Teacher Education Circle 4

For the more astute amongst you, you will notice that I have gone straight from TE Circle 1 and TE Circle 2 to TE Circle 4. This was deliberate rather than a slip – I sadly missed TE Circle 3 because I (not so sadly!) had already gone off on Easter holiday when it happened (it had been supposed to happen a couple of weeks earlier than it did but was delayed due to illness). This post is, as ever, slightly delayed – TE Circle 4 actually took place on Thursday 21st April 2016. Somehow it now seems to be already May. Not sure how that happened…!

I arrived a little late because I was teaching a class when it started – fortunately that class took place in the same general location as the meeting so I was able to get to it swiftly after. Normally I am a good twenty minutes away (door to door, using the bike) over on a different site. Nevertheless, it was a interesting meeting so I’m glad I was able to make some of it!

Work has continued apace on the “Teaching Advisory Service (TAS)” – an idea thought of and developed during and in between TE Circles. It is now ready to be trialled, which is rather exciting! Teachers will have the possibility to do various developmental activities, facilitated by a mentor. So, for example, a teacher could simply observe a colleague for 10-30 minutes and the mentor would facilitate by covering their class for the duration of this. Other options include:

  • team-teaching with a mentor
  • finding materials with a mentor
  • bouncing ideas for lesson plans/observations off a mentor
  • being observed by a mentor, with positive feedback/skill development in mind
  • discussion of classroom issues, teaching methods or personal goals with a mentor

Everything done within this service would be confidential rather than part of a management-led formal process. The trialling process will take place during the rest of this term and then it will be evaluated and tweaked, based on feedback from participants in the trial (mentors and teachers alike) to then be rolled out fully next academic year – if it is successful. It will be interesting to see what happens. I quite fancy the team-teaching option, personally. Team teaching is not something I’ve done a lot of. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done any since my first job in Lampung, where it was part of the induction process.

In TE Circle 4, we also discussed a framework and some slides that had been brought back from IATEFL talks relating to them. One of these was a British Council framework for CPD:

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One of the talks was the Cambridge English Signature Event (Observations and Reflections – Tensions between best practice and reality), available to watch on the IATEFL 2016 online page and on my list (that I am steadily working my way through) of post-IATEFL catching up to be done!

We discussed other frameworks we were aware of, for example the BALEAP one which is specifically aimed at teachers of EAP (see here). This brought up the issue of how the frameworks are used and how teacher educators can help teachers use them. There is the question of whether teachers are institutionally obliged to use them, whether there is assessment of that. So, for example, in the research part of the university there is a framework that researchers get judged against and in order to get funding they  have to demonstrate that they are worth that funding according to that framework. A sort of quality assurance. We are accredited to BALEAP and British Council so we are inspected by them, according to their frameworks. Then, apparently there is a framework that will be brought into use by universities for teaching staff but what is yet unknown is how they will be used. It could turn into an OFSTED for universities potentially. Perhaps helping teachers to use the frameworks (rather than have the frameworks used on them so to speak) is something the Teaching Advisory Service could also do.

The question of reflection also came up, in relation to the above talk. It was suggested that if reflection is required then it needs to be taught/trained as it doesn’t come naturally to everybody. Indeed, some people are actively opposed to doing it.

In my opinion one of the issue that arises with requiring it is that it is difficult to do at the drop of a hat and some things take longer to reflect on effectively than others. I think requiring it to be done within a certain time frame and with a particular outcome, e.g. as part of a training course between teaching a lesson and getting feedback on it, makes it another box to tick/hoop to jump through, and so there is a shift from genuine reflection/evaluation to something more contrived to produce the desired outcome. Yet, is this a problem? You learn how to reflect and evaluate by doing it, then perhaps once you have finished with the hoops, it can shift back towards being something more genuine and developmental. Then, every so often (e.g. with formal observations), you (may) have to prove that you can still do it! So maybe, then, in training courses, rather than getting rid of the reflective element, there needs to be more focus on how to reflect effectively, and on helping people learn how that is for them (as everyone’s process is a bit different) rather than treating it as a box ticking exercise where if you don’t do x, y or z in your post-lesson reflection you will fail that teaching practice. Otherwise you might end up trying to get square pegs into round holes.

During the TE circle I was asked who I think of as my audience when I write reflectively on this blog. Magnificent as ever when put on the spot I responded with the greatly insightful…”errrm my readers?”  Thinking about it, I don’t write with a particular audience in mind, other than “people who are interested in ELT, from whatever perspective” – teachers, teacher trainers, DoS’s, publishers, whoever you are you, whatever you do, you are welcome to read what I write of course! I figure that just as I enjoy other peoples’ blog posts, there are people out there who get something out of reading mine!

My blog is busier some days than others. During IATEFL it is particularly busy, of course – in April I had 6,293 visitors and 12, 940 views. This is where they were from:

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These were the top ten countries:

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Less anonymously, I know Sandy Millin reads my blog posts (she comments on them and shares them) as do Rachel Daw and Naomi Epstein. (Hi guys! 🙂 ) To give a collective term to these three and others, my PLN (personal learning network) aka the people I interact with online via Twitter, my blog and their blogs. Some people read some posts, some people read other posts. 884 poor sods get an email every time I publish something! Audience aside, I think the act of communicating something to someone else, in speaking or in writing, but particularly in writing, requires a deeper processing of that something than keeping it to yourself/just thinking about it. It forces you to make those thoughts more coherent. I’m really glad that the folk on Twitter/#ELTChat encouraged me to start blogging moreorless 5 years ago now, happy to have been part of an online teaching community for that long and long may it continue.

Back to TE Circle, our attention was drawn to a free sample chapter from Jack Richards’ book Key issues in Language Teaching, published by Cambridge. It was the chapter on professional development. On my to-do list still is a review of this book and the Cambridge Bookshelf app as they let me have a free copy in exchange for doing that. Fortunately they have been patient and their patience is soon to be rewarded! Watch this space…

The circle came to an end, and as usual I felt privileged to be able to take part in the discussion and learnt a lot from it, but also felt rather out of my depth as everyone else there was about a gazillion times more experience than me(!). I hope I can attend the next one and look forward to seeing what happens with the advisory service. You can be sure that if I do manage to try out the team teaching thing, there will be a blog post in it!

 

 

ELTC: Vocabulary review workshop

This is a very delayed write-up of a Vocabulary Review workshop that I did at the ELTC last term. It’s taken me this long because I have been reflecting on and off since, and now finally feel ready to publish it! It’s a reflective post divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ with the former focusing on my preparations and the latter focusing on what actually happened!

Before

Tomorrow I am going to be running a workshop for my colleagues at the ELTC. The focus is vocabulary review activities. This year, so far, I have already done two other workshops for them: one on helping learners become more autonomous (part of the training day at the start of term) and one whose aim was to encourage reflection on career turning points and glean ideas for further developmental possibilities. I’ve also done a practical workshop on blogging (both with learners and as a means of professional development), at Leeds Beckett University, on the Multimedia and Independent Learning module, as well as an online session also about career turning points for the recent TD SIG web carnival. Coming up, as well as tomorrow’s session on Vocabulary Review, I have another session with Leeds Beckett University, this time online, about developing learner autonomy, a British Council webinar also about learner autonomy tools/tips and my IATEFL presentation in April, which will form part of a forum on listening and focuses on helping learners become more autonomous listeners in an EAP pre-sessional context.

The reason I mention all these commitments is that (not so coincidentally!) I have recently(ish) been reflecting on my short, mid-term and longer term goals, now that I have achieved the long-term goal that I set out with after I finished my CELTA, which was to gain some experience and then in due course work at Sheffield University. Of course I also squeezed in my M.A. in ELT and my Delta in the interim, which was handy and part of the plan for getting university work. Teacher training is one of my areas of interest, so it follows logically that, if one of my goals is to become a teacher trainer, doing as many workshops as I can, in various contexts, would be a useful way of gaining experience and working on my techniques for working with teachers rather than students. Initially, I started doing workshops as a means of developing myself as a teacher, and I will admit the main personal goal early on was survival. Happily, as you can tell since I am sitting here writing this, I achieved that! Since then, goals have included sharing what I’ve learnt through my experimentation, becoming more confident in my delivering, including more interaction in my sessions and so on.

