WAS (Writing Advisory Service) at Sheffield University ELTC

Amongst many other things (e.g. pre-sessional programmes, general English classes, IELTS and CAE preparation, foundation programmes, in-department support, in-sessional programmes and credit-bearing modules) the ELTC also provides a Writing Advisory Service (WAS) to all students studying at the University of Sheffield. It is not only international students who use this service, home students use it too. In terms of levels, we get a mixture of bachelors students, masters students, PhD students and lifelong learning students. This post is going to talk a bit about what a WAS appointment offers and my experience of doing them.

What is “a WAS”?

It is a writing advisory service appointment which lasts for one hour. Any students studying at the university can book an appointment. Teachers are timatabled WAS slots and these appear on our timetabling system. When a student books an appointment, we are able to access their information by logging in to this system and clicking on the relevant slot. In advance of the appointment, we are able to see a student’s name, their department and course, their nationality and an appointment history. So, if students have been before, we can see a record of what they brought (i.e. what type of writing) and what advice they were given. If it is their first appointment, then obviously this part will be blank. These are not “our” students; in most cases you see a different student every appointment. Occasionally you get needy students who try to book the same tutor every time, but this is discouraged as we don’t want to encourage over-dependence on a particular person.

How does it work?

Students have to report to reception so that reception can mark them as attended, which unlocks the appointment history so that we are able to edit it. As teachers, we have to be at reception just before the session is due to start, to meet the student and take them to the allocated room, which always has a computer in it. Students have to bring a print out of whatever piece of writing they want help with. We are not expected to read stuff on screen, thankfully! Before I look at the piece of writing, I ask the student about it – what is it? what problems do they think they have with it? is there anything in particular they want me to look at (e.g. structure, referencing etc.) – so that I have a context to start from. Then the student has to sit and wait while I read through their writing and identify issues with it.

Once I have had a chance to look through the piece of writing, what follows is a discussion of it with the student. Generally I focus on structural issues first – so problems with the introduction, thesis statement, paragraph topic and concluding sentences, conclusion. Next would be other aspects of cohesion like linking language, demonstratives and catch-all nouns, lexical chains, etc. Then issues of academic style e.g. formality/appropriate vocabulary and referencing. Finally, I’ll pick out a few persistent grammar issues to discuss. The idea is that it’s NOT a proofreading service, it’s an opportunity for students to learn how to write better, based on a piece of their writing. Therefore, ideally, we need to equip students to deal with their issues independently. One way of doing this, for example, is using www.wordandphrase.info/academic to model how to use it to answer questions relating to what word to use and how to use it. We also direct them to various websites such as the Manchester Phrasebank.

The final stage of the appointment is writing it up in the student’s appointment record notes as they have access to these notes. The notes are written to the student, as they are for the student to refer back to, rather than being written in lesson record style. I usually get the student to tell me what we’ve talked about, as a way to reinforce what we have done, and write that into their records, pasting in any links we have used in the course of the session too.

This is a recording which lives on the Writing Advisory Service web page. Students can watch in advance of their appointment, in order to know what to expect.

My experience of WAS’s

  • It’s not uncommon to get a no-show! Students are encouraged to cancel in advance if they can’t make it but sometimes that doesn’t happen. They may get caught up in whatever else they are doing or forget they made the appointment etc. Repeat offenders get banned from making appointments for a period of time.
  • When students do show up (which is most of the time, to be fair!), they are very enthusiastic and appreciative. They want to do well in whatever assignment it is they are working on and recognise that what you are discussing with them can help them with this.
  • The first one you ever do is terrifying and difficult, but as with so many things, with experience it gets much easier. You learn what to look out for and how to help students get to grips with those issues. You learn not to be daunted by whatever is put in front of you, however obscure it may seem at first.
  • Because I teach EAP generally, it’s easy to pick out materials from our electronic stores of them, to illustrate what I am trying to explain to students. This is very helpful!
  • You get to see a wide range of different types of writing from different subjects. It can be a bit scary to be faced with an essay full of legalese, especially if you are a bit tired anyway (as with my slot last thing on a Friday!), but you get used to looking beyond the subject specific stuff (which we aren’t expected to be experts on!).
  • They are enjoyable! It’s a bit of a faff because I, like my colleagues in this building, are in a different building to where the appointments happen, so though it’s an hour’s appointment, with the walking there and back etc it’s nearer an hour and a half of time gone, but once you’re there and doing it, the hour flies!

