“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:

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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.

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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!

Delta Tips 13: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the Assessment

This is the thirteenth 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

The focus of this post will be the fourth section – the assessment.)

Give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve got this far: you’ve finished designing your course and are ready to turn your mind to the issue of assessment. No small feat! Weighing in at 1000 words, +- 10%, the assessment section is nothing to sneeze at. If it’s any reassurance, it took me until I wrote the assessment section of my essay to actually get my head around a suitable writing style (and of course I had to then go back and redraft all the other sections with this eventually-acquired understanding!) – so don’t worry if it’s slow coming together, persevere and you will get there.

There are two main parts to the assessment section of the essay:

  • discussion of how you will use assessment to monitor learners’ progress and assess the learning outcomes proposed by your course.
  • discussion of how you will evaluate your course.

I’m sure at this stage if I say the words “principles” and “literature”, you will immediately understand the implication of this: Yup, as with the other sections, you need to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of principles of assessment and evaluation, as outlined in the relevant literature.

(If you’ve got this far and not read Testing for Language Teachers by Andrew Hughes, now is the time to do so!)

However, as usual, it’s not enough to regurgitate principles: you need to apply your chosen principles to the assessment procedures you have selected to weave into your course: one way of doing this is to paraphrase and reference the principle, then link it to an aspect of your assessment procedures. (When I produced the first draft of my assessment section, I wrote about the principles and then wrote about my assessment, in two separate paragraphs, then following feedback, redrafted so that it interwove rather than being separate. It was much clearer and saved lots of words!)

Without any further ado, here are some tips for getting through the production of your assessment section:

  • Remember the Magic 3: Look at 1) the assessment procedures and materials you are considering using and make sure they are suited to 2) the learning outcomes you have decided on for your course and informed by 3) assessment principles from the literature. If you have designed a speaking and listening course, with various related outcomes, then giving learners nothing more than a gap-fill grammar test is probably not going to be massively valid. (Extreme example, but the point remains…)
  • Mollycoddle the examiner(s): Use the guiding questions on page 73 of your module handbook to create sub-headings within your essay section 4, so that it is abundantly clear that you have included all the required information. The examiner is not interested in picking over your essay with a magnifying glass in order to find what he/she is looking for.
  • Bear in mind that no course exists in an ideal world: Be realistic – with the best will in the world, there are going to be obstacles to overcome. That’s fine, but show awareness of those obstacles and demonstrate clearly that your intentions in terms of assessment are the best way of doing what needs to be done.
  • Remember your learners: You know, that little group of people you did the needs analysis on and designed the course for? Yeah, them. Are the assessment procedures you have in mind suited to them and their needs?
  • Don’t forget to mention evaluation as well as assessment: You know how I mentioned there are two parts to this essay section? Make sure you don’t get so over-excited by your amazing assessment set-up that you forget to think about and describe how you are going to evaluate your course and why that is the best way to evaluate it (referring, of course, to the literature…) Include examples of any questionnaires or other activities used to evaluate the course in your appendices and cross-reference to these.
  • F is for…..: Formative assessment. Don’t forget this bad boy – you need to show exactly how you are going to monitor your learners’ progress as the course unfolds, not only what happens at the end. (And what do we call the assessment that happens at the end? That’s right, boys and girls, summative assessment.) Remember also to think about how the results that are generated by your amazing formative assessment procedure can feed into possible change of course content or approach.
  • Are your assessment tools all clear, present and accounted for: You should include sample tests in your appendices. Don’t include tests in your assessment process for the sake of it – make sure each has a clear purpose and place within your overall assessment process. And then make doubly sure that this is abundantly clear to the examiner: You might like to include a table with your assessment plan in your appendices, clearly stating each test, as well as the type of assessment it constitutes and when/why it is to be used (with reference to the literature, of course!). You could then cross-reference to this in your course plan and in your assessment essay section.
  • C is for (clear) cross-referencing: Refer to your appendices (assessment plan, sample assessment tools, any other assessment or evaluation-related documents…) within your essay and within your course plan. This will make it clearer how everything fits together and that this is a well-oiled machine, rather than a random collection of stuff thrown together at the last minute.
  • Gratuitous tip for anybody who needs to create a speaking assessment tool for their course: Read Luoma (2004) and use the headings in her example test specification documents to help you make one of your own. It’s time-consuming to write but a useful process to go through, to get it clear in your head what your assessment tool needs to do, in what context, how, when and why. You can also include this document in your appendices as extra evidence that your assessment tool is closely mapped to your course proposal and group of learners. Final plug for Luoma (2004): Reading this book really helped me get my head around assessing speaking and designing assessment tools.
  • Why are your choices important? You’ll be making a lot of decisions regarding tools to use, tools NOT to use, when and how often to use various assessment types etc etc: remember to think about why the decisions you made were important for the fit of your assessment programme to your course design. Don’t just make choices, be prepared to rationalise them clearly, with reference to the literature, your learners, your course proposal and learning outcomes and so on.

