M.A./Delta + 5 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rather exciting evening…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

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

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

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

What can I observe?

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

How can I observe?

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

How to work with a peer?

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

What happens next?

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

What kind of support can they offer us?

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

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

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

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

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (9)

It’s the last week of term, exam week, and we have managed to squeeze in a final scholarship circle meeting for the term. How amazing are we? 😉 I also have no excuse not to write it up shortly afterwards – nothing sensitive content-wise and, for once in a way, I have a wee bit of time. Sort of. (By the time you factor in meetings, WAS and ADoS stuff for next term, not as much as you might think…!)

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 of this particular circle.)

So, session 9. The first thing we recognised in this session is that we won’t be collecting data until term 3 for September students and term 4 for January students (which will be their term 3). This is a good thing! It means we have next term to plan out what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. It sounds like a lot of time but there is a lot we have to do and elements of it are, by their nature, time-consuming.

Firstly, we need to decide exactly who our participants will be and why. “You just said term 3/4 September/January students!” I hear you say. Yes…generally, that is the focus. In other words, students who are doing a coursework essay and therefore receiving QuickMark feedback. However, within those two broad groups (September Term 3/January Term 4), we have IFY (foundation) and PMP (Pre-masters) students and the IFY cohorts are streamed by IELTS score into a, b, c and (numbers depending) d groups. So, we need to decide exactly who our participants will be. This choice is affected by things like the age of the participants (some of our students are under 18 which makes the ethical approval process, which is already time-consuming, markedly more difficult) and what exactly we want to be able to find out from our data. For example, if we want to know the effect of the streaming group on the data, then we need to collect the data in such a way that it is marked for streaming group. (NB: as I learnt last term in the context of a plagiarism quiz that had to be disseminated to all students, it is a bad idea for this information to rely on student answers – having a field/question such as “What group are you in?” might seem innocuous but oh my goodness the random strangeness it can throw up is amazing! See pic below…)

“Bad” and “g’d” are other examples of responses given! …Students will be students? We need to make sure that our Google Form collects the information we want to collect and allows us to analyse it in the way that we want to analyse it. Obviously, we need to know what we want to collect and how we want to analyse it before we can design an effective tool. Additionally, however pesky they might be, participant students will also need to be a) fully informed regarding the research as well as b) aware that it is voluntary and that they have the right to cease participation and withdraw their data at any point.

Developing our research is just one of the directions that our scholarship circle might take next term. We also discussed the possibility of further investigation into how to teach proofreading more effectively. We are hoping to do some secondary research into this and refine our practice accordingly. While we will do what we can, we recognised that time constraints may affect what we can do. For example, we discussed the following activity to encourage proofreading after students receive feedback on their drafts:

  • Put students in groups of four and have them look at the feedback, specifically QuickMarks, on their essays
  • Students, in their groups, to work out what is wrong and what the correction should be. Teacher checks their correction and ensures that it is correct.
  • Students to pick a mistake or two (up to four sentences) and copy them onto a piece of flip-chart paper with the mistakes still in place
  • Each group passes their flip-chart paper to another group who should t try to correct it.
  • The flip-chart paper passes from group to group, with the idea that they look at the mistake and the first correction group’s edits and see if they think it is now correct or want to make additional changes (in a different colour)
  • Finally, the original group gets their flip-chart paper with corrections and edits back and compares it with their correct version.

This is a really nice little activity. However, after students receive their first draft feedback, they do not have any more lesson time (what time remains of the term, after they get their feedback, is taken up by tutorials, mocks and exams!), so it wouldn’t be possible to do it using that particular feedback. Perhaps what we need to do is use the activity with a different piece of work (for example a writing exam practice essay), and integrate other proofreading activities at intervals through the course, so that when they do get their first draft feedback for their coursework, they know what to do with it!

Another thing we discussed in relation to proofreading and helping students to develop this skill is the importance of scaffolding. I attempted to address the issue of scaffolding the proofreading process in a lesson I wrote for my foundation students last term. In that lesson, students had to brainstorm the types of errors that they commonly make in their writing – grammar, vocabulary, register, cohesion-related things like pronouns etc – and then I handed out a paragraph with some of those typical errors sown in and they had some time to try and find the errors. After that, I gave them the same paragraph but with the mistakes underlined, and having checked which ones they had found correctly, they had had to identify the type of error for each one that had been underlined. Finally, I gave them a version with the mistakes underlined and identified using our code, and they had to try and correct them. All of this was group work. The trouble was the lesson wasn’t long enough for them (as a low-level foundation group) to have as much time as they could have done with for each stage of the lesson. I had hoped there would be time for them to then look at their coursework essays (this was the last lesson before first draft submission) and try to find and correct some mistakes but in reality we only just got through the final paragraph activity.

