M.A./Delta + 5 years

It seems hard to believe that a little over five years have already passed since I handed in my dissertation project and left the world of M.A. behind. Five years is a good length of time. Five years is enough to really appreciate the difference doing my M.A. has made…

When I decided to do my M.A. ELT with integrated Delta, I had returned to the UK after teaching English abroad with the intention of doing a PGCE and getting a “proper job”. I applied to do a PGCE in primary and the university (no names mentioned) who I had applied to as my first choice dealt so poorly with the application process that I considered it a narrow escape when I wasn’t accepted onto the course! During that process, I attended IATEFL for the first time, as I had won a scholarship to do so (whoop!). Other than being badly bitten by the conference bug, I also got a flyer for an M.A. ELT/Delta in my conference bag. At the time, I thought it sounded interesting but was already in the middle of the PGCE application process. Later, having escaped from the PGCE path, I remembered that flyer, dug it out and started googling. The rest is, as they say, history; carefully documented on my M.A. ELT/Delta page.

So, what did I gain from dedicating a year of my life to pursuing two qualifications simultaneously?

The first thing that comes to mind is a geeky interest in learner autonomy. This came about as a result of the M.A. module on Multimedia and Independent Learning. Interest on its own, though, isn’t really enough to make much of a difference. What did make a difference was learning how to explore that interest after I finished the course. This, of course, I gained from the research module in which we learnt about different types of research including action research. Subsequently, while working in Sicily, I carried out action research projects focused on exploring different ways of helping learners become autonomous in their study. I remember one of my tutors had a look for me at the questionnaires I made to get feedback from my learners – still supportive even though I wasn’t a student anymore! I have since written up these projects – in real time on my blog and subsequently both as a book chapter for LT SIG’s recent edited book Teaching English reflectively with technology and as part of an article published in the journal Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, entitled Looking outwards: using learning materials to help learners harness out-of-class learning opportunities. In order to write these texts, I used writing skills developed during my course. Prior to that, the last time I had written academically was for my undergraduate degree and it mostly seemed to involve quoting verbatim various bits of text in a very wordy way. During the M.A. and Delta, however, I was allowed, nay encouraged, to develop my own voice and (you may not believe it 😉 ) write a lot more concisely, as well as to master that notoriously tricky skill – paraphrasing. Helpfully enough, one of the M.A. modules, Methodology in Context, was assessed through the process of drafting, receiving feedback on and redrafting before finally submitting, a journal article modelled on ELT Journal requirements. I’ve yet to be published in the ELTJ but that process set me up nicely to be able to take advantage of the opportunities for publication that have come my way. Most recently, I’ve been working on a book chapter that will be published in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook for Materials Development in ELT.

Other than writing, another way of sharing my ideas and projects has been through doing presentations at conferences. This is another skill that my M.A. helped me to begin to develop, together with the confidence to put it into use. The research module was assessed partly by a write-up of the research but also partly through a presentation. Likewise, the materials development module required a presentation as well as a written rationale for the materials made and the materials themselves. The first presentation, I did, however, was for the M.A. module which reflected the Delta module 3. We had to do a presentation about the course syllabus we had made and the research we had done in order to write the accompanying essay. That first presentation was, er, well it wasn’t terrible, I got 67 or 68, but while the content was fine, my delivery was what let me down. The feedback I received, though, enabled me to develop the skills necessary to get into the distinction band for the research and materials development module presentations. Coming back to the conference side of things, we were encouraged, and given all the support we needed, to present at the Warwick University Postgrad Conference and at a MATSDA conference too. At the former, I presented again about my research module findings (my first ever conference presentation!) and at the latter I presented findings from a very small-scale bit of research into student material developers’ perceptions of the role enjoyment has played in the materials they develop and in their experience of language learning. Although this project wasn’t part of my assessment, my tutors were very helpful and supportive throughout the process. Since then I’ve gone on to talk at IATEFL on a number of occasions as well as delivering online webinars.

My first IATEFL presentation: talking about the materials I made for my dissertation project!

But what about TEACHING I hear you say… Well, this blog post gives an insight into 30 things that I learnt about, which have influenced my practice. Then, of course, Module 2 of the Delta and its mirror module on the M.A. transformed me as a teacher. From the former, of particular value, I believe, were the PDA and the Experimental Practice components, as, in complementary addition to the changes that the LSA process brought about in my teaching at the time, they gave me the tools needed for continuing development of my practice through principled reflection and experimentation. The M.A. mirror module, meanwhile, required us to do a great deal of peer observation, using tasks which became part of the portfolio we had to produce, to guide that observation; again, a really useful learning process. Another way in which doing this course has helped me in my work as a teacher is the aspect of content. By this I mean that developing my own academic skills during my M.A. means I have a high level of content knowledge which feeds into the lessons I teach as an EAP teacher. Things like paraphrasing, citation and referencing, macro and micro structure of different academic texts, academic grammar (e.g nominalisation, “that” clauses for reporting etc.) and vocabulary. Having gone through the process of developing an academic voice myself, I have an understanding of what my students will have to go through as they develop theirs and of the role that feedback plays in this. Finally, in the Multimedia and Independent Learning  module, I learnt about such useful tools as wordandphrase.info a corpus tool that now has an academic sister site wordandphrase.info/academic which I use, help my students to learn how to use and show/recommend to the students I see in one-off one-to-one writing advisory sessions.

