May 10

Teacher Talk – a #CELTAchat summary

Teachers are at greater risk of experiencing vocal problems and are more likely to consult doctors on voice disorders than most other occupational groups¹ and so unless you’re teaching the Silent Way, it’s highly likely you spend a fair amount of time in the classroom talking.

On pre-service teacher training courses, TT (teacher talk) is often covered in a session on Classroom Management early on the course although some trainers are concerned that this may be too early on and comes at a point when trainees are being overwhelmed with information.  Should there be a separate input session on TT at another point in the course, or may it depend on trainees’ needs?

TT is frequently modelled during input sessions, though it’s important to reflect carefully on how it is used if you are providing a bad model – in case trainees get the wrong idea and end up copying you!  Good TT is modelled in the Unknown Language component, yet TT is often still a point which is raised in teaching practice feedback throughout the course.

How can we define good and bad TT?

Examples of good or essential TT include:

  • giving and checking instructions
  • concept checking
  • drilling
  • rapport-building through input +1
  • leading feedback
  • error correction
  • eliciting
  • modelling language
  • clarifying language

Some examples of poor TT include:

  • echoing
  • commentary
  • wittering
  • unnatural TT (e.g. not using contractions)
  • ineffectively grading language

How can we make TT more effective?

Clarify whether TT is good or bad: as tutors, we sometimes give inexplicit feedback on poor TT and fail to highlight positive TT.  We should be more concise when dealing with poor TT so that trainees have a clear focus for improvement, but also praise quality TT.

There was a suggestion to create an observation task which analyses the purpose and effectiveness of TT – this could perhaps involve transcription, especially if the class was recorded.

Train trainees to give effective instructions to avoid lengthy, repetitive or overly polite phrasing.

Another suggestion is for trainees to make TT more explicit in their lesson plans – wittering is an example of bad TT which can often occur during feedback stages when trainees haven’t clarified their role in the stage.  Also, by making feedback stages more learner-centred, we can limit TT – by encouraging learners to lead and extend feedback, repeat answers, clarify language, etc.

Further reading:

Jamie Keddie’s IATEFL talk on how to develop TT (and thanks to Fiona for summarising his suggestions on her blog)

Emma Meade Flynn also presented on the topic of teacher talk and interaction at IATEFL and her follow-up blogpost can be found at TD Lab

And a third IATEFL presentation from Monica Poulter on Teacher talk as a pedagogical tool

Barbara Skinner’s ELT Journal article, Effective teacher talk: a threshold concept in TESOL and another from Richard Cullen, Teacher talk and the classroom context

Sam Shepherd on why “reduce TTT” provides trainees with insufficient feedback

The unhealthy noise in our profession from David Pickup

ESL Teacher Talk for Effective Classroom Interactions – an independent study course

ResearchGate has a number of articles on teacher talk

Investigating Classroom Discourse, Walsh (Routledge, 2006) – the image below comes from this text

Plus, here’s a link to the #CELTAchat storify in case I missed anything!

Huge thanks to everyone who participated, especially Sarah and Matthew for sharing so many of the links above and Fiona for moderating 🙂

April 29

Sleeping in

Or actually not, in my case!  It’s Saturday but I woke up at 6.30 so I figured I may as well get up and do something useful with my time and blog about yesterday’s lesson.

A bit of background to the lesson itself: we’re just starting TP2 with the part-time TESOL trainees and so yesterday the tutors were teaching.  Although I always feel nervous when being observed on the course, I generally feel better at the start of TP2 as I’m more familiar with the learners.  As such, I’d planned yesterday’s lesson with the original B1 group in mind and they were, generally speaking, a strong B1 group.  Unfortunately, as I found out when I arrived at the school yesterday, only three of the previous group were continuing and I had five new learners that day.  As soon as they walked in, I knew the material would be incredibly challenging for them, especially as a couple felt more like A2 learners.  But, c’est la vie!  We did the tasks a little more slowly and stronger learners were able to support their peers well and although the material was challenging, the tasks associated were simple, as you’ll see below.

We did some initial chat around the three questions below and a collocations task from the book which also provided space for learners to personalise the language and gave me further opportunity to gauge their level.

Do you find it easy to get to sleep?

Are you a heavy or a light sleeper?

