My ELT Book Challenge (Update 1)

About a week ago or so ago, I invited you all to join me in an ELT Book Challenge. Judging by the number of comments it attracted (much more than I had expected), I’m not alone in looking at my collection of ELT books and thinking “I really should open you more” …!

It’s been a bit of a juggle this week (and will continue to be for a while!), as I had already borrowed two ELT theory books from the staffroom library: Garton, S. and Graves, K. (2014) International Perspectives on Materials in ELT  published by Palgrave Macmillan, and Roberts, J. (1998) Language Teacher Education published by Arnold. I chose the former because it’s come out since I did my M.A. ELT and read All The Books about materials development, which I continue to be interested in, and the latter after being inspired by the Teacher Education Scholarship Circle. However, in order to fulfil my aim to pick up also one of my own books, I decided to continue with Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (1997) Analysing Casual Conversation published by Equinox, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages – since I dipped into it for my LSA4 speaking skills essay, in fact!

Pleasingly, my choice of books spans not only a large time range (1997 to 2014) but a nice spread of topics – materials development, teacher education and spoken language analysis. I say “pleasingly” as it feeds my hunger for variety!

In terms of materials development, so far I have read the introduction of the book, Materials in ELT: Current Issues, which, as you would expect, situates the book, and the first chapter, The ELT Textbook, which was by Jack Richards and opens Part 1 – Global and Local Materials. (This is an edited book, so each chapter is by a different author and on a different topic, making it nice and easy to dip in and out of!) Richards looks at the role of the textbook in language teaching, making reference to McGrath’s (2002) metaphors for describing teacher relationships with textbooks and exploring issues such authenticity and representation (this is something I explored in my research module, as I looked at phonological representation in that well-known course book series Cutting Edge), as well as the process of choosing a textbook, distinguishing between analysis and evaluation (including pre-, during and post-use), and, briefly, adapting it. This was quite a general chapter, and for me was a useful revision of aspects of materials use that I studied in the academic year 2012-2013. I imagine those who are doing the course now would probably find it a good starting point, as it is brief and general, and would be able to use the bibliography to go into greater depth on the various elements explored.

As for Teacher Education, I am still on part one (in my defence, it goes up to page 61!), which looks at theories of learning and teacher education and is titled thus. This is an interesting read, as it revisits the theories of learning that I looked at as part of my Delta and M.A., but relates them to teacher education. So, there is a little bit of revision but also adds something new. So, it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc. According to the contents, the author is going to conclude that a social constructivist approach is the best, but I have not yet read the conclusion (that is the point I have reached!) so I am not sure exactly what reasons he will put forward. (Though, I could probably guess at some of it, as when I was studying, I, too, became a big fan of this approach in language teaching!)

Finally, as far as Conversation Analysis goes, I’ve read chapter 1, called Making meanings in every day talk, in which the authors demonstrate that language is “used as a resource to negotiate social identity and interpersonal relations”, giving examples of conversation and showing how we can begin to guess at the type of speaker (gender, class etc.) based on the language they use. Apparently what’s special about casual conversation is that it seems trivial and yet is anything but trivial. It is carefully constructed even though that careful construction is achieved without the speakers thinking about or being aware of that construction.  Casual conversation is different from transactional or pragmatic conversation (e.g. buying something) in a variety of ways, including length (casual conversation tends to be longer), formality (casual conversation is generally more informal) and use of humour (casual conversation uses humour). In the second chapter, which I have only just started, the authors start to discuss the different approaches to analysing conversation, which are sociological, sociolinguistic, logico-philosophical, structural-functional, critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis. As I have only just started, I can’t tell you the difference between them all for now, but I assume I will have a better understanding of this by the end of the chapter.

As is usual at the beginning of a project, excitement and motivation were sufficient to allow me to not only do the theoretical reading but also use one of my more practical/methodological books. I had planned to use two, but ran out of time and cut my use of the second one, though I think it will fit nicely into next lesson.

The first book I used was part of the Delta Publishing Teacher Development series: Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. The Autonomy Approach. This is a book that I discovered at IATEFl last year, and was delighted because it reflected and extended the approach I had been using with my learners in Palermo, in terms of helping them become more autonomous. The great thing about this series of books is that they combine theory and practical ideas for implementing it. In my case, I had gathered a lot of the theory during my M.A. and set about trying to implement it once I returned to teaching. I’m quite glad I didn’t discover this book until after I had tried to do that, as it was a really interesting and rewarding process to go through, but would nevertheless recommend this book to anybody with an interest in learner autonomy and its development (which surely should be most, if not all, of us!).

I chose an activity for reviewing resources, as I have been encouraging my learners to choose different activities each week to try. This activity can be found on page 67 of the book. The heart of the activity is a set of questions that encourage reflection on the use of a set of student-chosen resources. In my case, it was student-chosen activities rather than resources, but there is some overlap, as the activity tends to specify the use of a given resource. I decided to do it as a speaking ladder activity, as I wanted it to be reasonably fast-paced and I wanted the students to talk to as many classmates as possible. Why? Well, students had chosen different activities to try, so hearing about what classmates have tried could sow seeds of interest and inspiration for future weeks. I did the activity at the start of the lesson, and it certainly lifted the energy levels in the room, ready for the rest of the lesson. There was potential for chaos, as the questions didn’t explicitly ask students to tell each other WHAT activity/resource was under discussion (the activity assumes sustained discussion with the same group of people) but students are not stupid, and indeed they quickly explained their activities to their partner before launching into the discussion of the particular question at hand. There were enough questions that they spoke to some people twice, so then there was familiarity with partner’s activity and a bit more depth was gone into via the additional question.

