IATEFL Webinar: What makes a good language teacher? (Carol Griffiths)

It is Saturday 2nd November 2019 and Carol will be talking to us about what makes a good language teacher. Slightly more than a decade ago she did a book about the good language learner and now is doing one from the teacher’s point of view. The ideas she presents today come from this book that will soon be available.

She starts by saying teaching is a very demanding profession. The hours spent in the classroom are only the tip of the iceberg. What are the characteristics of a good language teacher? Do we define in terms of qualifications, student success rates, popularity ratings, experience? All these have their limitations. The good teacher is a hopelessly elusive notion – and what is good anyway? However, she will attempt to throw some light on the factors that contribute.

Carol suggests that in order to be good a teacher needs to be autonomous, reflective, culturally aware, sensitive, knowledgeable of things like ELF, methodologies, feedback techniques, assessment procedures, and be able to manage all sorts of things from relationships, to grammar, to vocabulary, to skills. She wants to take a human perspective, recognising that teachers are not machines but real human beings with feelings, needs identities and lives of their own – which she believes is an underrated aspect of teaching and learning.

Identity

Learner identity has been around for a long time, recognised as a powerful force but what about teacher? (e.g. Barkhuizen 2017) but what about teachers? Only recently being recognised as much as it should be. What a teacher does in the classroom and the effect this has on the classroom is connected with it.

Cognition

Teacher cognition = knowledge, thoughts, understanding, attitudes and beliefs – influence what teachers actually do and the way they do it. Although their cognition is recognised, also by themselves, good teachers are able to adapt as the need arises, flexibility is important.

Intercultural awareness

An extremely important goal in education. One goal is to heighten learners’ sensitivity to different ways of seeing others. Can be profoundly motivating for learners. Arouses interest in them and therefore the teacher doesn’t have to struggle to raise it.

Reflection

We have to think about what we are doing, an important aspect of CPD and teacher reflection whether on or in or for action, it is important for the enhancement of situated cognition, teaching process and sound decision-making

Autonomy

An indispensable characteristic. Need to be able to create links between theory and practice. Need to overcome contextual constraints. Autonomous teachers are reflective and self-directed. Tends to promote learner autonomy as well.

ELF

This has aroused a great deal of controversy. Hotly debated. The relative importance of accuracy over intelligibility. This can be problematic. Which is more important. Given that students have to pass exams, and are expected to pass exams, this is an important factor which good teacher, all teachers, have to consider. You can’t just do as you like. In the face of these conflicting questions, we need ELF aware teachers who can exercise judgement within context. Needs to be developed at the teacher training stage. By the time the teacher is in the classroom, survival is the priority. If they are already ELF-aware, then hopefully this will come through in what they do in their classrooms.

In addition to these macro-perspectives, there are other things that teachers need to be aware of. In terms of method, good teachers are aware of different methods and ways of doing things and will choose what best suits their learners. Adapting what they do to meet the needs of their students. Technology is another important factor, it is everywhere these days and it is important to get up to speed with it in the classroom.

Classes are full of individuals and we have to manage to accommodate these individuals. One class is never the same as another. The individuals in a class dictate what is useful, good, interesting etc. Differences may include cognitive, affective, societal. Good teachers factor individual differences into their classroom practice.

Assessment – we are expected to assess our students regularly. We have to equip ourselves with strategies for doing this. How they are assessed can have far reaching effects on their motivation and trajectory. Very serious. Good teachers need to be assessment literate, well-versed in the use of assessment tools.

Classroom management is essential – without it a classroom is chaotic. We have to develop ways of managing a class effectively which can at times be challenging. Good management will promote learning. Good language teachers are able to adapt their own personal style to adapt what is required to suit a particular class.

Corrective feedback – lots of ways to provide this which we come across in training and through experience. Another area which can be challenging. Students tend to expect it. If you don’t correct them, they think you aren’t doing your job. It’s something that we do have to consider very seriously. Overcorrecting or correcting the wrong kind of way can be demotivating. Knowing how to correct well and effectively is an important skill to develop as a teacher. Need to provide appropriate feedback according to context and learning targets.

