Category: Professional Development

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!

My 2017 #teacher5aday Pledges

My 2017 #teacher5aday Pledges

To keep up my wellbeing in 2017, I hereby pledge to…

#CONNECT -Keep in touch with friensd and family near and far more often. Actually call or write to people. Eat lunch with my colleagues at least once a week. Interact more via my blog and those I follow (help me get going by commenting below!), as well as maintaining my PLN on Twitter (help me on this one @Clare2ELT).

#NOTICE – Go for more walks and find more nice places for walks. Praise and thank people for the little things they do. Keep track in my diary not only of appointments and commitments, but also of the #teacher5aday activities I do. Review often.

#LEARN – Join in the #52books2017 reading challenge and read a few books outside of my normal ‘comfort zone’ (recommendations welcome – What books made you really think?). Attend a couple of conferences (most imporantly, IATEFL in Glasgow- see you there?), as well as joining in a few teaching webinars, particularly those on topics new to me. Try to freshen up my French.

#EXERCISE – More yoga. More walks -see above. Go to the gym at least once a week (please hold me accountable to this!). Join at least one fitness challenge this year (please share relevant tips or links!).

#VOLUNTEER – Keep up my contributions to #teacher5adaybuddybox. Help around the house of my friend who’s just had twins! Get more active in local ‘Free your stuff’ activities. And look into giving blood or donaing bone marrow.

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British Council Teaching for Success – My Webinar

British Council Teaching for Success – My Webinar

Here are the slides (inc. references) from my talk yesterday as part of the British Council’s “Teaching for Success” online conference. This talk takes research into feedback practices & translates it into practical ideas for classroom application!

Click here for Slides.

Link to the recorded talk: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p424b8xlubb/

Abstract: Providing meticulous correction of errors and hand-written summaries on each student’s text can be time-consuming, and often seems less effective than desired. However, many teachers cannot access relevant publications discussing alternative feedback strategies, and remain unsure about which more time-efficient procedures might be applicable in their context. For this reason, this talk aims to discuss various strategies for assessing and giving feedback on EFL learners’ written work, which I have collected from recent publications, have applied and evaluated in my own teaching, and would like to share with fellow ELT practitioners.

This talk will demonstrate practicable strategies including ways of marking learners’ errors (underlining, correction codes, margin comments), as well as conducting successful peer review, delivering feedback with technology, and making the student-teacher feedback dialogue more constructive and efficient. For each strategy demonstrated, I will summarise recently published relevant research on its employment in various contexts, and briefly present discussions from the literature on the mechanisms underpinning its efficacy, with the main aim of aiding teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific learners and contexts. These factors include learner autonomy, motivation, learning styles, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualism.

The talk therefore encourages CPD within the British Council’s professional practices rubric of ‘Assessing Learning’, a topic of interest and relevance to a broad audience, provide practical ideas which can be immediately trialled in a wide range of teaching contexts, and will encourage open discussion on feedback practices among participants.

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Take control of your teaching career using the European Profiling Grid

Take control of your teaching career using the European Profiling Grid

A talk I attended earlier this year in Birmingham (IATEFL 2016), by Joel Cutting & Richard Kelly based at Eurocentres Bournemouth, aimed to provide advice on career management for ELT teachers, and practical ideas on making the most of your current position and moving towards your dream teaching job (See conference programme & talk abstract here).

They proposed asking yourself the following questions:

 – What’s your current career metaphor?k8410072

– What direction do you want to go in?

 – What are your professional development priorities?

Based on your answers, they suggest that you should review and reflect on your current position and goals, then plan proactive tasks and steps to move you between the former and the latter. This will involve being able to openly communicate your goals, and maybe asking for support from your DOS or colleagues (e.g. in terms of appraisals, observations, etc). So you will need to talk to people! Indeed, Joel and Richard highlighted that the more people you know and talk to, the more new career opportunities you will find!

logo-epgThey also mentioned, just in passing, the European Profiling Grid. I’ve only just got around to checking it out, and I’m so glad I made a note for myself to do so! I’ve found it to be a very practically useful tool for taking control of your career as a teacher, and planing your future CPD pathways. The website summarises the main purpose of the EPG as “a tool for mapping and assessing language teacher competencies … over six stages of professional experience … and summarises the main competencies of language teachers and the background in training and experience that would be expected at each stage.”