The second book I chose to use (but didn’t get round to using) was The company words keep, another Delta Publishing special. However, as I didn’t get on to using it, I will save it for a future post!

Have any of you started the challenge yet? Have you blogged about it? If so, either link to your blog post below, or use the comments to share your thoughts on what you have read or tried. I look forward to seeing what you have all been up to! 🙂 Not sure when my next update will be – hope to strike a balance between too often and not often enough, though!

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The teacher education circle

Yesterday I attended the Teacher Education scholarship circle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but this was how it was described in the circular email: “It is aimed at anyone interested in training and development of teachers to share some development ideas and training methods.”  I joined this circle because I am interested in the area of teacher education, and becoming a CELTA trainer is on my long-term list of things to do, so I figured that whatever shape the circle took, I would learn something. In the post linked to above, I promised a write-up, so here it is!

Earlier in the day yesterday, a few hours before the meeting, an email went round saying that  “The first theme for discussion will be ‘Teacher Training v Teacher Development’ – what’s the difference?”. 10 of us turned up. This difference was one of the topics treated in the IH tutor training course I did that started around this time last year. I spent the bike ride into work pondering the difference, initially feeling it as one of those things where you know it is different but pinning it down is more difficult. On my bike ride I came up with:

  • training is finite, development is infinite.
  • training is done to you, you do development.
  • training is a short burst of something with a very specific goal, development is more of a journey.

10 of us turned up at the circle and we split into two groups of 5 to discuss the difference, followed by “half-assed dribble feedback” (or was it “drivel”? One of the teachers, who is a teacher trainer, was saying that he dislikes the whole putting people i.e. students or trainees, into groups to see what they come up with and then doing some “half-assed dribble/drivel feedback” where nothing is really added. Though we all seemed to agree that as part of a test-teach-test kind of approach/task-based approach, it can work really well, provided the teacher/trainer does add value in subsequent stages. Certainly, in our case, for example, a more senior member of the group did provide some of the definitions from the literature in the follow-up discussion.)

Here are some of the distinctions that were discussed:

  • training has a structure imposed by a course/syllabus (so something external), development is structured by the individual (but has the danger of lacking any structure and becoming unwieldy)
  • the motivation for training tends to be extrinsic (a qualification, a work requirement, a better salary) while the motivation for development tends to be intrinsic (to learn!)
  • that there can be overlap: a workshop could be training for the receivers and developmental for the deliverer.
  • being trained feels different to being developed.

This last one I found interesting. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about development as being something that somebody else does to you (as evidenced by my bike ride thoughts). Perhaps it’s just semantics though, as of course the concept of being helped to develop is something with which I am fortunate enough to be very familiar!

Something else that came up in discussion, particularly in reference to “scholarship time” (hours that are timetabled and paid, specifically for development): the difficulty of knowing what to do with that time. It is only for full-time members of staff, so this is not something I have to had to grapple with personally (yet! I live in hope!), but it was very interesting to hear from people who do. It was put forward that it can be daunting to face this time and know what to do with it, in terms of “I want to develop but I’m not sure what to do or where to start”. It was recognised that not everybody wants to aim towards management (i.e. follow that linear route)  – which is certainly the case for me, no thanks! – but that in terms of salary, if you don’t go up that ladder, then you cannot earn more, because of how the pay structure works. Somebody mentioned that the question that is uppermost in their minds when doing something is “why am I doing this?” and described for example the situation of needing to do a particular qualification in order to stay in a job. The idea of a mentoring system was also suggested, where more experienced teachers would be available to help less experienced teachers approach their development.

There are several things that interested me within the discussion described in the above paragraph.

