Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 8

I actually finished this course prior to Easter, finally catching up on the blog posts!!

I was bang on time, on the nose, no time to spare. Gf and I were watching Star Trek downstairs ’til I noticed it was 1829 and legged it up to my computer! Still first though, and by a good way. The first student arrived (to our relief) at 1837. And another soon after.  So I had five minutes of talking to the teacher again. I wasn’t very good at expanding on my answers! Nevertheless, we talked a bit about lockdown easing and my time in Sicily. Then once the others arrived, the second arrived soon after the first, same two as last week, we started talking about International Women’s Day (which is today). That was cool.

Newsletter thingy. Oops I had misunderstood. The other student who I thought had also done it already last week actually hadn’t. So when the teacher asked who wants to do it this week, I said her name, because I didn’t want her to miss out two weeks in a row but instead I guess she felt put on the spot, oops. Instead, we are asked to ask the five W’s to the third student and he should reply and that should form his contribution (as not already done also). I haven’t done another one but I don’t think it will matter as I suspect once we finish this one that will be it for tonight and we’ll move on to something else. I forgot, but also subconsciously probably reckoned, based on how things have gone, that I have a week in hand! Really better do one this time round. Well…mayyybe. There are only two more lessons and two other students still have to contribute…hmmm!

The student is asked to write it for next week. Then we move on to reviewing combined pronouns. So I was correct about not needing it. Not convinced I will next week either, or the one after, but I will TRY and do one. Then it’s ready for when it does arise, if it does in the last two lessons that remain after this one! Also because it is good practice.

Reviewing pronouns takes the shape of the teacher reading the extract to grammar book to us.  In English cos it is slides made from that book that has explanation in English. Haiya.

p.93

A grammar controlled practice. We do it with no prep time. I misunderstand the task on the fly, oops. But correct myself easily. Straightforward, then, despite no time to do it before going through it.

Then we move on to a review of the imperative. We haven’t done the imperative so far this course but ok. Again, the teacher reads us the grammar book. Ahh, the point is what we do with pronouns and imperatives e.g. Marco, mettiti la giacca. The pronouns go after the imperative, attached.

P99 – Verbi monosillabici all’imperativi + pronomi

=We had to take it in turns to read the forms aloud e.g. I had fa’ fammi fallo fammelo.

Then I got lost again, turned out the activity we went to next was ABOVE the grammar box not after it. I still got mine right though even though I still hadn’t found the task, based on the teacher saying it to me (the teacher hadn’t realised I was lost, they used this approach with all of us). Lots of grammar tonight.

Then we move on to do some reading on p.103.  Joy of joys we get time to read alone – it is a longer text and we are allocated a third each to read and then summarise. Then we discuss the topic of the text. Which was cool.

Io sono dell’idea che… (This, the teacher said in an incidental kind of way and I noted it down because it is a nice phrase for expressing opinion)

Next we move on to a film “il mostro” with Roberto Benigni. There is a long description in English and then some tasks in Italian, including watching the film extract. I mistakenly answer directly for the first one but for once in a way we aren’t supposed to, oops.

  1. Sono troppo stanca. Mi fa male la testa.

^^We have to make up common excuses. Then watch the extract and try to pick out any excuses that we can. 

  • Sto male, sto molto male
  • Scusi ho un altro impegno

B. Now we have to try and hear what the amministratore says.

  • Ma che dice?
  • Signora aspetti
  • Un giorno gliela farò pagare
  • Pagherà tutto

C We have to compare what happens in Italy when someone calls in sick to work with here.  There, someone might go to your house and check.

darsi malato – call in sick

Dobbiamo solo presentare un certificato medico se stiamo a casa più di 5 giorni

And finish! As we are finishing, the teacher asks us if we would like to do more with films next time. I said yes! It was nice to be asked about future lesson content.

Reflections

  • I only have two more lessons left, eeek! However <drumroll> I have finally pulled my finger out and found another course to do. This time it is with International House. I did the entrance test and got 41/48 = advanced. The levels are broken down into numbers (just like they were when I taught at IHPA so I guess that is maybe an IH thing as this is not IHPA!). Advanced goes from 17 through 22 (more numbers than there were at IHPA, but the courses are shorter too) and in consultation with them I am going to enter 19. (Mostly because the day/time of the class is suitable – as in, same as the current one!) It is a six-week course, one a week for two hours. I am excited! It starts in mid April so I get a little break after this course before starting the next, which is also nice.
  • Thinking time. Having been in the student position, I am getting a lot better at giving students thinking time! Not being afraid to wait that little bit longer. Some of the activities in our materials are ‘do as you go along’ type ones but they tend to be chat box based – which reminds me, come to think of it, we have used the chat box very little as students in this Italian class. The teacher uses the chatbox a fair bit but we students use it much more infrequently – the main time I remember is when we were doing the chain stories thing. The ‘do as you go along’ activities tend to be done verbally, one at a time. I suppose this is also due to difference in class size. The Italian class is small enough that you can do that, with generally about 3 of us, and at most 5.
  • If there is the freedom/scope to do so, involving students in the choice of lesson content is motivating. It really was nice to be asked. Honestly, for this course, I am still not sure what, if anything, is core/required content and what is teacher choice. The grammar points? <shrug>
  • When we did the reading activity, I read the whole text in order to make better sense of my bit (I had the final third). I think for information gap type activities, the information each student has should be able to stand alone in terms of meaning/coherence. I suppose it’s about making sure the text and the task are well-matched. It was fantastic being given time to read quietly though, rather than doing the read aloud thing.
  • We do a lot of controlled practice grammar activities but a lot less in the way of freer practice. Which is frustrating because I know the grammar but I need practice using it communicatively. Hopefully will get more of that in the next course I do. It would also be nice if the grammar was more rooted in a context.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 7

I arrived first (as usual!) and for five minutes was chatting with the teacher. Was quite nice actually.  They’ve been in the UK for 5 years and are from Rome. Then another student arrived, which was nice too. A relief for the teacher, methinks 🙂 (Well it would be for me if I were in the teacher’s shoes!) I feel quite relaxed tonight. Nice and calm.

Intendersi – to be understood/to be knowledgeable about

Another five minutes, another student arrived. We’re talking about how to find a nice house. One of the students is between houses, staying at a friends.

  • bisogna accontentarsi
  • non ci sarà mai la casa perfetta

Oooo newsletter. My two weeks ago homework, perhaps. Yes…one of the other students has also done it so it seems more likely we will do something with it. Yep. So I suppose this means I will have to do homework this week to make another one in case we do it in a future lesson again.

Quest’anno a gennaio, 582,538 persone di 209 paesi SI sono iscritte a uno sfida globale – Veganuary. Questa sfida richiede a ciascun partecipante che l’accetta di evitare l’uso di ogni prodotto animale, cioè, provare di  a vivere vegano-a modo vegano. Lo scopo di questa sfida e di proteggere sia gli animali che l’ambiente e, faccendo cosi faccendo, migliorare persino la salute dei partecipanti. Questa volta la gente pensano anche a Covid perché si vogliono anche evitare altri pandemici pandemie. UnA gran parte di loro continuano a seguire uno stilo di vita vegano.

Not bad! Especially given how hastily done it was and how tired I was at the time. We didn’t use the other student’s this time so actually that will likely be for next week, meaning it is less urgent for me to make another one! We gave mine a title Veganaio: come ti salvi il mondo. Wow, turns out one of the other students is vegan too. Another doesn’t have eggs or milk but has meat sometimes.

Cacciatori-raccoglitori – hunter-gatherers

Course we end up having a discussion about veganism hehe. Good fun.

Un essere senziente – a sentient being

As ever, I feel sad that I haven’t been able to CHAT with the other students during this course. Even with just the limited exchanges through the teacher that there have been, I am getting quite fond of them!

Avere a cuore – hold something close to heart e.g. avere a cuore gli animali

p.17

Funnily enough it’s the facing page to the one with the fridges from the first lesson! Short text. No read silently time and I didn’t bother to ask again for it this time. Just cope! Ooops I was so busy trying to get my head around the text I am not entirely sure what the follow up task is – to make questions or to answer the ones below the text!

