MaW SIG Online Event: From Pen to Press – your questions answered

On Saturday 18th February at 4pm, MaW SIG hosted an online panel discussion event using Adobe’s webinar platform. We had four panellists join us and share their views on a range of questions that had been submitted in advance via MaW SIG’s social media. The panellists were Vanessa Reis-Esteves (young learners author), Sarah Milligan (commissioning editor for Onestopenglish), Julie Pratten (founder of Heart ELT Publishing) and Lyn Strutt (freelance ELT content editor, copyeditor and proof reader). 

While the event was unfolding, in addition to being behind the scenes on the webinar platform, I was also giving my fingers a brisk workout i.e. attempting to take notes on what was said. Here is a write-up of what I managed to catch, which is far from everything as I am just human! There is a recording that IATEFL members can watch too though, available here (scroll down until you see it – recordings are not organised chronologically).

Question 1 : Are there any agreed upon principles about materials writing?

There’s a lot of advice out there now that there wasn’t a few years ago on how to write and how to achieve writing goals. There are principles but it depends on who you are writing for, not everybody has exactly the same rules. E.g. for publisher in Portugal rules less strict and more adapted to the context of writing. But definitely procedures spending on age group. E.g. young learners, you’d be allowed to do certain things that you wouldn’t do if you were writing for older learners.

This links to the question of whether things have changed in last 20 years. What works in materials classroom is what works in the classroom. Is it going to be clear? Is it going to make sense? Is it going to achieve its aim?

Useful links suggested (by Lyn):

Question 2: What design principles do you use when planning layout, colours, fonts and image and text incorporation?

For young learners everything needs to be visual and guide the learners.

In the past, we might have used colour for prettiness or attention grabbing but nowadays these are looked at from the point of view of students with special learning needs/requirements and whether they will be able to access them. Will learning be easier not only in terms of context but also the layout? Every image has a purpose, which is to help students master and take control of learning in a particular task.

Materials are much more visual/magazine-like, lots of powerful images used, not always directly connected to task but as lead ins to topics etc. In commercially published materials, design is not material writers’ job. The in-house designers at the publishers will work with a design agency who will plan the design for the book, influenced by the market and other books by the publisher on the market and in a series, all influenced by market the book is being sold into. A major course book series, the author will be involved in the discussion and allowed to have input but not control. Author and editor may fine-tune it later one but the overall structure, key colours etc will be designed earlier than that (by the design team). If you are into self-publishing, look at successful books and books you think work in the classroom and use those as a guide, as they have been done by people who know what they are doing.

This link may be of interest: EMC Design blog

Question 3: How important is the inclusion of cultural content in instructional materials design?

Becoming more and more important, lots of courses cropping up for teachers. A change or shift in publishing creates a need for training teachers and writers. Teachers need to be more competent themselves in terms of recognising differences in their students or within a particular context depending on where they work. It’s a tricky one because if you have a coursebook meant for a general market, which is appealing to publishers, it is not that easy to create the intercultural part of it as so many different things to bear in mind. Writers need to skill up on it as teachers expect it more and more.

In the past, would be asked to include anglo-american culture in the books but now in 21st century learning, ministries are feeling the need o prepare their students to work with other cultures. So they want you to bring in some kind of intercultural awareness into the materials but not necessarily including anglo-american, but for example getting kids to understand that one culture isn’t better than another but just different and to value differences rather than judging and stereotyping. A lot of training is needed because people don’t know exactly what is needed. But it is an exciting time as this element grows.

There is a move away from anglo-centrism and towards something more global, which can only be a good thing.

Question 4: With so much free content online, both for students and teachers, what can paid content offer?

Onestopenglish – a subscription website. Paid for content vs free content online offers professionalism and is content that maybe is trusted slightly more because it has to go through editorial rigour. Free content is fantastic in many ways but when you put content through a publishing cycle then it doesn’t just have one pair of eyes on it but rather several – writing, design, editorial process – so it can offer higher quality in terms of the way its presented and the way that it reaches the teacher.

Question 5: Is there a market for self-publishing?

Still a bit of stigma attached to it, in terms of association with vanity publishing. But there is a possibility that it goes through stages of editing. Where you haven’t got multiple pairs of eyes scrutinising it, there might be big issues with it. Perhaps publishers could take on materials that have been self-published and do something with them? It’s getting big but people need to get together, collaborate, so that quality will improve. The role of an editor is still important in self-publishing, as self-publishers use editors. In self-publishing, you may have great ideas but you need an editor to work on it (not just about typos and silly mistakes but other professional eyes on the material) – the more input you get on your materials, the better they will be. It’s got to be good, useable and make teachers’ lives easier if it’s going to sell.