Other ideas for scaffolding the development of proofreading skills were to prepare paragraphs that had only one type of mistake sown in so that students only had to identify other errors of that particular type, with the idea that they could have practice at identifying different errors separately before trying to bring it together in a general proofreading activity. That learning process would be spread over the course rather than concentrated into one (not quite long enough) lesson. There is also a plan to integrate such activities into the Grammar Guru interactive/electronic grammar programmes that students are given to do as part of their independent study. Finally, we thought it would be good to be more explicit about the process we want students to follow when they proofread their work. This could be done in the general feedback summary portion of the feedback. E.g. cue them to look first at the structural feedback and then at the language feedback etc. That support would hopefully avoid them being overwhelmed by the feedback they receive. One of our tasks for scholarship circle sessions next term is to bring in the course syllabus and identify where proofreading focuses could be integrated.

Another issue regarding feedback that we discussed in this session was the pre-masters students’ coursework task which is synoptic – they work on it with their academic success tutor with focus on content and with us for focus on language. Unfortunately, with the set-up as it is, as students do not work on it with a subject tutor, there is no content “expert” to guide them and there is a constant tension with regards to timing of feedback. Our team give feedback on language at the same time as the other team give feedback on content (which, not being experts, is a struggle for them, exacerbated by not being able to give feedback on language, especially as the two are fairly entwined!). Content feedback may necessitate rewriting of chunks of text, rendering our language feedback useless at that point in time. However, there is not enough time in the term for feedback to be staggered appropriately. We don’t have a solution for this, other than more collaboration with Academic Success tutors, which again time constraints on both sides may render difficult, but it did lead us onto the question of whether we should, in general, focus our QuickMarks only on parts of text that are structurally sound? (Again, there isn’t time for there to be a round of structural feedback followed by a round of linguistic feedback once the structural feedback has been implemented.)

Suffice to say it is clear that we still have plenty to get our teeth into in future scholarship circle sessions – our focus, and areas closely related, is far from exhausted. Indeed we have a lot to do still, with our research still in its early stages. We are not sure what will happen next term with regards to when the sessions will take place as it is timetable dependent but we are keeping our current time-slot pencilled in as a starting point. Fingers crossed a good number of us will be able to make it or find an alternative time that more of us can do!

Thank you to all my lovely colleagues who have participated in the scholarship circle this term, it has been a brilliant thing to do and I am looking forward to the continuation next term!

 

 

IATEFL Web Conference: “Why we should be taking the fun out of the classroom” – Diana England

On the 22nd November 2018, I managed to watch a grand total of one of the sessions from the IATEFL Web Conference. No time to watch them all, and the title of this one really intrigued me!

Diana England works at IH – Torres Vedras/Lisbon. She starts by saying it, as in the title, sounds a bit strange but that it is about taking fun out and putting in something much more valuable. Again, intriguing!

Talk outline:

  • What fun and enjoyment mean
  • How these words are used in everyday English
  • The lures and dangers of fun
  • The science of enjoyment
  • The psychology of enjoyment
  • The connection between learning and enjoyment
  • Ideas for going beyond fun

She hopes to give us some interesting perspectives on we teach, how students learn and offer a different way forward.

What fun and enjoyment mean

Diana’s hunch was that fun and enjoyment are not the same thing. Similarities and indeed differences between them exist. She looked them up in 3 different online dictionaries: Macmillan, Cambridge and Collins. Here are the words which she italicised in the definitions she found:

  • Fun – not important or serious, amusement, diversion, gaity, merriment
  • Enjoyment – pleasure, happiness, benefit and use, possession of something satisfying and beneficial

So, both include pleasure, fun is more trivial and light-hearted while enjoyment has a greater sense of depth to it.