  • When I heard about “scholarship time”, my immediate reaction was, “Wow! That’s so cool! Having actual timetabled time for development stuff AND being paid for it!” And, as I mentioned here, I found the whole concept very teacher empowering. It didn’t occur to me to wonder what I would do with that time if I were a full-time member of staff. (I just thought that I’d have more time for all the development things I am used to doing in my own time!) Now, I wonder if all those things would count/be acceptable use of the time. Or, if some would and some wouldn’t, which would/wouldn’t and why? So, for example, my current materials writing work with Macmillan, where I am editing my ELTon materials to make them suitable for publication on Onestopenglish; now finished but I’ve put in a lot of hours of my own time into my journal article and book chapter, both of which are due out soon-ish (the journal article I believe early next year and the book chapter when the publication process is completed!); participating in #eltchat and #eltchinwag (which are like scholarship circles in themselves, only with a regularly changing focus!); blogging (both this blog and the one I co-manage with Sandy, Independent English); writing my column for the IH journal (not anymore, of course, as I no longer work at IH!); the corpus linguistics MOOC run by Lancaster University (which I am currently studying on); reading ELT-related literature; reflecting on, and making materials for, my learner autonomy projects (I would have been thrilled to have some time allocated to that when I was at IH!); certificate training courses like the IH certificate in teaching YL and the IH Tutor Training certificate that I did while at IHPA. (Having time timetabled for those, rather than it filling up the majority of my free time for the duration, would have been amazing too!); preparing IATEFL talks/online conference talks or webinars; watching webinars and talks online… and so on.
  • As is clear from the above point, being unsure what to do next hasn’t really been a problem for me! However, looking back over my career thus far, I can see that I HAVE had mentors even though I have never participated in a mentoring scheme. My CELTA tutors Beth and Cilla: I stayed in touch with them after the end of my CELTA, and emailing them telling them about my teaching was a rudimentary form of reflection that would later become more developed in other ways (e.g. Delta, M.A., blogging), in that I would think about what I did and tell them, from time to time. And they would respond, which I would learn more from. My M.A. tutors Heather, Naeema and Ivor: while doing my Delta/M.A. ELT, I learnt *how* to develop. Obviously from the Delta it came through the PDA (Personal Development Assignment) and the EP (Experimental Practice) parts of Module 2. From the M.A., though, I learnt how to do research, how to write up research, how to present research, how to write materials, how to write a journal article. And these are all things I’ve since used and will continue to use. (They are also things that I think would be really invaluable as INSETT sessions, as well as the usual “how to teach pronunciation” and “how to use technology x” type sessions.) Of course all these tutors as much as anything have been a source of encouragement and support, which has been invaluable. However, colleagues can be an equally valuable resource in helping one to develop. Sandy Millin springs to mind here. I met her through Twitter and have learnt a huge amount from her. Seeing her develop has also provided inspiration for my own development. Currently we also collaborate over at Independent English, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, I suppose I have been very opportunistic – seen opportunities to use the skills I mentioned above and gone for it. With the “there’s nothing to lose” mindset. I wonder if perhaps people are put off trying things because they think they aren’t/won’t be good enough? I think the learning and development comes through the trying, regardless of the outcome.
  • “Why am I doing this?” Well, I don’t want to be a manager (that may change but for now that is my feeling!), the teaching salary offered at the ELTC is plenty good enough for me (of course as a non-full-time teacher, the downside is lack of hours but hopefully they will grow in number!). I suppose partly it’s to make myself more employable (who doesn’t want some job security!) but a large part of it is also joy of learning and trying new things, cheesy as it sounds. I do really enjoy learning – reading, discussing, attending events like conferences, and challenging myself. It is also joy of creativity. Writing (materials or articles or blog posts) is an outlet for creativity for me, as is taking what I learn and finding ways to use it in the classroom then seeing what happens and building on that, all of which I love. As for attending and speaking at conferences: as well as all the learning, it’s so much fun! And all of this just also happens to be developmental too – bonus! Be this all as it may, what struck me is that I hadn’t really questioned this before the teacher raised the “Why” question. I had just accepted it as an enjoyable interesting part of my teaching career. (Have you asked “why” before? What answers did you find?)

Next session (in a month’s time I think it was) we are going to look at different models of development, which sounds like it should be very interesting. Meanwhile, flitting through my mind is the question “Was I/am I being developed or Was I/am I developing?” and also the question “How can I help other teachers in their developmental journey?”, rather than taking it for granted that it’s as straightforward for everyone else as it has been for me. (Mind you, I do think I have been extraordinarily lucky every step of my career so far!) I suppose this blog has been one way of helping, for example all the Delta posts I have written – I wonder if I could do anything else with it in the vein of helping people develop. Mind you, Sandy’s IH column would be a great place for anyone wanting development ideas, so maybe I could signpost my colleagues towards that, for starters. (And any of you out there looking for ideas, I suggest you have a look too!) I have actually thought of another possible way, but can’t go into that here and now. If the channel I am pursuing for it doesn’t work, then perhaps it will become a blog project too though! 🙂

In conclusion, what a fascinating 45 minutes the circle was! (Although of course if you add on the bike ride and the length of time I’ve spent reflecting on what we spoke about since, 45 minutes is just the beginning…) Which also brings to mind my belief that a huge part of teacher development is motivation, and maintaining motivation. (Oh dear, don’t get me started on talking about motivation or this post will never end..!) Suffice to say, yesterday has certainly been a good injection of motivation for me.  I’m looking forward to the next session and wondering what I will achieve in the mean time. For now, though, editing ELTons materials beckons…

Scholarship Circles

In this post, I’m going to write about something that I had no knowledge of until I started working at Sheffield University this year: Scholarship Circles (SC). “Er, what is an SC?” I hear you say. (Well, at any rate, that was my first question when met with the term for the first time!) Don’t worry, just read on and all will become clear!

What?

This is a form of teacher development.

Up till now, for me, CPD has mostly meant either something I do myself, in my own time – for example, seeking out opportunities to be published (materials writing, article writing etc), blogging, reading ELT-related literature, using Twitter and so on – or attending (and occasionally delivering) workshops at work. Of course it has also entailed being observed and being given feedback on that. IHPA had a good CPD programme, with regular workshops for teachers and encouragement to do things like write for the IH Journal and present at the IH teachers online conference. I was also lucky enough to be given leave in order to speak at IATEFL in the UK two years running.

Scholarship circles, however, rather than being either individually motivated projects or management-organised top-down fare, are teacher-led and collaborative. They can take many different forms, depending on teachers’ interests. It is not necessary for everybody to participate in the same circle at the same time (which is good because obviously that would be nigh on impossible with all the different timetables in place!). For example, you could have a reading circle, where members take turns to choose an article for the group to read, which is subsequently discussed by members together at an agreed time/location.

How?

At Sheffield University, full-time teachers have three hours timetabled as “scholarship time” i.e. time allocated for CPD. That is to say, not in addition to the full timetable, but timetabled teaching hours were reduced by three hours to allow for this. It should add up to 90 hours over the academic year, so some weeks you may do more than three hours, others less. That’s fine, as long as it is recorded and you can show that you have fulfilled the obligation over the course of the year, as it is paid working time. As I said, teachers have to keep a record of how they use this time (a log is provided for this), so that they can demonstrate to have used it fruitfully. This includes things such as attending the (optional) workshops that are scheduled on a regular basis, delivering such a workshop, participating in scholarship circles and also individual endeavours such as working on a part-time PhD/Masters or doing a MOOC course. (I’m an hourly paid teacher currently, so I am not paid for “scholarship time”, BUT I may participate in as much of the CPD opportunities available as I care to, which is great!)