The EPG grid is available for free here and can be used by any language teacher when you’re reviewing or reflecting on your own strengths/weaknesses and progression in the teaching profession. It will help you to pinpoint your expertise in various areas, as well as enabling you to more concretely identify areas in your professional development where there is still room for improvement. Of course school leaders and teacher-trainers may also find this kind of evaluative grid helpful.

The categories of expertise it covers are:

– language and culture,

– qualifications and experience,

– professional conduct, and

– core language teaching competencies.

This breakdown seems particularly helpful in encouraging language teachers to expand our expertise broadly. For teachers whose own main language is not the one they teach, I suppose that target-language proficiency has always been high on the agenda for development, but the EPG also adds in the element of intercultural communication and competence in communicating in various multi-cultural situations and settings. The ‘Qualifications and experience’ rubric allows teachers to map their own experience, not only in terms of time in the classroom but also regarding observations, mentoring, and teaching at various levels and in various learning contexts; areas which even seasoned professionals may like to expand on. The heading ‘Professionalism’ covers points such as working in teams, tackling administrative tasks,  accepting changes to an institution’s policies and approaches, and being actively involved in teacher development.

It is perhaps the area of ‘Teaching Competence‘ (e.g. planning lessons and schemes of work, encouraging active participation, assessing learners, incorporating digital media, etc.) that is the focus of many teachers’ professional development. The EPG divides these into ‘Key Competences’ and ‘Enabling Competences’.  The ‘Key Teaching Competences’ include an understanding of theories of language and of learning which informs material choice and activity set-up, creating suitable and valid assessment measures for the four skills, and taking responsibility for principled syllabus design. This theoretical side of things may be new to some teachers, who can use the EPG to set themselves individual goals working in this direction. The ‘Enabling Competences’, on the other hand, focus more on the interpersonal side of the teaching profession. Here, skills and tasks such as coaching novice teachers, handling (intercultural) conflict, training transferable skills, and creating a digital PLN (Personal Learning Network) come into play, which may also have so far been off the radar for some practising teachers.

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The document accompanying the EPG states its aim as

“to inform, make suggestions, offer advice, share insights, assist in identifying individual strengths and gaps, and offer guidance.”

And I think it achieves this very well. It also includes blank tables for individual planning, as well as guidance for teachers on how best to work with the grid. When it comes to reflecting on the questions Joel and Richard posed, having this kind of concrete plan to guide our goal-setting will make the process far more effective, and enable us all to take control of our teaching careers.

Achieving goals often works far better if we are made accountable for working towards them. To this end, I’d like to invite you to write a couple of your goals in the comments box below, so we can work together to keep up our broad yet well-defined continuous professional development!

 

 

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

This week, I’ve outsourced the discussion question from my Materials Development course. I asked my teacher friends and colleagues:

Which ONE piece of advice would you give to a teacher who wanted to create their own classroom materials?

My top tip is: First plan the aims you want to achieve with the materials, and use them to guide everything you create!

Here’s what the others said…

Daniela (post-doc researcher & university tutor): Don’t bother unless you’re 200% sure that it’s going to be better than what’s out there already – so that your time is really worth it!

Carol (EAP tutor): Make the content relevant to your students and their learning needs.

Dan (FE Teacher Trainer): Ensure that the learner will think about the content, and not the materials.

Jessica (secondary-school MFL teacher):  Make sure anything you create allows you to play to your strengths and show off the learners’ ability.

James (graduate student, ESL teacher): Pay attention to the level of language you’re using, as well as teaching, so that students can understand the materials completely.

