Summary for the 5/10/11@12.00 BST #eltchat on “Fostering Self-Efficacy in our Students”

Well, after a prolonged absence from both the Twitter/#eltchat and the blogging scenes, I am back! To mark my return, here is the summary of the #eltchat that took place at 12.00 on the 5th October 2011. “Fostering self-efficacy in our students”

(For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #eltchat is a Twitter-based discussion that takes place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the EFL industry, are nominated and voted upon by participants prior to discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.)

The first hurdle we cleared, during in this discussion on self-efficacy, was to define the term self-efficacy. What does it mean? Is it the same as confidence? Can we talk about efficacy without talking about efficiency? These were some of the questions that arose early in the chat. @Shaunwilden shared an explanatory link whose first line explains that, “self efficacy is commonly defined as the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve a goal or outcome”. As various tweets likened it to confidence, @harrisonmike suggested that it might be “more about belief in capabilities relating to your studies (in this case language) than general confidence” and @janetbianchini said that “the drive and force of wanting to succeed play a big factor”.

Having established a working definition for “self efficacy”, we moved on to the meat of the matter: what barriers there are to self-efficacy and how we can foster this important element in our students.

Firstly, then, a look at the problems that were raised:

– “you could be a very confident person but not have a high level of self-efficacy” (@harrisonmike)

– “students compare themselves to others too much, in a negative light” (@lizziepinard)

– “sometimes there are emotional and psychological barriers to overcome” (@yitzha_sarwono)

– “difficult when learners expect it all on a plate” (@harrisonmike)

– “blaming everything on external factors” (@AlexandraKouk)

– “higher students (esp IELTS) tend to get corrected more often…plays a part in confidence levels?” (@esolcourses)

Fortunately, as well as all of these problems, a good number of solutions and suggestions for promoting self-efficacy were also volunteered! Discussion of solutions and suggestions ranged from the more general to focussing on specific areas such as error correction, the role it plays in self-efficacy and how it should be handled to foster this rather than negativity.

More generally:

– encourage students to “stop blaming everything on external factors and take responsibility for own learning” (@AlexandraKouk)

– “teachers need high efficacy too, we mustn’t overlook this” (@janetbianchini)

– “empowering students is very important as teaching is only a part of the learning process” (@juanalejandro26)

– “autonomy is key, ss need to feel they have the power to improve!” (@lizziepinard)

– “A good teacher can see capabilities in sts they don’t see in themselves and guide them towards success.” (@fbelinch)

Make “sts aware of how they learn best and making them aware that different sts learn differently can help them believe” (@OUPELTglobal)

“Keep on saying ‘I can’t learn it for you’ etc. I think some sts have the opposite views stuck in their heads” (@harrisonmike)

“We also need to bring up cultural context. Self efficacy is fostered differently all over the world” (@bethcagnol)

“Basing content on learner lives √† la dogme/ teaching unplugged IMO could help raise self efficacy” (@harrisonmike)

We, as teachers, should “increase our own awareness and not use a one size fits all approach” (@lizziepinard)

“Students definitely need intelligent & guided goals. Great help with self-efficacy, as long as they achieve them!” (@theteacherjames)

“Also direction, readiness to learn, great support and some of the ‘you can do it’ all helps” (@rliberni)

With regards error correction and feedback:

Avoid using “‘not good enough’/’this is wrong’ rather than framing positively ‘this is great lets expand on this bit'” (@TutorMe_Online)

“Positive feedback plays an important role – encouraging students to reach their potential is appreciated by students and it helps” (@janetbianchini)

Students “should be told if something is wrong, but in a diplomatic way of course – egos can get bruised pretty easily” (@janetbianchini)

Say “‘no’ in the right way!Encouragement to improve/new ideas not just a dead end of ‘it’s wrong'” (@TutorMe_Online)

“With feedback or correcting, the T needs to be seen as facilitating learning, helping the student achieve” (@OUPELTglobal)

“Sometimes you do have to be firm I’m being v blunt w/one std at the mo but I feel I have to be..” (@rliberni)

“The ‘when’ factor is crucial in correcting regarding self-efficacy. At the wrong time, it’s awful.” (@theteacherjames)

“It’s crucial to give sts a regular sense of achievement & progress. Show them that they are learning!” (@theteacherjames)

Do “model practices – e.g. exams in front of the class – to show sts what is expected and show them they can do it” (@harrisonmike)

“Use ‘guided discovery’ rather than explicit correction with lower levels” (@esolcourses)

“Sts tend to focus on what they can’t do or HAVEN’T learned. Focussing on what they HAVE achieved is important.” (@OUPELTGlobal)

All too soon, the end of our precious hour approached and the time came to summarise.

Are we any clearer on self-efficacy and how to promote it?

– “hopefully: it’s more than confidence,  takes time to develop & we need patience, enthusiasm, empathy & sensitive feedback” (@rliberni)

– we have to “build rapport and trust, negotiate clear goals, be aware of class culture and dynamics, give sensitive feedback” (@AlexandraKouk)

– we should “set high expectations for all students, & provide the structure, support and opportunities for them to be successful and show what they know.” (@wilsandrea)

– “Need to be aware that sts have a life outside of class, with all the complications that follow. Got to be realistic .” (@theteacherjames)

Finally, @janetbianchini summed up the way to promote self-efficacy thus: “encourage, empathise, make choices, and be aware of your class on many levels”

Thanks all for a stimulating hour’s discussion! See you next week… (schedule permitting!)

