Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (1)

Today, Tuesday 2nd October, was the inaugural meeting of the newly formed “Giving formative feedback on student writing” scholarship circle which will take place weekly on Tuesdays here at the USIC arm of the ELTC. (For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here.)

With a healthy turn-out of  ten teachers, the main goal for this initial meeting was to pin down what we want to get out of the sessions and how we are going to achieve it. We started with these questions:

  • What are we all here for?
  • What do we want to learn?
  • What shall we do with this scholarship circle?

We established that we were all there because we want to be able to give students better feedback. By better, we mean the right kind of feedback: feedback that they will a) be able to understand and b) benefit from. We therefore want to avoid the situation in which we put a lot of effort into producing feedback on their work and they don’t use it.

Our particular focus for this is first drafts of coursework assignments. We have CW1 which is an essay outline and CW3 which is either an essay based on the essay outline (foundation students) or a synoptic assignment research proposal (pre-masters students).

These are some of the questions that we want to answer, or respond to, in the course of this scholarship circle (the list may grow or change over the course of the scholarship circle, this is just our starting point):

  • How much feedback can students cope with? What is the right amount to give them?
  • What language should be used? (H’obviously this doesn’t translate as should we give feedback in English or Mandarin…)
  • How can we help students to access/use feedback more effectively? This includes Quick Marks (i.e. error correction code, on Turnitin), in-text comments and general comments, as well as helping students use them in combination. We also have some evidence from research done on our students suggesting that students prefer specific in-text comments as they are more memorable long-term than Quick Marks, which is something to keep in mind.
  • How can we help teachers use Quick Marks more effectively and consistently?
  • How and when do we praise students’ work? How do we do this most effectively, without seeming insincere?

From these questions, we settled on a short list of things to do:

  • Read “Sugaring the Pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback” by Fiona Hyland and Ken Hyland in Journal of Second Language Writing, so that we can discuss it next week. Dana Ferris was also recommended as a good author for sources about feedback.
  • Discuss and standardise our use of Quick Marks in a future Scholarship Circle meeting.
  • Discuss designing/creating learner training materials/classes to help our students develop independent use of formative feedback to correct their errors.

It was a short but fruitful session, setting us up nicely for our future weekly meetings. Watch this space for future posts tracking our progress and my reflections on our journey! 🙂

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University of Sheffield Workshop: Promoting positive mental health and challenging homophobic behaviour – 23 July 2018

On the 23rd July 2018, I was happy to be able to attend an LGBT+ inclusion workshop hosted by the LGBT+ Staff Network and Open@TUOS Allies, deliberately scheduled to coincide with Sheffield’s Pride week. (It also coincided with the one Monday that I didn’t have to lead a module meeting at 1.15, which would have clashed with the workshop and a day in which my teaching hours didn’t clash either!)

It is part of ongoing LGBT+ inclusion work at the University of Sheffield. Other examples include the “Open@TUOS” campaign (which currently has over 2200 supporters across the university, most of whom wear rainbow lanyards as a visible sign of support) and LGBT History Month . According to Professor Gill Valentine, who is the Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor and who opened the event, the workshops were hugely oversubscribed.

The workshop was delivered by Josh Willersey from Stonewall.

The first session was focusing on mental health.

We started with a matching activity for terminology and definitions relating to LGBT. I was familiar with all the words except “gender variant”. Click on the link to have a go yourself!

Some of the things I learnt:

  • Until 1990, “homosexuality” was on the WHO’s mental illness list. (Very recent past!)
  • A “cisgender ally” is someone who is not trans but supports trans people. (“Cisgender” means your gender identity matches the gender you were assigned at birth – that I knew)
  • 1 in 200 people are born intersex (that’s more common than having red hair!) but often don’t know until if/when they try and conceive.
  • Gender dysphoria can affect intersex people who have invasive surgery at birth.
  • There is a lot of overlap between Bisexuality and Pansexuality (I knew that!). Some people who come out as Bi may actually identify as Pan but not want to spend their life explaining it to people.
  • 62% of graduates who were out at university go back into the closet when they start work as they don’t know if it is ok/safe/acceptable there or not. (You can out yourself by how you answer general questions e.g. answering honestly about what you did at the weekend. You make the decision whether to do that or not depending on how safe you judge that situation to be. This bit I know!)

After the terminology exercise and feedback, we moved on to mental health. Josh used himself as an example of a person who may be perceived to be “happy” (and even receive an award for it at work) but actually simultaneously be going through a hard time. This led us to the first question.

What are the barriers to talking about mental health?