As well as what takes place in the classroom, part of teaching is the ability to evaluate, adapt and design materials for use with the students. This is another skill that I developed over the course of my M.A. ELT/Delta, in particular during the materials development module, for which the assessment was, as earlier mentioned, to produce and rationalise (in writing and via presentation) a set of materials. (These materials can be found here.) I was also lucky enough to be able to produce and rationalise (in a piece of extended writing) a set of materials for my dissertation project, which gave me extra scope to build on what I had learnt in the materials development module. Indeed, I learnt a huge amount about the task-based learning, intercultural communication and language awareness approaches, as well as using feedback on the materials I made for that module to refine the skills I had begun to develop. My dissertation project materials went on to win the 2014 ELTon Macmillan Education award for new talent in writing and consequently be published on Onestopenglish website.

A rather exciting evening…

The publishing process then saw me working with Macmillan Onestopenglish editors to adapt the materials to make them suitable for publication, which in itself was a great learning experience.

Click on this to see my materials on Onestopenglish’s site

The first few lessons of my dissertation project materials – one of the changes that had to be made was breaking down each of the six task modules into two lessons.

Happily, I’m now able to use those skills of evaluation, adaptation and rationalised, principled creation of materials in my current role as ADoS here at the USIC arm of the University of Sheffield’s ELTC, and I thoroughly enjoy it! I’ve contributed and continue to contribute to the core materials for our programme, as well as making lots of supplementary material for myself and other teachers to draw on alongside the core materials.

To return to my original question, “what did I gain from dedicating a year of my life to pursuing two qualifications simultaneously?”, it seems clear the answer is a huge amount. To anyone considering doing an M.A., I would wholeheartedly recommend it. To summarise it, on a more basic level, doing my M.A. ELT/Delta has enabled me to develop professionally in a variety of enriching ways and helped me on my journey towards working at Sheffield University ELTC which had been my goal since I did my CELTA here back in 2008-2009. Of course there are lots of different M.A.s out there, with different focuses, different modules offered and so on. I think in order to find the right fit for you, you need to be clear about what you want out of it. For me, the best thing about mine was how practical it was both in terms of content and assessment, with the content providing a mixture of knowledge and skills and the assessments being modelled on real life use of those skills.

Here’s to another five years of learning and building even more on what I learnt in my M.A./Delta and during the first five years following it. (Now I feel really old…) Meanwhile, I would be really interested to hear from you if you have done an M.A. and/or Delta – what did you get out of yours? Use the comments box below to share your story too. Hopefully in due course this post and comments of that nature could prove a useful resource for people thinking about doing an M.A. and/or Delta in future. 🙂

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ELTC TD Session “Peer-assisted self-observation” (Will Nash)

On the 28th of November 2018 (which seems a long, long time ago already!), I attended a TD session delivered by Will Nash who is in charge of teacher training at the ELTC. The focus was something which sounds a little odd on first hearing – “peer-assisted self-observation”. A bit of a mouthful and, for me, I wasn’t clear about what exactly it meant/entailed so it’s just as well I attended the session!

According to Will, the ELTC started experimenting with video observation since 2014. In fact, at IATEFL 2015, Will, and David Read who helps manages the technology side of things at the ELTC (in the sense of technology enhanced learning initiatives as vs. troubleshooting “my desktop has frozen” issues!) delivered a session based on these experiments with a focus on identifying suitable technology for use in video observation. (Their preferred set-up was the “Swivl” system which has a stand that holds a tablet or phone and a tracker with microphone that the speaker wears. The stand moves to focus on the location of the speaker and the microphone records what is being said. However, Will was at great pains to emphasise that peer-assisted self-observation can still happen without it and that other things are of much greater importance – as will be seen in the rest of this write-up!) Another ELTC development which connects nicely with peer-assisted self-observation here is the ELTC peer-development team. Hopefully the “how” of this will become clear as you read on…

Having given us some context for this talk, Will talked about different types of observation, asking us to make a list of types we were already familiar with. He then shared a list with us too. Between us all, here are the types that came up:

  • Qualification (i.e. observations as part of your CELTA/ Cert TESOL/Delta/Dip TESOL)
  • Annual (i.e. done by management for quality assurance)
  • Manager-led (e.g. surprise pop-ins, sweeps/walks)
  • Peer Observation (self-explanatory! Colleagues pop in to your class, observe and hopefully there is some discussion around it after and possibly also before)
  • Self-observation (by means of recording audio, visual, or both and analysing it subsequently)

Next we focused in on self-observation, starting with the question, “Why do it?”