Summary of #ELTchat discussion: “The effect of culture on teaching and learning”

It is that time of the week again, the day after the #ELTchat discussion. Thanks to my runaway enthusiasm, it finds me with a lengthy transcript and the task of turning it into something coherent. It was, as usual, a mind-bender of a discussion, so this task is a far from unpleasant one for me!

The transcript divides itself quite neatly, amongst the chaos, into three distinctive areas of interest: defining culture, how culture affects teachers and how culture affects learning as well as learners. I have structured this summary along these lines. I have also included a few of my own thoughts, which are demarcated by the use of [square brackets] and hope no one will be offended by this authorial intervention!!

Without any further ado, then:

Defining Culture

To start us off, then, @Sjhannam noted, a lot of people use the term “culture” without definition. This issue was duly dealt with in a flurry of tweets (a chorus of tweets? a cacophany of tweets? what *is* the collective for a group of tweets?) as we all put forward potential meanings as well as raising issues, and set about defining this multi-faceted term.

One definition that was given many supportive retweets came from @rilberni who postulated that culture is the set of ‘norms’ that are adhered to by a particular society e.g. punctuality. @JoHart’s attempt to define culture also attracted its share of retweets and went thus: “Culture is the mores and conventions by which a societal group lives and interacts, usually to avoid conflict.

@Sjhannam suggested that as we define culture, we need to be clear if we are talking about culture in the wider sense or in terms of cultural difference (as it is often used) while @barbsaka quite rightly pointed out that “Big Culture with a “C” (art etc) doesn’t usually affect a class: it is culture with a little “c” that trips up classes.

@LizziePinard opined that language is part of culture, which gained a few retweets and was built upon by @pjgallantry who gave us the examples of naval terms in British English, as well as idioms, and reminded us that the English language is also informed by the number of different cultures it has interacted with, which is apparent in “borrowed words” amongst other things. Meanwhile, @FarnhamCastle flipped it around and said culture is part of language.

This perspective was balanced by @rilberni who agreed that language is part of culture but believes that English language is not, in some ways and @JoeMcVeigh who put forward his view that we cannot say culture IS language and vice-versa, only that they are important parts of each other and closely related. @Lizziepinard hazarded an expansion of @rilberni’s comment, as follows: “so English as part of English culture but also as part of the cultures that have absorbed it and made all different englishes out of it?”, while @sjhannam volunteered the view that “English can be seen as pan-cultural”, in that it is “used by many for their own purposes and they bring to it what they will in terms of their own cultural reference.” She likes Pennycook’s idea of “transcultural flow” in this context, which assumes people use English to create meaning of their own – as well as in their various mother tongues.

The Effect of Culture on Teaching

@JoeMcVeigh starts us off nicely in this section by asking, “how do you see intercultural differences helping/hindering your teaching?”. @Barbsaka put forward a couple of practical examples of this, such as knowing that her students do not show readiness to start class by making eye contact helps her teach and that awareness of cultural norms such as students not willing to sit on the floor or next to someone of the opposite gender is necessary for the class not to be derailed.

@theteacherjames championed a culture-neutral approach by saying that while bringing culture into the classroom is not inherently an imposition, if it is not led by students’ needs or curiosity, then it might have some unfortunate overtones. This seems to link with @timjulian60’s view that it is essential to understand students’ reasons for learning English, as ESP students may not want to learn about Guy Fawkes or Christmas in the UK while others might. When @OUPELT questioned whether one can learn English successfully and not care for the English-speaking countries, @theteacherjames responded to this by sharing his belief that, English no longer being the domain of the native-speaking countries, this should be entirely possible.

@barbsaka threw us all a curve ball when she suggested that we were talking about three different facets of culture in the classroom at this point: artefacts, norms and language-influence. @sjhannam posited that this confusion was the essence of the problem: we were using “cultural” in a multitude of ways simultaneously. [Author comment: this issue is not something that makes summarising any easier, let me tell you!] @Barbsaka explained that by cultural artefacts she means, for example, when we have a holiday party, bring in L2 artefacts, or ask students to teach us about their culture (in English). Norms, as we discussed earlier, lie at the root of “cultural differences” and come out in both teacher and student behaviour and may also impact what and how we teach. Language-influence would seem to refer to how culture affects English, how this affects our teaching of English and the impact of English on other cultures as well as the emergence of International English and related issues.

Heretofore, then, we have barely scratched the surface. Time to add some more detail to our sub-categories of Artefacts, Norms and Language-Influence.


Bringing culture into the classroom. @Yitzha_sarwono put forward that, “when learning some phrases, we are engaging in the culture itself, because they have history in them. This was expanded upon by @Lizziepinard who mentioned idioms, metaphors, proverbs and fairytales as examples of where we engage with culture as we engage with language. This angle of things was found worrying by @theteacherjames who said that as a Briton, he is always concerned about committing cultural imperialism by stealth. On a lighter note, @JoeMcVeigh suggested that literature and film can be valuable tools for exploring culture in the classroom, which was built upon by @Vimpela recommending using The Simpsons as a great way to explore US culture, with humour. Meanwhile, we must consider the other slant on this, which was nicely put by @marekandrews: “If the culture of the learners is accessed and activated in a lesson, it will usually be an advantage for the ‘success’ of the lesson.” As well as bringing our own culture into the classroom, we must not be afraid to activate the wealth of culture we find already there waiting for us! This all ties in with @Lizziepinard’s comment that culture is one of many vehicles that we can use to transport language to our students.