Do you have anything like this where you work? How does it work?

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Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (2.2)

For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 / session 2 / session 3 and 4 / session 5-8 / session 9 / session 2.2 of this particular circle.

In this week’s session of the scholarship circle, we started by doing a pilot text analysis. In order to do this, we needed a first draft and a final draft of a piece of CW3 essay coursework and a method of analysis. Here is what it looked it like:

So…

  •  QM code refers to the error correction code and there we had to note down the symbol given to each mistake in the first draft.
  • Focus/criterion refers to the marking criteria we use to assess the essay. There are five criteria – Task achievement (core elements and supported position), Organisation (cohesive lexi and meta-structures), Grammar (range and accuracy), Vocabulary (Range and accuracy) and Academic conventions (presentation of source content and citations/references). Each QM can be assigned a criteria to attach to so that when the student looks at the criteria-based feedback, it shows them also how many QMs they have attached to each criteria. The more QMs there are, the more that criterion needs work!
  • Error in first draft and Revision in final draft require exact copying from the student’s work unless they have removed the word/s that prompted the QM code.

Revision status is where the method comes in. Ours, shared with us by our M.A. researcher whose project our scholarship circle was borne out of, is based on Storch and Wigglesworth. Errors are assigned a status as follows:

  • Successful: the revision made has corrected the problem
  • Unsuccessful: the revision made has not corrected the problem
  • Unverifiable: if the QM is wrongly used by the teacher and the student has made something incorrect in the final draft based on that QM or has made no change but no change is in reality required
  • Unattempted: the QM is correctly used but the student does not make any change in the final draft.

Doing the pilot threw up some interesting issues that we will need to keep in mind if we use this approach in our data collection:

  • As there are a group of us rather than just one of us, there needs to be consistency with regards to what is considered successful and what is considered unsuccessful. E.g. if the student removes a problem word/phrase rather than correcting it, is that successful? If the student corrects the issue identified by the QM but the sentence is grammatically incorrect, is that successful? The key here is that we make a decision as a group and stick by that as otherwise our data will not be reliable/useful due to inconsistency.
  • We need to beware making assumptions about what students were thinking when they revised their work. One thing a QM does, regardless of the student’s understanding of the code, is draw their attention to that section of writing and encourage them to focus closely on it. Thus, the revision may go beyond the QM as the student has a different idea of how to express something.
  • It is better to do the text analysis on a piece of writing that you HAVEN’T done the feedback on, as it enables you to be more objective in your analysis.
  • When doing a text analysis based on someone else’s feedback, however, we need to avoid getting sucked in to questioning why a teacher has used a particular code and whether it was the most effective correction to suggest or not. These whys and wherefores are a separate study!

Another thing that was discussed was the need to get ethical approval before we can start doing anything. This consists of a 250 word overview of the project, and we need to state the research aims as well as how we will collect data. As students and teachers will need to consent to the research being done (i.e. to use of their information), we need to include a blank copy of the consent form we intend to use in our ethical approval application. By submitting that ethical approval form, we will be committing to carrying out the project so we need to be really sure at this point that this is going to happen. Part of the aim of today’s session, in doing a pilot text analysis, was to give us some idea of what we would be letting ourselves in for!

Interesting times ahead, stay tuned… 🙂

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (2.1)

It’s a brand new term (well, sort, of it’s actually the third week of it now!), the second of our four terms here at the college, and today (Monday 21st January, though I won’t be able to publish this post on the same day!) we managed our first scholarship circle session of the term.