This vocabulary workshop, however, is the first one I will do since reading “A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT” written John Hughes and published by Pavillion, borrowed from the ELTC’s library.

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It is also the first workshop I have volunteered to do in response to topics requested by teachers via survey and shared with everybody by our professional development team. I did a workshop on Error Correction at IH Palermo, with the topic suggested by the DoS, as planning a workshop was one of the tasks for the Tutor in training certificate I did while at IH. It seemed logical that if I had to plan a workshop, I might as well deliver it! For that workshop, I had help from my DoS and from my ex-Delta module 1+2 tutor who shared some materials with me via email. I also had the memory of an error correction workshop I had done during Delta (hence contacting aforementioned tutor!), on which I based the workshop. Of course, this time, for the vocabulary workshop, I’ve done all the preparation unsupported, starting from scratch. I think I should do more sessions like these. I’ve already signed up to do one on pronunciation so hopefully I can use what I learn from doing this session in planning that one. I shall be team-teaching it with one of my colleagues, which also be interesting! 🙂

Hughes suggests thinking of a training session as a triangle shape, divided into three. The smallest part at the top of the triangle is “What?”, the next segment, which goes until half-way down the triangle is “Why?” and the rest of the triangle is “How?” So this is the structure I have applied to my vocabulary workshop. The “what” and “why” section will be taken care of via discussion of some quiz questions relating to the topic of vocabulary review (and by extension learning). The bulk of the session, the “how”, is going to be a game of bingo! I will ask groups to brainstorm a grid of 9 vocabulary review activities that they have used before and then I will share 9 activities of my own with them. I plan to do this by having them participate (briefly!) in each activity using Delta module 1-style terminology (particularly relating to Lexis) as the target vocabulary. If the activity corresponds with any on their grid (regardless of the name, as these activities tend to go by several names), then they get to tick it off and we’ll see if anyone gets Bingo! The remaining time will be used to allow groups to share any leftover activities on their grids. I have also prepared a handout summarising the activity procedures so that the teachers don’t need to make notes as well as participate.

I anticipate that timing is going to be tight, as I will only have an hour to play with. However, I recognise that we do not need to complete each activity, teachers just need to have a taster of it in order to make sense of how it works. As per the triangle, the “what” and “why” quiz should not take up too much time. If time does run out, then I’ll make a google doc and invite teachers to write a brief summary of the outstanding activities on their list. One of my goals is to maintain a good pace and really keep track of the timing. I suppose, in the circumstances, it is also going to be a good test of classroom management and instruction-giving! (The better these are, the better the timing will be!)

After

Well, the good news is that my colleagues responded positively to this workshop. I had 6 attendees and they all had plenty to contribute to the discussion element (!) as well as being willing to get involved in the game-playing element.

As I predicted, time WAS an issue. Or, was it less the timing that was an issue and more my confidence in managing the discussion element, which I allowed to take up too much time?They had a lot to say and I didn’t want to cut it too short! (Perhaps I should have had fewer discussion questions, though I think they were all useful…) Actually I just wish I had had a longer session to play with – in the event we started slightly late and some attendees had to leave early due to other commitments, and even that aside it wasn’t the longest time slot! That’s not an excuse though – I did know roughly how long I would have. Perhaps I should have included fewer activities to try out?

However, on the plus side, this time issue was mitigated by my carefully prepared hand-out which meant that although we couldn’t have a stab at playing all of the games, teachers did take away instructions for all of them so that content wasn’t lost. Perhaps it didn’t matter that there were left over activities. It just gave the teachers a greater take-away for future experimentation. Perhaps, then, what I needed to do was stop trying the activities at a given point when there was still enough time for a constructive closing. I think that is what really got lost, as we had to come to a halt rather abruptly as teachers had to leave to get to other things.

For me, another positive was that within the game playing, we were able to refer back to the discussion element and build on it. The games illustrated the points made through the discussion questions, making them that much clearer. I think this was important because it made the workshop more cohesive and less of a ‘discussion with a few activities tacked on’ which perhaps it was in danger of becoming, given its nature. It was intended to be a practical session, with lots of ideas for teachers to try out, rather than a theoretical session, but the discussion element allowed for the practical ideas to be rooted in theory. So even though my first thought at the end of the workshop was that I had let it go on for too long, I now feel that that wasn’t the issue, rather it was how I managed the remaining time.

I would say the main drawback was that although I identified time as a potential issue in my planning, and recognised that not every activity needed to be completed, I didn’t recognise that the teachers didn’t actually even need to do every activity, thanks to the hand-out I had prepared, and therefore wasn’t prepared in the session to stop going through my set of activities in time for a strong closing. This is something that will definitely be a consideration in future workshops.

At the end of the session, I felt disappointed that it hadn’t gone quite as I might have liked it to, but on reflection I think it had a lot of positives and, importantly, I learnt some useful things from how it did go:

  • hand-outs are really useful!
  • make a decision with regards to how long an activity should run for and be firmer in bringing it to a close, if needs be. (Alternatively, if it needs to go on longer than planned, revise plans for the timings for the rest of the session!)
  • recognise when all the material is not going to be got through and ensure that there is nevertheless time for a suitable closing element to wrap everything up
  • in planning, if there is clearly too much material, either cut it down or ensure that nothing will be lost from the session if all the material isn’t covered. (In other words plan so that no core material will be lost)

I think that’s a useful set of points for me to consider next time I plan and deliver a workshop! So, all in all, it was a successful learning and developmental experience for me in my quest to become a teacher trainer at some point! I look forward to building on it. 🙂

If you are interested, here is the powerpoint I used and here is my handout.

IATEFL 2016: The LDT Toolkit (Damian Williams)

Damian starts by asking us what LDT stands for. It’s Language Development for Teachers. There are different ways for describing it. He chose this because it’s the same as the name of the specialism for Delta module 3. It also emphasises the developmental aspect.

Teacher development is often split into teacher education for teaching teachers about teaching and teacher training. Teacher training is more about developing skills e.g. CELTA, Delta, Trinity, with a very practical element. Continuing professional development is everything else e.g. webinars, conferences etc. He feels that LDT overlaps between them, as it is learning knowledge but also developing skills.

He wanted to find some figures of what the numbers of NESTs and NNESTs around the world are.

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Bigger numbers now, of course.

A lot of conference talks are based around the private language sector when in actual fact it’s a very small proportion of the language teaching that goes on in the world today. Damian lived in Brazil for 10 years and one of the things he was doing there was running workshops for teachers, on behalf of publishers. It was a thing they did for their best customers. Most of the teachers came from state schools with very large classes. A lot of the feedback was “this is great, sounds brilliant, but my reality of 30-40 kids, this wouldn’t work”.

There are some key issues involved here.

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First of all, definitions. We should all just be called teachers regardless of where we are from (rather than NEST and NNEST etc.) Damian asked people to answer some questions via FB groups but it’s complex!

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Most English spoken in the world today is as a second or foreign language. TEFLEquity are trying to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in recruitment etc.

Language proficiency is the focus of this talk. Why? Firstly, there isn’t much about in terms of published materials that does it already. Here are a few examples that do:

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Most TT courses focus on methodology and skills, where there is a language component it tends to be language awareness and looking at language as a system as opposed to practical uses. There is a lack of time on these courses, as there is a lot to do and get through. Building a language component into that would take too much time. Cullen (1994) quotes Berrry (1990) quotes lots of Polish teachers saying that their main use of English was in their classroom with their students, so they don’t get to practice English much outside the classroom. The demands of CLT adds even more pressure. Most teachers that Cullen spoke to wanted it. He says this in his article:

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Initial considerations

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  • Is this a GE course for general improvement or an ESP course specifically related to teaching? Damian opted for the latter.
  • What proportion of a course should it be? Damian wants to build it into the other components of the course.
  • How to incorporate experience? Damian heard a lot of “this is great but it wouldn’t work in my situation”  – how to deal with that?