We had to discuss this in our groups and then there was some “whole class feedback”. Here is a list of everything I managed to note down in the course of this:

  • still a stigma about admitting it
  • looked at different to physical health (e.g. at the uni, NHS delivers physical health services, but mental health services are the university’s responsibility)
  • people feel they should be stronger, that mental health issues are a sign of weakness and they don’t want to appear weak
  • labels have certain connotations – a person may be suffering from from a particular issue but not actually match up with peoples’ perceptions of what a sufferer of that issue is and does.
  • people feel like a failure if they have to “admit” to a mental health issue
  • the term “mental health” is too broad to be helpful. E.g. within the NHS they wouldn’t say “let’s improve our physical health service” it would be more specific like “we need to improve our asthma-related services”
  • gender issues e.g. “I am a man therefore I cannot talk about this” (i.e. norms and expectations)
  • cultural issues/pressures (again, norms and expectations-related)
  • lack of support available

Then we had a few statistics:

  • £70-100bn is the estimated cost to UK of mental health issues
  • 91 million working days are lost to mental health, it is the most common cause of absence (UK centre for Mental Health)
  • 53% of people would not feel comfortable disclosing mental health issues to an employer (MIND)

Focusing on LGB+ issues:

  • LGBT+ people are 50% more likely to experience long-term mental health issues
  • LGBT+ people are 2 times more likely to commit suicide than the wider population
  • Bisexual men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than the wider population
  • 45% of LGBT+ young people are bullied at school, including via social media and text: home is no longer an escape/safe space. They are often bullied for being different, which is closely to linked to gender norms/expectations.
  • Young LGBT people are 6 times more likely to commit suicide
  • Alcohol misuse is 50% higher

Focusing on Trans issues:

  • 88% of trans people have experienced depression vs 1 in 4 of the wider population
  • Trans people are faced with two challenges: dealing with their own experience and dealing with transphobia in society which may take the form of harassment in the streets, people denying their identity, rejection by friends/family/general society
  • Transphobic rhetoric/language use is on the rise at the moment because of the changes in policy being discussed currently that would make it easier for trans people to transition
  • 60% (or 66% I can’t read my writing!) of trans people have attempted suicide
  • 77% have used antidepressants

In terms of health care provision:

  • 6/10 health and social care workers don’t believe orientation is relevant (And if LGBT+ people seek care, they may have to explain themselves/educate the care worker
  • 51%of mental health workers/counsellors/psychologists don’t believe orientation is relevant to mental health
  • 1 in 10 care practitioners believe you can be cured of being LGBT+ (Though there is now a commitment from the government to ban conversion therapy as it is proven to be very damaging)

Intersectionality

  • People with BAME backgrounds are more likely to be detained compulsorily for mental health issues
  • The greater someone’s level of socio-economic deprivation, the higher the risk of suicide being attempted
  • 25% of older people have a mental health problem
  • 54% of people with learning difficulties have a mental health problem

Having considered these statistics, we moved on to the all-important question of…

How the workplace can help/support people

Again small group discussion was followed by “whole class” feedback

  • take time to ask how people are and listen to the response
  • be alert to recognising differences in peoples’ behaviour that may signify that something is not right
  • be aware that people may be putting up a front (and a knee-jerk “yes” to “are you ok?” may not reflect the true picture)
  • be careful how you talk about people with mental health issues – others will pick up on it and respond accordingly (i.e. if you are disparaging or negative, they will endeavour to hide problems)
  • #Timetoalk prompts: shouldn’t need a prompt, caring, supportive discussion should happen all the time
  • if it reaches a “crunch point”, too many opportunities to intervene have been missed – it shouldn’t get that far
  • One of our group who works in the uni health service said they have a buddy system and timetabled coffee breaks for GPs, to combat isolation/stress
  • If someone is off sick, keep in touch with them (in a supportive way rather than a harassing way!)
  • Training about mental health should be offered (awareness-raising etc)

Here is the slide of suggestions that Josh shared afterwards:

We were finally given some suggestions for promoting better mental health in the workplace and some resources relating to LGBT+ and to mental health:

The second session focused on bullying and harassment in the workplace specifically in relation to LGBT+ people. 

We started with some statistics relating to bullying/harassment of LGBT+ people in general:

Bullet point three is partly due to increased likelihood of reporting compared to before but also links to rise in populism and validation of far right attitudes that has been seen in the last 5 years.

Then we looked at statistics specific to the workplace:

We talked about  behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour:

Homophobia

  • Still rife in modern society, common to hear language such as “poof”, “gay boy” or “faggot”
  • There is still “moral panic” i.e. a fear of LGBT+ being more acceptable having a negative effect on children (why it should have a worse effect than heterosexuality being acceptable, I’m not sure…)
  • Calling something “gay” to mean sad/pathetic/rubbish still common e.g. “This lesson is so gay”. This use of language does impact people who hear it.

Biphobia

  • People consider bisexuals to be “confused”, “greedy”, “selfish”, “going through a phase”
  • People say bisexuals should choose one or the other – “choose a side”
  • People say that you can’t be bisexual unless you’ve slept with ‘both’ genders
  • People consider bisexuals to be more likely to cheat on their partners
  • People say things like “she used to be bisexual but then she married a man” (This does not make her magically straight…)
  • People make assumptions based on who the bisexual person is in a relationship with at that time
  • Bisexual people face discrimination within the LGBT community as well as from heteronormative society

Transphobia

There are more people identifying as non-binary (or various other gender labels, other than male/female) these days. This is partly because there is now the language to express it, there is information available online and times are changing: fluidity is more acceptable among young people. (This acceptance of fluidity and increased likeliness to have a fluid identity applies also to sexual orientation, with 50% of young people identifying as something other than 100% straight in a recent survey)

  • Tends most heavily to be aimed at male to female transsexual as that is the most commonly known about narrative
  • language such as “tranny”, “shemale”
  • People might say something like “you really can’t tell, can you” – which can be hurtful because the transition wasn’t about pleasing people aesthetically, it’s about identity
  • People might say something like “oh she was such a pretty woman before”
  • People might assume that it’s “just a phase”
  • People might police the toilets – “Excuse me, I think you are in the wrong toilet”.