Relationships – often underestimated but gaining in recognition for its importance. The teacher is an important person. Learner-centred-ness goes back to last century and is important but the greatest single influence on what a student learns is the teacher and relationship with the teacher, the quality of it. It is a great responsibility. Our relationship with students also contributes to our own motivation and job satisfaction in a demanding job.

Strategies. What do we actually do in the classroom? What are we required to present in the classroom? Language learning strategies have been studied extensively from various viewpoints. Controversial but that is not for this talk. In Carol’s research, the best students use a wide variety of language learning strategies and they use them frequently. These students outperform those who use strategies less. Not always that simple but overall. It is also important to develop teachers’ awareness of strategies and their perceptions and beliefs about these strategies. Need to be aware of the need to promote strategies, provide modelling, whatever it takes to encourage students to use their own strategies. This relates to autonomy, helps learners to be autonomous. They need to learn to do it for themselves, the most useful thing we can teach them.

Pragmatics. Long considered the Cinderella of the language learning scene. Probably still underdone in relation to other areas but has received increasing attention. Important that students know when is appropriate to use particular vocabulary when they learn it. While a student may know both vocabulary and grammar, they may not always know how to use it in a real life situation. Good teachers are aware of the need to develop their pragmatic cognition and assess their learners’ pragmatic competence.

Vocabulary is important. You can’t say anything without it. In recent years study of vocabulary has been revolutionised by the use of corpora. Dunn and Webb (2020) say that teachers have four roles with regards to teaching vocabulary – planning, training, testing and teaching. Need to set goals, select activities, evaluate progress and train learners.

Grammar. There is consensus that it needs to be taught but not about how. How it should be introduced, practiced or corrected. However, it is agreed that learners need the opportunity to practice and automatise their use of it meaningfully.

Pronunciation. A slightly thorny one. Teachers often dodge around pronunciation. Carol says it is because grammar is reasonably easy – you can refer to a book to know what is correct. With pronunciation, it is pronounced in so many different ways. It goes far beyond the British-American dichotomy. Even in Britain it varies enormously from place to place. What do we teach? What do students want to learn? Some kind of model needs to be decided on and students themselves need the freedom to choose how they want to pronounce the language. The idea of whether pronunciation is right or wrong has become unfashionable, the question of intelligibility is more important. Somehow the importance of speaking the language has to be dealt with and the teacher has to deal with these issues.

Listening. Not developed merely through exposure or repeated tests. Need to seek to develop orchestration of skills and strategies, which can be facilitated by metacognitive awareness.

Speaking. Another very important skill. Good speaking allows students to participate in social and academic interactions in an environment when the language is spoken. There is often a lack of explicit instruction of skills and strategies needed. Exam washback is an issue. In the end, what passes the exam doesn’t necessarily mean that the learner can perform in the target language environment. Good language teachers help learners to develop spoken accuracy and fluency and heighten their metacognition to regulate their own performance, and also realises that speaking in an unfamiliar language can feel threatening. If a student makes mistakes, it’s important that the teacher supports and encourages them to continue and keep trying.

Reading – the mainstay of previous language learning programmes. Although it’s long been regarded of a cognitive process irrespective of context, there is an ecological perspective which is getting quite popular – the context of the learner environment is important. As with other things we have talked about. Every environment has a mixture of affordances and constraints. Good teaching arises through interactions between people in a particular context. Reading is still very important and should not be underestimated. A book is much more patient than a human listener. You can learn a lot from reading and go back and read again, check the dictionary. We should not underestimate the importance of reading.

Writing is the last skill to develop after listening, reading and speaking. Not everyone is good at writing even in their own first language. Even more difficult in a foreign language. If we’re teaching students who are going on to university, it is an extremely important skill. For us as teachers if we want to going to publishing and for students. It is a process. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t just write something and its perfect even in your own language so can’t expect it from students. Can’t pick up a manual and read the rules, you need to practice. Teachers need to not only have an interest in classroom practice but also writing and learning about writing. Those teachers who do writing themselves may be better able to communicate enthusiasm to students. Good teachers need to adapt to different genres and requirements. We need to lead students through the process.

