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.

February 19

What’s up with WhatsApp? – an #ELTchat summary

Slightly belated #ELTchat summary here – it was a really interesting chat back at the end of January and I offered to write the summary in full knowledge that I wouldn’t get around to it for a couple of weeks.

cecilianobreelt is a huge fan of using WhatsApp with her learners and she kicked off the chat sharing this thought and an image which she had shared with her learners to spark discussion:

I find it crucial that students immerse in the language outside lesson’s times. Due to that, I have created ( with their authorization) a Whatsapp group to share tips, interact, ask questions and challenge them. I have chosen Whatsapp because all my students use it often and we usually communicate through it.

In order to build good rapport and encourage them to use English, I try to use humour to get them motivated and willing to participate in the group. In this activity, I sang a few seconds of a song I was listening to on the radio and challenged them to tell me the name of the song. It was fun and interactive, they took part and mocked me, which was my original idea.

There were mixed experiences among the chatters of using WhatsApp – some had no experience, others had used it to varying degrees, for example to send messages or share information.  I’ve found it to be a useful tool for practising Cambridge Main Suite picture descriptions – learners google images and then send you the one-minute recording.  You can then respond with audio feedback which gives them good listening practice too.   Another option for using images is “phrasal verb photos” – nominate a learner to send an image and sentence to the group showing a phrasal verb.  Marisa_C said she liked the idea of “selfie” tasks – something which a learner could do individually and send for feedback (taking a photo – either a selfie or of something else and commenting on it, reciting a poem, etc).  Sue_Annan added that they could take photos of logos to kick off a debate about  business design – great for a business English class; cecilianobreelt suggested a caption-writing competition for a crazy photo and naomishema said that she’s sending learners superlatives and they need to respond with a picture for each.

Also, it’s great for sharing audio files – learners can listen at their own pace either during the class or at home; or for sharing tasks and/or audio with those who were absent.  And, on the topic of audio, it’s great for learners to send you snippets so you can correct their pronunciation, which is one thing DavinnaArtibey does.  teachingright shared an idea for learners to construct sentences from emojis – one person send four emojis and the others try to write a sentence with them.  You can also read about eltjam‘s Amé app via which learners can ask questions about English.

We talked about the ease of BYOD – learners can easily use their own devices for webquests and you can easily share links on WhatsApp which means you cut out the awkward moment of trying to copy a URL from the board or other source.  jorgeguillen also said that it can be useful for promoting learner autonomy if we send them answer keys and encourage self- or peer-correction and error analysis.  Furthermore, any platform like WhatsApp has the benefit of encouraging learning outside the classroom and it can be used to send daily tips for further development.

There were questions raised as to whether WhatsApp was any better than alternatives such as email, edmodo, padlet, Google Hangouts, GoogleKeep or facebook and we discussed how in some countires WhatsApp may be used more frequently and so it’s seen as less of a bother for learners to use a platform they are already familiar with, rather than asking them to sign up to another learning platform.  There were also queries over privacy and boundaries, with some teachers sharing stories of the platform being abused or the dangers a teacher could face having 1:1 contact with a learner.  naomishema said that some learners may protest if they are already members of various other groups.  We also talked about how many schools have strict no-phone policies and EdLaur added that WhatsApp is officially only for over-16s.  An option to combat misuse would be to agree the terms of use as a class when setting up the group, as we might do with a classroom contract to encourage good behaviour.

Some great quotes to end on:

I often feel that 21st c teaching is 20th c teaching with bells & whistles.  Little added pedagogical value. – GlenysHanson

Tuition on any platform is only as good as the thought, prep, delivery & relevance to Ss’ needs – tom_flaherty

 

You can read the full transcript here.

February 17

Motivating the Masses

You know how sometimes when you go to tidy up, things end up messier than they were before?  Well, my office is a little like that at the moment as I decided to rearrange my desk and in the process realised that two weeks ago I gave a talk at ACEIA Málaga and I still hadn’t got around to posting the slides on here…ooops!  Unfortunately, it might not make a whole lot of sense if you weren’t in the session…hopefully at some point in the future when I have some free time (!!!), I’ll get around to writing up the different activities in more detail.

