British Council ELTon/”Macmillan Education award for new talent in writing” shortlisted!

Not long before the British Council ELTon application deadline last year, I submitted some of my materials for “The Macmillan Education Award for new talent in writing” (previously called the Award for Innovative Writing), deciding I had nothing to lose by doing so.

To quote from the British Council website,

“The ELTons, sponsored by Cambridge English, are the only international awards that recognise and celebrate innovation in English language teaching (ELT). They reward educational resources that help English language learners and teachers to achieve their goals.”

The Macmillan award is in its sixth year of running, while the ELTons as a whole are in their twelfth year.

I was delighted when I learnt I’d been long-listed, but didn’t dream I’d get any further than that; but, somehow or another, I have! I have now been shortlisted for the award, which means I’ve made the top five out of all the applications submitted. What an honour!

D646 Eltons 2014 Nominated MacmillanInnovative rgb FINAL OL

Shortlisted!

The materials I submitted are not on my blog, but once the competition is over and I haven’t won (I can’t even begin to imagine that I will win, which is fine: I’m just jubilant to have got this far!), I’ll upload some samples. I made them while at Leeds Met : they, alongside a 5000 word rationale, were my dissertation project and represent hours upon hours upon hours of work. Not only the time spent on the project itself, but all the reading done and hours of classes attended for the Materials Development module, too. I won’t go into details about the content of the materials here and now, as my talk at IATEFL Harrogate in two weeks’ time, which will be written up here in due course, is based on them: I don’t want to steal my own thunder! 😉 But it was all those hours spent that nudged me to enter: having devoted all that time to working on something, the last thing you want to do is consign it to a dusty cupboard forever!

Anyway, for now, suffice to say, I feel extremely lucky to have got as far as the shortlist. And grateful that I had a dissertation supervisor who, having given me a solid foundation of knowledge from which to start (as my Materials Development tutor),  pushed me to do my absolute best with my dissertation materials, by asking hundreds of awkward questions (! 🙂 ) and giving unstinting time and support throughout the process. It was a very valuable experience for me.

Congratulations to all the other nominees – in my own and all the other categories! Let’s see what happens in May!

Doing the Cambridge Delta: A Guide

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04

Good luck to all Delta candidates! 🙂

To quote from the official Cambridge assessment website, The Delta (Diploma of English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages) is:

“one of the best-known and most popular advanced TEFL/TESOL qualifications in the world. It is a flexible way for experienced English language teachers to progress further in their careers. Delta can be taken at any stage in a teacher’s career and is ideal for those wanting to update their teaching knowledge and improve their practice.”

It is a modular exam, consisting of three modules:

  • Module 1:

    Understanding language, methodology and resources for teaching. (Assessment: An exam consisting of two 1.5hr papers done in sequence with a break in between)

  • Module 2:

    Developing Professional Practice (Assessment: Three pieces of internal course work comprising a background essay, a lesson plan, an assessed lesson based on that plan and a reflection, followed by another piece of coursework with the same components but all assessed by a Delta Examiner)

  • Module 3: 

    Extending Practice and English Language Teaching specialism  (Assessment: An extended written assignment of 4500 words based on your specialism) There is also an English Language Management option.

This post guides you through the processes of:

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.041. choosing how and where to do your course
Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.042. preparing for your course
Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.043. completing each of the modules
Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.044. moving on to greater things ( 🙂 )

Based on my experience of the Delta, and incorporating the experience of others, it is structured as a Q and A, dealing with questions you might have with regards to each of the above categories as you progress through them and contains links to many handy resources (all easily identifiable with this symbol Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04) – some of which are mine, some of which are not. I hope it proves a useful resource to refer back to as the questions arise!

1. Choosing how and where to do your course

If you are thinking about doing the Delta, it is important to be aware of the options available to you. There are many options for how to complete these modules:

  •  intensively (all three modules in one go)
  • part-time (one module at a time, or two modules at a time, in sequence or spaced out)
  • distance learning or face-to-face.

Q. How can I find out which way would best suit me?

A. The best thing to do is find out as much as you can about the various options before you make your decision:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Sandy Millin has created  “Delta Conversations”, a series of guest posts in which people have answered questions about the Delta they did. This would be a good starting point to help you understand the pros and cons of each option. (And when you’ve finished your Delta, contact her to participate!)
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04(I took part in the above-mentioned series, and you can find out more about my experience of doing the Delta intensively at Leeds Metropolitan University here.)
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04TEFL.net have a nice, short FAQ page about the Delta, which also has a link to another page with FAQs about higher qualifications in general.

Once you have decided which route to take, you can really help yourself by doing some preparation before you start your course: both in terms of the course content and your own well-being.

I would say in my case that all the preparation I did in the run up to the course was one of the major factors in my success with it (the other major factor being my tutors and course mates at Leeds Met! 🙂 )

2. Preparing for your Delta: possible pre-course questions and where to find the answers:

Q. What should I do before I start my Delta?

A. There are a few things you can do, before embarking on this extraordinary journey, to help yourself begin on firm footing.

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04You could also think about investing in the latest book to hit The Round’s virtual bookshelves: How to Pass Delta : by the extremely experienced Damian Willians, it is available for a small fee and, I imagine, well worth that investment!

