Month: October 2015

#BackToTheFutureDay Review of my past posts

Today is 21st October 2015. That means I am writing from the ‘future’ that Maty McFly wanted to get back to in Back to the Future! And since today is so important in time-travelling history/fiction, I’ve decided to look back over my posts on this blog and pick out a few of my favourites that I’d still be interested in discussing and hearing readers’ responses to!

In no particular order, here they are:

The Role of Wikipedia in Academic Essays:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/the-role-of-wikipedia-in-eap-writing/ and the Take Two post on the same topic for EAP: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/the-role-of-wikipedia-in-eap-take-two/

 

Optimising Active Participation:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/optimising-active-participation-a-discussion/

 

Why don’t students to their homework:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/todays-frustration-why-dont-students-do-their-homework/

 

What I would tell my newly-qualified self:  https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/things-i-would-tell-my-newly-qualified-self/

 

I’d love for you to re-visit those posts and leave your comments and discussion!

Enjoy #Backtothefutureday !!

Do one thing every day that’s not work.

This is not a challenge; you don’t need to tip water over your head, take a photo of yourself with a sign, or post anything at all if you don’t want to! This is about YOU. And it’s just my suggestion of a small first step in making sure work doesn’t take over your life.

I’ve borrowed the title from adapting the lyrics of Baz Luhrmann’s “Class of 99” – where he sings/says: Do one thing every day that scares you!

This may sound dramatic but it is a serious danger in the teaching profession. More and more frequently, I read newspaper articles, blogs, etc. about the lack of work-life balance teachers are having to live with. This doesn’t seem to be limited to any one country or system; it seems to me that there’s something about the teaching profession and the kind of people who become teachers that makes burn-out an inherent risk. That probably sounds more negative than I mean it to! I just have the impression that, especially in places were teachers are poorly paid, most of the people who have (nonetheless) chosen to pursue this career do so out of a motivation to help, share, inspire, and so on. We want to do our best for our learners/students. And since a lot of our work (preparation, marking, etc.) necessarily takes place outside of the classroom, it’s all too easy for it to spill over into our homes, our evenings, our weekends, and so on. And it can start to take over, if we’re not careful. Yes, I speak from experience.
And so I try to live by the motto of “Do one thing every day that#s not work”. This may sound really easy for you. For others less so. But a lot of it is to do with noticing, re-categorising how we see things in our minds. For example: cooking dinner. Yes, you’ve got to eat, and that generally involves cooking something. But by mentally noting the time you stopped working, and enjoying focussing on the tears the chopped onions provoke, the smell of the chicken in the oven, the creamy consistency of the sauce, or whatever, and categorising ‘cooking dinner’ into something positive that you have achieved today, you’ve already changed your mindset from eating being something to squeeze in between marking essays and planning tomorrow’s lesson. Win!
Here are some other things I do which I count as my “one thing”:
– gym
– phoning a friend for a chat
– watching a film
– writing a blog post
– baking a cake (sharing with colleagues the next day can count as another “one thing”! 🙂 )
– paying bills online
– cleaning the bathroom
Some of these may sound silly and not very fun. But the aim is to make yourself consciously aware of something that you have done that was not related to work – this tiny change can make all the difference in times of stress. Of course, the bigger the “one thing”, the better you will feel, and I would suggest that if your “one thing” is paying bills five days in a row, then you maybe need to get help! But as I said, this is one small step in preventing work from taking over entirely.
I was writing this and thinking of starting the hashtag #onethingELT so that we can all share our “one things” – I can imagine that sharing makes the experience even more rewarding! Then I discovered #teacher5aday the more advanced version, let’s say, where teachers (not only ELT) are encouraged to five things per day: notice, connect, learn, exercise, volunteer. See here for more details.  You can choose which hashtag you use; I’ll see both. And I look forward to sharing and inspiring each other. Let’s beat burn-out together!
Another way to make it rewarding is to use an app like photo365 where you take a photo of your “onething” each day and make a collage to be proud of!

Baz Luhrmann also sings: “The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself!” So look after yourself, and you’ve already won!

How to get started on #teacher5aday

This is such a great idea and I can’t find enough ways of sharing it! I know so many of us teachers who are actually already suffering from stress and sometimes some pretty severe consequences! It seems to me that we can’t expect too much help from outside (from governments/public who think we all have too much holiday, or from institutions who are only interested in meeting targets or making money) and so we have to help ourselves! And this is a brilliant inspiration to do so! I’m so glad that I have come across this idea, albeit rather late! But it’s never too late to start looking after yourself and protecting your well-being at work! Some of the suggestions on the list are things that I/you/we might already be doing, but categorising them mentally in a new framework highlights how good they are for me/you/us, and brings a whole new level of satisfaction/sense of achievement into the frame. Brilliant idea – thank you, and keep sharing!!

