Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review: Film in Action (Kieran Donaghy)

Many TEFL moons ago (January 2000 to be precise), I had an input session on my Trinity Cert TESOL course at Oxford House, Barcelona that touched on using video in class. I say 'touched on' as in those days of dial-up internet and text-only websites, the input amounted to a couple of ideas for predictive viewing (playing the first few moments of a video before speculating about the rest of it, showing the video with no sound or playing the sound while obscuring the screen, etc) and a discussion of the difficulties of wheeling in a TV trolley, making sure everyone could see and hear, and a general assumption that we probably wouldn't ever use video in class that much.

And then, of course, YouTube happened, broadband happened, the availability and ubiquity of short clips sky-rocketed and along with them came a million ideas for classroom use. However, it was in a way too much - too many videos to know what to choose from and too many ideas that had been thought of too quickly and essentially came down to playing a video together with some comprehension questions (all thewhile hoping the students enjoyed it and thought the teacher was cool).

It is only now that we seem to be getting fully to grips with this influx of visual imagery and the plethora of opportunities it provides for our learners. This year's IATEFL conference featured a number of interesting sessions on how to get the best out of videos both from the viewing standpoint and the creative, productive standpoint (summarised in this post) and it also gave me the opportunity to get my hands on a hot off the press copy of Kieran Donaghy's new book Film in Action. Having had the summer to read through it and a few weeks either side of the holidays to try a few activities out in class, it's about time for a review.

Image courtesy of filminaction.net
Kieran is of course the teacher behind Film English, the award-winning site of ELT lesson plans based around short video clips. Inevitably, the first question that springs to mind when considering getting this book is 'does it offer anything different to the website?' In short, yes, it does. First of all, as in all of the DELTA Teacher Development titles, Part A serves as a review of literature regarding film in language learning and an in-depth discussion of the benefits and potential pitfalls of using film in class. This section is very well-researched and referenced - indeed, it came in very handy over the summer as I tackled a question on authentic materials in the Trinity Dip TESOL written exam. The main point emphasised in Part A is that film in itself is not enough. Any clip or short film we select has to be an integrated part of the lesson with activities planned to fully exploit the language learning potential of the video.

Part B is a gold mine of film-related lesson plans in the usual DELTA style of a brief half-page plan with plenty of scope for adapting to your students' needs and level. I always enjoy the fact that the ideas in these books are generally not pinned to a particular language point, level or age group giving them a high degree of flexibility. Crucially, each activity is not attached to a specific video. Instead, the kind of video needed is described - great for added adaptability and potential recycling - together with suggestions of where to find it and, for many activities, a suggested video - great if you are rushed for time.

Some of the suggested clips are ones that might be familiar to regular users of Film English but the lesson ideas are presented differently, offering more open-ended lesson options. Also, these clips only form part of the activities on offer. There are also activities which encourage students to think about how films are made and how narratives are constructed. The second chapter of Part B also moves into an area that was given a lot of coverage at those IATEFL talks I went to - producing video. With high quality digital video cameras increasingly available either integrated into handheld devices or as stand alone pieces of  hardware, this is a logical and accessible way to move students on from viewing and discussing to creating and sharing.

Part C takes this whole idea even further with guides to setting up English language film clubs, CLIL-style film courses, and film circles for collaborative viewing and discussion of feature-length movies. It has to be said that this is a very comprehensive book full of more than enough ideas for teachers to incorporate into their lessons. It manages to cater to different needs as well. Those who are looking for quick ideas will find them, and those who are interested in incorporating film into their teaching as a way to deeply engage their students in language learning will find plenty to reflect on as well.