Question 6: Although in academia the NS x NNS seems to be history, what are the real chances of NNS writing ELT material for international markets?

The chances are 100%, the same as for NS author/writer. Sarah was surprised and saddened that the question was being asked. If a writer is turned away due to being an NNS then that’s discrimination. It’s the same as the argument for teaching. Hopefully it won’t even be an issue in the next few years. Publishers should be choosing their writers according to whether they are writing good material, excellent material. Onestopenglish does employ NNS writers.

There is a lot of discussion about the position of the NNS teacher at the moment.

Julie’s concern as a publisher is that the ideas are good, the content is good and there is a need for the material. She has several NNS authors on her books at the moment. In the NNS community there is a feeling that they are being ignored. But if you look at what’s available e.g. in an online ELT bookstore, it is not all British/American names. And it should continue to grow.

Rachael has worked with plenty of NNS publishers and editor as well. Hopefully it’s a non-issue now.

Vanessa thinks an NNS will know their context better in terms of difficulties those students might have, so they should be seen as an asset. It’s more about the contribution you are bringing to the material rather than the language/country on your passport.

Question 7: What is THE qualification you need to get into writing?

Be a teacher at heart, understand how kids (or whatever age group) learn. Need to be able to see how students learn. While she would agree each teacher is an author, not necessarily able to write a book. Need to be able to be a bit more objective to assess whether something would work with most teachers/students or just with you. You need a very big teacher heart and a lot of resilience and taking on board other people’s ideas and not just sticking to your own.

You need to love teaching to be able to teach and write. Start from a creative spark. If you had 5 new, fresh authors who hadn’t written but had taught for a while, they could bring a fantastic approach to a certain teaching point. We need space for creativity. Julie wants to run courses that will generate that buzz, that spark and then put all the scaffolding into that material. There is no one formula to getting to a good piece of material. We always need innovation, that’s what publishers are looking for.

If you collaborate as teachers, someone with ideas could work with someone who is better at writing. Sarah is always looking for writers who can think outside the box in terms of activities that would be enjoyable to do in class and have a little spark but also you want someone who can write a lesson plan/worksheet that has a strong learning outcome to it. A collaboration of those two types of writer/teacher would be really powerful.

Question 8: I know plenty of people who’ve sent publishers book proposals but not heard anything book while some established names have been involved in book after book. Is this because the book proposals were not good enough or because editors prefer writers they know? (AKA how do you get into writing materials)

For Sarah, it’s becoming rarer for publishers to accept proposals because when you are thinking about a publishing plan, you are basing that on research that you’ve done looking at various markets and pinpointing what’s important and what needs there are. So it’s harder and harder for writers to submit proposals because publishers have specific things in mind that they are trying to do. Publishers do accept new authors but if you find a writer you love working with (meets deadlines, produces quality material), why would you let that writer go if you are an editor? However, those writers become more and more popular and then they don’t accept your work anymore as too busy and then you take on a new writer. If you want to submit something, you can submit a proposal, but a CV with experience and expertise is more useful as publishers can see if that matches up with what they are trying to do.

Vanessa thinks it’s worth a try to do lots and lots of talks. Make sure you have something to say and that what you have to say is of interest. So, go to IATEFL, join a SIG, be an active member of it, do little things and learn with others, collaborate a million times, and if you do it enough, then somebody will be there and notice you. It’s about being in the right place, putting yourself in the right place. An editor won’t miraculously appear and send you a proposal. You need to network. You can meet fantastic people by working on things. IATEFL is a great place to start networking, local organisations and conferences too. Sometimes people get into writing by having a great blog and that blog being noticed. If you have an audience, people will notice you sooner or later.

Lyn wanted to emphasise that she knows several authors who got spotted at PCEs and talks at IATEFL and have plenty of work because of that. A blog is a very good way of proving you can write. The idea is that you give away some of your ideas to prove that you have ideas and then people may buy your further ideas. If you have lesson plans and tips, and can show that you are able to produce material, that’s what’s going to make publishers look at you and think you can do something bigger. Proving that you are reliable is important.

Julie wants to add that IATEFL etc is expensive, even if done on a budget, if you don’t live nearby. What about all the other people who can’t do that? She thinks publishers could do more to help new blood into books. But there is a problem, for example if writers don’t deliver beyond the sample material. Julie offered a writer the chance to do a guest activity in a book. This is something that publishers could try to give young people a chance to get in the book and something that Heart ELT does. It was first come, first served, and they ended up with a split of well-known names and unknown names and the unknowns sent in good, well-structured material.