And now for some recommended reading:

Black, P(2009)  Formative Assessment Issues Across the Curriculum: The Theory and the Practice. TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 43, Issue 3, 519-523.

Davison, C. & Leung, C. (2009) Current Issues in English Language Teacher-Based Assessment. TESOL Quarterly, Vol.43, Issue 3, 393-415.

Graves, K (2001) Designing an Assessment Plan in Designing Language Courses. Newbury House Teacher Development.

Harris, M. (1997) Self-assessment of language learning in formal settings in ELTJ vol. 51/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Hedge, T. (2000)  Planning and Assessing Learning in Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom.

Hughes, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Luoma, S.(2004) Assessing Speaking. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Richards, J.(2001) Planning goals and learning outcomes in Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Stoynoff, S (2012) Looking backward and forward at classroom-based language assessment in ELT Journal Volume 66/4 Special issue. 

Don’t give up – you’ve broken the back of the thing now. Hopefully the assessment section will help you bring it all together. 

You may (as I did) discover a desperate need for redrafting at this point, but don’t worry this is a good thing: it means that your understanding of your specialism and the literature is developing. Hurrah! And hopefully you have left enough time for that crucial redrafting phase… 😉

Coming soon: Tips for the Conclusion! Yes, even Delta Module 3 Extended Essay beasts do eventually come to a conclusion 🙂 (Update: tips for the conclusion can be found here.)

If you think I am wrong in anything I’ve said or that I’ve missed anything useful from this section, then please comment and I will add whatever is missing to this post!

Countdown to Delta Module 1 exam – Good luck, candidates!

On the first Wednesday in December (if I’m not mistaken…), there will be knots of worried (or perhaps super-confident!) TEFLers gathering at Cambridge exam centres the world over, ready to try their luck at the beast that is the Module 1 exam. Are you one of them? If you are, are you ready? Here is a little checklist to help you out…