And that is where teachers and students can really benefit from using a book like this. As Kieran said in his IATEFL talk with Anna Whitcher, it is important to take time to observe and understand the moving images we see flying before us. It is also important to take the time to read this book carefully and understand how we can best utilise film to encourage language comprehension, production and reflection. I expect this book will soon be as creased up and dog-earred as my copy of Teaching Unplugged.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Review: How to Write Exam Preparation Materials (Roy Norris / ELT Teacher 2 Writer)

A growing trend over recent times in ELT has been e-publishing. From independent groups like the round to self-publishers like Phil Wade and others featured at ELT ebooks, there is a definite shift from big publishing houses to smaller-scale' instant access titles.

Of course, self-publishing in ELT has been around for much longer in the form of shared resources and materials. These have often varied in quality, however, with several gems available online but many duds as well suffering from lack of editing, inadequate planning, and poor design (not to mention violations of copyright!)

One independent publisher which aims to address such issues is ELT Teacher 2 Writer, a group of experienced authors from the world of ELT publishing, passing on their advice through a series of titles forming an e-book delivered "Training Course for ELT Writers".

Image taken from eltteacher2writer.co.uk
The titles available cover preparing and writing activities for different language skills, vocabulary, digital media and video, and there are even e-books covering authoring graded readers and course book components. The remainder of this review will focus on 'How to Write Exam Preparation Materials' by Roy Norris, a sample pdf copy of which was kindly provided to me by ELT Teacher 2 Writer.

As is often the case in ELT publishing, the author got into materials writing by first preparing his own practice materials for his own students before being invited to write an exam preparation book for FCE. This is reflected in the book as many of the chapters offer advice on both preparing activities to use in class and writing tasks intended for sharing with a wider audience through publishing.

Roy discusses the pros and cons of exam preparation books in the introduction and specifically focuses on the challenge of meeting the need for well-defined and accurate practice materials while also providing the variety and opportunities for interaction that are vital to a successful learning environment. He also emphasises the need for teachers and materials authors to be highly familiar with the exam they are focused on, not only in terms of task types but also in terms of level and expected range of language.

The book itself is presented in the style of a self-study training course, including a number of tasks to review each chapter. These encourage the reader to engage with the input and apply the ideas rather than just skim through. Each task has a commentary from the author, accessible from a link immediately underneath.

The topics covered are:
  • preparing multi-choice cloze tests
  • open cloze tests
  • multi-choice listening
  • multi-choice reading
  • writing tasks
  • speaking activities
The advice is not based on any exam in particular, though most of the examples are suitable for B1+ level tests such as FCE and above. The advice is adaptable but I felt that the reader could benefit from direct examples for lower level tests such as KET.

Each section contains advice on writing good questions which meet the exam criteria along with a very useful and in-depth look at the 'art' of choosing distractors for multi-choice questions. There are also plenty of tips on writing and/or selecting the content material as well to ensure it is at the right level and matched thematically to the exam syllabus.

The writing task section focuses quite heavily on sample answers, with good reason as the questions themselves are usually very straightforward. There are also a number of useful suggestions for exploiting those sample texts to help students prepare to plan and write their own answers.

Each section also features time-saving tips such as preparing your multi-choice key before writing your answers to avoid later needing to rearrange everything after realising you have hour 'c' answers in a row!

Overall, the book gives a clear impression of the potential difficulties involved in writing exam practice materials and yet manages to do so without being off-putting to potential authors. It gives a strong sense of 'can do' to the reader, with the chapters on cloze tests and multi-choice activities particularly useful.

The only section I thought could benefit from more detail was the chapter on speaking (also an area many exams could do with focusing on more). This chapter is quite brief with a look at using images and discussion questions but without the same depth of examples as the other chapters. Exam activities involving two or more candidates interacting with each other, as used in KET and PET, are also not covered.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of useful information here for those who would like to write materials, whether that be for a publisher, to showcase and/or share online, or simply to help their students better prepare for a specific exam. The advice on writing the questions could be useful for students too, so they can see the thought process that goes into each task. After all, the ultimate aim of any preparation material must be to help the student transcend the distractors and achieve the best score they can.