Sarah thinks that the big publishers could definitely do with giving people a few more chances and go to more local conferences. You will find that publishers and commissioning editors going to local conferences to find people who can’t afford to go IATEFL in the UK. But also, there are competitions. Any sort of writing competition is useful to enter. Editors do look at people who have self-published and done workshops and if they are good, they will want to ask them to do something.

At this point, we ran out of time! A huge thank you to all the panellists (and if you read this and think I have misquoted you, please let me know!) and to everybody who attended the event. 

 

Today at 4pm! From Pen to Press: your materials development questions answered

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For the last few weeks, MaW SIG have been collecting materials development-related questions from members and non-members alike. This afternoon, from 4pm – 5pm GMT, our panel of speakers – Vanessa, Sarah, Julie and Lyn – will be giving their time and sharing their varied expertise with us, answering as many of those questions as time allows.

If you would like to join us, this is the link: MaW SIG Webinar Room

Don’t miss out! 🙂

2017 (Or, how to set better goals!)

Happy new year, everybody! The first 10 days of 2017 seem to have flown by. For my first post this year, I’m going to write about resolutions and effective goal-setting.

On Sunday I delivered a workshop as part of the Teaching Listening course that forms part of this year’s EVO.

(To quote EVO and explain what it is:  Every year in January and February, the Electronic Village Online (a project of TESOL’s Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section) brings together English language educators from around the world to engage in free, collaborative, online professional development sessions. Last year, we had over 8,165 participants in 14 sessions.)

My session focused on helping learners become more autonomous listeners and the main task the participants will do this week is to set up an out-of-class listening scheme to use with their learners; considering, amongst other things, about what they want the learners to do, how they will introduce the different elements to the learners, how they will help learners to maintain their motivation. Of course, within my session, within the discussion on motivation, I talked about the importance of goal-setting and the features of an effective goal according to Dornyei and Ushioda (2012). Here is my slide which summarises these:

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I always make New Year’s Resolutions. There is something magical about the beginning of a new year, and the potential it holds, that gets me really excited and I enjoy making my resolutions as a way of sizing up that potential and giving it some form. Usually, however, my resolutions are a bit fluffy and I forget about them fairly soon afterwards. This year, in order to help myself not to forget about them, I have copied them into a sticky note on my desktop so that I am reminded every day of the things that I set out to do. I also tried to make them more specific than usual, so that I can actually tell not only when I have achieved them but measure my progress along the way. It must have been preparing for the EVO workshop that subconsciously made me apply Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles for effective goals to my resolutions for 2017!

In the interests of gaining (extra) and maintaining motivation on the languages and ELT front, I’m going to communicate my resolutions relating to these areas here. Rather than just a list of goals, I am going walk you through the mental process I went through in making them, shaping them from a vague initial idea into something more specific, tangible and therefore achievable.

  • Learn Arabic. I started learning Arabic last year in around October, as I was going to be volunteering at a secondary academy here in Sheffield, working with a number of learners whose first language was Arabic. That fell through (2016 was one of those years?) and after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the Arabic fell to the wayside too. End of story? Evidently not. I didn’t stop wanting to learn Arabic but the related work situation had demotivated me somewhat so mentally it became easier to ignore both. 2017 seemed like the perfect way to reinvigorate it. First I reflected on why I want to learn some Arabic. Initially, it was instrumental motivation (the work situation). Theoretically, that is still potentially the case as ELT in the UK can often involve working with Arabic L1 students. But that vague possibility won’t in itself be enough to motivate me to study Arabic every day. What about enjoyment? Well, I enjoy learning languages (hence currently studying 11 of them, including Arabic) but why Arabic? I think it appeals because it is (to me) so different. It has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to me. Just as English has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to Arabic L1 speakers when they first encounter it. I am interested in the process of learning a language with a different alphabet. So, going back to my “Learn Arabic” goal, being as I am not a genius I am not going master Arabic in one year, not even nearly. So if I left my goal at that, I would be setting myself up for failure. I need to make it more realistic. How can I do that? Make it more specific. So my goal became: “Learn to read the Arabic alphabet and speak/write some basic words and phrases.” That seems entirely more realistic, it reflects my motivation for studying, progress will be measurable (by way of the number of letters and eventually words I can recognise and produce – which, by the way, there are more than you might think as they change a little depending on whether they are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a word!), it is challenging (did you read what I just wrote in the last set of brackets?!). My completion date is 31/12/2017 but I do of course plan to monitor and decide if the goal should be developed before then. It will depend on my progress: there is room for extension!
  • Continue with other languages. Of course. That would be French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Romanian, Indonesian, Mandarin. Plus the newly added Dutch and Swedish. But for this resolution to make sense, what exactly am I going to do with them? What counts as “continue with”? I need some parameters. For the first five, this means Memrise plus as much reading, listening, speaking and writing as possible. I’ve found someone with whom I will be able to practice my Italian and French, possibly also some Spanish, and as for Polish there is always my sister’s husband to practice with, when I visit them. I’ve catalogued all my DVDs so that although I don’t have the cases for most of them, I know easily what I’ve got and what language(s) I can play them in. For the second five, I’m going to focus on Memrise and shift into using them when I’ve got a bit more vocabulary. (The cool thing is Polish used to be in that category but now it’s in the “I need to use it” category – that’s progress! The other cool thing is that in the series episode I was watching with my housemate today, there was a bit of Mandarin with English subtitles and I heard and understood three words without the subtitles! For me and Mandarin, that is exciting, believe me!) I have ear-marked particular courses on Memrise that I want to complete and obviously goal way-points will be in evident in the number of words/phrases learnt, number of days in a row studying consistently (or “streak” as they call it – for Polish currently 113!) and how well I do when reviewing stuff.
    This was a motivating way-point!