BREAK TIME

Am back a minute or two early it seems. And it is create questions (I used the time to ask). I thought it was but then I wasn’t sure. I should have more faith in myself!

Qual è il problema secondo Alberoni?

There we go.

My fellow vegan isn’t back yet.  But the other student is so we ask our questions through the teacher. And discuss the topic a bit.

The teacher feeds in vocab (like the above) in the chat box as we go.

È importante avere una diversa percezione individuale.

Ah! Now we are returning to those pronouns that we started at the end of last lesson! We do a series of grammar exercises of the sort that are in grammar books like Murphy’s English Grammar in Use for Italian but with explanation in English rather than Italian. The other student and I are asked in turn to answer. But we don’t do them by ourselves first. Which is ok because this is familiar ground.  Then we have to complete a table in the course book.

P. 92

Not quite the above but similar! The one in the course book has also ce and ne. We actually got some quiet time for that one! But then we didn’t go through it all and skipped to the next exercise of using combined pronouns to replace the nouns in bold. But no time to do it quietly first. But we managed!

We finished with three minutes to go and the teacher asked what we’d like to do so I said talk because there’s no time to start anything new. The teacher agreed, fortunately, and asked us how we felt about combined pronouns. And that took us to the end of another lesson! The third student didn’t attend the second half and the other 2 didn’t show up at all.

Reflections

  • Being relaxed from the outset made a huge difference. Where a week ago it was the Monday after an intense week involving the first aid course, this time I had both shifted the backlog created by the course and had a lovely, restful weekend. I was better able to enjoy the lesson for what it was. And the two students who attended were the two I feel more rapport with (because they attend most regularly out of the total of 4 apart from me in the group), which also helped me feel relaxed. It was also nice when we did the discussion about veganism and I learnt something new about them, which was something we have in common as far as one was concerned. Oh to have done a getting to know you activity involving finding things in common and more personalisation activities throughout! I think, particularly in courses like the one I teach on which are very time-limited and all the more in the context of online teaching where students can’t chitchat at the start of the class while they wait for the teacher or when they finish an activity early etc, it is important not to underestimate the importance of getting to know you activities at the start and scope for personalisation throughout. I will be mentioning it in our imminent meeting about planning the course structure for next year (we are going from three terms to two long semesters). Being comfortable and relaxed makes a big difference to being able to learn and we can facilitate that to an extent (not entirely – some of it also depends what else is going on in students’ lives etc!).
  • You can get used to anything (and it is a lot easier to learn when you have adjusted to a greater extent) but it takes time to adjust. I think that is true of life (to an extent!) as well as language classes! Adjustment takes time. I think changing education systems (/learning in a way that is different from how you have learnt – or taught! – previously) is a form of culture shock. Which makes it make sense that each week I do get a little closer but it also isn’t quite linear. I have already mentioned this idea of adjustment previously but am repeating it because each time I have a sense of “oh I thought I had already got used to it but actually in comparison to today, I wasn’t as used to it as as I thought” or I think I’ve got the hang of it but then something happens that throws me off balance again. More and more I think it would be really helpful for teachers to incorporate an element of transparency around how and why things are done, particularly early on in a course so that students get a clear idea of how things work and why in your lessons. I think that would probably help with the process of adjustment. Obviously the lower the level of the language learner, the harder this would be. I suppose course books provide an element of this if they are used systematically. I think if you only draw on them for the odd activity and jump about, or you don’t use a course book at all, then you need to be more explicit to fill that gap.
  • Doing this course is making me think a lot about course design and delivery. Our course (the one I teach on, I mean), for example, is heavily skills-based and assessment-driven. Students are time-poor due to huge workloads so it is critical for us to make it absolutely clear how each lesson helps to prepare them a) for assessment and b) for university (with the assessments being designed/intended to teach and test skills needed for university study). Our students are motivated by requiring certain scores in order to progress onto their chosen degree course. They will do what is required to achieve that but they mostly don’t have time to go beyond. Which is fair enough. We can help (including to maintain their motivation to keep doing all the tasks) them by making clear links. This Italian course is VERY different, obviously. It is not assessment driven (that I am aware of), there is no particular end goal other than improving our speaking/listening/reading/writing skills in Italian. This means that there is a lot more freedom in the lessons for the teacher to do whatever they want with us. Which is lovely in theory but in practice is, I think, a lot more of a challenge for the teacher to do well. Even in IH Palermo, so another private language school context, there was more structure to the language courses. There was a set course book, or half course-book, for each level and we worked through that with the students. They had mid-course tests to check progress and end of course tests in order to progress to the next level. Of course creativity within that framework was encouraged. For the Italian course, we do have a course book but it is used somewhat randomly so if there is any recycling or progression built in, we lose that. Which means the onus is on the teacher to build it in. Likewise with learning outcomes. I think if I had to teach a course of this nature, I’d use a chunk of the first lesson negotiating learning objectives for the course and topics of interest. I’d want to know the students’ motivations for doing the course as well. So that there would be some framework to work within and so that the students would know about that framework and have a vested interest in it. That could also be revisited, added to etc. I wonder if that would make attendance less patchy. Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends entirely on the reason(s) for it!
  • We have used very little in the way of authentic materials so far. This has occurred to me in thinking about the above bullet point. There was that love song, that’s the only thing I can think of. The course book has some authentic material in it – extracts from Italian literary texts and the like – but we haven’t used those. I think that’s a missed opportunity, given we have a reasonable level of Italian (Upper Intermediate/aiming towards that or within it, in theory) and given there are no apparent course book usage requirements (in terms of how much is covered or in what order or to what end). Again, though, I suppose it is challenging to do that well (though if we have no objectives we need to achieve then perhaps it would be enough to use it in whatever way?!).

Think I’ll leave it there for this time – now managing to fairly contentedly trundle through the lessons yet plenty of food for thought still. It’s been such a learning experience. 3 more lessons left! Still not got much further with investigating a follow-up course… I need to do the IH level test to start with, to know my level according to them, so that I can then find out when courses run. Of course with things opening up, there is a question mark over whether there will be an online course still to join! My gut feeling is yes, though, as schools will want to have a wide portfolio of offerings to get as much business as possible. It’s whether I can do it when I want to do it (Monday nights because Tuesday is my NAW!)! We shall see when I have enough brain to do the test… ! 🙂

Mental Health First Aid

I am now a qualified Mental Health First-aider! I completed a two day course run by MFHA England on 17th and 18th of February (been playing catch-up ever since because of losing those two days of work!!) in order to be a Mental Health First Aider for my team at work, along with a colleague of mine who did it the same week but a different two days.

Part of my certificate!

This blurb is also on it:

The course took place entirely online and consisted of 4 live sessions and 4 independent learning modules, all of which were integrated in their online learning platform. The course took place entirely online and consisted of 2 days which included 4 live sessions and 4 independent learning modules, all of which were integrated in their online learning platform. We also received hard copy materials – a thick manual and a workbook – in advance of the course. Before the pandemic they did face to face classes but, like everyone else, they had to adapt to the pandemic.

In this post, I will share one key concept and a related concept that I found really helpful and that I think could be helpful for anybody and everybody to know about, and how I have already integrated it into my teaching.

Stress Container

MHFA Stress container

This is the first time I’ve come across the idea of a stress container and having a stress container but a quick Google shows that it turns out to be in wide usage. It has been adapted for workplace training materials, for students etc. The size of your stress container is influenced by your frame of reference (another useful concept) which is your window on the world. It in turn is formed by, amongst others, age, gender, work, hobbies/interests, place of birth, early childhood experiences, socio-economic background, cultural influences, sexuality, education, aspirations, spirituality, likes/dislikes, any disability, any chronic illness, family situation/size, achievements, values and relationships. Currently, also experiences of the pandemic. Depending on your experience of any of the above, the size of your stress container may be bigger or smaller i.e. you can tolerate higher or lower levels of stress before the container is filled up. If it gets full, problems develop – chronic stress, exhaustion, anxiety, depression etc. Stressors can be many and varied and may be in there temporarily or long term. Importantly, they may be good (e.g. a wedding next year, a new job/a promotion, a new relationship), stressors aren’t necessarily bad but whether good or bad, take up space in your stress container levels.