How these words are used in everyday English

How do we apply them in everyday English? What connotations and attitudes are inherent? Here are some examples:

Fun

  • The kids made fun of her – mocking
  • We were only having a bit of fun – trivial
  • It’s not all fun and games – negative
  • It was fun while it lasted – temporary
  • We went on a picnic just for the fun of it – random, no principle behind it
  • Time flies when you’re having fun – pleasurable experience

Enjoyment

  • Enjoy your meal
  • They really enjoyed themselves on holiday

–> more engagement

Diana couldn’t find any idioms for enjoy but the above expressions show how it is commonly used: for positive, pleasurable experiences.

The lures and dangers of fun

We then looked at things that Diana has overheard or said herself in the past, using the word fun. We should consider what the teacher’s concept of these three things is:

  • concept of effective teaching
  • concept of the process of learning
  • sense of relationships within the class

I like to start my lessons with a fun warmer.

=> Chia Suan Chong wrote an article for ETP magazine entitled warmers, fillers, what on earth – she is skeptical of the need as they may be random and of little value to the lesson. It might be “fun” but how does it relate to the programme, how does it help them learn, how effective is it?

I like using a bomb timer or random points generator when we are playing games in class.

=> It might be a bit of fun but Diana isn’t one for these kind of gimmicks, she thinks they can be potentially quite detrimental because some children might get overly excited and it might take over the language purpose of the lesson. So do they result in improved learning? Probably not.

Has anyone got something fun I can do with my teens class?

=> she is skeptical when she hears it, she wonders what is going on in the teacher’s class. Are the lessons usually boring? Is it linked to a learning objective or will any old fun thing do? Will the teacher be able to ensure that effective learning takes place? Does the teacher feel she is losing control? Does she want the students to like her? Won’t necessarily happen.

It was a good lesson, the students had a lot of fun today.

=> Does fun equal good? Maybe, maybe not. Students laughing and playing games does not necessarily make for a productive, valuable lesson.

I see myself as a fun teacher

=> is that all you are, fun? What do the students think of you? Do they think the same? Do all students have the same opinion? She’d question that. Does being a fun teacher mean you are ale to achieve better results than another kind of teacher? Should the emphasis be on the teacher or on the students and environment?

If you’re good, we’ll play a game at the end of the lesson.

=> Trying to get the students to behave and get on with stuff. So this is a carrot in terms of the carrot and stick approach. Should games be seen as the fun element of the lesson? There are other ways of having fun. And should it be a carrot/add on? They are important not just a filler you put in. Diana would sometimes say this, and even though they’d been good as gold and worked hard, time management meant that there wasn’t time to have fun at the end of the lesson. So next time, why should they bother if they know chances are it won’t happen due to time constraints?

That’s the 3rd time Sam’s done ‘backs to the board’ in as many lessons.

=> (This activity generally relates to content of previous lessons.) Why are they doing it 3 times in as many lessons? The students appeared to like it, so it makes him feel good, but doesn’t necessarily mean that effective ongoing learning is happening. Perhaps Sam wants students to like him and is putting this ahead of ensuring effective learning?

So, the lures:

  • lighten the mood
  • beneficial
  • breaking the ice
  • engaging learners
  • good atmosphere
  • raise energy levels

(from the audience)

  • They can be easy to include in a lesson
  • gratifying
  • make the teacher look cool
  • motivating
  • Teachers may think that is what students want and so they will be popular with students
  • easy to prepare
  • good fallbacks.

(from Diana)

Diana would argue the reverse. She says there are dangers => it could result in random, coincidental learning, it may be restricted to games, warmers and fillers, it may not be relevant to the course/programme, it may not suit all learning styles and may not be the best way of maximising learner opportunities. Finally, it may end up alienating students, students may get bored and demotivated, and disengage.

The science of enjoyment

Diana is arguing that there is a difference between fun and enjoyment. We need to take out the fun and put in the principled enjoyment.

The first question is, what happens in the brain to enable you to derive enjoyment?

Dopamine =>the joy of finding what you seek.”  This motivates you to take action, encourages the persistence required to seek reward and approach a goal. Dopamine release enables you to move towards the goal and another hit occurs as you hit the goal. To harness it, you need to create a series of small successes/goals. To avoid dopamine lag, you need to set new goals before you achieve the current one. What are the implications of this for us as teachers? We need to help students to set achievable goals. We should scaffold their learning – guide and help them, slowly take away our control and give them control. We need to inspire students to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. We need to provide a supportive classroom environment. We need to recognise our students’ class and individual achievements and provide judicious praise. It’s not the quantity but the quality of the praise. What effort have they made that warrants the praise. Be specific! (This last bit about specificity connects with the M.A. findings that triggered the creation of our scholarship circle here! That was in relation to positive feedback.)