    This was a motivating way-point!

    As with Arabic, I will monitor my progress and adapt the goal/resolution as necessary. For example to make it include having a pop at watching or listening to something in one of the 5 ‘weak’ languages (or 6, counting Arabic!) if/when I feel it would be worth a go.

  • Do lots of CPD. Do not we all start our year with this resolution? And perhaps renew it if academic year and calendar year don’t coincide (i.e. northern hemisphere), or when feeling inspired at the beginning of a new term. At the moment, for me, this is a tricky one. The only work I’ve got at the moment is a bit of private tuition. I had been all excited about volunteering in an EAL setting but that fell through (as mentioned above – and don’t get me started on academy management organisational skills…) which was a bit of a bump to the motivation. Currently I am also tutoring on the EVO course, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, but that is obviously a very short term thing. An interesting one, though, as it combines my interest in teaching listening and my interest in tutoring teachers! So, it would be easy to let CPD slip. In order to avoid that, I need some specific goals, rather than the nebulous ‘do some CPD’. I will be doing two sessions on the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT Multimedia and Independent Learning module again this semester and I hope also to deliver a version of my IATEFL talk at the ELTC (I do it free of charge in exchange for the opportunity to work on my workshop delivery skills!). IATEFL itself is another focal point for me, in terms of workshops, as, hopefully, will be doing another British Council TeachingEnglish – related webinar. Additionally, each week I want to watch at least one webinar and read something ELT-related. Finally, as my pet project, I want to make some EAP-related materials in advance of the pre-sessional summer school period. As a specific starting point, I want to make some materials to help students become better able to synthesise sources effectively (this inspired by memories of my colleagues and I feverishly looking for any such resources last summer and not finding quite what we were after!). This will require looking again at the demands/criteria that we were trying to help the students to meet, as these would be similar this year at ISS or, if it turns out that way, other pre-sessional courses, reading relevant chapters from EAP Essentials and other such EAP teaching bibles (de Chazal’s comes to mind, though I forget its name!) and of course the actual materials creation and subsequent editing. Keeping with the weekly timeframe, I will expect myself to make tangible progress each week, which I will monitor via a log.

When I went through the mental thought processes described above, I wasn’t doing it with Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles in mind, but it’s clear that subconsciously they had an influence. And so I should think, the amount of time I’ve devoted to studying motivation, within learner autonomy, and trying to get students started on their autonomous learning pathways! I think as teachers, if we are able to apply what we want students to do to our own learning (of languages, of teaching) and have a clear idea of how to get ourselves from A to B (A being hazy ideas of goals, B being effective goals), we will be better able to help our learners go through that process themselves in the context of their language learning (if they want to then apply it to their New Year’s Resolutions and other aspects of their life, that is up to them!) with the idea that they leave our classroom better able to map and follow their learning goals. There is no one size fits all goal solution but we can help students become better able to set, and by extension meet, their own objectives more effectively.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do share them in the comments – remember, communicating goals increases the motivation to achieve them! 😉

I hope 2017 is a fulfilling, successful and peaceful year for you all.

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References

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Applied Linguistics in Action). Routledge.