This title and all the other ELT Teacher 2 Writer Training Course for ELT Writers materials are listed on the ELT Teacher 2 Writer website. At the time of writing, these titles are available at a discount as part of a September Sale - visit the Facebook page for details. Please note that the sale is scheduled to end on September 23rd, 2015 (tomorrow!)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

A Dip in my Teaching and Learning

A few years ago when I embarked on my MA studies, a question I kept getting asked was “why an MA and not a DELTA or Trinity Dip?” Now, almost three years on from handing in my MA dissertation, I am doing the Trinity Dip TESOL course and the question I keep hearing is “why do a diploma now after an MA?”

There’s just no pleasing some people!!

The answers to both questions have the same reasoning behind them: opportunity and relevance to my teaching context.

Mmmm, Dip Puns! - Image from Pixabay

 The initial impetus for further study came sometime in 2007-8 when I started to do some freelance work for the British Council in Ankara. The teacher trainer there gave me some sage career advice. “You’ve been teaching for nearly ten years now,” he said. “Experience is important of course but employers will wonder why you haven’t upgraded your qualifications if you leave it too long.”
Having entered teaching through the Trinity Cert route, my immediate thought was to investigate doing a Trinity Dip or DELTA. Ultimately, two factors stopped me at the time.

First of all, at the time the options for doing either of those courses were more limited. There were some components offered online by some schools but most courses were still full-time face-to-face, therefore requiring two or three months away from work to do the course along with the expense of upping camp to a different country for the duration. My employers at the time would not have been keen on me being away during term time (even for professional development) and would not have contributed to the costs as all so it was a non-starter.

Secondly, there was the issue of relevance. I was teaching YLs at the time and when I discussed my desire to do the DELTA/Trinity Dip with my bosses, they either were unfamiliar with the courses or saw them as only useful for teachers of adults (that may not be true, of course, but that was their perception). Colleagues who had a DELTA said they got no recognition for it – no positions of responsibility and no extra pay.

Whilst seeking advice from a guest speaker at our school about how to advance my career and improve my qualifications, he suggested an online MA. A little bit of Googling later and I had found some interesting possibilities. Two or three years seemed a long time but there was the chance to do everything without having to quit my job and also the chance to specialise. My employers were keen, especially as I was interested in taking a course with a focus on edtech (this keenness did not translate into financial support but they did accommodate my requests to use my classes to put theory into practice and collect data for assignments and research).

And so I went down the MA route. It was simply the best option at that time. I could continue to work, I had the opportunity to make it as relevant to my context of working with YLs as I wanted to, and it was financially more viable (with MAs carrying more weight with my employers than DELTAs, I would get a pay rise at the end and it overall worked out cheaper as there were no expenses related to travel, accommodation and time off work to factor in).

So that’s the story of the MA… but why do a Trinity Dip now? Well, opportunity and relevance to my teaching context are key factors again but before I get to those, there is another factor to consider.
Last year, my wife and I decided that after 14 years in Turkey, it was time to move on. I began to look into job opportunities that appeared interesting, whether they were with adults or young learners, regular schools or specialist language centres. With some potential employers, my MA along with my experience and online activities was clearly attractive but with others, another question reared its head: “Did your MA include assessed teaching practice? Was it a TEFLq course?”

Well, no, there was no assessed teaching practice on my MA. It was a fantastic course that completely transformed me as a teacher but I found myself being ruled out for jobs because it did not involve assessed observation of my teaching… That was when I decided that pursuing a DELTA or Trinity Dip in the near future would be a good idea.

And then we have the opportunity factor. The online options for these courses are now much more developed than in 2008. For both DELTA and Trinity Dip, it is now possible to do the courses mainly online with only 3 or 4 weeks face-to-face. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an intensive face-to-face course as was the norm not so long ago. Couple that with the fact that my current employers are willing to contribute to the cost of any professional development course and the timing was right.

