Tag: CPD

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.

grille-EN

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!

 

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 6) Seminars & Workshops

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 6) Seminars & Workshops

So, day and way #6 in this series on CPD for ELT teachers. So far, most of my ideas for CPD activities were things you could do at home, or at least pretty close to home – most from the comfort of your own sofa! For example:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

  4. Peer Observation (4 March)

  5. Professional Organisations (5 March)

Now we’ve reached a point where you might just have to leave the house, and indeed travel a little further than normal. Today’s CPD ‘way’ is…

  • Seminars & Workshops

At certain stages of your career, taking a training course can help make significant progress as an ELT teacher. I, for example, did the Trinity College TESOL Diploma after I’d been teaching for a few years, to refresh and upgrade my skills and knowledge. Teachers just starting out on an ELT career could think about doing:

Teachers with some experience, might consider:

These are all internationally recognised qualifications, which clearly has advantages. The main disadvantages are that these courses can be expensive, and that you usually have to find an accredited examination centre to be able to complete them. They are also rather general in their scope and may not always be directly relevant to your own teaching situation; making them slightly less valuable for your CPD.

IMAG0611What you might like to do, then, is find seminars or workshops being offered closer to home. For example, the university close to where you live might be offering relevant seminar courses, or a publisher might be offering a workshop on implementing their latest materials. Some professional organisations also organise one-day workshops or blocked seminars over weekends, for example. The best way to find these, I would suggest, would be through membership of a national or local teaching organisation, and through a Google search – here, you can be as specific as you like in what you’re looking for and should aim to find something that really inspires you and you feel is relevant to your own stage of development as a teacher. 

For those of you are still hoping you can do most of your CPD in nyour pyjamas on the sofa…. 🙂 There are of course distance-learning courses, for example offered by The Open University. And nowadays there are really a lot of online courses and webinars that you can take part in.Check out, for example:

  • www.futurelearn.com“a private company wholly owned by The Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education. [They] have 84 partners from around the world. These include many of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, such as the British Council, the British Library, the British Museum, and the National Film and Television School. [They] also work with a range of internationally renowned organisations [to] offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.” (quote from their website)   I recently completed a FutureLearn course on “Professional Practices for English Language Teachers” and found it a really good way to refresh my ‘basics’ and get in touch with the latest research on methodology. I also made some contacts with other participants and was therefore able to extend my PLN.IMAG0668
  • www.evosessions.pbworks.com –  The Electronic Village Online (associated with TESOL) “TESOL experts and participants from around the world engage in collaborative online discussions or hands-on virtual workshops of professional and scholarly benefit. These sessions bring together participants for a longer period of time than is permitted by land-based professional development conventions and allow a fuller development of ideas than is otherwise possible. Sessions are free and open to anyone around the globe. It is not necessary to be a TESOL member or attend the TESOL Convention in order to participate. All you need is access to the Internet. Choose a session from this year’s offerings, listed below.  And please inform your colleagues about this unparalleled professional development opportunity!” (quote from website) These ‘sessions’ and discussions are available online and free to access. I’ve just had a quick look at one and am already excited to see more!!

I would like to end on a note of caution; We must remember not to fall into the trap of thinking that only ‘formalised’ training seminars, webinars or workshops are useful for our CPD! Nonetheless, we must remember them when we’re thinking of ways to develop professionally, as they really can give us a boost of inspiration and insight. Ad especially now so many are available for free, and/or close to home, we’d be silly not to make use of them!! 

Let me know if you do a webinar or online course you think others would benefit from – post the link / details in the comments below!!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, please tell others! If you haven’t, please tell me! 🙂

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 5) Professional Organisations

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 5) Professional Organisations

For those who are keeping up, this is blog post #5 in my series on CPD for ELT teachers. If you’ve missed the previous days’ posts, you can find them by clicking these links:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

  4. Peer Observation (4 March)

And now for number five:

  • Professional Organisations

Teaching can sometimes be a rather lonely pursuit, especially for ELT teachers away from home  in foreign countries. It can also be a rather homogenising experience, if you’re teaching in a specific context and only really have contact with teachers in the same situation as you. In both situations, I think many ELT teachers might miss out on the chance to hear about the current debates, research, trends, methods/approaches, etc that are being shared around the world. I believe that some sort of networking and sharing of ideas beyond a teacher’s immediate context is a key aspect of professional development.