@Marekandrew postulates that what is key is how to help students negotiate cultural misunderstandings, as you can never eliminate them. This, then, is the territory of cultural differences and their role in the classroom. JoeMcVeigh reminds us of the importance of teaching students about non-verbal communication e.g. eye contact, standing distance, firmness of handshake, gestures, with @JoHart highlighting the overlap between language and culture here. @Mkfoab described how their students often sound ‘rude’ in English, illustrating this with the classic “I want” instead of “I’d like to” and nominated this as an appropriate time to teach students about the culture of the language.

As well as what we teach, equally important, as ever, is what we learn. @Yitzha_sarwono recommends that we use awareness of host country culture norms to our advantage, giving the example of politeness being part of Indonesian culture and therefore awareness helping to nurture better terms between students and teachers. @Rilberni raises the importance of remembering cultural issues when dealing with things like how students approach writing (with @JoeMcVeigh offering contrastive rhetoric research by Kaplan and Connor as an illustratrion of this) or their use of register and forms of address. @harrisonmike reminds us that we must be careful in dealing with plagiarism too, in some cultures it is not considered a bad thing, backed up by @timjulian60 who observed that Italians often have a very relaxed attitude to what a Briton would call “cheating”. From the heights of theory, we must also be aware of the simple things, such as the effect of culture students’ attitudes towards making and correcting mistakes or more simply still, how they indicate “yes” and “no” – as pointed out by @harrisonmike, for example, Sri Lankans nod for “no” and shake their heads for “yes”! These differences, as @Lizziepinard said, might be very important in business classes, if the students intend to embark on cross-cultural business negotiations.


@Barbsaka, once again, offers us a concrete example of this and the effect in the classroom: In Japan, a different way of viewing position and location makes it a challenge to teach prepositions. As sjhannam says, “a teacher’s ‘culture’ is central to the way they teach and understand their students” and @teacherjames believes that despite the global nature of English, it still strongly reflects US and UK values. At the same time, language relates to one’s every-day realities, pointed out @cherrymp, so students can come up asking for English equivalents of the things that they see around them, which in the EFL sector are often rooted in their own language and culture. Often, as @Barbsaka, responded, there is no equivalent in English.

Meanwhile, @rliberni mentions she and colleagues having been told that they should adapt their language to international standards, which she found insulting, and that she had read in a few articles that native speakers should be taught “International English” (as distinct from other varieties). Sjhannam questioned the possibility of one international variety or one variety of British English, as language is too dynamic for this and @JoHart was of the opinion that International English is “a bit sterile, lacking in idioms etc”.

[Thus, we seem to have tensions between what students carry with them into the classroom, through their own L1, what culture English as L2 does or does not, should or should not, carry with it into the classroom and what culture the teacher of English as L2 carries with them into the classroom. Or perhaps this can be seen in a positive light: All this interplay between language and language, culture and culture, must surely make for a “never a dull moment” scenario, provided it is accompanied by awareness and sensitivity.

Is your head spinning yet? If not, dear readers, do read on! Time, now, to return to the final main section of the body of this summary!]

The Effect of Culture on Learning and Learners

Moving on, then, to the perspective of the learner and their learning. @OUPELTGlobal enquired whether appreciating the culture is necessary to successfully learn the language, to which mkofab responded with their belief that it is necessary and can be a very powerful motivator while @barbsaka put forth that knowing the culture is more important than appreciating it. @Cherrymp thinks appreciating the culture helps because “in a way, language is very much part of the culture”.

[Perhaps one of the underlying difficulties of all of this is that multiple countries and cultures claim English as their L1 and it has grown up and absorbed a number of cultures, so the “culture of English” is perhaps a more slippery thing to get our fingers (and minds) around than, for example, the “culture of Japanese”. I wonder if the “culture of Spanish” or “the culture of Portuguese” might be similarly slippery, but that is for another discussion!]

As has already been noted above, learners bring their L1 culture into the classroom and this can be activated to enhance language learning. This is exemplified by @CoffeeAdictMe, who said, “we try to use as much Turkish as we can. For instance, if we teach directions, we use a map of the city we live in.” @OUPELTGlobal liked this approach of “using local culture in the lessons, such as place names, students’ names, local traditions and holidays.” @Cherrymp describes it as “bid goodbye to Tom and Mary – usher in local names”. Meanwhile, Marekandrews postulated that the major task for language learners, when it comes to culture, is to define for themselves a ‘third place’ between cultures and to feel comfortable operating there.