  • Have you practised writing at speed for 3hrs with only a half hour break in the middle? If not, I recommend that you do so this weekend! And, find a nice, comfortable pen, making sure you have spares in case it runs out.
  • Have you learnt the structure of the exam? Test yourself – get out a piece of paper and write down what you know about the requirements (points on offer, how you will/should package your answer, exactly what information is required in each answer) of each question of each paper. Check the outcome against my posts, for paper 1 and for paper 2  – how did you do? It’s worth doing this (I did it several times, minus checking against my posts – they were only a collection of notes at the time!) – knowing exactly what’s required is half the battle to being able to produce it under pressure. It might be worth making something like this chart if you brain responds well to colour…
  • Have you got your phonemes under control? If not, it’s not too late! Have a go at writing a short text in phonemic script. First with the chart to hand (if you need it), then without the chart, to force you to remember. Then try and write quickly in phonemic script. If you are shaky on your symbols, have a look at my useful resources for module 1″ post  where you can find links to Adrian Underhill’s chart, presentation on youtube and app.
  • Have you got your terminology tightened up? Test yourself using all the flashcards that Delta hopefuls past and present have created on Quizlet (you can find a link to many of these in my useful resources post too). Or, if you prefer less new-fangled ways of learning, get your Thornbury A-Z of ELT and open it at random. Pick a term, define it and check your definition against his.
  • Do you know your reliability from your validity? Your proficiency test from your achievement test? Dig out past papers for any English exams that students can do e.g. KET, PET, FCE, CAE, the placement test used at your school, the last achievement test you gave your students and analyse them in relation to a specific student or group of students. (If you’re feeling really geeky, make some student profile cards and divide them up so that they are a reasonable fit with the exam type you are analysing. Pick an exam and a card from the appropriate pile and give yourself the Paper 2 question 1 time limit to analyse it.)
  • Can you look at a spread of course book material and infer all the activity aims and assumptions about learning of the course book writer? Grab the course book nearest you and check! Can you come up with the requisite number of points within the allocated time limit?
  • How is your language analysis? Pick a short text and analyse the hell out of it. If you’re not sure about any of it, time to open About Language by Scott Thornbury and make sure!! Remember, Cambridge examiners give points for the strangest things:  if you think it, you might as well write it down just in case – as long as you can write quickly!
  • Do you know all there is to know about authentic materials? Look at every piece of authentic text you see today, from your cereal packet to adverts in town to …you name it! Can you identify generic features? If not, flick through Beyond the Sentence by Thornbury or Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers by McCarthy and refresh your memory…
  • What do you see when you look at a piece of student writing? Can you analyse it for positives/negatives and things that most need working on, giving reasons for your choices? Can you package this information so that the Cambridge examiner can see it easily? Can you do this super-quickly? Test yourself and make sure you can! (You are more than welcome to use my progress test scripts that need marking this morning for practice!! 😉 )
  • Can you look at a course book speaking or writing activity and know what students (of a particular level) need? Pick an activity, any activity, of this sort, and see how quickly you can list what learners need (language, structural elements etc), along with appropriate examples.
  • How’s your knowledge of SLA theory? If you need a quick refresher, why not spend 45 minutes (or so) watching Chia Suan’s British Council Webinar on this topic? (You can find the link to this  in my useful resources for module 1″ post  post.)
  • Have you done a mock exam (Paper 1 AND Paper 2, one after the other with only the allocated break time in between) yet? If not, get on it. If so, do another this weekend or on Monday/Tuesday – it won’t hurt to get yourself right in that zone again!

Don’t panic, you’ll be fine. Try and enjoy it (I know, I know…) – it’s an opportunity to show off everything you’ve learnt and it will be over before you know it! (Thank goodness…)

Good luck! 🙂

Delta Tips 12: Writing a Module 3 Essay – Course Proposal

This is the twelfth 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
  • The focus of this post will be the third section – the course proposal.

So, you’ve researched your specialism and identified all the inherent issues, carried out a meticulously detailed needs analysis, synthesised all the information it yielded and you’re ready to proceed. What comes next? Creating a coherent 20-hour course, whose content responds to the issues and learner needs unearthed in sections 1 and 2.

There are two parts to this:

  • essay section part 3 (+- 1100 words), in which you discuss the content and structure of your course
  • the course map, which goes into your essay appendices

NB: There should be clear links between the two, funnily enough…

There are multiple things to remember and refer back to when you are designing your course:

  • Your secondary research findings from section 1
  • Your needs analysis data from section 2
  • Principles of course and syllabus design (these should influence your course proposal!)
  • Learning aims and objectives (which you will have decided upon based on your secondary research and needs analysis)
  • Institutional constraints
  • How the various strands of your course relate and interact (colours and arrows will become your friends)

Within the course proposal, you need to:

  • show the examiners how savvy you are about principles/theories relating to course/syllabus design (remember, show off!)
  • show the examiners that you are not a plagiarist (i.e. reference all the wonderful principles/theories alluded to above).
  • explain in no uncertain terms how the afore-mentioned principles have informed your course map.
  • make it blindingly obvious how your course proposal responds to issues identified in part 1 and learners needs (by now thoroughly analysed) from part 2.
  • draw the examiner’s attention to your learning aims and objectives (which will of course be clearly mapped to your learners needs…), teaching approaches, course content and your choice of materials. These will of course all be thoroughly justified/rationalised.
  • reassure the examiners that your head is not in the clouds – your course proposal (and map) should not only be operable in cloud cuckoo land.
  • refer to your course map a) so that it is clear that your course proposal and your course map are hand in glove and b) to make it easier for the examiner to see that your course map does what you claim it does. (Remember, you want the examiner to like you! 😉 )

