Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (2.1)

It’s a brand new term (well, sort, of it’s actually the third week of it now!), the second of our four terms here at the college, and today (Monday 21st January, though I won’t be able to publish this post on the same day!) we managed our first scholarship circle session of the term.

For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 / session 2 / session 3 and 4 / session 5-8 / session 9 of this particular circle.)

The biggest challenge we faced was remembering where we had got to in the final session BC (Before Christmas!). What were our research questions that we had decided on again? Do we still like them? What was the next step we were supposed to take this term?

Who?

We talked again about which students we wanted to participate – did we want IFY (Foundation) or PMP (Pre-Masters)? We considered the fact that it’s not only linguistic ability which influences response to feedback (our focus) – things like age, study pathway, past learning experiences and educational culture in country of origin will all play their part. Eventually, we decided to focus on IFY students with PMPs their coursework may alter dramatically between first and final draft submissions due to feedback from their content tutor, which would affect our ability to do text analysis regarding their response to our first draft feedback. Within the IFY cohort we have decided to focus on the c and d level groups (which are the two bottom sets, if you will), as these students are most at risk of not progressing so any data which enables us to refine the feedback we give them and others like them will be valuable.

What?

It is notoriously tricky to pin down a specific focus and design a tool which enables you to collect data that will provide the information you need in order to address that focus. Last term, we identified two research questions:

This session, we decided that this was actually too big and have decided to focus on no. 2. Of course having made that decision, and, in fact, also in the process of making that decision, we discussed what specifically to focus on. Here are some of the ideas:

  • Recognition – which of the Quickmarks are students able to recognise and identify without further help/guidance?
  • Process – are they using the Quickmarks as intended? (When they don’t recognise one, do they use the guidance provided with it, that appears when you click on the symbol? If they do that, do they use the links provided within that information to further inform themselves and equip themselves to address the issue? You may assume students know what the symbols mean/read the information if they don’t but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise – e.g. a student who was given a wrong word class symbol and changed the word to a different word rather than changing the class of it!)
  • Application – do they go on to be able to correct other instances of the error in their work?

Despite our interest in the potential responses, we shelved the following lines of enquiry for the time being:

  • How long do they spend altogether looking at their feedback?
  • How do they split that time between Quickmarks, general comments and copy-pasted criteria?

We are mindful that we only have 6 weeks of sessions this term (and that included this one!) as this term’s week 10, unlike the final week of last term, is going to be, er, a tad busy! (An extra cohort and 4 exams being done between them vs one cohort and one exam last time round!) As we want to collect data next term, that gives us limited time for preparation.

How?

We are going to collect data in two ways.

Text analysis

We each will look at a first draft and a final essay draft of a different student and do a text analysis to find out if they have applied the Quickmark feedback to the rest of their text. This will involve picking a couple of Quickmarks that have been given to the student in their first draft, identifying and highlighting any other instances of that error type, and then looking at the final draft in order to find the highlighted errors so that we can see if they have been corrected, and if they have, how – successfully or not.

We are going to have a go at this in our session next week, to practise what we will need to do and agree on the process.

Questionnaire

Designing an effective questionnaire is very difficult and we are still in the very early stages. We are still leaning towards Google Forms as the medium. Key things we need to keep in mind are:

  • How many questions can we realistically expect students to answer? The answer is probably fewer than we think, and this means that we have to be selective in what questions to include.
  • How can we ask the questions most clearly? As well as using graded language, this means thinking about question types – will we use a Likert scale? will we use tick boxes? will we use any open questions?
  • How can we ensure that the questions generate useful, relevant data? The data needs to answer the research questions. Again, this requires considering different question types and what sort of data they will yield. Additionally, knowing that we need to analyse all the data that we collect, in terms of our research question, we might want to avoid open questions as that data will be more difficult and time-consuming to analyse, interesting though it might be.