One aspect of the effect of culture on learners and learning, that sparked off great debate quite late on in the session, was introduced by an innocuous question offered to us by @pjgallantry: “What do you think about some students adopting English names?” The general response involved words and phrases such as “imposition”, “terrible!”, “offensive”, “losing their identity”, and “rude”. @theteacherjames found odd and inpalatable the idea that students should have to adopt a new persona to speak the language. Apparently, however, according to @breathyvowel, “adopting English names is big in Korea”, backed up @Shaunwilden who said “a lot of Asian students do this, but they choose odd names”. @JoHart pointed out that in some cultures, adopting English names has religious significance, especially for students of Catholic faith and @rilberni added to this by saying that in others, there are “official names, family names, friend names etc”.

The general consensus on the issue of English names seemed to be that under no circumstances should teachers inflict this on their students but if their students choose or have chosen to adopt English names, we must accept that. @Sjhannam identified the importance of trying to learn students’ names as they are, not a changed version. @Cherrymp wondered about mispronunciation causing embarrassment, which @OUPELTglobal downplayed, saying that learning to pronounce students’ names correctly is a first step to another’s culture. This was widely re-tweeted! As @CoffeeAddictMe put it, “our attempts may not be perfect but it is important to make the effort” otherwise we are saying, “their real names are not ‘good enough’.” @OUPELTglobal added further to this by suggesting that learning the students’ names is a great way to interact with them and reverse roles, so that they become the teacher, making a great cultural connection in the process. Being teachers, of course, we should “celebrate students’ identities, not to try to squash them”, as was pointed out by @pysproblem81.

In conclusion then… [“at long last!!” I hear you say!], what do we take away from Wednesday’s 12.00 British time (18.00 Indonesian time!) discussion on the effect of culture? I think if I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I would use @cherrymp’s: “Culture is a tool, not a trap”. When we relate culture to language learning, we should be aware, as sjhannam points out, that we all use the term “culture” differently so we need to ‘check’ how others are using it. Once beyond the issue of slippery definitions, it is easy to see that this multifaceted monster, or angel, depending on your point of view, is very much present in the arena of language learning. If we are aware of this and handle it sensitively, culture is an important part of learning – when it helps our students to communicate better. The key is, it would seem, as @ELTBakery said, “bringing culture [into the classroom] is not an imposition if you listen, accept and respect students’ opinions.” As long as we bear this in mind, then culture is there, in all its richness, to be embraced as appropriate, in a plethora of ways, by both teacher and learner.

That is all for today, folks! See you next week, same time and same place: #ELTchat!!!


Appendix 1: Links proffered in the course of this discussion:
New York Times on the advantages of bilingualism.
@Cybraryman’s “Culture Page” of links.
“How culture matters” from Barbara’s blog Teaching Village.
“When being a Native Speaker isn’t good enough” from English Attack blog.
TESOL 2010 presentation on 10 Techniques for Teaching Culture on slideshare by @JoeMcVeigh.
Hofstede’s dimensions of culture.
More detail on Hofstede.
Series of blog posts on culture by @Barrytomalin.
Online quiz on (some funny) idioms.
Fun Youtube clip on Ethiopian /US courting.
Summary for #eltchat on International Englishes.
Katan, David ‘Translating Cultures’.
Culture: the 5th language skill.
Cultural aspects in ELT.
Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication.

…Phew, more than I remembered appearing as the chat progressed!! A wealth of top quality stuff in terms of both information and humour… Enjoy!

Summary of #ELTchat discussion on “What makes a good Director of Studies (DoS)? What should DoS’s be doing (And indeed not doing) to promote a “good” ethos in a language centre?”

Welcome to my summary of the #ELTchat discussion that took place at 12.00 British time (18.00 Indonesian time!) on Wednesday 18th May 2011.

The topic for our discussion was, “What makes a good Director of Studies? What should DoS’s be doing (And indeed not doing) to promote a “good” ethos in a language centre?” As usual, opinions were aired and discussed at high speed (certainly too fast for my tweetdeck to handle without jamming once or twice!) and between us all, we came up with a blue print for that mythical beast, the “good” Director of Studies. Some tweeters even claimed actual sightings of this rare species, much to the wonder and envy of the majority! We also thoroughly investigated where it all goes wrong for DoS’s, leading to them becoming (or simply never getting beyond being!) your garden variety waste of space.

Before beginning this brain-gym process of synthesizing the transcript, I fed it all into Wordle ( to see which words came up most frequently. This failed somewhat as it mainly consisted of tweeters’ handles that had been re-tweeted and, of course, the biggest word was #eltchat!! However, once these were removed, the highest frequency words along with “DoS” (Director of Studies) were “teachers”, “school”, “think” and “teaching”, followed closely by “support”, “training” and “skills” amongst others.

Wordle: DoS

So, on to the blueprint of the ideal DoS:

One of the difficulties in pinpointing what qualities and skills a DoS needs lies in the differences seen in the role’s duty framework, across different schools and centres. How can we map the ideal DoS if such a wide range of job descriptions can exist under this heading? The #eltchat had a jolly good go at it, nevertheless.

Firstly, quote of the discussion goes to pjgallantry, who sums it up thus: “A good DOS has: The ears of a bat, eagle eyes, a heart of gold, nerves of steel,the hide of a rhinoceros and the drinking capacity of a concrete elephant.” If there were a programme into which you could feed descriptions and get an image in return (so, a wordle that created images instead of word clouds!), I would really love to see what it would make of this! A gold-centred, steel-reinforced, bat-eared elephant. That would cause a stir in any school, language centre or university!