Within the course map, you need to:

  • provide sufficient detail regarding the content of your course (“Lesson 1 – a bit of reading and a few discussion questions” does not count as sufficient detail :-p)
  • give some indication of how the content maps to your part 1 issues and part 2 learner needs.
  • make reference to any materials you include in your appendices (you are not “required” to put any samples of teaching materials in your appendices but you “may” – including some is probably going to be a good thing!). This is as simple as brackets and appendix number next to mention of the materials in question e.g. material x (A2.iii)

Tips for doing all this successfully:

  • use arrows and/or colour in your course map: these make it easier to demonstrate links to theory/issues/needs and inclusion of key content. (Otherwise, find another way to make this blindingly obvious to the poor examiner who is on his twentieth script and getting really bored/tired :-p)
  • use sub-headings in your course proposal: don’t just include everything that is required, take the examiner by the hand and show him/her *exactly* where that essential information is.  (You could use the “guiding” questions on page 73 of the Delta Handbook to help you formulate your subheadings…)
  • don’t include content in your course map for the sake of it: show how the content you are including helps you/your learners meet your learning objectives (which are based on their needs and the implications inherent in your specialism).
  • don’t just copy out a course book syllabus: the course book wasn’t made with your group of learners in mind, to meet their specific needs. Sorry. 😉 If you use any published materials within your course, make sure you thoroughly justify why you have chosen them and how they meet your learners’ needs.
  • Think “why”/”how” not just “what”: 
    • Why does your course represent the best way of meeting your learners’ needs and fulfilling the learning aims/objectives that arise from these?
    • Why have you chosen to follow these principles/theories of course design and not any others?
    • Why are you including this content?
    • Why are you using that set of materials?
    • Why are you using this approach?
    • How will your choices with regards to all of these benefit your learners more than another set of choices could?

And make your answers to these questions clear to your examiner through your course proposal.

  • Read pages 72 and 73 of your handbook: Then read them again.  Then make sure you’ve read them properly.
  • Don’t make life complicated: A 20hr course is required. Not 25, not 30…so don’t do more than 20! More than 20 hours is “acceptable” but do you really want to produce the level of detail required for more than the number of hours required? (The answer is “no”…)

Final tips:

Don’t underestimate how much time you will need to produce a 20hr course map that is sufficiently detailed.

Don’t waste any opportunity to get feedback from your module tutor – if your course proposal/map doesn’t make sense to your tutor, it is highly unlikely to make sense to your examiner (however much sense it may make to you!) Better to find out from your tutor than the examiner… 😉

As usual, be ready to draft and redraft your course proposal. You are unlikely to get it right first time. There’s always room for improvement! 🙂

Don’t underestimate the power of arrows and colours! 🙂 (For a lesson in using arrows to good effect, just look to trusty Tricia Hedge’s Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom…)

Some potentially useful resources:

Graves, K (2001) Organizing the course in Designing Language Courses. Newbury House Teacher Development.

Graves, K (2008) The Language Curriculum: A social contextual perspective in Language Teaching vol. 41/2. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Hall, G.(2011) Planning and organizing L2 learning and teaching. in Exploring English Language Teaching: Language in Action. Routledge. Oxon.

Hedge, T.(2000) Course Design in Planning and Assessing Learning in Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom.

Nation P. and Macalister J.(2010) Language Curriculum Design. Routledge. Oxon.

Richards, J.(2001) Course planning and syllabus design in Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Richards, J. (2001) Planning goals and learning outcomes in Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

But don’t forget:.

Resources relating to teaching and learning theories relevant to your learners’ needs and your specialism! (E.g. if your course has a heavy listening/speaking focus, as dictated by your learners’ needs and requirements related to your specialism, you might like to think about including reference to theory related to the teaching of listening and speaking, both in your proposal in terms of approaches and in your course map in terms of how your content maps to theory.)