(This seems like a good place to share a photo taken at the IATEFL conference in Brighton this year:)

Like our classrooms should be – nice one, Brighton Centre!

  • Continued use of the wrong pronouns despite knowing the person’s preferences
  • Continued use of an old/dead name -known as “dead naming”, shows non-acceptance of the true identity
  • Asking what someone’s “dead name” was – can be hurtful/upsetting as often it is loaded with trauma for the person
  • Asking a trans person when they will have surgery – not all trans people do a medical transition

Then we considered what barriers there may be to reporting bullying/harassment in the workplace…

  • Fear of the effect on one’s career: not wanting to rock the boat.
  • Knowing that it could be explained away as “banter” (which can cover a multitude of sins)
  • Not wanting to be out to your manager
  • Not wanting colleagues to look at you differently

as well as the impact it can have on the person and the organisation. For a person, they may develop low self-confidence, become demotivated and/or suffer from anxiety/depression. For the organisation, overall it can lead to low staff morale, increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, recruitment and retention problems and possibly costly legal action/

So what can organisations do? 

  • Cultural change (takes time)
  • Policy: it should mention LGBT phobia as unacceptable specifically – it’s a lot harder to report something if it isn’t clearly articulated in company policy
  • Organise training around awareness-raising
  • Make use of inclusive messaging e.g. messages sent to all staff that send a positive, inclusive message around LGBT+ (such as the LGBT+ history month here)
  • Make sure reporting routes are clear to all employees
  • Have an LGBT employee network group

Responsibility

Who is responsible?

  • The source: the one whose behaviour is offensive
  • The target: should tell someone if their behaviour is upsetting. Discriminatory behaviour must be challenged (also among students!)
  • Any observers: there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, you should call out offensive behaviour
  • Person in authority: Managers should address inappropriate behaviour. It is the employer’s responsibility to maintain a respectful, inclusive environment.

How to call out inappropriate language/behaviour

UHT – I UNDERSTAND you don’t mean to be offensive when you say x, HOWEVER, it is offensive (and against company values?) to say x. THEREFORE, please don’t use language like that again.

Stop, Identify, broaden: Stop the harassment (if you feel threatened, you could just speak to the target so that they aren’t stuck in a 1-1 with the harasser); Identify the behaviour as discriminatory; Broaden the response by linking to company values etc.

I feel <x feeling> when you do <y action> and I’d like you to <a preference>

Having considered these approaches, we looked at three case studies:

Again, group discussion was followed by coming together.

Case Study 1

  • We thought the main difficulty in such a situation is having “a way in” to talk about it. We came up with “I’m sure you’re not trying to cause offence but…”
  • We also thought the response might depend on the environment e.g. if this was at the uni, we’d be acting in a professional capacity and know that it is against organisational values etc. Policies/training may not be in place elsewhere, so if you are elsewhere, you might flag it up to a manager
  • Flip side, if you only speak to a manager, nothing may happen, so it may be better to speak to the receptionists (especially as regardless of location, reception is public-facing so anybody could hear what they were saying)
  • Don’t just do nothing

Case Study 2

After making sure the person being harassed is ok, challenge that person by getting them to explain their statements, using “why” a lot. Challenge their thinking:

  • There are LGBT+ people of all faiths. There are inclusive people and readings in all faiths. The two are not mutually exclusive.
  • Orientation is not “a lifestyle”, it’s part of someone’s identity
  • Both people of faith and LGBT+ have experienced discrimination for that identity
  • Faith values: acceptance and love, not hatred.

Encourage the person who was being harassed to report it

Case Study 3

  • Ask James what he wants you to do/how he wants you to proceed (very important)
  • Offer support/options (e.g. confront the colleagues involved, make a formal complaint)
  • If you are a colleague, encourage reporting
  • If you are a manager, follow it up

Focus on the action

In all cases, it is important to focus on the action rather than the person. I.e. “x is a homophobic thing to say/do”, rather than “you are being homophobic”. If you use the latter, then they will immediately be focusing on defending themselves (“I’m not, I have a gay uncle, I have gay friends” etc!) and that is not dealing with the issue of the behaviour.

Don’t be complicit

It is uncomfortable to challenge but it is also important, as we don’t know who is listening or how it could be impacting them.

That brought us to the end of the workshop.

My thoughts

I feel very lucky in that my workplace (my staffroom, my colleagues etc) always feels like a very warm, safe environment. I love seeing the rainbow lanyards around! It’s a nice feeling. I love that this university is 24th in Stonewall UK charity’s list of the top 100 most inclusive employers.

I think the topic and content of this workshop also has relevance to the classroom and to us as teachers as well as as workers. Statistically, there will be LGBT+ students in our classrooms. We need to actively make our classrooms an inclusive, safe place for them. This means that if students say things that are LGBT+phobic, we, as teachers, shouldn’t be a quiet Switzerland on the issue. We should be calling it out. Obviously this gets a lot more complicated if you are working in a context which is not tolerant of LGBT+ people and/or in an institution whose policy on this is undefined. I think ELT school managers should, where possible, have clear policy around LGBT+ bullying being unacceptable and teachers should be aware of this and know that they would be supported in calling students out on it. (A teacher can’t tackle such a problem without the support of the school – if the student complains, the school needs to be supporting the teacher.) This, of course, is affected by the students as customers perception that is common throughout ELT. Training around how to deal with LGBT+ issues in the classroom may also be useful. E.g. what would you do if in a unit talking about personal relationships, a female student refers to her partner as “she”? Is it a pronoun mistake or an assertion of identity? How do you establish which it is? How do you deal with other students’ response?

