Category: Professional Development

Analysing my Feedback Language

Analysing my Feedback Language

TL:DR SUMMARY

I ran a feedback text I’d written on a student’s work through some online text analysis tools to check the CEFR levels of my language. I was surprised that I was using some vocabulary above my students’ level. After considering whether I can nonetheless expect them to understand my comments, I propose the following tips:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work and modify vocabulary necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary frequently used in feedback comments, and plan to teach these explicitly.
  • Get students to reflect on and respond to feedback to check understanding.

A couple of colleagues I follow on blogs and social media have recently posted about online text analysis tools such as Text Inspector, Lex Tutor and so on (see, for example Julie Moore’s post here and Pete Clements’ post here). That prompted me to explore uses of those tools in more detail for my own work – both using them to judge the input in my teaching materials or assessments, and also using them with students to review their academic essay writing.

Once I got into playing around with different online tools (beyond my go-to Vocab Kitchen), I wanted to try some out on my own texts. The thing I’ve been writing most recently, though, is feedback on my students’ essays and summaries. But, I’m a bit of a feedback nerd so I was quite excited when the idea struck me: I could use these tools to analyse my language in the feedback I write to help my students improve their texts. A little action research, if you will. 

Now I obviously can’t share the students work here for privacy and copyright reasons, but one recent assessment task was to write a 200-250 word compare/contrast paragraph to answer this question:

How similar are the two main characters in the last film you watched?

(Don’t focus on their appearance).

These students are at B2+ level (CEFR) working towards C1 in my essay writing class. They need to demonstrate C1-level language in order to pass the class assessments. One student did not pass this assessment because her text included too many language mistakes that impeded comprehension, because overall the language level did not reach C1, and because she didn’t employ the structural elements we had trained in class.

Here’s the feedback I gave on the piece of work and which I ran through a couple of text checkers. (Note: I usually only write this much if there are a lot of points that need improving!)

The language of this text demonstrates a B2 level of competence. Some of the phrasing is rather too colloquial for written academic language, e.g. starting sentences with ‘but’, and including contracted forms. You need to aim for more sophisticated vocabulary and more lexical diversity. More connectors, signposting and transitions are needed to highlight the genre and the comp/cont relationships between the pieces of information. The language slips lead to meaning not always being emphasised or even made clear (especially towards the end). Aim to write more concisely and precisely, otherwise your text sounds too much like a superficial, subjective summary.

Apart from the personal phrase at the beginning, the TS does an OK job at answering the question of ‘how similar’, and naming the features to be discussed. However, you need to make sure you name the items – i.e. the characters – and the film. In fact, the characters are not named anywhere in the text! The paragraph body does include some points that seem relevant, but the ordering would be more logical if you used signposting and the MEEE technique. For example, you first mention their goals but don’t yet explain what they are, instead first mentioning a difference between them– but not in enough detail to make sense to a reader who maybe doesn’t know the series. Also, you need to discuss the features/points in the order you introduce them in the TS – ‘ambition’ is not discussed here. The information in the last couple o sentences is not really relevant to this question, and does not function as a conclusion to summarise your overall message (i.e. that they are more similar than they think). In future, aim for more detailed explanations of content and use the MEEE technique within one of the structures we covered in class. And remember: do not start new lines within one paragraph – it should be one chunk of text.

I was quite surprised by this ‘scorecard’ summarising the analysis of the lexis in my feedback on Text Inspector – C2 CEFR level, 14% of words on the AWL, and an overall score of 72% “with 100% indicating a high level native speaker academic text.” (Text Inspector). Oops! I didn’t think I was using that high a level of academic lexis. The student can clearly be forgiven if she’s not able to improve further based on this feedback that might be over her head! 

(From Text Inspector)

In their analyses, both Text Inspector and Vocab Kitchen categorise words in the text by CEFR level. In my case, there were some ‘off list’ words, too. These include abbreviations, most of which I expect my students to know, such as e.g., and acronyms we’ve been using in class, such as MEEE (=Message, Explanation, Examples, Evaluation). Some other words are ‘off list’ because of my British English spelling with -ise (emphasise, summarise – B2 and C1 respectively). And some words aren’t included on the word lists used by these tools, presumably due to being highly infrequent and thus categorised as ‘beyond’ C2 level. I did check the CEFR levels that the other ‘off list’ words are listed as in learners’ dictionaries but only found rankings for these words: 

Chunk – C1

Genre – B2

Signposting – C1

(From Vocab Kitchen)

Logically, the question I asked myself at this point is whether I can reasonably expect my students to understand the vocabulary which is above their current language level when I use it in feedback comments. This particularly applies to the words that are typically categorised as C2, which on both platforms were contracted, superficial and transitions, and perhaps also to competence, diversity and subjective which are marked as C1 level. And, of course, to the other ‘off list’ words: colloquial, concisely, connectors, lexical, and phrasing.