That’s why I though post #5 in this CPD series would be a good time to provide a few links and tips that will help ELT teachers find this big world of ELT beyond their teaching situation and get them ‘networked’ with other teachers, to facilitate inspiration and continuous development as a teacher. The list does not pretend to be complete; please add further links in the comments below. 

IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)

http://www.iatefl.org/                           IMAG0245

If I could only recommend one organisation, this would be it. I’ve been a member for a number of years and the conferences and publications have been a constant source of inspiration and professional development opportunities. Double thumbs up from me!

Based in the UK. They say about themselves: “With over 4,000 members IATEFL is one of the most thriving communities of ELT teachers in the world. Our mission [is] to “Link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals” worldwide”.

As a member, you get a bimonthly copy of the ‘Voices’ mini-journal/newsletter with information about research and events going on in ELT around the world, a free copy of ‘Conference Selections’ with summaries of presentations given at the latest annual conference, free membership in a Special Interest Group with newsletters and events, a cheaper registration rate for the annual conference, and cheaper subscriptions to some of the leading journals in the field (e.g. ELT Journal).

Their next big annual conference is going to be in Birmingham in April 2016, find out more here: IATEFL Birmingham 2016

Each month, they provide provide a free webinar held by a famous name in the field. For details of the upcoming webinars (on topics such as coursebook evaluation, intercultural training, teaching with technology) see here: http://www.iatefl.org/webinars

TESOL International Association

http://www.tesol.org/home

They see themselves as a “global and collaborative community committed to creating a world of opportunity through teaching English to speakers of other languages.”  And say about themselves: “For nearly 50 years, TESOL International Association has been bringing together educators, researchers, administrators, and students to advance the profession of teaching English to speakers of other languages. With more than 12,000 members representing 156 countries, and more than 100 worldwide affiliates, TESOL offers everyone involved in English language teaching and learning an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community, where professionals like you connect with and inspire each other to achieve the highest standards of excellence.” See here for a brief introduction: http://www.tesol.org/docs/membership/tesol-brochure.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The host a large annual conference of which I have only heard good reviews (see: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/international-convention), and provide publications and an online resource-bank, and guidelines for best practice in ELT. They also create a newsletter and have lively online discussion groups on specific interests within ELT. Webinars and online courses complement their busy programme of symposiums and conferences (though the time-difference makes webinars slightly problematic for those living in Europe!).  See here for the full programme: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/online-courses-seminars  and  http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/symposiums-academies )

If you visit their website you will see that the homepage is very ‘busy’ and not always easy to navigate, but I think this simply reflects the variety of services and activities TESOL International Association offer and are involved in. If you have the time to click through, you will definitely find something that is relevant for you – whether you are a student, teacher, teacher-trainer, materials writer, etc. Definitely a thumbs up from me!

Teaching English – British Council

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/ IMAG0667

This is slightly different from the other associations listed here as it is mainly an online community. That makes it especially interesting to those who cannot travel to conferences, etc, and/or don’t have much spare cash to spend on memberships and travel costs. Why register with TE? They say: “Registration on this site is totally free and allows you to interact with other users as well as add comments and download certain material. You can:

  • build your own profile in an international online community;
  • access our tools for teachers;
  • join monthly online workshops;
  • watch our teaching tips videos;
  • sign up for a variety of teacher training courses;
  • join in discussions with teachers around the world.”

They offer free webinars and instructional videos and articles, as well as training courses and workshops, both as self-study and with a trainer (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teacher-training ). There is also free access to a number of journals and research publications via the site (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications ). Again, double thumbs-up!