20 years a teacher

The start of #teacher5aday – different sides of the same coin

Happiness is on the rise globally, according to an end-of-year survey of 64,000 people in 65 countries.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-30629478

The launch of #teacher5aday has contributed very positively to my happiness this month. Lots of support and positive feedback for the initial idea shared here http://wp.me/p4VbxY-6E. A number of #well-being superheroes have shared their ideas about how they will start looking after themselves more and therefore look after their students as well.

http://wp.me/p4VbxY-7x.

There is also a collection of #Nurture1415 blogs, a great idea from @ChocoTzar in which people review last years achievements, and talk about their hopes for this one. http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-nurture-1415-collection/

In January I hope that teachers will continue to discuss their well-being either as a tweet (daily / weekly) or via a blog. Using the ideas shared in the links above or the John Muir framework below I’m hoping…

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Action Research – What and how?

Action Research – What and how?

Many schemes of professional development for teachers, as well as advanced teaching certificates, include an element of ‘Action Research’ (AR). In my work as a team leader of EFL tutors, I’ve come to see just how important AR is for teachers to continue to develop and professionalise their teaching practices. And I’m so enthusiastic about teachers doing research that I want to share some introductory thoughts with a wider audience – with you, my dear blog readers! I hope I can inspire you to start your own AR projects, and would love to hear what you get up to!

So what is ‘Action Research’ for teachers? Basically,  AR is any small scale research conducted by a practising teacher which looks at any aspect of how a class is run, and is particularly aimed at answering a question or addressing a difficult or controversial issue. The results of the research can then be used by the teacher (and colleagues if the results are shared) to inform future practice and to suggest solutions to any problems or puzzles caused by the controversial issues/questions.

With this definition, ‘action research’ can be broken down into the following concrete phases: 

  1. formulation of research question, 
  2. background reading (optional), 
  3. developing (and maybe piloting, or evaluating with colleagues) a method of data collection, 
  4. data collection,
  5. collating & analysing data, 
  6. reflection & drawing conclusions. 

Once conclusions have been drawn, these can lead to the formulation of a consequent action plan or changes in teaching practice, and/or the dissemination of the research findings.

These phases may make AR sound like a very time-consuming and serious experimental endeavour, but it really isn’t!! An AR project can be as large and time-consuming, or as quick and small, as the teacher wants it to be. Most of the time, you can ‘research’ whilst teaching. You start with something you’d like to find out, change something minor in your teaching, and reflect on the outcome. The research question could focus on a local issue connected to one specific class or school, such as getting shy learners to speak more, dealing with unruly behaviour, encouraging more engagement with homework tasks, or trialling things like project-based learning, peer-review etc. You could trial a new technique to investigate possible & necessary adaptations for particular teaching contexts. You might also want to try combining ideas from published sources and developing a new technique which could then be shared with others. Often, I’ve found informal staffroom chats highlight potential AR topics, so just keep your ears open!

The ‘how’ question can seem a big deal, especially if calling it ‘data collection’ reminds you of big scientific investigations! But in AR, you can choose any way to gather information that is relevant to your research question. It could be as straightforward as keeping a journal of your lessons and your reflections on them, or maybe asking to sit in on a colleague’s lesson to see how they approach a certain issue, or even asking your students to give you their opinions on certain aspects of the classroom/lesson setup. The key thing is reflecting on what you find out and how you can apply it to your teaching!

If you are approaching AR for the first time, you might like to talk through your ideas with a colleague who’s done some AR before, or collaborate with another colleague to emphasise the reflective nature of AR. I would also love to hear about your AR projects and can mentor you through the process, if you wish – just comment below or send me a message on Twitter, I’m @Clare2ELT.

What I really love about AR is that it can open up dialogue among teachers! That’s why I’d love for you to get in touch, and would also encourage any teacher who has conduced AR to share their findings publicly, e.g. on a blog or in a teaching magazine or newsletter.

Here are some other links and blog posts that are worth a look, if you’re interesting in finding out more about AR:

British Council: Exploring our own classroom practice.

Nellie Mueller: Action Research Projects

My first MOOC – A Reflection

I have just completed my first ever MOOC! It was “Professional Practices for English Langauge Teachers” offered by the British Council on FutureLearn.com. The topic is not really important for this blog post, apart from the fact that one of the professional practices that was preached was reflection. So here it is, my reflection on participating in my first ever MOOC!