The questions will obviously relate to the focuses we identified, earlier discussed – recognition, process and application. One of our jobs for the next couple of sessions is to write our questions. It’s easy (ish!) to talk around what we want to know, but writing clear questions that elicit that information will be significantly more challenging!

Another thing we acknowledged, finally, is that research-wise we are not doing anything new that hasn’t been done before, BUT the “newness” comes from doing it in our particular context. And that is absolutely fine! 🙂

Homework: 

Well those of us who haven’t got round to doing the reading set at the end of the previous session (cough cough) will hopefully manage to finish that. (That was Goldstein, L. Questions and answers about teacher written commetary and student revision: teachers and students working together in Journal of Second Language Writing and Ene, E & Upton, T.A. Learner uptake of teacher electronic feedback in ESL composition.) Otherwise, thinking about possible questions and how to formulate them!

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

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

For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 / session 2 / session 3 and 4 / session 5-8 of this particular circle.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

(For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 / session 2 / session 3 and 4 of this particular circle.)

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

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

Session 6

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

Session 7

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

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

Session 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (3+4)

Time and workload have dictated that I combine two weekly scholarship sessions into one post, so this “double digest” is my write-up of sessions 3 and 4.

(For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here

You might also be interested in session 1 and session 2 of this particular circle.)

Session 3

In session 3, we started by discussing the type of feedback we give students in their coursework. In CW1 (an essay outline), we give them structural feedback as well as pointing out where sources are insufficiently paraphrased, while in CW3 they get structural feedback and language feedback using the error correction code. We also talked more about direct feedback. We questioned where the line between direct feedback and collusion lies and decided that it’s ok to use teacher feedback to improve work but if they hired another tutor to correct their work, it would be collusion. We also came to the conclusion that direct feedback can be useful for certain things and that you could use it to scaffold learners e.g. in the first instance of the mistake, provide the correct form as a model; in the second instance of the mistake, provide the start of the correct form; in the third instance of the mistake, just highlight the type of mistake and let the learner correct it by themselves, using previous instances and feedback to help them. If there are any further instances of that mistake type, indicate to learners that they need to find and correct them.

We also talked more about this issue of correcting mistakes beyond those pointed out by the teacher i.e. proofreading work for more instances of the same mistake. In our experience, it frequently does not happen. In the masters research done by one of our number, the main reasons for that, given by the students when they were asked, were:

  • the belief that no comments = no mistakes
  • not knowing how to find/correct mistakes

However, with regards to the quick marks (i.e. error correction code on Turnitin), in terms of the students who participated in the study, 80-100% of quick marks resulted in successful revisions. Thus, on the whole, only when mistakes are pointed out are they are corrected, in general. This brought us back to the question of proofreading and learner training which we had touched on in previous sessions, identifying it as a definite need.

We acknowledged that we expect proofreading but that it doesn’t happen. This is partly because our learners are not used to it – they are used to having all errors pointed out to them. In some cases, as in one of the participants in the M.A. study, learners are not able to identify mistakes. In that case, the ideal situation would be helping those learners to find and correct the errors they ARE able to deal with it at their level. We decided that in order to help learners in both cases, more proofreading-related lessons are needed. They already have “Grammar Guru” which is an online interactive grammar tutoring tool, within which are activities that prompt proofreading for mistakes with the specific focus of a given tutorial e.g. articles.

However, the only time they do it with their own work is with CW3 and so we wondered if there would be scope for using work produced for writing exam practices as the basis for proofreading activities too.

We also looked at 2 tools for encouraging students to engage with their feedback:

1. A google form, adapted from something similar which is used at Nottingham Trent, that encourages students to find examples of particular mistakes in their text, correct them and make a note of the materials used in order to make that correction:

The idea is that students complete it between receiving their feedback and attending their tutorial, so that during the tutorial the tutor can, amongst other things, check their corrections and suggest alternative sources.