Now competence, diversity, lexical and subjective shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for my students, as those words are very similar in German (Kompetenz, Diversität, lexikalisch, subjektiv) which all of my students speak, most of them as an L1. We have also already discussed contracted forms, signposting and transitions on the course, so I have to assume my students understand those. Thus, I’m left with colloquial, concisely, connectors, phrasing and superficial as potentially non-understandable words in my feedback. 

Of course, this feedback is given in written form, so you could argue that students will be able to look up any unknown vocabulary in order to understand my comments and know what to maybe do differently in future.  But I worry that not all students would actually bother to do so –  so they would continue to not fully understand my feedback, making it rather a waste of my time having written it for them.

Overall, I’d say that formulations of helpful feedback comments for my EAP students need to strike a balance. They should mainly use level-appropriate language in terms of vocabulary and phrasing so that the students can comprehend what they need to keep doing or work on improving. Also, they should probably use some academic terms to model them for the students and make matching the feedback to the grading matrices more explicit. Perhaps the potentially non-understandable words in my feedback can be classified as working towards the second of these aims. 

Indeed, writing in a formal register to avoid colloquialisms, and aiming for depth and detail to avoid superficiality are key considerations in academic writing. As are writing in concise phrases and connecting them logically. Thus, I’m fairly sure I have used these potentially non-understandable words in my teaching on this course.But so far we haven’t done any vocabulary training specifically focused on these terms. If I need to use them in my feedback though, then, the students do need to understand them in some way. 

So, what can I do? I think there are a couple of options for me going forward which can help me to provide constructive feedback in a manner which models academic language but is nonetheless accessible to the students at the level they are working at. These are ideas that I can apply to my own practice,  but that other teachers might also like to try out:

  • Check the language of feedback comments before returning work (with feedback) to students; modify vocabulary if necessary.
  • Check the vocabulary items and metalanguage I want/need to use in feedback comments, and in grading matrices (if provided to students), and plan to teach these words if they’re beyond students’ general level.
  • Use the same kinds of vocabulary in feedback comments as in oral explanations of models and in teaching, to increase students’ familiarity with it. 
  • Give examples (or highlight them in the student’s work) of what exactly I mean with certain words.
  • Get students to reflect on the feedback they receive and make an ‘action plan’ or list of points to keep in mind in future – which will show they have understood and been able to digest the feedback.

If you have further suggestions, please do share them in the comments section below!

As a brief closing comment, I just want to  point out here that it is of course not only the vocabulary of any text or feedback comment that determines how understandable it is at which levels. It’s a start, perhaps, but other readability scores need to be taken into account, too. I’ll aim to explore these in a separate blog post.

Writing/Working at home – Less is more

Writing/Working at home – Less is more

I’ve been working from home for exactly a month now. I’ve left the house about five times in that period and during the day I’m on my own here. I’ve been inundated with emails from students and colleagues, and phone calls and online meetings, as you’d expect. But just over a week ago, I noticed that what I’ve really been doing is just working non-stop but still not getting very far. I started in the mornings when I would leave the house to drive to work (7 am) and basically work through until around 5.30 pm, but somehow most evenings I just didn’t feel like I had got much done,  and sometimes ended up thinking about work all evening – and even dreaming about it! I spent so much time working or thinking about work, but I realised that I wasn’t working very effectively and I wasn’t taking care of myself so that my brain would be fit enough for all of the new challenges that online and distance teaching bring with them. 

I’ve been preparing materials for a semester which is going to start on Monday but looking back over them I was quite disappointed with my performance. So, I stopped to take stock and figure out what I would need to do to keep myself from burning out whilst working at, and teaching from, home this term. In this post I’d like to share some of the ideas that I’m trying out and that seem to be working for me. Maybe they’ll be helpful for other people to! The overall motto is: less is more!

First of all, I’ve tried to limit the number of hours spent doing work things to the same number I would work at work. And quite honestly, even with my full-time EAP teaching position it’s probably only about six real hours of effective work I do per day on average. So that’s what I’ve set myself for this period of working full-time at home. I have to say I’m not really strict with myself on this and some days I do half an hour longer or so. But still far less than from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In this case, slightly less is definitely more! At the absolute latest once my husband gets home I shut the computer down – even if that means stopping in the middle of something. At least I know straight away where I’m going to pick up the next morning! 