For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 / session 2 / session 3 and 4 / session 5-8 / session 9 of this particular circle.

The biggest challenge we faced was remembering where we had got to in the final session BC (Before Christmas!). What were our research questions that we had decided on again? Do we still like them? What was the next step we were supposed to take this term?

Who?

We talked again about which students we wanted to participate – did we want IFY (Foundation) or PMP (Pre-Masters)? We considered the fact that it’s not only linguistic ability which influences response to feedback (our focus) – things like age, study pathway, past learning experiences and educational culture in country of origin will all play their part. Eventually, we decided to focus on IFY students with PMPs their coursework may alter dramatically between first and final draft submissions due to feedback from their content tutor, which would affect our ability to do text analysis regarding their response to our first draft feedback. Within the IFY cohort we have decided to focus on the c and d level groups (which are the two bottom sets, if you will), as these students are most at risk of not progressing so any data which enables us to refine the feedback we give them and others like them will be valuable.

What?

It is notoriously tricky to pin down a specific focus and design a tool which enables you to collect data that will provide the information you need in order to address that focus. Last term, we identified two research questions:

This session, we decided that this was actually too big and have decided to focus on no. 2. Of course having made that decision, and, in fact, also in the process of making that decision, we discussed what specifically to focus on. Here are some of the ideas:

  • Recognition – which of the Quickmarks are students able to recognise and identify without further help/guidance?
  • Process – are they using the Quickmarks as intended? (When they don’t recognise one, do they use the guidance provided with it, that appears when you click on the symbol? If they do that, do they use the links provided within that information to further inform themselves and equip themselves to address the issue? You may assume students know what the symbols mean/read the information if they don’t but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise – e.g. a student who was given a wrong word class symbol and changed the word to a different word rather than changing the class of it!)
  • Application – do they go on to be able to correct other instances of the error in their work?

Despite our interest in the potential responses, we shelved the following lines of enquiry for the time being:

  • How long do they spend altogether looking at their feedback?
  • How do they split that time between Quickmarks, general comments and copy-pasted criteria?

We are mindful that we only have 6 weeks of sessions this term (and that included this one!) as this term’s week 10, unlike the final week of last term, is going to be, er, a tad busy! (An extra cohort and 4 exams being done between them vs one cohort and one exam last time round!) As we want to collect data next term, that gives us limited time for preparation.

How?

We are going to collect data in two ways.

Text analysis

We each will look at a first draft and a final essay draft of a different student and do a text analysis to find out if they have applied the Quickmark feedback to the rest of their text. This will involve picking a couple of Quickmarks that have been given to the student in their first draft, identifying and highlighting any other instances of that error type, and then looking at the final draft in order to find the highlighted errors so that we can see if they have been corrected, and if they have, how – successfully or not.

We are going to have a go at this in our session next week, to practise what we will need to do and agree on the process.

Questionnaire

Designing an effective questionnaire is very difficult and we are still in the very early stages. We are still leaning towards Google Forms as the medium. Key things we need to keep in mind are:

  • How many questions can we realistically expect students to answer? The answer is probably fewer than we think, and this means that we have to be selective in what questions to include.
  • How can we ask the questions most clearly? As well as using graded language, this means thinking about question types – will we use a Likert scale? will we use tick boxes? will we use any open questions?
  • How can we ensure that the questions generate useful, relevant data? The data needs to answer the research questions. Again, this requires considering different question types and what sort of data they will yield. Additionally, knowing that we need to analyse all the data that we collect, in terms of our research question, we might want to avoid open questions as that data will be more difficult and time-consuming to analyse, interesting though it might be.

The questions will obviously relate to the focuses we identified, earlier discussed – recognition, process and application. One of our jobs for the next couple of sessions is to write our questions. It’s easy (ish!) to talk around what we want to know, but writing clear questions that elicit that information will be significantly more challenging!