Burnout. Teachers are very prone to burnout. The time we spend in the classroom, as said before, is only the tip of the iceberg. Teaching is a performance and stressful, so it takes its toll. Attrition is high among teachers. Good language teachers have ways of coping with that stress. It is a real issue and needs to be talked about more. Carol says of teachers she has trained, few stay in for very long as it is too hard. Some don’t even go on to teach after the training course. Good teachers need to find ways of dealing with it in order to stay in the profession, as the job is extremely challenging and demanding. This issue needs more attention and discussion.

Conclusion: good language teaching is multidimensional. Not just one thing. can’t say you have qualification x therefore you are a good teacher or you have experience therefore you are a good teacher. It is more complex than that. They know about all of the things mentioned in this talk.

The book is/will be called Lessons from Good Language Teachers.

Interesting webinar. Feeling reflective as I come away from it!

 

TD Workshop – Mindfulness in Teaching

Yesterday (30th October 2019), I delivered a workshop at the ELTC called Mindfulness in Teaching.

I started by asking participants to articulate how they were feeling, what emotions they could notice and what sensations they could feel in their bodies. Then we did a quick meditation (the one that I normally use at the start of my classes with students at USIC). Then I asked them again how they felt, to notice the difference.

The outline of my session was as follows:

What is Mindfulness?

I asked everyone (I say everyone, there were three attendees plus the other TD coordinator!) in pairs to discuss what they understood from the term mindfulness and then shared a definition taken from Emma Reynolds’s recent webinar on Mindfulness for Macmillan Education:

“Mindfulness is being aware of what you are doing, whilst you are doing it, without judgement.”

(The ‘without judgement’ bit is important, as you can be very aware of what you are doing when you are resenting every moment, which is not mindfulness!)

Why use it ourselves?

I gave this equation as the basis for my explanation:

“Stress management + greater enjoyment = better wellbeing”

Talking about stress first, I borrowed from Emma Reynolds again, asking participants if they ever felt stressed (and of course the answer was yes – everyone feels stress!) and then using that as the basis to talk about what stress is i.e. the result of a chain of processes that starts with a trigger. The trigger is anything, whether internal or external, that the amygdala perceives as a threat. When a threat is perceived, the amygdala pushes the thinking part of the brain out of the way and swiftly prepares the body for fight or flight (or possibly freeze!). A useful survival mechanism when tigers and the like were a regular issue, not so useful at work. Mindfulness enables us to interrupt the mechanism and engage the thinking part of the brain, meaning we can manage whatever is troubling us better.

In terms of greater enjoyment, I explained that this is because mindfulness means being more present (without judgement) and spending less time ruminating about past events or worrying about future ones (or indeed resenting current ones). As well as being a relief (as we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts and wandering mind), this means that when we are doing something enjoyable, we are able to enjoy it more.

How?

Here I talked about formal practice (meditation – no need for bells or being crosslegged!) and informal practice (bringing awareness to everyday activities, savouring things and bringing gratitude to experiences). I signposted 30 ways to Mindfulness which is a pdf that is available to download for free from the Life-Resourceful website to give participants of specific ideas for how to do this.

Using it with students

Having discussed the benefits of using it ourselves, I moved on to talk about possibilities for using it with students. This part of the talk then drew on the session I did with teachers here at USIC at the beginning of term but with an additional aspect of informal integration of mindfulness into lessons. First I myth-busted using meditation with students (it’s not just for monks, they won’t think you are crazy, you don’t need to be a mindfulness expert to do it, it’s not a waste of time or weird) and one of the participants added the question of religion and whether it might be seen as dogmatic. I explained that mindfulness meditation is not religious, as there is no deity involved, and is simply paying attention to the present moment through the senses.

How?

