June 17

Professional development – on your doorstep and at your fingertips

The options for personal growth in the information age are astounding – from MOOCs on astrophysics or social psychology to self-paced language learning apps or Skype lessons, there’s something for everyone on the worldwide web, whatever your interests.  There’s no shortage of development opportunities for ELT professionals either.  However, whilst it’s great to connect with educators from around the globe, peers closer to home may be more familiar with your teaching context or be experiencing similar problems. So, let’s take a look at some options to access professional development on a global scale and in the local area.

A global PLN

Connecting with other ELT professionals on Twitter or Facebook allows you to learn more about teaching in different contexts – teachers who commute across Tokyo to various business English classes, a CELTA trainer in Greece or a teacher of English to deaf and hard of hearing learning in Israel – these are just a few of the people I have encountered and their stories have opened my eyes to a much wider world of ELT than I had previously imagined.  Sharing experiences with teachers from around the globe, some of whom have taught in a wide range of environments, makes you more aware of some of the bigger issues in ELT such as the incredible native-speaker bias of many Asian teaching contexts or the perceived Euro-centeredness of preliminary training courses (not to mention the ongoing debate of just how valid such courses really are!).

If you’re not on Twitter, I really do recommend checking it out to see if it works for you.  It can be a little overwhelming at times but a great starting point would be #ELTchat held every Wednesday at 7pm UK time – there’s a weekly topic which educators from around the world “meet-and-tweet” to discuss and it’s the perfect opportunity to make new connections with like-minded people if you’re unsure of where to start.

If it doubt, Google it

I had a colleague who once said that the first place he would go in a zombie apocalypse would be the library to grab as many books as he could on basic survival skills.  His reasoning was that we live in an age where we Google every query and that in a zombie apocalypse, your internet connection would not be guaranteed – without Google, you’d be helpless and therefore more at risk of having your brain nibbled by a zombie.

There are abundant resources available online nowadays, from easy-to-use lesson plans on anything from the present simple to aviation; self-guided exam practice to bots which correct your writing or answers your queries about the language.  Each time you search for something on Google, you’re likely to end up with millions of options – grammar pages, lesson sharing sites and blogs.  And blogs are a great way to get new ideas and expand your repertoire – though similarly to Twitter, the amount of input available can be overwhelming and it’s not always easy to know where to start.  Ask colleagues if they can recommend any good bloggers and, if they can, check out the blogger’s favourite sites sometimes listed as a blogroll (she says with a shudder).  You may also find blog writers who work in the same context or country as you, which will probably make their articles more immediately relevant to your own situation.

Closer to home

Which brings me to my final point – how can you connect with local ELT professionals?  Strange as it might seem, the worldwide web may again be the best starting point – check Facebook to see if there are any teachers’ associations in your area or email the national TESOL association to see if there’s a representative in your area.  It may be that there are already events happening and if not, start your own!  TEFL del Sur was founded a few years ago in Cádiz as a local association for ELT professionals as we found that the annual conferences on offer didn’t provide us with enough development opportunities or were prohibitively expensive taking into account entrance fees and travel costs.  And you don’t need a big-budget event in a hotel with swanky name tags and a publishers’ exhibition – just get a few like-minded people together and hold a Swap Shop to share what’s been working for you recently or ask for advice on a tricky situation.

If you’re interested in setting up a local event, please feel free to get in touch to find out how we went about doing it.  It really is a wonderful opportunity to connect with people working in similar environments to your own and to make new friends in the process.  However, if you are teaching in the back of beyond and the local ELT vibe consists of me, myself and I, an online PLN offers a wealth of support in 140 characters at the click of a mouse.

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 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.

February 22

Fortnightly Focus #12 – Questions

Robert Heinlein once said,

When one teaches, two learn.

I’ve learnt so much since becoming a teacher, not only through those sometimes peculiar texts which crop up in coursebooks – my recent favourite was about a man who travelled around Ireland with a fridge for a dare…there’s even a film about it – but also about the language I teach and speak everyday.

For example, recently I’ve learnt the term urban furniture, which is the collective term for benches, postboxes, fountains, etc.  Through other questions which my learners have asked me, I’ve learnt more about words which I had a general idea of, but didn’t use in that context so never fully grasped – one example is holding, as in a holding company.

Since becoming a teacher trainer, I’m a lot more aware of the questions I ask my learners – gone are the days of, “Do you understand?” and “What do you have to do?” (though admittedly that one sometimes creeps in when I think someone hasn’t been listening to me).  I know though that asking instruction-checking questions is not one of my strong points – partly because I sometimes feel they are a little superfluous and patronising (Which activity? Do you have to write or match?) though I can appreciate that the questions can be matched to the linguistic and cognitive level of the learners too.

I also feel I’m much better at asking concept-checking questions rather than, “What does…mean?” and I enjoy finding the balance between open and closed CCQs (Is a wardrobe for clothes or food? vs.  Which room is a wardrobe usually in?).  As a trainer as well, I’m becoming better at eliciting answers from trainees, as to start with I would tell them why things were or weren’t a good idea; now I ask them (then give my two penneth!).

I’m continuing to use questions as a routine at the start of my tricky class – we’ve done what, who and when so far and I’m going to put the questions on lollipop sticks so that we can use them as a review activity when they need a break.  A question that age group asks me a lot is, “When is it my turn to do Guess the Question?” and I’d like to get into the habit of using more questions with my VYLs to get them familiar with typical questions too.

Here are some questions you might like to think about in your own teaching – they are questions which originally came out in feedback on observations at our centre a couple of years ago.

For my next Fortnightly Focus, I’m going to be focussing on my boardwork.  If you haven’t yet checked it out, I strongly recommend #ELTwhiteboard on twitter – it gives you a fascinating glimpse into other teachers’ classrooms around the world and you can pick up some great tips on layout, use of colour, how to work with phonology and much, much more.