 

Chatting in the academy: exploring spoken English for academic purposes (Mike McCarthy)

Another addition to my collection of write-ups based on the talks recorded by IATEFL Online and stored on the website for everybody to access. What a wonderful resource! This one is by Michael McCarthy, and, as you would expect, is based on corpora and vocabulary – this time in the context of academic spoken English… 

MM starts by saying it is easier to study academic English in its written form and much more challenging in its spoken forms. His main point is that there is no one single thing that we can call Spoken Academic English. His talk will draw on information from corpora and show how it can be used in materials. He is going to use a corpus of lectures, seminars, supervisions and tutorials from the humanities and the sciences, the ACAD, and a sub-corpus the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English, MICASE. He is also going to be using from the CANCODE corpus the sub-corpus of social and intimate conversations. This is the data that MM used.

Corpora are widely known and accepted in our profession, so MM didn’t need to introduce what they are and why we use them. He looked at a frequency list of words, the simplest job you can do with a corpus. You can also do keyword lists, which tells you more than just if something is frequent: it tells you whether it is significantly statistically frequent or the opposite, significantly statistically infrequent. We can also look at chunks and clusters, the way words occur together repeatedly. We rarely go beyond 5 or 6 words, due to the architecture of the human mind. Chunks are most common in the 2-4 word chunk-size. Dispersion is another thing to consider, in terms of the consistency of words being used, to know whether a particular text or genre is skewing the data.

In the spoken ACAD, in the top 50 frequency list, there are lots of the usual conversation markers, lots of informality, lots of you, I, yeah, er, erm. There are lot of familiar discourse markers, such as right and ok, and response tokens, i.e. the words or sounds used to react. The most frequent two word pragmatic marker in ordinary social conversation is you know – 66% of the occurrences of the word ‘know’ are in the form ‘you know/y’know and the picture looks the same in the academic corpus. This, however, is not the whole picture. We have something like everyday conversation but when we go into the keyword analysis, things become a bit more interesting. The top 20 keywords in spoken academic data are:

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Now, a lot of familiar conversational items are present but also some that if your friends used them with you in everyday conversation over a cuppa, you’d lose the will to live. So there are words here that don’t have the informal conversation ring. Not least the preposition within which is right up there in the top 20. We will come back to which, terms and sense later.

Keywords tell us more than just what is frequent – they enable us to have a greater, more nuanced picture of how words are functioning in the data. We can find some interesting differences between conversational and academic spoken English: If we do a straight frequency count, the discourse marker “ok” comes out higher in a keyword list than the frequency list, in the academic spoken English corpus.

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MM found that 95% of the “ok” in the data are either response tokens e.g. that’s ok, well, ok or discourse markers signalling phases e.g. “ok let’s go on to look at <something else>“. They are used overwhelmingly by the lecturers or tutors. MM had a PhD student with an annoying habit: after exchanging pleasantries, the student would say “ok, now I want to talk about…” and then once they had, he would go “right, ok..”  – MM thought it should be HIM saying those phrases. Students very rarely respond with “right, ok“. So in academic speaking, we are looking at a different set of discourse roles than in conversational English, that is what the corpus is showing us. The roles are directly related to the language. Some items that are present in the frequency list disappear in the key word list, i.e. fall too far down the list for MM to be prepared to go through and find them e.g. well, mm, er, you. This negative result says that these words do not distinguish academic speaking from any other kind of speaking. However, some of the language is particular to the roles and contexts of the academic set-up.

MM says it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to actually interpret what the computer is trying to tell you. It is dispassionate: no goals, prejudices, aims or lesson plans. It just offers bits of statistical evidence.

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What struck MM when he looked at this list is that on the conversational side, at least 3 and possibly more of these are remarkably vague. It surprises people that there is a great degree of vague category markers that come up to the top of this spoken academic discourse, but it shouldn’t because the student is being nurtured into a community of practice and in any community with shared values/perspectives/opinions, you don’t need to specify them. You can simply say x, y, etc or x, y and things like that. This presence of the vague category markers is crucial – not only do you have to hear and understand them but you have to be able to decode their scope, and know what the lecturer means when they say them. Vague category marking is something that is shared with everyday conversation but the scope is within academic fields.

At no. 18, “in terms of the” – not surprising because in academia we are always defining things in terms of something else, locating pieces of knowledge within other existing/known knowledge – the discipline as a whole or a particular aspect of it. It is much more widely spread in academic spoken discourse compared with conversational:

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MM goes on to look at the consistency, or spread of items across data – looking for things that occur in a great number of texts. In social conversational data, the dispersion of I and you is consistently high. The picture in academic spoken English is different:

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The pronouns are reversed – you is more frequent than I. This brings us back to the fundamental business of roles: most of academic discourse is about telling “you” how to do things and become part of the community of practice. Thinking back to the chunks “you can see” etc. A transmissive you. However, we do notice there is quite a bit of I in the academic spoken, it’s not remote. I is generally used by lecturers and tutors. But if we look across events, there is great variation. Even within two science lectures, in one there is a personal anecdote, so more use of “I” (more, even, than the informal guest speaker), in another not:

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Here is a summary of the tendencies MM has covered:

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The remainder of the talk is an advertisement for Cambridge University Press’s Academic Vocabulary in Use book, which draws on what is learnt from the data, trying to capture the mix of chatty conversational items and items that are very peculiar to the academic discourse. The best grip on spoken academic discourse is through understanding the discourse roles of the tutors and the students, which influence how they speak – i.e. differently. They will use certain keywords and chunks, but the labels (e.g. lecture, seminar, supervision) used for speech events are a very imperfect guide of what will be included there.