Reasons include:

  • it is challenging, as people don’t generally like to watch themselves and especially don’t like to watch themselves make (perceived) mistakes
  • it is more “real” than a formal observation. In other words, you capture yourself teaching as you teach rather than it being based on the more artificial “display” teaching that tends to go with annual observations.
  • it comes from you rather than being imposed on you
  • it is “one of the most successful tools for lasting change in teacher development” (Petty, 2014)

All that said, then, why a “peer-assisted” version of it, particularly?

Well, apparently, the fact that it is self-organised positively impacts the rate of positive change in practice. “Self-organised” activity is when learners or teachers, in this case, get together in communities of practice. These communities of practice are valuable for lasting change. As we all have different levels of experience and have different amounts of knowledge about different things, there is the chance for informal mentoring and coaching to take place in the shape of interactions with people who are more “expert” than you are without them being your manager. This type of learning is a key part of change or transformation of practice. However, it needs to be real-time and embedded in your context to have maximum benefit. (For me, at this point, scholarship circles also came to mind as another example of “self-organised” CPD for teachers by teachers!)

This table is a really interesting summary of how much skill transfer arises from different types of developmental experience:

Of course, it is clear how peer-assisted self-observation ticks the “real time, job-embedded coaching and mentoring in the context of planning learning goals, implementing strategies and evaluating progress” box which yields the highest transfer.

So, it’s a great idea – what tech do I need?

  • A recording device: could just be audio, could just be visual, could be both – depending on your focus. (Of course it needs enough memory and battery to capture the amount of footage you require.)
  • A suitable location for that device to capture what is needed (i.e. where in the classroom will you put it?)
  • Somewhere to store the footage after you remove it from the recording device
  • Software to watch/listen to the footage, exploit it and potentially share it (in the case of peer-assisted)

The ELTC, as mentioned earlier, favours the Swivl System, as it addresses issues with sound quality that often arise when a static recording device is used. (I.e. when you walk away from a static recording device, the sound quality becomes poorer, while with a Swivel, the quality is maintained by the tracker).

In terms of exploiting the footage, we were shown an app called VEO which was developed for teachers and medical students specifically for analysing practice. It works with android and OS and is currently available for free, with the usual scenario of limited features accessible this way. Examples of what you can use it for include tagging key moments, tagging engagement and tagging interaction as you watch back the footage. Of course, this process can be done equally as effectively using a pen and paper. Will was at pains to point out that you can get just as much out of the (peer-assisted) self observation process using the most basic equipment e.g. a tape recorder (capturing audio) and a pen&paper for the follow-up.

So what *is* important for this process to be effective, if not the latest technological gizmos?

For CPD to be effective, what is important is to start from the question of “what do teachers need to learn?”  Peer-assisted self-observation is no exception. So how to answer this question of what you need to learn? It can be answered by cycles of enquiry into practice. So, you start with evidence of what your students need to know, especially the struggling ones, and from there what you need to know in order to teach them that effectively. Then of course you need to check how you are doing this in the classroom and identify whether it is the most effective way or perhaps not. This usually involves somebody else watching you or in the case of peer-assisted self-observation, watching with you. Finally, if you make changes, you need to then check the impact they have had. Actually, having written this paragraph, this cycle is fairly similar to the one I put forward for use with TD frameworks! Peer-assisted self-observation would definitely fit into it very nicely. An additional useful resource that I didn’t know about when I did my talk, and so isn’t on my list, is Ed Talks whose tagline is “Interviews, discussions, and presentations from thought leaders, innovative educators, and inspirational learners”. Basically, on it there are lots of interesting 5 minute-ish videos that you can watch and learn from.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What will improve my teaching and student outcomes?
  • What is my assessment/curriculum/subject knowledge?
  • What is my pedagogical and professional knowledge?
  • Are my methods and techniques in the classroom effective?
  • Can I use an evidence-based enquiry?

To have a clearer answer to question no. 3, you could use the approach/cycle I put forward at IATEFLas part of the identification process. This would help with the first thing on the list of things that need to be in place for (peer-assisted) self-observation to work:

  • you need a clear focus on a purpose area
  • you need to discuss with peers (for peer-assisted) and course-leaders (so they are aware of your plans)
  • you need to book, check and prepare any technology you are planning to use
  • you need to avoid “display teaching”
  • you need to include or at least warn the learners about what you are doing and assure them that the footage won’t be used outside your institution (or, if you do plan to share it more widely, ensure you go through the permission processes required at your institution and in your country)

What can I observe?

You could observe for subject knowledge, classroom assessment (i.e. in-class formative assessment), pedagogical methods/techniques, classroom management and interaction patterns. Apparently subject knowledge is a highly significant factor.

How can I observe?

  • The observation could be holistic e.g. getting an overall idea of your position in the room over the course of a lesson, whether students’ heads are up or down (you could use a speeded up mode to identify these kind of things, which can be interesting). Or, it could be specific, e.g. you could focus on the clarity of your instructions.
  • The observation could be audio only or it could be visual only (sound not recorded or sound turned down).
  • The observation could focus on content i.e. what you do, what the students do, or pedagogy i.e. how you do it.
  • You could do a critical incident analysis. NB this is not necessarily negative! This is critical as in important/highly significant. So you choose an incident that you consider important for whatever reason, which might last perhaps for a minute, and you do a deep analysis of that incident.
  • Learning instructional rounds (Oates, 2012) – so, teachers work in a group looking at each others’ recordings
  • Use these self-observation and lesson analysis forms to help you

How to work with a peer?