If you are still slightly bemused, or just thirsty to read more, here are several blogposts you could look at next, each of which contains guidance related to this question…

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Before, during and after the Delta: I wrote this post, based on my experience of doing the Delta. It contains tips to help you stay sane pre-, during- and post-Delta experience.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta FAQ: In this post, I answered students’ questions about the Delta on their induction day at Leeds Met. It contains lots of tips for preparing yourself for the Delta and making the most of it while you are doing it, including a list of things that are useful to know before you start and as you set off on mission Delta. It also contains a couple of reading recommendations for each of the systems (grammar, phonology, discourse, lexis) and skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening)

Q. That list of books from Cambridge is massive, I don’t know where to start – what should I read first?

A. It *is* a massive list: there’s a lot of amazing ELT-related literature out there! However, if you want something a bit smaller and more manageable to start off with, I have created an annotated list of potentially useful resources:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Annotated List of Resources I found useful in preparing for and doing the Delta: Does what it says on the tin – getting to grips with some of this will help lighten the load during the course. (It will still be ridiculously heavy but your sanity may stay closer to intact!) Getting ahead with reading will mean that you have more time (and processing space in your brain!) to devote to grappling with pernickety Cambridge requirements. This post is broken down by module, and then in module 2 by LSA and then PDA.)

3. During your Delta

When you start doing your Delta, there will be huge amounts of information coming your way. You will probably also discover just how tricky it is to jump through hoops whose size and whereabouts you aren’t entirely sure of. (The good news is, you can learn a lot too, and really enrich your practice!)

As you work your way through your Delta modules, questions about what to do and how to do it may crop up. Here are some potential questions that may arise and some resources to help you answer them:

Module 1

Q. How DOES the exam fit together?  

A. Here is a flow-chart that shows the structure of the exam, complete with suggested timings for each question:

Q. I’ve looked at the Delta handbook and tried to understand just what it is the examiners want, and I listen really carefully in my preparation classes, but I still don’t really get it. How do I answer the questions the way they want me to? 

A. Here are some blog posts related to the structure of the two exam papers, with tips for how to answer each question successfully and package your answers the Cambridge way…

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 4:  Delta exam paper 1 –  tips related to the structure of this part of the exam in terms of what each question requires and the points available, as well as how to approach answering the questions, in terms of laying out the information in an examiner-friendly way.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 5: Delta exam paper 2 – as above but for paper 2.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04 Paper One Dale Coulter’s guide to part 1 of the exam, also dealing with structure and answering the questions.

Q. The exam date is getting nearer, and I really don’t feel ready! How can I help myself revise more effectively?

A. There are many ways of going about module one revision – reading, doing past papers (have you done all of these, on the Cambridge website?), boning up on terminology, language analysis, or how to write in phonemic script… Here are some links to help your revision along:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 6: Useful resources for Module 1 revision – a collection of links that will be useful as the exam approaches.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Revision chart: A colourful revision chart that I made for the Module 1 exam, this provides a visual aid to help with remembering the structure of the exam and how to lay out your answers.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 15: A checklist for anybody preparing for the Module 1 exam

Q. You said I should use Quizlet to revise terminology, but I don’t know how?!

A. You can find out how to use it, through the following step-by-step guide:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04 Quizlet!. (NB this was created for language learners, but the principle is the same – only the content of your cards will differ! 🙂 )

Once you understand it better, you could do worse than check out Sandy Millin’s Delta Group on it…

Q. I have no life! I haven’t since I started this damn course. Is this normal?

A. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone!

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Barry O’Leary shares his journey here.

But do try and take some time for yourself, however hard it is to make:

Module 2

Q. I have to write an LSA essay. Hmm. How do I do that? 

A. First you need to decide which system (grammar, lexis, phonology, discourse) or skill (receptive: listening or reading; productive: speaking or writing) to focus on, which at least initially will probably be influenced by your centre and the running order of their module 2 course.

When you embark on the essay, your tutors will be best placed to guide you in the “how”, but for some additional tips, have a look at:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 1 : Writing a background essay for an LSA, which provides some suggestions for getting to grips with this beast.

You may also find it useful to look at

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04my Delta Notes series (based on notes I made during my Delta, so far including error correction and teaching listening, with more forthcoming)
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Sandy Millin’s carefully-tagged Delta-related bookmarks may be useful!

Q. Right, I’ve finished my essay, how about the lesson plan? There seem to be endless criteria to fulfil…

A. Yes, there are lots of criteria – hopefully you’ve left plenty of time to get to grips with this component. In addition to listening very carefully to your tutors’ suggestions, you could have a look at my blog post with some tips for how to help yourself meet these:

Q. I’ve survived the lesson (thank God!) but now I need to do the post-lesson evaluation. Where do I start? What should I include?

A. As well as reading the Delta Handbook on this topic, and following your tutors’ advice, for some extra tips you could look at my post on the topic:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 3: (My tips for) Writing an LSA post-lesson reflection/evaluation

Q. This module is driving me crazy!! I think I’m going to cry…

A. Again, you are not alone:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04My post The Delta/M.A. Treadmill echoes the “arrrrghhh” (mixed in with exhilaration!) and offers some tips for sanity maintenance! (Not a serious post… 😉 )

Q. I still have to do my PDA part A and Experimental Practice. Can’t I just leave them until I’ve sorted out the LSAs?

A. It would be much better to get started as soon as possible! The PDA part A is supposed to be done alongside your module 2 work, as it is your opportunity to develop into a reflective practitioner. What you learn while doing your PDA could/should feed directly into your development in your LSA lesson planning and teaching practices. Equally, any weaknesses highlighted in your LSAs could/should feed into your PDA. I found this component of Module 2 very valuable developmentally and would really recommend not putting it on the back burner.

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 7: Doing PDA Part A offers some tips for getting the most out of your PDA.

The Experimental Practice is another valuable learning opportunity: it actually helped me figure out what to do with my PDA (I was slow to catch on!), and, long term, how to embark on a cycle of reflection, experimentation, evaluation and more reflection.

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 8: Doing the Experimental Practice offers some tips for getting the most out of your EP.
  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Experimental Practice in ELT by Jennie Wright and Christina Rebuffet-Broadus is available from The Round for a small fee, containing ideas and sample lesson plans suited to the EP as well as to teachers who want to Experiment outside of Delta training.