However, we can open the tap and let some of the contents flow out from the bottom. This means using helpful coping strategies such as meditation, connecting with others, exercising, getting enough sleep, participating in hobbies/leisure pursuits – generally anything that helps you relax without further damage to your body/mind. Of course, people also use unhelpful coping strategies in order to cope with the stress of life, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, overeating etc, which may numb the effect of the stressors but not relieve it. This is akin to the tap getting blocked so the contents of the stress container cannot be released, which again leads to problems developing as overflow/overwhelm happens.

So that is the general idea of it. It is a way to conceptualise/visualise stress levels and coping mechanisms. This in turns allows you to evaluate yours – is there more in it than you realised/thought before considering what is in it? – and recognise when it is filling up and take positive steps to relieve that (and feel justified in doing so – it is all too common to feel guilty for taking time for oneself in whatever format that takes!). It can help you make sense of why something that “doesn’t ordinarily bother you” or that you “normally find easy enough” is difficult on a certain occasion or occasions. If you are anticipating a number of incoming stressors, you can prepare by proactively using your preferred positive coping strategies and planning how you will continue to do so when the stressors enter your container. It also allows you to visualise how and why things different affect different people differently and to differing amounts. For example. a busy period at work may be experienced differently by someone who is also going through relationship difficulties or suffering with poor health or struggling with home-schooling children. Depending how full a stress-container is, a seemingly small thing can be the final straw for someone because there just isn’t space.

To me, none of the above is particularly new in and of itself but the stress container metaphor helps give it all coherence and, importantly, while the locus of control for some of it is outside our control (stress container size, stressors), it does show that we do have some control which it is important to exercise for our wellbeing, in terms of which coping strategies we use and when/how often we use them. I have already used the stress container/stress bucket metaphor with my students since learning about it. I did a mid-term feedback form and one of the questions asked them how they are feeling at the moment and stressed/under pressure/tired were common themes. Which is normal on an intense course like the one they are following with us (multiple modules, not only Academic English, and a heavy assessment load all round). In a subsequent lesson, as part of responding to the feedback I introduced the stress container/bucket, using images found online, reassuring them it was normal to feel stressed (it doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough to do the course or that they are a failure or anything like that – which is not a common assumption to make when you are in the midst of doing something that generates stress!) and that the important thing is to deal with it appropriately so that you don’t reach the point of overwhelm, and got them to share their favourite positive coping strategies in the chat box.

Having awareness is the first step towards having more control. If you are aware of what is happening, you can do something about it before you reach a crisis point. I plan to return to it periodically (another bonus of a coherent image is that it is easy to keep coming back to it because there is something tangible to come back to!) and continue with my Wellbeing column on our Class Noticeboard Padlet – where each week I share a resource/idea relating to promoting mental health and wellbeing (see examples below).

I don’t know how much of it they access but at the very least it, in combination with the feedback form question and feedback, sends the message that mental health and wellbeing is important, that mental health isn’t something that is only talked about when things go wrong and that things being difficult is nothing to be ashamed of. It also means that as time wears on (we are still in term one for this cohort!), and the stress load increases for these students (if not this year, then when they go on to university), they will know they aren’t alone with it, hopefully feel less ashamed than they might otherwise have to own it and be more willing to access the support that is available to them.

To finish off, here is an MFHA link from a 2018 campaign which focuses on stress and contains a little slide show about the stress container and some awareness raising activities. I hope it, and this post, will be of some use for you. I would recommend to anybody thinking about it to do a Mental Health first aid course both for personal gain and for better ability to help others.

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 2

I am on time, first to arrive again. 2 others are on time too and arrive soon after. Warm up chitchat is about Covid.

Io non sono un complottista – I am not a conspiracy theorist

Rendersi conto di – realise.

Our disappearing weaker student has arrived 5 mins late. “x’s iPad” no video like the rest of us. I hope she is ok. Silence when addressed by the teacher…

Talking about Covid for quite a while. Then link into review of congiuntivo. Se tu fossi Boris Johnson, cosa faresti?

Per evitare la diffusione del virus…

I am boiling! Don’t want to go away from the class/video but am wearing thermal vest and fluffy jumper and turns out the heating makes it warm in here in the evening! (By day when I work in here, heating is off, I am dressed for that, oops…) = environmental factors sure do influence ability to concentrate!  

… Finally I switched off video to go and put something more suitable on. Phew. Switching off video/audio to do something seems to be acceptable. Not something I have experience with from teaching point of view because we have classes of 18-21 students so they don’t have their video on a lot of the time (and could therefore nip away to do something quite easily!)

No way!!! We are going to repeat the fridge thing from last time! Can we just not…. Haiiya. Flogging a dead horse comes to mind…

At least this time I know not to reply for the “What is the nickname of your fridge?” bit!

Soppranome: Miele

5 aggietivi: Grande, alto, fresco, pulito, pieno

2 pensieri del frigorifero:

  • Mangi un sacco di verdure, no?
  • Perché tante foglie?

Here we go again <copy paste>. Wonder if the connection between tasks will be clearer,

Oh now it’s changed to 3 adjectives of physical description and 3 adjectives of character description. 

Era una notte nera e tempestuosa e Miele stava nella cucina che parlava con il forno.

Doing it differently this time, we have to send the line of the story to the teacher rather than to another student. Teacher sends the sentence to someone who adds a new sentence and sends it back. I think the nickname and adjectives was supposed to “get the creative juices flowing”.

Era una notte nera e tempestosa e Fede il frigo era irritato. “Smettila di fare uscire il freddo!”  Ma non c’era nessuno a cui parlare.

Era una notte nera e tempestosa e Miele stava nella cucina che parlava con il forno, chiedeva al forno “ma perche mi rubano sempre e danno il mio cibo a te” Ma perché lo chiedi a me? Che ne so Io? Non voglio nemmeno questo cibo né il calore che mi fanno entrare.

Era una notte nera e tempestosa e Fede il frigo era irritato. “Smettila di fare uscire il freddo!”  Ma non c’era nessuno con cui parlare. il cibo all’interno del frigo ha iniziato a ballare. “Lasciamo uscire, abbiamo freddo” cantavano insieme.

I have the course book now, so I can look through it while waiting after each time I send my line through, which is nice.

Era una notte nera e tempestosa e Miele stava nella cucina che parlava con il forno, chiedeva al forno “ma perche mi rubano sempre e danno il mio cibo a te”. “io sono il prescelto” ha detto forno, “rispettami!” il forno non sapeva che Miele aveva poteri speciali. il giorno successivo il forno non era più caldo, e il forno non rubò più il cibo… Il forno se n’è andò via ma poi tutto il cibo di Miele alla fine imputridii.

We end up with three stories this time. <I forgot to copy paste them all> We had to each take a turn to read one aloud and then say which one we liked best.

Oooo we get a break again tonight despite no tech issues, phewww. So break time is A Thing not just a response to tech issues, good to know. Very helpful in a 2hr class when you are staring at a screen after having stared at a screen all day!

<Break>

Silent student has gone (having not said anything up the point of leaving), student no3 has also gone, we are down to 2 again. Wonder if student 3 will arrive late again like last time or just not appear again?

p69

editori – publishing houses

sono pago’a di qualcosa… sono sodisfatto,a di qualcosa

una iattura – una sfortuna

ripiegare – fall back

Reading aloud a written text, sentence by sentence. Hard. No time to read it silently first and as soon as we have taken our turn to read aloud, we are quizzed on vocabulary. No time to process the text meaning. Then, trying to read while the other person reads aloud. This also interferes with actual understanding.

We then had to make up two comprehension questions for each other.

  • Cosa succederebbe se non ce n’era più  ci fosse più la stampa tradizionale, se ciascuno stampava stampasse il suo quotidiano da solo? (Dohhh, I missed that here I should have used the structure we did last week!)
  • Lo scrittore pensa sì or non che la stampa fatta a casa sarebbe una cosa positiva?

I am so tired and my eyes hurt (Cos work all day at the computer too). Makes it really hard to come up with words/phrases/sentences. Soooo tempted to do like the others and leave!

We had to argue a given point of view.