My video introduction for the Dip online course

As for relevance, I am now teaching adults again and I am in a position of responsibility (Language School Coordinator officially). As my duties now include organising PD for other teachers and administrative tasks, a diploma was a logical step at this time.

Plus, more importantly, there is the chance to be a learner once again, to be a teacher purposefully assessing and looking at ways to improve my teaching once again. There is also the chance to be in contact with a group of teachers from different contexts but with a shared goal of working towards a qualification and bettering ourselves as teachers. It would be wrong to think that my qualifications, background, and current position are enough. There is always something to learn, especially from others, and I value the chance to do that in a formalised way once again.

I am not really a fan of the ‘lifelong learner’ idea (and yes, I do know ‘learner’ is in my blog title) but I do believe we need to be in a lifelong (by which I mean ‘working lifelong’ state of development and reflection. The MA helped me realise and understand that. The Dip is helping me continue. And the developmental ball will keep rolling…

Reflective Balls - Image from Pixabay

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Themes from #IATEFL – Time for talking, time for learning…

After reflecting on assessment, teacher training, use of video, mobile learning, gaming, and gamification, it’s time to pick up on a theme from IATEFL that is not so specific but is much more important – taking the time to learn. Well, let me clarify that – not just the time to learn, but the time to learn deeply, the time to learn not just the subject at hand but about the subject at hand, and the time to stop, relax, reflect, and take it all in… (which kind of explains why I am still writing about IATEFL two  weeks after it ended!)

So much to take in, so little time! Image by @sandymillin via #ELTpics

Donald Freeman brought it up first in his opening plenary – the idea that teachers need to stop and think, reflect on what has or hasn’t worked in class and why. Willy Cardoso also touched upon time for teachers to grow when discussing how short a time 12 hours actually is for teaching practice on an ‘intensive’ training course. Nicky Hockly and Paul Driver were two others who alluded to this idea when talking about the need to carefully plan and consider things like mobile learning projects rather than just rushing into them. It was also an inherent part of the Open Space event as we took time to think about and discuss the language teaching issues that were important and meaningful to us.

From the student’s side, Jamie Keddie stressed the need to devote time to training learners how to make good quality videos. Sandy Millin also talked about the time and effort needed to engage students in journal writing and how it could benefit both their learning and our perceptions of their needs as teachers.

It was Candy van Olst’s talk on turning classroom chats into meaningful conversations that really emphasised this point, however. The idea that learning more and more advanced and obscure grammar isn’t really helpful for learners is one that has been with me for a while now but the whole idea of getting them to really engage in a topic and explore the finer points of the most common grammatical structures to help them do that really struck a chord. But what do we need to ensure that happens? Time, of course….

What stops us from having that time? Well, Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher made a very convincing argument that we often tend to get caught up in the blur of moving images that now surround us. We need to slow down and take the time to really look at what we see to truly understand it…. As I have said in the past, don’t just fill the gaps – explore the space.

Or as was said in a classic 1980s teen movie (as it happens, it came up in class earlier this week when adapting one of Kieran Donaghy’s activities from Film in Action)

So what does this mean for me and my students in the classroom? It has (re)emphasised the need for quality over quantity, the need for doing things in a deeper more meaningful way rather than simply covering the ground, the need to focus on what the learners need and not what the course book/syllabus/end-of-course test dictate.

Practically, it does not really help anyone if we do one writing task per week between now and the end of June with little time to review, revise, or improve. It also does not help if we jump from topic to topic just because it’s time to move on. Fewer writing tasks but with more time dedicated to sharing ideas, drafting, giving feedback, responding to feedback, looking at language errors, and redrafting will be of much more benefit as will fewer topics but more depth exploring the issues through conversation.

It’s not so much about ‘less is more’ – it’s about doing more with less. That is when learning really happens and that is my main takeaway from my first IATEFL conference…

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Themes from #IATEFL – What’s ‘app-ening with mobile learning?