Module 3

Q. Cambridge wants me to do WHAT? I’m confused… Where should I start? What do they want? What should I read? 

A. I would start by reading the Module 3 section of the handbook!  If you are still no clearer, you could have a look at:

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 9: Writing a Module 3 Essay – Overview and Starting Out 

Hopefully the input sessions on your course will also help you understand what you are supposed to produce, how and when.

Q. I’m writing a draft of my introduction now, but I’m not entirely sure if I’m doing it right. How do I fit in everything that Cambridge seem to want?

A. Well, you’re off to a good start if you know what Cambridge want! 🙂

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 10: in Writing a Module 3 Essay – the Introduction I offer some tips for how to meet Cambridge’s criteria for the introduction. It might also help if you are still a little hazy about exactly what to include in your introduction.

Q. How do I do a Needs Analysis with my students and what should I write in the corresponding essay section?

A. The Needs Analysis is an important element of the extended assignment. This is where you take the issues that you pinpointed in your introduction, consider how to assess your learners in order to identify where they stand in relation to these, and identify the areas that your course design will need to focus on. If you put a lot of reading, effort and thought into this section and create your tools very carefully, you will make your life a lot easier in the subsequent sections.

Here are some tips and recommended reading (books, articles etc) that I put together for working your way through this section of the essay:

Q. Well, I’m not sure if my Needs Analysis is quite right, but nevertheless it’s time to design and write about my course. How do I get from the priorities that my NA highlighted to my completed course plan and course design section? (Ideally without going insane in the process…)

A. This is arguably the most time-consuming portion of the extended assignment: You need to produce a 20hr course plan that addresses the priorities you’ve identified, and write about it in such a way that covers everything that Cambridge want to know about it. You may also want to showcase some sample materials that your course uses in your appendices.

Here are some tips and recommended reading that I put together to help you get through this section of the essay:

Q. I’m losing the will to live now – but it’s not over yet <sob>: Apparently I have to do the assessment section next! Help!

A. Don’t worry, you’re getting closer to point completion now! And hopefully all the reading up on the literature related to assessment that you did while doing the Needs Analysis section will also have given you a leg up with this section. Besides, by now you will be getting the hang of the writing style (or, at least, it took me this long! 🙂 ) and of Cambridge module 3 hoop-jumping.

Here are some tips and recommended reading that I put together to make your life easier for the assessment section:

Q. Hurrah! I can see daylight at the end of this module 3 tunnel from hell! How do I finish this bad boy off?!

A. Ok, first of all, the fat lady is not singing quite yet so hold on for a bit longer! The conclusion is short but still important. Don’t dash it off at the last minute… Fortunately, it is a lot less involved than the previous sections and mainly requires good evaluative skills. You are on the home-stretch now!

Here are some of my last tips to help you bring your assignment to a close and sort out the packaging (do not underestimate this final packaging phase!! It is a time-muncher!):

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 22.07.04Delta Tips 14: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the conclusion and wrapping things up

Enjoy the wonderful feeling of submitting the beast *at long last*! 🙂

4. Conclusion – or, moving on to better things

This brings me to the end of my rough guide to the Cambridge Delta. I hope the Delta journey is rewarding for you. Don’t forget to share your own experiences/example assignments/tips (if you don’t keep a blog, I would be happy to host a guest post about your experiences on mine – just get in touch!) – and, of course, do have a holiday before you do anything else! Now that you have completed a highly sought-after qualification, it is time to think about what to do with it and where you want to go! So, finally, bear in mind the tips in the final section of this post, as you set off on your post-qualification journey:

After the Delta is an important time and the world is your oyster – all my best wishes for a bright, rewarding future! Make the most of it and enjoy! 🙂

Delta Tips 14: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the conclusion and wrapping things up!

This is the fourteenth in a series of blog posts I’m doing in response to the number of Delta-related searches that bring visitors to my blog. Each post in this Delta Tips series will deal with a different element of the Delta, based on my experience of doing it (and surviving to tell the tale! ) at Leeds Met

 The module 3 extended specialism essay is a very special beast. If you thought Cambridge were demanding in their criteria for Module 2 LSA’s or perversely picky in how they want you to answer Module 1 exam questions – you’d be right! But, it’s nothing compared to what they demand you fit in to a measly 4500 words for Module 3…

  • For an overview of what’s required and tips for starting out, look at Delta Tips 9
  • For information about writing the first section of the essay – the introduction – look at Delta Tips 10.
  • For help with the second section of the essay – the needs analysis – try Delta Tips 11.
  • To find out more about the third section of the essay – the course design – try Delta Tips 12
  • To get to grips with the fourth section of the essay – the assessment – look at Delta Tips 13.

The focus of this post is the conclusion of the essay and “wrapping things up” – by which I mean making sure your finished product is packaged the way Cambridge want it! (No mean feat… 😉 )

Congratulations! You have made it to the final section of the Module 3 essay-beast! You are probably sick of the sight of it and really looking forward to finally getting rid of the damn thing, but persevere, for this final section: the fat lady ain’t singing jeeust yet!

The conclusion, for which you are allowed to use a piddly 400 words, is where you will:

  • evaluate what you have produced: extol the virtues (benefits for learners, ways in which learning objectives are met through what you propose) and explain how you minimised the negatives as much as you could in the given circumstances (identify the limitations, the effect on the learners and how these limitations are better than the alternatives).
  • succinctly identify and summarise application of principles to practice: making reference to previous sections, how did the principles you identified to start with (section 1) affect the design of your course (sections 2, 3 and 4)?