E’ meglio RIMANERE con il giornalismo perché COSI l’informazione c’è e dobbiamo solo trovarlo and leggerlo con criticità per sapere cosa succede nel mondo. Senza il giornalismo, sapremmo solo quello che i politici vogliono che sappiamo.

He asked the other student to respond to me but didn’t let me give my final line. I am too tired to argue. Bad student!

Ooo we had a small wrap-up this time – the teacher mentioned the stories we wrote in the repeat from last week activity…After starting a new activity, which we did orally, with 3 minutes of lesson time left. Whyyyy.  Neither of us students were thrilled about that.

What I learnt about being a student in this session:

  • It’s really hard to understand a text if you aren’t given time to read and process it quietly before being expected to do things with it. Oooo. I have an idea. I will read ahead in the course book. I don’t know which activities we will do or how we will do them but if I read any texts in advance then reading aloud will be less difficult.
  • seeking feedback is important. The language centre sent a feedback form this morning, so I mentioned that I find reading aloud without time to process silently first difficult and that I thought clearer lessons objectives (as in made clear to us) and opportunities for pair and groupwork would enhance the lessons. I also said the teacher is good at giving us feedback on what we say (didn’t want to only give “to improve” feedback!). It’s difficult to give feedback unless invited to do so. I will give my students a feedback form at the end of this week, I think!
  • If you are going to repeat an activity from a previous lesson, specially one which takes up a large amount of time (it took a good half an hour in the end!), have a really good justification for it and make that clear to the students. The activity didn’t work as planned last time, but we did it and had the freer practice it offered despite ending up one story down. It would have been nice to do some thing different this week.
  • Unconscious bias is a thing. Male teacher assumed male student had understood the activity last week and that it was me who had messed up. This came through clearly in the way the activity was explained this week. He’s a nice dude, I don’t for a moment think it was deliberate but it is interesting. I think as teachers we need to try and be self-aware in this and question our assumptions about things.
  • Fatigue is a thing. I know one of my students is doing school lessons by China day and our (the college) lessons by China night until 1-2a.m. (cos of the time difference) – she must be exhausted. This was one of the useful things I learnt during my tutorials with my students which took place last Friday. Learning on top of other commitments is difficult. Learning when tired is very difficult and frustrating. For the slot where I do one half of the class then the other, I will make sure she is in the first half.
  • Guidance regarding how to improve between lessons is helpful and students don’t know it for themselves without the teacher helping. For all we can search for websites, we have no way of knowing which are good or less good and are likely to miss good ones because searching is like that, it’s hit and miss. For autonomous learning to succeed, students need knowledge of resources as well as to know how to learn. I want something like the Experimenting with English handout I made for my learners in Sicily!
  • Don’t start a new activity 3 minutes before the lesson is due to end. Lesson plan timing going south is a thing but adapting to that is important. Being clear about what the key goal of the lesson is, and what activity(ies) need to be done in order for it to be achieved, is crucial as that informs choices about how long to spend on activities (both at the planning stage and in the lesson), what to skip if skipping is required etc. I’m not sure what the key goal of the lesson was. Perhaps using the congiuntivo imperfetto part 2? Not sure where the text fitted in with that – my comprehension question involved the structure but it was accidental and it was the only question that did. It was a 2hr lesson, ½ hr was spent chatting about covid (with some congiuntivo imperfetto worked in eventually), ½ hr (perhaps a bit more actually) spent on repeating the story, 10 minutes was break time. I think we had about 45 minutes on the reading text, approx. Which was reading aloud, sentence by sentence, vocabulary, “comprehension” questions and then the writing and then reading what we wrote activity about defending a given point of view relating to the text.
  • Italian coursebooks  (or at least this one) aren’t like English coursebooks. Rather than lead in/intro to a topic, texts, language work, oral/written production kind of flows, this one goes text, fill in grammar from memory, grammar focus, other random speaking and writing tasks and different texts. It’s confusing! And interesting! I read the introduction to the course book and apparently it assumes you have already used the previous coursebook where a given character does this and that and now the character is going to do the other. And it’s very much teaching culture too (hence the text at the start of each chapter), which it makes explicit in the introduction too. I’ve got the teacher book too. So that I can do the units I’ve missed (which I guess they did in the previous course) and have the answers. It may also shed some light on how the course book works, not had a chance to look yet!

I’m learning a lot from being a student again, it has to be said! A most excellent form of CPD! Hope this is of interest to some of you, apologies if not – it is a useful way for me to process the lessons and to store all my reflections and learnings!

Upper Intermediate Italian Lesson 1

I have just started doing a ten-week upper intermediate online course in Italian. My first lesson was on Monday evening. Here are my notes and reflections from that evening. It is fun being a language learner again!

I am so nervous!! Now I know how my students this morning felt, but luckily for me I am not trying to get to university off the back of this course! There are supposed to be 5 of us students.  I arrived first so asked about this.

We started with icebreakery chit chat, which turned into an impromptu teaching using the whiteboard about ci as a pronoun, based on something someone said that needed correcting. Spent a lot of time on this. Is this the objective for today’s class? Pronouns?

We eventually end up with 4 students.

Se avessi più tempo libero, che cosa facessi? (last bit of discussion, this structure turned out to somewhat be the topic)

Ma gli obiettivi…cosa sono?

The dicussion is all through the teacher, asking us questions one by one.

The teacher (Italiano) speaks in English! Haiyaaa! I want to hear ITALIAN!!!

Il tempo è limitato.

Half an hour.

Then, we move on to grammar – indication that the lesson proper is beginning now. Review? I am the only newbie to this course, the rest did the previous level…

Ohhh the topic of our chat was for the topic of a listening in the coursebook!

….which we didn’t listen to.

We had to read aloud the rubric… and bits of task (not sure why).

The COURSEBOOK has English in too. Upper Intermediate. Whyyyyy. Or does it? Perhaps the grammar info comes from a grammar book that has English in it. I’ll find out when I have the coursebook (told to wait til after the first lesson to purchase it – this was in the pre-course bumpf so a general rule)!

T isn’t nominating, confused whether to reply or not!

I eventually chip in. Sometimes I am right to, sometimes not.

Congiuntivo imperfetto

There’s even a powerpoint now, it just didn’t involve objectives. I guess so far the objective is to talk about hypothetical situations, unreal if-clauses.

Grammar activity joys

Fill in the table, t asks us each in turn for the answers but no time to do the activity first. Doing it lockstep item by item.

I am sleeeepy.

We then had to say aloud in turn what was in the table already for the irregular verb Essere not pictured above.

Then some sentence completions but again not doing it ourselves first.

I got If I could eat anything for dinner,  I would… and I said I already ate dinner, sorry teacher.

One of the students seemed much weaker than everyone else but had done previous course so was in this one.

p.68

I was to have a photo of the book but he talkin about it and I don’t have it yet ayyyy tech. Apparently it has a fumetto. Not sure what one of them is. A cartoon? Would help if I could see the page!

BREAK TIME!! Poor teacher called it to get some time to fix the tech issue!

We haven’t used breakout rooms yet, all communication goes via the teacher, no direct communication between students. When asked to define things I circomlocuted in Italiano to explain then got asked for English definition haha

Tech worked after break, I now have a picture, well, it is being shared on screen, though not entirely clear round the edges. Fumetto is indeed a cartoon.

Write a couple of sentences about how the world would be if run by kids. Had to ask to see the book page again, hah.

Se la societa fosse governate da bambini e ragazzi, cambierebbero molte cose. Per esempio, l’ambiente sarebbe prioritizzato quando delle legge nuovo fossero creato. Ma anche il cibo alla scuola sarebbe meglio.

Avrebbe  la precedenza (yay, language upgrade!)

I thought upper intermediates would be better at speaking and answering questions, communicating, based on my experience of teaching upper ints!

Non peggiorerebbe

Se il frigo potesse parlare

If fridges could talk…

2 ss have now disappeared, me and 1 other left.  One of those who have disappeared is the weakest one.

“Writing competition” about the fridges

We have to write a story about a fridge, about OUR fridge.

Un soprannome.  I made a mistake, didn’t know we had to keep info til later and spoke out of turn with my nickname, oops.