Another thing we acknowledged, finally, is that research-wise we are not doing anything new that hasn’t been done before, BUT the “newness” comes from doing it in our particular context. And that is absolutely fine! 🙂

Homework: 

Well those of us who haven’t got round to doing the reading set at the end of the previous session (cough cough) will hopefully manage to finish that. (That was Goldstein, L. Questions and answers about teacher written commetary and student revision: teachers and students working together in Journal of Second Language Writing and Ene, E & Upton, T.A. Learner uptake of teacher electronic feedback in ESL composition.) Otherwise, thinking about possible questions and how to formulate them!

2018 Self-Reflection Challenge

Yes, I know, I wrote 2018 and it’s 2019 now!! It wasn’t a typo though, the challenge was set in 2018 and it’s a looking backwards, looking forwards kind of a thing – very suitable to the turn of the year. I discovered it via Sandy Millin (thank you, Sandy!) but it originated here (thank you, Monika!). Here it is:

Day 1: your favourite activity from 2018

A year is a long time and I am sure there were some good activities back in January or February of 2018 but I’m damned if I can remember them! So, I’ll pick an activity that springs to mind which I did last term, to give my flagging students some stimulating paraphrasing practice (difficult to use these three words together! :-p ).

  • I put them into groups of 4 and each group had to find and copy an interesting fact from the internet onto a piece of paper. The sillier the better.
  • Once finished, each group passed their piece of paper to another group.
  • Each group had to use a variety of strategies to paraphrase what was written on the piece of paper they had been handed and write it on a separate piece of paper. The citation used is based on the names of the people in the group who wrote the original.
  • Once finished, the original piece of paper is passed on again to another group.
  • Eventually the original piece of paper makes its way back to the group who created it. At this point, each group hands each paraphrase they have written to the group whose original fact it is based on.
  • At this point, each group has their original fact and a paraphrase written by each of the other groups. Now, the groups look at the paraphrases and evaluate them. Which strategies have been used? Is the meaning still the same? Is it sufficiently paraphrased? Is the citation correct? They give a score out of 5 and must justify their answer with comments based on the above questions.

It worked well! The students did lots of paraphrasing and evaluating of paraphrases, consolidating awareness of and practice of the strategies we had looked for paraphrasing.

Day 2: Most memorable story from 2018

Well, in final third of the January term in 2018, I had an email from my programme manager asking to have a word with me. I received the email on a Friday after I got home from work and Monday was the suggested day for this conversation. I went into complete panic mode, thinking I must have inadvertently done or been doing something wrong. Anyway, I replied saying that would be fine and that I hoped I *hadn’t* done anything wrong. Fortunately she replied fairly swiftly and said I hadn’t, far from it – and so my weekend wasn’t ruined!

Monday arrived and eventually we had this meeting, and far from being a telling off of some sort, I was actually invited to join the team of ADoS’s here, starting in the April term, for the April term and the June term. So I accepted and so far it’s gone well enough that I am still in that role and I am really enjoying it! But I will never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when I opened that email in contrast with what a positive thing it turned out to be!

Day 3: the best piece of advice you were given in 2018

Have a proper lunch break! I think last year in the January term I always ate at my desk. Funnily enough, after I became ADoS, I became much better at taking a lunch break, as I’ve tended to eat with my co-January ADoS colleague (I ADoS Jan foundation, she does pre-masters). Then, last term, there was one day per week where I was in early, busy and then taught a class just prior to lunchtime and then a meeting during lunchtime, and once the meeting was over, I would invariably be completely zonked and not function very effectively for the remainder of the day. In 2019 my goal is to have a proper lunch break each day – yes it takes time from the day but in return you get to function more effectively = win!

Day 4: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud as a teacher

I had originally written the answer to Day 11 here, and then reached day 11 and realised that this one must be after something else! So…to interpret it differently… one thing I am proud of in terms of myself as a teacher is the amount of professional growth I can point to and identify in the last year.