Top tips:

  •  Don’t hope that the examiners won’t notice the problems with your design: They will. Hopefully you have done your best to design out flaws, but in the real world nothing is perfect. The trick is to recognise the imperfections and be able to justify (succinctly, as usual!) their existence and explain how you have minimised them as much as possible. Show that the benefits outweigh the limitations.
  • Demonstrate that your essay is a beautiful, cohesive whole: summarise how part 1 fed into part 2, which fed into part 3, which fed into part 4. Show how the issues identified in part 1 have been addressed in the process of designing parts 2-4.
  • Use sub-headings: The examiners like having relevant information flagged up – this saves them from hunting through your writing trying to identify if you have or haven’t met this or that criteria. (Imagine how you’d feel with a massive list of criteria to apply to someone’s writing – you’d want all the help you could get! Now imagine you are on your nth script of the day – how hard are you going to look for the needles in the haystack? 😉 ) *p.74 contains guidance about the conclusion – use those guiding questions to help you insert your guidance for the examiner.
  • Be succinct: You have 400 words – use them wisely! Reference in a space-efficient way (as demonstrated in previous post of this series) Word-count is very important: if you are over the limit, you will be penalised (and you want ALL of those marks!!), if you are 100 words or more over the limit, your essay will be sent back unmarked and you’ll have to pay again once you’ve cut down the number of words. Better to make sure in advance of sending it the first time!

The appendices and wrapping it all up

Don’t forget that it isn’t over until it’s over: once you’ve written your amazing 4500 word Module 3 essay beast, and accumulated a load of supporting documents, you then have to collate all this in exactly the way Cambridge wants you to.

Top tips:

  • Read the handbook pages 74 -76 carefully. Follow the guidelines for packaging (p.74/75), presentation (p.75) and referencing (p.76). Then when you have finished, read it again and check that you really *have* followed them. Cambridge are picky, there’s no doubt about it, but at least they explain the ways in which they are going to be picky, so that you can tailor your essay to their pickiness! If you are lucky enough, get someone who will proofread it for you, checking that you have met all the pernickety criteria (or if you are even luckier, your tutor will give it a final once over and check everything is in the right place!).
  • Remember, this stage will take longer than you think! (I can remember finishing my essay and then spending an awfully long time getting all the various bits of appendices together, in the right order, in the correct documents etc…) So leave plenty of time to do it in, in order to minimise your stress levels – these will be high enough as it is! 😉
  • Hopefully you will have been keeping your list of references as you went along. Make sure you have got all your references on it. Only list those resources that you have actually referred to in the essay itself – what Cambridge calls “explicit evidence” is necessary to show that you have read what you list.
  • You may find that your files are larger than Cambridge’s maximum file size. Fortunately, Word has a file-shrinking tool that you can use. Also make sure that when you plonk .pdf’s into your document (completed questionnaires, sample materials and the like) that you have saved them in the smallest file size that you can first.
  • Don’t forget your contents page. Hopefully you have lots of neatly labelled sub-headings in your document – these can come together to form part of your contents page, beneath the section headings. (I’m in the process of uploading samples of my Module 3 essay, so will upload my contents page too and link to it here, in due course…)
  • Finally, remember to use the Cambridge naming conventions for each file (Handbook p.75)

When all is done and dusted, pat yourself on the back and get yourself taken out for a large glass of the beverage of your choice! 🙂 Congratulations!!

“Experimenting with English”: scaffolding autonomy

How can we create “a supportive and encouraging learning environment which can help to lower anxiety filters and challenge students to consider new or alternative methods of learning.” (McCarthy, 2013 kindle loc 4662)? That is the question that I consider in this post, a question that I have been exploring since doing a module on Multimedia and Independent learning, as well as one on Materials Development at Leeds Met as part of my M.A. in ELT. It is also one of the questions that formed the basis of the webinar on Learner Autonomy that I did in collaboration with the British Council Teaching English group.

Learner autonomy is complex and multi-faceted, as this diagram shows:

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 20.42.12

This diagram shows the range of levels on which learner autonomy can operate. My post will focus on “independent use of learning resources“, “independent use of learning technologies” and “development of autonomous learning skills” as well as “focus on teacher roles“, as the form of autonomy development that I discuss requires the teacher to play an active role in a non-traditional way.

The “Experimentation with English” project developed partly as a result of my keenness to investigate ways of helping my learners become more autonomous partly in response to an institutional requirement that learners do 10 hours of independent learning (homework excluded) in order to pass their courses. Benson (2011) draws attention to the difference between programmes that foster autonomy and those that require it. Without teacher  intervention, I felt that the afore-mentioned institutional requirement was part of the latter category. This was no criticism, but pushed me to consider ways of working with it so that I could use it as a means of actively fostering autonomy too.

Firstly, I considered potential reasons that learners might not be successful in their independent study. I came up with the following:

  • lack of motivation: some learners may not feel motivated to complete this component of the course. They may not see the value of it. The result? They may do the bare minimum and not gain very much from it, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophesy in a vicious circle kind of a way.
  • lack of tools/ideas: some learners may be very keen but not know where to start, or where to go next. The result? They may do only a very narrow range of activities, thus limiting the potential benefits.
  • lack of success: some learners may struggle as they study independently with nobody to tell them what to do. The result? They may feel inadequate and anxious, they may give up or resort to doing only the easiest activities, those which they believe themselves able to do.
  • lack of confidence: some learners may believe they are not good enough to do things using the target language or they may believe that they don’t know the “best” way and therefore there’s no point trying. The result: They may not try in the first place, to avoid failing or using the “wrong” way of doing things.
  • lack of time: some learners may find that life gets in the way. “Language learner” may only be a very tiny part of what it is to be them, the commitments, responsibilities, pressures. The result? they may put off independent study, in the hopes that later they will be able to find enough time.

So how can the teacher face these potential issues, perhaps in a way that minimises the possibility of them arising in the first place and/or nips them in the bud if they do emerge? Importantly, how can the teacher help the learners become better able to manage these potential issues themselves?

Experimentation with English

This is a very simple solution, drawing on a sociocultural perspective of learner autonomy. This version of autonomy places importance on the learner as a member of a social group, in which  learning, or in this case autonomous learning, is mediated by more experienced others. (Oxford, 2003).

