Month: May 2016

11 Things

11 Things

So… I’m really slow and have only just discovered this blog challenge from a couple of years back! But I think it’s a great chance to use my blog from some professional networking, so I’m joining in anyway, and hope that I can somehow revive it!!

Here’s the challenge:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated.

And here goes:

1) I don’t actually know Kevin, whose blog I nicked this idea from, but stumbled across his his 11-things challenge whilst reading another post. And so he didn’t actually nominate me. Here’s the link to his:

2) 11 random facts about myself:


One:  I have A-levels in French, German, Psychology and Contemporary Dance. I “only” got a B in French, though, and cried on results day.

Two: I’ve lived in Germany for 9 years and still import British tea-bags!

Three: My younger brother travels around the world to watch England play football, but he has never been to visit me in Trier


Four: I used to work at Greggs Bakers, and still always eat a Cheese & Onion Pasty whenever I’m back in the UK!

Five: I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher – as a kid, I used to line up my teddies and dolls and teach them by writing on my little chalk board! 😀

Six: I am blessed and very grateful to have very supportive parents, who have never doubted my life choices, are so proud of everything I’ve achieved, love me unconditionally, and don’t seem to mind that I’ve set up home in a foreign country.

Seven: I’m also very bless to have such a great partner who is behind me no matter what, understands my passion for teaching and my general madness, supported me through burn-out and depression, has seen me at my worst and has still recently asked me to marry him!

Eight: I still like to go out partying, getting dress up, dancing IMAG0611the night away, enjoying a few cocktails, singing some karaoke, and generally not behaving the way people in my village think a woman of my age should!! I still feel too young to have children. And anyway… I’ve got parents-(nearly)-in-law instead!

Nine: Some of the best support and inspiration for my teaching has come from people with less teaching experience than me. (As opposed to what I always expected – experienced colleagues, ‘big names’, textbooks, etc.)

Ten: I have recently decided that the PhD route is probably not for me, but I would like to move into materials writing for ELT / EAP. I’ve started out by reviewing some textbooks, like here: and sharing some of the worksheets I’ve made, like here     I’m still waiting / looking for my big break though…

Eleven: This list was the hardest things I’ve had to compose in a long time. I’m sitting here wondering who will read it and/or care. But at least I’ve made it to number 11!

3) Kevin’s 11 Questions:

One: What’s your earliest memory of using the internet?

AOL chat rooms after school in an internet cafe!

Two: What games did your grandparents used to play as children?

Well what I used to play with my nans was tiddly-winks, connect four, ludo, and, when we were a bit older, Mastermind! Ah, tiddly winks reminds me of one of my first posts on here:

Three: Who is your favorite social theorist and why?

I’ve never thought about having one. But I supposed I could say Karl Marx, as I live in his birthtown!

Four: What are three teaching/learning beliefs that you hold dear?

 – A teacher is not better at everything ever than the students; and both can learn from each other.

 – The deepest learning happens without a teacher.

 – A certain level of challenge keeps the classroom alive.

Five: What’s one life lesson you’ve learned from a student?

There’s so much support out there, so many people willing to help, if you just ask.

word cloudSix: What’s your favorite teaching tool/object and why?

The old-fashioned over-head projector. Because it’s quick and easy, and you can face the students whilst writing on it. You can use different colours. You can prepare transparencies in advance and write on them during the lesson. And because in most of the classrooms here, the alternative is a chalk board!

Seven: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully with my name on a new published ELT book! 🙂 But still doing this amazing job that I love!

Eight – 2008 : iphone :: 2058 :

Worryingly, I guess by then we’ll all have implants which communicate everything about us to anyone else who might want to know it. Or, we might have got sick and tired of technology and gone back to basics? Here’s hoping!

Nine: If you could eliminate one of your five senses to substantially strengthen the others, which one would you choose to eliminate?