Cullen sets out four approaches to LDT.

  1. ‘ignore’ it – do all the other development through the medium of English
  2. include an LDT component (does take a lot of time)
  3. link methodology and language work – using English as a medium of instruction but an add-on where you start to analyse the language used as well.
  4. make LDT central – give language lessons as you would normal but also demonstrate practice.

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Next, we try some activities within this approach. E.g. look at statements about error correction and agree/disagree with them. Some of the language is highlighted:

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Focus on the highlighted expressions.

  • Look at the expressions highlighted in yellow. Which have a positive or negative meaning? Which mean a large/small quantity?
  • Look at the expressions highlighted in green. For each one decide Does it have a positive/negative meaning? What other part of the text does it refer to? What do you think it means?

Next, Damian ‘sets up an activity’. Work in pairs. Each pair has a set of pictures that are the same but different. Pairs should describe their pictures to each other and find ten differences. Don’t show your partner your picture. Damian gives the instructions. Then we should answer questions about the demonstration.

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The next activity is mini-bingo. Students write down one-word answers for themselves in the boxes and, comparing their answers in pairs, get a bingo each time theirs is the same as their partners. We are asked to practice eliciting feedback from a student who has done this activity. The first time A is going to be the teacher finding out the answers from B the student. A’s are given an extra instruction with B’s looking away!

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Next, roles are changed and B’s get a different instruction.

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If we’re doing this in an LDT classroom, there are then some reflective questions.

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So this is partly an experiential approach, using Kolb’s cycle. We learn by doing and reflecting on what we have done. The CELTA is like a driving test, but says you are safe to be let loose on the classroom, it’s then through the years spent in the classroom that you really learn. Many teachers have many years of classroom experience, what we are doing is feeding into that experience within the circle. Teachers try things out, take them into the classroom and use them, then reflect on them.

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As Kirsten Holt said in her session yesterday:

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Other ideas for activities:

  • keeping logs/reflective journals e.g:

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  • Try out keywords/key phrases in class e.g. I need you to do x rather than Do x
  • Categorising phrases for different aspects of the lesson
  • Technique ‘bingo’ during observations
  • Encourage forums/online discussions helps with the idea of building confidence through sharing experiences
  • Matching phrases used in class to a list of techniques

This is all very kind of initial, Damian’s initial thoughts, but thinks there is a lot of scope for it.

 

IATEFL 2016 I’m a non-native English speaker teacher – hear me roar! (Dita Phillips)

Dita starts by telling us what her talk is NOT about – statistics, definitions, discrimination etc.

Then she tells us about Martina who was incredulous that it was possible to be Czech and teach English in Oxford.

Dita started learning English when she was 6 years old. She did her CELTA in Czech Republic, with British and Polish tutors. It was great for the NNS to have Polish tutors but it was never discussed, which was a real missed opportunity. Would have been good to talk about teachers as role models. She was one of the first NNS teachers in the first school that hired her, as it was new for them to recruit NNS. When she got to Oxford, applying for jobs, a number of schools told her yes your qualifications and experiences are good but we don’t hire NNS but finally she did get a job at a school with a different policy.

She was very nervous to start with, about student reactions. She was asked to teach an exam class and the students were a bit rowdy and she eventually said they should listen because this is what worked for her, and then the rest of the lesson was a Q and A about how she had done, it – they wanted to know. This was her eureka moment and she feels all NNS teachers deserve this experience.

As a teacher trainer, Dita thinks that for those who are still waiting for that eureka moment it should be provided vicariously – through teacher training. Of course she tries to be a role model to trainees on her course. If you can’t be that yourself, you might have a colleague you could invite. Other options: you could go online – show them the NNEST of the Month Blog etc.

Barbara is another teacher that Dita met on a similar course to Martina, and she said she would be disappointed if her teacher in Oxford wasn’t an NS, not realising that Dita wasn’t. Is it because they’ve been told so many times that NS are better, that they have come to believe it? The dilemma – should she tell them or hide it, that she is an NNS? Teachers have developed lots of coping mechanisms – Dita knows, she has tried them all. But these days she is more relaxed about it. But one thing she sees as her responsibility as a trainer is that the discussion about native and non-native needs to be raised. On a mixed CELTA course that is not difficult to do, it comes up naturally for example in a language awareness session. The discussion of ELF can help steer towards it to. There is a BBC I-Player 30 minute Word of Mouth about English as a Lingua Franca, Dita will play 15 mins of it and it really gets participants talking.

Maria’s quote is about fear regarding not sounding like a native speaker despite being C2 – i.e. a fear of inadequacy. There isn’t a lot of research into teachers’ attained level vs their perception of their level. Whatever they think impacts their professional self-esteem and confidence. Language development should be part of developmental courses however language proficiency is only one element of proficiency, it’s also about knowing how to teach.

Suggestions for TT:

  • Provide role models – trainers, guest speakers, online
  • Create discussion
  • Focus on language development including what they know
  • Focus on teaching pronunciation
  • Connect peers

A C2 level teacher shouldn’t be going around saying they are no good. Positive role models and awareness of NNS who can and do would help this issue.

Dita gives an example of the second point: a video of Gordon Strachan is used with no preparation. A tricky listening but they could understand what was said. Would you use it with students? Jargon, background noise, accent etc and then Dita likes to point out, ok, indeed it has, and YOU UNDERSTOOD IT! Something to be proud of…

Another example given is Sonia, who thinks she can’t teach pronunciation because she is not a native speaker. Pron is linked to language proficiency but the last thing that identifies people as NNS. E.g. Sonia’s English was amazing but she had a hint of an accent, and thus couldn’t bring herself to work on pronunciation in class. Dita wants teachers who leave her course not to think they can’t do something for such a reason.

Dita shows us a video of an NNS teacher speaking confidently about teaching pronunciation having done a pronunciation course and recommending this. NNS teachers tend to know all the theory but might shy away from doing it in the classroom, so it’s useful to provide positive experiences and engaging materials. Hopefully they can take this and use it in their classrooms. It doesn’t matter what material you use but two things should come out of it: teachers should go away knowing where to find such activities easily and having had a good time. That is the major thing to help them overcome that fear in the classroom.

Dita’s course receives positive feedback regarding collaboration between NS and NNS, so that both can appreciate each others’ strengths. So it is a good idea to have mixed CELTA courses, Erasmus programmes and show trainees where to go online for support, to discuss these issues. E.g. TaW SIG, TEFLEquity, NNES in TESOL Interest Section.

For a comprehensive reading list visit: www.multilingually.wordpress.com

There was some audience discussion:

Audience: terms NNEST and NST are propagating the problem. We should use “preferred language”, “competent language”, “proficiency”. Dita: A valid point, I agree. There is a transitional stage where we have to work out how to talk about these issues and not perpetuate it.

Audience: Where does the native speaker label come from? I got a job as a native speaker because I have an Australian passport but I don’t speak English as my first language. Dita: Where does it come from? I guess from Chomsky!

Audience: Any suggestions for helping trainees to distinguish between accent and pronunciation, in that pronunciation matters and accent doesn’t matter, as teachers? Dita: accent perception depends on where you are e.g. a glaswegian in Birmingham wold be perceived as having an accent.

Audience: It depends on your perception of yourself. To start with I hid it but now I have relaxed about it. Dita: And that’s the kind of attitude I would like people on my courses to go out with.

@ditaphillips

Dita.phillips @british-study.com

 

Workshop: Blogging to teach and to learn (Leeds Beckett Uni)

On the 8th of February, bright and early, I set off for Leeds. This was to deliver one of the sessions on the Leeds Beckett (was Metropolitan!) M.A. in ELT’s Multimedia and Independent Learning module. Yes, the self-same module in which all my learner autonomy geekery was born!

The topic of my workshop was “Blogging to teach and to learn”. In essence, the plan was to do the following:

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It may sound a bit ambitious, but we had around 2.5 hrs to play with, fortunately! (My longest workshop to date!)

