Tag: Discussion

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Students’ worksheet: click here. .

Teacher’s notes: click here..

Summary:

A speaking warm-up activity that allows learners to speak about themselves provides the input for them to start analysing the difference between facts, opinions and stances. The analysis is prompted by guiding questions, which avoid a too theoretical approach. The three terms are then introduced explicitly and students asked to match then up with their own analysis of different types of information.  In the following task, this understanding is applied to a reading text – an authentic excerpt from an academic paper on English as a Lingua Franca, an interesting and relevant topic to most ESOL learners – where learners seek out facts and stance in a demonstration of their understanding of the terms and their critical reading ability.

As extension tasks, students are guided to decide which reporting verbs would be appropriate for reporting facts and stance information, and then find and correct mistakes with citing information from the English as a Lingua Franca text. (Note: These mistakes are taken from actual students’ work in my classes.) Finally, they are asked to paraphrase facts and stance statements from the ELF text, using reporting verbs appropriately.

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!

 

 

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Formulating Definitions & Discussing Prejudice

Student worksheet: click here.

Teacher’s notes: click here.
AIMS: By working through this worksheet, which can be done independently or in class, students will be guided to notice some key features of definitions, in terms of content and language, and be able to replicate these in producing their own definitions.  Through the specific examples in focus, students will also practise talking about prejudices in a neutral manner and further develop their intercultural communication skills.

 

RATIONALE:

1 – Particularly in EAP, students often need to define terms used in their field of study, usually in order to clarify the term’s meaning to non-experts or to indicate which definition they are working with, and sometimes also to demonstrate understanding to an examiner.

2 – Because prejudices and biases are controversies often discussed, and perhaps even faced, in academic contexts, the focus here has been consciously placed on defining and discussing potentially controversial/taboo topics, in order to increase intercultural communication competences.

 

LANGUAGE FOCUS: defining relative clauses, some vocabulary for prejudices with -ism, some vocabulary for definitions.

 

LEVEL: B1 upwards.  According to www.vocabkitchen.com profiling, the texts of the definitions should be easily understandable for learners at/above the B2 level on the CEFR; I would suggest they could also be used with B1-level learners if vocabulary support is given or dictionaries allowed. (Words above B1 level: belief, treatment, wealth, social standing, superior, arising.)

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.

IMAG0723
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

 

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 7) Conferences

So, it’s the last day in my 7 days of posts on CPD for ELT teachers. If you’ve missed any so far, here are the links…

  1. Blogs 
  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks 
  3. Magazines & Journals 
  4. Peer Observation 
  5. Professional Organisations 
  6. Seminars & Workshops

All of the first six ‘ways’ could be done from the comfort of your own home, though I of course do recommend getting dressed and leaving the house at some point!! Today’s way will most likely mean spending some time away from your sofa/desk/own home, as today I’m going to convince you that a part of your CPD should definitely be attending

  • Conferences

I believe that all the other forms of CPD are extremely beneficial, but for a true boost to your insight, understanding, inspiration and motivation, there is no better way than attending a conference! There are so many reasons why that would, and do, fill multiple blog posts on their own. But here’s a few that occur to me immediately:

  • abundance of networking with like-minded people
  • opportunities to hear ‘big names’ speak
  • chance to keep up-to-date with latest trends and developments in ELT
  • gathering ideas and materials for the classroom
  • getting involved in current debates surrounding ELT
  • growing understanding of ELT in a wider context
  • the feeling of belonging to a professional community 
  • a chance to present and share your own ideas or research
  • free stuff (pens, bags, copies of textbooks, mugs, key chains, etc!). 🙂 

There are so many ELT conferences out there, and participating in all of them would take up an enormous amount of time and money – and probably not be a worthwhile use of your efforts! So how can you decide which conferences to attend? 

12805715_10156595096075464_1308734260307728059_nI attend different conferences with different purposes in mind. One of the first conferences I attended was a one-day event hosted by ELTAF in Frankfurt (Germany). There was a plenary, four sessions where I could choose form a number of workshops/talks to join in, and plenty of chances to network during the coffee and lunch breaks. I went along with the specific aim in mind of gettting to know other EFL teachers in Germany. At the time I was pretty new to teaching, so it was great to here from colleagues how the state-school and university systems worked regarding language teaching, and some issues that might arise in my classrooms and how I might want to tackle them. I was tired from travelling there for just one day, but I definitely achieved my aims. 