With an event the size of the annual IATEFL conference, it is important to go with an open mind. There is a temptation to go and see talks by ‘big names’ in ELT or play it safe with speakers you have seen before or have connections with online. However, that can mean missing out. There may well be a speaker you have never heard of before who will wow you with a great talk or it may be the topic that provides an unexpected surprise as some aspect of language education you had never investigated thoroughly before suddenly engages you.

And so it was for me at this conference with mobile learning. I consider myself to be a teacher who is confident with making use of technology in class but, more importantly, I am also a teacher who takes a critical view of the hardware, software, web tools, and apps that I could potentially make use of in class. I often think it is somewhat ironic that it was during and after studying for an MA in EdTech that I started to use tech less in class as I started to go beyond the ‘wow’ factor more.

Technology in the classroom

Image by @hanaticha via #eltpics

That is not to say that I never used mobile devices in class (indeed, I ran a workshop at the LTSIG PCE on using a gaming app to promote language learning) – my school has a set of iPads that can be checked out at anytime and I have also in the past ran activities on a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) basis. However, this has been nothing more than an occasional project or single lesson task and I never really thought about sustained use of mobile devices both in and out of the school environment.

The first talk that had an impact on me was the opening session of the LTSIG PCE by Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, who talked us through a project to help ESOL students integrate to life in the UK. During her talk, she said:

That struck a chord – through mobile devices, students can engage with language learning when outside the classroom, outside the school even. They can receive notifications and information about where they are and the can also document it as well. Through use of their camera and microphone and any number of apps that integrate them students have the opportunity to create a record of the language and the world they encounter which can then be brought back to the classroom and shared. As someone who values personalised learning, this idea appealed to me a great deal.

But, of course, we can’t just start using smartphones and tablets in class and expect our students to be automatically engaged and producing fantastic examples of their language in use. As with any idea, there must be sound reasoning behind it and as well as forward planning for practical and effective use. This is why Nicky Hockly’s talk ‘Planning for Mobile’ was such an interesting one.

Nicky Hockly in action at IATEFL

She went through the whole process of why we might consider incorporating mobile learning into our language programme and the importance of involving all the concerned parties (colleagues, school admin, parents, and of course students) to ensure a consistent approach – Nicky highlighted this with an example of how she had previously taught a class with a whole programme of mobile learning projects planned only to see the teacher in the class next door going into lessons with a large box and demanding students surrender all their devices!

The importance of approaching stakeholders with a clear plan was highlighted as was the need for a pilot phase and (crucially) an evaluation of that pilot phase before more wide scale implementation. The need for learner and teacher support was also stressed, something that is perhaps lacking in my context at present.

Nicky also showed us some practical examples of how mobile devices can be used to do just what their name suggests – be mobile! They literally and figuratively put control of a task in the learners’ hands and should be used to get them out of the classroom, exploring their immediate environment and interacting with it.

Paul Driver ready to Hack the Classroom

Speaking of interacting with our surroundings, one of the highlights of the conference for me was Paul Driver’s session ‘Hacking the Classroom’ about using augmented reality apps. I was lucky enough to get to meet Paul before his talk and see what AR actually is. He was at a stand in the exhibition hall surrounded by posters. They looked like normal posters until he opened an app called Aurasma and pointed his iPad at them. Suddenly, the images in the posters began to move and the people in the posters began to speak! Now, I have made comments in this very post about not falling for the ‘wow’ factor when it comes to technology but this really was a ‘wow’ moment!

Once I had undropped my jaw, Paul set about explaining how he puts this technology to use. His students had created ‘trigger’ posters with a high emphasis on images and not so much use of text but, through this app, they were able to embed video presentations in them. By holding up a mobile device (with the app running of course) and scanning the poster through the camera, the image would automatically play. The same technique had been used for information posters about his school and it was an interesting way to engage in audio-visual media rather than textual-visual as you might expect.