So we started with the theory by talking about why theory mattered to this session:

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We need theory so that we don’t fall into the trap of just using technology for the sake of using technology. We need clear principles and purposes, which will help us to select which technology would best suit what we are planning to do, if any at all.

Then we looked at the question of using blogs:

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I think developing one’s own voice in another language is incredibly important. In fact, I used to blog regularly in Italian. Then, I decided to just write on my computer rather than on the internet as I was in any case keeping the blog private. I still do this pretty well every day. It’s the main use of Italian I get in my daily life since leaving Italy. Being able to express yourself in your target language gives you greater ownership over the language. Making the language ‘part of your everyday existence’ means that you are getting the all-important regular use that is crucial to language learning.

It is, of course, quite hard to start, when your level is low. I remember my first attempts early on. You know, before I discovered the past tense. Fast forward two years and I can say pretty much anything I want to, looking up the occasional piece of vocabulary. It was having read all this theory around learner autonomy and then moved to Italy, that I tried to implement it in my own language learning, as well as using it with my students. I was my own guinea pig, if you will. My learners are unlikely to have come across this theory and therefore may not think of blogging in their target language but as a teacher, I can build this experience into the course through a class blog, and, who knows, they might even continue and create their own blogs in future.

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Bit of a long quote! However, it draws on several aspects of writing for publication that, in my opinion, apply equally to blogs. (And, indeed, the authors do mention blogging in their breakdown of different modes of writing, though the focus of their study is teacher-writers who wrote for the Humanising Language Teaching magazine.) My blog has certainly been central to my attempts to align what I do in the classroom with all the theory around learner autonomy that I was exposed to when I was a student on this Multimedia course. It is an ongoing process! “Self-criticism” and “enhanced enthusiasm” also go with the territory in my experience: the very prospect of sharing something with a wider audience encourages one to reflect more deeply on it and critique it first. Perhaps in so doing, more ideas are born regarding where to go next and what to try next, and this experimentation prevents stagnation/boredom, as does being part of the “wider community” in ELT. Blogging, using Twitter, reading other people’s blogs, interacting on their blogs, these are all ways of participating in the wider community. People speak of their PLN – Personal Learning Network – the global community of professionals with whom they are connected and interact via social media, but often also in real life, meeting up at international conferences such as IATEFL.

On a more practical level, teacher blogs can double up as online portfolios, particularly as blogging software becomes more sophisticated. So, for example, WordPress allows someone with no coding knowledge to create a website with embedded blog. So, in addition to the benefits of blogging, you gain the benefits of being able to showcase what you do. It also enables you to pin content from the blog so that it is easier to find. So, for example, on my M.A. ELT/Delta page, I have linked to blog posts relating to that, on my Learner Autonomy page, I have linked to all my blog posts relating to LA, and so on. Being able to provide evidence of commitment to development is potentially useful in the hunt for jobs, in terms of making you stand out from other applicants.

Finally, I find my blog useful when preparing for workshops. I do the write-up prior to the workshop or talk, and it helps me to clarify in my brain exactly what I want to do or say. Subsequently I then edit it to reflect what actually happened on the ground as well, particularly in workshops where the participants play a more central role.

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Having considered some arguments in favour of using technology, and in particular blogs, with students, I thought it timely to draw attention to a potential problem with it: the issue of autonomy being expected but not fostered. This is something that I was very mindful of when working on my learner autonomy projects in Palermo. As well as deciding what technology, if any, is best for the purpose(s) we have in mind, we need to make sure that we scaffold learners towards independent use of them.

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Otherwise put, use of technology cannot exist in a vacuum if it is to be used to full effect. We need to be careful to consider carefully how it fits into what we are doing with our students.

The main thrust of this session was practical, however, so at this point it was time to change focus to the HOW of blogging, starting with how to set up a blog. There are various platforms available for blogging, but rather than overwhelming the student teachers with choice, myself and the course leader both agreed that it would be best to focus on one, which would inevitably be the one with which I am most familiar: good old WordPress!

So, we went through the 4 steps to setting up:

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  1. Choosing a theme (which you can easily change subsequently, so don’t worry too much which one you pick!)
  2. Choosing a site address (be unique or be turned down!
  3. Declining to have money taken off you unless you are feeling ultra rich!
  4. Providing a valid email address

Then all that remains is to validate your email address by clicking on the link they send you to the address you provided.

Next, I imparted a valuable piece of wisdom – you can avoid the beep beep boop WordPress dashboard and continue to use the functional one by using the magic link:

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So then we were ready to start working our way through the handout I had prepared, which interspersed the various aspects of setting up a blog, which we went through step by step (to act as a reference guide/memory trigger for the students after the session) with reflection and discussion relating to these.

They were a great group of students, with plenty to say when it came to all the discussion points, and I really enjoyed working with them. I wish them all the best for the rest of the course and beyond. Hopefully they will get blogging, both with learners and for themselves as teachers! Finally, thank you to Heather Buchanan, the course and module leader, for giving me this opportunity! 🙂

Teacher Education Circle (2)

This blog post has been waiting a LONG time to be written! The second meeting of the Teacher Education Circle was well before Christmas… Better late than never!

So, sometime before Christmas, there was the second meeting of the teacher education scholarship circle at the ELTC in the University of Sheffield. Prior to that, I had of course been reading Language Teacher Education by Jon Roberts, in particular the opening section in which different approaches to teacher education were explored. Here is my summary from my much-neglected ELT book challenge (yet another post waiting to be written…!) :

[…]it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc.

So, 4 approaches:

  • behaviourist
  • humanistic
  • constructivist
  • socialisation

Fast forward again to the Teacher Education Circle. We started by considering some approaches to teacher education (as planned at the end of the first meeting, hence my reading around the subject) and since that point I have been planning to compare my notes from the Jon Roberts book with the handouts from the circle. Finally, here goes!

The handouts were taken from Training Foreign Language Teachers. A Reflective Approach, published in 1991. The Jon Roberts book was published in 1998, so fairly close together in the great scheme of things. I haven’t read the book so this is what I have gleaned from the diagrams on the handout and our discussion. Feel free to jump in and disagree in the comments!

Wallace offers 3 “Models of Professional Education”:

  • the craft model
  • the applied science model
  • the reflective model

The craft model has a lot in common with the PPP approach to teaching grammar. You study with someone experienced, who instructs you and demonstrates how it is done, after which you practice a lot and in due course you become competent.

The applied science model starts from scientific knowledge, which is applied and refined by experts, then once refined it is passed on to student teachers, who practice it and in due course become competent. There is another loop in the diagram of “periodic up-dating in-service”, so presumably teachers receive more input from experts at various points which is then also practiced and also contributes to greater competence.

The reflective model draws on both received knowledge (content dictated by what is considered to be necessary for a member of the profession to be able to do) and experiential knowledge (also called “knowledge in action”, gained through experience) and there is a repeated cycle of practice and reflection which leads to professional competence.

We agreed that current training methods draw on a mixture of these. Take the CELTA for example. You study with an experienced practitioner, you receive input (based on current knowledge of how languages are taught and learnt, mediated by an experienced practitioner), you practice, you’re encouraged to reflect on your practice, and so on.

I would say the craft model and the applied science model both have elements of Roberts’s behaviourist approach in them, as the experienced practitioner provides the teaching model in the craft model and the embodiment in practice of the scientific knowledge in the applied science model, and the route to competence is likely to involve a good bit of imitation of those models. The reflective model, on the other hand, is more like the constructivist approach, in that previous knowledge/experience are acknowledged rather than the student teacher being an empty sheet of paper and reflection on experience is part of the learning process.

I suppose the humanistic approach could become an element in any of the models, if trainees are given more control over the learning process.

Based on the name of the book, we can guess which model Wallace champions!

After we had discussed these approaches, we started to develop a model for a teacher mentoring system at the ELTC (which we had come up with as an idea in the previous meeting). It was really interesting to be involved in this, to have input into the development of something new. Watch this space!