A couple of years ago I attended another one-day conference organised by a local ELT organisation, MELTA in Munich. It was an EAP Day. My aim this time was to meet others teaching EAP and discuss some of the biggest current challenges, exchange thoughts on textbooks and resources, and maybe share my own knowledge of how to ‘get in’ to teaching EAP. Again, I had a really lovely day, achieved exactly these aims. And even met up with an old colleague I knew from a previous job! 

The point is, I think, that you should choose a conference that matches your current CPD focus and in general your interests within ELT. Not every conference will cover every area of CPD or ELT, but if you select wisely and invest in the most relevant ones to you, then attending the conference will be extremely rewarding!

I suppose I can’t really write a post about ELT conferences without mentioning “the big two”: IATEFL annual conference and Assn TESOL yearly international convention. 

I’ve never been to the TESOL international convention. But I know a man who has. And here’s what he has to say about it: “TESOL 2015 was my first international conference for English language teaching. Although I thought TESOL would be a very exciting four-day experience, I was not expecting to be as inspired as I was. I spent that entire first day of the conference preparing to present two of my projects, which in hindsight was a waste of a day. I attended as many sessions as I could, most of them relating to my interests in global issues and social responsibility. I hardly slept! In my opinion, the best and most important aspect of TESOL is the networking. TESOL offers many opportunities to network with fellow teachers, teacher trainers, linguists, and scholars. I became friends with many inspiring, positive, motivating TESOLers by just attending the LGBTQ+ gathering the first night of the conference. Presentations are great; they are full of inspiring messages and new ideas. However, by becoming friends with these scholars, it alerted me to their very important research in TESOL. Because of networking, I even had the chance to meet Dr. Marianne Celce-Murcia and Dr. Bonny Norton, two of my biggest TESOL heroes. I became life-long friends with other researchers whose work I have used as my foundation for the way that I approach my teaching. Attending TESOL was a game changer for me. I highly recommend attending at least once.” Thanks @mitchell_jamesd !!

IMAG0245IATEFL’s annual conference, on the other hand, has been graced by my prescence for a number of years! 🙂 The first year I went, I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. It is BIG! Four days, from 9am – 6pm, about 15 sessions per day, and a choice of 10+ talks/workshops/presentations during each of them, plus a big exhibition of publishers etc. I was determined to get the most out of it, but I hadn’t set myself any real goals, so I just tried to attend every single session, run round the exhibition in the lunch break, and speed-network in the coffee breaks! Well, by the afternoon of day two I had to go back to the hotel and lie down in a dark, quiet room, with a pounding headache. Too much!! And this is why I say, set goals and select wisely! Having learnt my lesson the first year, I’ve been back again and again and always return to the classroom brimming over with ideas, inspiration and motivation, even more passion than usual, and often a few more contacts and an expanded PLN! I definitely recommend attending at least once, if you can – and this year is the 50th annual conference, so it promises to be an especially good one!

IMG-20130411-WA0000

By the way, I will be at IATEFL in Birmingham next month, and will be presenting on the topic of “Marking writing: feedback strategies to challenge the red pen’s reign” on Friday 15th April, 11:00 – 11:30, in room Hall 10a, as part of the TEASIG Day. Please do come along and say hello!!
 

In selecting a conference to attend, and in setting yourself some aims or goals, I’d suggest returning to the framework I presented on Day #1:

Reflect   —   Plan   —   Act   —   Evaluate

Reflect on areas of your teaching and career you’d like to improve and develop in, plan which conference to attend and which talks/woskhops etc, attend, and then evaluate how helpful this was, how you can apply what you heard/learnt to your own work, and what other gaps in knowledge you’d like to fill. And once you’re in this cycle, you can continue developing professionally – CPD through conferences! 🙂

Further Reading:

Borg, Simon, “The benefits of attending ELT Conferences”, ELT Journal, August 2014. Available here.