Chris (English teacher)Be consistent with formatting: page numbers, topic title, date, class, etc. and staple together so it’s not lots of loose sheets.

Jenny (university EFL teacher): Base the materials on topics that the students can relate to, whether this topic has been encountered inside or outside the learning environment, first-hand or through the media. 

Joanna (online Business English teacher): Start with needs analysis – learn about your learner. 

Marc (ESOL teacher): Leave plenty of white space for writing notes and annotations.

Karen (freelance editor & project manager): Make sure you write clear teaching notes and keys so others can use the materials too. 

Sandy (ELT manager & CELTA tutor): Just start doing it and testing them out! Then reflect on what did and didn’t work.

Jasmine (ESL teacher): My advice  would be to be a student. Take a class or try out your own lessons using another language register in English. You will be able to critique your own stuff more objectively.

And what are you tips? Please leave your comments below!

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

On the Materials Design itdi.pro course I’m currently doing, our tutor has prompted us to discuss:

When using an authentic audio or video it is important to use only English native speakers?

For me, the most problematic word here is ‘only‘. (Problem #2: Define ‘native speaker!) And so my answer would be a flat out No.

But that’s not much of a discussion! And so I’ve decided to re-formulate the question a bit, into: When should Non-Native Speakers be used in ELT audio & video materials?

And as with most things ELT… my answer is: It depends! 

And as always, it is important and interesting to look at what it depends on…

256px-CEFR_and_ESOL_examinations_diagram.svgStudents’ language level. Some commentators say that only NS (=Native Speaker) accents should be used with beginner students, as NNS (=Non-Native Speaker) accents can be harder to understand. I can see some value in the point that accents which are deemed harder to understand for a certain group of learners should maybe be introduced once a good level of grammatical and lexical understanding has been achieved and they have been well prepared for the listening task.. But, I think we have to remember that NS also have a huge variety of accents and don’t always speak clearly, so I’m not convinced that ‘hard to understand’ is a NS vs NNS difference….

Language Learning Goals & Motivations. For me, this is the key argument regarding listening comprehension: If the students are learning English (or whatever language, really!) in order to be able to communicate with native speakers, for example moving to live or study in a country where English is the main language spoken, then it makes sense to expose them mainly to NS accents and dialects through audio/video material. If they will mainly be communicating with other NNS, then it is rather more important to expose them to these when training listening skills. Indeed, in today’s globalised society, it is becoming less and less realistic to prepare English learners only to communicate with NS, as something like 75% of all interactions in English are between NNS (see Crystal 2003).

Evaluation_seminar_8063712I believe students should learn by using materials that are authentic for the contexts in which they are going to need to use English. A case from my own experience: I teach EAP, and when I think about preparing students to participate in seminars at a university in the UK or USA, for example (most popular countries among my students), then I definitely need to prepare them for the fast-paced, messy, interrupted, overlapping discussion, which will probably also involve cultural norms of turn-taking, etc. And it seems to me that the best material for this kind of thing would be authentic recordings of speakers in exactly this kind of seminar setting. However; find me a British university seminar that doesn’t include at least one NNS… probably rather rare these days! So really, when I think about it, it’s probably the NS + NNS combination that makes most materials most authentic!

Having said that, simply exposing learners to different accents, dialects or varieties of English will probably not suffice to really help them learn and understand – they will need training in listening out for and understanding differences. Though, again, this is not an NS vs NNS point!

Megaphone-Vector.svgSo far, I’ve mainly been coming at this topic from a focus on listening comprehension. But there is also another factor in this debate; the speech production side. With this in mind, there is the claim that …

Students’ need NS pronunciation model. I’ve recently heard several comments to this effect, and indeed I agree somehow intuitively with the feeling that an NS pronunciation model is better for beginner learners to learn to imitate. But then I do sometimes (when involved in discussions like this) wonder why?