In the classroom but related to development outside it, an example that particularly comes to mind is all the little changes I made as a result of doing the Futurelearn course about Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning. Greater awareness of learning difficulties, something which was also enhanced by a number of the sessions I attended at IATEFL last year, and of different strategies for helping students who may have them, helped me help a group of majority struggling students that I had at the time. I’m not saying they all had learning difficulties but the strategies I learnt were nevertheless useful for helping them progress.

Day 5: your favourite memory as a student

Using speed review on Memrise? Thinking I would never be fast enough to do it with Polish but then, with a few practices, becoming able…

Day 6: the funniest story from 2018

Enlightening in an amusing and terrifying kind of way was looking at all the answers given to our google-form based academic writing quiz!

Here are some examples:

NB: The “essay” referred to here is a coursework essay which provides 60% of their writing progression score for AES (Academic English Skills programme, which we teach)

Day 7: your favourite course book from 2018

We don’t use course books here at USIC! We have our own in-house materials. What’s been memorable about 2018 is that I have been involved in some redevelopment of the Term 1 materials which we will be using again with January starters this term, so at the end of last term it was rather satisfying to see stuff that I’ve produced and stuff I’ve helped edit in print in the workbooks when they arrived back from the printers! 🙂

Day 8: a new idea you implemented in 2018

Something new that we introduced in the September term in 2018 was the use of Google Communities with students. They worked really well, being an attractive, user-friendly, efficient way of fulfilling the purpose we decided to use them for. If you want to know more, I have written about launching them here and evaluated their use here.

Day 9: your favourite teaching aid in 2018

Quizlet Live? I used it for the first time last term and used it several times. Works wonders in making relatively dry terms more palatable and memorable for students as a consolidation activity!

Day 10: the best joke you heard in 2018

Not a joke but this made me laugh! Shared in our scholarship circle about giving feedback on writing. Moral of the story: be direct, don’t hedge! 😉

Day 11: the moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

I feel proud every time any of my students are successful in the assessments they have to do while they are here! I was particularly pleased to get all of the students in my weaker January foundation group through their coursework essay assignments – some of the first drafts were abysmal but through the feedback and tutorial process I managed to help them do enough for even the worst to meet the requirements for a pass. Giving feedback on writing is something that continues to be a focus for improvement, and of course is also the focus of our scholarship circle which will continue this term.

Day 12: your favourite teaching-related website in 2018

(Slightly edited this one to clearly differentiate from day 19!) It would probably still have to be Sandy Millin – Sandy updates her blog regularly and it never fails to grab my attention/inspire me/give me something to think about/make me feel completely inadequate etc!

Day 13: the person who inspired you in 2018

A colleague of mine who was already an ADoS when I was invited to join the team and had previously been my ADoS. She inspired me in two ways: 1) by believing in me with regards to the ADoSing job – she said I’d be brilliant at it. I don’t know that I’m brilliant but at that point I was dubious as to whether I could do it at all. Having some else be that confident that I could really helped me. 2) The way that as well as seemingly always having everything under control, nothing was ever too much trouble for her and she was always on hand to help and answer questions when you needed it (when she was my ADoS but even when she wasn’t!) – that was the kind of ADoS I wanted to be for my teachers too! Still working on it, but the memory of it is something that continues to inspire me! 🙂

Day 14: the moment in 2018 when you realised why you are doing your job

To be honest, there hasn’t been a time, since I started the CELTA many moons ago (October 2009) and did my first teaching practice, that I HAVEN’T known why I am in this profession! A realisation I did have in 2018 was following suffering the loss of my equine best friend Alba who died from colic at the beginning of September. Coming back to work forced me to function again after that shock and what I realised is that my work is one of my primary raisons d’être – my horse was the other. Work was a powerful enough positive force to get me through that loss. More prosaically, in 2018 I also realised I must actually be good at what I do – as otherwise, I wouldn’t have been invited to take up a more senior role!