We could not agree, perhaps as a result of the issue of wide-ranging differences present in the job across different institutions, whether it was essential for a DoS to have taught before or to continue teaching while being a DoS. @Shaunwilden suggested that “it depends on the actual role – are they academic manager or administration manager” and @Adhockley mentioned having worked with good DoS’s and directors who were not teachers. Meanwhile, @Rilberni argued that it is fine for directors not to be teachers but that DoS’s should be, as they have curriculum responsibilities. A lot of us agreed that past experience in the classroom is key for the necessary “insight into the core activity” (@Rilberni)

@Cerirhiannon postulated that a DoS should lead by example and this should include teaching, especially the less popular classes, but @Adhockley was not convinced that they need to teach in order to be a good model professional. Some tweeters suggested that the size of the school has a role to play in all this, as the role of DoS in a large school is more managerial than developmental, while in a small school, a DoS needs to be able to switch between a larger number of “hats”, as @Marisa_C put it. Either way, be it in a smaller school, or a larger one, DoS’s are faced with the unenviable task of managing TEFL’rs, which @pjgallantry likened to “herding drunken cats”!

There were some qualities that were unanimously agreed upon as essential, regardless of role specifics. We believe that a DoS should be a motivator, able to encourage all teachers. Simply put, a DoS must be someone that inspires. In addition to this, a DoS should want to keep up with the fast-changing world of ELT and support their teachers to do the same. We tweeters may be a little biased but we also believe DoS’s should know about Twitter and other free resources available to be used by teachers, that can aid their development. As JoshSRound puts it, it is his responsibility, to “understand what is ‘latest’ in ELT, then try to feed back in to teaching and learning; Twitter helps!” @Cherrymp reminded us that, “ELT is such a diverse and dynamic field, so a DoS should make use of all the available means to catch up with it” as well.

Teacher development should be a high priority. DoS’s should facilitate this development (run workshops, send teachers to conferences and have them feed back to the rest of the staff etc) and motivate the staff to make full use of any such opportunities that arise. @Stephchbeach71 describes this nicely: “A good DoS encourages teachers to develop, by creating an atmosphere of trust and inspiration, and does not go on a power trip!”

Another important element of the “good” DoS skill set is that of communication. This skill must also be well-honed, both spoken and written, and the importance of really listening must not be underestimated. As @Hartle put it, “a DOS must be thick-skinned but sensitive, good with email, and an excellent communicator.” A DoS should also look for solutions rather than problems, not take things personally and a ready smile is also thought to help!

So where does it all go wrong? This can be looked at from two broad angles, which our opinions spread between: Extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors.

Firstly, then, a look at some extrinsic factors: DoS are inevitably to be found in “the middle of the teacher/manager sandwich” (@mk_elt), dealing with conflicting pressures from above and below. In fact, conflict was a recurring theme when it came to extrinsic factors. As @Gkknight put forward, a DoS has to assure academic values while adhering to corporate strategy. Meanwhile @Barbsaka reminded us of the necessity for a DoS to “serve as a buffer or a bridge between management, teachers and parents” and JoshSRound pointed out the often clashing business and pedagogical interests that must be balanced. This is quite a “juggling act”, as @LizziePinard described it!

Moving on to intrinsic factors: It was widely agreed that a DoS who takes the role in a bid to escape being in the classroom was unlikely to make that step to becoming a “good” DoS. A motivation such as career progress might also be at odds with what was described by @yearinthelifeof as a “move diagonally” rather than an upwards move. Yet, being a DoS is one of the few routes of progression open to a TEFL’er. Things could also get tricky if the DoS just isn’t a “people person”, as @yitzha_sarwono pointed out, because this would make them rather difficult to work with! Similarly, the DoS’s described by @teacher_prix, who had “management skills but no teaching knowledge or awareness” might flounder in a smaller school where flexibility and ability to wear many hats are key to the role but thrive in a larger school where the emphasis of the role lies in business and management rather than including strong elements of pedagogy and teacher development. On the other hand, a DoS like @teflerinha, who “loved helping people develop but ultimately didn’t enjoy paperwork and middle management stuff”, might find it hard to be successful in a purely business and management-oriented DoS role at a larger school.

We thought it interesting that in contrast to our high expectations and hopes for a DoS, most people “fall” into the role or get “promoted above their competence” and training prior to taking on the role is thin on the ground. We also feel that the big increase in responsibilities, duties and pressures represented by the role is not reflected in the salary increase commanded by it. As is the usual story in the world of EFL, a lot is demanded but the financial reward is small: According to @Marisa_C, a lot of the lack of motivation in teachers is the direct result of low pay and lack of recognition. I imagine the same lack of motivation may make itself felt in DoS’s as well.

Now, we have gone through the qualities of a good DoS, explored the myriad of problems that can face a DoS, making it difficult for them to be a good DoS, and acknowledged the paucity of the financial gain associated with the role. The next question is, given the difficulties and poor financial reward, why would anybody be a DoS?! Well, @Marisa_C pointed out that “being DoS gives you the power to make changes that you can’t as a teacher.” This allows you to influence strategies regarding the development of the school and its teachers. @Sandymillin sees it as a natural development in the path that will hopefully lead her to having her own school. @timjulian60 loves the stimulation and variety that being a DoS offers. @Chucksandy claims to have “learned more from being a DOS than at any other point in life really: about teaching, change, people, curriculum” and according to @Vickysaumell, “working with the teachers and improving learning is a great experience”. So it’s not all doom and gloom!!