After myth-busting, I talked about how I set up using mindfulness meditation with students: handing out a printout of the meditation, getting them to discuss what it was, the purpose of it and potential benefits of using it regularly and at the start of classes. The idea is to get some buy-in from the students. Feedback from my students (you can see it in this post), which I displayed and let speak for itself, was resoundingly positive. Since collecting this feedback, some of my colleagues have also started using mindfulness meditation with their students and I have started doing it with my new groups this academic year. Here is the feedback from the three students from my group this term so far who have completed my mid-term course questionnaire, in which I asked a question about the meditation:

(I will update this when they’ve all done that bit of homework!!)

As well as doing a meditation (concentration training, basically!) at the start of class, I have started to try and integrate the concepts into lessons by trying to raise students’ awareness of how the brain works. That is to say, the mind wanders. It is normal for the mind to wander, that’s what it does! The trick is to notice when it wanders and bring it back to the present moment. Notice again, bring it back again. And again. And again. Many times over. This is crucial for example when students are listening to a lecture recording in a listening class or exam. If they lose concentration, they miss vital information. And they WILL lose concentration (see above!). Therefore it is of value for them to be aware of this and to train themselves to notice when their mind wanders and bring it back. The sooner they notice, the less information they will miss. I used this image to introduce this idea to my students:

Another aspect of Mindfulness that can be helpful for students is in the context of nerves for example before an exam or presentation. Nervous stress/anxiety is the result of future worries (what if I don’t understand the recording? what if I forget what I am supposed to say? what if I fail? My parents will kill me etc). It happens to us all but it is something that mindfulness can help with. By noticing the stress response and re-engaging the thinking part of the brain (by reconnecting with the body, through the senses), we can calm down and deal with the situation more effectively. (Let’s face it, if the thinking part of the brain is re-engaged, the exam or presentation is much more likely to go well than if the lizard brain is in charge sending us into panic mode!)

This brought me to the end of the session, and I finished with my top tip for when your mind is racing (e.g. when you are trying to sleep), which I actually got from Padraig O’Morain: Focus on your feet. Your feet are the part of your body furthest away from your mind. If you keep bringing your attention to your feet (and your mind will keep trying to take it away again of course but just bring it back to your feet and repeat and repeat), eventually your mind will realise you aren’t listening and calm down. I use this tip often and it is very useful in the context of falling asleep! 🙂

These are the extra resources I shared at the end:

Do you use mindfulness? Yourself? With students? Would love to hear what your favourite mindfulness techniques are, if so, so please do comment! 🙂

 

Macmillan World Teachers Day Online Conference – Emma Reynolds: Mind full or Mindful?

On the 2nd October 2019, Macmillan Education hosted an online conference in honour of World Teachers Day. I managed to tune in for Emma Reynolds who presented second, though I had to leave before it finished as the day was running late and I had a meeting to attend. I have finally caught up with what I missed via the Youtube recording of the event. (Check it out if you also missed out!)

Emma is an MBSR-accredited teacher who lives just outside Barcelona. This is her website and here is the Macmillan recording (again) but cued to her session (which I really recommend watching – she delivers it in a very engaging way and you get to experience mindfulness rather than just read about it in my blog post!)

Her session was called…

Mind full? Or Mindful?

She started by inviting us all to close our eyes and just notice sound. That could be sounds in the room, sounds outside, even the sound of our own breathing. Then we were asked to notice our breathing and the movement of breath in and out of the body. In other words, a very brief awareness of sounds and breathing meditation. A quick, easy way to get back in touch with the senses, which is one of the key elements of mindfulness.

Then she told us that she usually starts sessions like this by asking participants to put their hands up if they have ever experienced stress. Of course, everyone puts their hands up. Life is stressful. Being human is stressful. Being a teacher is stressful, it is a stressful profession. Emma proposed to offer us some practical tools for teachers to bring to classroom experience, to calm nerves, to deal with emotions, to avoid the spiralling mind, so that we can be present with our students. As one of the webinar participants said, though, these aren’t just strategies for the classroom/workplace, they are strategies for life.

We moved on to the following questions:

  • what is stress?
  • how does it feel?
  • how does it affect us?