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

We did this prediction task before watching the video – the first time they watched, I asked them to check their predictions, we did a quick pair-check, then I asked them to watch again and then tell a partner what they found interesting or surprising about the video.  The text is fast, but the predictions task was simple and the answers for those statements were clearly given.

For the next stage, I’d done a little crowd-sourcing and asked my friends in the UK what time they go to bed and get up – I mapped their responses onto a chart and then got all the learners (and trainees) to add their times.  I pointed out that the difference in the times that people in the UK and Spain get up was fairly minimal and asked them to discuss in pairs why they thought Spanish people go to bed so much later.

 

This then led on to reading a shortened, graded version of this text from The Guardian, which explains that Spain is in the wrong time zone.  There was an activity to match some tricky lexis from the text to definitions and while I’d originally planned for learners to share their opinion on the text (similar to the video – what did you find interesting or surprising?), I felt that because of the shift in level, the group would benefit from a more structured comprehension/reaction-to-the-text task, so I wrote some statements from the text on the board and asked them to discuss whether they were true.

The reading text led on to the final task – a debate.  I divided the group into two, mixing up learners a little so that a) the original three members were split up, b) there was an even number of stronger/weaker learners in each group and c) the stronger learners who had supported their weaker peers before were paired with someone different.  Group A had to discuss reasons why they thought Spain should change its time zone; group B had to discuss why they felt Spain should stay in its current time zone – I had prepared some points for each group to think about such as how the change might affect businesses or Spanish traditions, amongst others.  After a few minutes to get some ideas together, we did a quick task to look at language of agreeing/disagreeing and then mixed up the groups so learners could debate whether or not to change time zone.  Although I was happy with this final stage, I feel that it would have been more successful if I had made everyone in groups A and B to make notes as then I could have paired people off to debate.  As it was, in group B, only one person had made notes – as I felt that the weaker learners in that group would feel very uncomfortable doing the debate task with no support, I decided to have two people from each group against two from the other, which inevitably meant that some people spoke more than others.

So, what did I learn from this lesson?

I think the main tip I’ve taken away is to plan lower rather than higher for a first lesson with (what could be) an unfamiliar group as it’s much easier to extend simple tasks for stronger learners than it is to adapt materials on-the-spot for weaker learners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 21

What are your options in ELT?

Many thanks to everyone who joined the chat: @Marisa_C, @SueAnnan, @fionaljp, @kamilaofprague, @angelos_bollas, @GlenysHanson, @ChrisRussellELT and @digteap.

Sue and Fiona mentioned an IH course which they had both taken on online learning – COLT – and if you’re interested in management positions, Marisa’s centre in Athens offers a course in ELT Management.  There is a lot on offer in terms of online development, with many universities providing short courses – check out FutureLearn or the British Council.

Infographic created with canva.com – thanks to Fiona for introducing me to it!

Update – 23rd April

@ConzieSays made a good point that moving to another country would also be another option.  Check out Marc‘s comment below as well as it’s worth bearing in mind that there might be better options available in some countries than others.  Another example of this is that Trinity usually request their speaking examiners be based in the UK, whereas Cambridge employ staff locally to examine.

And more options from @patjack67 and @lapizazul1:

March 15

Fortnightly Focus #13 – #ELTwhiteboard

Ooops, my Fortnightly Focus skipped a week there!   My plan had been to get involved in #ELTwhiteboard on twitter which is (more than) a hashtag originally started by Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  For more information on what it is, I really recommend checking out Matthew’s blogpost following on from a talk he presented on #ELTwhiteboard – he shares his slides from the session which are full of #ELTwhiteboard images to get you thinking about how you use and could use your board.

And that’s what I’ve done in the end.  I haven’t actually taken any photos of my whiteboard over the past three weeks as I had originally intended, but even just thinking about taking photos has made me reflect on my use of the whiteboard.

For example, I know I predominantly use the black pen in my teen and adult classes: green for me is always phonology and I find it weird to use it for anything else, blue is trickier to rub off for some reason and so I tend to use it sparingly to save my arm a workout and red is a bit fierce to over-use.  Incredibly though, there are other colours available!  I gave a session at a school a couple of weeks ago and there was a yellow pen and then last week on our part-time CertTESOL course, one of the trainees had a purple pen – and because I was so amazed by it (little things and all), he gave it to me!!!  Quick aside, does anyone else get so incredibly excited by board pens or should I get checked out?!