Day 15: your greatest challenge in 2018

Taking on the ADoS role, definitely. I’ve not ADoS’ed before so I was learning as I went – and continue to do so! The biggest shift has been from the focus being on my one little world as a teacher (my classes, my admin, etc – as long as I am on top of what I am doing, all is well) to making sure that the worlds of all the teachers in my cohort are also running smoothly and doing what I can to help with enabling that. That and writing meeting notes meaning that we ADoS’s have to be multiple weeks ahead of everybody else in terms of what we are thinking about!

Day 16: your strongest point as a teacher in 2018

Something I’m pleased with as far as 2018 is concerned is that the more EAP teaching experience I get, and the more my subject knowledge improves, the better able I am to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, and create materials to help them overcome the latter. This also impacts positively on the feedback I give for writing tasks and is something I want to keep building on.

Day 17: most motivational idea/quotation/picture in 2018

This one is motivational enough to be my mantra for 2019. 🙂

Day 18: three reasons why you became a teacher

  • Enjoyed helping out in my mum’s EAL classroom when I was young
  • Found the British Council language assistant programme I participated in for my year abroad at university (languages degree), teaching EFL to kids in France, as well as volunteer teaching kids at a summer camp in Romania, brilliant experiences
  • Discovered that you could do a CELTA and make it (teach English in this way) into a career!

Day 19: your favourite teaching application in 2018

I think I would have to say Google Docs! In conjunction with Google+ Community for ease of sharing templates with students. Using it enables me to make writing activities a much more interactive, cooperative, process-based useful experience for students. From planning to writing to editing and redrafting in pairs and in groups, or individually but looking at each others’ work as well, it really changes the game. I mean, you can do all this stuff offline as well, but when you are writing complex pieces of writing, as our students do for their coursework, the process involves a lot of changes being made, which would be somewhat of a nightmare on paper (though obviously people did it before computers were a thing!). Using Google Docs in class enables us to reflect and scaffold what we want them to do in assessment in the learning they do for it.

Day 20: a piece of advice you would give to a rookie teacher

Mistakes will happen, things will go wrong, but it’s not the end of the world! Take a deep breath, do what you can with the situation at the time, learn from it and move on. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher, it makes you a human being. Embrace it.

Day 21: the best CPD book you read in 2018

I tend to dip in and out of books rather than read them cover to cover and I am also a big fan of journal articles, so I will talk about the best CPD reading I’ve done in general. I’ve particularly “enjoyed” (when I say enjoyed, I mean I found them interesting, relevant, worth reading – purposeful pleasure: a term that may make more sense if you look at this post!) the articles we have read as “homework” for our scholarship circle, about feedback on student writing. I also found the reading I did as part of the Futurelearn course about Dyslexia and foreign language reading very enlightening, as well as a book called “Teaching to Avoid Plagiarism”, which I read as part of the process of thinking about how to teach paraphrasing more effectively.

Day 22: your greatest frustration in 2018

When other peoples’ time management isn’t quite up to my exacting standards 😉 Clearly patience and understanding should be on my list of things to nurture in 2019…

Day 23: the one thing you want non-teachers to understand

I know Friday night is a weekend night, but having been up since 5.20 (as normal) and spent the fifth day in a row intensively peopling in various ways, I tend to treat it as a school night – i.e. dinner, bath, early night rather than have any particular desire to socialise! Lack of desire to socialise also applies to marking week, which is generally mental and, being the last week of term, I’m at my most knackered anyway! I DO want to see you and hang out with you, but just really not at certain times!

Day 24: your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

Using Google Docs for students to do writing practice individually yet collaboratively. So, I had a whole class of 20 students using the same google doc, which was a table with sentence starters and space for answers, also divided into rows according to the type of sentence, and students had to individually write their completions (with a rule of not copying anyone else’s ideas) and then proofread and make comments on (using the comment function on Google docs) their classmates’ sentences. I was a bit worried about how it would work and whether it would be too chaotic etc but in the event it actually worked out really well.