Requirements:

  • activity sheet: a collection of ideas for using English outside class, with space built in for learners to write comments regarding their use of the activities, on a handout for learners to keep with them.
  • regular class time allocation for discussion: 10-15 minutes at the start of one lesson per week is sufficient – arguably not a big ask.
  • that’s all!

What?

Of course, the activity sheet/ideas will look different depending on your context and learners’ needs:

  • Working in a non-English speaking country, in a private language school, the ideas on my Experimentation with English sheet are geared towards helping learners maximise their exposure to the target language and communicative use of the language outside of class.
  • I have not used this project with young learners or early teenagers, the youngest have been 16 years old – teenagers who are considered old enough for adult classes. A YL version of this would look different – I leave it to the YL experts amongst you to figure out what it should be!
  • ESP classes would require activities that related to their specific needs and learning goals.
  • In an English-speaking environment, such a handout would include ways of harnessing that environment, empowering learners to benefit more fully from it. (Although it is often assumed that learners in an English-speaking environment enjoy more opportunities to use the target language on a regular basis, it is important not to forget that accessing these opportunities may not be as straight-forward as we might assume.)

How?

  • In the lesson where I introduced Experimentation with English, I gave learners the handout and asked them to look at it before the next class, and to identify any activities they were familiar with and any ideas that immediately grabbed their attention/interest.
  • Then, in the next class, I gave them time to discuss, in small groups, whether they had already tried any of the ideas, and if so how useful they had found the ideas, and which of the ideas interested them. Being a group of individuals with widely varying experiences and interests, there was plenty to discuss.
  • I then proposed that they choose one or more activities to experiment with and said that I would give them time at the beginning of a lesson a week to discuss what they had tried, how useful they had found it, any problems they had experienced etc. Thus, learners went away knowing that there was a safety net underneath them as they tried new things: they had support.
  • Subsequent discussions saw learners sharing their experiences/ideas, their problems, solutions to classmates’ problems and setting goals regarding what they would try each to do each week.

Benefits?

I feel it would be most useful to look at this in terms of the problems identified above.

  • lack of motivation: By trying different things, learners gained more from their independent learning, which fed positively into their motivation.  Learners’ motivation also increased as a result of regular goal-setting (and satisfaction of reaching goals) and as a result of discussion.
  • lack of tools/ideas: the activity handouts gave learners a starting point, which they were encouraged to compare with what they already and use as the basis for further experimentation.
  • lack of success: this was addressed in two main ways. Firstly, the regular discussions meant that learners weren’t isolated when they faced problems in learning to learn independently. Secondly, part of the discussions involved goal setting, which helped learners become more motivated when they met their goals.
  • lack of confidence: discussion and experience-sharing helped learners see that there are many different ways of learning rather than “right” and “wrong” ways. Starting with comparison between what learners already do and the ideas on the handout built in an opportunity for learners to validate their current methods, helping them feel less insecure about their learning habits. Having new ideas to try, in a supportive environment, helped learners have the confidence to extend their current learning approaches, increasing their effectiveness.
  • lack of time: learners were not castigated for spending time doing things other than language learning and were encouraged to spend any small amount of time that they could fit in amongst their other commitments. Thus learners were better able to focus on what they could do rather than what they couldn’t do. Every little helps…

Feedback

In a feedback form that I gave to learners at the end of the course, I asked them if they had found the “extra” activities useful, using a Likert scale but also providing space for explanation of answers. In a separate question, I also asked them if they understood more about how to learn. Here are some of the comments:

“The discussion at the beginning of the lesson was stimulating to do more work at home.”
“They are very helpful to do something interesting with English”
“I think that the ‘extra’ activities are useful, because they are moments to improve our English and you can compare your extra homeworks to your extra homework of your classmates”
“It was very helpful because it helped us to improve our method how to learn English”
“Because they helped me to use English out of the class and to improve my speaking”
“The extras are useful. I can practice on the internet even not attending an English course.”
“Yes, because now I understood that I have to read or listen a lot in order to improve my English. Before this course I have only studied the grammar”

The comments show that the discussions had a dual value for learners: as well as the autonomy-related value, in terms of stimulation to learn outside the classroom, learners appreciate the opportunity to use language meaningfully, to discuss their experiences, and the effect this has on their speaking ability.

On the same form, giving them a choice of yes or no, and space for explanation, I also asked learners whether they had found setting goals useful. Here are some of the comments from learners who circled yes:

“otherwise it’s easy to waste time”
“setting goals and communicating them to others is an effective way to gain motivation”
“the goal compels you to accomplish a task in a shorter time”
“I’m glad when I reach my goals, even if they are a bit ambitious”
“They helped me to study more”
“You feel very satisfied when you reach your goals”
“With a goal, I was more motivated to continue the activities”
“Yes because I’m lazy so I need it”

Increased motivation was the most common theme with regards to the comments about goal-setting. While setting goals within this framework, where learners communicate their goals to others on a regular basis is not independent, I would argue that learners show autonomy in choosing goals for themselves and develop that autonomy in a supportive atmosphere, learning about different types of goals as well as how to set challenging yet achievable goals. It is clear that the learners cited above recognise the value of the goal-setting process, so hopefully this has become another tool for them to manage their learning – a tool that they will be able to use independently beyond the end of the course.

Conclusion

Learner autonomy can be scaffolded from within the classroom, in order to enable learners to benefit more fully from all the learning opportunities beyond it. Harnessing and managing motivation is as important as stimulating that motivation in the first place. However, in the classroom, teachers tend to focus on that initial stimulation, forgetting that any motivation that is stimulated also needs to be maintained (Dornyei and Ushioda, 2012). (To illustrate this, consider the difference between the project/framework described above and initiating the same project but then leaving it outside the classroom.)