I’ve read a bit about pomodoro technique and so on, and I realised that I had been trying to multitask, letting myself get distracted by every email as it came in and basically not focusing so well on the lesson plans and materials I was writing. What I do now during my self-imposed 6-hour working day is set a timer, shut down my email program and turn my mobile phone onto completely silent. I usually go for about 90 minute blocks and not start until about 8 am in the morning. I do two blocks in the morning and one in the afternoon, plus checking emails and and talking to colleagues on the phone. Some people and techniques recommend shorter chunks than this – I don’t know if less is more here; perhaps it depends what you’re working on. But working for concentrated blocks of time has really helped me to stay concentrated, and, looking back over the plans and activities I have written, there is a much clearer linking thread through a lesson or a material, so that saves me time having to edit later. This is definitely something I can recommend and I’m going to carry on doing.

In between those blocks I take breaks away from the desk and try to do something completely different. I do a little bit of cleaning, some colouring, or some exercise like yoga, hula hooping or a stint on the elliptical trainer (and then shower!). For me, doing especially exercise in shorter sessions helps me to get motivated to actually do it! (There it is again, less is more!). And I have even found that, during some rather monotonous activities like colouring or or on the trainer, that’s when some of my best ideas come to me. I sometimes also use that time to make a mental to-do list or plan for my next 90-minute work block. Sometimes I just do laps of my garden looking at the spring blossoms, the fish in the pond, or get lost in my thoughts. I also walk around the house when I’m on the phone to colleagues, which means I’ve easily got my 10,000 steps per day in most days since I started working from home, often without even noticing it! I’m sure the physical movement is also helpful for getting oxygen to my brain to work more effectively! 

Some days (if I’m feeling particularly restless),I let myself have a little quiet time after lunch. I usually just lie down and listen to some music to get my mind off of work tasks. Of course, occasional thoughts about work do sneak in, but somehow in a less hectic way. And sometimes I get flashes of inspiration during these little rests.

In the evenings and at the weekend I take a complete break from working at the computer. I try to do activities that are completely different from my work for example baking, gardening, puzzling or watching TV. And of course catching up with friends on the phone, etc. If the weather is nice I tried to spend as much time outdoors as possible, even if it’s just reading a book in the garden. I’m pleased to say that this has really helped me to stop thinking and worrying about work stuff at the weekend. And sometimes when I get back to the computer on Monday a task that felt so challenging or where I felt I had got stuck the week before suddenly seems a lot easier or more manageable. I learnt and from previous mental health issues how important weekends are, and I think I had maybe lost sight of that a bit. But now that I have reclaimed my weekends and completely work free, I’m much more able to produce better work during the times that I am at the computer.

 

So, as a quick re-cap and handy list, here are my tips for working more effectively at home:

– Stick to a (limited) number of working hours per day.

– Break these working hours into timed blocks during which you’re not distracted.

– Take breaks through the day and do things that are clearly different from your work. Do exercise, for example.

– Allow yourself some quiet time. Spend some time outdoors, for example.

– Do not let work encroach into your evenings or weekends. (Or, depending on your situation, set other clear days/times when you DO NOT WORK.)

– Do not beat yourself up about not having done a ‘perfect’ day’s work every day.

 

How to access ELT-relevant research

How to access ELT-relevant research

A while back, I summarised an article for ELT Research Bites exploring the reasons why language teaching professionals rarely access primary research reports. The main findings were that practitioners may have negative perceptions of research as irrelevant, they may face practical constraints such as expensive pay walls and a lack of time to find and read articles, and they may not be able to understand the articles’ content due to excessive use of academic jargon.

In this post, then, I want to share how we can access research related to language teaching in ways that do not cost a lot of money or time. 

  1. The website I mentioned above – ELT Research Bites – provides interesting language and education research in an easily digestible format. The summaries present the content of published articles in a shorter, simpler format, and also explore practical implications of articles’ findings for language teaching/learning.
  2. Musicuentos Black Box is similar to ELT Research Bites, but summarises research articles in videos and podcasts. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!) 
  3. The organisation TESOL Academic provides free or affordable access to research articles on linguistics, TESOL and education in general. This is done mainly via videoed talks on YouTube, but you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  4. The University of Oregon has a free, customisable email digest you can subscribe to here. It is aimed at language teachers and sends you a feature summary based on primary research articles. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!)
  5. IATEFL has a number of ‘Special Interest Groups’ and I’d like to highlight two in particular that can help us to access research. IATEFL ReSIG, the Research Special Interest Group, promotes and supports ELT and teacher research, in an attempt to close the gap between researchers and teachers or materials writers. You can find them on Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter. IATEFL MaWSIG, the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, has an open-access blog as well as a presence on Facebook Instagram and Twitter. In the last year there have been several posts summarising research findings and drawing out what the conclusions mean for English teaching materials and practice – including “And what about the research?” by Penny Ur, and “ELT materials writing: More on emerging principles” by Kath Bilsborough.
  6. Of course there are also search engines, such as Google Scholar, that you can use. You might find it helpful to look out for ‘State of the art’ articles or meta-studies that synthesise research findings from several reports and save you from having to read them all! If the pay wall is your main problem, some journals also offer a sample article from each issue as open access, at ELT Journal, for example, these are the “Editor’s Choice” articles.