Persevere!!!!

It will feel really good when you *finally* fill in the final arrow and highlight and change the font colour for the final time! And you will/should also learn a lot in the process of putting together the course map and accompanying section three course proposal. Make the most of it! 🙂

Coming soon: Tips for the Assessment  section! Stay tuned, if you can bear it… ;-) (Update: You can now find tips for the assessment section here.)

If you think I am wrong in anything I’ve said or that I’ve missed anything useful from this section, then please comment and I will add whatever is missing to this post!

CPD: What does it mean to you?

CPD (Continuing Professional Development) is a well-used phrase. But what does it really mean? What does it involve? To me, it covers a whole multitude of things:

Courses

This is arguably the most obvious element. You identify a gap in your skill set or a need for general upgrade of your skills/knowledge and search for a course to suit your needs. Courses come in all shapes and sizes, varying in length, focus, outcome, commitment requirements, cost and so on.

The DELTA (Diploma for English Language Teaching to Adults) or its Trinity counter part, the Trinity Dip. TESOL, is a popular choice for qualified ESL teachers wanting to take the next step. These are internationally recognised professional qualifications with a practical focus. The DELTA is a modular qualification and modules can be taken separately or concurrently, distance or face-to-face, part-time or full-time, intensively or non-intensively. The trick is to make the right decision regarding which of these options will work for you. Being a level 7 qualification, the DELTA gives you a number of credits towards a Masters qualification, depending on the university and the course chosen.

M.A.’s (Master of Arts) or M.Sc.’s (Master of Sciences) are generally considered to be more theoretically focused. Popular choices for teachers include Masters in English Language Teaching, Applied Linguistics and TESOL and pure Applied Linguistics. Some M.A.s manage to combine the more theoretical focus of an M.A. with practical application. One such is the Leeds Met M.A. in ELT, which focuses on what you can do with the theory rather than on just learning and writing about it: in the second semester, for example, you design materials, undertake research, develop multimedia tools and write a journal article. First semester content depends on whether or not you choose to do the integrated DELTA option.

Shorter courses

I think these tend to have a narrower focus and there are lots of options out there. International House, for example, has a range of courses, of various lengths, some blended and some purely online. (I shall be doing the Young Learner training, starting tomorrow!) I won’t go into depth on all the courses available out there, or it will treble the length of this post! 😉

Work-based CPD

This, most obviously, would include workshops (both attending and delivering), formal observation, peer observation and the opportunity to participate in short training courses. And, I have discovered, if you work somewhere that truly values CPD (actively, not just paying lip service), then these things become amazing opportunities.

I had my first formal observation earlier this week. Scary scary. BUT the DoS had emphasised that this was developmental rather than a test and an opportunity to experiment. So I experimented for the first time with some techniques I’d read about shortly prior to the observed lesson. It was so valuable to then be able to discuss the techniques, difficulties in applying them and ideas for continuing to apply them, during the feedback with my DoS. I now have a lot of detailed feedback notes to read and reflect on before I next teach. However, I have also already had two classes, directly following the feedback, and tried to put into practice the ideas discussed during the feedback, with some good results. So exciting!

There have been two workshops since I started here, too, both very thought-provoking and useful. It’s always good to be back in the learning seat. In due course, I hope also to deliver one, as I think this would be a very valuable experience. In addition to this, last weekend I did some Cambridge speaker examiner training for KET and PET exams, which was an interesting process.

Personal CPD

This is everything you do to learn that doesn’t come under a formal label! In this diverse category comes things like:

  • attending (and/or presenting at) conferences (face-to-face or online)
  • attending (or giving!) seminars (or webinars)
  • reading journals/professional magazines
  • reading relevant books
  • reading relevant blogs
  • using Twitter (e.g. participating in #Eltchat discussions, following up links)/Facebook (e.g. the British Council TeachingEnglish Facebook page.)
  • writing blog posts
  • writing journal/professional magazine articles/contributions
  • making learning materials
  • carrying out classroom-based research projects
  • reflecting on your teaching/development and making plans for what to try out next.
  • being a language learner again (!) (Being a learner in a language classroom again has shone a whole new light on learning, to consider as a teacher!)