Definitely sense of smell. I think you can manage your everyday life pretty well without smelling things. And nice things like memories can also be saved and triggered by images, touches, sounds, etc.

4) List 11 bloggers

James –

Joanna –

Sandy –

Nathan –

Rachael –

Hanna –

Gemma –

Jennifer –

Dan –

Zhenja –

Anna –

Image credit: Pixabay

5) Questions for nominated bloggers (and anyone else who fancies answering!)

One: How are you feeling today?

Two: What book is closest to you as you write this? And would you recommend it to others? Why (not)?

Three: What’s your top tip for de-stressing after a hard day at work?

Four: Have you ever learnt any foreign languages? How has this helped you be a better language teacher?

Five: Describe your teaching style by comparison to an animal, and explain the similarities!

Six: What are your areas of specialism & expertise within ELT / teaching, and your strengths as a teacher?

Seven: Which are the most recently used smiley/emojis on your mobile phone/whatsapp or instant messenger programme?

Eight: What was the most recent photo you took?

Nine: Where are you based, and would you recommend working there to others?

Ten: What’s your best memory of a lesson you’ve taught?

Eleven: What would you like to say to me, now that I’ve nominated you for this challenge?!

Review (part 1) – Keynote

Review (part 1) – Keynote

I’ve recently been given two inspection copies of the “Keynote” series by National Geographic Learning / Cengage and am considering whether I should adopt it as a set text for my EAP classes. In case anyone else out there is thinking about using it, here are my first thoughts of a review!

keynote adv 1

The series, like Cengage’s other title “21st Century Reading”, takes TED talks as the basis for the topic of each unit. The “Keynote” books train all four skills, as well as pronunciation and grammar. They include authentic listening tasks and critical thinking exercises, which I think make them quite appropriate for university classes, but actually the series seems to be targeted at a rather broad audience, especially regarding topic choice. I’ve been informed that National Geographic won the tender to use TED talks commercially thanks to their previous materials based on authentic input, and I do think that “Keynote” continues this tradition of good work. Each book has 12 topic-based units, and the topics are based on TED talks.  The talks are mostly by native speakers of different varieties English, though in the more advanced books some talks by non-native speakers have been included. These all have very clear diction, and thus provide some (though rather limited for such advanced levels!) practice at understanding various accents. The talks are not slowed down at all, but they are sometimes abridged, especially for the lower-level books. My initial impression is that the talks and excerpts are well chosen and well prepared for use in this textbook series.

In what I’d describe as ‘classic textbook manner’, the units start off by focusing on the TED talk, and then develop the language beyond this. The structure of all units is the same, which may be good for learners who like to have a common routine, though could also become repetitive. The first section of any unit focuses on comprehending the main idea and supporting evidence from the TED talk. This is followed by grammar and language noticing and practice, with activities which work towards spoken production and include some well-conceived communicative practice. The third section of each unit focuses on extensive reading, which often incorporates critical thinking skills and vocabulary work. And finally, each unit closes with functional oral/aural exercises, which move towards writing skills with some nicely modern and motivating tasks such as writing blog posts or  online profiles. After every two units there is a review section, which usually takes a case-study approach. For my taste this is a few too many ‘review sections’, but this may be appropriate in other contexts. I think it’s important to mention here that only the first section of each unit really uses the TED talk – far less than I was expecting from the adverts for this series! The rest of the sections work with authentic materials adopted from National Geographic publications, in a similar manner to their other textbook “Life”.