Serotonin => “The security of social domination”. This is the confidence molecule which flows when you feel significant or important. When you feel respected by others, you feel it and your brain tries to replicate what allowed you to experience it in the past. Remembering success produces serotonin, so does gratitude and positive thought. What are the implications for teachers? Ensure that you establish an inclusive atmosphere where everyone is equal, you value everyone, no one is demeaned. Try allocating roles to promote self esteem, be genuinely positive, bring the outside into the classroom by exploiting outside classroom experiences.

Oxytocin => “the safety of social bonds“. This is the cuddle neurochemical, which is released though closeness with another person. It helps induce intimacy and trust and build relationships. It can be triggered through social bonding such as eye contact and attentiveness. When needs are met, you get an oxytocin hit. What does this mean for teachers and students? We need to implement student-centred discovery-based interactive learning. Lessons and lesson stages need to be cooperative, constructive and take place in a caring atmosphere. Not touchy touchy feely but there can be a non-inclusive atmosphere if games are too competitive, for example, as students may feel left out. We need to enable students to enjoy each others’ successes. Help them see they are individuals but they are working towards a common goal. There should be opportunities for genuine communication, not just page turning and the language in the course book. Nominate consistently – using students’ names with correct pronunciation. Using names is important as the person feels good and noticed. Closed pair/group work is also good.

Endorphin – “the oblivion that masks pain.” This chemical is associated with fight or flight response, gives you the oomph to power through any situation. It is self-produced morphine. Laughing and stretching can cause you to release endorphins because they agitate your insides. Anticipation and expectation also increases levels of endorphins. The implications of this are: Physical movement is good when appropriate. For example, kinaesthetic activities, which use hands and bodies may be quite important. Brain breaks and light hearted moments where students can smile and have a laugh (with, rather than at, each other). We need to provide variety of activities and pace.

The psychology of enjoyment

The psychologically based definition is that enjoyment is an affective state of pleasure.

There are four concepts of pleasure:

  • flow experience: happens when people are totally involved in an activity. All of their minds and bodies are completely involved, concentration is deep, they know what they are doing and what they want to do, not worried about failing, time passes very quickly, they lose the ordinary self conscious gnawing that characterises daily life. Like “getting into the zone” We can apply this to activities in the class.
  • Cessation of anxiety: absence of negative emotional factors e.g. stress, lack of control
  • Satisfaction: positive relationship between expectation of outcomes and outcome achieved
  • Security of belonging: positive social relations leading to a sense of belonging

There are obvious links and connections between the psychological aspects of enjoyment and the scientific.

Temporaral nature:

  • in the moment: state emotions experienced in the present and refer to a specific activity or lesson
  • in retrospect: trait emotions built up over time and refer retrospectively to cumulative experience. “I really enjoy my lessons” – feelings derived not from just one activity but consistent occurrence of pleasurable activities/events.

The connection between learning and enjoyment/ideas for going beyond fun

Diana shared three ways of connecting learning and enjoyment with us.

Firstly, she told us about an action research project she did. She marked her students work based on these five descriptors – possible max of 5 for each:

CAROT

  • Content
  • Accuracy
  • Range
  • Organisation
  • Target reader

For the second piece, she kept the marks to herself, students marked each others and they used the same descriptors, then compared their assessment to my assessment and then discussed the assessment with their partner. Involving them in the whole area of evaluation of writing. They were A2+ level, so they gave feedback on the lesson in Portuguese. The feedback was very positive.

 

She also suggested that we could change boring activities into “fun” by making them enjoyable, engaging and beneficial. We need to look out for the enjoyment learning potential rather than assuming boring and compensating with another “fun” activity Working in pairs and doing transformations that practice non defining relative clauses could potentially be boring.

This is what Diana did:

Get students to work in pairs, they do the sentences, check the answers together as a group. Then get the students to test each other. Pair AB. Student A’s look at the board and say the first sentence in each pair. Student B is not allowed to look at the board/notebook/coursebook. They have to listen to student A and do the transformation. They need to use exaggerated intonation to emphasis the additional “interesting” information. Then they swap roles.

Finally, she shared an activity she did with a higher level group.