This was a fascinating talk, one I’m glad I’ve finally caught up on! I always find it interesting to see how corpora are used and what is discovered in the process. Nice to see the “in terms of” chunk in there – it reminds me of my first year at the Sheffield University International Summer School, where during the induction Jenifer Spence – author EAP Essentials  and leader of the theory side of our induction programme that year – spent a fair bit of time hammering the importance of “in terms of” into us: we were always to be asking, and encouraging students to ask/consider, “in terms of what?” in relation to whatever it was that they were writing or saying! I had never considered how odd it would sound in an informal chat though, as per MM’s example “How was your holiday?” “Well, in terms of the accommodation…”  – not really! Unless you felt like being particularly pompous, I suppose… 

Winning the battle against low self-esteem (A guest post by Katherine Bilsborough)

Katherine Bilsborough has worked in ELT for 30 years. These days she lives in the mountains of northern Spain where she divides her time between writing and gardening. She very kindly agreed to write this guest blog post for me to share with you all. Enjoy it! 

Kath Bilsborough

Kath Bilsborough – copyright Katherine Bilsborough, used with permission.

Winning the battle against low self-esteem

Last year I wrote a couple of journal articles and gave a BELTA webinar on the topic of self-esteem. I looked at the psychology underpinning low self-esteem and in particular, its causes and consequences. I then suggested some practical ideas for increasing self-esteem, focusing on the ELT teacher. My reasoning was that if we can find strategies to increase low self-esteem in ourselves, we’ll be equipped to help our colleagues and our students too; first by recognising the signs and then by responding in a number of ways.

My interest in self-esteem emerged from my own professional insecurities and, in particular, from conversations I had with colleagues. They found it hard to believe that behind my apparent confidence and self-assurance lay a wobbling, self-conscious doubter who felt like a fraud and was constantly questioning her ability as a teacher and her right to be standing at the front of a classroom. I might have doubted my skills as a teacher but I was, apparently, an excellent actor. I’ve come a fair way since those days but I still have spells of insecurity and vulnerability. The difference is that now I’m armed with strategies to deal with them and it helps to know that I’m not alone. Even the most experienced, ‘big name’ professionals go through wobbly patches.

For this post, I’ve researched the subject further and come up with a more comprehensive list of practical ideas to help improve self-esteem. Items on the list are sometimes specific to ELT teachers but simple tweaks can make them relevant for students too.

Recognising low self-esteem

It is perfectly normal for everyone to feel down about themselves at times and even the most self-assured people suffer from a lack of confidence from time to time. But when the feelings persist it can be an indication that you need to sit up and do something about it. Some of the most common signs of low self-esteem are:

  • Being overly critical of yourself.
  • Ignoring your strengths and accomplishments.
  • Focusing on your weaknesses.
  • Comparing yourself with other people.
  • Being unable to accept compliments when they are given.
  • Having a negative outlook on life.
  • Worrying about not doing well or not being liked.
  • Exaggerating the things you perceive as negative.

 It isn’t always easy to identify the causes of self-esteem. Things like constantly being overlooked for promotion or being bullied are clear-cut. But sometimes motives are less obvious. The good news is that self-esteem levels aren’t fixed and there are plenty of things you can try to address the problem.

Twenty tried and tested recommendations

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The keys to winning that battle! (Picture by Bohman Keys, certified for non-commercial reuse with modification.)

 

1          Practise positive self-talk in order to build your confidence.

2         Keep a ‘positive calendar’ in which you write down three things each day that went well in class because of your efforts or actions.

3         Know your subject matter as well as you can by studying it further. CPD is an excellent way of increasing self-esteem.

4         Invest time and effort into the things you can change and try to ignore the things you can’t change.

5         Increase your understanding of the theories that underpin teaching and learning. This will make you a more confident teacher.

6         Do regular exercise. Being fit and active relieves stress and helps you feel good about yourself.

7         Do at least one thing that you enjoy every day. This doesn’t have to be something big. It can be something as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee or listening to your favourite music.