The other one would be adapting my classroom management techniques and materials for my lower level foundation group using ideas from the future learn course about teaching languages to students with dyslexia/specific learning differences. The thing is, a lot of the little techniques are very simple to integrate, don’t negatively affect students who don’t struggle but can really make a difference for the ones who do!

Day 25: your personal success in 2018

I’m going to interpret this as being a success that is not related to teaching? (As I would call a success related to teaching a professional success…) So I would say, I am pretty pleased with how I’ve managed work-life balance in the last year. I have put heart and soul into my work but I’ve also been strict about not working in the evenings or at weekends (probably 95% of the time!). Other than the odd occasion where I decided to work on draft feedback outside of work time in order to take the pressure off, the only ELT stuff I’ve done at weekends is CPD stuff like book chapter writing when the deadline got imminent and watching webinars (which is enjoyable rather than “work”!) Last term, in addition to work, I managed to do something non-work related every day after work – Monday was yoga class, Tuesday was running (mostly by headtorch after the clocks changed), Wednesday was Barre Pilates class, Thursday was running, Friday was indoor bouldering.

Day 26: one thing you plan to change in 2019

Not so much change as build on – my ADoS peopling skills, my ADoS organisational skills, my classroom subject knowledge, differentiation in the classroom. Also need to finish my book chapter – but I can’t do that til I get the feedback on the first draft, then it’s revisions and resubmission! Also want to keep blogging more – I managed to do it a lot more regularly last term than previous terms!

Day 27: your greatest discovery in 2018

That I was doing my job well enough to have been invited to take on a more senior role here!

Day 28: which superpower would make you a super teacher?

Not needing sleep? Having more than one pair of hands? Or, better yet, clones of me to put to work… 😉

Day 29: one area to improve in your teaching in 2019

I want to keep building on my subject knowledge as that has already had a very positive impact on my practice and according to a TD session about peer-assisted self-observation that I attended it is a highly significant factor. I also want to keep working on making lessons that are sufficiently challenging for higher level students. Our in-house materials are aimed at average students (by our standards) so in order to keep higher level students engaged and motivated, and develop their skills, supplementing the in-house materials in various ways is a necessity. Now that we stream students according to their IELTS scores on entry, there is a lot more scope for tailoring lessons to those students who are either above or below the average, which is a really positive thing and something I want to continue to exploit.

Day 30: how do you plan to start your first lesson in 2019

By learning my students’ names and making sure they learn each others’ names via a game! I think learning students’ names and students learning each others’ names is vital and when you have multiple large classes it might not be the easiest thing in the world. What works for me is that game where a student says their name and something they like and then the next student has to introduce that student before saying their own name and something they like and so on until the student has the job of list all the names. Then you spot pick people to make sure they didn’t stop listening after their turn (having warned them that this will happen!). Of course, when they struggle, you have to help them so you have to focus 150% as the game unfolds. By the end of it, you know their names 🙂

Day 31: the most important thing you want to remember tomorrow

To edit and send out meeting notes for next week’s module meeting! But tomorrow is now today – I answered this question yesterday!

Postscript

Happy new year, everybody! And if you decide to do this challenge too, please pop a link to your response in the comments so I can have a look 🙂 I actually really recommend it – it was a nice way to look back at the year and think about what to take forward with me into a positive new year.

Taking a leaf out of Sandy’s book (see, told you she inspires..), here are some previous new year posts that I have written in the past – some challenges, some random reflective pieces, some relating to WordPress stats:

So, if you don’t fancy the current challenge, you could always try something like any of these above! 🙂 Or look at Sandy’s version of this post and her previous new year writings to see if those inspire you more!

Here’s hoping 2019 is one to remember for all the right reasons! 🙂

M.A./Delta + 5 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rather exciting evening…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

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

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

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

What can I observe?

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

How can I observe?

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

How to work with a peer?

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

What happens next?

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

What kind of support can they offer us?

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

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

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

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