Emma invited us to think of something that had happened in the last week or two (not a really big, traumatic life experience, just a run of the mill stressful situation), to close our eyes and put ourselves there for a moment, to picture where we were, what we said out loud and what was said inside ourselves. Then we had to feel it – how does it feel in the body? Where in the body? Is it a tightness in the chest/belly? Tension in the neck muscles? Faster breathing? Pounding in head? There is an actual physical experience.

When something stressful happens, we start with a thought process, which then fuels emotions which then show up in body sensations. That is the fight or flight system in our brain kicking in. That system is a survival mechanism which all humans and animals have. It responds to threats by preparing us to fight, freeze or run away. All the physical ‘symptoms’ of stress are connected to it. It is the body being told by the system “We need to do something and do it NOW!” Which was useful when we were faced by sabre-tooth tigers back in the day but how useful is it when it’s triggered by an email arriving in your inbox? Or a chance comment from someone? Probably not very.

The fight-flight system, Emma explained, is a very finely tuned mechanism, like a hair trigger. And if you are tired or overwhelmed, then even more so – one small thing can make you explode. She talked about the amygdala area of the brain, which is the primitive alarm centre that acts on instinct and the pre-frontal cortex which is rational, thinking part of the brain. She asked us to imagine walking down the street, not concentrating, when a bus starts coming, we step off the pavement, the bus might be about to hit us but then…we’d be propelled back onto the pavement. Without thinking about it, it would just happen instinctively, spontaneously. The image of the bus would hit the retina of our eye, trigger the alarm system and flight would get us back onto the pavement. The prefrontal cortex gets flipped out of the way by the amygdala and it happens in milliseconds – “before we know it”. It is very reactive, which is useful for running away from tigers but not at work. At work it looks more like receive a rude email, reply, send, and then “oh…er…oops…”. Stress, frustration and anger have the same effect as the tiger. So we may be reactive to situations, shouting at a class, being rude to someone, feeling cut off from everyone.

What can we do about this? How can mindfulness help? Everyone has that reactivity, the amygdala brain area, but we can learn to notice and bring back control to the thinking part of the brain. The mind is often full of thoughts:

It wanders off into the past, rehashing situations that have already happened, or the future, planning all sort of things e.g. what if this, what will I do when; projecting usually stressful, worrisome thoughts about the future or “if only” about the past. The brain has a negativity bias, or a tendency to look for problems/scan for threats. It likes to worry about how to fix things that may or may not happen in the future. I.e. imagined problems, so trying to fix things that aren’t actually there. This means that you are here but your mind is not. You are not present. And that means you are missing the positive present moment experiences. Emma suggested next time we are in the shower, to try to be present – be aware of the smells, the sounds, the sensations. That is an example of getting into the senses and out of the mind.

Children are all about the senses but as we become older and socialised, we lose contact with the body and get stuck in the mind. Lots of stressful ruminating results. Emma told us about a Harvard study which found that we are lost in thought 47% of the time. In other words, stuck on autopilot. There was an app that pinged participants every so often and asked them What are you doing? What are you thinking? And it would be something like having dinner, thinking about tomorrow’s presentation. What are we missing? The shower, the food, the lovely sensations, the appreciation, the excitement, in other words enjoyment of now. We are always somewhere else.

Automatic pilot is not bad. It can be useful. For example, riding a bike we can just get on and ride without thinking about it. We need a certain amount to function in life. However, it is not useful to be stuck/lost in thought all the time, or stuck in the present moment being judgemental of it. (“I don’t want to be here. I don’t want this. This is bad” – resentment, stress.) Mindfulness can help us here. Emma’s definition of Mindfulness is knowing what you are doing whilst you are doing it without judgement. And the without judgement part is important – we may often notice what we are doing but in a resentful/judgemental way, ruminating. Mindfulness allows us to notice what is happening and step away in a non-judgemental, kind way. It is a way to step of the the cycle and start to do something proactive to calm down and get the thinking lid (prefrontal cortex) back down, so that you can deal with the situation creatively and with wisdom.