8         Make sure you are surrounded by people who are supportive, in the real world and in cyberspace.

9         Distance yourself from people who are critical. If this is difficult, try telling them how you feel and politely ask them to think before they criticise you in future.

10       Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is good at something.

11       Don’t be too hard on yourself when you get something wrong. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

12       Get to know your students. The better you know them, the more effective your teaching (and their learning) will be.

13       Celebrate every achievement, however small.

14       Know your work context well. Make sure you know where resources are kept and how the latest technology works. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

15       Talk to a colleague (or colleagues) about problems or worries you might have with your classes. Most of the time a problem shared really is a problem halved and two heads really are better than one.

16       Take pride in your ideas and your opinions and don’t be afraid to voice them. But don’t be afraid to change your ideas too. Willingness to change is a strength, not a weakness.

17       Don’t aim for perfection, it’s unachieveable so disappointment is inevitable.

18       Have realistic expectations in the classroom. For example, if you teach in a monolingual context, don’t expect all of your students to speak English all of the time. It isn’t going to happen.

19       Try to keep a positive attitude towards teaching. Joining social media groups of ELT teachers or creating a PLN will help with this.

Above all …

20       don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Sometimes self-esteem can become severe and lead to depression. If this happens, you should speak to a doctor or a psychologist. Don’t forget that everybody is human and a cry for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s common sense.

All change!

Having spent 6 months (April – September) teaching EAP to approx. B2-level students preparing for entry into Sheffield University, and the last year teaching high fee-paying exclusively reasonably high-level adult learners (the youngest of whom were student age) a mixture of General English and EAP, I am now working in an EAL (English as an additional language) setting at a secondary school. My students are in their young to mid-teens with a very low level of English. They are refugees. The set-up in the school I am at is that they spend 12 weeks in an EAL unit, during which time they need to acquire enough English to join mainstream classes. If they don’t acquire sufficient language they have to repeat the programme. They are Arabic-speaking, Romanian-speaking  (have now added Arabic and Romanian to my list of languages I am studying!) and Slovakian-speaking. This may change, as new students can enter the unit at any time. The level of English within the group is very, very mixed. The level of home-language numeracy and literacy is also very, very mixed. I started on Monday, which was brilliant, and then the school got an OFSTED alert for this week so I’ve had to stay away since then. Of course next week is half term so I will start again the following (w/c 31st October). Am really impatient for it to roll around!

So, from thinking about how to teach synthesis of sources and paraphrasing and the like, I am now thinking about the list of topics we (my co-teacher and I) will be looking at next time I’m in, which includes things like The Gruffalo, Halloween and measuring length/time. My co-teacher is keen for me to come up with imaginative, practical, fun activities to do with these topics, to make them more memorable. This feels like it is just up my street! Unfortunately it is not a paid gig, I am volunteering. However, I think I will get a lot of out of it as an experience/opportunity to learn and hopefully can make a positive difference to these kids’ learning and school life. Interestingly, this is the kind of thing I was interested in doing before I did my M.A. ELT and Delta. In fact, for my Delta Module 3 I wanted to focus on EAL but it didn’t work out (crossed specialisms and lack of access to a group of learners for doing needs analysis etc). I guess this is one of the things I love about ELT – there is a lot of scope for variety, when you think about it. It covers such a multitude of contexts and focuses.

No doubt there will be multiple blog posts related to my new work, so watch this space! And meanwhile, if you have any fantastic Gruffalo and Halloween-related ideas, please do comment with them. Also, if you can recommend any YL-focused blogs/resources that would be grand too! Thank you! 🙂 

Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016) – Update 2

Hello World of Blogging! I’m back! And the first thing that popped into my mind while writing the title is: “How long ago does April seem? That was before summer, now summer is over and Autumn is clamouring for the driver’s seat with Winter in the wings watching carefully for its chance to stage a takeover bid. It’s been a quiet time on my blog since the end of May, since which time the only noise of any description has been an “I will be back, honest…” type of a post. As I briefly explained in that post, summer school hit! (It was hard work but a great learning experience too. More on that later.) Then, after it ended, I had a much-needed two-week holiday in Sicily with my horse. I am pleased to report that I did a lot of NOTHING – somewhat of a rarity for me!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: my language learning. I am proud (in the circumstances!) to say that I did keep up my languaging over the summer. I managed a little bit most days until the 20th August, when I did a 30 mile run and consequently had no time for languaging, breaking my “Memrise Streak”.