Soppranome: Miele

5 aggietivi: Grande, alto, fresco, pulito, pieno

2 pensieri del frigorifero:

  • Mangi un sacco di verdure, no?
  • Perché tante foglie?

Then suddenly he said if you prefer write it in English first. NO!!

(Edit: we never came back to this, which also contributed to confusion in the next stage…we didn’t do the “writing competition” that we had to read aloud through a sentence each in turn…oh wait we did the chain story was it…)

He then said dieci sentences and it confused me. I want him to speak all in Italian so I could have my  brain fully in Italian mode rather than be constantly switching.

“Era una notte buia e tempestosa, quando…” ‘ opening line.

Chain story using private chat, nice activity actually. Write a sentence and “pass it on” using direct message option to the designated “person sitting next to you”.

One of the missing students returned (not the weakest one). Teacher asked her to do the activity by herself because we had already started.

Difficulties: Private chat and everyone chat go in the same box, just labelled differently. Total communication breakdown.

Turns out I had understood the task but boy oh boy were we all confused. Including a phase of I thought I had misunderstood the task following the second explanation and so on and so forth. Poor teacher, he got quite flustered. I wanted to say, it’s ok, things going thoroughly tits up from time to time is a thing, don’t worry. Maybe try having written instructions for the activity next time, it might help.

We ended up with two stories instead of 3. Definitely without 10 sentences apiece.

Era una notte buia e tempestosa, quando uno strano rumore mi svegliò, come un rumore di rane. “Che cos’è?” mi chiedevo con il cuore che batteva velocissimi. Avevo tanto paura…

Era una notte buia e tempestosa, quando il mio frigo dice ad alta voce “Non sono trattato bene”. La sedia gli risponde: “ Cosa vuoi? Anch’io vedi sono vecchia e fragile e il padrone è pesante come una montagna” Giusto ma io devo contenere tutto il cibo e ce n’è un sacco.

My remaining active classmate had still not understood the activity. In fairness, I mainly had because of having done similar activities as a teacher before! The late-returning student was asked to judge which story was better.

Lesson then ended, very abruptly, no homework set, no wrapping up. Still no group work/talking directly to other students.

What I learnt from being a student again:

  • Lesson objectives are really helpful.
  • Understanding the purpose of an activity is helpful.
  • Clear linking between stages is helpful.
  • Being consistent in use of target language is helpful.
  • Being given time to complete an activity before feedback is helpful.
  • Clear instructions, which online means with visual support, are helpful.
  • Absence of the above can be a mixture of confusing and frustrating, not helpful.
  • Reading aloud for the sake of reading aloud is not helpful.
  • Every last bit of communication going through the teacher is tedious (hoping this will change!).
  • Ending abruptly is a bit confusing and disconcerting, not helpful.
  • Language upgrades are welcome!

The good news is, I kept up easily enough, phew (I thought I was being ambitious taking upper int as I consider myself more an intermediate really. 9 more lessons to go. I guess if each course is only 9 lessons and you go up a level after each course, it might not be enough for people to really change level. Not sure how their levelling/course progression works, ‘spose I will find out at some point! Anyway, Now that I know what the lessons are like, what to expect, I can set about making the most of it in terms of what I learn (Italian AND what it’s like being a student – what works and doesn’t so much)! For a start, I need to up my game in the note-taking department, so they they are useful rather than a stream of consciousness!

Here’s looking at you, Academic Year 2020-21!

I am in a reflective mood as I reach the end of a much-needed restful holiday and contemplate what lies ahead. 

I finished the academic year 19-20 with stress-induced perioptical dermatitis – perhaps unsurprising given the whole pandemic thing! It has been quite a (calendar) year so far. I started it in poor health, due to a virus (I do not know if it was THE virus, either way it wiped me out completely) which I didn’t fully recover from until early-mid February. Shortly after that one of my companion animals passed away following multiple vet visits and sustained nursing at home. By our Easter v weeks I was ready for a holiday and had a week in Sicily booked. Of course in practice it coincided with the pandemic accelerating in Italy and then here so the trip didn’t happen and the stress of the unknown (will we lock down? When?) and then the start of lock down ensued instead, for me against the backdrop of a new relationship. A week off in June coincided with finally being able to see my girlfriend again, which was wonderful but not restful (lots of emotions to deal with for both of us!). So it’s not surprising that I was a wreck by the time the proper holidays arrived in mid-August. I have largely spent them eating, resting, spending time with my girlfriend and getting a diagnosis for my eye skin condition which led to 2 weeks of 6 times a day taking and/or administering (tablets and creams) both plural!) an array of drugs. 

And here I am, eyes still look a bit weird but I no longer feel like death, which really helps! Another academic year looms. My inbox is full of emails to make sense of, I’m still not sure how much of “back to work” = back in the office, and everything ahead, pretty much will be new. A positive new thing is that I have decided to go down to 4 days a week for at least this year (it’s a reviewed yearly thing). Hopefully that will make for a better work-life balance. (My main decision of last year was to submit a request form for going down in hours rather than apply for an academic director position which would have been the opposite! I wouldn’t have got it anyway, because my colleague who did definitely deserves it more and has much more relevant experience to bring to it than I would have, but it was still a choice with regards to what direction I wanted to pursue.) 

This academic year, it feels like I will be starting a new job except with all my colleagues and without moving! It will still be EAP of course, but new timetable structure, syllabus, materials and platforms. Some assessment will be the same but some will be different. It’s quite an interesting position to be in really, the cognitive challenge of (nearly) everything being different but against the backdrop of a familiar team and with the added bonus of having an extra day off per week to regroup. Another bonus is that there will be plenty of development work to do in terms of materials, so that will be good to get stuck into. I have stepped down from my bulletin-writing TD role now (finished at the end of last academic year) and another role-related question remains to be answered: Will I continue to ADoS or not? It’s a decision I will have to make fairly imminently. But that is for another post!

For now, these are my academic year goals:

  • Be curious! By being curious about everything that I encounter, all the newness that is ahead, I can open up lots of opportunities for learning and growth. 
  • Be patient! With myself, with my colleagues, with my students. It won’t be an easy year and that is ok, it can still be a positive one.
  • Be grateful! Look for the positives and appreciate them. Smile lots. 
  • Be open to challenge! It’s ok, good even, for things to be difficult, challenge leads to discovery and growth. 
  • Be kind to myself! Look after myself appropriately, maintain a good work-life balance (easier with the 4-day week!), keep meditating, eat well, exercise regularly, spend quality time with my girlfriend regularly. 

Perhaps, in fact, on reflection, these aren’t goals so much as values. And in line with these guiding values I can set specific goals. My goal for the first week back is finish it with a clear idea of what this term will look like and be ready to embark on teaching a new group the following week! 

Bring it on, academic year 2020-21, I am ready for you! Um, I think… :-p Good luck to everyone who is kicking off a new academic year around now (northern hemisphere) and to everyone else, keep going only a few months left of this calendar year! 🙂 

Adapting to online teaching 2 (EAP)

After my first two weeks of whole group online teaching this term, I published this post about my experience of adapting to this way of teaching (behind the curve because we didn’t do any whole group teaching on our course last term, only short small group tutorials, which I mentioned briefly in my post about our experience of throwing an EAP course online at short notice). Another two weeks have passed so here is the next instalment! (It’s ok, we only have 6 teaching weeks this term before the final 3 weeks become all about assessment, so there will only be 3 of these posts in total!)

Week 3

The theme for this week was “Overpopulation – myth or problem?”. Having established in Week 2 that I can do break-out rooms (woo!), I decided to try a speaking-focused lesson with a focus on paraphrasing and summarising sources when speaking (which they will need to do for their Coursework 2 presentations). In preparation for the lesson, students had to find a source to support the position they had been assigned (half the class were assigned ‘myth’, half were assigned ‘problem’). In total, there were 4 break-out room groups, of which the final one was the main discussion task. The first 3 tasks involved random groupings, while the main task I did customised groupings because groups had to have a balance of “myth” and “problem” viewpoints and had to take into account attendance patterns thus far (i.e. I wanted to make sure that as well as being balanced viewpoint wise, no group had more than one student with patchy attendance!)

This was the first task (yes, somehow I forgot about “A”…! Students didn’t say anything about it, if they noticed. Of course they may have thought the chat box warmer task was “A”!)