Finally, some recommendations for DoS’s, or those thinking of becoming DoS’s: Marisa_C encouraged involvement with the LTA (Local Teachers Association) and @Barbsaka spoke of a DoS who invited the local JALT (IATEFL/TESOL) to meet at their school, making it easy for teachers to attend. @Cherrymp thinks it is important to think beyond professional development issues and encourage teachers to bond by organising social events, which @Sandymillin exemplified by citing weekend trips away organised by her school, in which both native and non-native speakers take part. @JoshSRound spoke in favour of DELTM training, that is available for those interested in DoS-ing, but this is only applicable in the U.K. @Sandymillin also points out that usually a DoS undertakes this training after being in the role for about a year. Perhaps this anomaly might explain some of the difficulties faced by a DoS: they must learn by doing, so there are bound to be teething difficulties. The trick must be to minimise the time needed to pass through these, and develop the necessary skills to successfully carry out the DoS role, using whatever means are available to do this.

In conclusion, then, being a good DoS requires a varied skill set and is not easy, nor well paid. The demands of the role vary greatly across institutions. This is often related to size, with the business and management aspect heavily emphasised in larger institutions while pedagogy and teacher development are equally important elements in smaller centres. Despite this, the role of DoS can be very rewarding and allow one to change the face of ELT where one works. And of course, If herding drunken cats comes naturally to you, then being a good DoS might be just up your street!

Thank you all for a stimulating discussion!


@adhockley directed us to this blog post: about ELT management and motivation.

(Updated 27.04.14: Here is a link to some links about DoS-ing that I’ve curated in response to the large number of searches related to DoS-ing that bring people to my blog!)

Summary of #ELT Chat Discussion on “How to avoid death by course book: suggestions and advice for teachers stuck in a very regimented teaching situation.”

Course books. Manna from Heaven or spawn of the Devil? Well, during the #eltchat discussion at 12.00pm on Wednesday 11 June 2011, we managed to firmly establish, via a “fast and furious” (as described by @hartle) debate, that I could barely keep up with (!!), that the answer is, in fact, neither of the above.

Welcome to my summary of the #eltchat discussion topic that took second place in this week’s poll. [This is my first #eltchat summary and the topic was my first #eltchat topic nomination. {As you might have guessed, I’m new to this Twitter game!} Today, the 11th June 2011, is also the first time–on attempt number 3!–that I have managed to successfully participate fully in an #eltchat discussion. “Hat trick” and “Red Letter Day” spring to mind!!]

The topic of coursebooks–and how to avoid death by them–inspires strong feelings amongst ELT teachers and tonight was no exception to this. I will attempt to summarise, as best I can, the opinions and suggestions put forward. I will also avoid giving too much word count to that overly-voiciferous @LizziePinard, as we can all agree her situation with regards to course books is beyond repair and the only real solution for her is to continue to do her best for the remaining weeks before she moves on… (;-) ) I will, however, indulge myself by adding an extra section at the end of this post, in which I will reflect on the topic. I will also make it clear when this begins so that those who wish only to read the summary of the discussion may stop reading!

Ok, let’s start on a happy note! When are course books a good thing?

@rilberni suggested that course books can be useful for teachers with a heavy schedule who “don’t have time to create all from scratch from every class”, which was seconded by @shaunwilden who put forward his “36hrs a week” teaching days as an example while @barbsaka mentioned experienced teachers of her acquaintance who prefer course books so they don’t waste creative time on recreating basics. Course books can also be a Godsend for new teachers as they need to find their feet and learn so much, said @rilberni and @hartle added that the same is true of teachers books, which have taught her a lot over the years. Meanwhile, @bcnpaul1 sang the noble course book’s praises as a doorstop! Finally, a substantial number of tweets also came in support of @rilberni who reckoned “when you’re having a bad day, ‘let’s do the listening exercise on page 33’ is bliss”. (And let’s face it, who of us has not at one point or another in our teaching career been quite relieved to let the book take over the class for a spell! ;-))

So, if we can agree that course books are a reasonable invention, that can come in pretty useful, where does it all go wrong? The general consensus was that the problem does not lie with the course book itself. As seen above, it is a useful tool. It would seem that the problem often lies with the management. @SimonGreenall told us that many teachers in state schools are obliged to use course books because they ‘interpret’ the English curriculum. Whereas, in private language schools, of course, money becomes the reason behind the obligation. As @gknightbkk said, the book is expensive so there is always pressure on teachers to cover the whole thing at the expense of extending it.

@Chucksandy went as far as to say that the problem goes beyond use or non-use of course books, it’s “schools not knowing what they are doing, hiring teachers who don’t know what they are doing”, backed up by @harrisonmike who believes that management trust a course book more than their teachers because there is a lack of understanding of pedagogy. Meanwhile, in developing countries we also have parents who expect course books to be used, while dogme is considered to be very strange, as @yitzha_sarwono pointed out.