As far as Scholarship Circles go, anybody can set one up, on any area of interest. I have already mentioned the reading circle, which was set up jointly by two ELTC teachers, one of whom selected the article for the first meeting. Google docs is used as a way of organising the circles, so there is a document with a table containing each circle, its coordinator and meeting time. It can be edited by all teachers, so anybody can sign up for any circle or, indeed add a circle which others can sign up to. I have also signed up for a teacher education scholarship circle, which is for anybody who is interested in training teachers. The first meeting is tomorrow, so I can’t tell you anything about that yet! I am most excited about it, however.

Thoughts

What I like about scholarship circles is that they are teacher-led rather than being management-led like traditional CPD. It is up to teachers to decide what and when, according to their interests and availability. Obviously the reduction in teaching hours makes this kind of development a much more realistic prospect, both in terms of timetabling and motivation. The CPD programme as a whole seems to empower teachers, as it is up to teachers how they use their “scholarship time”, something that really appeals to me. It also recognises that everybody is at different places in their development and has different needs/interests, and enables these to be pursued rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

I really enjoyed the first meeting of the reading circle and volunteered to pick the article for the next session. Sessions are fortnightly to give time for article picking, sharing and reading. You can learn so much from the people you work with, just  by having time to do something like this – be it reading and discussing an article or any of the other circle focuses.

Over to you!

Have you ever participated in or organised a scholarship circle before? (Even if it didn’t go by that name!) If so, what did it entail? If you haven’t, do you think it would work in your workplace? Why?/Why not?

Really look forward to hearing about your experiences/thoughts on this. In exchange, I promise I’ll write about the first meeting of the teacher education circle! 🙂

Circles! (Taken from commons.wikimedia.org)

Circles! (Taken from commons.wikimedia.org)

Write-up of Andrew Walkley’s BELTA webinar: Language-focused teacher development

This afternoon, I have had the pleasure of attending a fantastic webinar presented by Andrew Walkley, one half of the popular Dellar-Walkley duo whose project Lexical Lab you might be aware of. 

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

Andrew delivering an awesome webinar!

The focus of the webinar was Language-focused teacher development, looking at the way we deal with vocabulary in class and what we need to be doing outside class in order for this to become more effective. I took notes as we went along, so here they are, slightly edited to make them more comprehensible…

  • First we were asked to put groups of four words into order of their frequency.
  • Then we were asked to make examples for a set of seven words and a structure (the past continuous).

Andrew went on to explain that within the CLT era, we have seen some particular types of approaches emerge, that are language rich and responsive – TBL, Lexical Approach, Dogme, Demand High…

  • In TBL, if there is breakdown in communication, this is where learning is supposed to happen, the teacher facilitating this learning.
  • In Dogme, maybe some further practice together will be done too.
  • With Demand High teaching (which concept he said sparked this talk), there was a complaint that a lot of teaching taking place where you move from task to task but without much actual teaching happening. The teacher needed to be stronger in saying ‘no, this is wrong’ or pushing individual students and teaching them in the moments where they are struggling. A lot of Scrivener’s solutions were technical, technique-type things, e.g. the teacher pretends not to understand what the student is saying, thereby forcing them to explain why what they were were saying was right.

That’s ok to a point, but Andrew felt that it wasn’t the real reason why the teaching wasn’t happening.  He has been interested in the Lexical Approach since its publication 20 years ago now, he has also been aware of the expectations of thinking about language and dealing with language that are advocated in LA are high. He recognises that it is difficult.

Andrew then introduced us to a book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It deals with the difficulty for experts in employing their expertise. This is because of the need for fast, in the moment, spontaneous thinking, where rather than think clearly about certain aspects of thinking, we replace a kind of logical thought with heuristics i.e. a generalised idea of something.

This brought us back to the task we did at the start.

Andrew showed us the answers to the frequency question:

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Screenshot of the answers to the frequency quiz

Then he asked whether the corpus frequency answer (biased towards written) is reflective of the bias in native speaker natural use? His feeling is that often we overestimate certain frequencies of words and underestimate others. In the spoken corpus, arise and beard come at a similar level. Many students are interested in academic and professional lives in English, where they may not be using the language all the time in the workplace or study in Britain etc, but the resources they use may be in English, so a word like ‘arise’ would have a higher frequency and value.

As for the activity of making examples: our tendency is to produce examples like the ones we produced, but sometimes these aren’t actually the most common uses or even the way we use the language. Of this type of example, they may be one in a thousand in the corpus. E.g. She is a Christian. So… how is Christian really used? Andrew confessed that he might struggle with some of these words, in terms of making examples. E.g. whereby, arise, in terms of. Some of these are more difficult to think of examples from. They don’t fit into that simple x is y pattern. They require more complex sentences:

Screenshot from the webinar

Screenshot of Andrew’s examples from the webinar

It’s difficult to think of these kind of examples on the spot, Andrew explained, the Daniel Kahneman book offering some very clear reasons as to why. This is to do with biases that overtake logical thought. Our tendency would be to put words like blonde, banana etc. higher up because we know we can think of examples for these more easily than arise or whereby. If we think about the number of different contexts that we use banana or arise, then it becomes clear that arise would occur in academic texts, meetings, and several more possible contexts than the word banana or beard. Similarly serious vs. fun, there are a wider number of things that can be serious than there are fun things. As I understood it, this is availability bias, one of three factors that affect our choice:

  • availability bias
  • representational bias
  • priming

Apparently words also have a representational bias, e.g. x is y, x does y, doctor has a white coat etc. So the examples and explanations that come to mind are often of that nature.