For Me:

I found my Delta and M.A. immensely challenging and rewarding. But I think what comes next is equally important. The CPD doesn’t stop when you finish the course and get your certificate. The course provides you with new knowledge, techniques, methodologies etc. but true CPD is what you do with all of that afterwards. Do you put your certificate in a file and then continue as before? Or do you experiment with everything you’ve learnt and look for new things to try out and connect to your previous learning?

At the moment, I have a couple of projects on the go that are very much the result of having done the Multimedia and Independent Learning module of my M.A., that will culminate with my first webinar (in February next year) and recently I’ve also been exercising my materials development learning in making materials for the Global Issues month as well just for my own use with learners. And I’m finding all of this really satisfying, interesting and exciting. I think, too, that having a supportive DoS is key to effective CPD – there’s nothing like being actively encouraged to develop and helped to do so.

To me, CPD is the spaces between the words. It’s what and how you learn but also, all-importantly, what you do with what you learn, it’s being aware of opportunities and taking them when they arise. It’s what herbs and spices are to cooking – not strictly speaking necessary but it turns a bland dish (one day of experience repeated for twenty years) into something delicious and taste-bud tantalising!

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of CPD options out of this post, so please comment with any additional CPD ideas you have! Inspire me!! 🙂 What does CPD mean to you?

Some materials – at last! (Part 2)

I have just added another section of materials to my Materials page!

The materials are some of what I produced for the Materials Development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT at Leeds Met. The linked page contains further information and links to the materials themselves. I’d be interested to hear what you think (but understand that this may not be possible until I’ve uploaded the whole of the unit!) 🙂

I have now uploaded the second section of the unit – some reading and language focus – plus teachers’ notes. However, because I haven’t got copyright of the reading text – which is taken from Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man – I have blanked out the text. You could still use the sequence by sourcing the book and pulling out Chapter 14 pages 20-23 from “All right the bell has rung.” to “Just take the story and feel sorry for the kid and the mother with her countenance and, maybe, the dad, and not analyse it to  death.”  This follows on from the speaking section, which I uploaded previously.

Enjoy – and if you use them, please do let me know how it goes by commenting below or on the Materials page…

Delta Tips 11: Writing a Module 3 Essay – the needs analysis section

This is the eleventh 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
  • The focus of this post will be the second section – the needs analysis.

Now that you’ve done your secondary research and written your introduction, it’s time to think about your needs analysis section. This is where you focus on a specific group of learners and devise a needs analysis assessment, with the purpose of informing your course design (the focus of the third section of the essay).

There are several things you need to keep in mind when designing your needs analysis tools:

  • what you learnt from your secondary research and the implications this generated.
  • the principles of needs analysis, which should inform the design of your tools.
  • what you want to achieve with each of the tools you choose to use, which will also influence the design and delivery of the tools i.e. exactly what information you want to get.
  • where you can get this information from (the learners themselves, previous teachers, other stakeholders such as parents, management etc.)

Within the part two essay section (a whopping 900 words you have at your disposal here!), certain things need to be covered:

  • a brief profile of the group of learners that you are focusing on for this project. (Just so we are clear, these are the learners you do your needs analysis on!! :-p)
  • a brief description of your chosen needs analysis tools (what did you use? why those particular tools? why not any different tools?). This should include tools for identifying learner profiles/needs (e.g. questionnaires; interviews) and tools for ascertaining their language level/needs (e.g. diagnostic tests)
  • a brief outline of the results your tools generated and how this information helped you identify what you needed to know and what you are going to prioritise when you design your course (as well, of course, as why these priorities and not others)

In doing this, you need, of course, to demonstrate awareness of the theory and principles related to needs analysis. As you will be using diagnostic tests, then principles of testing/assessment come into play here: issues such as practicality, reliability and validity are as important in the needs analysis section as they are to the assessment section (part 4), so start reading up on these now!