The final problematic element, when it comes to our friend the course book, is time. @Barbsaka rightly points out that often the course book is a good book but there is too little time to cover everything required (never mind delve into the wealth of learning that could be found beyond it!). @Marisa_C summed this up most succinctly by saying,”the excessive amount of material to ‘be got through’ chews into teachers’ creativity.”

Right, so thus far, we have determined that course books can be great but that limited teaching time and unimaginative management-enforced constraints can turn an otherwise sane, law-abiding teacher of English into a murderous mass of frustration! Now to the meat of the discussion: How can we prevent death-by-course book taking over in the classroom? How can we win the fight against becoming book-slaves? I was positively heartened by the buzz of ideas that was flowing in response to this question.

Here are #eltchat tweeters’ top tips for avoiding “Death by Coursebook”. I am including peoples’ twitter handles alongside their suggestions, so that you can contact them if you want to further discuss any of their ideas with them.

In no particular order, then…

1) Try to do at least one ‘books closed’ part of every lesson, e.g. have students brainstorm vocabulary and elicit example sentences before letting them look in the book. (@sandymillin)

2) Using a course book doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t!!) mean you have to do absolutely everything in it. Try to prioritise. Think about what your students really need from the pages in question. If they don’t need, for example, the vocabulary, then skip it. Try assigning chunks of it for homework and then pinning up the answer keys on the wall in class for the students to self-correct. Explain to students why covering everything is not necessary, and give them answers keys for self-study. (@Shaunwilden, @sandymillin, @barbsaka, @janetbianchini, @brad5patterson)

3) If you are selective, as described in number 2, this frees up some time, in which you can supplement with more relevant material. (@worldteacher)

4) Use the course book as a springboard to discussion and learner-centred work rather than be enslaved to it. (@hartle)

5) Try teaching the content with books closed. This way you can cover the same ground but in a more fun way. You can open the course books afterwards in order to review. (@barbsaka)

6) Use learning circles, where groups of students are working on different activities and then after 15 minutes they change activities. (NikkiFortova)

7) Use the course book like a good cook uses a recipe book. (@Chucksandy summed this up beautifully: “Good cooks know what can be left out of or put into a recipe, or added as a side dish. Good teachers using course books know the same thing.”) Or, as @OUPELTglobal put it, the course book should be used like a map with the route and pace being set by the students and the teacher.

8) Use the book as a framework but allow space for investigation and negotiation so that unnecessary stuff can disappear.(@emmy_c)

9) Don’t follow the book blindly, you know your students better than the book does! (@NikkiFortova)

10) Encourage new teachers to learn how to spring away from the book rather than using it slavishly. (@hartle)

11) Adapt course book topics to suit your students, so that you don’t end up with students like @Cintastella’s 76 year old dad, who is learning English with a course book that talks about teenage pop groups!

12) Give students a list of the topics, grammar and skills to be covered in the course book at the beginning of the course and have them identify the parts they find interesting and the parts they need. Keep returning to this to reaffirm. Also let students choose which grammar exercises to do during the course, first explaining what each one is for, so that you guide them to do what will be useful for them (@bcnpaul1, @cerirhiannon)

13) Look on publisher websites, there you can find lots of activities and games, for free! (@barbsaka)

14) Encourage students to keep a grammar diary, where they write sentences about themselves, using the target grammar from the course book. (@brad patterson)

15) Have the students open the book, look at it briefly, then close it again. Ask them what they saw, what they can remember, whether they can re-tell any of it. (@brad5patterson)

16) Stimulate student interest by encouraging discussion about the topic titles in the course book at the start of the course. Ask the students what projects might be good fun to do that could be related to course book themes. Ask the students to identify images or texts that appeal to them.(@harrisonmike, @kenwilsonlondon, @Chucksandy, @cerirhiannon)

17) If you are doing revision, let the students work at their own pace through the activities and come to you to check answers. Have extra tasks for the faster students. This is a way to avoid always teaching lock-step i.e. always at the same speed. (@sandymillin)

18) Localise the course book content: make links with the student’s world, their home town, their friends and family. Adapt the work, language analysis and further discussions to reflect this. Try using reader response codes instead of comprehension questions and taking the grammar points and/or vocabulary from the required pages to teach in a more personalised way. When working with vocabulary, have students extend the set according to their personal context and related needs. (@sandymillin)(@cerirhiannon, @hartle)

19) Set a homework task of planning how to teach the next part of the book. This way, the students have learnt it and thought about it, and you can do something else to use the language in class. Or give students a course book treasure hunt, so that they feel they have looked at the whole book even if they haven’t studied it in detail. (@bcnpaul1, @naomishema)

20) Variety is the spice of life: Try to keep the students moving, even if you have to use a course book. For example, use running dictations, different groupings for different activities, presentations etc Or, turn a reading activity into a listening activity, using dictogloss* (@worldteacher, @theteacherjames)

I think you will agree with me when I say this is a useful battery of tips to draw on for the teacher who starts to feel stifled by their centre’s requirements. Of course, when it comes down to it, teachers can only respond to the demands of the context they are in. As @ShaunWilden put it, “creativity is fostered by the micro-climate of an institution – not always self-generated.” So, perhaps, we also need to think about ways to address these contexts. For example, @Marisa_C indicates that very often it’s the parents who need educating about the role of course books in language learning. This requires knowledgeable and strong leadership from the language centre. @Hartle, meanwhile, would like to see DoS’s investing more in training teachers on how to use course books effectively.