Paul Driver demonstrating an interactive map project

In his talk, he gave further examples of students using the app to create an interactive version of a world map to describe where they are from. He also described how he had created a ‘real world’ project for students in which the visited different locations outside the school and used the app to trigger video and audio of people describing what the area used to be like – an interactive listening activity indeed!

Not only do these devices allow interaction with the real world (rather than causing people to disconnect from it as is often assumed), they also afford a high degree of personalisation, especially in a BYOD setting. Dave Gatrell showed this in his talk ‘It’s MALL and it’s Wonderful’ with a mobile twist on the classic ‘Just a Minute’ game. Participants were challenged to find photos on their devices and then describe them for 60 seconds without pausing, repetition, or deviation from the topic. The use of personal photos definitely helped provide more engagement than a random topic and there is no need to ask your students to bring photos in as they already have them in their pockets!

Here are some other apps I saw in action at IATEFL and made a note of for future use:

Thinglink – an app demoed by Rolf Tynan at the LTSIG PCE. I have already discussed this one on my post about that day but in brief, it allows students to take photos and make them interactive by adding text, video clips, web links and more to them

Telligami – this was shown by Vicky Samuell (also at the LTSIG event!) and by Dave Gatrell in his talk. In the app, you can create an avatar and make a text-to-speech or audio recording to get it to talk. Vicky showed us examples of how her students had used it to introduce themselves and talk about their lives. As I have discovered with game avatars, this can provide a great way for shy students to open up more or even get into another character and produce extended spoken work. Dave also showed us how his students had used the app to present themselves as characters from stories and also how he used it for an avatar dictation in which he would describe his avatar while the students listened and tried to recreate it. Great ideas!

Aurasma – the aforementioned app used by Paul Driver for his AR projects.

Vine – as mentioned in my summary of the talks on video, a simple app for making six-second videos.

Of course, it is not the apps themselves that matter so much. However, these talks and these examples have given me some great ideas and provided me with the impetus to investigate more and examine some other apps with potential for use in the classroom and beyond.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Themes from #IATEFL – Video, Vines & Manifestos

It’s now almost a week since the big conference in Manchester finished and almost a week since I managed to get an update posted onto this here blog. The delays were brought about by the sheer scale of the event with its daytime session and evening socials, my other ‘roving reporter’ commitments to the IATEFL Online website (all gathered here for your reading pleasure), a long journey home (almost 48 hours!) and being struck down by illness shortly after returning…

But, anyway, enough of that. With the conference still relatively fresh in my memory, I have decided to ‘externalise’ what I have taken away from the whole event through a few posts on themes that arose from the talks I attended. Having already looked at assessment (though not including the ELTJ debate, which I did not attend) and teacher training, it’s time to focus the lens on language learning through video.

Image by @sandymillin via #eltpics

I attended three talks/workshops on the subject of video at IATEFL – Mike Harrison’s look at using Vine to create short form videos in the classroom, Jamie Keddie’s talk on putting video cameras in the hands of learners, and Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher’s Video Manifesto for Language Learning.

I have already reviewed Mike’s talk on the IATEFL website (see here) as well as Jamie’s talk (here) and if that isn’t enough for you, Mr Keddie has also shared his entire talk on YouTube.

I thought that using Vines would appeal to my tween and teen learners and so it proved today when I mentioned in class that I had attended a session about using them at the conference. Their interest was immediately piqued and they started to tell me all about their favourite Vine loops. They showed a similar reaction when discussing the names of some the YouTubers mentioned in Jamie’s talk. Interestingly, most of them have never made a Vine or talking head video themselves but they are keen to try it out.

However, one important aspect of using film clips in class that was emphasised in Kieran and Anna’s talk in particular is the need to spend time to take stock of the world of images that at times seems to blur around us (this is another theme from the conference that I will be addressing in another post). They guided us through a short film they had made as a ‘Visual Manifesto for Language Teaching’ (visit this website to see the film in full) to emphasise the need to view images critically and plan how we use them in class in a more considered manner.