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Once it was broken, and knowing it would be broken again when I went on holiday (if I am on holiday in Italy I am going to focus on Italian as vs. spread my focus among 7 languages!), I decided to concentrate on getting through the remaining two weeks of summer school, have my holiday and then get back to it in earnest. That said, I continued to dabble, just not every day religiously as I had been doing.

This (to remind me as much as you!) was the contract:

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In my first update, I had managed to more-or-less stick to the receptive skills practice aims (thank you, YouTube!) but hadn’t used Memrise, just a bit of Quizlet. I’d also given up on graded readers as clunky (e-readers) or an expensive habit (sourcing them in paperback/cd format) and therefore annoying/untenable.

Has anything changed since then? Well, two main things (which considered in combination might seem rather ironic…):

  • Time became even tighter than usual (you try combining summer school, training for a 30 mile run, maintaining a burgeoning greenhouse and garden full of stuff etc….)
  • I took up two more languages (blame Memrise)…!

I suppose I ought to add “I started using Memrise to that list… At the height of my Memrise-ing, it looked like this:

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So, as you can see, the extra languages I took up were Bahasa Indonesia (I should have learnt it while I was there, still have friends who live there who I could talk to in it!) and then Mandarin (given that the majority of the students at the Sheffield Uni summer school are Chinese, this seemed like a good idea!). So that brought me to a 7-language mission: Italian and French (not on Memrise), German, Spanish, Polish, Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin. I like Memrise – it appeals to my competitive-with-myself nature. (I am more interested in keeping up my “streak” than the “leader board” that is another Memrise feature!) It really pushed me to do some each day, when I was tired and actually really couldn’t be bothered! As mentioned earlier though, it can also backfire into lack of motivation to ‘just do it’ if the streak is broken and I know it will be at best intermittent in time to come.

More languages, less time. The basic result was that as far as Polish was concerned, I wound up mostly just doing my bit of Memrise each day. And I watched less German and Spanish than I had been. (Don’t tell my students I just started a sentence with “And” – spent the summer hammering it out of them… :-p ) However, it was nice to be actively learning vocabulary and trying to produce it rather than just watching/listening/reading. Obviously the ideal would be a balance of both, which is what I will be going for next! Indeed, it is time to update my contract in the light of the last few months’ developments on the linguistic front.

One thing I have found particularly challenging as far as Polish Memrise is concerned is spelling. For example:

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I can now spell this one correctly! And this one:

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What I have found is that ideally I want more repetition of recognition of the vocabulary, both reading and listening, or being given the English and having to select the correct Polish, before having to produce it, which seems to happen too soon for me. So that I can see it and hear it more before having to butcher the spelling. However, I am now used to the process of just gaily making a bunch of mistakes, having a pop, and getting closer each time and then eventually “getting” it. Rather than getting wound up about the mistakes and frustrated at the lack of further recognition opportunities. Then, an interesting (to me) problem I had was learning the go by plane, go by train type vocabulary, as it was a mixture of trying to remember the by plane/by train etc bit and then the ‘go by’ equivalent, of which there are 5 (I think) different ones/which one goes with which means of transport, then throwing trying to remember the spelling on top of that! It was hard!!! I think it would have been easier to learn the e.g. jechać ones then the złapać ones etc. rather than having one of these and one of those and a few random extras all thrown in together for my brain to attempt to sort out. Had I had more time, I’d have made my own little reference guide to help my brain along… They are coming together now though, I did a review this morning after a couple weeks break (my holiday) and some have settled nicely.

So that brings us to…

Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract v3.September 2016

I solemnly do declare that I will (attempt to) do the following each week:

  • My Memrise practice – daily in small quantities
  • Read/listen to/watch Italian/French/German/Spanish/Polish (Not going to happen with Mandarin or Bahasa for the time being… that will be version 5 or 6 maybe…)
  • Try and look at some grammar-related material for German/Spanish/Polish. (At the moment, as far as Spanish is concerned I just rely on Italian/French grammar and assume it will work the same way! There again, often Italian words will come out instead of Spanish and then I wonder why Memrise marks me wrong! Like when I put ‘Sono contenta’ instead of ‘Estoy contenta’…) This could be a good opportunity for use of coloured pens and notebook (as mentioned in previous update post!)
  • Seek out production opportunities (e.g. sending an email to my German friends, exchanging a few words with my Indonesian friends, trying out my Polish on my Polish brother-in-law etc. etc.)
  • Keep writing my journal in Italian but try to bring in a few sentences from German/French/Spanish and even a smattering of my very, very basic Polish.

Signed: Lizzie Pinard

Fairly basic really! Let’s see how I do in the next month…

How is your language learning going? Any more suggestions for me? (The useful ones on my last post are the reason I got on to Memrise! )