This can take place throughout the process: Before you do the observation, you can discuss what you are planning to do and how you are planning to do it. As well as being a useful way to clarify your plans in your own mind through talking them through with someone else, talking to that someone else can also provide useful moral support! Then, after you have recorded the lesson or part of a lesson, there are different ways you can work with your colleague(s): You could watch the recording together, at the same time (dual viewing) or you could view it separately and discuss it subsequently. You could watch in a group (i.e. “Learning instructional rounds”) or you could discuss it with someone who hasn’t watched it! What you are looking for and what you analyse is something you will have thought about and decided on in advance but it is also something flexible – for example identifying a critical incident and running with that instead or as well. You can look at the same recording in multiple ways.

What happens next?

Will suggests using it as part of a reflection and action cycle. So, the next stage might be to evaluate what you have watched and what you have learnt from that process. Having done that, you could do some learning in response to any gaps you have identified e.g. an online course, some reading (see the powerpoint that you can download at the end of the write up of my talk for more ideas for resources to use as part of this learning process) etc. You could also use it as the starting point for doing some action research, not forgetting that you can involve others in this too. You could do further recordings/observations. Finally, don’t forget you could also share the footage with colleagues for them to use (and, who knows, they might share theirs with you too!).

Finally, to come right back round to where this write-up started, for ELTC’ers hopefully now you can see how the PDS team could be helpful with this type of development? I’m sure they would be more than happy to help you plan your observation goals, watch footage with you and help you analyse it and help you make an action plan based on what you learn. You can also contact the TEL team for help with the tech side of things, the TD team may also be able to help (and/or all the useful resources curated on the portal!) and, of course, you can involve your line manager and programme leader(s).

Maybe having a go with this type of development could be another ELT New Years Resolution for you! Go on! 🙂

 

 

ELTC TD Session – Meet the PDS team (24 Oct 2018!)

Can’t think what I’ve been doing since this session happened at the ELTC, to create such a delay to publishing a write-up of it! Anyone would think I’ve been a tad busy…!

On the 24th October this year (apparently – just as well I write the date at the top of the notes when I make them!) I attended this session and learnt all about “the PDS team”. It has nothing to do with animals! In this context, “PDS” stands for Peer Development Scheme. This scheme was born at the ELTC about 2.5 years ago. What makes it special is that it is not management-led or “formalised” in any way – it is recorded anonymously and your line manager only knows if you tell them about it. It currently consists of three members of teaching staff, with between them a wealth of experience, who are there to offer support in any way needed to any of the teaching team.

What kind of support can they offer us?

  • They can help us find out more about courses, for example if we start teaching on a programme we have no previous experience of.
  • They can help us find materials suitable for a particular purpose.
  • They are happy to have a look and discuss SRDS lesson plans
  • They can help with proposals for M.A.s or PhD’s.
  • They can pop in and observe a lesson with a class you are worried about for whatever reason
  • If you get nervous about observation, they can wander in and out for brief periods, ad hoc, to help you get used to it
  • They can teach your class for a lesson so that you can observe another class (or even that same class to see how your students respond to another teacher!)
  • They can team teach with you
  • They can talk through a lesson idea that you’ve had
  • They can help you to get the help you need, if you need help but you aren’t sure who to ask
  • If you want to use the approach to CPD that I talked about at IATEFL, using the British Council CPD framework or a relevant equivalent (e.g. BAALEAP), they would be an invaluable extra source of input and discussion throughout the process. (Ok, they didn’t say this one, but it is true nevertheless!)

As mentioned previously, it’s very informal. You can grab them in passing or email them and organise a meeting if you prefer that. It can be a one-off ten minute chat or a series of regular chats. At the ELTC, we are allocated three hours per week as professional development time, known as “Scholarship” (university-wide term) and making use of the PDS scheme counts towards that scholarship.

Along with scholarship circles, this is another example of the “bottom-up” type of teacher development that, if the sessions about teacher development that I attended at IATEFL are anything to go by, is becoming increasingly popular in ELT.

For anyone teaching at the ELTC, maybe it can be one of your New Year’s Resolutions to make use of this brilliant initiative as part of your CPD! 🙂

ELTC Training Day 17/09/2018

On Monday 17th September 2018, the ELTC kicked off a new academic year with a training day. It was a particularly special day as it brought together teachers based at both Hoyle Street (ELTC) and Solly Street (The ELTC at USIC, which is the University of Sheffield International College run by Studygroup). Usually it is a case of “never the twain shall meet” – not because we dislike each other, but because timetabling just doesn’t allow it. Times that might be convenient to at least a fair number of teachers based at Hoyle Street aren’t possible for the majority of teachers based at USIC and vice-versa.