 

Local Organisations

Wherever you live, there might be a smaller professional organisation you can join. This would of course have the benefit that the workshops, conferences, etc. provided would not be as far away from you, and may be more relevant to your specific teaching context. This kind of national or local networking can be particularly rewarding, as it can be easier to really get involved than within large international organisations. Their conferences are naturally smaller than those of the international associations mentioned above, but that also means that the costs are lower, and the events are less overwhelming for new teachers / students. I’m sure a quick Google search would find most such national/local organisations for teachers nowadays, but specifically for ELT teachers you might want to take a look here at this list of more organisations (all of which are affiliated with IATEFL) in your country, here: http://www.iatefl.org/associates/list-of-associate-members

A couple that I know of and have heard good things about are:

TEA (Teachers of English in Austria): http://www.tea4teachers.org/joomla/

German Association for Teachers of English (GATE): http://englisch-und-mehr.de/wp/

MELTA (Munich English Language Teachers Association): http://www.melta.de/

 

Most of my inspiration for CPD and my search for innovation, ideas and impulse for reeflection has come from being a member of IATEFL and other professional organisations; and indeed, most of the people in my PLN I met through this membership. So I would highly recommend joining such a professional organisation as a big boost for your CPD!!

Please share your experiences and further relevant links below! 

If you liked what you read here, please tell others! If you didn’t, please tell me! 🙂

 

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 3) ELT Magazines & Journals

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 3) ELT Magazines & Journals

This is post number 3 in my series “7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development” in which I’m sharing ideas on how to integrate CPD easily into your teaching-packed lives! So far I’ve talked about 1) Blogs, and 2) Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

Today’s Way is…

  • ELT Magazines & Journals

To further develop as a professional teacher beyond your immediate context, you’ll need to be finding out what’s going on in the ELT world beyond your institution’s doors! This might mean looking at some of the latest research into langauge acquisition and teaching, adapting/adopting teaching ideas and materials, or gaining an understanding of key debates and current issues in the profession. An easy way to do this is to read an ELT magazine or journal, or other publications such as newsletters. 

Some of the best-known magazines that I like to read are:

English Teaching Professional: see their website here.

Modern English Teacher – a magazine that “keeps you up-to-date with the latest developments and trends in ELT theory and thinking” see here.

Humanising Language Teaching Magazine (HLT) – a magazine on the web for English “teachers looking for ideas and interested in teacher development.” see here.

And there’s also EL Gazette , which is a free “newspaper for English language and international education”, which can be found here

IMAG0663

If you’d like to know more about the theoretical side of things and get in touch with some of the latest research, some of the go-to journals for ELT include:

ELT Journal, which “links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, education, psychology, and sociology [and] aims to provide a medium for informed discussion of the principles and practice which determine the ways in which English is taught and learnt around the world. It also provides a forum for the exchange of information and ideas among members of the profession worldwide.” See here.

TESOL Quarterly, which “fosters inquiry into English language teaching and learning by providing a forum for TESOL professionals to share their research findings and explore ideas and relationships in the field.” See here.

There are also a high number of more specific journals, and subscribing to all of them would obviously be expensive and probably mean you don’t have time to read all of them! Maybe the instution you work for subscribes to the most relevant ones for your teaching context, so you could read a copy there. Or they might like to subscribe to a couple of journals if you suggest it. Otherwise, you can use Google Scholar to find articles, many of which are for free, on any specific aspect of ELT that interests you.

If you would really like to engage with a wider network of teachers and researchers through magazines and journals, you might also want to write your own article. I’d suggest writing for a magazine or journal that you actually read, since you’ll then be able to pitch your text at the right kind of tone and level, and also always contact the editor in advance with your idea, and make sure you follow the guidelines for contributors that you can usually find on the publications’ websites. 

So, that was day three -introducing some of the magazines and journals I would recommend for you to take a look at as one part of your CPD journey! If there are any other magazines or journals you think I, and other readers, should know about, please post the titles/links/etc. in the comments below! And for any more tips or advice about getting started publishling, feel free to get in touch!

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development – 2) Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

This is post number 2 in my series “7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development” in which I’m sharing ideas on how to integrate CPD easily into your teaching-packed lives! Way #2 was Blogs and that post can be found here

Today’s Way is…

  •  Reflection Groups & Learning Networks

As I mentioned yesterday, I believe reflection is an essential part of CPD. Even the informal chats you might have with colleagues over a coffee after class are very beneficial for your CPD as they (should!) encourage you to reflect on what and how you’re doing in your job. The idea of a Reflection Group is that a group or colleagues meet on a (semi-)regular basis to discuss and reflect together, and I find that giving a name to these get-togethers also helps the participants to really feel that they have done something constructive, rather than just ‘having a chat’. You can make your groups and get-togethers as formal or informal as you like, as long as the atmosphere is supportive and you can all talk though your experiences and questions, or strengths and weaknesses, or ideas and plans. You and the colleagues in your group can be at any stage in your careers, and with a focus in any field of teaching, but you will need be open for different perspectives and willing to make the most of the reflective environment. 