To make engaging with research more worthwhile, I’d suggest you should reflect on what you’re reading / hearing: Think about the validity of the findings based on the content and the method of the study, the relevance of the findings to your pedagogy, and, perhaps most importantly, the practicality of the findings for your own work. Be aware of trends and fashions, and use the conclusions you draw to inform your materials and teaching.

Teaching a deaf student EAP oral skills

Teaching a deaf student EAP oral skills

Since October I’ve had a student in my class who is practically deaf, especially if she hasn’t got her hearing aid.  The class that she’s taking with me is actually an Oral Skills class; it’s the first class of an EAP programme and focuses on presentation and seminar skills. Clearly, not being able to hear makes it quite a lot more difficult than normal. But we’re slowly finding our way! We’re halfway through semester now, and I think I’ve got some strategies that might be useful for anyone else who has a deaf or hard of hearing student in their English language classroom!

In my case the student, let’s call her Mary,  did her A-Level equivalents at a normal high school, so she had her whole school career to develop good strategies that can help her to learn various things in various ways. She knows what the teacher can do to help her best and so I have gradually learnt how I can help her, especially with these oral skills that are the focus of our course. I thought I’d use this blog post to share some of what I’ve learnt.

I guess the most important thing is really to have an individual conversation with the student – probably more than one conversation actually! Some of the basic adaptations I’ve made based on such conversations are probably no surprise, for example providing transcripts of any audio texts we listen to or videos we watch. Working with a transcript, the focus of the task is then shifted to reading comprehension rather than listening comprehension, but this is more in line with what Mary’s likely to need in her future use of English. On this module, we’ve been watching videos that demonstrate good and less good presentation skills, and it was hard for her to read the transcript at the same time as watching the presenter. Also, I sometimes needed to type the transcript out especially, which became quite time-consuming. I solved these problems by choosing a focus according to what my goals were for the task. For example, if we were looking at presentation style or use of visual aids, understanding the content of the example speech was less important, so I stopped giving Mary the transcripts for these tasks, and asked her to concentrate on looking for what makes a good or less good presentation style, or whatever.

The audio practice tests that we’ve done often intended to help students develop note-taking skills for use in lectures or seminars. This is something Mary will always have to work hard on and talk to individual teachers about getting help with, especially as there’s usually no transcript for a lecture. But she has also learnt the importance of having a study group to compare notes with. Mary can take notes from the extra reading  without problem, so she often takes responsibility for this in the study group, and then ‘swaps’ these good notes for another student’s good lecture notes. It’s perhaps less than ideal, but makes the best of a difficult situation for Mary.

In terms of understanding me when I talk to the class, Mary has a special device that goes with her hearing aid. It’s a mini-microphone that I clip to my collar which amplifies everything I say and kind of ‘beams’ it straight into her hearing aid! This has obviously been a great help, though she still needs to lip read to really understand. And what a feat learning to lip read in a foreign language!  One little thing I’ve learnt is that wearing lipstick is apparently really helpful: when the lips are more clearly defined it’s easier for her to lip read. And I also have to remember to wear something with pockets on the days we have class, so I don’t have to carry the battery pack for the mini-microphone around in my hand all lesson!

As part of her self-study, which is required for the credits for the class, I’ve sent Mary a few links to videos to help her with lip-reading in English. Initially, I introduced her to the website https://lipreadingpractice.co.uk/ which is for English speakers who lose their hearing and have to learn to lip read.  Later, I also sent videos that were made for phonetics classes and the like, which feature close-up videos of how different sounds and words are pronounced in English. Hopefully these will also help her with her own pronunciation. Although Mary is quite clear to understand when she speaks, there are elements of German interference on her English accent which she can’t really eliminate just by lip-reading. I think it’s important here to work on ways to enable Mary to see and/or feel these pronunciation features that are hard to see. The phoneme /r/ is a particular problem, for example, but we’re working on ways to help her feel the difference in articulation between German and English, by feeling which parts of the speech apparatus are used (e.g. by placing her hands on her throat to feel the vibrations of the German uvular fricative). Recently, we even did a lesson on intonation, and helped Mary to see (through gesture and movement of the head) and feel (which muscles are used in the throat) pitch movements for emphasis or in questions versus statements. 