MOOCsDefinition

Actually, the “Professional Practices for ELT” turned out to be something different from what I was expecting. A lot of the points were very basic, almost like an initial training course for people interested in becoming ELT teachers, but the title and course description had led me to expect something else – professional practices in terms of activities to keep up professional development after having trained as a teacher and already working in the field. In the end, these CPD activities were touched on in just one week at the end of the course. I think this could have been made clearer in the title and course descriptions. Or maybe I need to get better at reading between the lines when it comes to interpreting course descriptions!
Not one to give up on things, I decided to continue anyway, and my perserverence paid off! Although a lot of things weren’t new to me, I did come to enjoy the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and get re-inspired as a teacher! The comments (“discussions” – more on that later!) also encouraged me to think about teachers working in other contexts, which often brought new insight, and sometimes I was able to give advice and tips to other teachers, which also gave me a good feeling of satisfaction at helping others. Also, the course and ‘instructors’ provided me with a lot of references and ideas for further reading (though mainly British Coundil, and not published research, which i would have preferred), as well as some links and concrete tips for classroom activities etc. So I can extend my learning beyond this course, which is always a bonus! For me, these are two of the biggest benefits of such enormous MOOCs – being inspired by colleagues that I would normally have no contact to, and collecting ideas, links and materials!
One other thing that I found hard to deal with was the lack of real discussion in the discussion forum. Early on I refelcted on my feelings towards the course, and I have to say I found it a bit de-motivating that so many people had already zoomed ahead and were commenting and discussing sections that were planned for weeks ahead, so by the time I got there (I kept up the suggested pace of the course), I felt like everything had already been said and I couldn’t really add much. I still left my comments, but there was very little discussion then, as people had apparently already moved on and didn’t reply to what I posted. In general, the ‘discussions’ mainly consisted of individual comments, where each person shared their thoughts, but didn’t necessarily spend time engaging with others’ ideas and what had already been posted. This meant that comments were often repetitive, and for my liking rather too superficial.
MOOC_for_Free_Education
I did manage, with the ‘follow’ function to find and get involved in a few discussions that went a little deeper, but considering the number of participants (around 16,000 who added a marker on the interactive map, so probably more over all), it was rather limited, I thought. Sadly, if I’m self-evaluating here, I think I ended up tending to be more superficial myself, and only reading some of the comments that had been made, ‘liking’ a few, but not bothering to write long responses as I felt they wouldn’t be read or responded to anyway. I think it would have been good if the weeks’ tasks were ‘unlocked’ as the course progressed, so that everyone would have proceeded at the same pace, and then participants could have been encouraged more to actually engage with each others’ comments and discuss, rather than simply posting what they think and moving on. Also, on reflection, perhaps the number of participants is just too high to enable good discussion and community feeling within the forums.
One thing that was interesting, at times amusing, and needed some getting used to, was the different way people wrote their comments and posts. Generally, the tone was friendly, using first names and trying to be constructive. Some posts were slightly more informal than I would expect in an “educational” setting, but maybe that has something to do with it being online and free…? (Discuss!). And so many participants from all around the world means that people are adhering to different cultural and social norms when they post comments online; some of the comments were, from a British perspective, overly adoring and flowery, and one or two seemed plagiarised/simply copied from someone else – apparently this is a sign of respect or agreement in some cultures (I learnt that from this MOOC!), but it caused a bit of a hoo-hah as you can imagine! Still, though it just served as a reminder of cultural diversity on the internet and intercultural communication strategies.

800px-Macro_Biro_writing2So what would I do differently next time?

 – Read the course description in detail, try to read between the lines, perhaps contact the course provider about the target audience if unclear.
 – Take a course on a topic I know nothing about, to see how it feels to be a real learner again. Even if the topic itself is not part of my CPD, the whole experience of being a learner is definitely an enriching one for developing as a teacher.
 – Set myself clear times for different tasks or aims, for example 20 mins for doing a task myself, and then 20 mins to respond to others’ posts and comments. (In attempt to lead by example, and not be part of the problem I’m complaining about! 🙂 )
 – Ask more questions (and more directly – so that participants from different cultures perceive them as such) in my posts and comments to prompt discussion.
 – Ask a colleague or two to join the course with me and set up times for us to discuss the points off-line, so that we can go into more depth. Alternatively: Try to make contact with a couple of people from the course who seem to be working at the same pace as me and find a way to discuss the week’s points outside of the MOOC’s forum, in a smaller group.
Actually, as I read these points of what I intend to do differently next time, i feel like I’ve actually written a list of points to bear in mind for people who are about to take their first MOOC! If you like, those are my tips for making the most of your MOOC experience!
And you can find even more tips here (I wish I had read this in advance): British Council Magazine How to Make Best Use of MOOCs