Tips for successful completion of section 2:

  • Be concise: (Yeah, yeah – same old, same old, but worth repeating!! It doesn’t get any easier as the project progresses!) You have to cover a lot of ground in 900 words, so redraft and cut words down, think about how you can say things super-succinctly!
  • Be clear about how the principles of needs analysis have influenced the design of your tools: If you list a bunch of principles and then briefly mention your off-the-shelf placement test, you won’t be demonstrating awareness/understanding of the principles, only ability to regurgitate information…
  • Read about testing: Andrew Hughes Testing for Language Teachers is a good, clear read for getting the basics down. As mentioned above, principles of testing are very relevant. But look also at articles written specifically about needs analysis and diagnostic testing, as these will cover other related issues (See the bibliography at the end of this post for examples).
  • Read PAGE 72 of the handbook! Then read it again and make sure it went in. Why? Because it has your all-important guiding questions and advice. Worth re-reading both before you start and during and then after to check back and see if  you have done more-or-less what they require. Probably initially you won’t have! Don’t despair, it’s normal, just keep redrafting (both tools before you use them and the write up) – you’ll get there.
  • Show off: Yes, the whole terminology issue applies throughout the assignment – use the terms, reference the terms.  Just a reminder, like! (See my post about the introduction for more information about this! – Bullet point 6 under “Tips for doing this successfully”: Use and reference appropriate terminology)
  • Really think about what it is you are trying to find out with your tools: It isn’t practical to test every single thing under the sun, is it? No. So what are you going to test? Why? How will the information you gain from testing this help you design your course? The same questions go for your questionnaires/interviews – how will finding out this information help you? Whether you find and adapt a test or create one from scratch, be very clear about why you are including each question and what you hope to gain from it.
  • Look at examples and then get creative: In Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching, for example, you can find an sample needs analysis questionnaire. There are also examples in Kathleen Graves’ Designing Language Courses. Look at them, both in terms of content and layout. Imagine a student completing one and handing it back to you. How would that information help you? What information would still be missing? How could you get that missing information? When you’ve thought carefully about that, design your tools.  Remember that your answers should be influenced by what you’ve learnt, and the implications you’ve identified, through combining your secondary research with your experience in section one of the essay. When you’ve designed your tools, pilot them. (Get a colleague to complete the questionnaire/tests etc. and see if they find your questions clear!)
  • Analyse and evaluate don’t just describe: You will give your learners the questionnaire or interview them, you will give them diagnostic tests. How did you try to ensure that the results were as reliable as possible and would generate as useful information as possible? Whatever tools you use will have pros and cons – that’s ok: nothing is perfect. BUT make sure you show awareness of this. Why are your tools the best compromise in your circumstances?
  • Make clear links: How did you get from your implications in section one to your tools in section two, to the priorities you have identified from your results? One thing should lead clearly to another:
  1. You may want to refer back to the implications you laid out in section one.
  2. You may want to refer back to your results or to your appendices (where you will put an example of all the tests/questionnaires etc that you used and evidence that you have synthesised the information e.g.charts, tables etc.) when you identify priorities.
  3. This doesn’t need to take a lot of word count: putting A1 in brackets i.e. [statement e.g.”The majority wish to improve their employment situation and integrate socially – their priorities in doing this course”] (A1.vi [Appendix 1, part vi – which in this case was a chart showing reasons for learning English])  is a concise way of cross-referencing.
  • Spell it out! Use sub-headings. And I mean very specific subheadings. I know I already said this in the post about the introduction but it bears repeating. Really make it easy for the examiner to know that you have included everything that you are supposed to. You could, for sure, very cleverly weave everything in together in one body of writing, but then the examiner has to hunt out everything they are looking for. I would say, therefore, don’t bother. Keep it simple. Sub-headings all the way. It helps you keep track of what requisite information you have included and helps the examiner find it. It also makes it clearer for you to see if you have missed something. So, for example, if those are your implications for course design, label them as such. Bullet points are good too. Bullet point your implications and it becomes very clear where one implication ends and the next begins. Examiners like very clear.
  • Remember the importance of context: To an extent, a tool isn’t good or bad in itself – how effective or not it is depends on the context you are teaching in. A given test could be ideal for an exam prep class diagnostic but useless for a general English class diagnostic. A detailed test focusing on only one skill may be great if that skill is implicated as being a priority in your secondary research/implications but hopeless if your course needs a more general focus or a specific focus on a completely different skill. Equally, a questionnaire may suit one group of learners and generate really useful information in that context but produce irrelevant, unhelpful information in another. This is why you don’t just use an off-the-shelf tool without thinking it through and adapting it to meet your requirements first.
  • Don’t make things too complicated: Don’t use any tools for the sake of using them, don’t write reams about principles, that you then proceed to completely ignore in the design of your tools. Identify key principles, apply them to your tools. Demonstrate that you have done this by making it very explicit in your 900 words how you have used the principles to help you make the tools as effective as you could in your context.
  • (This may sound silly but) use colour! It doesn’t take (very) long and makes it easier on the eyes. I’m talking about headings, sub-headings, references to appendices/other essay sections. (Colour is also very useful in the course design section when you do your course map – but more on that later…) NB I don’t mean turn your piece of writing into a rainbow, but if you make all headings/sub-headings/references to appendices or other essay sections/bullet points a colour, e.g. navy blue, rather than black, they stand out better. This really hammers it home to Mr/Ms Examiner that you have, in fact, included what you are supposed to include and cross-referenced it…
  • Don’t forget to include the following: marking schemes for your diagnostic tools – these go in your appendices. Sample completed questionnaires and diagnostic tests as well as some evidence of synthesising/analysing the data. Colourful pie charts and bar graphs are handy for this. Tabulating information and your analysis of it may also be useful. (Exactly what you choose to do with it will depend on the nature of the information, your purpose in seeking it and the evidence you believe it offers.)
  • Remember your project should be comprehensible to a colleague – use this to your advantage: Get a colleague to have a look at your needs analysis section and your tools, to see if your section 2 makes sense to them. (It’s easy, when you spend so long staring at/working on a piece of work, to know *exactly* what you mean, where everything is and precisely how it connects. To an outsider, however, it may be a mystery. Of course, if it is a mystery to your colleague, it may also be somewhat mysterious to the examiner. This is generally not a good thing…! Also, if you can, write a section (and get your feedback, redraft etc etc) and then put it aside for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you may read through it and think, “huh? what on earth did I mean by that?” – in this case, you may want to make a few changes too…