Group work is something that has been quite tricky. While the other students understand why I mainly look in Mary’s direction when I’m speaking to the whole class, they’re not so good at doing the same themselves! In group work she’s better off in a smaller group where she can clearly see who’s speaking and read their lips. This was tricky at first with students who were nervous, mumbling, holding their hands a pen, or playing with their hair in front of their mouths! But I’ve managed to discern a few very clear speakers who Mary can work well with. Needless to say it’s been a bit of a learning curve for everyone in the class!

Now, in the second half of semester, students are giving group presentations. Mary’s a bit wary about giving them the extra device for their collars because passing it around increases the likelihood of it being damaged. But lip-reading in a foreign language from a speaker who’s speaking the language as a foreign language themselves is proving really quite difficult. What we’ve decided to do them is to show other students in the class the same videos as I sent Mary. This way, everyone can work and their articulation and on enunciating sounds and words clearly, which will be better for their own language production and also enable Mary to better lip read their presentations. 

Something we haven’t been able to solve yet is how to enable her to better follow when students around the classroom are sharing their answers to a task we’ve done. We’ve rearranged the desks so that we sit in a big U shape which at least allows her to look at whoever’s speaking. Sometimes, though, the answers are quite short so one person is only speaking for a very brief moment before the next person starts, which makes it hard for her to keep her up. As a group we’ve now discussed strategies such as the speaker raising their hand so she knows who to look at, and me pointing to the person I want to share their answer rather than just saying their name. These things are taking a bit of practice to get used to but seem to be working ok for now!

I have to say, I’m really glad to have Mary in my class. Not only is she a conscientious and pleasant student, but  devising and developing these strategies to help her improve her oral skills has been a great new aspect to my professional development! And I hope that I’ve been able to show in this little blog post just how easy it can be to integrate a deaf or hard-of-hearing student into an English langauge class!

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

Time for a little advertising! 😉

On October Thursday 5th October at 4.25pm UK time, I’ll be giving an online talk as part of the LTSIG /OllREN online conference and would be delighted to see you there!

LTSIG Presentation Clare Maas

Exploring efficient ways to give sustainable feedback on L2 writing is important because providing meticulous correction of language errors and hand-written summaries can be time-consuming and often seems less effective than desired. For feedback to be sustainable (i.e. effective long-term), it should be formative, interactive and impact on students’ future work (Carless et al 2011). Thus traditional, hand-written feedback practices may be inefficient at effecting sustainability. Integrating technology into feedback delivery has been shown to have potential in alleviating the situation, by stimulating students to engage with feedback they receive and enabling dialogues about their work.

Combining work into feedback on L2 writing with ideas promoted in higher education, I devised the Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) procedure, where feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’ how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various digital delivery modes and are required to pose questions about their work to which the tutor responds.

In this talk, I will summarise some recent literature which supports both the use of technologies such as email, audio recording, and text-editing software features, and responses to students’ individual queries in feedback procedures, before practically demonstrating LDF. I will refer to my own recently published article on LDF in EAP, and discuss my evaluation of its application in my teaching, providing compelling reasons and practical suggestions for its employment in various language teaching contexts. These discussions will also explore potential mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of multimodal approaches to making feedback more sustainable, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups. This includes topics such as learner autonomy, motivation, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualisation.

The talk is thus a combination of practical demonstration and theoretical background, of interest and relevance to a broad audience.

 

Reference: Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., Lam, J., 2011. Developing sustainable
feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36, 395–407.

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

Why and How to get more involved with an IATEFL SIG

When you join IATEFL, you get a choice of 16 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) you can choose from within your standard membership. These SIGs provide members with opportunities for professional development in specialised areas. For a long time, I was ‘just’ a member of a SIG. I even swapped SIGs a few times when I renewed my membership. But more recently, I have come to realise that just joining up and reading the SIG’s newsletters is not really making the most of my membership! Getting more actively involved can open the door to new ways to network and share knowledge on that area of ELT – the heart of what IATEFL is there for. Although this sounds like an advert, really the target audience of this post are already IATEFL members, so I’m not trying to convince you to spend money and join something new, but I’d like to share some ways I have made a bit more out of my SIG membership, and maybe inspire you to do the same!