With the plethora of YouTube clips, 15-second Instagram videos, and now 6-second Vines, the temptation is to rush through it all – watch quickly, think superficially, and not really engage actively. It is important to take time to pause and reflect to encourage critical thinking and deep learning.

Mike showed how this is possible even with a six-second story as he directed the attendees to analyse one of the Vines he showed us – How many different camera angles were used? How did the story unfold? What reactions and emotions did the characters show? Amazing how much discussion can come out of such a short clip! Jamie also showed the crowd how filming something as seemingly straightforward as a retelling of a joke can take much preparation, practice, time, and careful editing. Kieran and Anna also highlighted how the process of engaging with a short film, whether through watching a clip or making one, is more important than the end product itself. It is crucial to ensure teachers and students alike are aware of this.

One aspect of these three talks that I will be bringing in is the idea of training learners in some basic considerations for film making – scripting, choosing a backdrop, ensuring the audio is clear, and lighting are all factors that can help a video project seem more complete and we will be looking at those over the coming weeks.

Videos, images, and the devices that capture them are often seen as easy resources to pick up and use in class. The main idea I am taking away from these IATEFL sessions is that, just like with any resource, it is never that simple. Such activities need to be carefully considered and directed to ensure our learners fulfil their creative potential.

Quotes, Paraphrases and Moments from #IATEFL

And just like that, my first visit to #IATEFL is over. It was a hectic, at times frantic, few days but it was a productive and enjoyable one too.
In-flight professional development
I am writing this post while waiting for take-off on my way back from Manchester but it will hopefully act as a filler while I write up other reflections on the sessions I attended. Right now, I am thinking of some of the quotes and soundbites that stood out for me and will attempt to capture that here. Some of them may not be word for word accurate  (hence the use of 'paraphrase' in the title) and they may or may not be attributed to those who uttered them. Some of them provoked moments of deep reflection and some of them were more frivolous but fun.
"A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there."
Liliana Simon encourages us to break with the routine and experiment.
"Bingo is the only thing that works with these kids."
Donald Freeman brilliantly crafts the story of a teacher struggling for ideas at the end of the week into his narrative of how we need to push ourselves to think a little deeper about what we do in the classroom.
Donal Freeman’s plenary at IATEFL 2015
"Teaching is the profession that eats its young."
Anthony Gaughan quotes J. Halford and draws (unintended) gasps from the sections of the audience int he process.
"The grim predictability: behind Joy Egbert's tailor-made tech-mediated individual input is still an exercise on the past simple."
Hugh Dellar brilliantly sums up what I was at the time struggling to fit into one tweet.
Joy Egbert’s plenary talk
"This helps them learn more efficiently, which means they learn more quickly."
Another point where I disagreed with Joy Egbert. Efficient use of class time does not mean quick progress. Indeed, as Candy van Olst said in her talk, meaningful learning takes time.
Candy van Olst on the value of real conversation
"Tests aren't going away, so…."
Jeremy Harmer makes a case for just getting on with it as far as testing goes. A good thing he didn’t say ‘tests aren’t going anyhwere’ as that would have been more open to interpretation!
"I was almost ready to leap to my feet in spontaneous applause and then she said the P word."
A reaction to the name dropping of certain companies during otherwise excellent talks.
(...pause... ...bend knees, long look at name tag...) "Oh, Dave - it's you!"
Repeated on a few occasions! I think I need to update my social media profile pics… or go to more conferences…
"I thought ‘I can’t sleep until I externalise this in a blog post.’"
Errr…. me discussing late-night blogging with Sandy Millin.
Well, with all that externalised and continental Europe unfolding beneath me, I think it’s time to catch up on some missed sleep and then plan out another IATEFL-themed blog post or three.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

#IATEFL Days 1&2–Rethinking Teacher Training

Another theme that has connected talks and sessions I have attended so far is that of teacher training. How can we do it most effectively? What changes can we make to initial teacher training to make it better? How can we ensure teachers continue their training beyond those introductory courses and stay in the profession? Big questions with no easy answers but it is important to think about them.