What I like about the “Keynote” series is that every student’s book comes with a DVD containing all of the video and audio material, sometimes with sub-titles. This is definitely a bonus over other series where there is just one DVD included in a class-set of books, and makes the series particularly appealing for those of us teaching classes where the number of credits requires a substantial amount of work from learners beyond the lesson time. The tape-scripts are also included at the back of the books, as are some role cards for extension activities, and a brief grammar reference section. The textbooks really feel like textbooks and not like workbooks – so learners can’t really write their answers into their books, in contrast to other series such as “21st Century Reading”. For university classes and adult education I find this more appropriate anyway, though that might just be personal taste. “Keynote” is also available as an e-book, and there is also an interactive workbook and other additional e-materials which can be purchased separately (I think a licence is for 12 months). What I find frustrating with the teacher’s book is that the answers to tasks are interspersed with other input and instructions in the description of each unit, which makes them sometimes time-consuming to locate and not practical for photocopying to allow learners to check their own work.

keynote 2

Overall, the “Keynote” series has more of a feel of preparing learners for professional use of English, so I’m not convinced that it is the best choice for academic settings, though the skills and grammar practised are generally appropriate. The amount of time a class would need to complete one level of “Keynote” would probably be about a year, at one-two lessons per week, depending on the amount of homework given; sadly this is another factor making it impractical for use on one-semester university modules. I am also a little disappointed that the biggest selling point – working with TED talks – has turned out to make up only about a quarter of the textbook. So I think my initial decision will not be to adopt this as a set textbook, though for Part 2 of my review I plan to try out some of the units with different class groups, and perhaps the students will convince me to use “Keynote” after all! Watch this space!

Review: A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education

Fry, H., S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (eds), A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education, 4th edition (Routledge, 2015).

Thoughhandbook it is like a collection of essays each covering a different area or current debate in HE, this book neatly fits the ‘handbook’ genre, since it is easy to navigate and doesn’t need to be read cover-to-cover. It also includes practical examples and case studies of the principles explored in the chapters.  Those new to teaching in HE are the main target audience, but those with more experience will also benefit from reflecting on the issues presented. Each chapter is written by an expert in that area and is supported by references to research and relevant literature. Almost all chapters are lucidly written, avoid jargon, and explain acronyms and specialist terms with contextualised examples. There is also a reader-friendly glossary of such terms. Overall, the handbook has a very practical focus, informed by theories which are concisely explained, so as to facilitate direct application to one’s own work.

Particularly valuable are the ‘interrogating practice’ boxes, which encourage reader reflection and lead to critical thinking about one’s own work. Some of the points might be rather basic for more experienced lecturers, but may function as a welcome reminder to (re-)consider the concept of one’s teaching approach, and make these beliefs clear in one’s own mind, especially before jumping in to a new academic term.

Since the chapters are set in a UK context, some of the more detailed points may be less relevant to readers working in other countries (e.g. the effect of tuition fees) – this is especially true of Part 1, ‘The current world of teaching and learning in higher education.’  Still, most points are applicable much more widely. Indeed, this fourth edition explicitly aims to be more accessible to a wider international audience: an aim I feel has been well achieved overall.

Part 2 of the book, ‘Learning, teaching and supervising in higher education’, will likely be of most interest and use to all teachers, regardless of subject area, country of work, etc.  It guides the reader on a brief journey from theories on the psychology of learning, to practical considerations in different types of teaching set-up, and the different roles an HE lecturer might cover. The overarching aim seems to be shifting the readers’ focus from teaching to facilitating learning.

Chapter 5, ‘Describing Learning’ by Sue Matheison, is said to be the most key essay in the book; the introduction recommends reading this before moving on to later essays, though the theoretical background is probably only new to academics without any teacher training. The chapter encourages reflective teaching, for example guiding readers to address the mismatch between expected outcomes and employed teaching methodology.  Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy is presented, but the example tasks given are rather vague. The socio-cultural approach to learning is discussed in addition to constructivist ideas, and all key terms and names are clearly explained, as are very recent developments in this field.  Overall, a comprehensive introduction to how learning works. My only reservation is that the chapter presents multiple ideas which may be new to untrained academics, but there is little hedging language in the evaluations and not always concrete examples for illustration. I wonder whether this might confuse new teachers trying make their own decisions regarding teaching. Nonetheless, the overarching message rings true: We need to understand learning in order to provide good teaching.

The chapters that follow are more practical, step-by-step guides, preparing the reader for various tasks they will face in their role as an HE teacher. Chapter 6, by Chris Butcher, for example, explains how best to create a module outline or curriculum with clear learning outcomes. In chapter 7, Ruth Ayres provides tips and references to research on lecturing, working with groups, and supporting learners. The information is up-to-date, though some ideas involve technology which may not be available at all institutions. Sam Brenton’s chapter 10 provides an astute assessment of the state of online education and demonstrates how to make blended teaching most effective without an over-investment of time and energy, reminding us not to neglect set learning outcomes when choosing to integrate online components.

Chapter 8, ‘Assessing assessment’ by Sue Bloxham problematizes summative, high-stakes assessment in HE, and advises readers to find chances for learning-oriented progress-checking and feedforward. Though the concept is not particularly innovative, the chapter gives sound advice on establishing learning-oriented assessment, as well as on avoiding some common difficulties. Assessment and feedback remain areas of substantial research which no one book chapter could really ever do justice to, but Bloxham provides a sound introduction for new teachers, and does encourage further reading and discussion with experienced peers.

In Chapter 9, Camille B. Kandiko Howson focuses on using student evaluations to engage them in developing an active learning community with responsibility for their own learning. She mentions some standardised surveys which may be of interest, though these seem to only be relevant for UK institutions and such generalised feedback may be far less helpful for specific teachers. Still, the concept of autonomous learning is picked up again by Martyn Kingsbury in Chapter 12, which explores why it is effective and how teachers can facilitate it by cultivating the relevant skills, such as critical thinking or self-reflection. The suggested activities are mostly concrete examples and the chapter provides ample food for thought for new and experienced HE tutors, though the explanations are occasionally repetitive.

Stan Taylor and Margaret Kiley, in chapter 13, shift the spotlight back onto the teacher, presenting a readable assessment of the ever-changing demands on doctoral candidates, and some fairly concrete advice for lecturers in supervisory positions. Likewise, in an age of diversifying student populations, chapter 11 on ‘Enabling inclusive learning’ is worth a read. Here, Bamber and Jones include considerations from both lecturers’ and students’ points of view, and present a framework to help address potential mismatches in expectations.

To close Part 2, Chapter 14 provides an overview of significant points which must be understood if we are to facilitate maximum learning progress among our students – which is the general aim of this handbook. It draws out central aspects presented in the preceding chapters and discusses them in light of published empirical findings. At points Gibbs mentions areas in which change is necessary, but is somewhat vague on what kind of change; similarly, the Bologna Agreement is mentioned only passing. Still, the recommendations in this chapter, and indeed all of Part 2, are sound and mostly explicitly stated so as to be implementable by teachers at all stages in their careers.

Part 3 focusses on ‘Teaching and learning in the disciplines’, so I feel qualified only to comment on only one chapter: Modern Languages. Here, Michael Kelly problematizes the situation regarding language degrees today and the diverse backgrounds of students who may be learning languages at university. He highlights recent developments including a stricter separation between the study of language and culture, and a boost in linguistics and translation studies. Designing modules and materials to accommodate this increasing variety of need and interest among students is rightly highlighted as a key issue in MFL teaching, with the added point of semester-abroad requirements in university degrees. The case studies here clearly show different universities approaches to dealing with such developments, and provide the reader with some inspiration for their own practice. As well as these organisational matters, the chapter discusses pedagogical issues, whereby key language acquisition assumptions are presented in an accessibly brief manner. Kelly still mentions the concept of learning styles, though, which in EFL teaching has been largely discredited.

Overall, all the chapters of this book are interesting to read and all provide the audience with well-informed and justified advice on how to approach various aspects of teaching in HE. Despite some minor weaknesses of some individual essays, this book seems valuable to new and experienced teachers in HE; I would recommend its installation in staffrooms and libraries in all HE institutions!