In the morning, there were parallel sessions running in two rooms, put on by teachers (including me) who had volunteered sessions. (The good news is, the teachers who volunteered sessions have all been asked to make a bite-size video about their session as sessions weren’t recorded on the day due to technical issues. So despite technical issues, we will be able to catch up with what happened in “other room”!)

In the afternoon, we came together in one room and we had a guest speaker talking to us about Mindfulness, a conference feedback session and a session about copyright issues. Before lunch, first I attended a session about the ELTC E-learning strategy which was a review of what has been done E-learning-wise over the last year followed by looking ahead to the forthcoming year and things that it is hoped will happen. For the second session, I repeated the talk/workshop I did at IATEFL about using the British Council Framework to systematise development. The third session in “my” room was the TD team and again it was looking back at TD over the last year and forward to possibilities for future TD.

E-Learning Strategy ELTC

Things we have done in the 2017-18 academic year: 

  • We now have the audio and video for various course books available on our (password protected) Resource Bank website. All relevant permissions for that have been acquired.
  • The Teacher Portal website has been given a makeover to make it more accessible in terms of layout and, amongst other things, now includes a link to teacher development materials (recordings, links etc) that have been and will be shared via email. The idea is to provide a central location where it can all be accessed so that when you finally have a bit of time, you don’t waste it trawling back through emails looking for something that was sent when you were up to your eyeballs in marking and didn’t have time to look at it.
  • The Student Portal website has also been undergoing development to make it more user-friendly and useful. USIC students are able to use it as well as ELTC students.
  • The International Summer School Pre-Sessional this year used a flipped learning model for the first time, meaning that half of the content was delivered online and half was delivered face to face. This also meant that a dedicated team produced 60-80 hours of interactive content (defined as “a combination of media such as text, audio or video combined with clickable elements [quizzes, questionnaires, typing in answers etc]”). Welfare-related content was also shared online. We looked at some examples of interactive content that were made for the International Summer School Pre-Sessional and I discovered that the OALD now lets you access Oxford collocations dictionary information when you search for a word: 

    Screenshot example from OALD showing the information from the collocations dictionary

Things we want to do in the 2018-19 academic year:

  • Develop more interactive content, including for year round courses. There is already a project underway working on materials for the SpLD service. Other ideas include induction materials, interactive rubrics to explain assignments e.g. essays, specific materials to support a particular programme, cultural and social guides, guides for particular tools and teacher training guides/content. To these, we were invited to share our ideas too, using a padlet which brought out some more interesting possibilities.
  • Continue working on the portals and the resource bank, to make them more accessible for teachers/students as relevant.
  • Try and link our digital literacy/technology training more closely to university policies/tools in use and “graduate attributes” as put forward by the university so that students . The library has a digital literacy framework with the skills/competences needed so that will also be linked.

    The Information and digital literacy framework page from the University Library

  • Develop online courses for teachers. The Learning Technologies in EAP course has run successfully a few times now with participants from all over the world. In addition, a new course will be piloted in January – “Corpus linguistics for language teachers”. This is a 6-week course to familiarise teachers with online corpus tools and help them use these in their teaching. (Sounds good!)

…In a nutshell! There was plenty of opportunity throughout the session for us to discuss and share ideas for future directions/developments which was nice.

“I don’t want to be a manager – now what?” How to systematise CPD using the British Council Framework (My session)

Here is a write-up of my session from when I did it at IATEFL in April. It was nice doing it at the ELTC as I could link specifically to aspects of CPD available here e.g. the Peer Development Scheme – confidential staff room peer review activities which could involve observing a colleague, team teaching with a colleague, assistance in finding materials, observation with specific developmental focus and discussion. Teachers can contact the Peer Development Team to organise any of these things. One of my goals for this term is to use it! A possible future goal might be to join the team…

“What’ve we got and what d’ya want?” What’s new in terms of TD resources, reflect on TD activities, and what you would like

We reflected on the TD activities offered in the last year. This involved looking at slips of paper, each of which had an activity on it e.g. Bitesize TD (15-30 minute videos made voluntarily by teachers about different things e.g. teaching multi-level classes, using Kaltura, using Googlekeep, Prepositions, Engagement through audio feedback), Training day, emails with mini-reflective tasks and, in our groups, identify which we had engaged with and select a top three. After that, we had to “shout out” (do you know it? It’s a site which allows students to use their mobile phones to send short messages to a central page which can be displayed on the interactive board) ideas for TD activities in the next year.

Activities:

  • Bitesize TD
  • Training Day
  • Emails with mini-reflective tasks
  • Emails with links to webinars/journals articles
  • TD Bulletin
  • Ad-hoc TD sessions
  • Scholarship circles
  • Sharing ideas around a particular topic on a padlet
  • Google Hangout discussions

Everyone was a big fan of the Bitesize TD! One thing that came out of the discussion around what could happen in the forthcoming year was a desire for more activities that bring ELTC and USIC together and, connected, opportunities for team-building as well as knowledge building.