I also think that ELT materials need more LGBT+ normative content (gay people rarely exist in ELT course books – as Scott Thornbury famously said, they are firmly in the course book closet), but that’s another topic for another day…

What do you think?

Questions I want to leave you with

  • Is your workplace supportive of people with mental health issues?
  • Does your workplace have policy in place to combat workplace/classroom LGBT+ bullying/harassment/phobic behaviour?
  • Would you feel able to report this kind of behaviour (would you know who to report it to?)
  • Do you think that if you did report this kind of behaviour that something would be done?
  • Have you ever attended training relating to LGBT+ issues?
  • Have you had to deal with LGBT+ phobia in the classroom? What happened? How did you deal with it? (To give an example, I remember I taught a class that consisted of 3 Arabic men and I can’t remember why it came up but at some point they were ALL spouting some seriously vitriolic opinions about gay people. This was in the UK, in 2012. I had no idea what to do and I didn’t/don’t know what that school’s policy was on the issue. It was very awkward and uncomfortable! What would you have done? Fast forward to 2017, working at the ELTC, and in my elementary group, one of my students said he hadn’t seen any gay people in Sheffield/at the university. I challenged that by asking how he knows and gently pointing out that gay people don’t go around with labels on their foreheads to tell us they are gay. Gay people are just normal people. I also included gay family images in my Smartboard materials for the unit on families to supplement what was in the course book and statistics around mental health in wider vs LGBT populations in the UK in the spread on mental health issues. That was a much more benign situation BUT it needed to be dealt with and there was scope for awareness-raising. It DOES happen, the frequency is irrelevant – that it happens at all means we need to be equipped to deal with it effectively when it does. I think it would be useful for there to be more help with how to do that.)

Sorry for an extraordinarily long post, but it’s an important topic and there was a lot of ground covered in the workshop!

Bite-size TD at the ELTC

Teacher development is a key part of working life at the ELTC and the team who are in charge of it this term recently rolled out a new initiative, “Bite-size TD”. The idea is to build up a collection of recordings done by teachers of short talks on a range of topics, that other teachers can watch when they have 15-20 minutes spare and fancy a bit of CPD.

I volunteered to do a whistle-stop tour of www.wordandphrase.info/academic which is a corpus tool. Without the /academic part of the web address, a general corpus of texts is analysed, with the academic part included, it analyses a corpus of academic texts from a range of disciplines. Both sites work in exactly the same way, so what I talked about today could equally be applied to the general version. My powerpoint was adapted from one that I used with my ESUS (English Skills for University Study, which has since undergone a few changes and been renamed) students last term, with the aim of introducing the site to them through the medium of guided discovery.

My talk worked in two ways: a) For teachers unfamiliar with the site, I suggested they use the pause button a bit and try to do the activities on the site as they went along, to understand better how it works. b) For teachers who were already familiar, and for the teachers in a) once they were familiar, it modelled my approach to introducing students to the site and provided some example activities that they could use with students.

I suggested that as well as using this approach in class with the students as an introduction, it’s useful to reinforce it by:

  • modelling use of it yourself in class if students ask you something about a word/phrase. (Particularly if you can project it)
  • using it in tutorials based on students’ written work, to guide error correction
  • encouraging students to use it before submitting a piece of work, to check their use of key language

Here is the powerpoint I used (click to download):

I’ll add the recording later if the link is a public one, but you should be able to follow what to do via the powerpoint, it’s step-by-step and the answers are included.

Do you use wordandphrase.info(/academic) with your students? How? Would love to hear about your approach/ideas for using it via the comments box below. 🙂

Happy weekend, all!

Mental Health in ELT

“Mental Health” (Pixabay)

Yesterday I read a Guardian article stating that the number of referrals to mental health crisis teams in the NHS has gone up by 60%  in the UK. It didn’t seem to specify the time period in which this increase has taken place, but nevertheless it’s clear that mental health problems are something that a lot of people face to varying degrees of severity. Another recent article argues that in adopting the new GCSE result grade scales, schools are putting elite performance ahead of pupils’ wellbeing while yet another discusses the increase in mental health issues in students at university, with the number of drop-outs being three times higher in 2014-2015 than it was in 2009-2010. The context of education can be, by its very nature, a very pressurised situation where the stakes are high and failure unthinkable, even for children as young as six years old. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that at least one tenth of the 4908 teachers questioned rely on anti-depressants to combat work-related stress. An interesting initiative responds to the issue of pupil mental health at schools by proposing to give teachers the training they need to be specialists in mental health. I would argue that everybody involved in the education system – students, staff, managerial staff – would benefit from greater awareness of (potential) mental health issues, how to recognise them and how to address them.

