we had the idea of a “quick mark auction”. This would involve a list of sentences, each with a different mistake underlined, a set of corresponding quickmarks and a set of quickmark meanings. By the end of the activity, students (and new teachers!) would have identified what each quick mark means and which one to use with each error example. We have set up a google doc so that we can create this resource collaboratively:

Obviously no one has added anything to it yet – work in progress! It will happen…

As we did with the Quickmarks, we aim to inform what we do with what we read in relevant literature and discuss in our weekly sessions. Which brings me on to…

Homework

Our reading homework for this week (which I haven’t done yet – yikes!) is:

  • Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice in Studies in Higher Education 31(2) pp.199-218
  • Burke, D. and Pieterick, J. (2010) Giving students effective written feedback McGraw-Hill Education

I better get to it!