The next meeting is on the 18th Feb, so I have at least managed to write up the last one BEFORE the date of the next one! Win. Be interesting to see what comes up next. Meanwhile, I have recently read an article called “Writing for publication as a tool in teacher development” (Rathert, S. and Okan, Z. (2015), published in the ELTJ Vol. 69(4), pp.363-372) which was interesting, and have a set of three articles about getting into teacher training which I plan to read as soon as I finish preparing the session I will be doing at Leeds Beckett University tomorrow, for the Multimedia and Independent Learning module.

Never a shortage of things to do! (Or blog posts to write…I will keep chipping away at the backlog whenever I can…)

The teacher education circle

Yesterday I attended the Teacher Education scholarship circle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but this was how it was described in the circular email: “It is aimed at anyone interested in training and development of teachers to share some development ideas and training methods.”  I joined this circle because I am interested in the area of teacher education, and becoming a CELTA trainer is on my long-term list of things to do, so I figured that whatever shape the circle took, I would learn something. In the post linked to above, I promised a write-up, so here it is!

Earlier in the day yesterday, a few hours before the meeting, an email went round saying that  “The first theme for discussion will be ‘Teacher Training v Teacher Development’ – what’s the difference?”. 10 of us turned up. This difference was one of the topics treated in the IH tutor training course I did that started around this time last year. I spent the bike ride into work pondering the difference, initially feeling it as one of those things where you know it is different but pinning it down is more difficult. On my bike ride I came up with:

  • training is finite, development is infinite.
  • training is done to you, you do development.
  • training is a short burst of something with a very specific goal, development is more of a journey.

10 of us turned up at the circle and we split into two groups of 5 to discuss the difference, followed by “half-assed dribble feedback” (or was it “drivel”? One of the teachers, who is a teacher trainer, was saying that he dislikes the whole putting people i.e. students or trainees, into groups to see what they come up with and then doing some “half-assed dribble/drivel feedback” where nothing is really added. Though we all seemed to agree that as part of a test-teach-test kind of approach/task-based approach, it can work really well, provided the teacher/trainer does add value in subsequent stages. Certainly, in our case, for example, a more senior member of the group did provide some of the definitions from the literature in the follow-up discussion.)

Here are some of the distinctions that were discussed:

  • training has a structure imposed by a course/syllabus (so something external), development is structured by the individual (but has the danger of lacking any structure and becoming unwieldy)
  • the motivation for training tends to be extrinsic (a qualification, a work requirement, a better salary) while the motivation for development tends to be intrinsic (to learn!)
  • that there can be overlap: a workshop could be training for the receivers and developmental for the deliverer.
  • being trained feels different to being developed.

This last one I found interesting. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about development as being something that somebody else does to you (as evidenced by my bike ride thoughts). Perhaps it’s just semantics though, as of course the concept of being helped to develop is something with which I am fortunate enough to be very familiar!

Something else that came up in discussion, particularly in reference to “scholarship time” (hours that are timetabled and paid, specifically for development): the difficulty of knowing what to do with that time. It is only for full-time members of staff, so this is not something I have to had to grapple with personally (yet! I live in hope!), but it was very interesting to hear from people who do. It was put forward that it can be daunting to face this time and know what to do with it, in terms of “I want to develop but I’m not sure what to do or where to start”. It was recognised that not everybody wants to aim towards management (i.e. follow that linear route)  – which is certainly the case for me, no thanks! – but that in terms of salary, if you don’t go up that ladder, then you cannot earn more, because of how the pay structure works. Somebody mentioned that the question that is uppermost in their minds when doing something is “why am I doing this?” and described for example the situation of needing to do a particular qualification in order to stay in a job. The idea of a mentoring system was also suggested, where more experienced teachers would be available to help less experienced teachers approach their development.

There are several things that interested me within the discussion described in the above paragraph.

  • When I heard about “scholarship time”, my immediate reaction was, “Wow! That’s so cool! Having actual timetabled time for development stuff AND being paid for it!” And, as I mentioned here, I found the whole concept very teacher empowering. It didn’t occur to me to wonder what I would do with that time if I were a full-time member of staff. (I just thought that I’d have more time for all the development things I am used to doing in my own time!) Now, I wonder if all those things would count/be acceptable use of the time. Or, if some would and some wouldn’t, which would/wouldn’t and why? So, for example, my current materials writing work with Macmillan, where I am editing my ELTon materials to make them suitable for publication on Onestopenglish; now finished but I’ve put in a lot of hours of my own time into my journal article and book chapter, both of which are due out soon-ish (the journal article I believe early next year and the book chapter when the publication process is completed!); participating in #eltchat and #eltchinwag (which are like scholarship circles in themselves, only with a regularly changing focus!); blogging (both this blog and the one I co-manage with Sandy, Independent English); writing my column for the IH journal (not anymore, of course, as I no longer work at IH!); the corpus linguistics MOOC run by Lancaster University (which I am currently studying on); reading ELT-related literature; reflecting on, and making materials for, my learner autonomy projects (I would have been thrilled to have some time allocated to that when I was at IH!); certificate training courses like the IH certificate in teaching YL and the IH Tutor Training certificate that I did while at IHPA. (Having time timetabled for those, rather than it filling up the majority of my free time for the duration, would have been amazing too!); preparing IATEFL talks/online conference talks or webinars; watching webinars and talks online… and so on.
  • As is clear from the above point, being unsure what to do next hasn’t really been a problem for me! However, looking back over my career thus far, I can see that I HAVE had mentors even though I have never participated in a mentoring scheme. My CELTA tutors Beth and Cilla: I stayed in touch with them after the end of my CELTA, and emailing them telling them about my teaching was a rudimentary form of reflection that would later become more developed in other ways (e.g. Delta, M.A., blogging), in that I would think about what I did and tell them, from time to time. And they would respond, which I would learn more from. My M.A. tutors Heather, Naeema and Ivor: while doing my Delta/M.A. ELT, I learnt *how* to develop. Obviously from the Delta it came through the PDA (Personal Development Assignment) and the EP (Experimental Practice) parts of Module 2. From the M.A., though, I learnt how to do research, how to write up research, how to present research, how to write materials, how to write a journal article. And these are all things I’ve since used and will continue to use. (They are also things that I think would be really invaluable as INSETT sessions, as well as the usual “how to teach pronunciation” and “how to use technology x” type sessions.) Of course all these tutors as much as anything have been a source of encouragement and support, which has been invaluable. However, colleagues can be an equally valuable resource in helping one to develop. Sandy Millin springs to mind here. I met her through Twitter and have learnt a huge amount from her. Seeing her develop has also provided inspiration for my own development. Currently we also collaborate over at Independent English, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, I suppose I have been very opportunistic – seen opportunities to use the skills I mentioned above and gone for it. With the “there’s nothing to lose” mindset. I wonder if perhaps people are put off trying things because they think they aren’t/won’t be good enough? I think the learning and development comes through the trying, regardless of the outcome.
  • “Why am I doing this?” Well, I don’t want to be a manager (that may change but for now that is my feeling!), the teaching salary offered at the ELTC is plenty good enough for me (of course as a non-full-time teacher, the downside is lack of hours but hopefully they will grow in number!). I suppose partly it’s to make myself more employable (who doesn’t want some job security!) but a large part of it is also joy of learning and trying new things, cheesy as it sounds. I do really enjoy learning – reading, discussing, attending events like conferences, and challenging myself. It is also joy of creativity. Writing (materials or articles or blog posts) is an outlet for creativity for me, as is taking what I learn and finding ways to use it in the classroom then seeing what happens and building on that, all of which I love. As for attending and speaking at conferences: as well as all the learning, it’s so much fun! And all of this just also happens to be developmental too – bonus! Be this all as it may, what struck me is that I hadn’t really questioned this before the teacher raised the “Why” question. I had just accepted it as an enjoyable interesting part of my teaching career. (Have you asked “why” before? What answers did you find?)