Mindfulness and ELT

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is returning to the present moment, being aware. You can ask yourself the following questions:

Am I aware of…

  • my feelings now?
  • my physical body?
  • my language?
  • my impact?
  • my state of mind?

Where is my mind?

Feelings change from moment to moment. Do you notice the transitions? Which one is you? Where is the anchor (when encountering difficulties etc.) ? Knowing and being aware of the feelings is an anchor.

We looked at two mindfulness exercises. One was a sitting mediation in which we sat with our hands in our laps with the position of facing upwards, four fingers above four fingers and thumbs joined at the tips. We had our eyes closed. We had to focus on all the different parts of our body and our mind in turn. The second was a walking mediation which entailed walking VERY slowly around the room and being mindful/aware (focusing on) of the entire movement of walking, bit by bit. Walking up and down stairs is another space to practice mindfulness but we didn’t try that.

Thoughts are like guests, while you are the home-owner. Knowing is always present, while thoughts/guests come and go.

In terms of ELT, you could:

  • use mindfulness activities (not necessarily the ones above but for example choosing one or two 2 minute activities from the Eight Form Moving Mediation – Sitting Posture of All Forms) at the beginning and ending of lessons. Being mindful of posture in this way can help maximise oxygen intake and energise students.
  • do a self-communication exercise: Get students to complete the sentence “When I encounter a difficulty, I usually say to myself….” and then “Next time I encounter a difficulty I can say…” This encourages them to think/self-talk in English and to acknowledge what is there, become more aware of it and tweak it to something more positive. This is an example of using awareness.
  • do a peer support conversation: students need reassurance and peers can reassure each other if they have the language to do so.

During the rest of the session, she talked to us about her time spent on retreats in Taiwan and China and the similarities and differences between those experiences (the subject matter of the research she is currently doing), showing us lots of pictures too. It was a very different session and we all felt remarkably refreshed afterwards! We also agreed that it was really nice to have something so different within the training day.

Conference Feedback Session

Five of us had five minutes each to feedback to everybody about a theme or a particular session or sessions that we attended. I spoke about inclusion (which covered differentiation, special needs, LGBT and materials development) and briefly mentioned professional development, in terms of the shift towards bottom-up rather than top-down development programmes that came through in the CPD forum – you can get a flavour of what I said here). Other topics from IATEFL were Action Research, Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill’s sessions. Two more sessions fed back from a BALEAP conference and one of those focused on assessing speaking skills, particularly interaction, and another was about acculturation. I couldn’t make notes about what any of them said because I was also at the front of the room! Once we had all had our five minutes, we each went to a different part of the room and teachers could choose one of the themes to hear more about and ask questions etc. It all seemed to work quite well. My group wanted to hear more about SpLD and I will admit to using my blog posts from the conference to help me tell them what they wanted to know! It was a nice interactive kind of session, rather than purely presentation, which it could have been if organised differently.

Copyright

Two members of the library team came and did a session with us about copyright. We were introduced to the Copyright Hub which provides staff with information and guidance about copyright as well as signposting to relevant information. Obviously the information on it is tailored towards the licenses that the university holds, however, for anyone reading this who isn’t from the university, you can still have a nosy without being logged in to the university system!

An extract of the Copyright Hub website

After talking to us about copyright, the team gave use a board game to play which involved considering various situations and answering questions, while they monitored and helped where necessary. A useful session!

Overall, everybody participated very enthusiastically in the training day, which was very varied, and it was a lovely way to start the term. 🙂

 

Bite-size TD at the ELTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy weekend, all!

The Eaquals Framework for Language Teacher Training and Development and its companion the E-Grid

In Kirsten Holt’s IATEFL 2016 talk, (yes, 2016 – yes, this post has sat as a draft in my posts box for rather a while now! Better late than never…) she makes reference to the Eaquals Framework and its companion the e-grid. I was immediately curious so thought I would try the e-grid, which generates your ‘professional profile’. The profile produced is not saved on their website, it just creates a soft copy for you to keep on your computer.

After completing fields for name and address, and employer name and address, the next step was language proficiency:

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You pick your level starting from 1.1 (studying the target language at tertiary level, achieved B1 proficiency in the target language) up to 3.2 (see picture above) My questions:

  • I have a degree in the target language, two actually, but I don’t have proven proficiency at C2 level as I have never done a proficiency test.
  • What is this “natural command” that differentiates between 3.1 and 3.2? How is it measured?
  • “has native speaker competence” = 3.2 but all levels below that focus on language proficiency only for people who have learned the language in such a way that certification and examination has been part of it i.e. not people who have grown up speaking it as their mother tongue. So there are 6 levels you can pick but if you are a “native speaker”(definitions and implications of which term are another can of worms) you are automatically assigned the highest level, level 6, aka 3.2…  Are all “native speakers” equally proficient? “Proficiency” can be defined as a high degree of skill or expertise. Do all “native speakers” have that to a uniform level – in this case 3.2? (NB later in the self-assessment language awareness is dealt with separately.)