Higher level group – put words on the board from CB:

Teacher says, “I bet there are 4 words here you will mispronounce.” Students, in pairs, go through the words and discuss how they think they are pronounced in terms of sounds, wordstress and weak forms. They could be words met earlier in the unit/course or new words. Next you play beat the teacher. They all play against you. The teacher nominates a student and if they say it correctly they will get the point. If they make a mistake, T gets the mark. There is competition but it is not against each other but against the teacher and they have had a chance to work in pairs first so no one is put on the spot. By scaffolding the staging carefully, they should do well. Thus, this activity is biased for their success.

What aspects of the science and psychology of enjoyment do these activities include?

  • Scaffolding/micro-staging managed carefully: helps sustain the effect of dopamine as there is a clear goal that is achievable; sense of flow as less anxiety
  • Sense of achievement
  • Bonding
  • Interactiveness
  • Healthy competition
  • Positive, cooperative atmosphere
  • Inclusive
  • Creating positive bonds
  • Opportunities for genuine communication
  • Concentration is deep
  • No worry about failing
  • Group belonging

Quite a lot of things can be game-like as well, as long as they are managed in a principled way. Criteria for assessing the engagement factor of the activities you use:

Enjoyment is beyond fun:

Nothing wrong with the word “fun” as long as it has a deeper, more principled sense.

It was a very interesting talk, rooted in theory, practical and most engaging. Thank you, Diana! 

 

 

 

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (5-8)

Last time I blamed time and workload for the lack of updates, but this time the reason there is only one post representing four sessions is in part a question of time but more importantly a question of content. This will hopefully make more sense as I go on to explain below!

(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 of this particular circle.)

Session 5 saw us finishing off what we started in Session 4 – i.e. editing the error correction code to make it clearer and more student-friendly. So, nothing to add for that, really! It was what it was – see write-up of Session 4 for an insight.

Sessions 6 and 7 were very interesting – we talked about potential research directions for our scholarship circle. We started with two possibilities. I suggested that we replicate the M.A. research regarding response to feedback that started the whole scholarship circle off and see if the changes we are making have had any effect. At the same time as I had that idea, another of our members brought forward the idea of participating in a study that is going to be carried out by a person who works in the Psychology department at Sheffield University, regarding reflection on feedback and locus of control. What both of these have in common is that they are not mine to talk about in any great depth on a public platform given that one has not yet been published and the other is still in its planning stages.

Session 6

So, in session 6, the M.A. researcher told us, in depth, all about her methodology, as in theory if we were to replicate that study we would be using that methodology and then we also heard about the ideas and tools involved in the Psychology department research. From the former, it was absolutely fascinating to hear about how everything was done and also straightforward enough to identify that replicating that study would take up too much time at critical assessment points when people are already pressed for time: it’s one thing to give up sleeping if you are trying to do your M.A. dissertation to distinction level (congratulations!) but another if you are just working full time and don’t necessarily want to take on that level of workload out of the goodness of your heart! We want to do research, but we also want to be realistic. With regards to the latter, it sounded potentially interesting but while we heard about the idea, we didn’t see the tools it would involve using until Session 7. The only tool that we contributed was the reflection task that we have newly integrated into our programme, which students have to complete after they receive feedback on the first draft of their assignments.

Session 7

Between Session 6 and 7, we got hold of the tools (emailed to us by the member in touch with the research in the Psychology department) and were able to have a look in advance of Session 7. In Session 7, we discussed the tools (questionnaires) and agreed that while some elements of them were potentially workable and interesting, there were enough issues regarding the content, language and length that it perhaps wasn’t the right direction for us to take after all. The tools had been produced for a different context (first year undergraduate psychology students). We decided that what we needed was to be able to use questionnaires that were geared a) towards our context and students and b) towards finding out what we want to know. We also talked about the aim of our research, as obviously the aim of a piece of research has a big impact on how you go about doing that research. Broadly, we want to better understand our students’ response to feedback and from that be able to adapt what we do with our feedback to be as useful as it possibly can be for the students. We spent some time discussing what kinds of questions might be included in such a questionnaire.

So, at this point, we began the shift away from focusing on those two studies, one existing, complete but unpublished, and one proposed,  and towards deciding on our own way forward, which became the focus of session 8

Session 8

Between Session 7 and Session 8, our M.A. Researcher sent us an email pointing out that in order to think about what we want to include in our questionnaires, we first need to have a clear idea of what our research questions are. So that was the first thing we discussed.