This task reviews the skills learners developed and were tested on in Coursework 1 Source Report. In all the breakout room tasks for this lesson, I included times on the slides to give students an indication of how long they would have in their breakout room to complete the task.

Positive of this task: clear and achievable for students; provided opportunity for speaking/warming up their working in a breakout room mode!

Problem with this task: no tangible output = room for students to slack off. In future I would do something like get groups to report back in the main room, answering questions such as “In your group, whose source was the most current? What different search methods did your group discuss?”

This was primarily a preparatory task for the main discussion but also paraphrasing skill practice. As well as review and practise of written paraphrasing, it encouraged students to pick out key arguments that they could use in the main discussion task. By now, students are used to using Padlet in our whole group sessions both with and without the breakout room/group component.

Positives of this task: useful skill practice, a preparation step for the main discussion, has a tangible/monitorable output (student posts on the padlet)

Problems with this task: my instructions weren’t clear enough – in hindsight I should have included an example post on the padlet!; it took even longer than I had anticipated, which probably also relates to the instructions not being clear enough (fortunately, as has been mentioned previously, timing is very flexible in these sessions this term!); I used the comment function on Padlet to give live feedback/guide students but not all groups noticed the comments as they are not as immediately visually evident as the equivalent on a Google doc would be (I dealt with this by going into breakout rooms and drawing students’ attention to the comments!); my post-task feedback again needed more thought (work in progress!).

This was the final preparation task before the main discussion task. The goal was to give students time to consider the arguments linked to the alternative viewpoint and possible responses to these, so that the main task discussion could be of a higher quality.

Positives of this task: It used the output of the previous task (the arguments on the padlet) with a focus to how they would be used in the subsequent task, which adds coherence to the lesson arc and hopefully means students can see why they are doing what they are doing – there is a clear direction to the tasks;

Problems with this task: students could think “I’ll manage with the discussion, I don’t need to do this task”; any given student’s experience of this task would vary depending on how forthcoming or not their group-mates were. Group dynamics in the online setting is something I need to think about more – how to help students to work well together in groups, in breakout rooms. Maybe add more structure to breakout room tasks e.g. start them with some kind of mini-activity where students have to write something in the chat box, before moving onto using the audio and doing the actual task at hand.

(No, I don’t know what happened to my grasp of the alphabet in these lesson materials! I think I was so focused on the task content that I forgot to pay attention to numbering/lettering!)

So, the main task! Group discussion requiring use of the sources found for homework (research skills), the key arguments identified, paraphrased and considered in the course of this lesson and language for referring to sources verbally.

Positives of this task: Brings together everything the students have done from homework through to final discussion preparation

Problems with this task: As far as I was able to tell, only one out 4 groups did the task properly! I think again what was missing was a clear feedback stage which students would be made aware of in advance of starting the task and which required them to DO the task fully in order to complete; students who want to do the task properly but are in a group with students who are more interested in slacking off lose out (had one student who when I was in the breakout room monitoring/checking on them, tried to give her opinion and elicit others’ opinions but radio silence followed!).

This evaluative element of the lesson comes from Sandy’s recent blog post about conversation shapes. (Although it might be hard to see in this screenshot of the slide, depending on the resolution of your screen, when displayed as a pdf of a ppt in Blackboard collaborate, the credits were clearly visible!) Unsurprisingly, for the group who did have their discussion, it looked most like conversation 2. As a class, we identified that conversation 3 would be most effective – contributions of varying length, responding to the other speakers’ contributions, building on other speakers’ contributions. Obviously in groups, there would be more than 2 speakers but the students didn’t seem to have any problems applying the visuals to a group discussion.

Positives about this task: It was great to have a visual way to think about the discussions the students had had (those who had had them!! But I figure for those who bothered less, this was still useful and could be considered in terms of previous discussions). Having identified that 3 would be the most effective, this can be revisited in future speaking lessons as a prompt in advance of discussion tasks. Could also consider what language and cues would help to build a discussion like this e.g. agreeing and disagreeing language that allows connection to what has been said (that’s a good point, but…/yes, I completely agree, also…), back-channeling etc.

Problems with this task: I probably didn’t go far enough with it. Although, possibly this is not a problem but rather a slow-burn thing that bears plenty of revisiting and therefore doesn’t require lengthy input around it straight away. I think in future I will introduce this after the first suitable seminar discussion practice that students do in the course and revisit it and build on it regularly e.g. have example discussions to match to each shape, the language input as mentioned above etc. (Thank you, Sandy!)

The final task of the lesson was a reflective task, with the output going onto a padlet. Reflection is a key component of learning, of course, and actually these students by and large did a good job of this. This is something I need to capitalise on more in future lessons.

Positives of this task: made students think about what they’d done and evaluate it; those who didn’t speak recognised it in their answers (it’s something!);

Problems with this task: Too many closed questions – need to push them further than that, closed questions are fine but then a follow-up question could be good.

This task reflected weekly lesson content for week 3. In practice, the students had very little in-class time to start it, because all the teacher-led tasks (as above) took a fair amount of time to do, but students are accustomed to fairly substantial homework tasks and as this was part of Lesson 3CD also factors into their asynchronous learning time.

Overall, Week 3 was a useful learning curve for me. There were plenty of positives, there are plenty of things to work on. I find it really useful to consider each lesson in these terms, think about what went well, what didn’t work and how you’d do it differently next time to make it work better, and think about how to reflect what you’ve learned more immediately in subsequent lessons – I guess that is what reflective teaching and learning is all about!

Week 4

Well…you know those lessons where you think you’ve made a really quite good lesson plan and have high hopes for how the lesson will go, but the reality turns out… rather differently? That was week 4’s lesson for me. The theme for Week 4 was Scientific Controversy. The asynch materials included a listening practice based on a panel discussion about genetic modification, which I asked the students in advance of the class as preparation. Though it was homework, it wasn’t extra in the sense that it was part of the core asynch materials for the week.

I began the lesson in the usual way – with a chat box warmer. Today I asked them to pick one adjective that most describes them right now and write it in the chat box. 9/14 responded – tired, exhausted, sleepy, blue, sleepy, energetic, sleepy too, calm, hungry. I acknowledged and responded to all their responses. Then we looked at the lesson objectives. In this lesson, I put extra effort into making sure the lesson objectives were clear and carried through the lesson, so that students could see where they were in relation to the objectives, see progress being made and see how tasks relate to the lesson objectives (I’d read, or watched, I forget which, about the importance of doing this). I did this by repeating the objectives slide at appropriate intervals, highlighting each objective as it was focused on and putting a tick by each objective as it was met. Here is an example:

The first stage of the lesson was a language review stage. 

This stage included a definition check for controversy and scientific controversy and a series of pictures of example scientific controversies for which students had to guess what scientific controversy was being illustrated. Here is an example:

The students responded, and a good pace was maintained. I could perhaps have done more with the second question, tried to get students to share more ideas, but knowing I had some meatier tasks later in the lesson, I didn’t want to spend too long on this one. The final task of the first stage was a quick Quizlet review of some vocabulary from the homework asynch materials. 11/14 did it, which was an improvement on Week 2! I haven’t tried the team/breakout room version yet – that may be for next week!

Positives for this stage: Pacing, student response, topic and activities connected to asynch materials so provide review opportunities, use of pictures.

Problems with this stage: The second question on the picture slides got neglected. I think when it unfolding, I worried that if I pushed the second question, the amount of time they spent typing would negatively affect the pace/mean too long was spent on the activity.

The next stage of the lesson was reviewing the listening homework.

I started with these questions:

As you can see, I messed up the formatting for this slide so the Write yes or no looks like it only relates to question 3. I corrected it verbally but only got ‘no’s’, for those who responded. Hoping this was for the third question, I reminded them about the online mock exams available, the importance of practice and that that there would be opportunity for practice during this lesson too.