Next session (in a month’s time I think it was) we are going to look at different models of development, which sounds like it should be very interesting. Meanwhile, flitting through my mind is the question “Was I/am I being developed or Was I/am I developing?” and also the question “How can I help other teachers in their developmental journey?”, rather than taking it for granted that it’s as straightforward for everyone else as it has been for me. (Mind you, I do think I have been extraordinarily lucky every step of my career so far!) I suppose this blog has been one way of helping, for example all the Delta posts I have written – I wonder if I could do anything else with it in the vein of helping people develop. Mind you, Sandy’s IH column would be a great place for anyone wanting development ideas, so maybe I could signpost my colleagues towards that, for starters. (And any of you out there looking for ideas, I suggest you have a look too!) I have actually thought of another possible way, but can’t go into that here and now. If the channel I am pursuing for it doesn’t work, then perhaps it will become a blog project too though! 🙂

In conclusion, what a fascinating 45 minutes the circle was! (Although of course if you add on the bike ride and the length of time I’ve spent reflecting on what we spoke about since, 45 minutes is just the beginning…) Which also brings to mind my belief that a huge part of teacher development is motivation, and maintaining motivation. (Oh dear, don’t get me started on talking about motivation or this post will never end..!) Suffice to say, yesterday has certainly been a good injection of motivation for me.  I’m looking forward to the next session and wondering what I will achieve in the mean time. For now, though, editing ELTons materials beckons…

IATEFL 2015 21st Century Teacher Education: the knowledge and expertise we need to teach with digital technologies – David Coulson

Teacher education time!

David Coulson is from Brighton, the University of Sussex and Brighton. 20 years ago he did a BA in modern languages and recently finished an MA in media-assisted language teaching. (Hadn’t made the connection between this talk and having met him yesterday until he stood at the front! Shows how good I am with names…)

Teachers, if given confidence and left to work together, will be able to create. That is what we do. We are in an important time at the moment – a tipping point. David’s children use mobile phones and have a great aptitude for this, proficient but not in an educational way. But the devices have a great capacity for being used in an educational way. On the other hand, he lived on a farm with some horses, a goat, two dogs and two children, in Portugal, for 15 years. From that, he learnt to have a go at things, to try. This is what we have to do with technology. We have to not be afraid to have a go at using tools. Sometimes there is a culture of fear around using these tools. It’s a really crucial time for using tools at the moment. We have to have the knowledge to be able to react to any tool that comes out and be able to understand if we can use it or why we would want to use it, for education. The right reactions are essential.

Do you think EFL teacher education or education in general will be the same in 10 years time?

David feels this is particularly a time of change, more so than say 10 years ago.

We discussed and here are some audience ideas:

  • change of mindset in using technology
  • change of role in teacher education e.g. not “the technology input session” but integrated into the bigger picture (mine)

David tried to find out what the required knowledge and expertise required to be an effective teacher and where technology fits into this. He did interviews with experts in the field of education and and technology, and investigate the integration of technology into teacher education.

At the moment, technology is “normalised”, common in everyday interactions. According to the Economist, by 2020, 80% of the population will have a super computer in their pockets. Technology is offering new opportunities for us but also new problems and concerns. We need to learn when, where and how we are using it. We have an abundance of technology but all of our rules and what we do are built on scarcity. In a time of scarcity, you take whatever you can. In a time of abundance you have to be able to select.

David had a “ZX81” – you wait for half an hour to load up, but you get to 25 minutes and it wouldn’t work and you have to go back to the beginning again…!

A Wicked Problem

Trying to find out the knowledge and expertise that teachers have is a wicked problem, really difficult. David quotes Amy Tsui as saying it’s not just a matter of skill or competency alone but a combination of different things – knowledge bases, processes of pedagogical reasoning, skills of teaching and beliefs.

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There should be no pure Technical knowledge, pedagogical knowledge or content knowledge, standing on their own, they need to intersect, we need to be working in the middle area. And they all need to be situated, exist within a context.

Technical skills are not particularly important as new technologies are easier and easier to use. But selectivity – selecting which technologies to use – is very important. A trainee will copy what they see. Loop training is useful. Technology needs to be integrated into the class. They should be taught to use the best tool for the right purpose at any given moment, from the abundance of tools on offer.

The best sort of transformation happens under the radar. The main problem is a lack of confidence in the technology amongst trainers, which is transmitted to the trainees. It’s a fear of losing control, their relevance in the classroom, of being taken over by technology. However, a teacher’s ability to step back and allow students to have some control of the lesson may well be the way forward in the 21st century.

Interview conclusions:

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Teachers must look at the why underpinning the use of technology. The role of the teacher is not diminished but repositioned. It’s not a threat but an opportunity.

21st Century skills

  • creativity and innovation in use of technology
  • critical thinking and problem-solving
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • flexibility and lifelong learning

Same skills as ever, but within the context of technology. So that the role of the teacher and student are reimagined, with the teacher as a guide, and the student more active.

Solutions for teacher training

  • use communities of practice, where people work together with a common learning goal
  • expert-novice teacher mentoring e.g. expert teachers with novices who are technologically advanced
  • flipped classroom – trainees and teacher educators learn how to use a piece of technology in their own time outside the classroom and share their ideas and experience within the framework of the session

The idea of this talk was to make us think “Why am I using this? What am I using it for? What alternatives do I have?” – this is the way to face the abundance of technology and be selective.

Another really interesting talk. 🙂

Write-up of Andrew Walkley’s BELTA webinar: Language-focused teacher development

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure of attending a fantastic webinar presented by Andrew Walkley, one half of the popular Dellar-Walkley duo whose project Lexical Lab you might be aware of. 

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

The focus of the webinar was Language-focused teacher development, looking at the way we deal with vocabulary in class and what we need to be doing outside class in order for this to become more effective. I took notes as we went along, so here they are, slightly edited to make them more comprehensible…

  • First we were asked to put groups of four words into order of their frequency.
  • Then we were asked to make examples for a set of seven words and a structure (the past continuous).

Andrew went on to explain that within the CLT era, we have seen some particular types of approaches emerge, that are language rich and responsive – TBL, Lexical Approach, Dogme, Demand High…

  • In TBL, if there is breakdown in communication, this is where learning is supposed to happen, the teacher facilitating this learning.
  • In Dogme, maybe some further practice together will be done too.
  • With Demand High teaching (which concept he said sparked this talk), there was a complaint that a lot of teaching taking place where you move from task to task but without much actual teaching happening. The teacher needed to be stronger in saying ‘no, this is wrong’ or pushing individual students and teaching them in the moments where they are struggling. A lot of Scrivener’s solutions were technical, technique-type things, e.g. the teacher pretends not to understand what the student is saying, thereby forcing them to explain why what they were were saying was right.

That’s ok to a point, but Andrew felt that it wasn’t the real reason why the teaching wasn’t happening.  He has been interested in the Lexical Approach since its publication 20 years ago now, he has also been aware of the expectations of thinking about language and dealing with language that are advocated in LA are high. He recognises that it is difficult.

Andrew then introduced us to a book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It deals with the difficulty for experts in employing their expertise. This is because of the need for fast, in the moment, spontaneous thinking, where rather than think clearly about certain aspects of thinking, we replace a kind of logical thought with heuristics i.e. a generalised idea of something.

This brought us back to the task we did at the start.

Andrew showed us the answers to the frequency question:

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Then he asked whether the corpus frequency answer (biased towards written) is reflective of the bias in native speaker natural use? His feeling is that often we overestimate certain frequencies of words and underestimate others. In the spoken corpus, arise and beard come at a similar level. Many students are interested in academic and professional lives in English, where they may not be using the language all the time in the workplace or study in Britain etc, but the resources they use may be in English, so a word like ‘arise’ would have a higher frequency and value.