Emma then talked to us about formal and informal practice. She said the formal practice, meditation, is a loaded word but it’s really just sitting down, being quiet and tuning into sound, breathing and the body. Informal practice is noticing the senses, or information from the senses, in the present moment, for example in the shower or brushing teeth or eating. When your mind is full of to do list or worrying, tune back into the senses and what is happening now. Notice the sensation of feet on the floor. She explained that we can send our concentration/awareness/mind to different places, e.g. the feet. The untrained mind flies about all over the place, training awareness can bring it back., place concentration where you want it to be. When you notice it wandering, you can bring it back. The more you practice, the less and less it will wander. She likens the mind to a puppy. When you are training it to sit and stay, it will keep wandering off every two minutes but practising over and over and over, giving praise, reward, treats, bit by bit the puppy will stay. The same goes with mindfulness. We need to practice over and over but in a kind, non-judgemental way. Notice the mind has wandered, not get frustrated, just gently bring it back.

All of this is also relevant for students. When they get angry or upset, it means they are flipping their lid, and as teachers we can recognise they are stressed and feeling threatened, and help them bring their thinking lid back online again.

Bring awareness to thoughts (gentle curiosity). What is the narrative? What emotions are in there? How does it show up in the body? Curiosity is key.

Emma told us about the “3 step breathing space” activity:

  1.  How are my thoughts? Allow thoughts be, just noticing but not getting caught up in a narrative. What emotions are here? How am I feeling? Where is it in my body?
  2. Centre attention on the breath.
  3. Become aware of sounds or the body.

This can be done very quickly to bring yourself back to the present moment with kindness, care, compassion.

Emma said that the language we use is very important here. “There is anger here” not “I am angry” – the former gives us some distance, allowing it just to be, noticing how it feels in the body, recognising that it is just that system response. Then we give the mind something to do e.g. focus on the breath. You can do it whenever and wherever you notice yourself getting stressed/frustrated, to break the cycle through the moment of awareness.

Then she gave us some other activities we could try:

  • “Look up and smile”

If you are feeling a bit stressed, e.g. before you go into the classroom, look up and smile. It releases good, positive chemicals in your brain, even if you don’t feel like smiling. Then you can enter the classroom with better energy.

  • Frame things differently

The thought “I’ve got so much to do” usually hunches you over and makes you feel very heavy very quickly. Instead, straighten up and shout it out loud (as if you are excited about it!) How we frame things can make us feel better. Sensations of stress also accompany excitement. It’s the same sensations but a different narrative/framing.

  • Labelling

Stop the alarm bell by labelling what is going on. “There is anger/frustration/tiredness here”

  • Take in the good

Consider what is good right now in this moment. This counters the negativity bias.

  • Create calm moments

There is so much bombarding us these days, that our minds can’t tell the difference between real threats and perceived threats. The stress response happens just the same – we get adrenaline and cortisol flowing. But what we need is the calm, soothing rest and digest system, to give the fight/flight system a break. One way to do this is slow down. E.g. walking, try walking a bit slower, noticing how it feels, what you can see, hear and smell, to take you out of the mind and into the body.

  • Traffic light bell

(She suggested this during the Q&A but it fits in with this section of practical suggestions.) Use red traffic lights as a mindfulness bell: instead of getting irate because it is delaying you, think “ah, red light.” And do the 3-step breathing space activity while you wait. Then you are back with a choice, you can choose not switch on the negative complaining narrative about the red light.

Emma gave us the secret that repeated behaviour, whether good or bad, gets wired into the brain and becomes more likely to be triggered in the future. Mindfulness gives us a choice to respond differently. Ultimately, if what you are doing doesn’t serve you, do something differently. Mindless chatter generally isn’t serving.

She recommend using apps such as Calm, Headspace and Insight timer, and doing an MBSR course. Once you do such a course, you could then train to become a mindfulness teacher and bring it into your school.

She finished with this lovely quote: Happy teachers will change the world. 🙂

A really fantastic session, great to see it as part of the Macmillan World Teachers Day conference line-up!