There are, however, some things teachers *can* do, as well as drawing on ideas such as those listed in the twenty tips above. @Shaunwilden suggests that teachers should learn to recognize activity aims. Sometimes exercises 1, 2 and 3 are merely repeating the same thing in a different guise. @Rilberni recommends that new teachers learn the ropes and develop the confidence to throw out the teacher’s book. While @janetbianchini made the very good point that, yes, it is time-consuming to make your own materials all the time but they are good for re-using later and sharing with other teachers. (Wouldn’t it be lovely if this were common practice? A bunch of teachers being creative and sharing the fruits of their creativity with each other as well as their students, minimising the need for dependence on course books…)

To conclude this summary, let’s take a brief look at the future of course books, as predicted by the tweeters of #eltchat. @hartle believes that the future of course books is to adapt to 21st century learning. That is, to provide information outside of class and promote language usage inside the classroom. A “choose your fate” style course book was touted as a possibility and apparently, according to @hartle, the new digital materials/blended courses are supposed to be set up to offer something along those lines! We will just have to wait and see what effect this will have on the classrooms of the future… Whatever the future of course books is, it would be as well to remember what @yearinthelifeof pointed out to us: “The course book is the scientific element of language teaching. It’s up to us to humanize it.”

Thank you all for a stimulating discussion!

Now, here are the multitude of interesting links that were thrown up in the course of the discussion:
A Global archive of topical e-lessons. Popular with @hartle’s students who access them independently too.
@kenwilsonlondon’s webinar for @MacmillanELT, on adapting the course book. This is recommended by @theteacherjames.
@Marisa_C’s slide presentation that offers a great selection of ideas for adapting your course book.
@OUPELTGlobal wants us to remember the all-important issue of motivating language learners.
@Cybraryman1 shares his Curriculum Writing page
@ddeubel’s slide presentation on adapting course book material.
@marisa_c illustrates death by course book–for a 6 year old!
@ddeubel shared this essay by Jack C Richards about the role of course books in language learning.

– For those unfamiliar with dictogloss, here is English Raven’s detailed and useful blog about it.


As promised at the beginning, here are my reflections on the issue:

As the proposer of this discussion topic, I can assure everybody that the aim was not to suggest a course book bad/dogme good polarity. (I’ll leave that for the dogme experts!!) I believe the reality is far from that simple.

My current-but-not-for-much-longer-thank-God situation is one in which the length of the course is at odds with the volume and density of the course book. We have a new programme, but unfortunately it does not address the issues that plagued the old one. We have gone from using one eight-unit course book per course (too much!) to using one eight-unit course book for two courses. However, the units have also been trebled in length (So, still WAY too much!) Meanwhile, not only do the poor old elementary students still have to cover eight units in one course but the units have also been pumped up with an increased volume of material…

This, coupled with student obligation to purchase the franchise-made course book (money spinner!) and the management’s emphasis on using the book (the whole book and nothing but the book, so help you God!) makes for a very constrained position for a teacher.

Things happen in the outside world (for example the Royal Wedding) that I can not bring into the classroom, however rich in language and learning potential they may be and however popular it would be with the students, due to time constraints and course demands. This is the case EVEN IF the material were fitted around the grammar points under discussion in the book.

Students are expected to learn the vocabulary for the book topic and the grammar, as related to that topic, with the aim of passing a gap-fill and interview test at the end of the course, in order to get their certificate. (See my blog entry on “Re-evaluating value” for my views on such test-driven teaching and learning!)

So, the course book has become my enemy. I thoroughly resent it! Even though, in different, more liberal circumstances, I would, in fact, happily use one. I’m not against course books per se, at all; I’m not that extreme. What I’m against is the complete lack of teacher autonomy. *I*, the teacher, have to defer to a flipping book ALL the time! (I mean seriously, who knows my students better, me or a wodge of paper?) Much as I love books, I don’t want to be enslaved to one.

In an ideal world, I’d like to have the autonomy to pick and choose, when it comes to course books. I’d like access to a variety of such resources, that I could dip into and mix with a generous helping of authentic materials, a pound of student-centredness, and liberally sprinkle the whole with my own creativity and awareness of what my students want and need. Of course, I would happily do all this within the general framework/syllabus laid out by a centre’s course structures.

I’d also like to have the autonomy to discard the books altogether for a session or two when something real-world happens (such as the Royal Wedding) that I could exploit in the classroom. I’d like time to do projects on areas of student interest, and mine them for all the valuable language and skills work they’d yield. I’d like the students’ focus to shift from getting a particular percentage, deemed to be successful, in a gap-fill test at the end of a course to the actual learning and usage of the language throughout the course. Let them aim to use it more effectively by the end than they could at the beginning, for whatever purpose they intended, rather than for x %.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I must continue to do battle with the ludicrous course content: course length ratio. However, thanks to my fellow tweeting teachers, I now have some extra ideas at my disposal that will hopefully give me the edge I need to win this ridiculous battle!

(And, as @barbsaka said: when I finally get free of the course book, watch out world!)