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 4) Peer Observation

Day #4 of my series of posts on CPD for ELT teachers! If you’ve missed the first three ‘Days and Ways’, you can find them by clicking these links:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

And now for number four:
  • Peer Observation

Don’t run away scared just yet!! 🙂 

 

I know that even just hearing (or reading) those puts the fear of god into some people, and conjures up nightmarish observations and evaluations that had to be endured on initial training courses!! But that was then. And this is now. And peer observation can be a very useful tool to use to enhance your development as a professional teacher. 

Peer observation can be ‘either way around’, so to speak. So either you can observe one/some of your peers teaching, or you can invite one/some of them to come along and observe one of your lessons. The main difference to observed lessons on training courses is, of course, that now you are PEERS, on a level, not judging each other and giving grades – so a non-threatening and (hopefully!!) far less scary set-up altogether! 🙂

IMG-20160223-WA0005

One key advantage of this kind of CPD activity is that it is local – you don’t need to travel anywhere but to your normal place of work, and it is free! Of course, it might take some careful planning to fit it in to your schedule, but where there is a will there is a way! And a boss or DoS who cares about their staff should be understanding of your endeavours and at least try to accommodate you, if you ask nicely!

Observing your peers…

gives you a clearer idea of what actually happens in colleagues’ classrooms and may serve as a more concrete basis on which to base your reflections and considerations surrounding your own teaching. This is probably much easier to work with than theoretical or abstract descriptions of teaching practices in textbooks and in other resources; and much more authentic than the ideal scenarios you might otherwise be led to imagine when thinking about other teachers’ lessons! I remember the first time I went and watched a colleague’s lesson, and being so relieved that some of her students were distracted, spent ages blankly staring at her when she asked a question, didn’t have their materials, etc. etc. Not because I would wish anything bad upon her!! But because this also happens with my students, and I’d previously thought I was doing something wrong as my lessons never seemed to work out as textbooks/online lesson plans/etc. said they should! I had my eyes open to the reality, and decided the best thing to do was to observe various colleagues and how they actually dealt with these situations, rather than thinking I had to magically try to avoid them! 

Likewise, being observed…

and getting feedback from a trusted colleague might give you a fresh perspective on your own teaching practice and help you identify more areas you would like to develop. The danger, of course, is that the colleague you ask might fall into the ‘expert’ role and try to get you to do everything their way! Try to stay constructive and reflective when they tell you their thoughts on your lesson; ask them to remain neutral, too. You could ask them just to describe what happened, hearing how someone else saw your lesson might already give you enough food for thought! Or if you’d like their slightly more evaluative opinion, make sure you always ask for justifications and don’t simply accept that ‘their way is best’!! It is YOUR CPD journey, so make sure you stay in control of it! (Yes, I’m talking from experience here. But I hope that your colleagues are all more supportive!)

IMG-20160303-WA0003 

To make peer observation most effective…

you can make the whole thing as in/formal as you like – with forms to complete, or just noting down whatever occurs to the observer. But it is important to have something to base the post-observation discussion on – again, as formal/informal as suits you! However, I would suggest that you have some sort of focus before you start. Especially if you want to work with a colleague and observe each other’s lessons, it should be clear from the start what the focus and purpose of the observations will be. Some example aspects I’ve look at through peer observation include:

  •  instructions for tasks 
  •  response to / feedback on students’ oral contributions
  • explaining aims of activities
  • encouraging oral participation
  • how many times I say “OK” ((worringly often, and for about 500 different things!! Oops!!))

 To come back to the framework I introduced in post #1 (Blogs), structuring peer observation around

Reflect – Plan – Evaluate – Act

can make sure that it has an impact on your development. So reflect on your own teaching and an area you’d like to focus on developing, plan to observe/be observed, evaluate the findings of the observations, and try to act on them and implement what you have learnt. This process will obviously be cyclical – then reflecting again on how well you’ve applied what you learnt, and using observations to evaluate this again, until you’re happy and would like to move on to focusing on another area of your CPD. 

Ultimately, involving your peers in observations means opening up the communication about your teaching practices, and that is developmentally very important and beneficial for all of you!

If you’re still apprehensive or would like specific ideas for how to set up observations, please feel free to ask questions or comment below or tweet to @Clare2ELT! And after you’ve done an observation or two, please let me/other readers know how it went!! Look forward to hearing from you all! 🙂

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 😉