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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia Mavridi – Interactive virtual learning for the synchronous and asynchronous EAP classroom

The speaker is Sophia Mavridi, who did this talk for BALEAP TELSIG – Interactive virtual learning for the synchronous and asynchronous EAP classroom

As Sophie begins by saying, this is an important topic in E-learning. It is also very topical in the Covid19 era. This was the session plan:

She started by asking us “What is interaction?” some ideas that came out from participants were it’s a 2 way process, students sharing ideas, showing that you are engaged, being engaged. Then she gave us two definitions:

How does this relate to online learning?

She says we often talk about how pedagogy informs decisions, and so before the practical element she wants talk about some pedagogical theory, specifically theories of constructivist learning environments, the flow model and social presence. Looking at these will help to answer the question why interaction is so important when it comest o online learning.

According to cognitive constructivism, knowledge is constructed and this requires meaningful and interactive materials. They need to make meaningful connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge. Social constructivism meanwhile focuses on the idea that learning is a social process requiring scaffolding, which is interaction with the teacher or peers, but it also includes interaction with materials when it comes to online courses.

The FLOW model is the point of maximum concentration and involvement with an activity. The “flow zone” is where we are at this point. For students to reach the flow zone, the activity cannot be too challenging or too easy, as this leads to loss of concentration/focus.

Social presence is the extent to which someone perceives a person as ‘real’ in computer mediated communication. It influences students’ sense of belonging and engagement with collaborative activity. There is a strong correlation between social presence and successful online learning.

So how can we use these fundamental principles in synchronous and asynchronous classrooms?

In the synchronous classroom, physical distance is an obstacle. But it is usually pedagogical distance rather than physical distance that is an obstacle to learning. Sophie shares 6 techniques for embedding and integrating into online teaching/learning:

  1. Turn on your camera. Challenging for the teacher to speak to avatars/names but not all students have good computers or connections and may not be able to use cameras, some students may be sharing their room with a sibling or may not be comfortable sharing their house. We need to be sensitive towards student’s privacy. But WE can turn on our cameras. It is important to do so.
  2. Try to be animated and use eye contact/gestures. Don’t be a talking avatar.
  3. To maintain attention, ask questions every 3-5 minutes. E.g. start with an icebreaking activity e.g. share in the chat a word that describes your day and explain in a sentence why. For content questions, short questions, not too difficult or easy, will help keep them in the flow zone. Get them to use the chat as the mic activation process (“can you hear me?” etc) will be too time-consuming for these frequent little questions.
  4. Ask them to do things hands on. When you give feedback, share the pdf or slides with them and get ss to annotate the slides themselves or add the answers. This gives them something to do.
  5. Use polls and interactive tools – e.g. Padlet, wooclap (interactive platform for collecting immediate answers to questions of different types) – this allows you to get feedback and share resources. You can upload recordings, youtube videos (and ask questions) etc.
  6. Use breakout rooms or 1-1 chat for class collaboration. They are good for discussion and collaborative projects, can also be used to break up the lecturing time and avoid the lesson being too teacher-centred, which synchronous sessions tend to be. For a short question, you wouldn’t use them. Instead, ask them to message the next person on the participant list and discuss the question in chat. That is a quick way to do interaction and pair work.

Interaction in the asynchronous class

Live classes are fantastic for social presence but even the best live class is predominantly teacher-led and that’s why we need to the asynchronous bit. This can be more student centred and it is where students become more autonomous.

LMS = Learning Management System e.g. Google classroom, Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology. If you don’t have one, get one and make use of it! Sophia gave us some ideas to do this:

Think about how you did skills and what tools you could use now. E.g. Google Docs, OneNote Reading annotation apps e.g. GoodReader, use Youtube/Ted Talks/Flipgrid/podcasting. You can still do Group work. As well as in live sessions using break out rooms, you can run asynchronous group projects. They are more effort to set up but it is very worth it. Tell students to find a way to communicate (Zoom, whatsapp, we chat) – their responsibility.

Sophie says forums are important and they need to be kept alive by a moderator which is usually the teacher who may ask interesting questions, keep students on their toes and on topic. We need to teach students to add quality comments. If they just say “that’s a great idea, I agree”, that’s a positive comment but not necessarily a quality one. We need to teach them how to participate in a forum. This is an important skill as applicable to participation in a community of practice at university.

In terms of materials, there should be an element of interactivity in any materials. E.g. short and interactive video recordings, self-correct quizzes, questions, reflections. If we just share pdfs, there is no interaction. Even a simple pdf can be made more interactive, it can be broken down by adding in questions. Recordings of longer than 10 minutes mean students are more likely to disengage. Short chunks and frequent questions are better. The ideal length of video for asynch learning is 6 minutes – anything more than that, students tend to switch off. If you really need to record something of 15 minutes, periodically ask them to stop the video and reflect on a question. You can’t expect them to stay focused for 15 minutes watching the video, there are too many distractions to impede that.