My next ?? moment came in the teaching experience question:

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I have no idea how many hours I have taught. Also:

  • What does it mean by documented?
  • What would happen for the teacher who meets the 3.2 criteria but happens never to have taught at C2 level? Or does lack of C2 level stop mattering after 4000 hours of experience?
  • What happens if you have between 2400 and 4000 hours of teaching experience including classes at C2 level?
  • What if your 2400 – 4000 hours of experience all happen to be in the same place?

I actually did keep a record of the hours I taught and to which class in my first year of teaching. Unfortunately, I have no idea where that document is. It was several computers ago and seems to have got lost in the mists of time… I probably don’t have squillions though, given I only started 7 years ago, spent one of those years doing my Delta and M.A. full-time so only taught once a week during the Delta and some part-time work later in my M.A., worked part-time between October 2015 and March 2016 and though full-time now, have a relatively small number of contact hours per week with my groups. (What do you do the rest of the time, I hear you ask? Well, there is also cover, Writing Advisory Service sessions and at certain points, megatons of marking – 2000 – 3000 word essays rather than 250 word essays… and – woohoo! – CPD!) Then, I’ve taught C1 but not C2. Am I a 2.2? A 3.1? Is x hours of teaching the same level of experience regardless of what development has taken place alongside them? In other words is it quantity over quality?

Once you’ve finished doing the self-assessment, you can export the results as a PDF, bearing in mind it will not be saved on the website itself. You can also export the results in e-grid format, which you could later re-upload to the website and edit. So, having used the E-grid, it was time to look at the framework itself. On the website, the main aims are set out as follows:

to help practising teachers to assess and reflect on their own language teaching competences, and set their own goals for further development

 

to help managers to identify training needs and plan professional development programmes for practising teachers

to encourage teachers to continue their professional development on their own and with the support of their institutions

to help document the design of public training courses for practising teachers

 

to serve as a tool for evaluating and accrediting teacher training courses.

There is then a link to the framework, a 42 page document, which you can download and peruse at your leisure. The framework divides teacher development into 3 phases, and assumes that teachers can be in different phases of development for different skill areas. The phases don’t map to seniority of position. There are five main areas each with different sub-sections. Each of these key areas is broken down into “knowledge of” and “skills”, so theory and practice. I am assuming that the 1.1 – 3.2 in the e-grid relate to the three developmental stages in this framework, although on the E-grid webpage, it says descriptors cover six developmental stages.

Have you used this framework to help you develop? Have you used it to help other teachers develop? How did you do it? Please share your ideas with me and others by using the comments box below – you are also very welcome to use it for answering any of the questions I have raised in this post or just any related thoughts! I will share my ideas for using it in a later post. Meanwhile, don’t forget to have a look at Kirstin’s ideas as disseminated at IATEFL 2016.

 

 

 

IATEFL 2016 (Macmillan Recording): Using teaching competences for professional development by Kirsten Holt

I missed Kirsten’s session at IATEFL 2016, but fortunately Macmillan recorded all their sessions and you can see hers here. She also has a padlet with her slides (you’ll need this as the recording doesn’t focus on the slides so they are affected by glare), links to the frameworks discussed and links to the results from the Survey Monkey activities that she did with the audience.

Kirsten starts by talking about the various teaching competence frameworks available at the moment: Eaquals (rigorously tested, 50 drafts), Cambridge English Teaching Framework (based on teacher training material e.g. competences required at different levels of development such as CELTA and Delta), British Council CPD Framework for Teachers (has 12 rings and you work your way in towards the centre; not just for English Language Teaching but other disciplines, from primary up through university level). Having discussed the differences, she also point out that all the frameworks have something in common: none of them are not linear. They allow for a jagged profile, with more expertise in some areas than others, depending on your experience and the areas of competence.

Next the audience are treated to a little history lesson: In 2006, the EU Commission targeted all the ministries to say they wanted Europe’s 6 million teachers to have the essential competences required to be effective in the classroom. Member states were to revise and strengthen the professional profile of all teaching professions. This extended way beyond ELT, of course. (This is a potted version – for the full version, watch the talk!)

So now, we have all the frameworks, what do we do with them? What do we use them for?

The first activity Kirsten asks the audience to do is to answer the question “Which of these statements apply to teaching frameworks?”

A series of competences can be used to …

  1. define a particular role

  2. build a teaching framework

  3. analyse teacher profiles

  4. determine teachers’ pay

  5. support teachers’ professional learning

I suppose the answer *could* be all of the above? Although I’m unclear exactly what is meant by “teaching framework” – is that the same as a “teaching competence framework”, as in the competences are used to make these frameworks? 

Kirsten then asks the audience to “hold that thought” so to speak, they will come back to this question again later having done some more activities.

The next activity is to come up with a definition for “a competence”, maximum of 20 words. What would yours be?