It might also be good to set up some questions, or take it in turns to present an idea, a problem, a discussion topic, etc. to get your ‘meetings’ going. I also find bringing choccy biccies along to the meeting gets people into a talkative and sharing mood quite easily! But remember that the aim of reflecting is to learn and further your professional development, not to fall into a complaints sessions about all your lazy students!!

Your reflection group may be part of what is commonly termed a  Personal Learning Network (PLN), built up of colleagues who provide each other with support and professional advice. Nowadays, many people, at least in ELT, use the term “PLN” to refer to an online group or community, so something like a reflection and learning group beyond your immediate and physical teaching context – an online learning and reflection network. To build up your own online PLN, you could…

  • reflect in a blog  – see yesterday’s post
  • use Twitter – I tweet from @Clare2ELT if you’d like to start by following me, or you can join love chat threads such as #ELTCHAT every Wednesday afternoon
  • use social networks like Facebook and join relevant groups – for example, I’m a member of “Teachers’ Awareness” and “TEFL English Teachers’ Network”
  • Professional networking sites like Xing.com or LinkedIn – you can find jobs through these sites, but also join groups according to your interests and goals
  • English teaching sites such as teachingenglish.org.uk where there are articles and downloadable resources, as well as forums where you can reflect and discuss with other English teachers.
  • join an online course or MOOC, for example at FutureLearn.com – and then keep in touch with people who you enjoy  working with throughout that course. 

Whilst preparing this post, I also found an interesting video about how to use online CPD opportunities, such as building your own online Personal Learning Network. Nik Peachy (from whom I first learnt this idea of PLNs!) also has a good long list of links to websites and social networking sites which you can use to “Grow Your Own Personal Learning Network.

By commenting on this post and following my blog, engaging regularly with me, with other readers and with other comment writers, you will already be starting to build up a an online PLN and supportive reflection group! So give it a try 😉

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! 🙂 

 

Action Research – What and how?

Action Research – What and how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British Council: Exploring our own classroom practice.

Nellie Mueller: Action Research Projects

My first MOOC – A Reflection

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

MOOCsDefinition

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

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

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

Professional Development in the Here and Now: A quick review

The final talks of the IATEFL annual conference in Harrogate are finishing as I write. The one I was in finished early, which gives me a few minutes to write a very quick review and summary of what I heard.

The talk was by Anthony Gaughan on Continuing Professional Development (“The place is here and the time is now”).

 

Actually, I think the point Anthony made was a very good one, and it was a great note to finish the conference with. Nonetheless, in my view, the roundabout, pre-scripted and metaphor-heavy way of getting to the point was not really necessary. Still, the message to take away from his talk, and indeed something to think about as the conference comes to a close is this: We (teachers) should not fall into the trap of thinking that professional development is something that can only happen somewhere remote, somewhere other than in our daily teaching environment. In fact, as Anthony reminded us, we often underestimate the everyday learning experiences, seeing them as somehow inferior to formalised, planned, officially ‘accepted’ forms of development, where we are often rewarded with a certificate. In fact, there is apparently research which shows that these unplanned everyday learning experiences often lead to more definite and ongoing development than things like conferences, courses, etc. We need to remember, we can develop as teachers within our classrooms! Sometimes it may be hard to see the potential for development and learning, but Anthony has reminded us to be aware and become aware of these opportunities.

 

So, although I was unconvinced as I sat in a story-time-like presentation at first, the message I’m taking away to share is a valuable one. So thanks Anthony, for leaving us with this very apt conference-closing impetus to continue to develop, even once we’re back grinding our our daily grind!

 

Useful Links

The script for Anthony’s talk: http://teachertrainingunplugged.com/talks-interviews/the-place-is-here-and-the-time-is-now/