Finally, priming: In English language teaching, this is quite strong. E.g. I was having a bath when the phone rang.

  • Because of what we’ve learnt before and what we’ve seen in coursebooks before, we think of certain examples and contexts, and we don’t see the wider context we could use.
  • Sometimes when we are trying to hear what students are saying, and trying to correct them, often what we are primed to notice is basic grammar, typical grammar that we have taught before. So, we will commonly notice the present perfect used incorrectly or missed third person ‘s’ and these we look to correct.

Andrew explained that this is problematic in terms of these responsive methodologies. There is too big a cognitive load for any teacher trying to use these methods.

When you are in class, e.g. with TBL you are catering for individuals and have to do many things, which he went on to describe:

  • You have to hear the student first, which is already difficult possibility due to layout and noise levels.
  • You have to understand what they want to say/write, recognise the error/gap in their language, and give the ‘correct’ example (” because sometimes what we want to be doing is extend ss knowledge, e.g. where they use a particular word where another less frequent use works better)
  • You then have to explain or check why one is correct and the other isn’t, if we are talking in terms of TBL and Dogme, then extra examples of new language are necessary, and for Dogme also further ‘spontaneous’ practice.
  • Finally you need to remember it in order to revise and recycle it at a later date.

That’s a lot to expect. And multiplied by all individual students with individual needs. So, instead, Andrew said, we fall back on examples given before, or focus on relatively infrequent words and give simplified examples which don’t necessarily reflect enough of how those words are used. Yet if you are a believer in a more lexical approach to teaching, one of the most important things is giving good examples of how language is used.

So, this is the big issue with these methodologies. Ironically, often, somebody who doesn’t like coursebooks will give examples that have been seen in one before! Coursebook writers are similarly primed. You come up with examples which afterwards you think ‘what was I thinking? Nobody would ever say that!‘. If you believe that exemplifying natural use is important than you need to also think outside the class. Inside the class it is too difficult due to cognitive load. It may also be that to become a better non-course book user, we need to become better coursebook users and writers!

The more we focus on different words and how we might exemplify them and ask questions about them, and think about spontaneous practices for them, the more we will get better at doing it spontaneously. Kahen (of the above-mentioned book) suggests the example of chess players who basically learn lots and lots and lots of moves. It takes all those hours of practice in order to become spontaneous in the context of a chess match. We may not have so much time to prepare in our lives but it’s an ongoing process so if we work at it incrementally, we’ll get better at it.

In terms of training and development, however, most focus is grammatical, rather than lexis. Grammar rules into which we slot the words. Andrew doesn’t particularly agree with this. At this stage in the talk, he outlined some potential issues for teacher development:

  • In terms of the planning, on training courses and post-qualification, planning focuses on activities: thinking of activities to help practice bits of grammar or vocabulary in the course book. Whereas we should think a lot more about the lexis and the questions we are going to ask about it etc. in the planning.
  • Judgement of lessons in observations shouldn’t based on fulfilling aims as it goes agains the idea of being responsive to students. So we need to think about how we think about language AND expectations of what a good lesson is.
  • Teacher development tends to focus on learning new techniques. E.g. Demand High. Frustrating because it is more techniques, other ways of doing somehting. Wehreas I feel we need to focus more on actual language.

Andrew put forward some alternatives:

Frequency training

  • Macmillan dictionary: game to decide if it is three star, two star or one star words. (Different frequencies) Once you realise that something is frequent, thinking about why it’s frequent and as a consequence thinking about the kind of examples you might give to reflect that frequency.
  • The compleat lexical tutor: I missed this explanation!
  • Phrasal English.org: Uses the BNC. Put in a word or two, request exact word or same lemma. E.g. inc plural, past participle form included. Gives a rough count and a concordance. (Like wordandphrase.info, I think?)  May be skewed by names. E.g. Christian. But still gives an idea. You might just take this as a staffroom thing, e.g. reading something or taking a collocation. Have competitions who thinks something is more common than something else. E.g. ambitious plan vs ambitious scheme. Then find out. To help us think about frequencies.

Exploiting vocabulary exercises

Essentially a lot of vocabulary activities focus on single words. Increasingly, now, you also get collocation exercises, matching two words to make a collocation. You might even have whole sentence exercises e.g. gap fills, little dialogues matching question and response. We need to think about slightly different ways of using these.

  • In a single word exercise, we should think about what collocations to elicit from students about these words and questions to ask about the vocabulary. Not just meaning focused but usage focused.
  • With collocation exercises, now we need to think beyond the collocation and think about the collocates of the collocations e.g. example sentences and dialogues, or a story to tell?
  • And then if you think about the whole sentence exercises, ask questions to get students reuse grammar and chunks, and other vocabulary that isn’t the focus but can be exploited.

Take for e.g. a ‘Which is the odd one out?’ exercise

The temptation is to say the non-odd words out are the same. But are they? And what do the students get apart from adding re-? Instead think about how we can use these words more. What collocations can go with these words?

  • Is what we reconstruct the same as what we rebuild?
  • Is what we reconsider the same as what we reexamine?
  • E.g. we can rebuild a relationship but we don’t reconstruct or remake it. We reexamine the evidence but we don’t rethink the evidence. We might rewrite an essay but not reword it. We might reword something shorter like an answer. We remake a film but we don’t rebuild it.

These are the kinds of things we want to be able to tell our students. We need precise examples. Going back to supermarkets, we might overestimate its frequency, quite often we don’t say I’m going to the supermarket, we say I’m going to Tescos or Carrefour. Perhaps these are better examples for our students in some ways.