University of Sheffield Workshop – Inclusivity: The Fundamentals (24/10/19)

Today (24th October – starting to write up on same day as attendance, remains to be seen if I will finish same day as well!), I was able to attend a workshop run by the university which focused on inclusivity. (Previously I have also attended workshops about mental health and supporting Chinese Students – there’s lots of good stuff available, it’s a question of whether or not it clashes with your timetabled classes! Today I was lucky again!)

Inclusivity: The Fundamentals

The Elevate team started by saying that inclusivity is a broad topic and that today’s session would provide an overview of current inclusivity best practice and tips on how to develop an inclusive curriculum/learning environment.

Inclusivity is an umbrella term and definitions with regards to what is included within it have changed and developed over the years. 10 years ago it was limited to specific support for students with specific disabilities: it was limited and focused. Now, it includes all of the following:

  • support for specific disabilities e.g. dyslexia
  • support for international students
  • accessible measures that benefit all students
  • sense of belonging
  • retention/success
  • decolonising the curriculum

One aspect of the university’s current teaching and learning strategy is as follows:

“Developing inclusive curricula, to close attainment gaps for students from under-represented groups and to foster a sense of belonging for all students, with equal opportunities for all to succeed.”

Good inclusive practice and good teaching/learning practice have a lot of overlap. Our first task was to think about and discuss what we already do that is inclusive. People from various different university faculties/departments were in attendance, including two others and myself attached to the ELTC (one from the main ELTC, one who mainly does DLP, while I of course hail from the USIC arm), so it was interesting to hear from a range of subject areas.

My brainstorming points were:

  • scaffolding in terms of assessment (KIP 4)
  • formative assessment that teaches students how to approach summative assessments (KIP 4)
  • clear instructions (KIP 1)
  • variety of task types (KIP 2)
  • using models (KIP 4)

(Interestingly, a colleague from the journalism department, upon hearing that I work at USIC, told me that the students they get from us are often reticent to speak up, and one way of overcoming that which she has used is to incorporate mobile phones into activities, for example by using Padlet for brainstorming.)

What is a KIP, I hear you asking?

KIP = my shorthand for Key Areas of Inclusive Practice, of which there are 6:

  1. Academic Community
  2. Classroom and Accessibility
  3. Technology
  4. Assessment
  5. Feedback
  6. Evaluation and Review

We looked at each area in turn.

1. Academic Community

Why is this important? The more somebody feels part of and represented in a community, the more they will achieve. They need to feel they have a place. As teachers, we need to bolster that feeling. We need to remember that this is an unfamiliar, intimidating environment for students who come to us and to help them feel at ease. We need to respect their identity e.g. call them by the name they wished to be called by (I always ask students what they want me to call them!) and use the pronouns they want us to use for them. In this way, they will feel more accepted.

Language use also comes within this area. Basically, use plain English! Of course, this is an issue more for university departments, as ELTC folk are used to grading language for obvious reasons! It’s nice to see that the importance of not being jargontastic and of explaining specific terminology clearly is being highlighted at university level.

It’s also important to involve students by letting them have opportunities to feed back (in a variety of ways) so that their experience of your classes is communicated clearly to you and can help inform what you do.

2. Classroom/Accessibility

Accessibility is not only about the physical space (e.g. the classroom), but also about how materials are presented and how lessons are delivered. For example, classroom materials should be representative of the students you are teaching. It is also important to get to know your students and what they are bringing to the room, as their prior learning experiences may be very different from what you are expecting of them in your classes. Using a variety of activities means that you don’t repeatedly advantage or disadvantage particular groups of students. Neurodivergent students may be excellent lateral thinkers, in activities which require this their peers can learn a lot from them.

The university has a lot of support available. It would be helpful to signpost different aspects of it to students at point of need e.g. highlighting the existence of WAS to students about to embark on their first essay assignment. Try to look for opportunities in the curriculum where different things could be highlighted/referred to.