Within education, mental health can be considered from three main angles: pupils/students mental health and mental health awareness, teachers’ mental health and mental health awareness (both of their own, colleagues’ and their students’) and managers’ mental health and mental health awareness (both of their own, their colleagues’, that of their staff team, and that of the students in their school). That’s a lot of mental health awareness needed, and alongside it, systems both for dealing with the problems that arise and, importantly, addressing the causes in order to bring down the number of these. I think this applies as fully to ELT as it does to ‘regular’ teaching, whether teachers are based in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors or whether they are based in private language schools. All contexts are high stakes in various ways, demanding in various ways and potentially conducive to mental health issues in the staff and students within them. Universities often have support services within which students and staff can seek help if they are struggling but this relies on people a) being aware that they are struggling more than is ‘normal’/need help b) knowing how to access that help and c) not being ashamed to access it.

Looking  back on my own experiences of poor mental health, the requirements stated above are not necessarily easy to meet. If you are struggling, you are generally too focused on trying to keep your head above water, in one or multiple contexts, to see the bigger picture. Things accumulate, build up, things that each individually by themselves may be minor but in combination become more difficult to overcome. For example, at one school I was working at, I was told that I had had some complaints from students in one of my classes. It eventually transpired that there was a mismatch between their current syllabus and their expectations based on the syllabus of the previous level they had studied. However, between the issue arising and being resolved, my confidence took a massive hit. This spilled over into my personal life, as I lost confidence in my linguistic abilities too, meaning that when my gas bottle ran out, and I had to phone the service for obtaining a replacement, instead of it being a little thing and easy to do, it was a difficult thing and I couldn’t face it. So I didn’t. Which meant that I then wasn’t eating particularly well as I couldn’t cook. I was also having issues with my social life that were making me very unhappy, details unnecessary. I reached a point where I would sit in my flat in the morning feeling physically sick at the thought of going into work (and this ‘work-dread’ anxiety took a while to ease/wear off even after I changed jobs due to my contract reaching its natural end.) While all of this was going on, there was a workshop that required me to use the language I had lost confidence in, and as a result of all the issues described (which I just had to resist the temptation to qualify with “silly”!) I didn’t participate properly. This led to me being hauled into the DoS’s office for an explanation. I was asked if everything was ok, but my automatic reaction was to say yes. (I don’t know about anyone else, but that tends to be my knee-jerk response, almost a defensive one, but also what was wrong was all ‘little things’ that I was ‘dealing with’, it didn’t occur to me to talk about them when asked what was wrong.) So then I was told off, which shocked me into ending up in floods of tears explaining what was wrong and did then get the help I needed to sort out the gas etc. I think this is one example where better mental health awareness, both on my part and on my manager’s part, could have made a big difference.

Mental health, like physical health, is always in flux, is affected by what we do, what we consume, what situations we find ourselves in and other such factors. Like physical health, we need to be aware of how to manage our own mental health to avoid becoming ill and of symptoms that our health is off. Like physical health, sometimes ill health is minor and can be adjusted/improved fairly easily and other times it is a longer and more difficult process to heal. Like physical health, sometimes we need help to treat the symptoms and identify the cause. For that to happen, we need to be able to recognise and acknowledge when things are not ok with us, and we need to be able to help others to recognise and acknowledge when things may not be ok with them. Mental Health First Aid  is one interesting approach to enabling this.

“Mental Health” (Pixabay)

I don’t have the answers to it all, but it’s certainly something that I feel is important and want to explore further. To finish off this post, I leave you with Sandy Millin’s very useful post that brings together a lot of links relating to mental health and recommend that you have a look through. I also invite you to share any thoughts you have on the subject as I would be very interested to hear them. 🙂

 

 

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (5 and 6)

Today was the sixth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the sixth: the fifth was last week but Friday seems to have rolled round again before I’ve got round to writing it up. Life and work happened! The sixth, and also the last for this term (sob!), so a special thank you to my colleague, Holly, whose brainchild it was and who has consistently brought along interesting ideas to get the discussion going. We’ve all got a lot out of it, in terms of ideas, motivation and generally a happy Friday feeling! 🙂 

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Session 5

Last week, the focus of the session was how to make students more aware of what words they can and can’t use with countable and uncountable nouns – to try and minimise, amongst other things, the number of instances where we see “These research show” and “Many research prove” etc. This sequence was adapted from Teach This 

We began with a variation of backs to the board/jeopardy:

To start with, there was nothing on the board except the score table. The teacher writes a word on the board, e.g. spare key. In order to get their team member whose back is to the board to guess the word, the students have to ask a grammatically correct question, e.g. “what do you give to your neighbours so that they can water your plants while you are on holiday?”. Rather than erasing the word to write another, the word is left on the board and another is added, either underneath it or in the column next to it. Obviously one of the columns is for countable nouns and one for uncountable nouns.

Once the game is finished, the teacher then elicits from the students what each column of words is (countable/uncountable) and what question you could ask about each (How many…? or How much…?) Students should then work in pairs and identify one similarity and one difference between them, using these questions. So, student A might ask “How many tattoos do you have?” and Student B might reply “2”. Student A would either say “me too!” or “I have ten” or “I have none” and that would be a similarity or difference, depending on the response.