Take for e.g. a collocations exercise

We need to think about:

  • What works with these collocations e.g. swimming pool and swimming trunks. Fishing rod and fishing gear. After you have matched them up, possibly with a picture thrown in, what next? Need to know how to use them!
  • A second question you might ask is who would you say it to, when would you say it, why would you say it? Think of how they might work in a dialogue. Sometimes the compound gets split up. E.g. see you on the track in half an hour. (Running track) Or swimming pool. Let’s go swimming. Ok see you at the pool in 15 mins.

Andrew suggests that we need to spend more time thinking about this aspect of language rather than on activities, in our planning.

  • Think about the kind of questions we ask about vocabulary. Can we generate language around target words? E.g. What might you ask if someone is carrying a lot of gear? Can I help you? Oooh where are you off to?
The questions we could ask

Screenshot of the questions Andrew says we could ask

  • Thinking about these kind of questions on the spot is quite difficult, you need to think about them beforehand to be able to ask them on the spot.

More complex sentence examples show more of how language works, so students see more examples of grammar in use.

  • Rather than x is y. (She is a Christian vs As a Christian, I think we should look for non-violent solutions = As a x, I think we should y.
  • Who was the guy with the beard? I haven’t seen him before = who was the guy with…the blonde hair, sitting next to you… etc. I haven’t seen him before.
  • Through vocabulary, we can ask simple quick questions to review grammar. E.g. When the paramedics arrived, his heart had stopped beating but they got it going again and then rushed to the hospital. –> Draw attention to the past perfect, when you get something going again, why/where else do we rush to?
Things to think about

Screenshot of the questions that Andrew suggests we ask

There are lots of these kinds of patterns we could draw attention to, that are useful and interesting little patterns that students could use but don’t make it into coursebooks. You have to have thought about the example before, but once you have thought about it in planning before, in the context of a text or language focus etc. it makes it available to use spontaneously in response to students in the future.

Andrew then told us about one aspect of his and Hugh Dellar’s Lexical lab:  you can send in a completed exercise and Andrew/Hugh will suggest questions/chunks relating to it and invite suggestions from others too.

Other tips from Andrew:

  • Think about what the students might want to say in the speaking exercises you plan to set up. It may mean either doing the task yourself, or with a teacher partner, and seeing what comes up.
  • Get teachers to record their answers. Notice the language that is repeated or could be useful for the students to do the task. Often there is a disconnect between grammar practice and single word practice and the task we set which requires a more complex use of language and may include a variety of things we haven’t thought about.

Ongoing questions to ask to promote teacher development:

Questions to help us develop!

Questions that Andrew recommends asking to promote development!

The first two questions require genuine interaction in the classroom, where rich language can be found. The third is important as what is new? A new combination? New phrases around known words? Because often the grammar or word is known, but the language around it isn’t. The fourth encourages you to reflect on the questions you ask and improve them for next time. The last question is based on the idea that we do get better at dealing with language if we write material. Ideally do it with someone else, get someone else to look at it. This encourages you to be critical and think about language in use and how students might want to use it.

Being able to answer language questions and being able to ask questions about language in this way is not a natural thing but a little bit like relearning the language and a process that needs to be ongoing along with your students. You need to practice it.

Language-focused TD is like language learning: it never stops! 

Thinking about the wider context of language use. We need to think beyond the obvious. Maybe students won’t use the banana example because they go to the shops themselves and don’t have anyone to ask to buy bananas for them! Whereas the words we thought less common might have more possible contexts of use and so be more common than we thought.

In response to concerns that this approach may become too teacher-centred, Andrew responded: talking about language and giving examples is student centred, as it is what the students want to say and need to hear in order to be able to say them better. Teacher talk: needs to be for the students’ benefit. It is also important to use generative, slightly open questions. Students might make jokes in response to them. E.g. Why would you want to reconstruct someone’s face? Because they are plug-ugly vs. after an accident.

I found this webinar absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of my last observation where I think basically my DoS was recommending that I do this. I.e. that I plan my vocabulary focus more, because of it being difficult to respond effectively on the hoof, and I think the intention was in this vein. Having watched this webinar, I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about that than I did previously. Am looking forward to implementing this and gradually developing in this area. 

It was my first time to see Andrew speak and I have to admit to now very much looking forward to hopefully attending his talk at IATEFL! 

Thank you very much, Andrew, for a really valuable hour and a bit! And thank you, BELTA, for hosting him!

Keeping teachers motivated

A few weeks ago, at IH Palermo, we had a workshop on Demand High Teaching. We looked at various techniques for ‘getting closer to the learning’ in the classroom and were then sent off to experiment in our classes, with the promise that there would be a subsequent ‘reporting back’ session. This happened today, as part of a rather informal workshop in which we discussed what we had learnt/taken away from/experimented with from recent ‘buzz observations’ (short i.e. 10-15 minute pop-in peer observations) and reflected on our experimentation with Demand High. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to a ‘swap shop’ where many of us shared activities we have done in the classroom recently.

To me, this is rather an effective way of motivating teachers. By telling us that there would be a future session in which we’d talk about what we had done with the techniques learnt about in the Demand High session and what we’d taken away from the buzz observations, there was immediately more chance that we would make more of an effort to do something in the meantime! This mirrors what I strongly advocate doing with learners, in terms of fostering learner autonomy: bringing it back to into the classroom. I think it’s equally important and effective where teachers are concerned, because like our students we are busy people. And sometimes, CPD might get put on the back-burner as a result. Yet, effective CPD is done little and often, is an on-going process of growth.