Motivating the masses from verybouncyperson
February 11

Fortnightly Focus #11 – that group again

Busy week here, so my Wednesday post has turned into a Saturday post!

I’ve been trying a new behaviourial (points) system with this group which is having a positive effect on a number of them.  I found I was constantly juggling giving points for participation with rewarding the weaker learners when they did something well and trying not to unfair to the strong learners who would be streaks ahead in points at the end of the lesson.  Each time I needed to award points, my focus was away from the learners and I was feeling a lack of control.  Now, everyone starts the lesson on maximum points and the idea is not to lose any points during the lesson – they’re divided into sections for things so that as well I can see why people are losing points – not sitting properly, annoying classmates, chatting in Spanish and so on.  As I say, this means it’s now clearer for the class why an individual is losing points, although it does mean there’s perhaps less incentive to participate as points aren’t awarded for taking part or getting answers correct.

The fabulous Jill also re-introduced me to a fun activity which she does with YLs to keep them engaged and listening – each day there’s a magic word and if the teacher says the word, the learners have to stand up, turn around and sit down.  I’ve tried it a few times and I’ve found it works well with high-frequency, easy-to-spot content words.

I used “what” the other day which was highly amusing as I was asking lots of questions during the lesson…which leads me on nicely to my next Fortnightly Focus – I’m going to be thinking about questions: questions I ask my learners, questions I ask myself, questions learners ask me…

January 25

Fortnightly Focus #10 – assessing writing

Although it is Wednesday and two weeks’ after my previous fortnightly focus post, there is definitely a large amount of procrastination going on as I write it!  We’re in exam week at Active Language and as well as a pile of marking to do, I also have three sets of reports to write…so I’ll try to make this brief and then undoubtedly look for something else to do, like the dusting!

Here are my thoughts of three different approaches we can take to marking learners’ writing and some advantages and disadvantages of each.  These are very general comments, as in each case the response of the learners to the different style of assessment will depend on many factors, such as their level, age, interest in learning English and motivation to improve.

Old-school – learner hands in text, teacher grabs a pen and marks it

Advantages

  • You can do it anywhere – on your commute, in the staffroom, on the sofa
  • It’s a quick and effective way to highlight either errors (to encourage self-correction) or language used well
  • As you will probably give it back in a subsequent class, learners can immediately ask for clarification if corrections or comments are unclear
  • It’s a tangible record of progress and learners can easily refer back to previous work to improve the next time round

Disadvantages

  • It could be a lot of work for the teacher depending on how many classes you have and how often you set written tasks
  • Less motivated learners need to be trained in appreciating the work which goes into marking – perhaps some sort of follow-up activity when the corrected text is received?

Totally techy – Learner emails word document to teacher, who replies with feedback in the form of a jing video plus returns a corrected or annotated version of the text

Advantages

  • Paper-free…gotta love those trees 🙂
  • In Word, it’s easy to annotate the text using the track changes option
  • Responding using jing allows the teacher to comment on the text and point out strong or weak points whilst speaking

Disadvantages

  • How aware will learners be of the corrections made?
  • It is perhaps less likely that they will refer to this text when working on a subsequent one

Peer assessment – learners are given a guided task to correct a classmate’s text

Advantages

  • If learners are well prepared for this task, it means less marking for the teacher
  • It makes learners more aware of how texts are marked and, especially important for exam preparation classes, allows them to get inside the mind of the marker and gain a deeper understanding of what he is looking for in a good text
  • It makes learners aware of more language – a teacher would be unlikely to rephrase a correct sentence in  learner’s text but through peer assessment they will read the language their peers are using

Disadvantages

  • The learners may still want the teacher to look at their texts as the ‘voice of authority’ on corrections
  • Learners need to be trained to be critically constructive – they may feel less comfortable receiving a low mark from a classmate
  • It needs to be seen as a valuable task for learners to take time to do it well

I’m going to leave it there for now as I would like to get some reports written before #ELTchat tonight!  So, a bit of a repeat for this fortnight’s focus as I’m going back to basics with classroom management with my tricky 10-year-olds – baby steps in each activity, with copious amounts of points…let’s see how it goes!  There are only ten of them in the class, but the range in level, motivation to participate and ability to control themselves is incredible.

 

 

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