Next, students brainstorm quantifiers that can be used with each column (or you can give them a list of quantifiers and get them to match which ones go with which column). Then the teacher hands out an empty grid of quantifiers per pair or group of students:

What now follows is a few rounds of Stop the Bus! In other words, the teacher gives the students a category (e.g. no. 1 above was “Things you might have in your bedroom”) and students have to write nouns that fit the category and go with each quantifier.  After each round, do some whole class feedback to make sure groups have correct words. (Be aware, a teacher, I mean a student, of course, from one group might argue rather tenaciously against a word given by another group 😉 )

Once you have done a few rounds of Stop the Bus, write up a few examples from groups’ tables.

E.g.

  • happiness
  • carrot
  • books

Elicit a correct example definition for each and use it to review what words are and aren’t used with uncountable, singular countable, plural countable.

In the case of our EAP classes, this whole sequence then leads onto editing their coursework writing: students choose four nouns that they have used repeatedly (e.g. research!!!!) and use the ‘search’ function in Word to find all the occurrences and check the grammar around them. They should check if the noun is countable or uncountable, and if the noun is countable they should think about whether they want it as singular or plural. The grammar around the word is then edited accordingly.

Session 6

Today, we started by looking at Getting to know you activities: the current term is drawing swiftly towards its conclusion and the new one will arrive sooner than anyone might think, so this was a bit of forward-thinking.

So, here are the ideas that were shared.

Find that person

  • Each student writes one thing about themselves on a small piece of paper and screws it up.
  • All the papers are thrown up in the air in the middle of the classroom.
  • Each student comes and takes a piece of paper (throwing it back and taking again if it is their own)
  • Students mingle and ask questions to find out a) who their piece of paper belongs to and b) more information about what is written.

Getting to know the teacher

Variation 1

  • Students work in pairs to write 5 questions they want to ask the teachers. Each question should be in a different grammatical tense.
  • Pairs swap questions with another pair and check the grammar.
  • Depending on numbers/time, group pairs and pieces of paper and allow a question or two from each pair or group, that you then have to answer.

Variation 2

  • Choose 6 pictures (the more obscure the better) that relate to different periods of your life and display them on the board.
  • Students discuss what they think the pictures are about and what they suggest about the teacher.
  • Students share their ideas with the teacher and bit by bit the real story comes out.

This could also alternatively be done with 6 names or years or places.

Variation 3

  • Teacher writes 3 truths and one lie (mixed up) about him/herself on the board.
  • Students have to ask questions to try and decide which is the lie.
  • Once the lie has been guessed, they can then do the activity in pairs and share their findings with the rest of the class.

Conversation starter

  • Students write their name in the middle of a piece of paper. Around it, they write the name of someone important to them, a year, a place, and something random (their choice) about themselves.
  • Students mingle and find out more about each of the things their classmates have written on their papers.

Shipwreck

This is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get students talking some more.

  • Give the students the scenario that there is a shipwreck, a lifeboat that only holds 5 people and a need to decide who is going to be allowed onto that lifeboat.
  • Give them a list of ten people (for example roles search “lifeboat ESL game”
  • They have to discuss and decide who to save
  • Extension: they have to take on that role and try to persuade the others on the ship to let them on the lifeboat (obviously creative license comes into play, they can go beyond the information on the role card!).

Survival

As above, this is for when you’ve done a bit of getting to know you but still have more time left and want to get them talking some more.

  • Linking back to the shipwreck, now that students have decided who will live and who will die, they have to decide what to take with them.
  • Give them a list of things they have on the boat, of which they can only take 5 or the boat will sink. You could include some of the things mentioned here and some random other things. (And I bet none of the students will decide to take the condom because it makes a good water bag!)

For more getting to know you activities, see my posts here and here

After the getting-to-know-you brainstorm (or what are we supposed to call it these days – thought shower or something?), we talked about self-observation. The idea suggested was that every couple of weeks you pick one of your weaknesses  (can be very simple little things e.g. instructions, board-work, getting down to student eye-level to speak to them etc.) and focus on it in all your lessons for that period of time. Whether or not you pair it with reflective writing etc was thought to be a matter of personal choice and not for everybody. Have you done something like this before?

And that was the end of our last scholarship circle for the term (because All The Marking lands next week and continues in week 9…) I will miss them!!  

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (3 and 4!)

Today was the fourth session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.)

–  Yes, the fourth: the third was last week but I was buried under rather a large pile of essays so I didn’t have time to write it up. So this week is a double bill! Hurrah!

To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

 

In session 3, last week, we shared the following ideas:

1. Catch-all nouns and cohesion in pairs

This is a useful review activity for students who don’t seem to be using catch-all nouns in their writing.

For those less familiar with EAP-dom, “catch-all nouns”, also sometimes called “general nouns”, are nouns that can be used to condense ideas already put forward, so that you can refer to them and give more information about them. They are general words that take on specificity through what comes before (or indeed after) them, for example problem, issue, process, approach, trend etc.

For this activity you:

  • give each student a worksheet with some examples of catch-all nouns in use, with the noun gapped out. Each student has a different set of examples.
  • get the students to take it in turns to read out a sentence to their partner, who needs to use the co-text to guess which general noun is missing. They must also decide if they need the singular “this” or the plural “these” in front of the noun.

E.g. First the cocoa beans are picked by hand and placed in the sun to dry. Then they are put in large sacks and loaded onto lorries (sounding familiar to anyone who teaches IELTS?!). ……………….. is repeated many times a day. Answer: This process.

Here is an example set of worksheets that my colleague whose idea it was gave to us:

The benefits of this activity are:

  • it makes the students think carefully about which catch-all nouns work best in which contexts.
  • it forces the students listen carefully to what their partner is saying, and in order to provide the answer they of course need to listen AND understand, so it also provides some detailed listening practice.
  • it also makes them think about whether the noun is singular or plural, and which determiner they need – this/these – to use with it. (Something our students tend to make mistakes with!)

Variation: Have students stand in a line; read out a gapped sentence; students step forward if they can think of a word + determiner that fit the gap. Actually I think it would work really nicely with mini-whiteboards too. Ahhh mini-whiteboards. Those were the days… 😉

2) Adapting a listening

This activity can be used with any listening extract where the speaker refers to data taken from a graph, where the graph has been provided in the materials for students to look at.

Instead of showing the graph to the students, get them to listen and make notes on it. Then put them in groups and get them to produce the graph based on what they have written down.

If any of you academic IELTS teachers out there are feeling keen, you could record yourselves talking about data from a graph (make it a funny graph so the activity is less dry!) and get the the students to produce the graph based on what you say. Then you could get the students to repeat the activity themselves – group them, get them, in their groups, to prepare a graph and discuss how they would present the information in it (using IELTS writing part 1 language) and then pair them up with someone from another group. Student A talks about their graph, student B listens and takes notes and then tries to draw the graph. (Or they could directly draw if you don’t want to bring note-taking skills into it!) They swap roles and repeat. Hopefully the language becomes more meaningful through being used communicatively. 

3) Speed-reading relay

The aim of this activity, as you would guess, is to work on students’ reading speed.

  • Put students in pairs or small groups.
  • Give each pair or group one copy of the text
  • Student A reads for 30 seconds, stops and makes a mark on the page where they got to and then verbally summarises what they just read for Student B.
  • Student B reads on from where Student A stopped. Another 30 seconds. Repeat as above.
  • This goes on until a pair or group gets to the end of their text. The first pair/group to do so is the winner!

You could use this activity as a way of practising different speed reading techniques: teach students a handful of different techniques (find examples here) and then use this as a fun way to practice them.

4) Variation on a debate theme

This is less of an activity and more of a variation on an activity: when you are doing a class debate, instead of dividing the class into 2 groups, half for and half against the motion, divide them into three groups and give each group a role:

  • For (pick a group of people who would naturally be in favour of the motion. E.g. if the motion were to ban video games, perhaps worried parents)
  • Against (pick a group of people who would naturally be against the motion. Following the above example, it could be video game designers)
  • Politicians (these have to prepare difficult questions to raise during the course of the debate, imagining that they have to think about what their constituents might say in response to the arguments raised)

In session 4, today, we shared the following ideas:

1. Task-based Evaluation (mine!)

  • Do a speaking ladder. Round 1:talk about the last restaurant you went to. (Rules: students  must elaborate not just say “yeah it was ok, I ate curry”!) Round 2: tell your new partner about the restaurant your old partner visited and how they felt about it. You can repeat this so that each student talks about their restaurant twice and a partner’s restaurant twice so that more language can be generated.
  • While they are doing this, collect examples of anything evaluative that they say.
  • Then students look for example evaluative language in a text and categorise it – modal verbs, adjectives, reporting verbs, adverbs.
  • Go back to the language students produced earlier and read out each example for them to put into their tables (unless you can cunningly feed it all into the computer while they are busy on one of the identification activities and then display it when they are ready! But this way they have to listen carefully so it’s still good!).
  • Repeat the speaking ladder activity with the aim of students upgrading their language from their initial effort. Give them some planning time first and if there is time, do a repetition.

My thinking behind this activity was that in day-to-day life we do evaluate, but when it comes to academic writing, students think that evaluation is this really difficult thing and it usually therefore gets omitted, so hopefully rooting it in the students’ own (meaningful) output, it will be more memorable and make more sense.

2. Bringing evaluation into synthesis

This activity is an extension of the fishbowl synthesis activity we talked about in session 2. Once students have fishbowled (yes it’s officially a verb now – at least in the USIC staffroom!) and written the summary paragraph, usually what you will find is that they have just about managed to synthesise stuff but there will be little if any evaluation. To get them to make that extra step which is needed in order for it to be a good paragraph rather than just a collection of information, elicit from them what’s missing from their paragraphs (which are now on a Google doc) – i.e. evaluation – and then brainstorm/board evaluative language that they could use. Then give them time to edit their paragraphs accordingly.

(This could be used in conjunction with my activity…gotta love the scholarship circle!)

3. Error correction scavenger hunt

  • Brainstorm, as a class, typical mistakes that students make in their writing. (If students say “grammar” or “vocabulary”, get them to be more specific!).
  • Prepare slips of paper/post-its with one error type and example per slip before the lesson and at this point hand out one to each student. Students mingle and explain their error type to the other students. (You could then put them in groups and get them to make a list of as many as they could remember and see which group remembers the most, for a bit of fun :-p )
  • Give out an error correction scavenger list like this one:

  • Put up sentences, or chunks of two or three sentences, taken from students’ work, around the classroom on the walls. Anonymise it and number each piece of paper (on which is/are the sentence(s) from one student).
  • Students walk round looking for the errors on the scavenger list, with speed obviously being of the essence. They find the mistake and write the number of the piece of paper they found it on next to the mistake  type on their scavenger list.
  • You go round and stick a post-it above each piece of paper with the error type(s) in the sentence(s) on it.
  • Students go round in their pairs and check they have the correct error type per sentence and then try to correct the sentence.
  • In groups, students compare their corrections.
  • Whole class feedback.

The idea of the lesson is to get students looking for typical error types. It also gets them up and moving, which is always a bonus in the EAP classroom! No reason why it couldn’t work with IELTS essays and the like as well! (This idea originally came from this pdf by Ken Lackman, about getting students involved in error correction, worth a look for more ideas.)

So, two great sessions, two motivation injections, and lots of ideas. 🙂 Let us know if you use any of them and how you got on!

Scholarship Circle “TEFLising EAP” (2)

Today was the second session of our new scholarship circle “TEFLising EAP”. (You can read more about what a scholarship circle is and what it does here.) To quote from my write-up of the first session,

The idea behind this one is that EAP lessons can get a little dry – learning how to do things academically is not necessarily the most exciting thing in the world even if it is essential for would-be university students – and for the students’ sake (as well as our own!) it would be great to bring in more, let’s say ‘TEFL Tweaks’ – things that we used to do when we taught at language schools abroad (warmers, personalisation, fun activities etc!) and have got out of the habit of doing in the EAP context but that could actually be adapted for use here without losing the all-important lesson content.

Last session, we had a series of little ideas, while this session we went into more depth on two activities:

1) Synthesis Fishbowl *

This activity takes the “fishbowl” approach to structuring a speaking activity and uses it as the basis for teaching students about synthesis. Synthesis is basically the process of using and combining multiple sources to support a point, showing where the sources agree and disagree. Linking language and particular reporting structures help the writer to do this. Here is an example of the kind language that is used in synthesising sources, taken from Manchester University’s  Academic Phrase Bank:

So now that we know what synthesis is, back to the fish bowl. In a fish bowl speaking activity, students sit in two circles, an inner circle and, around the outside of that circle (funnily enough), an outer circle. (As per the picture below, assuming that each X represents a student!)

Inner circle students face each other. They will be the speakers. Outer circle students watch the inner circle. They will be listener/note takers.

Each student/speaker in the inner circle receives a piece of paper like this:

 

On it they write their surname and a (fairly recent) year e.g. 2014.

Each student/listener-notetaker receives a piece of paper with a table like this on it:

The table would have enough squares for each student of the inner circle to be represented (which would usually be about 4 – you don’t want the inner circle to be too big! For larger classes break them down into sub-groups within each of which there will be an inner and outer circle).

The inner circle discusses whatever topic you set them, the outer circle makes notes on what they say. (You can make this harder if you have really good students: the outer circle could listen and take notes that evaluate the inner circle’s arguments  e.g. “Good example from X of……../Y needed more support for what he said about bla bla bla/ Z said he agreed but didn’t explain why” etc).

Once the discussion has finished/you have called it a halt, new groups are formed of a student from the inner circle and a couple of students from the outer circle. In these new groups they identify themes that were discussed and look for relationships between the pieces of information they have noted down. I.e. what do the speakers agree about? What do they disagree about? Does a speaker (or more than one of them!) build on anything another speaker has said?

After they have teased these relationships out of their notes, they write a paragraph summarising the discussion (you could use google docs for this). You could give them a framework to use for lower levels, you could feed in language you want them to use (particular verbs or structures), depending how much scaffolding they need. They will need to pick one of the themes discussed (which will provide them with their topic sentence) and then use synthesising language to summarise what was said about it.

This mirrors what they will have to do with academic sources in their writing. We (the teachers) have decided to film ourselves doing the activity in a future scholarship circle session, so that it can be used as the basis of a homework task to prepare students for doing the activity in class themselves.

*Obviously fishbowls are not only useable for teaching synthesis – they are a way of running a speaking activity so that students’ listening skills are worked as well. Of course students take it in turns to be listeners and speakers.

2) Nominalisation game

This is the game I put forward last week. This week I actually brought the grid to the session and everyone had a go at playing it. Click on the picture below to be taken to a pdf of that grid.

To quote from last week’s write up, it works like this:

Put students in groups of three and give each group a grid, counters and dice (they can use a phone app and the change in their pockets if needs be!). The aim of the game is to “collect” as many squares as possible by turning the verbs into nouns. To do this, students roll the dice and move their counter the corresponding number of moves. If their square has not been claimed, they can claim it by giving the correct noun form. If they are correct, they draw their symbol on that square. They can move in any direction that gets them to an empty square (backwards, forwards, diagonally, vertically etc) in any combination. They continue until all squares have been claimed or the teacher calls a halt. The winner has the greatest number of squares when the game stops. You can then get the students to group the nouns they have made according to the different suffixes used to create nouns and then try to think of any more verbs–>nouns they know that work in the same way.

That’s all for this week. Just like last week, the session gave me a real boost. There’s nothing like spending some quality time being creative with a great bunch of people! 🙂 Here are a few questions to leave you with:

Have you used a fish bowl activity before? How did you use it? Do you have any other ideas for teaching synthesis or activities for livening up lessons on nominalisation?