The workshop was interesting: as well as sharing ideas and experiences, we discussed the pros and cons of buzz observations and full lesson observations, from the peer observation perspective. I found this particularly interesting as I am doing the IH Tutor Training certificate course at the moment, and one of the recent modules looked at organising observations. Turns out there are more types of observation than I was aware of! Anyway, I hadn’t come across buzz observations before we did them here this term, but we all agreed that they are a Good Thing. Why? You get to see ‘snapshots’ of other teachers’ lessons and gather ideas for use in your own. It may not necessarily be things that are new to you, but it may remind you of things that you haven’t done for a while. (Over time all build up a range of techniques and activities that we use, but the more time you teach for, the more you build up, the more you can forget! And, of course, we generally tend to stay in our comfort zones!) You also get to see a range of teaching styles and a range of levels in a short space of time, so it is very time effective. Of course, full length observations have different benefits: you get to see the shape of the lesson, where an activity fits into the great scheme of things, how learning is built on in the course of the lesson etc.

From the point of view of being observed, we agreed that it is less stressful not to have the same person sitting in for the whole lesson, but yet, having people pop in and out does make you ‘up your game’ – naturally! I have to admit, I found it particularly gratifying today when one of the teachers who observed me mentioned how clear my instructions were! Instructions (which in my recent YL observation we renamed ‘demonstrations’ to help me…) have always been my nemesis. I suppose this teacher caught me on a good day! (Or, a good activity, rather! Inconsistency is where I’m hovering with instructions currently…) Perhaps this ‘gratification’ is another positive aspect of this type of workshop where we feedback on what we have learnt from one another: it reinforces that we all have something to offer and that we can all (and should!) learn plenty from one another. And it helps us all feel valued, which is important, even if it may seem like a small thing.

In conclusion, workshops don’t have to be complicated and full of bells and whistles in order to be very effective. (I must remember this, as I am on the module for planning input sessions now…!) It is also A Very Good Thing when a couple of kettles, some mugs and a good supply of teabags are involved! 🙂

I leave you with a link to my most recent British Council post, which discusses CPD at IH Palermo and how it works here, as well as the effect of this on teacher motivation. Enjoy! And if your school isn’t doing any of the things I’ve discussed in this post and my BC post, why not suggest that they do? Evolution is healthy! I also leave you with a request: let me know (comment on this post!) what kind of CPD you’ve been up to recently – through your place of work or independently – I would love to hear.

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CPD and cups of tea/coffee combine very well! Image taken from google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

 

 

 

 

Top ten resources for teachers (part 2!)

“The internet is a great place for English language teachers, if you know to where to look!” …thus began part 1  – a post that was written to bring a group of internet-based gems together, to make it easier for all English language teachers to find and benefit from them. It has turned out to be a popular idea, even gaining a nomination for the  Teaching English British Council blog of the month award, BUT it also ruffled a few feathers: In making the list, I left off some brilliant resources!

So here is part 2 – another top ten resources for teachers to try out… This time, including the websites/resources that YOU wanted to see included! (Plus some more of my own…)

1. ELTpics

 

Screenshot of ELTpics home page

Screenshot of ELTpics home page

 

This collaborative project has made it possible for teachers to easily source creative commons – licensed photos for use in their classrooms. The above website has links to explanations about creative commons licensing, as well as how to download and accredit images. The images themselves are stored on flickr:

Screenshot of ELTpics Flickr site

Screenshot of the ELTpics photo-stream home

If you click on “albums”, then you can see, at a glance, all the different categories that are in use on ELTpics e.g. predictions, phrasal verbs, adjectives…  The project leaders set a new category on a regular basis, inviting everybody to send them pictures to upload into that category. You can also submit photos to be included in older categories. It is important that the photos you upload are your own and that if there are people in the photos (e.g. a picture of students doing an activity), that you have their permission to share those photos too.

2. Take a photo and…

Screenshot of Take a photo and...

Screenshot of Take a photo and…

Linked with the ELTpics initiative above, this blog contains ideas for how you can use photos – taken from the ELTpics stream or otherwise – in your classroom to great effect. Worth a look if you are after some inspiration!

3. (a) Teachit ELT

Screenshot of Teachit ELT

Screenshot of Teachit ELT

This is a website I hadn’t come across before – to the surprise of one of the readers of the original post. Free members have access to the above-pictured resources (nicely indexed in various ways – by level, skill, specialism etc) but can only download  .pdf files. If you want access, for example, to an audio track, you’d have to upgrade your membership. It looks as though you can get plenty of mileage out of .pdf access only, though, so worth a look.

Because you have to pay to enjoy the full benefits of this site, I will offer an alternative no. 3:

3. (b) Breaking News English

Screenshot of Breaking News English

Screenshot of Breaking News English

A 2014 ELTon nominee, this site offers freely available lesson plans and activities based on simplified news articles written by the site owner. Resources are divided up by level and as well as providing written text, there are also recordings of the articles being read aloud. These can be accessed at different speeds. There is also a dictation facility, which you can use with learners, allowing them to listen and type what they hear into a box (containing clues in the form of the dictation text written in asterisks, one for each letter of a word with space between words), and find out if thy are right or wrong.

4. Wordandphrase.info

A screenshot of wordandphrase.info

A screenshot of wordandphrase.info

Time for one of my own favourites! This wonderful site allows you to find out about words and chunks of language, through corpus data analysis. You can input a chunk of text and see which words fall into the top 500, the top 3000 and which words are outside of the top 3000, according to frequency of use. You get definitions, synonyms, common collocates divided up by word type. You can also see which register(s) words/chunks are used in and see examples of use, either filtered by register or all registers mixed together. As teachers, we are often faced by student questions regarding usage or student work containing language that doesn’t seem quite right to us, though there is no grammatical reason why it couldn’t be. Wordandphrase.info is great for answering all these queries. Going a step further, it’s a great resource to get students using themselves, as a tool to help them answer their own language-related queries. If you want to know more, or want help using the site, I’ve written a series of posts about the site, including self-access materials to guide students (or teachers!) through use of it.