Sophie goes on to talk about VoiceThread. It is a collaborative multimedia tool, where you can add images, documents, slides and videos. Users can navigate slides and can leave comments through text, video or voice. It makes materials more interactive and is easy to use as an educational technology. She says ease of use is very important in tech tools, which is why she likes this one. It shouldn’t take a long time to create.

She shows us an example she made. It is a powerpoint with an embedded video of her speaking. You can add multiple recordings to one slide via voice messages. which means if you forget to say something you can add it rather than re-recording. Students can click and select text, audio or video comments. You should specify which according to what skills you want to focus on. E.g. audio and video for practising speaking. Some students aren’t comfortable being on camera, so may be better not to exist on that.

Then she tells us it took 5 minutes to create, record and share (not the slide itself but putting it in VoiceThread and recording the video. It is interactive as students can respond to the questions in the video by typing or speaking. Students add their comments, then as a follow up should listen to/watch classmates comments and complete a task.

Next, participants are asked to go to a link of one she made and leave a video/audio comment, text comments acceptable if you are that shy. To leave a comment, you will be prompted to sign in for an account which just takes a few minutes to set up. The comments appear down the side of the slide off to the left. Sophie plays a few comments to show us.

What can we do with VoiceThread?

It seems like a pretty versatile tool based on all these ideas from Sophie! Recordings can come from Youtube and be embedded. Before you share something with students, you need to change the share settings to allow anyone to view/comment.

It is free for 3/4 voice threads but after that you would need to delete previously made ones or upgrade.

Finally she suggests watching this video with ideas for using VoiceThread in higher education.

You can find Sophia on Twitter with @SophiaMav and her website is sophiamavridi.com

 

 

Mindfulness for teachers and learners – musings a year on

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

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

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

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

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

These below are all in response to more direct questioning:

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

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

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

One reason why blogs are useful!

Today I did something very radical. After I finished planning my lessons, I took off all my hats (or put them all on at once?) and decided to update my scholarship log. To explain, here at USIC/ELTC@The University of Sheffield, our schedules include 3hrs per week scholarship time, with the freedom to use it as we please as long as it is CPD-related. The TD team (including me) provide support/ideas for this through the bulletin (my current baby), and a varied programme of workshops. In order to monitor this/hold teachers accountable for it, we have to log what we do on a template provided centrally which we all make a copy of and share with our line managers. So back to today, which indeed is in February so actually (terrifyingly enough) not hugely far off half way through the academic year, I finally got round to sorting mine out for this year (new version each year required so that the document doesn’t get too unwieldy!). Which translates as being faced with trying to log, including dates and time spent, everything I did CPD-wise last term. Can I remember off the top of my head? Hell no. If I asked, I would have said well I did my SFHEA, suppose I haven’t done heaps else otherwise. However, fortunately, most if not all of the CPD I do includes an element of reflection carried out via my old friend, this blog.

In fact, it turns out that last term and into the beginning of this one I have:

…which is actually a fair chunk! Thank you blog for being my memory and reflective aide!!

Having done all the scholarship log updating and looking through my blog in order to do so, I am filled with fresh enthusiasm to add more, albeit time is not often on my side! 🙂

So that is just one reason why blogs are useful! Of course there are many more…

How does your blog help you (unexpectedly)? 🙂

10-year Challenge

Sandy’s 10-year Challenge has inspired me to do one of my own (something which the original 10-year challenge she mentioned did not manage – she is clearly more inspiration than it was :-p ). A whole decade is coming to an end (something which escaped my attention until I read Sandy’s post – I blame the cough and snot-fest I’ve been partaking of since Christmas Eve…) so I concur it’s a good time for a reflective activity.

Here is a photo of me from April 2010 (the first photo of me from 2010 I could find on Facebook where my face is vaguely visible and I’m not with other people who may not want their faces in this blog post!):

It’s at a crag called Bamford Edge in the Peak District. Up until June 2010 was the last time I climbed at this level or frequency so this photo is definitely fittingly symbolic of the decade preceding this one. What happened to make me stop? Don’t worry, no horrific accident or anything. What happened was I completed my CELTA in March 2010 and then went abroad, to Indonesia, to teach: the beginning of my ELT career. I didn’t manage to keep up the climbing and got woefully out of practice. Since moving back to the UK in 2015, to date I’ve not been able to bring the single-minded energy and focus back to it that it would need for me to get properly into it again. The point of this ramble is that priorities change and that’s ok. A lot of outdoor climbing may not have happened this decade but a lot of other cool stuff has!