As for the activity of making examples: our tendency is to produce examples like the ones we produced, but sometimes these aren’t actually the most common uses or even the way we use the language. Of this type of example, they may be one in a thousand in the corpus. E.g. She is a Christian. So… how is Christian really used? Andrew confessed that he might struggle with some of these words, in terms of making examples. E.g. whereby, arise, in terms of. Some of these are more difficult to think of examples from. They don’t fit into that simple x is y pattern. They require more complex sentences:

Screenshot from the webinar

Screenshot of Andrew’s examples from the webinar

It’s difficult to think of these kind of examples on the spot, Andrew explained, the Daniel Kahneman book offering some very clear reasons as to why. This is to do with biases that overtake logical thought. Our tendency would be to put words like blonde, banana etc. higher up because we know we can think of examples for these more easily than arise or whereby. If we think about the number of different contexts that we use banana or arise, then it becomes clear that arise would occur in academic texts, meetings, and several more possible contexts than the word banana or beard. Similarly serious vs. fun, there are a wider number of things that can be serious than there are fun things. As I understood it, this is availability bias, one of three factors that affect our choice:

  • availability bias
  • representational bias
  • priming

Apparently words also have a representational bias, e.g. x is y, x does y, doctor has a white coat etc. So the examples and explanations that come to mind are often of that nature.

Finally, priming: In English language teaching, this is quite strong. E.g. I was having a bath when the phone rang.

  • Because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in coursebooks before, we think of certain examples and contexts, and we don’t see the wider context we could use.
  • Sometimes when we are trying to hear what students are saying, and trying to correct them, often what we are primed to notice is basic grammar, typical grammar that we have taught before. So, we will commonly notice the present perfect used incorrectly or missed third person ‘s’ and these we look to correct.

Andrew explained that this is problematic in terms of these responsive methodologies. There is too big a cognitive load for any teacher trying to use these methods.

When you are in class, e.g. with TBL you are catering for individuals and have to do many things, which he went on to describe:

  • You have to hear the student first, which is already difficult possibility due to layout and noise levels.
  • You have to understand what they want to say/write, recognise the error/gap in their language, and give the ‘correct’ example (” because sometimes what we want to be doing is extend ss knowledge, e.g. where they use a particular word where another less frequent use works better)
  • You then have to explain or check why one is correct and the other isn’t, if we are talking in terms of TBL and Dogme, then extra examples of new language are necessary, and for Dogme also further ‘spontaneous’ practice.
  • Finally you need to remember it in order to revise and recycle it at a later date.

That’s a lot to expect. And multiplied by all individual students with individual needs. So, instead, Andrew said, we fall back on examples given before, or focus on relatively infrequent words and give simplified examples which don’t necessarily reflect enough of how those words are used. Yet if you are a believer in a more lexical approach to teaching, one of the most important things is giving good examples of how language is used.

So, this is the big issue with these methodologies. Ironically, often, somebody who doesn’t like coursebooks will give examples that have been seen in one before! Coursebook writers are similarly primed. You come up with examples which afterwards you think ‘what was I thinking? Nobody would ever say that!‘. If you believe that exemplifying natural use is important than you need to also think outside the class. Inside the class it is too difficult due to cognitive load. It may also be that to become a better non-course book user, we need to become better coursebook users and writers!

The more we focus on different words and how we might exemplify them and ask questions about them, and think about spontaneous practices for them, the more we will get better at doing it spontaneously. Kahen (of the above-mentioned book) suggests the example of chess players who basically learn lots and lots and lots of moves. It takes all those hours of practice in order to become spontaneous in the context of a chess match. We may not have so much time to prepare in our lives but it’s an ongoing process so if we work at it incrementally, we’ll get better at it.

In terms of training and development, however, most focus is grammatical, rather than lexis. Grammar rules into which we slot the words. Andrew doesn’t particularly agree with this. At this stage in the talk, he outlined some potential issues for teacher development:

  • In terms of the planning, on training courses and post-qualification, planning focuses on activities: thinking of activities to help practice bits of grammar or vocabulary in the course book. Whereas we should think a lot more about the lexis and the questions we are going to ask about it etc. in the planning.
  • Judgement of lessons in observations shouldn’t based on fulfilling aims as it goes agains the idea of being responsive to students. So we need to think about how we think about language AND expectations of what a good lesson is.
  • Teacher development tends to focus on learning new techniques. E.g. Demand High. Frustrating because it is more techniques, other ways of doing somehting. Wehreas I feel we need to focus more on actual language.

Andrew put forward some alternatives:

Frequency training

  • Macmillan dictionary: game to decide if it is three star, two star or one star words. (Different frequencies) Once you realise that something is frequent, thinking about why it’s frequent and as a consequence thinking about the kind of examples you might give to reflect that frequency.
  • The compleat lexical tutor: I missed this explanation!
  • Phrasal English.org: Uses the BNC. Put in a word or two, request exact word or same lemma. E.g. inc plural, past participle form included. Gives a rough count and a concordance. (Like wordandphrase.info, I think?)  May be skewed by names. E.g. Christian. But still gives an idea. You might just take this as a staffroom thing, e.g. reading something or taking a collocation. Have competitions who thinks something is more common than something else. E.g. ambitious plan vs ambitious scheme. Then find out. To help us think about frequencies.

Exploiting vocabulary exercises

Essentially a lot of vocabulary activities focus on single words. Increasingly, now, you also get collocation exercises, matching two words to make a collocation. You might even have whole sentence exercises e.g. gap fills, little dialogues matching question and response. We need to think about slightly different ways of using these.

  • In a single word exercise, we should think about what collocations to elicit from students about these words and questions to ask about the vocabulary. Not just meaning focused but usage focused.
  • With collocation exercises, now we need to think beyond the collocation and think about the collocates of the collocations e.g. example sentences and dialogues, or a story to tell?
  • And then if you think about the whole sentence exercises, ask questions to get students reuse grammar and chunks, and other vocabulary that isn’t the focus but can be exploited.

Take for e.g. a ‘Which is the odd one out?’ exercise

The temptation is to say the non-odd words out are the same. But are they? And what do the students get apart from adding re-? Instead think about how we can use these words more. What collocations can go with these words?

  • Is what we reconstruct the same as what we rebuild?
  • Is what we reconsider the same as what we reexamine?
  • E.g. we can rebuild a relationship but we don’t reconstruct or remake it. We reexamine the evidence but we don’t rethink the evidence. We might rewrite an essay but not reword it. We might reword something shorter like an answer. We remake a film but we don’t rebuild it.

These are the kinds of things we want to be able to tell our students. We need precise examples. Going back to supermarkets, we might overestimate its frequency, quite often we don’t say I’m going to the supermarket, we say I’m going to Tescos or Carrefour. Perhaps these are better examples for our students in some ways.

Take for e.g. a collocations exercise

We need to think about:

  • What works with these collocations e.g. swimming pool and swimming trunks. Fishing rod and fishing gear. After you have matched them up, possibly with a picture thrown in, what next? Need to know how to use them!
  • A second question you might ask is who would you say it to, when would you say it, why would you say it? Think of how they might work in a dialogue. Sometimes the compound gets split up. E.g. see you on the track in half an hour. (Running track) Or swimming pool. Let’s go swimming. Ok see you at the pool in 15 mins.

Andrew suggests that we need to spend more time thinking about this aspect of language rather than on activities, in our planning.

  • Think about the kind of questions we ask about vocabulary. Can we generate language around target words? E.g. What might you ask if someone is carrying a lot of gear? Can I help you? Oooh where are you off to?
The questions we could ask

Screenshot of the questions Andrew says we could ask

  • Thinking about these kind of questions on the spot is quite difficult, you need to think about them beforehand to be able to ask them on the spot.

More complex sentence examples show more of how language works, so students see more examples of grammar in use.

  • Rather than x is y. (She is a Christian vs As a Christian, I think we should look for non-violent solutions = As a x, I think we should y.
  • Who was the guy with the beard? I haven’t seen him before = who was the guy with…the blonde hair, sitting next to you… etc. I haven’t seen him before.
  • Through vocabulary, we can ask simple quick questions to review grammar. E.g. When the paramedics arrived, his heart had stopped beating but they got it going again and then rushed to the hospital. –> Draw attention to the past perfect, when you get something going again, why/where else do we rush to?
Things to think about

Screenshot of the questions that Andrew suggests we ask

There are lots of these kinds of patterns we could draw attention to, that are useful and interesting little patterns that students could use but don’t make it into coursebooks. You have to have thought about the example before, but once you have thought about it in planning before, in the context of a text or language focus etc. it makes it available to use spontaneously in response to students in the future.