Webinars: IATEFL and the SIGs organise regular, free webinars and online talks by experts on a wide range of topics. These usually last for just one hour, which for me usually fits quite nicely into my schedule. I’ve learnt new things from these webinars, even when I thought I already knew quite a lot about the topic! Also, I’ve noticed that I recognise the names of people who attend the same webinars as me, which has opened up a connection for us to be in touch more often (usually on social media) beyond the webinar setting. The list of upcoming webinars can be found on IATEFL’s website: here.

Blogs: Most SIGs have a blog section on their website where you can read guest posts by various SIG members. I’ve volunteered a couple of posts, mainly because I had some ideas relevant to the area of ‘special interest’ and wanted to share and discuss them with SIG members. In my experience, the SIGs are very happy to find people willing to contribute a blog post, so do get in touch with the committee if you have an idea. Also, some SIGs look for ‘roving reporters’ to blog about their experiences at SIG events, so if you’re going to one, ask the SIG committee about that opportunity, too! I’ve not done that yet, but it sounds like an easy and fun way to contribute!

Competitions: Some SIGs host competitions on various themes relevant to their ‘special interest’. Often, competition entries will be posted on their website, and you could win a ticket to one of their events or other prizes relevant to the theme. I’ve only entered one competition so far and I found it much easier than writing, for example, a scholarship application, but still very inspiring for my own work! These competitions are usually publicised on the SIGS’ websites and on social media, and I think they’re a nice starting point for someone who wants to get involved a bit more but can’t commit much time.

Meetups: These are local, informal events where members of a SIG and those interested in becoming members get together for a coffee / glass of something cool and a chat. If you find out about one near you (they’re usually advertised on the SIG’s website and on social media) then I’d definitely recommend going along! I’ve found them to be a great way to meet people I have professional interests in common with, in a cosy, friendly setting. Or, if there don’t seem to be any near you, then volunteer to organise one yourself! (That’s what I did  😉 ) Just contact one of the SIG’s events coordinators to get the ball rolling, and you’ll see it’s an easy way to get involved and give something back to the IATEFL community!

Social media: Most SIGs have groups and/or accounts on popular social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, and some also have discussion lists. I’m in a couple of the Facebook groups and follow several SIGs on Twitter. Twitter is a great way to find out about upcoming events, competitions, etc. And on Facebook there is more scope of discussion; if I have a problem or question about something I’m working on, I’ve found I often get help in the relevant Facebook group really quickly! These are great spaces for finding support and colleagues with similar interests. And ‘meeting’ people on social media means you have people to grab a coffee with at face-to-face events, if you’re worried about not knowing anyone. (Note: for this to work you need to have a recognisable profile photo!)

Conferences: Alongside hosting a SIG Day at the annual IATEFL conference, and a PCE (pre-conference event) the day before the main conference, most SIGs organise or co-host other smaller conference-type events throughout the year. You can find these by looking at the SIG’s website, where you’ll usually find information about how to register and also submit a proposal to give a talk or present a poster, etc. For me, it is often easier to fit in these shorter events than a whole week at the annual conference, and they’re often a bit easier on the budget, too! I’ve also found networking easier at these smaller face-to-face events, and they’re a perfect opportunity to talk to SIG committee members about how else you could get involved.

 

As a closing point, I should probably tell you that I have recently been elected to the committee of a SIG (yay!), so I’m taking my involvement to the next level. But the aim of this post is not to advertise just one SIG (which is why I haven’t mentioned which one I’m in 😉 ) but just to show how much more IATEFL members can get out of whichever SIG they have chosen to join! I hope you feel motivated and inspired, and look forward to hearing about your future SIG involvements!!

Stress Awareness Discussion Points #teacher5aday

Stress Awareness Discussion Points #teacher5aday

April is Stress Awareness Month – a perfect time for reflecting on your own well-being and how you tackle stress in your life and work!

The aim of this article is to raise awareness of some of the more theoretical work that has been done in the area of (tackling) stress and burnout, particularly among teachers, and to provide impetus for reflecting and discussing with colleagues. The post can be used to support stress awareness discussions in staff meetings and other developmental groups. If you’re unable to join a discussion in person, please add your comments and answers to the ‘Talking Points’ in the comments box below. 

Burnout

One of the most widely used definitions of the complex construct of ‘burnout’ was developed by Maslach & Jackson (1981).  Their research explored the organizational contexts which often provide a background to burnout and similar syndromes, and they developed the multidimensional Maslach model, which includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment as its three main symptoms. Maslach, Jackson & Leiter (1996) described these symptoms of burnout in more detail. Emotional exhaustion is linked to feelings of anxiety and fatigue, for example, and a general feeling that one’s emotional resources are depleted. Highly correlated with exhaustion is depersonalization; the development of negative or cynical perceptions of others. The third aspect, reduced personal accomplishment, refers to dissatisfaction and prevailingly negative self-evaluation regarding professional activities.

