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)