Here is a photo of me taken in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, on Christmas Eve (the third of the only three healthy days this holiday!):

Lizzie dec 2019

Photo c. Rosa Pinard

Just like Sandy did, I will list 20 things that have happened in the 2010-2019 decade:

    1. Got my CELTA (Pass B, which I sulked about for ages because it wasn’t an A :-p, March 2010), did my Delta (Triple Distinction, which I worked very hard for so once in a decade I will exercise my bragging rights, August 2013), did my M.A. ELT (with distinction, see above, alongside the Delta, September 2013).
    2. Did various other training courses e.g. the IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers course and the IH teacher trainer certificate course. (While at IHPA, 2013-2015)
    3. Won an ELTon (“New talent in writing”, May 2014).
    4. Published one or two posts on this blog (!), (which I started writing in May 2011 if I remember correctly, though not in earnest til 2012/2013 when I embarked on the Delta/M.A. thing). Got published in a peer reviewed journal and an edited book:
    5. Worked as a teacher in two different parts of Indonesia (Lampung and Jakarta, 2010-2012), Sicily (Palermo 2013-2015) and three different towns/cities in the U.K. (Newbury 2011, Sheffield summer 2014, 2015-now, and Leeds summer 2013).
    6. Presented at various conferences including IATEFL several times.
    7. Became an Assistant Director of Studies (ADoS) where I work now (April 2018-ongoing) and a Teacher Development Coordinator where I work now (September 2019-ongoing). (With the recent promotion of one of my co-ADoSes to interim Academic Director, I will now be the most experienced member of the current ADoS team by length of time in service in the role, which is weird!)
    8. Finally got an open-ended contract (May 2019), thus fulfilling a goal/dream set at the start of the decade (being able to live where I want to – here in Sheffield – and work in a job I want to work in – at the uni).
    9. Ran 30 miles in one go (an ultramarathon event, Dig Deep, August 2016). Ok so I walked on some of the uphill bits. It was in the Peak District for goodness sake! Also done a 78 mile bike ride (and lots of other cycling – this year alone a few thousand miles worth!), lots of indoor bouldering and even climbed outdoors a couple of times post-June 2010.

      Photo c. Nick Smith

    10. Did an Olympic distance triathlon (by myself rather than an event, summer 2019). So much fun that one of my goals for 2020 (and/or beyond) is a half ironman!
    11. Rescued/adopted the best horse in the world (Alba, June 2015), been surprised by a horse pregnancy, watched a baby horse grow in his mum’s belly and then outside it as well, Nursed the best horse in the world through colic and lost her (September 2018). Baby horse (Star) now 2.75yrs old!
    12. Adopted and cared for five hamsters, two of whom are still with me, all with unique personalities. Being a hamster mama is important to me. 🙂
    13. Understood and become comfortable with my sexuality (gay, demisexual*) and been on some nice dates. (I believe losing my mum at age 25 delayed things somewhat as grief took centre stage for a long time.) *Google it if it is a new term to you! 🙂 . Lucky to work somewhere where colleagues of any sexuality can and frequently do choose to wear a rainbow lanyard to show their support of LGBTQIA+ colleagues. I love my lanyard and I love seeing so many of them around.
    14. Became vegan (July 2014) and learnt how to cook lots of lovely things (ever since). Living in line with my values with regards to compassion for all living beings and respect for the environment in this way has made a positive difference to my mental wellbeing as well as my physical health.
    15. Learnt Italian (Summer 2014, intensive self-study) as well as bits and bobs of a host of languages that Memrise supports. I love Italian and continue to enjoy reading/watching/listening and when in Sicily speaking it. Memrise is one of the many things I don’t do enough of because I have so many places to put every minute.
    16. Started practising mindfulness/kindfulness and meditating regularly (since February 2019) which has improved my mental health/wellbeing dramatically. Done the Monash Futurelearn courses Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance and Maintaining a Mindful life.
    17. Spent my longest time living full-time in one house (and therefore also one place) since when I turned 11 and went to boarding school (the house I am currently in, in Sheffield, since June 2015! Very nearly long enough to be able to fill in my CRB check application form – no longer called that but you know that thing – were I to need to, without reference to the several pages long list of addresses I previously had to type up and save for such occasions!).
    18. Got a piano again! (May 2017) I don’t play it as often as I “should” (so many things competing for my time!) but I do love it.
    19. Met and got to know loads of amazing people in all the different aspects of my life, who have inspired me and helped me become who I am today. Thank you all!
    20. Learning how to live without my mum who I lost in August 2009 (so it was a decade since she died this August just gone) and have space for happy too. This has been the first decade without her, so I am even prouder and more grateful of 1-19 in that context.

Been quite the decade! What’s next? Well, this time 10 years ago I would have been hard-pushed to predict any of the above! In fact if you had put this list in front of me this time 10 years ago, I would have probably sniggered and gone “sure, yeah, as if…” or similar. So, who knows where the next 10 years will take me? All I can hope is that I can continue to be positive and live life to the full, whatever it brings, and learn to befriend all moments and events, so to place myself firmly in the life I am living. There is only one and this is it. Today. Now.

Happy 2020 and beyond, everybody!

Image from Pixabay, licensed for reuse

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

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

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

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

Identity

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

Cognition

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

Intercultural awareness

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

Reflection

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

Autonomy

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

ELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TD Workshop – Mindfulness in Teaching

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

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

The outline of my session was as follows:

What is Mindfulness?

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

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

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

Why use it ourselves?

I gave this equation as the basis for my explanation:

“Stress management + greater enjoyment = better wellbeing”

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

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

How?

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

Using it with students

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

How?

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

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

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

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

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

These are the extra resources I shared at the end:

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