One fairly important thing that we decided today as part of that discussion about research questions was that it would be better to focus on one thing at a time. So, rather than focusing on all the types of feedback that Turnitin has to offer within one project, this time round focus specifically on the quickmarks (which, of course, we have recently been working on!). Then, next time round we could shift the focus to another aspect. This is in keeping with our recognition of the need to be realistic regarding what we can achieve, so as to avoid setting ourselves up for failure. (I think this is a key thing to bear in mind for anybody wanting to set up a scholarship circle like this!) The questions we decided on were:

  1. Do students understand the purpose of feedback and our expectations of them when responding to feedback?
  2. How do students respond to the Quickmarks?

Questions that got thrown around in the course of this discussion were:

  • Do students prioritise some codes over others? E.g. do they go for the ones they think are more treatable?
  • What codes do students recognise immediately?
  • If they don’t immediately recognise the codes, do they read the descriptions offered?
  • Do they click on the links in the descriptions?
  • Do they do anything with those links after opening them? (One of the students in the M.A. research opened all the links but then never did anything with them!)
  • How much time do they believe they should spend on this feedback?
  • How long are students spending on looking at the feedback in total?
  • How do students split their time between Quickmarks (/”In-text feedback” so includes comments and text-on-text a.k.a. the “T” option, which some of us haven’t previously used!) and general comments and the grade form?

Of course, these questions will feed in to the tool that we go on to design.

We identified that our learner training ideas e.g. the reflection form, improving the video that introduces them to Turnitin feedback, developing a task to go with the video in which they answer questions and in so doing create themselves a record of the important information that they can refer back to etc. can and should be worked on without waiting to do the research. That way, having done what we can to improve things based on our current understanding, we can use the research to highlight any gaps.

We also realised that for the data regarding Quickmarks to be useful, it would be good for it to be specific. So, one thing on our list of things to find out is whether Googleforms would allow us to have an item in which students identify which QMs they were given in their text and then answer questions regarding their attitude to those Quickmarks, how clear they were etc. Currently we are planning on using Googleforms to collect data as it is easy to administer and organises the results in a visually useful way. Of course that decision may be changed based on whether or not it allows us to do what we want to do.

Lots more to discuss and hopefully we will be able to squeeze in one more meeting next week (marking week, but only one exam to mark, most unusually! – in a normal marking week, it just would not be possible) before the Christmas holidays begin… we shall see! Overall, I think it will be great to carry out research as a scholarship group and use it to inform what we do (hence my overambitious as it turns out initial idea…). Exciting times! 🙂

 

CUP Online Academic Conference 2018: Motivation in EAP – Using intrinsically interesting ‘academic light’ topics and engaging tasks (Adrian Doff)

This is the first session of this online conference that I have been able to attend live this week, hoping to catch up with some of the others via recordings…

Part of a series of academic webinars running this week, this is the 5th session out of 8. Apparently recordings will be available in about a week’s time. Adrian Doff has worked as a teacher and teacher trainer in various countries and is co author of Meanings into Words and Language in Use series amongst other things. He is talking to us from Munich, Germany.

We are going to look at what topics and tasks might be appropriate in EAP teaching, especially to students who both need academic skills in English but also need to improve their general language ability. For most of his ELT life, Adrian has been involved in general ELT as a teacher and materials writer and has recently move into EAP mainly through supplementary material creation.

Our starting point for this webinar: look at some of the differences between GE and EAP. In the literature of EAP quite a lot is made of these differences, partly as a way to define EAP in contrast to GE.

Firstly, the contrast between needs and wants: to what extent do we define the content of the course in terms of the perceived needs of learners and what we think students want to do vs what they need to do. In all teaching and learning there is a balance between these two things.

  • In GE, needs/outcomes define the syllabus, skills and general contexts and they are seen as fairly longterm outcomes and goals, often expressed in terms of the CE framework. E.g. language used in restaurants/cafes, we think it will be useful for learners of English. Equally we consider what students want, and the topics and tasks and texts are more based on interest, engagement and variety. E.g. a common classroom activity is a class survey mingling and asking questions and reporting back. They are not really related to the needs, i.e. we don’t expect students to get a job doing surveys, but it is interesting, lively, generates interaction etc so it is motivating for them to do.
  • If we think about EAP, the needs are more pressing and clearer, dictate the skills, genre and language we look at and that dominates choice of topics, texts and tasks.