2. A form for students to complete that pushes them to reflect on their feedback:

As with the first one, this is intended to be completed between receiving the feedback on Turnitin and attending the tutorial, thus making the tutorial more effective than the common scenario where the student comes in not having even opened the feedback. We also wondered about the possibility of combining the two, so in other words combining focused error identification and correction with reflection on other aspects of the feedback.

Session 4

This week, in session 4, we mainly focused on the error correction code that we use. We looked at each symbol and accompanying notes, firstly deciding if it was a necessary one to keep and then refining it. The code, used on Turnitin, works as follows: We highlight mistakes and attach symbols to them. When the student subsequently looks at their text, they see the symbols and then when they click on the symbol, the accompanying notes appear. Our notes include, depending on the mistake, an explanation of the mistake, examples of incorrect use and corrected use, and links to sources that students can use to help them to learn more about the language point in question. Here is an example:

We paid particular attention to the clarity of the language used in the accompanying notes, getting rid of anything unnecessary e.g. modals, repetition etc, and the links provided to help students. The code also exists in GoogleDoc format so we all had Chromebooks out and were working on it collaboratively. There are a lot of symbols and there was plenty to say, so actually we only got as far as “C”!! (They are ordered alphabetically….!) This job will continue in the next session, which will be the week after next, as next week we have Learning Conversations which are off timetable so our availability is very different from normal.

I would be interested to hear what approaches you use where you work in terms of error correction, codes, proofreading training, pre-tutorial requirements, engaging learners with feedback and so on. Please do share any thoughts using the comments box below… 🙂

Scholarship Circle: Giving formative feedback on student writing (1)

Today, Tuesday 2nd October, was the inaugural meeting of the newly formed “Giving formative feedback on student writing” scholarship circle which will take place weekly on Tuesdays here at the USIC arm of the ELTC. (For more information about what scholarship circles involve, please look here and for write-ups of previous scholarship circles, here.)

With a healthy turn-out of  ten teachers, the main goal for this initial meeting was to pin down what we want to get out of the sessions and how we are going to achieve it. We started with these questions:

  • What are we all here for?
  • What do we want to learn?
  • What shall we do with this scholarship circle?

We established that we were all there because we want to be able to give students better feedback. By better, we mean the right kind of feedback: feedback that they will a) be able to understand and b) benefit from. We therefore want to avoid the situation in which we put a lot of effort into producing feedback on their work and they don’t use it.

Our particular focus for this is first drafts of coursework assignments. We have CW1 which is an essay outline and CW3 which is either an essay based on the essay outline (foundation students) or a synoptic assignment research proposal (pre-masters students).

These are some of the questions that we want to answer, or respond to, in the course of this scholarship circle (the list may grow or change over the course of the scholarship circle, this is just our starting point):

  • How much feedback can students cope with? What is the right amount to give them?
  • What language should be used? (H’obviously this doesn’t translate as should we give feedback in English or Mandarin…)
  • How can we help students to access/use feedback more effectively? This includes Quick Marks (i.e. error correction code, on Turnitin), in-text comments and general comments, as well as helping students use them in combination. We also have some evidence from research done on our students suggesting that students prefer specific in-text comments as they are more memorable long-term than Quick Marks, which is something to keep in mind.
  • How can we help teachers use Quick Marks more effectively and consistently?
  • How and when do we praise students’ work? How do we do this most effectively, without seeming insincere?

From these questions, we settled on a short list of things to do:

  • Read “Sugaring the Pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback” by Fiona Hyland and Ken Hyland in Journal of Second Language Writing, so that we can discuss it next week. Dana Ferris was also recommended as a good author for sources about feedback.
  • Discuss and standardise our use of Quick Marks in a future Scholarship Circle meeting.
  • Discuss designing/creating learner training materials/classes to help our students develop independent use of formative feedback to correct their errors.

It was a short but fruitful session, setting us up nicely for our future weekly meetings. Watch this space for future posts tracking our progress and my reflections on our journey! 🙂

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)