By stepping into the role of enabler rather than transmitter, encouraging learners to try new activities outside the classroom and bringing that learning back into the classroom regularly (through reflective, collaborative guided discussion) as well as helping learners develop their ability to set effective goals, I believe that teachers can help learners to “systematise the capacities that they already possess” (Benson 2011:91), thus fostering autonomy rather than simply expecting it.

References

Benson, P. (2003)  Learner autonomy in the classroom in in Nunan, D. [ed] Practical English language teaching. PRC: Higher education press/McGraw Hill.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching Autonomy (2nd Edition) Pearson Education. Harlow.

Dornyei and Ushioda (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Kindle Edition) Pearson Education. Harlow.

McCarthy, T. (2013)  Redefining the learning space: Advising tools in the classroom in in Menegale, M [ed] Autonomy in Language Learning: Getting learners actively involved. (Kindle Edition) IATEFL, Canterbury.

Oxford, R. (2003) Towards a more Systematic Model of L2 Learner Autonomy in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Smith, R. (2003) Pedgagogy for Autonomy as (Becoming) Appropriate Methodology in Palfreyman, D and Smith, R. [Ed] Learner Autonomy Across Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Laila’s Story: the next instalment of my materials (listening, language focus and pronunciation) at last!

Months ago (erm, late September to be slightly more precise!), I started uploading instalments of the unit of materials I made for the assessment component of my Materials Development module at Leeds Met last year. Life, a new job, the IHCYLT and everything else took over, and I didn’t get any further than the reading section. At long last, then, here is the next instalment!

This is the listening section of the aforementioned unit and is based on a recording I made of “Laila” telling me a story about something life-changing that happened to her at school as a child and the effect she feels it had on her as a person. This instalment includes:

  • a listening sequence which uses  Vandergrift and Goh’s (2012) metacognitive approach
  • a language focus on features of spoken narrative
  • a pronunciation focus on contrastive stress

All activities draw out different elements of Laila’s story. You can find the following materials  on the Materials Page of this site:

  • Student book pages
  • Teacher’s book pages (including the transcript of the recording)
  • The recording of Laila’s story (for personal use with students only, not for reuse in other materials or websites)
  • The pronunciation tracks

If you use these materials, I would be interested to hear about how you used them and you/your students’ response to them. So, please do comment on this post or on my Materials Page and let me know! 🙂

Blogging highlights of 2013: me versus WordPress Monkeys!

I received an email from WordPress this morning: Your 2013 year in blogging. I also recently read 12 from ’12: The best of your posts from this year (blog challenge) by Adam Simpson. I had planned to round off 2013 by writing something along similar lines to identify my blogging highlights for this year. This post will be a mixture of that and response to WordPress‘s report on my blog activity this year…

According to WordPress, here are my top 5 posts for this year.

This is based on the number of views received. So, according to their quantitative analysis:

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The best according to WordPress!

Though I hadn’t started writing the intended Top 13 from ’13 blogpost before receiving WordPress‘s email (unless you count setting up a draft post with a title as starting :-p ), I had started thinking about what blogposts I would choose:

WordPress and I agree with regards to number 1. 30 things to enhance your teaching? would definitely have headed my list of my favourite posts of mine from 2013. Why?  Because it got me loads of views? No. Because not only did it win me the British Council blog of the month award for June 2013 (which, to be fair, accounts for it topping the “number of views analysis”), but, as importantly, it is also a reminder of the fantastic flavour of learning that I tasted while doing my course at Leeds Met Uni during the academic year 2012/13. I had the time of my life, learnt loads and look back on the experience with great fondness and appreciation.

Of the rest of that list, 4 and 5 would also definitely have made the 13 for ’13 cut. Extensive Reading part 2 is important to me because it came about as as result of my (on-going) learner autonomy development projects and as a result of my own recent experiences of using extensive reading for my own language learning. Bringing Metacognition into the Classroom would have made the cut because I still find the whole area of metacognition and metacognitive awareness development and its role in language learning fascinating. My interest was sparked by Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening by Vandergrift and Goh, which I read in preparation for designing the materials I created for my Materials Development module assessment, having stumbled across it by chance in Leeds University Library (making use of my SCONUL card!). A chance discovery that had a deep impact both on my assignment and my conceptualisation of language teaching and learning.

Delta Tips 6: Resources for Module 1 exam revision would probably not have made the cut, but I would certainly have chosen a post from my Delta Tips series, as representative of the series, which I enjoyed writing because it gave me the opportunity to reprocess all my learning and create a record of it to look back on (we always extol the virtues of peer-teaching in the language classroom and I think as teachers we can benefit as much as our learners by sharing and reflecting on what we learn), and because judging by the number of views the various posts in the series have had, they’ve been at least moderately useful to other Delta trainees.

The final post listed in the WordPress top 5, at number 3, (Elementary Teens (13-15 year olds) Christmas Lesson) wouldn’t have made the cut for my 13 for ’13 list either. I think I would have gone for my Elementary Teens Global Issues SIG challenge materials/lesson plan instead. Why? Because it was a rewarding process making materials to meet the challenge both of Global SIG’s food awareness month and of engaging my teenagers early on in their course.

Other posts that didn’t make the quantitative top 5 but would make my qualitative top 5 (or 13 from ’13) would be:

  • my posts, Part 1 and Part 2, about my Delta and M.A. respectively, because they act as a reminder of the professional and personal growth I’ve enjoyed since September 2012 and a motivator to continue pushing myself to use what I’ve learnt and add to it.
  • a post as representative of my Dissertation Diary series, e.g. this one, which helped me achieve a solid mark for my dissertation materials/rationale and which provides me with a window to look back on that process and remind myself of what I learnt as well as how.
  • In response to Observations of an Elementary Language User as representative of all my posts relating to my experience of being back in the Elementary language learning seat, which has also influenced my teaching and my learner autonomy projects in various ways.
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Posting a-go-go!