This next task was supposed to be a fairly quick and easy way of getting them to show their understanding of the opinions voiced in the panel discussion:

Nobody did it. Nobody responded when I asked why nobody had started doing anything a few minutes later. Eventually I said ok give me a smile emoji if you did the listening homework and a sad face emoji if you didn’t. I only got sad faces. So this task flopped completely. The next one was also not going to be possible as it reviewed the target language from the aforementioned homework:

So I skipped to the point where I displayed the target language and we related it to the conversation shapes we’d look at in Week 3 and then moved on to the final review task:

(The opinions referred to are those of the panel speakers again.) Obviously this needed a workaround due to the lack of homework issue, so I had them open up the relevant powerpoint which had notes relating to each panellist’s views and got them to tell me via the chatbox when they had done so.

Positives about this stage: It had a mixture of chatbox and breakout room activities, and focused on the content and the language of the listening homework. I had some workarounds for lack of homework.

Problems with this stage: It relied on students having done the homework! The padlet task had no work around (I was working on the basis that at least SOME of them would have done it and be able to post on the padlet and the rest could interact with that using the comments) for the zero homework completion.

The next and final stage of the lesson was the speaking/live listening stage:

I made this slide a) to give students an overview of this stage of the lesson and b) to insert at the relevant intervals to show which phase of the task we were moving on to. More detailed instructions for each step came at the start of each step. I had hoped this overview would motivate the students to carry out each step as they would know the following steps relied on it and have a clear picture of what they were working towards.

In practice, I put the students into breakout rooms, having set up the task, and went in to each room to check on the students. Group A gave me radio silence. No response. No audio, nothing in the chatbox, whatever I said. So I reiterated what they needed to do and said I would be back in 10 minutes to check on them (the preparation stage was 20 minutes). Group B had some students who did engage and some who did radio silence. Thank God for the ones who did! They asked questions about their topic, I checked their understanding of the task and then I left them to it for a bit (again promising to return in 10 minutes to check on them). At the relevant point I went back to Group A, knowing full well that the chances of them having done anything since I left (no activated mics had appeared at any point) were slim (they could have used the chatbox…they hadn’t!). I tried again, more radio silence. Group B, again, had made progress when I went in to check on them. Then I brought everyone back to the main room. Except…most of Group A didn’t appear/reconnect. (So, presumably, they had done the log on and bugger off thing!) Obviously the plan in the slide above was a write-off (the members of Group A that did show up were still radio silence when addressed/instructed!). In the event, Group B did their discussion and I gave them some feedback, again referring to conversation shapes.

Positives of this stage: It was clearly staged. The group that did the parts that they were able to do made a good effort. (I feel for them, being so outnumbered by ones who won’t participate…)

Problems with this stage: It relied on student participation! Step 3 relied on Step 2 being carried out to some degree of success. Too ambitious? But these ARE pre-masters students, it shouldn’t be! There again, they are all knackered (see chatbox warmer – though Mr Energetic? Group A. Just saying.) If the stage had worked as planned, students may have struggled to summarise the other group’s discussion because poor audio quality makes it harder to follow what is being said.

What am I taking away from these 2 weeks? That I want an article/book/video about classroom management with online platforms! Though quite what can be done if students are completely unresponsive, I’m not sure. I have worked really hard on making everything as clear and as meaningful as possible, in terms of tasks and objectives, which I am pleased with. I continue to try different task types and see what does and doesn’t work (with this group). Possibly I approached it wrongly overall – I tried to connect to the asynchronous material and give students engaging tasks that would help them develop their academic skills and prepare for exams, but maybe I should have focused more on their coursework. The next and final big thing students have to do in terms of course work is prepare and submit a presentation recording, so my final 2 lessons will focus on that! I can but do my best. Importantly, I seem much better able to accept things going wrong, take what I can from it and not beat myself up over it than I have been in the past. I think this links with having had a really supportive line manager/programme leader for a year now – work-related anxiety levels are a lot lower than they used to be – and also, of course, that it has been 1.5yrs now of using Mindfulness to cope better with life, including work.

Watch this space to find out what happens in the last instalment of my teaching reflections for this term. The main purpose of these posts is to be my memory, outsourced, when I come to planning lessons next term with a new group of students! Space and time will make it easier to incorporate what I have been learning these last 4 weeks (lots of learning, hard to keep up but I am doing my best!). The course will look a bit different, and is still under construction, but since it will be what it is from the start, rather than a change being thrust on students part way through, there will be a lot more scope for setting clear expectations and instilling good habits etc from the beginning AND the university will have made it so that students can access Google suite from China yayyy (I forget the technical details but it is some kind of VPN they are purchasing that enables it) – so, exciting times ahead!

 

 

Taking an EAP course online – what we’ve done so far!

Like most of the rest of the educational world, I have been thrust headlong into the world of online teaching and learning. Both from the teaching perspective and the coordinating one. It’s now week 7 of our first term in this brave new world and I have come up for air very briefly before assessments rain down on us between now and the end of the term. I thought I would share a bit of my experience of this term so far and how things are working because I’ve found it useful looking at others’ experiences!

Though we are in week 7, I have so far taught only 4 synchronous sessions as, being an ADoS, I “only” have one group,  we didn’t have any synchronous learning in Week 1 (it got up and running from week 2) and Week 3 got wiped out by a University closure day tacked onto the Easter weekend. My Week 7 session is tomorrow!

I use the term ‘taught’ fairly loosely as our approach is not the traditional whole class online lesson one. Instead, we have a two hour slot and the class of (on average) 20 is divided into 4 half hour slots within that (we change these groupings each week). It’s been interesting coming to terms with the new set-up and figuring out what works (and, indeed, what doesn’t!). We are using Blackboard collaborate and like most of these kind of platforms, it has some useful features like allowing students to raise hands, chat in a chat box, be put into breakout rooms and so forth. Of course with half an hour and a small handful of students, as a whole, we haven’t been using the breakout rooms much. That will change next term though! My half hours tend to take the structure of check on previous week’s learning, task, discussion. It seems to work best when:

  • you nominate students clearly so that they know when to speak (sounds so obvious but in slot one on day one I had to learn that the hard way!).
  • you get used to speaking into the ether and include prompts to get students writing in the chat box or raising their hands within what you say.
  • you use visual instructions to back up the oral ones and there is no ambiguity in what you want students to when and in what order and for how long, and how they are going to return/signal their return to the next whole group learning phase.
  • you get students to prepare thoroughly for the discussion in advance of the session.

As well as our online slots, we (continue to) use Blackboard for asynchronous content. Given we had 2 weeks to get our course up and running, we were fortunate in that we already had all lesson materials on Blackboard in the form of powerpoints and worksheets, previously with the function of enabling students to review content. The challenge, then, has been to make it more suitable to online learning. We have done this in the following ways:

  • Recording start of week and end of week videos. The former review the previous week of learning and talk the students through the lesson content for the current week, while the latter review the week’s content. This has been a laying the track as we go kind of a team effort, with everyone contributing – teachers and ADoSes writing scripts and finding additional materials to support the week’s topic and skills, ADoSes checking and editing scripts as well as adding the additional resources to the relevant lesson padlet on Blackboard, the odd teacher but mainly the TEL (Technology-Enhanced Learning) team recording the videos using Kaltura. Being as there were three cohorts and sets of teachers to manage, this required a complex Project Management Googlesheet to keep track of who was doing what by when. By hook or by crook, though, we have managed to do it! Script checking is complete, script recording ongoing. Materials are released on a weekly basis.
  • Using individual class padlets. Teachers have set up a padlet for each of their groups and this provides a means of generating student interaction (with each other, with tasks, with the teacher) outside of the synchronous learning slots. My students have engaged most with the paraphrase challenge – this is the brainchild of one of my colleagues not me so I don’t take credit! It involves putting a sentence or a short paragraph together with source information on the padlet for students to paraphrase either the entirety in the case of the sentence level ones or select an idea to paraphrase from the paragraph level ones. Of course they need to include correctly formatted citations. It’s a good way to provide regular paraphrasing practice – a skill that students tend to need a lot of practice of in order to master, regardless of L1 background!
  • As alluded to in point one, supplementing what already existed with extra content for the students to use for skills practice – videos, website links, extra practice activities etc.
  • In week 5 and ongoing, end of week quizzes were introduced, using Blackboard’s quizzing tool. These contain questions based on the week’s content to check students’ learning but also as a means for the institution to monitor participation. Script writers have written the questions at the end of the end of week video script, and the TEL team have created the quizzes in Blackboard. I don’t know what we would do without the TEL team!!