Andrew then told us about one aspect of his and Hugh Dellar’s Lexical lab:  you can send in a completed exercise and Andrew/Hugh will suggest questions/chunks relating to it and invite suggestions from others too.

Other tips from Andrew:

  • Think about what the students might want to say in the speaking exercises you plan to set up. It may mean either doing the task yourself, or with a teacher partner, and seeing what comes up.
  • Get teachers to record their answers. Notice the language that is repeated or could be useful for the students to do the task. Often there is a disconnect between grammar practice and single word practice and the task we set which requires a more complex use of language and may include a variety of things we haven’t thought about.

Ongoing questions to ask to promote teacher development:

Questions to help us develop!

Questions that Andrew recommends asking to promote development!

The first two questions require genuine interaction in the classroom, where rich language can be found. The third is important as what is new? A new combination? New phrases around known words? Because often the grammar or word is known, but the language around it isn’t. The fourth encourages you to reflect on the questions you ask and improve them for next time. The last question is based on the idea that we do get better at dealing with language if we write material. Ideally do it with someone else, get someone else to look at it. This encourages you to be critical and think about language in use and how students might want to use it.

Being able to answer language questions and being able to ask questions about language in this way is not a natural thing but a little bit like relearning the language and a process that needs to be ongoing along with your students. You need to practice it.

Language-focused TD is like language learning: it never stops! 

Thinking about the wider context of language use. We need to think beyond the obvious. Maybe students won’t use the banana example because they go to the shops themselves and don’t have anyone to ask to buy bananas for them! Whereas the words we thought less common might have more possible contexts of use and so be more common than we thought.

In response to concerns that this approach may become too teacher-centred, Andrew responded: talking about language and giving examples is student centred, as it is what the students want to say and need to hear in order to be able to say them better. Teacher talk: needs to be for the students’ benefit. It is also important to use generative, slightly open questions. Students might make jokes in response to them. E.g. Why would you want to reconstruct someone’s face? Because they are plug-ugly vs. after an accident.

I found this webinar absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of my last observation where I think basically my DoS was recommending that I do this. I.e. that I plan my vocabulary focus more, because of it being difficult to respond effectively on the hoof, and I think the intention was in this vein. Having watched this webinar, I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about that than I did previously. Am looking forward to implementing this and gradually developing in this area. 

It was my first time to see Andrew speak and I have to admit to now very much looking forward to hopefully attending his talk at IATEFL! 

Thank you very much, Andrew, for a really valuable hour and a bit! And thank you, BELTA, for hosting him!

Cecilia Lemos – Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Stepping from focus on teaching to focus on professional development for a spell, I decided to attend the lovely Cecilia’s talk on making lesson observations something to really benefit from rather than a threat and shudder process…

Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy

Cecilia started by introducing herself – always interesting to learn more about the person behind the speaker 🙂 Ceci certainly has lots of varied experience.

Motivation, the problem, a possible solution and the different forms it could take, is the form the talk will take… Ceci’s ideas will be implemented next semester, but she has tried it with some volunteer teachers so we will hear about that.

The motivation

Ceci participated in a workshop on lesson observations. Yes, a whole day. You think it’s a long time, but there were a lot of ideas. She wanted to take it further. Additionally, the teacher training and observation she does in Brazil – formal observations (senior staff observe other staff for evaluation), peer observation programme (but teachers are told they have to observe some other teacher at some point and hand in an observation form). Ceci didn’t see much development coming from these, or feel that the teachers were taking very much from it. Finally, Ceci completed Delta module 2 last year and found that the type of observation, assessment and feedback made a real difference to her. She wanted to identify what it is that helps this progress to happen.

What is the problem?

  • The fear/pressure/terror/threat of being observed – by the manager/DoS/senior staff
  • How to make it truly a tool for professional development

Both formal and peer observation should be a tool for professional development. But however friendly the senior staff are or how good a rapport there is, you are still the monster in the room! When she came back from her month away doing the Delta, she observed each of her classes while the teacher taught the learners, just to get sense of everything before stepping back in as a teacher. But one of the teachers freaked out.

Possible solutions:

For summative observation (by management), when used as part of the teacher’s evaluation within the school.

  • pre-conference: sitting down together, teacher and senior staff observer, to have a talk before the observation happens. Shouldn’t be a serious, technical affair. Just establish a good rapport with the person, to set them at ease. Then talk shop. And let the teacher tell you what they want to take from it, e.g. looking out for a particular student etc. Establish particular goals.
  • if they are evaluative observations, then they should be serial. You cannot get a feel of a teacher from one lesson alone. You can’t say if the teacher manages the classroom well, or not, from one observation alone. A series of observations gives a more authentic, accurate representations.
  • Initial observation without an agenda, just sitting and watching the dynamics, to get the feel of a class – also for the students to get used to being observed.
  • Record (video or just audio) a lesson and give it to the observer – easier to forget the presence of a camera than it is an observer, in the classroom.
  • if possible, immediate post-observation reflection before feedback (a real game-changer for Ceci during the Delta) – take a notebook, go somewhere quiet for half an hour after the lesson and write. Put it all down, just write everything down with no criteria. That immediate reflection with everything so fresh makes you really think and relive the lesson and see how you could have done something differently or not. With Ceci, she already knew some of the feedback before she was given it, from this reflection. As soon as possible after, if not possible directly (in compressed timetables)

The “Buffet Table” approach to observation

You choose what you’re going to be observed on. We are still talking about the evaluative observation, done by senior management. They should say what area they want to focus on. But then the teacher should be able to choose the statements that the observer will complete. Ceci has been preparing lists of statements for this purpose. You can also find them in various books (references on last slide).

E.g. rapport with students

Possible statements:

The teacher addresses learners by name

The teacher gives equal opportunities to all learners.

etc.

The observer/management focuses on one or maximum two areas per semester. If you try to cover everything, you’re not going to really cover anything. So the teacher chooses 5 statements to be evaluated on, out of say about 20, for each area.

This is what Cecilia is trying to implement with her teachers for formal observation.

Problem:

Her biggest challenge now is to make peer observation something really valuable that contributes to development.

“From my experience, faculty, relationships and a strong sense of community prevent them from being objective and honest” (Braskamp, 2000)

Teachers are sensitive to pointing things out to each other. So everybody’s perfect. “Oh I learnt so much from your lesson” etc. But there is always room for progress – trying something different. So that you experiment and not fall into the same routines, get stuck in a rut.

Working with one aspect and one peer per term

  • If you observe the same person throughout a semester, you get a better feel for their teaching. Find a peer who is really good at something you feel you’re lacking. E.g. instructions. Observe them through a series of lessons.
  • This type of observation is primarily for the development of the observer rather than the person being observed.
  • No box-ticking forms
  • Pre-observation discussion important

Suggestion 1 for feedback:

The ladder of feedback: clarify, value, concerns, suggest.

  • You have to use all four.

Clarify: was there anything you didn’t follow, that you would like to ask the teacher about

Value: What did you find in the class that was particularly noteworth

Concerns: What questions/issues/tensions were raised

Suggestions: What changes/new things to try can you suggest?

A teacher adapted this ladder to lesson observation:

Thanks: How has observing and giving feedback enhanced your own understanding of learning?

Suggestion 2: 

Define the criteria/statements together. (E.g. using the observation checklist from EtP that Ceci is planning to adapt) :

You agree the criteria (5) in advance together; you define the scores; you put comments on it

 

Questions (paraphrased)

Q: How many per semester?

A: Anything between 3 and 5

 

Q: A whole class or sections of a class, to avoid logistical issues

A: At least 45 mins of a lesson to get a real feel for it.

 

Another very interesting talk. References are available on Ceci’s blog. http://cecilialemos.com