2013 has definitely been a year of blossoming for my blog: The 83 posts mentioned above were all written from May onwards this year, so in the space of about 8 months. Meanwhile, the three previous years of blogging yielded the other 21 – quite a stark contrast! What have I gained from blogging so extensively? Well, my British council blog award and resultant webinar (forthcoming!) on learner autonomy, for starters. But also, a space to reflect and re-process my learning, as well as a record of my professional development over the course of time. It gives me a lot of pleasure to look back over posts I’ve written and recapture the excitement, motivation, inspiration etc that the posts were borne of, while reminding myself what I’ve learnt.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 17.24.41

Countries, countries, everywhere!

That my posts have been read by people from 164 countries makes me feel a sense of connectedness to teachers and the industry worldwide – I feel a part of something. The teachers I communicate with via Twitter, via this blog, via their blogs (I’m planning a post where I list the blogposts by others which have most inspired me in 2013 – stay tuned! Update: That post is now written and can be found here) and other means of online CPD (e.g. participating in webinars) are all part of the big online staffroom that I am lucky enough to be able to pop into on a regular basis and from which I gain and share ideas, creativity, motivation and inspiration.

Blossoming blog (“Frangipani_flowers” taken from Google images search, licensed for commercial reuse with modification)

And finally, to end my last post for this year, a big thank you to everybody who has been part of my 2013 and all my very best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2014. Carpe diem! 🙂

100th post: Looking backwards, looking forwards…

This post sees the neat coincidence of several things:

  • my 100th post on this blog (this one!)
  • my 100th follower of this blog (a few days ago)
  • my 40,000th view (earlier today)
  • the end of the year (very shortly)
  • the first ELT Blog Carnival of 2014 (for which submissions are open, with a topic of “New Year’s Resolutions)

It’s been quite a year! 🙂 In this post, in keeping with the Blog Carnival abstract, I am going to reflect on what I’ve achieved this year, as well as my projects, plans and goals for next year.

Looking back…

At the beginning of this year, I was in Leeds. I had completed the input sessions for the Delta portion of my course at the end of the previous year, but had all the external assessment (Module 2 LSA 4, Module 3 extended assignment, Module 1 exam) all looming over me. So I still very much count the Delta as part of this year – after all, I only received the qualification in August! (I was on holiday in Italy, up a mountain riding a horse, when the news of my distinctions arrived in the form of happy emails from two of my tutors…)

It’s interesting (to me) to think that at the beginning of this year, I was feeling quite demotivated and felt I hadn’t achieved anything despite working so very hard in the first semester of my course. I’d learnt a lot but nothing was finished (other than the Delta mock exam that provided the M.A. grade for that module, which I thought I’d done badly in – though it transpired that I hadn’t!). Goes to show, perhaps, that achievement shouldn’t necessarily only be associated with completed things…

Since that rather inauspicious beginning to the year, which followed a Christmas “holiday”, which I spent redrafting my Delta module 3 and preparing the M.A. module presentation based on it, loads of exciting things have happened:

  • my M.A. modules!

They were brilliant. What a wonderful, wonderful course. I learnt ever such a lot (for evidence of this look here) and had such a lot of fun in the process, thanks to lovely tutors and lovely course mates. The best thing is, I’ve been using my learning from the modules ever since: For example, from Multimedia and Independent Learning came my interest in learner autonomy and resultant projects that are currently in progress at work, and thanks to the Materials Development module, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making several sets of materials, some of which you can find here.

  • my British Council Blog of the Month award

My 30 things… post, which came about as a direct result of all the learning in my time at Leeds Met, managed to win the June 2013 edition of this award – a great honour for little ol’ me and something that has brought with it opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. For example, the British Council webinar I will be doing in February next year: my first ever webinar. I’m not at all scared….ahem. On the theme of blogging, my little blog has blossomed this year. I started blogging in May 2011 and between then and May this year, posted very little and was visited very little. Then I suddenly found I had things to say and share, resulting in a lot of content being added to this blog over the last 7 months. I also went from 4,000 odd views to now just over 40,000. Quite a big jump! But it’s not the numbers or quantity of content that is important, it’s the profound effect that having this reflective space has had on my professional life. It’s a wonderful thing, being able to share teaching-y things with teachers all over the world. And, of course, reading others’ blogs has remained a great source of inspiration to me.

  • my first conference presentations

I presented for the first time at the 16th Warwick International Postgraduate Conference in Applied Linguistics, which was on the 26th June 2013 at the University of Warwick. My presentation was based on the research project I did for the Research module of my M.A. and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was a gentle way in, being as all the other participants were also students and I had already presented my research as part of the assessment for the M.A. module. This first time was swiftly followed by the second time, less than a month later:  This was at the MATSDA/University of Liverpool 2 day conference, themed “Enjoying to learn: the best way to acquire a language?” on the 13th and 14th July 2013 at the University of Liverpool. If you haven’t been to a MATSDA conference before, I highly recommend it. It was a lot of fun and a very supportive atmosphere for a novice presenter. For details of my presentations, please see this link.

  • my dissertation

Bubbling away in the background, behind all the excitement of the presentations and blog award, was my dissertation. My constant companion for about 4 months, the D-beast definitely represents a large chunk of the time, energy, focus and dedication that has gone into this year. It was worth it in the end, as not only did I find it a very satisfying experience (though towards the end I was worried I would never finish in time!), but I also came out of it with a respectable 82%. This sealed my overall distinction for my M.A. in ELT, of which I am very proud: it represents a LOT of very hard, yet enjoyable, work. But not only hard work on my part: my tutor who supervised me for the dissertation gave up a lot of her time in order to meet with me and look at/feed back on what I’d produced at various points, as well as giving me lots of support and encouragement throughout the whole process: Thank you, HB!