This model of burnout and the self-diagnosis tool derived from it, the ‘Maslach Burnout Inventory’ (MBI) (Maslach & Jackson, 1981), have promoted a vast amount of research over the last few decades, and many studies have shown the MBI’s reasonably high internal consistency and test-retest reliability, and as well as good levels of validity, both concurrent and predictive.

TALKING POINT: Have you ever experienced any of the symptoms of burnout (in bold in the text above), or other negative effects of stress? Have you ever noticed any of these symptoms in your colleagues? How did these symptoms manifest themselves concretely in your life? What would you advise other teachers to watch out for when it comes to catching burnout symptoms early enough to do something about?

Well-being

A strong sense of well-being, then, is the positive antithesis of burnout; something we should all strive for. The term ‘well-being’ is used to imply a sense of balance between being under-stimulated and overwhelmed, with regard to various facets of life. Holmes (2005), for example, denotes four intrinsic sub-categories of well-being: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Physical well-being starts with the absence of illness, and extends to being in good physical shape. For an individual’s emotional well-being, they need to be able to suitably handle the emotions they feel and apply this to maintaining healthy relationships with others. Within Holmes’ definition, intellectual, or mental, well-being involves having a positive attitude to developing both personally and professionally. And finally, spiritual well-being is the ‘ability to be constructively self-conscious and self-critical when a sense of greater good is being pursued’ (Holmes, 2005, p.10). This four-category definition of well-being provides a useful framework for any work or discussions pertaining to well-being training and awareness.

TALKING POINT: What do you do to maintain or improve your own well-being?  What do you do to help others maintain or improve their well-being? How do these activities relate to the four categories in Holmes’ definition? Did you choose these activities deliberately to counteract stress? What activities would you recommend to other teachers?

 

 

References

Holmes, E. (2005). Teacher well-being: Looking after yourself and your Career in the classroom. London & New York: Routledge Falmer. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203465400 

Lee, R.T. & Ashforth, B.E. (1990). On the meaning of Maslach’s three dimensions of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(6), pp. 743-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.75.6.743 

Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Maslach, C. & Jackson, S.E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2. pp 99-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/job.4030020205 

Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E. & Leiter, M.P. (1996). Maslach burnout inventory manual (3rd edition). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists press.

 

#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!

 

Introducing #tleap

Introducing #tleap

TLEAP: Teaching & Learning in EAP

Issues in EAP Discussion Group

tleap

#tleap is an active online community of EAP professionals who discuss issues and share ideas regarding English for academic purposes. The members are EAP teachers and others who are interested in this area of language teaching, from adjunct tutors to full-time lecturers, and even materials writers and policy makers. The purpose of the #tleap community is to discuss relevant pedagogical, logistical, and research-based issues with others, and to give those involved in EAP a voice that may otherwise go unheard.

#tleap evolved from the #EAPchat Twitter hashtag set up by Tyson Seburn, Adam Simpson, and Sharon Turner, and has now spread across a variety of social media platforms, also thanks to Kate Finegan, to enable and encourage wider participation. You can join in for free here:

Twitter: #tleap

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/tleap/

Google+https://plus.google.com/communities/114679086713772400315


#tleap hosts biweekly discussion on Facebook: A focussed discussion point is posted on the 1st and 15th of every month. Please feel free to add your ideas to it and share widely. If there’s something you’d like to discuss, please add to this list: http://bit.ly/1OnYoWM.

16831997_10154781603762489_7689240778587431825_n.jpg#tleap also hosts bimonthly discussion chats on Twitter- look out for the next one!

The chat and discussion archievs are freely available, along with more information on the #tleap community, here http://tiny.cc/tleap

#tleap thrives on the contributions of members! You can start a new post on any of the paltforms anytime you have a question or wish to share something relevant for the group. Comments are always welcome on all posts.  With any blog, research article, or question, you can also always add the #tleap hashtag to your tweets to get everyone in our community to notice and engage.

We would love to welcome new members to the #tleap community, so please join in and share #tleap with your colleagues!

We look forward to hearing from you!

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

Are you an ELT teacher looking to move into materials writing? This post is for you!

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then discussing their answers to the “other side’s” poster. IMAG0050[1].jpg

To share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I also posed the questions from teachers/writers questions to some editors and other people who work in ELT publishing, and here are their answers:

  • Is there any interest in / a market for writing smaller-scale projects? (e.g. topic worksheets / individual lessons)?