In the final session of day 1, I attended the British Council signature event, which consisted of a panel of John Tomsett, a head teacher from a school in York, Ines Miller, an associate professor involved in teacher training in Brazil, and Anthony Gaughan, an ‘unplugged’ teacher trainer based in Berlin.

British Council Signature Event Panel Discussion

This line-up naturally provided three quite different perspectives from three different contexts. This was a point Anthony emphasised when analysing issues with CELTA and similar training courses – he trains people in a specific context in Germany in which it is impossible to ‘prepare’ people to teach anywhere in the world. Willy Cardoso also focused on this area during his talk ( ) on day 2. No two CELTA or Trinity Cert courses can be the same. Even if they have the same syllabus, the differing contexts of location, the size of the trainee cohort, and the backgrounds, cultural and linguistic, of the people involved (trainees and trainers) all have an effect.

The fact is, in an ELT context, initial teacher training courses are very brief, too brief in fact. Willy got us to do the calculations – a typical CELTA runs for 120 hours and has 6 hours of teaching practice. That’s 5% of the course…. Think about it – only 5% of what is already a short course is being spent in the classroom in the role of a teacher.

Another issue is support. Groups like the British Council and International House have support programmes in place for newly-qualified teachers but these are the exceptions. In an unregulated global ‘industry’ such as ELT (not a phrasing I am happy with but I’ll come back to it later) there are simply too many private entities, too many small independent language schools in too many locations to keep track of. Most of them offer little or no support to new teachers beyond perhaps observation from the DoS or informal mentoring from a senior teacher..

This in turn leads to more problems. There is a high dropout rate in the ‘profession’ (again, not a phrase I am happy with but one I will come back to), not just language teaching but in education in general. Anthony put it like this:

Willy made the point that courses like CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL are labelled as ‘introductory’ courses and yet only 10% of people who complete those courses go on to the higher-level diploma qualifications. Many quit language teaching within two years and others continue teaching for a long time with only that ‘introductory’ training qualification.

This can create a perception that getting into language teaching is easy. You do a 4-week course and that’s it. That raises questions of quality, and that word in turn has implications. Anthony posed the question of what we mean by ‘quality’ – an artistic, creative quality or expression or an industrial mark of perfection and conformity? (That is why the term ‘professional industry’ is not one I am a fan of).

So what’s the solution? That was the main focus of Willy’s talk. His first suggestion was to increase the number of teaching practice hours from 6 to 12. This allows for different styles of teaching such as team teaching and it also allows time for the trainee to be in class with his/her students without being observed every single second. It also provides time for trainees to repeat lessons giving them the chance to reflect and improve, as they would when working full-time.

He also promoted the idea of grounding the teaching practice in theory. Not ‘methods’ like PPP or other ways to structure a lesson but actual theories of how people learn. This connected to another theme from the panel of trying to ensure the training experience is personalised. If we can do this, those new teachers will go on to offer their students personalised learning. This in turn can have a knock-on effect for our students as they interact and converse with people from outside the language learning context (something emphasised by Candy van Olst in her talk on driving deeper learning through conversation).

In teacher training as in language teaching, the emphasis can often be too much on the course content and not enough on the people within the room. It is there in that space that exists between the people that learning can happen through interaction. If we can equip teachers and learners alike with the critical thinking capabilities to analyse, reflect, theorise, and apply their understanding, we can ensure education takes place in  a much more effective manner. The fact is teachers need 'people skills'. They need the intrapersonal skills to reflect within themselves and the interpersonal skills to connect with others.

The most important thing to do is to think. Think about what we do and why. Analyse the status quo and assess it. It may well be that we ultimately decide to continue as we are but the important thing is to question things and not just accept them because that is how it always has been. That is as true for teaching as it is for teacher training.