As a basic and overarching goal of any language learning/teaching, I’d take communicative ability and intelligibility. For the sake of the latter, I think maybe learners should not learn to pronounce new vocabulary in their teacher’s accent; if this becomes combined with their own accent, it might render the words incomprehensible to speakers with other L1s! However, several researchers, especially in the area of ELF, have suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily take NS pronunciation/native-speaker-like-ness as the overarching goal of ELT anymore. Still, I do still think that many learners see this as their ultimate goal, and thus it may we what we’re paid for – our job to help them reach it? And besides, the question that then remains for me is How will NNS be mutually intelligible if they’re not taking some kind of vaguely common standard as their starting point? – But maybe I haven’t read enough ELF research to understand this…

(Also, I wonder what the ultimate goal of language learning would be if it’s not to be as competent in the L2  as in our own native language …?)

What does it mean to be a teacher of English?

This is a summary of a talk held by Jack C. Richards at IATEFL 2016 on Friday 15th April 2016. I’m afraid I’m not as hot-off-the-press as people who seem to the spend the entire conference tweeting and typing… but for those who couldn’t attend, here are the main tenet’s of the talk. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below!

So what does it take to be a teacher of English?

1. Expert language proficiency

Language competence needs to be strong, the must have the ability to produce accurate English spontaneously and improvise in the classroom. The teacher also needs to have a command of the specialised vocabulary of teaching, as well as being able to modify their language production for teaching purposes.

2. Content knowledge

This essential knowledge falls into two categories – disciplinary core knowledge, for example in linguistics, second language acquisition, etc., and also pedagogical knowledge to support teaching and learning, such as knowledge of methods, course design, testing.

3. A repertoire of teaching skills

This will include ways of opening a lesson, setting up group/pair work, and guiding a variety of effective practice tasks. With experience comes the ability and confidence to improvise more and integrate more creativity into the classroom activities, as the teacher becomes able to automatise small decisions about classroom management. Also, the ability to see the bigger picture of the lesson within the course framework will serve the teacher well.

4. Contextual Knowledge

This means having an understanding of the social and physical context within which you are teaching. The culture of learning defines what is considered ‘good’ teaching in different places and societies, and teachers need to be aware of the norms and expectations of their context.

5. Identity as a language teacher

What it really means to be a language teacher is devolved from a sense of motivation and beliefs about the profession. It may be defined by the different roles the teacher sees themselves in, e.g. planner, facilitator, mentor, model. Personal attributes (who I am), social constructs (who I am right now) and a professional identity (who I am at work) come to form a language teacher’s overall sense of identity.

6.  Learner-focused outlook

This will be evident in teachers’ aim to reduce redundant teacher-talk from their lessons, letting input from the students to direct the lessons, and not having lessons slavishly riven by a lesson plan. Teachers with a learner-focused outlook view the subject material from the students’ perspective, and are able to re-shape their lessons based on learner feedback.

7. Specialised cognitive skills

Teachers think slightly different to people in other professions; with a key point being an understanding of how to pedagogicalise content. When given input to teach from, teachers identify its potential, define goals, assess potential difficulties, etc. and are able to make these decisions very quickly, as this has come to be a natural thought process for them.

8. Ability to theorise from practice

Teachers develop and modify a theoretical understanding of teaching/learning based on their own experience and practice: This is how we understand our own teaching, decisions and actions. From our experience and understanding, we develop teaching principles or  philosophies which drive our teaching practice.

9. Membership in community of practice

Within such a community, teachers can relate and interact to achieve shared goals, for example through team-teaching, peer observations, or other forms of collaboration.

10. Professionalism

This can be either institutionally prescribed, imposed in a top-down manner, or involve the teacher making independent decisions regarding their own CPD engagement (bottom up), but is essential for a career in ELT.

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Jack C Richard’s slide: My photo.
So what do you think? How strongly do you agree or disagree with his points? Are there any dimensions of our work that are not covered here? Please leave your comments below – I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Clare

Note that a more thorough discussion of the points in this presentaiton can be found on: http://www.professorjackrichards.com and on the Cambridge English website:  http://iatefltalks.org/talk/mean-teacher-english