Yes. Generally when we commission these sorts of projects, they’re supplementary materials supporting a book, and there are specific things we need, generally things we feel the target group needs but the book has not provided. So if you regularly use a book and notice a gap, you should definitely let the publisher know, and perhaps send examples of supplementary worksheets you have created.

Yes, definitely, but I suggest a system of crowdsourcing. Writers can produce modules or collections of individual lessons (they need to be substantial lessons) and these can be sold as individual modules (after there are ten or so they can be made into a book).

There is a market, but not really so much for individual worksheets. Find something that links your materials together, a thread that flows though several worksheets or lesson plans. Sets of lesson materials which form a coherent unit are probably of more interest to potential publishers.

  • Is it possible to have more access to writers to discuss objectives etc?

We can’t give out contact information, but we’re not secretive about who writes for us; just look in the copyright pages.

The teacher’s books often give more detail on the overall approach and aims of the activities than the student’s books, so maybe have a look there.

  • How can we get into proof-reading / copy-editing work?

A good way to get a foot in the door is to offer to write readers’ reports on first drafts of material. Publishers are always happy to have readers, and I have personally seen examples of readers then getting writing work because they’ve made an impression.

About proofreading work: the best place to start is with your own materials, then offer to check worksheets or materials that are being written for your school/shared bank of materials. Create a style sheet that will give you consistency across the whole collection of materials. If you find you enjoy this kind of work, you could contact your local publishers’ office and express an interest, or you could consider doing a recognised proofreading course somewhere like The Publishing Training Centre or joining an organisation like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

Definitely get some kind of recognised training if you want to do copy editing and/or proofreading professionally. It not only gives you credibility, it will teach you a lot. I did my training in Canada, and I went into it thinking ‘I teach grammar… this is just a formality.’ Not so. I learned so much about the process of editing a text that I would never have got by myself.

For anyone interested in ELT editing, follow the White Ink FB page for tips, tricks and work opportunities. Facebook.com/WhiteInkLimited.com

  • How can (potential) writers make themselves known to you and/or find out about upcoming projects?

Send editors/publishers your CV and a couple of sample materials you’ve made.

Submit your work to materials writing competitions – most publishers and lesson sharing websites host competitions.

Most publishers have an email address or contact form for potential writers. It’s really important to make clear what kind of materials you can write – whoever processes the emails will want to forward it quickly to the relevant editorial department – so put ‘English’ and ‘Business / Primary / EAP / etc.’ in a prominent place in the email.

You can always email our editorial teams to discuss any potential opportunities.

To make yourself ‘findable’, make sure you join ELT Teacher 2 Writer. All of the publishers listed on the homepage use the database to find writers.

Most people suggest starting a blog where you share materials you have made for your classes more widely. Likewise, if you create something innovative then share it by presenting at conferences etc. This can get your name known, and if you do contact a publisher then you have a portfolio to show them.

If you can commit to piloting and reviewing material, you can impress editors that way and may then be offered writing work.

  • What can teachers do if we notice a gap in the market?

Yes, if you spot a gap in the market that is innovative, get in touch  and most editors will send you a proposal document, or check the publisher’s website for an electronic proposal from. Make sure you approach the right kind of publisher, though.

Get in touch via the website of a relevant publisher – There’s ususally a list of details you should include on there.

Do your research! If the gap you find is very niche, publishers might be less interested, so you’ll need to ‘prove’ that your gap is relevant to a wider audience than just one of your classes.

  • Is experience/expertise in digital materials writing essential nowadays?

I would say no, not yet, but a willingness and an interest is helpful.

Not essential – the vast majority of educational material sold is still print. However, it’s becoming increasingly relevant and we’re always on the lookout for people who can write this kind of content.

Depends what you want to write and who for. If you specifically want to write digital materials, then some experience will clearly help, but training will probably be provided if you’re new to the area – especially as different publishers use different digital platforms anyway.

  • And if so, is there capacity for advice/training to produce this type of material?

I think it’s a case of learning by doing. Let your publisher know you’re interested. Probably the best “training” you can do is to get yourself familiar with the apps and things that are on the market, and try to imagine what had to be taken into consideration when the content was created.

I would say this is out there if you look hard enough. Nellie Deutsch runs courses on MOODLE for Teachers. And some organisations run Writers Retreats which might be relevant.

I think most producers of educational material are still learning what makes good digital content in our industry. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to learn and work with everything yourself (particularly the apps and websites that are successful, like Duolingo, Babbel, The Day, PlayPosit, etc. – or even brain training apps like Elevate) to get a better idea of what kind of content works well on a smartphone, tablet or PC.

For digital training, you could have a look at what ELTjam offer.

Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Or answers to these questions from an editor’s/publisher’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!