Next, Kirsten takes the room back to 2001. She was at Oxford House College, a teacher training college (CELTA, Delta, DipTESOL etc), with lots going on, a good place for teachers to come and brush up their skills and progress. The staffroom was a hub. You could chuck out a problem and there was someone in the staffroom who could help, or at least try to. They also did observations, new teachers had mentors, teachers were observed in first year of teaching and way beyond, there were also 5 minute observations just to get a snapshot of the classroom. There were also weekly plans, accurate records of work, TD session adverts, records of who had done what session when. And in Kirsten’s office, she would try to amalgamate all this information, to decide what to do in the TD plan, who to send to conferences, what to do with the teachers etc. She explains that the E-grid help with that. You input how confident you are in various areas, you then can get your mentor/director of studies to do the same thing for you. This should help to identify areas for development.

This gave rise to a discussion of the meaning of ‘a competence’ (returning to the definition activity) and how it has changed over time.

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She emphasises that a competence is not static. It’s not something you tick off and forget about. (At this point the audience are invited to change their answer to the first activity if they would like to…) Kirsten says that competences are designed not to determine teacher pay but to encourage teacher development – at least, the pay factor, if it is a factor, shouldn’t be the be all and end all. It’s not just a case of generating a snapshot of a teacher’s career but a continuous way to look at that career.

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It’s about setting objectives and then working on achieving them, working out where you are, where you want to be and how to get there. She shows a progression of stages a teacher can go through in developing an aspect of their practice. (I suggest you watch the recording to see her talk through this!)

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The different colours reflect the phases that the stages fit into: development, engagement, integration. Kirsten uses a lovely analogy with planting seedlings (that again I recommend you watch!) to explain these. These stages and phases match up with the Eaquals Framework.

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The next question is what do we DO with these frameworks? How do we make them work? The first thing to consider is the fact that they aren’t linear. (Like the jumping fish in Kirsten’s slides!)

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Kirsten puts forward an experiential cycle process that teachers can use to develop:

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She also gives us some top tips for fully engaging in that process. (I won’t list them here, I will let you watch the talk to find out!!) Next she, she asks the audience to brainstorm activities that could demonstrate traversing a competence and gives some ideas of her own:

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She emphasises that we learn from reflecting on experience.

You also need to watch the recording to see the activity where she gives an activity and the room has to categorise it according to whether it is Phase 1, 2 or 3.

She finishes with this lovely quote from Dr Seuss:

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As she says, appropriately enough at the end of a very engaging talk, ultimately for development to happen, you have to engage.

A few of my thoughts relating to this talk:

  • This was the next talk I watched after Stick or twist: the teacher to manager dilemma  which approached teacher development from an institutional perspective i.e. what schools can do to help teachers develop. The ideas put forward by Shirley Norton and Karen Chambers in this talk were wide-ranging, including activities not specifically teaching-related. Kirsten’s talk, on the other hand is very much focused on what teachers can do to develop their practice, to move between levels of competence – although I think the process she puts forward could of course also be applied to development more broadly. So, two talks that are focused on helping teachers develop, but from very different perspectives. I was interested to watch Kirsten’s talk, in light of my response to the Stick or Twist talk, which, in a nutshell, was “That all sounds really cool but what about the things that teachers can do by themselves?” Kirsten’s talk gave one very useful answer to that question. I think it could be part of a bigger ‘answer’, though, perhaps. As I said at the end of the Stick or Twist talk write-up, watch this space!
  • The first thing I just had to do after watching Kirsten’s talk was try the e-grid profiler. I was going to talk about that experience here but actually I think it needs a whole other blog post! In a nutshell, it felt a bit like the equal opps form boxes at times – i.e. it triggered the whole “But I don’t know which box I fit innnn!” response! Nevertheless, looking at the Eaquals Framework document itself, one thing I really like about it is that it acknowledges both knowledge and skills. Another framework of interest to me and that I need to keep in mind as I work in an EAP context, is the BALEAP competency framework for teachers of EAP , (the logo for BALEAP is also featured on Kirsten’s slide of different teaching frameworks) which requires different knowledge and skills, more specific to the University EAP context. Of course, plenty of the content in the general frameworks is equally applicable to EAP. 
  • I did a lot of reading into experiential learning when I was doing my M.A., as I used the principles to inform the materials I made for my materials development module assessment. Applying the principles to teacher development makes perfect sense to me. Kirsten’s approach feels very directed towards teacher performance in the classroom though, i.e. focused on skill development with knowledge development being a means to that end (and if you didn’t go any further than learning about something, then you remain in phase 1). I question (and would be interested in your thoughts!), is that knowledge wasted unless it is directly applied in the classroom? As teachers, can development include learning about things that relate to our profession without there necessarily being a ‘doing in the classroom’ factor as the end goal/point? What I mean is, I would say that it can also work the other way round – i.e. you can read simply because you are interested in something, or something catches your eye, and then what you read ends up informing your practice but not because you were specifically looking to follow the process that Kirsten lays out. I’m not sure if that makes sense? Either which way, I think Kirsten’s approach is definitely a very useful tool for teachers who are looking for a concrete way to develop a specific aspect of their practice. 
  • I love that Dr Seuss quote! It sums up how I feel about CPD and it’s what makes CPD interesting, exciting, enjoyable and something I want to keep doing – and ultimately something I’d like to help other teachers do too.