January 31

Writing reports

In all honesty, this is a post of procrastination as I’m currently writing reports for my learners and have hit a bit of a wall.  Coffee is next on the list of things-to-do-in-the-meantime.

Report writing is, and should be, a long process.  Though we often reflect on individual learners during the academic year, the process of putting those thoughts onto paper can be tough.  It’s easier to write about some individuals than others, it’s easier to fit in everything you want to say for some more than others, it’s easier to give specific advice to some more than others and it’s easier to identify some individuals more than others.

By “identify”, I don’t mean knowing who’s who – though I did have a startling, and hopefully somewhat exaggerated, conversation with a teacher from another school on the topic – but rather reflect on that individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and bring that together to produce a meaningful, useful report. Some learners don’t stand out as being particularly strong or weak in any area and we run the risk of sending home a banal report with phrases such as “you’re doing well” or “good work this term”, without offering any honest reflection on that individual’s abilities or meaningful advice on how to improve.

Though it’s a pain-in-the-behind when you’re sitting in on a Sunday wading through reports (partly through a lack of organisation hence not getting them done earlier in the week), it really is worth the effort to write a personalised, heartfelt report.

January 25

Ways to develop – JJ Wilson

Having a bit of a sort-out today and came across my notes from JJ Wilson‘s opening plenary at ACEIA back in November.  It was a wonderful start to the day – a refreshing look at how we can develop with some engaging tasks to invigorate.

So, here were the ideas from the talk:

  • Read deeply
  • Action research
  • Write your own materials
  • Write and publish an article
  • Collaborate with peers (team teaching, getting involved in SIGs)
  • Teach something new (get out of your comfort zone)
  • Give a workshop for colleagues
  • Keep a teaching journal
  • Mentor – it forces you to go back to the basics
  • Use PLNs
  • Go to conferences or do online courses
  • Learn another language
  • Look at developments on other fields
  • Learn from great educators
  • Examine critical moments in your own teaching

He asked us to complete the following sentences, with my answers at the time in brackets:

  • Teaching is like…(a box of chocolate, including the coffee cream)
  • The best way for a teacher to develop is…(being open to all the possibilities available and find out what works for you)
  • If I could change one thing…(more time!)

He suggested we look at where we are as teachers at different points:

disaster ————— triumph

stability ——————— flux

mastery ————— apprenticeship

confidence ————— nervousness

passion ———- boredom

Finally, we were asked for a seven-word piece of advice for new teachers, which we then wrote on balloons and batted around the room.  Mine was:

Ask questions.  Ask for help.  And smile.

As I said, it was a beautiful way to start the day as opening plenaries on a Saturday morning need to offer the participants with something fresh and energising.  I also loved his motto for facing a crisis: “What would Jeremy Harmer do?”

January 24

PET – Listening Part 1

This is an activity which I’ve done with a couple of groups and they respond quite well to it – it gives the learners a space for a bit of creativity and provides an enjoyable lead-in to Listening Part 1 of the PET paper.

Give the learners a sample paper and divide them into pairs (you can also do individuals depending on the question type).  Assign each pair one of the questions and explain that they are going to write the dialogue. They must include all three of the options and shouldn’t necessarily introduce the correct answer last.

It works with a nuber of skills as the pairs must first write then perform their dialogue whilst others listen.  This is also an opportunity to brainstorm new vocabulary which they may be unfamiliar with – recently when I did the activity, one of the answers included a hot-air balloon ride.

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January 23

Formative Assessment

Notes from a session on assessment at a work meeting, the question comes from the LTCL Diploma TESOL May 2015 exam paper:

Explain how you use formative assessment in your classes or classes on a day-to-day basis

  • homework
  • “Don’t say…, say…” poster for errors
  • routines
  • reviewing
  • progress tests
  • games (repetition of language learned)
  • Two stars and a wish (I can…, I can… and I’m learning to…)
January 23

“Lower you expectations”

I’ve found myself giving that piece of advice to teachers in the past and I’ve come to realise that’s not really what I want to say.

On the YL extension course which we run at Active Language, I’ve found myself saying it when talking about first classes with VYLs, and at that point, I don’t mean ‘lower your expectations’ at all, but rather ‘be aware that first lessons can be difficult for VYLs – they’re being put in a room with someone who doesn’t speak their language (or won’t speak their language), often in the afternoon when they’ve been comfortable at home, watching cartoons. Be aware that you might not get as much out of them as you plan to and don’t feel let down if they can’t remember things from the first lesson to the second – just keep repeating and exposing them to the language and they’ll get there. Be prepared for people to be crying – it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the lessons in the future.’  I think ‘lower your expectations’ perhaps just rolls off the tongue more easily!

I was thinking about another moment to lower your expectations earlier this week as I was covering a class for a colleague. There are quite a variety of levels in the class, with one learner who is particularly weak and his previous teacher said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry if you don’t get a lot out of him. Even if he’s just paying attention, it’s a start.”  Part of me thinks that it’s wonderful that we view our learners as individuals – we know who will be quick to pick up new lexis and form full sentences and maybe we should be happy when we get minimal responses out of our weaker learners. Another part of my brain is screaming, “No! Raise your expectations! Give them every opportunity to go as far as they can go with anything you show them in class!”

I’ll be giving a talk at ACEIA-Málaga in a couple of weeks where I’ll address some of these issues and provide some practical tips on how we can raise our expectations and get the most from our learners.