I’m generally happy with my board organisation – the left-hand side tends to be kept free for emergent language and the right-hand side for me to write up discussion questions…that’s purely because I think that the learners can more easily see things written on that side of the board and so can start chatting about the first question whilst I’m writing up the others.  And, going back to phonology, I’m quite happy writing up words phonetically, but I think maybe I need to change the way I mark stress – I’ve got into the habit of doing it as a dictionary does, but I think it might be more effective to use circles as I’ve seen others do as that not only shows more clearly which syllable is stressed, but also the number of syllables which will be useful for my Spanish learners who often add in extra syllables (for example in comfortable).  Also, I think I use the board more for emergent language with my adults than my teens as they are all so keen to write new language down.  However, I feel I should write up more emergent language with my teen group too as I know a couple of them would write it down and make an effort to use it.

Interestingly, the topic of how we use the whiteboard came up during the CertTESOL observations last week and we talked about when it’s necessary to write on the board as I noticed a couple of trainees were unnecessarily writing on the board – for example, writing up the answers to an exercise which they shouldn’t need to do if oral feedback was clear.  I rarely use the board to write up answers, unless I think that learners may have made mistakes – perhaps because they may mishear an answer due to features of connected speech or they may misspell a difficult word or a tricky cognate.  With my very younger learners, I tend to use it more to model the task rather than post-task but I think this can be due to the way which VYLs are used to being corrected as well.

One thing which I think could be useful is a laser pointer!  Do you ever have moments when you’re monitoring and a learner asks a query and you’re trying to point out where the answer is on the board without walking all the way to the board?  That makes me think that sometimes my boardwork needs to be a little clearer for my weaker YL group – although it doesn’t help that one of them seems to be as blind as a bat even with his glasses on and sitting directly in front of the board (audible sigh of exasperation).  But as well quite a few members of that group struggle to link the written and spoken word, so being able to point things out would save a lot of frustration…oooh, quick to trip to amazon!

 

We’ve got peer observations coming up this month and so I’d like to think again about routines for my Fortnightly Focus – it’s getting to that point in the year where the learners are bored of the same games, songs and activities so I’d like to mix up my repetoire a little.  Watching a colleague and being watched by another will give me some fresh ideas.

March 1

An alternative to a board rush

For a recent trainee’s lesson, the TP points originally said to do a board rush to activate schema around the topic of jobs.  Unfortunately, between writing the TP points and talking them through as a group, we decided to change rooms and the new room’s layout meant that a board rush would have been a little tricky.  So, when we talked through the lesson, we discussed alternatives and settled on the learners writing down jobs starting with each letter in pairs and then a bit of feedback on some interesting jobs which they came up with.

In the end, the teacher decided to do feedback on all the letters of the alphabet which in many ways was fabulous as it gave the learners a chance to share their previous knowledge and allowed them to introduce new lexis to classmates.  However, it did make for a slightly longer engage stage which meant the teacher was left with less time for later tasks – this wasn’t a problem in terms of aims achievement, but he had prepared a wonderful picture dictation which there unfortunately wasn’t time for.

In feedback on the lesson, which is done online as it’s a part-time CertTESOL course, I asked the trainees what they would have done differently in order to maximise time and materials.  They came up with some good ideas and one trainee mentioned an alternative way of doing a board rush which I’m going to steal for this blogpost (thanks, Val!).

She suggested having the alphabet stuck up around the room, either with alphabet flashcards or on pieces of paper.  Learners could then move around the room and add jobs to each letter, either by writing them directly on the paper or sticking post-its on.  I think this is a great way to do an alternative board rush as it means that everyone is involved, rather than the two or three people who can squeeze up at the board on a good day, and still involves the kinaesthetic element of getting up and about.  You could still have the competitive element too – either assign certain pen colours to individuals on a team as you probably would in a normal board rush, or use differnt coloured post-its (though be careful of cheats who may remove words!).  Another bonus is that the lexis can be kept much more easily – often board work is fleeting, rubbed off in preparation for the next task – unless of course you’re a die-hard #ELTwhiteboard fan and take a photo of it!