  • my new job in Palermo

I am fortunate enough for teaching at IH Palermo to have become my first post-Delta job. It’s a great school to work in, with a very supportive and friendly atmosphere, as well as a lot of opportunity for continued development. Since I have been here, I have attended workshops on teaching young learners, teaching using Headway, teaching teens, dealing with parents and, last but not least, pronunciation. I have also been observed while teaching, and received a high quality of helpful, constructive feedback subsequently, as well as had the opportunity to observe my peers. And then, of course, I have embarked on the IHCYLT (IH Young Learner Cert) course – which deserves its own bullet point!

  • IHCYLT

This, I am still very embroiled in. In fact, I’m about half way through and hanging on by a very slender thread. Turns out starting a new job, working full-time, learning a new language AND doing a training course is quite the balancing act. Fortunately, the afore-mentioned supportive nature of the workplace and my DoS and YL coordinator have helped me keep going thus far. How it turns out remains to be seen – I suppose I shall either make it, just, or crash and burn spectacularly! I think it may possibly be course over-load for one year but at least it’s nearly Christmas and hopefully after a break I will have what it takes to push through what’s still to come. I’ve discovered that I’m not a huge fan of distance/online learning as vs. face-to-face study and am heartily glad/relieved that I did not attempt the Delta via distance learning, as I don’t think I would have made it through or done anywhere near as well as I did. Thankfully, as the YL course is blended, the observation (both being observed/the feedback and observing others) element has balanced out the online component. (NB: the online tutors are fantastic, so my lack of love for the online element is no fault of theirs…)

  • Italian

I’m also learning Italian, being as prior to moving to Palermo I had never learnt nor spoken any Italian in my life before. (Oh except learning the numbers, the word for England and good afternoon/please/thank you when I came on holiday here with my aunt’s family, aged 16 or so) I study every day before work and read extensively every evening and over the weekend. I also listen extensively. I think I’ve learnt a lot of language since I’ve been here (still just under three months though it seems like forever longer!) and it’s been fascinating being a language learner again. I did a few lessons at the school but stopped for a variety of reasons (including lack of time, the YL course starting, and just not getting on that well with the lessons). Learning independently has been a lot more successful and I’ve learnt a lot from how I learn – if that makes sense (it does to me…)!

So, I think that just about covers looking back…

Looking forward…

  • Christmas Holidays!!

Thank goodness. This time next week I will be on holiday. I intend to finish all the YL coursework I need to do *before* the holiday and have a complete rest (if you can call Christmas etc  a rest :-p) over the 2 weeks I’m off work. It will be the first real, proper holiday since August 2013. I am very, very, very in need of it!

  • British Council webinar

In February, I will be giving my very first webinar (as mentioned earlier in this post), on the topic of learner autonomy. I hope my audience will be gentle with me… 😉  I’ve been experimenting away with various tools and ideas for helping learners become more autonomous and am looking forward to sharing what I’ve learnt and to having peoples’ responses to what I say inform what I do with my projects in future, too.

  • A workshop at work

One of my goals for next year is to deliver a workshop at work. (Sometime *after* the YL course finishes, of course! 😉 ) I think it would be a very valuable experience.

  • Presenting at IATEFL

I’ve been accepted to present at IATEFL, which is very exciting. Still a few teething issues with regards to attending, but here’s hoping I’ll make it… 🙂 (Much as the thought of it also terrifies me…. 😉 )

  • Attending other conferences

There’s a MATSDA conference in June, when I shall be back in England (8-month contract), which I very much hope to attend. I love conferences: they are so inspirational.

  • Working at a university

One of my goals for next year is to work on a pre-sessional course at a University in the U.K. over the summer.

  • Continuing work on my projects

I am thoroughly enjoying working on my learner autonomy projects and helping my learners become more autonomous learners and this is something I want to continue working on next year. I want to read a lot more on learner autonomy theory and motivation theory (currently in the middle of a book on each subject).

  • Reading

As well as the afore-mentioned learner autonomy and motivation theory-related texts, I want to keep abreast of developments in the ELT world by continuing to read the journals and professional magazines that I have discovered through doing my Delta and M.A. I also want to reread and reprocess my notes from these courses, and keep the learning fresh as well as add to it.

  • Using my learning

I *really* want to experiment with what I’ve learnt through the Delta and M.A., experiment, reflect, evaluate, experiment some more, write about it… this is one of the reasons I am looking forward to the YL course finishing: at the moment I’m struggling for brain space. The YL course is ramming more and more learning into my poor little brain when all I really want to do is draw breath and work with what I’ve got. Nevertheless, when it does finish, I’ll work with that learning too, of course! 🙂

  • A PhD

Not next year! But sometime… to research something related to learner autonomy and motivation. (Of course that may change by the time I get round to doing one!)

  • Learning more Italian

I want to keep working on my Italian – I’m feeling enormously motivated – and for my speaking to catch up with my reading and listening….at least a little!!

  • A better work-life balance!!!!!

At the moment, my work-life balance is not awesome. (Thanks, YL course!) I’m very much looking forward to having my weekends back but, that aside, outside of frenetic times (of which there will be another in late January when a whole bunch of courses end) I want to try and spend less time at work and get more exercise during the week. If I keep going for toooo much longer at the current rate, I suspect I will burn out.

Plenty to be getting on with…!

Meanwhile, I’ve one more week left of term, which will see teaching practice observation no.3/4, parents consultations, a course ending (and attendant marking/reports/admin) and the usual load of YL tasks to be getting on with… no rest for the wicked!

2013 has been fairly phenomenal all in all: and I am eternally grateful to all who have helped to make it that way – my wonderful tutors, my course mates, my colleagues, my DoS, and, best of all, my lovely, lovely family and friends. Thank you all for your support, for putting up with me and not giving up on me. 🙂

Here’s wishing everybody a fantastic 2014 – live your dreams!