5. Science Direct

Screenshot of Science Direct

Screenshot of Science Direct

This is another one of my favourites. I hear you wondering, though, if I’ve got the name wrong – what’s science got to do with ELT? Well in fact, this is a site that allows you to search for articles from (as you can see) a range of disciplines. There are no small number related to different facets of ELT too. E.g. this search I did relates to learner autonomy and metacognition. You can search by journal title, author name etc. or browse by broader categories. One good thing about this site is that if you access a particular article, it will then offer you links to another set of articles based on the subject matter of the initial one you looked at. Of course there are the usual quantity of articles that are not freely available BUT, equally, there are plenty that are, and you can download these as .pdf files. So this is a handy way to access ELT-related literature.

6. Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

This great site contains a mixture of classroom materials and other resources e.g. articles and reviews related to pronunciation and listening skills. The site owners, Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald, are successful published authors and materials writers, so the materials are of high quality and the blog content worth reading. Pronunciation and listening are often referred to as the Cinderella skills, those that get neglected, and that are difficult to teach. Well, this site provides the inspiration necessary to get to Cinderella to that ball!

7. Recipes for the EFL classroom

Screenshot of EFLrecipes.wordpress.com

Screenshot of Recipes for the EFL classroom

This handy little blog fills a niche: It doesn’t offer lesson plans or glossy materials, but what it does do (and well, if the stats I’ve heard about are anything to go by!) is offer a mixture of activities, techniques and ideas that you can very easily use in the classroom. Taking the metaphor of a lesson as a meal, this blog divides aspects of teaching up by course and provides “recipes” for doing things differently and perhaps that little bit better. As an added bonus, you get some actual food and drink-related recipes too! Well worth a visit and bookmark.

9. TEFL.net

Screenshot of TEFL.net

Screenshot of TEFL.net

This site has been around for donkeys years. As well as lesson plans and resources, it hosts some discussion forums, a plethora of articles on ELT-related topics, a site of the month award offered on a – you guessed it! – monthly basis to recognise quality ELT websites, and more. You can also sign up for a weekly email that will bring teaching tips right to your doorstep – or inbox – regularly.

10. Film English

Screenshot of Film English

Screenshot of Film English

This website is an ELTon award winner for Innovation in Teacher Resources, and rightfully so: It contains a wealth of lesson plans based on short films. As well as using these to teach language, the lesson plans deal with “cine literacy” and encourage critical thinking skills development, important in this day and age. All resources are freely available, with the option of offering a donation to support the site and maintain its current “ad-free” format.

Afterword

That brings me to the end of another Top 10! I hope you enjoyed it and will find it useful. To the person who recommended EFL Smart Blog , it seemed a good site (if an interesting colour scheme) but more directed at students than teachers. For my top ten resources for teachers list, there has to be a significant element of the site that is geared towards helping teachers in some way. As you can see by the range of sites listed, there is no fixed format for this help to take, the only stipulation is that utility for teachers, not only students. 

Keep the recommendations coming – there’s always the chance of a part 3!

What’s in a name?

What *is* in a name?

This blog post was inspired by a recent email exchange with somebody who wrote to me asking for information about the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta. However, the “biggest concern” that this person had, and the main question they wanted me to answer, was with regards to the university’s reputation and the impact of this on post-qualification job-hunting.

It’s a fair question.

In fact, before I went to Leeds Met, I also had the same question. Although, my concern was more immediate – about the quality of the course rather than what would happen beyond it.  I suppose big names are reassuring: If you go to a school with a big name, you embark on your mission with confidence in what will happen – it will be as high a quality as befits such a name. Small names are perhaps more of a gamble. I had never heard of Leeds Met until I found the course leaflet in my conference pack when I went to Glasgow in 2012.

Why did I make that gamble?

I investigated the course website very thoroughly, looking at the staff profiles relevant to my course, and was reassured by the extensive experience the tutors could lay claim to, teaching (both in years and variety) and academic (presentations. publications etc). Additionally, of course, not any centre can run a Delta course – they have to meet all sorts of criteria and be externally assessed periodically to ensure that they are meeting those criteria. The tutors have to be suitably qualified and experienced as well – naturally.  I was planning to take the Delta/M.A. route, where the Delta is integrated into an M.A. in ELT. So in the end, I thought that at the very least I would (hopefully!) come out of the course with my Delta, which is universally recognised, and if the M.A. wasn’t much good, so be it – I’d make of it what I could.

Outcome

In the end the gamble I made paid off in spades: I learnt a huge amount and have been trying to put it all to use, and build on it, ever since; in various ways. The course was practical as well as rooted in theory, my tutors were so supportive of all my efforts and I’ve also had a wealth of opportunities since, that have emerged as a result of doing the course and putting that learning to use. Most recently, of course, I’ve won an ELTon for the materials I produced as my dissertation project.

Question

To those in the position of hiring people in the ELT profession, do you look at C.V.s and make a decision to short-list or not short-list a person for an interview based on the name(s) attached to their qualification(s)? How much does it influence you and why?

To all those who have done M.A.s in an ELT-related field, or any other ELT-related qualifications, what influenced your choice of institution?

 

Question time! (image taken from pixabay.org via google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification)

Question time! (image taken from pixabay.org via google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification)