Category: Ponderings

#ELTbehindthescenes of ClaresELTCompendium

#ELTbehindthescenes of ClaresELTCompendium

Inspired by Joanna’s post and and this post by Tekhnologic, who have started using the Twitter hashtag #ELTbehindthescenes, I thought I’d share a little bit of background on

How I plan & write my blog posts

I’m not a super prolific blogger, I have to admit. My posts appear rather sporadically. I started my blog after recommendations from IATEFL colleagues, in a bid to ‘get my name known’ since I’m a budding ELT materials writer. So I use my blog to share materials that I have written and lesson plans and ideas for teaching English. These are the posts that the most thought and planning goes into. Having said that, the materials and ideas I share are not just invented for the blog – they are usually things I have developed for my own teaching, have tried out in my own classrooms, and think are worth sharing with other teachers.

When I write materials, I usually have a certain approach in mind, for example a new technique or theory that I have read about and want to apply in practice. I believe it is important for teachers to base their lessons on informed pedagogical decisions. Some of my posts, then, are more like summaries of published ideas and research, in an attempt to help other teachers understand why I do what I do in my materials. I also contribute to ELT Research Bites which provides bite-size summaries of published research in language teaching and applied linguistics. And then I post the materials. I put effort into formatting worksheets and other handouts so they are optically pleasing and also clear for learners. I spend time writing teachers’ notes with answers and suggested procedures for using my materials. This takes quite a lot of time, because I make an effort to write everything so that it will be clear for everyone, even novice teachers.I love reading comments from teachers who have tried out my materials, especially any feedback for potential edits.

Sometimes, though, I haven’t been writing any materials, for example during the semester break where I work. Often these are times when I’ve been more focussed on marking, planning or CPD. And so my posts sneakily deviate from what I originally intended for the blog, and include discussions or opinion pieces, book reviews, or posts on organisations I think other ELT teachers will benefit from. I’m glad, when I post this kind of thing, that I gave my blog a nicely broad title! Although, I do hope that teachers outside of ELT will be ‘lured’ to read these posts and not put off by the ‘ELT’ in the name! And I hope that readers aren’t disappointed when my posts do not provide useable materials, but rather more thought-provoking (hopefully!) pieces on other aspects of teaching!

I mostly share my posts on Twitter, since that’s why my PLN is concentrated. The posts do get automatically shared to Facebook, but I’m not sure my old school friends are so interested! On Twitter, I usually use the hashtags #ELT #EAP #teachers and also (for well-being and CPD stuff) #teacher5aday. I have to admit, I’m not really sure about how often it is good/OK to share posts, to raise the optimum amount of attention, but without bugging people by repeatedly spamming their feeds. I’m working on it! And I love it when people share my tweets, and comment on or re-blog my posts!  In general, I’m really excited when people engage with my blog; it makes it all a bit more worthwhile!

 

Peer Presentation Feedback

Peer Presentation Feedback

I teach an EAP module which focusses on language and study skills. It’s aimed at first-semester students starting an English Studies degree where English is a foreign language for almost all students. They’re at the B2+ level.

In a 15-week semester, we spend the first five weeks or so looking at what makes a good academic presentation in English. We cover topics such as narrowing down a topic to make a point, logically building up an argument, linking pieces of information, maintaining the audience’s attention, formal langauge and appropriate use of register, body language and eye contact, volume and pacing, using sources effectively, and lots of sub-skills and langauge features that are relevant for presentations. In the second 2/3 of the semester, students give presentations (in groups of 3) on a topic of their choice related to the English-speaking world, and we discuss feedback altogether so that the others can learn from what was good or could be improved in the presentation they have watched.

This blog post describes my journey through trialling different ways of getting the best feedback to fulfil our overall learning aim. 

(Note: Don’t worry, we also use class time to practise other study skills pertaining to listening and speaking!)

1. ‘Who would like to give some feedback?’

I have experimented with various ways of getting audience members to give feedback. When I first started teaching on this module, I used to ask after the presentation ‘Who would like to give some feedback?’, which was usually qualified by saying something like ‘Remember the points we’ve covered on what makes a presentation good.’ Usually, only a few people commented, and they focussed mainly on the good things. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to highlight what students have done well! But the overall goal of having students give presentations was that we could constructively critique all aspects of these presentations. I had hoped that we could use these ‘real’ examples to review what we had learnt about good academic presentations. So this approach wasn’t as effective as I had hoped.

2. Feedback questions

It seemed that requiring students to keep in mind all of the features of a good academic presentation was asking a bit too much. And so, together with a colleague, I drew up a list of questions students could ask themselves about the presentation. Example questions include: Was all of the information relevant? Was the speech loud and clear, and easy to understand? Students were given the list before the first presentation and instructed to bring it each week to help them to give presentation feedback. Most people brought them most of the time. Still, students were pretty selective about which questions they wanted to answer, and (tactfully?) avoided the points where it was clear that the presentation group needed to improve. So we still weren’t getting the full range of constructive feedback that I was hoping for.

3. Feedback sandwich

sandwich.jpgIt was clear to me that students wanted to be nice to each other. We were giving feedback in plenum, and no one wanted to be the ‘bad guy’. This is a good thing per se, but it meant that they were slightly hindered in giving constructive criticism and thus achieving the learning aims I had set for the course. So, before the first presentation, I set up an activity looking at how to give feedback politely and without offending the individual presenters. We explored the psychological and linguistic concepts behind ‘face saving’ and how people may become defensive if they feel their ‘face’ is attacked, and then psychologically ‘block out’ any criticism – so the feedback doesn’t help them improve their presentation; nor does it make for good student-student relationships! I explained the idea of a ‘feedback sandwich’ in which the positive comments form the bread, and the negative comments are the filling. This idea is said to ease any feelings of ‘attack’, thus making the feedback more effective. Students embraced this idea, and did their best to ‘sandwich’ their feedback. Overall, this was a helpful step in moving the class feedback towards waht I thought would be most effective for the learning aims.

4. Feedback tickets

Since I noticed we still weren’t always getting feedback on all aspects of the presentation, a colleague and I decided to make ‘feedback tickets’, each with one question from the list we had previously prepared. The tickets were handed out before a presentation, and each student was then responsible for giving feedback on that point. Combined with the ‘sandwich’ approach, this overall worked pretty well. The minor drawbacks were that sometimes the presenters had really done a good job on a certain aspect and there wasn’t much ‘filling’ to go with the ‘bread’; however, sometimes the ‘filling’ was important, but students seemed to counteract their constructive criticisms by emphasizing their lack of importance, especially compared to the positive comments. For me, though, the major downside to using these tickets was the time factor. Running through a set of ~15 feedback tickets (and feedback sandwiches!) after each presentation was productive for students’ presentation skills, but ate into the time in class that should have been used for practising other oral/aural skills. In extreme cases, with two 30-minute presentations plus Q&A in a 90-minute lesson, we simply ran out of time for feedback! Those poor presenters got no feedback on their presentations, and we as class were not able to learn anything from the example they had delivered.

5. Google forms

google form.JPG

Actually, I first used Google Forms to collect feedback after one of these lessons where our time was up before we’d got through the plenary feedback round. I copied all of the feedback questions into a Google form (using the ‘quiz’ template) and emailed the link to the students. I was positively surprised by the results! Perhaps aided by the anonymity of the form, students used the ‘sandwich’ idea very effectively – suitably praising good aspects of the presentation, and taking time to explain their criticisms carefully and specifically. Wow – helpful feedback! I printed out the feedback to give to the presenters, along with my own written feedback, and also picked out a couple of poignant comments to discuss in plenum in the next lesson. Right from the off, this way of collecting and giving feedback seemed very effective, both in terms of time taken and achieving learning aims. It seemed presenters had some time to reflect on their own performance and were able to join in the feedback discussions more openly, and focussing on just a couple of key aspects meant it was time-eficient, too. I immediately decided to use the Google form for the next couple of weeks, and have continued to find it extremely useful. Sadly, we’re at the end of our semester now, so these are just very short-term observations. Still, I’m encouraged to use the online form in future semesters.

Just goes to show how important reflecting on our classroom practices can be!

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences, or can share other inspirational ways of collecting feedback on presentations? I’d love to hear from you!

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

Recently, a colleague observed my grammar class. The 30 learners are B2-C1 level and the class is required for their degree programme (English Studies). I usually set up my gramamr classes so that the activities build on each other to move from re-capping basic points to more advanced fineties of certain structures, so we discuss answers to exercises together to check everyone has understood before we move forward.

Usually, I do think-pair-share, or check answers in plenum. But often only a few students volunteer to share their answers with the class and I end up trying to coax the others into speaking.

I’d never really noticed before, but my colleague pointed out that I often say “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students!” He suggested that this might make those who volunteer to contribute feel that they are boring or should not put their hands up so often: the opposite effect of what I’m trying to achieve. And so I am trying to think of new things to say, of new ways to encourage the others to share their answers. 

So far, I’ve tried “Let’s hear from someone new” and things like “Let’s hear from someone in the back row”. I sometimes also call on individual students, but I often have the feeling that they don’t like being put on the spot like that…

And so this blog post is rather a plea – please help! What else can I say or do to encourage other students to volunteer to share their answers in plenum?? Please write your suggestions below!!

My Principles for Creating ELT Materials

 

I make a lot of worksheets and materials available via this blog, which I hope  that many fellow ELT professionals will use and evaluate. In my opinion, though, it’s important that anyone who wants to use my materials has some insight into the principles behind my work.

I believe Materials for ELT should…

  1. be based on an understanding of how learning works. – i.e. of theoretical models of learning, for example from SLA or psychology, and methodologies derived from them.
  2. guide learners to discover and practice language items and skills. – i.e. not just ‘tell’, but ‘show’ and allow space for learners to notice by themselves, by guiding them in logical steps.
  3. lead to as authentic communication as possible. – i.e. they should learn to do with things in English which they are realistically likely to have to do outside of the classroom.
  4. gain and maintain learners’ interest. – e.g. by involving higher-level thinking skills, provoking affective responses, dealing with topics relevant to the learners.
  5. expose learners to ‘taboo’ topics (PARSNIPs) in a constructive manner. – i.e. to prepare them for and encourage open discussion of potential taboos and cultural difference, in order to develop inter-cultural communicative competences; especially since a key motivation to learn English is to communicate with people form other countries (and therefore cultures).
  6. allow for differentiated ouput. – i.e. grade the output, not necessarily the input, so the same material can be flexibly employed with various groups of learners working at different levels or focusing on different skill areas by simply adjusting the output tasks accordingly.

800px-Sketchbook_AC_2006

Help! Overwhelmed by research!

This is a short, rather personal post; a bit of a call for help! In my head, thoughts are flying around: researching, compiling bibliographies, literature reviews, not having enough time in the day to read everything properly, wasting time reading the ‘wrong’ things, and feeling swapmed and out-of-touch with the latest state of affairs…. And this is going to (hopefully) be an outlet that gets these thoughts out of my head and onto “paper” so that I can concentrate… Oh, and maybe get some tips from readers while I’m at it!!

IMAG0494
What my brain feels like. An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015. 

 

So, I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping up with the research regarding my areas of ELT. I subscribe to a couple of journals, am active on twitter and I read lots of blogs, so I feel like I’m in touch with big debates and what’s generally going on in the ELT world. 

But now I’m trying to get together some of the ‘best’ literature on the topic of correcting (EAP) students’ writing. I want to summarise the main work and findings in this area. But there is JUST SO MUCH!! I’ve got some key names and some meta-study articles have also been helpful. But I feel like I might be missing out on some other definitive contributions, key strands of work, relevant studies, contaversial issues, etc.  When I search my university’s library databases, the lists are endless of articles on peer review, using technology, to correct or not to correct, learner autonomy, and so on and on and on.

I can’t possibly read everything. I thought about reading through the Works Cited lists and trying to find sources that seem to be cited a lot… but even that would be so much work. 

And I wonder how anyone ever manages to keep up with it all. Whenever I think I’ve “finished” and have a suitable bibliography together, so another blog post alerts me to a new perspective on the discussion, or Google Scholar pops up with a few hundred more published articles… When is enough enough? When can I stop? It’s never going to be  truly finished, is it?!

5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices

Reading this, I was promoted to think about my teacher beliefs about what exactly it is that makes teaching effective; what is it that I’m aiming for, that I hold as best practice? Expressing this in one sentence has actually been a quite inspiring moment for me; motivating me and giving me new energy to approach my planning for next term.
Anyway, here’s my spontaneously-constructed sentence (which I also posted in the comments section on the blog post):

**Teachers have to be passionate about teaching and about what they’re teaching, and they need to know their students and how to motivate them to get active.**

So now I’m interested in your thoughts: What is it that makes teaching most effective?
I’m not looking (necessarily) for Hattie-style lists, but try to summarise your teacher beliefs into one sentence, about what is at the heart of good teaching, for you.

Please post them in the comments below! I’m really excited about hearing from you!!
Clare

teflgeek

Earlier this year, a piece from the Edutopia website was doing the rounds under the title “5 highly effective teaching practices”.  I automatically question pieces like this as I doubt somewhat whether the purpose of the piece is actually to raise standards in the profession and develop teachers – or whether it is simply to get a bit more traffic to the website.  But perhaps I am being unnecessarily cynical?

To be fair, the practices the article suggests are generally quite effective:

  1. State the goals of the lesson and model tasks, so that students know what they are going to do and how to do it.
  2. Allow classroom discussion to encourage peer teaching
  3. Provide a variety of feedback, both on an individual and a group basis.  Allow students to feedback to the teacher.
  4. Use formative assessments (tests the students can learn from) as well as summative assessments (tests that evaluate…

View original post 996 more words

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Deveopment – 1) BLOGS

Introduction

Continuous professional development, or CPD, is a term that seems to sounds so big. Some teachers think it is something beyond their reach, or at least something they haven’t got time to pursue.

Over the next seven days – the first week of March  – I’m going to post a series of blogs introducing seven different forms CPD might take, with the aim of encouraging more ELT, and other, teachers to get active in their CPD, and to blow out of the water some of the fears and myths surrounding what it is and can be. 

First of all, “continuous” does not have to mean non-stop and time-consuming! I see it as a reminder that we should/do not stop learning once we reach a certain age or stage in our career, but continue to learn throughout our lives or our careers through the wealth of experiences we gain. Regarding “professional” I think teachers collectively need to realise the scope of our profession and all or the factors that make for competence as a teacher – any of those factors, any aspect or your work, your profession, can be the focus or further learning and development. CPD activities can be any activity which enhances  (i.e. develop) your skills, knowledge, understanding or any aspect or your teaching work.

I like to think or four stages that a CPD activity would tend to have:

Reflection   —   Plan   —   Act   —   Evaluate

But please don’t think that CPD has to be in any way formalised! Over the next week, starting below, I’ll be listing ideas of things you can do, which don’t cost lots or money, take up too much time, or require any particular expertise. If you just keep in mind this reflective framework, all of the ideas I list will be valuable for you and your CPD journey!

 

·         Day 1 Way 1: Blogs

If you’re reading this, you are already doing CPD! And if you reflect and comment below, or post me a question, then you’re really letting engaged in my blog as part of your CPD. Reading articles and thinking about how these apply to your own teaching, or finding new activity ideas, or getting involved in debates on people’s blogs – all of that is helping you develop further insight and expertise – so CPD! A blog post might inspire you to think about/reflect a specific aspect of your teaching, to plan to try out something new (plan), try it out (act) and then evaluate it afterwards – and before you know it you’re learning and developing!

There are several pretty famous blogs you might like to read as a starting point, for example:

http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com

http://david-crystal.blogspot.de/

http://teacherrebootcamp.com/

https://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/

But don’t worry about only reading blogs by ‘big names’ – find those that you enjoy reading and that are most relevant for your own work. Some of the above are very general, and there are plenty of teachers/researchers/academics blogging about more specific ELT, such as Business English, teaching YLs, ESP, etc. which might be more helpful for your teaching situation and own background/training.  A simple Google search will help you to find what you’re looking for. And once you’ve found a few that you like, make sure you “subscribe” to receive updates and links to all their new posts. 

You could also start your own blog! You don’t have to be famous to start a blog! (As, I suppose, my blog proves! 😉  Use your blog as your platform to document your own teaching, to share your thoughts and ideas with the ELT world, and engage with your readers and their comments, to further your professional development. For me, the blog has been one of the most important ways for me to reflect on my teaching and engage in online CPD; reading new articles, commenting and joining discussions. I definitely recommend reading blogs and blogging!!

Most blog hosting websites are free, as long as you don’t want a personalised URL. For example, I’m using WordPress (wordpress.com / wordpress.org), but there are plenty of others such as weebly.com,  blogger.com and plenty more! And if you are inspired to start your own blog, please post me the link in the comments below so I can have a read! Likewise, if you have any other comments, or indeed questions, about using Blogs and blogging as part of your CPD, please use the comments box below! I look forward to hearig from you, and being read by you tomorrow! 🙂