3. Technology

There are lots of different ways that students can use technology to access learning in a more suitable way for them, for example screen readers for partially sighted or blind students. Keeping this in mind, it is important that we optimise our materials for use by these students. One way of making sure that course materials are accessible is to use Blackboard Ally, which is a tool that measures the accessibility of materials for staff and allows students to download materials in whichever format is best for them (including audio). An example of making materials more accessible is including image tags so that screen readers can interpret the image for the students using them. Also, using the headings function in word to format headings means that the screen reader can differentiate between headings and normal text and incorporate that information into how the information is transferred to the student. When you put your materials through Blackboard Ally, it will give you a score (Red, Yellow or Green) depending on how accessible they are.

Another way we can help students is to use consistent online methods for assessment and try to work towards having VLE navigation consistent across modules so that students don’t have to learn how to access the VLE for their various modules in completely different ways from module to module. To make this easier, there are templates in Blackboard that can be used.

Here is a week by week task breakdown template and an example of how a completed one might look:

Using colour coding is helpful for students who are aided by the visual. There is recent legislation in the UK regarding accessibility online in the public domain, and university VLEs come under this. However, it is also just good practice. In terms of font, it is best to use a sans serif font such as calibri or arial as these are easiest to read.

Technology can also enable us to get feedback from our students in a range of ways. Even with very large groups, using feedback opportunities can help you get a better feel for your students’ needs/worries etc. For example, you could use Google forms or a similar tool such as SurveyMonkey, you could use Smartboard “Shoutitout” or any other brainstorming tool such as Bitpaper too.

4. Assessment

Assessment is very important in terms of inclusivity, as it is how we recognise and reward progress, and how we build up students’ skills. It is important not to assume that everyone will know/have experience of the assessment task type you are asking them to do. In order to help students understand what they are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture, refer to learning outcomes and go through assessment criteria with them. This way, they will understand what they need to do in order to be successful.

As teachers, it is also important for us to become more familiar with the effects that certain disabilities have. In the Know is a set of brief introductions to a range of disabilities that you can use as a starting point to broaden your knowledge. Below you can see which ones they have so far:

Where possible, use a range of assessment types so that students have opportunities to play to their strengths. For example, if a course is 100% assessed by exams, or 100% assessed by coursework, certain students will be disadvantaged in either case and therefore a mixture is preferred. Ideally, give students a choice of assessment types to meet their learning outcomes.

5. Feedback

There are a variety of ways to do feedback and it is important that we make use of this to avoid doing feedback in the same way every time. As with materials, tasks and assessment, doing things in the same way every time disadvantages and advantages the same students every time. It is important to ensure that students understand the role and function of feedback, and that you teach them how to use it most effectively to improve their performance.

6. Evaluation and Review

  • It is important that you make your expectations clear to students from the outset.
  • Collaboration with students will support more effective evaluation and review.

(I will come clean – this is the only thing I have written down in my notes here. Towards the end of the session so areas 5 and 6, the session deliverers noticed time was getting away and accelerated accordingly!)

The final task we did in this workshop was reflect on and discuss what three things we would like to take away and build on in our own departments. Here are the notes I made:

  • Week by week task breakdown template: we have a weekly syllabus at the front of our workbooks – could it be more effective? Could there be another document with more information/colour available on Blackboard?
  • Signposting support: could it be better integrated? e.g. signposting mental health services in conjunction with topic on social media and mental health? Need more familiarity with various services available in order to signpost them where relevant.
  • Student feedback opportunities: how shall I get feedback from my students for mid-term? (Midterm is upon us already!) – Discussion on Google+ community page? Use a Google Form? (Having talked to a colleague of mine, and got some inspiration, I have now decided to go with a Google Form!)
  • Consistency across modules: Do all the modules the students do within a given pathway at the college + AES use Blackboard in the same way with regards to navigation? Do we use those templates? (I have no idea, this was one to bend the ear of our tech folk about!)

All in all it was an interesting workshop. Here is the handout we were given, which has a lot of information in it:

Hope this session write-up is of interest/use to some of you out there! 🙂

 

Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation (session 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarship circle: Using mindfulness meditation

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

We created this scholarship circle to:

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

There were 8 attendees including me.

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

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

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

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

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