Student feedback has been positive but the main thing they want more of is teacher contact points within a week. Thus, next term we will be keeping the short tutorials slot and adding another two hour slot where an hour is more traditional teacher led input and the second hour can be used for tasks with the teacher on hand to provide support. We are also looking add more interactive content to the lesson padlets on Blackboard for next term and for the new academic year (although we have just learnt that there will also be more content being prescribed from higher up than our centre so how that all pans out remains to be seen!)

In terms of asynchronous learning, my students were struggling to keep on top of remembering what they had and hadn’t done tasks-wise and therefore forgetting to do some things. Being younger foundation students, unlike the pre-masters students they haven’t yet learned how to study effectively independently and are used to a lot more structure and hand-holding. So, I made them a record of work to alleviate this issue! Some are even using it 😉

I hope this is of interest to some of you out there and would be interested to hear via comments what you are doing with your students and how that is working out!

Right, see you at the other end of this term (maybe!) <fills lungs and prepares for the next wave to break>

Mindfulness for teachers and learners – musings a year on

It’s been just under (edit: just **over** a year! Life got in the way of this blog post – book chapter resubmission deadline and last few weeks of term, I’m looking at you!!)  a year since the universe conspired to guide me towards taking up mindfulness. The 2nd of March, apparently, so 10 days hence (edit: 8 days ago!) will be the anniversary of when I picked up my first book about Mindfulness – “Mindfulness for worriers” by Padraig O’Morain. At about the same time, Rachael Roberts promoted her 30 ways to Mindfulness book which you can obtain from her very thought-provoking website, and the then TD coordinators promoted a certain Futurelearn course (see below!) Since then, I’ve learnt a lot about Mindfulness and developed my own practice of it, doing multiple courses, reading around it and integrating it into my daily personal and professional life and into my teaching. This blog post is a reflection on what has changed for me in the last nearly a year.

The first aspect of the journey has been learning about mindfulness and trying to apply it. There are two Futurelearn courses about it – Mindfulness for wellbeing and peak performance (this is the one the TD coordinators promoted and it is running again starting on Monday!) and Maintaining a mindful life (this is aimed at people who have already done the wellbeing and peak performance one) – delivered by Monash university and I have done each of them a couple of times, getting more out of them each time as my practice has developed. My choice of tense is deliberate – I am still learning about it and will probably repeat those courses again this year. As with many things in life, the scope for learning with mindfulness is infinite, because as you evolve so what you take from courses or reading etc evolves too. Here are some things I have learnt:

  • I have learnt how to be more aware of where my mind is and bring it back to the present moment when it wanders. (Some mind-wandering is harmless but general lack of awareness of where the mind is can lend itself to worrying/rumination/awfulising/catastrophising.) I have spent a year gently training my ability to bring my mind back to the present moment whenever I notice it wandering, so that I am better able to that when it goes in a direction I don’t want to go in. Which leads me to…
  • I have learnt that I am not at the mercy of my thoughts, I don’t have to follow them all or get bogged down by then. They are there and there will always be new thoughts popping into my mind, but just like buses coming past a bus stop, I can choose whether or not to board them.
  • I have learnt a lot about how the mind works. This includes the different parts of the mind and the different systems at play in the mind, as well as how they influence my behaviour. As a consequence I am better able to recognise what is going on in my mind at various times/in various situations and use that knowledge to influence the direction things take. This is partly as a result of the Futurelearn courses, partly as a result of extra reading and partly as a result of Rachael Roberts’s Facebook group, Life-Resource Lightbulb Moments, which is connected with her blog too. One of the many things that has happened in this group is a virtual book group – we all read (well I am still reading!) The Chimp Paradox. This has involved reading a portion of it and then discussing it on a thread within the group. I wouldn’t have read the book (or as much as I have so far, ongoing!) without the recommendation and the motivation of the reading group, much less had the opportunity to discuss it. So, if you are interested in mindfulness and how the mind works, join the group!
  • I have learnt how to meditate and how much I need it in my life! I now meditate for approx 40 minutes in the evening before bed and sometimes I manage to do a bit before work too. Minor meditative moments can also occur throughout the day. Fridays include extra meditation but more about this later! Meditation has a positive effect on the brain. For me, my evening meditation routine has really helped my sleep – I fall asleep much easier after it. Occasions where I can’t get to sleep because I am too wound up about something are much fewer and further between.
  • I have learnt to use red traffic lights as a mindfulness bell. So, rather than getting annoyed by a minor delay, I use them as a reminder to be fully present. They are little islands of calm in the commute now instead of irritation points. In connection, I have learnt to accept that Sheffield drivers are frequently rather inconsiderate and unpleasant, and not use up precious energy in getting worked up about it. Getting worked up doesn’t change their behaviour, it just affects me negatively.
  • I have learnt  how to deal with stress more effectively. Case in point the last couple of weeks. A colleague I work closely off has been on sick leave, resulting in a big increase in my workload. Where in the past I would have used a LOT of energy and time worrying about not being able to do everything, this time I communicated calmly with the leader relating to one of the hats I wear and explained what was happening to the other hat, then made myself an extensive list of things to do for said other hat and how to do them. Then it was just a case of focusing my energy on ticking them off, one at a time. Crucially, when the weekend arrived and I went home (and indeed each evening when I went home during the week), I deliberately focused my mind away from work and onto home stuff, allowing my mind and body a rest from the stress. (This is where the mindfulness concentration training comes in – being aware of when it started to wander towards work meant I could bring it back, repeatedly, away from work rather than being in a constant state of high alert due to stress.) Last year when a workload-time-related stressful situation arose, I handled it a lot less well – communicated unmindfully and spent far too much time panicking. The issue was resolved fairly quickly but it could have been resolved a lot more effectively. Live and learn! And Iearning I am!
  • I am much more aware of when my mind is slipping into states that are not useful to me. I’m human, so it is prone to do so! Thus, if something happens which goes against what I would like to happen (holiday to Sicily that was meant to happen on Monday next week but is now cancelled, I’m looking at you!), yes I am angry and disappointed, but I also choose to limit the amount of time and energy I allow myself to spend on that. Better to accept that it is what it is, find things to be grateful about (e.g. it would be a lot more stressful for me if I were already there and the lock-down kicked off!) and refocus on now and things I CAN influence (e.g. this will be a useful opportunity to knock my garden/greenhouse into shape ready for growing everything that is currently germinating in my propagators! I will also have more time to complete this fundraising challenge that I am currently undertaking!) By being better able to notice when my mind is slipping into those states that are not useful, through mindfulness meditation training, I can redirect it sooner and more effectively. Multiple times.

As well as learning more about Mindfulness and using it myself, I have in the past year also used it with students in the form of a short (+-2 minute) meditation at the start of each lesson. Feedback from various groups of different levels has been primarily positive. Out of 65 responses gathered thus far, 57 have given positive feedback (relating to concentration, calmness, relaxing stress etc.), 5 have said they aren’t sure or not helpful but not unhelpful, 1 said it wasn’t helpful due to being too short and 2 said it made them feel sleepy! For some of those who respond positively, it seems to make a huge difference. Here are some of the comments that came with the feedback:

This was indirect feedback i.e. the students mentioned the meditation in a question not relating to the meditation!

These below are all in response to more direct questioning:

All in all, I feel this has been a very positive outcome. Mindfulness and education is becoming a more popular topic of discussion, even in ELT, with Pearson recently hosting a series of three webinars about it, and it is definitely something I want to pursue further. At the moment, the start-of-lesson meditation is the main extent of what I do, with a little bit of focus on concentration, particularly in relation to listening to a 10 minute lecture twice, having already listened to fifteen minutes worth of twice-repeated conversations, as my students have to do in their listening exam. In the future, I want to look more into how I can help them train their concentration and do this more systematically.

All that really remains to  be said now, then, is thank you universe for starting me on my mindfulness journey just over a year ago! 🙂

Do you practice mindfulness? When did you start? What changes have you noticed since then?

Looking forward

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

  1. How did last academic year go for you?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

1.How did last academic year go for you?

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

2. What two things am I most proud of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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