Two differences come out of this first one:

  • Firstly, In GE, the overt focus of the lesson is focused on a topic, while in EAP the overt focus is on the skills being developed.
  • Secondly, teachers’ assumptions about motivations in class.

Adrian shows us a quote from De Chazal (2014), saying that motivation is teacher-led while in EAP stakes are high and students are very self-motivated, clear intrinsic motivation from a clear goal. In GE students may not necessarily see tasks/topics relevant in terms of what they need, while in EAP they do.

Next we looked at example materials from GE and EAP, based around the same topic area of climate change.

  • EAP – “Selecting and prioritising what you need”  – students are taken through a series of skills: choosing sources, thinking about what they know, looking at the text, looking at language of course and effect, leading into writing an essay. The assumption is that students will be motivated by the knowledge that they need these skills. The page looks sober, black and white, reflecting the seriousness of EAP.
  • GE – Cambridge Empower, also leads to writing an essay but first there is focus on the topic, listening to new items about extreme weather events and discussion. Then reading a text that leads into writing skills focus on reporting opinions and it leads into the essay. It arouses interest in the topic through: strong use of visual support, active discussion of the topic, listening and speaking tasks used although it’s a reading and writing lesson. Lots of variety of interaction and general fluency practice.

These reflect the different needs of GE and EAP learners, reflects the more serious nature of academic study. This is fine if we can assume that learners in EAP classes are in fact motivated and have a clear idea of their needs and how what is being done relates to that. De Chazal uses “can be self motivated” and “are more likely to be working towards a clear goal” – not definite.

Adrian puts forward a spectrum on which GE, GEAP and SEAP on it but says that many students occupy a place somewhere in the middle of the scale i.e. learning English for study purposes but also need GE and may not have clear study aims. E.g. Turkey. Students who study English in addition to their subject of study in University context. Need to get to B1+, preparing for a programme where some content is in English but not wanting to study in an English-speaking university so don’t need full on EAP, may not necessarily be motivated. In the UK, students need an improved IELTS score, need EAP skills in addition to general skills and are more motivated. In both of these, EAP ‘light’ may be useful.

For the rest of this session, he says we will look at what this might look like and how it might come out in practice. It is clearly possible to focus on academic skills in a way that is engaging for learners who may not be highly motivated while still providing the skills that they need to master.

Approach 1

E.g. Skills for writing an academic essay, specifically in the opening part, the introduction, where they may need to define abstract concepts. Students might be shown an example which provides examples of the language needed.

It isn’t in itself a particularly engaging text, but it seems to Adrian that there are ways in which this topic could be made to be more interesting and engaging for less motivated students:

  • a lead-in to get ss thinking about the topic – brainstorming
  • discussion with concrete examples e.g. in what ways mght courage be an asset in these occupations
  • personalisation: think of a courageous person you know, what did they do which was courageous
  • prediction: get ss to write a definition of courage without using a dictionary

THEN look at the text.

So this is an example of bringing in features of General English methodology into EAP. This helps to provide motivation, it is generated by the task and teacher, bringing interest to the topic which does not HAVE to be dry.

Approach 2:

To actually choose topics which have general interest even if not related to learners’ areas of study.

Listening to lectures: identifying what the lecturer will talk about using the signals given (EAP focus: outlining content of a presentation). Can be done with a general interest topic e.g. male and female communication.

  • Start off with a topic focus: think about the way men or boys talk together and the way women or girls talk together. Do you think there are any differences? Think about…
  • Leads into a focus on listening skills: students listen to an introduction to a class seminar on this topic; identify how speaker uses signalling language, stress and intonation to make it clear what he is going to talk about

So those are a couple of examples of directions that EAP light could take. This is a crossover between GE and EAP, skills and language defined by needs, but the initial focus is on the topic itself rather than on the skills. Topics selected as academic in nature but have intrinsic interest. Motivation is enhanced through visuals, engaging tasks, personalisation etc.

Q and A

What is a good source of EAP light topics?

Adrian plugs his Academic Skills development worksheets – generally academic nature but of general interest. (They accompany “Empower”) If you are developing your own, look at the kind of topics in GE coursebooks and see if there are any that would lend themselves to EAP.

What about letting students choose their own topics?

A good idea if this is EAP where students are already engaged in academic study, as they will have a good idea of what they need. In GEAP it is important to choose topics which lend themselves to whatever academic skill you are developing as well.

What were the textbooks used in the examples:

EAP – Cambridge Academic English B2 level; GE- Empower B2 level