Some useful sources relevant to the needs analysis section:

Davies, A. (2006) What do learners really want from their EFL course? in ELTJ Vol 60/1. Accessed: 22nd September 2012.

Cotterall, Sara.(2000) Promoting learner autonomy through the curriculum: principles for designing language courses. In ELTJ vol 54/2. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Accessed: October 11 2012.

Graves, K.(2000) Defining the Context in Designing Language Courses Newbury House Teacher Development. Heinle and Heinle.

Hughes, A. (2003) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Nunan, D. (1997) Getting Started with Learner-Centred Teaching in English Teaching Professional issue four. Pavillion. Accessed: 15, October, 2012.

Perrin, G (2009) Diagnostic Procedures in Language Learning MET vol 18 no 4. Pavillion. Accessed: 14 October 2012.

Seedhouse, P (1995) Needs Analysis and the General English Classroom  in ELTJ vol 49. Accessed: September 22, 2012.

 ***But remember***: New stuff is being written all the time; I’ve used some stuff that I haven’t listed – this is a selected list of references: This list is far from exhaustive!!! So use your search tools (see previous Module 3 posts) to find other books/articles too. Also, if you do get hold of sources from the above list, look at their reference lists (at the end of the article/book) and do the treasure hunt thing: Run your eye over the list, looking at dates and titles, think “hmm this recent and looks interesting, or this was referred to a lot in the book/article, so it might be worth a look” etc. and try to source them through your centre library. 

To see tips for the course design  section: click here.

If you think I am wrong in anything I’ve said or that I’ve missed anything useful from this section, then please comment and I will add whatever is missing to this post!