Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

In the school where I work, apart from the usual CPD options (workshops, lesson observations etc) there’s a mentoring scheme – I mentor half of our team, meeting with my colleagues regularly and discussing the issues they’d like to talk about and the steps they could take to explore techniques and issues relevant to them. At the moment I’m going on an extended leave and we’re planning to replace part of that scheme for some time with peer coaching, which is why I’ve been looking for resources on options for effective peer collaboration. There’s already a write-up on this blog of a very interesting IATEFL talk on peer coaching from three years ago (by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell), and this post is a write-up of another talk, by Ana Garcia-Stone, from this year’s IATEFL (the video is available here).

Talk title: Teacher agency: empowering teachers through self-directed peer observations

Presenter: Ana Garcia-Stone, @AMGS1958

Contact details

Description: This talk describes a peer observation project carried out by two colleagues, done over a year, experimenting with three different types of observation. This process empowered both teachers and the observations revealed different dimensions of agency.

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Ana Garcia-Stone, a teacher and teacher trainer with over 25 years’ experience, felt stuck in a rut with her development and she didn’t know how to go forward. At one point, at an IATEFL conference, she was talking about that with Tessa Woodward, who suggested working with a less experienced colleague. Ana Garcia-Stone thought it was a good idea and she approached Kat Scuba, a colleague who’d been with her centre for about a year – someone who didn’t know much about her and her teacher training reputation, and who reminded her of her younger less experienced self.

Before starting the project:

They carried out the project without any ‘agenda’  – they just wanted to see what would emerge out of observations.

Before they started the project, they agreed that what they discussed would be confidential, so that they would be able to expose their weaknesses and grow:

Quote (trust)

The project. What they did: 

Here are the peer observation ideas that they tried out:

Unseen observation

In this ‘observation’ type you meet, discuss your class and what you’re going to do, go off and teach your class on your own, and then we get together afterwards and discuss how you feel that class went.

Reflection:

The two teachers had very different goals here. Ana Garcia-Stone’s partner, Kat Scuba, decided to use this opportunity to support her with teaching a group of young (four year old) learners, as this was the first time she was teaching a group of that age. She arrived at the meetings with pages after pages of notes and ideas, and the upshot of the experience was that she developed a framework for teaching that age group in the coming year.

Ana chose a different focus: a strong task-based approach, and she found that this experiment encouraged her to break out of the routine you fall into when you’ve got a lot of experience, and get back into lesson planning – her lesson plans got longer and longer and longer and she was thoroughly enjoying it.

In terms of the observation itself, a positive aspect was that, this being an ‘unseen’ observation, they only had to please themselves – thus avoiding the situation when you feel you have to ‘plan for the observer’. In the post-lesson observations, there again was no stakes – as there was trust between the participants and they felt free to discuss what had or hadn’t gone well.

Outcome: both participants found this experience extremely rewarding and they learnt a surprising amount from this type of observation.

I plan for my class, you teach my class, I observe

Ana and Kat met before and after the class to discuss that lesson.

Reflection: This mode may make you more aware of your planning – although Ana Garcia-Stone found that she only saw the weaknesses and strengths that she was aware of anyway. One interesting thing that happened was that this highlighted how you need to ‘start planning from your students’, as your know your students, but this is not always explicit in the plan. When she was observing, Ana Garcia-Stone saw things that were absent from the plan (e.g. you need to check this thing with Z. as he tends to get these things wrong or it might be better to separate these two students as they tend to distract each other). Her partner, Kat, found it difficult to teach her plan, because she didn’t understand the transitions and found them awkward/didn’t quite understand the logic of the lesson, even though they’d discussed this before the class. This highlighted the fact that transitions are things that are very automated and we tend not to write them out in the plan.

Ana taught Kat’s class – a C2 class of learners preparing for CPE. Kat’s approach to teaching this level was very different from what Ana normally does at C2 level. Ana normally introduces loads and loads of vocabulary, whereas Kat’s class was planned around a series of flipcharts, without heavy lexical input, and Ana felt that the learners were learning equally as effectively. So for Ana, the experience of teaching with those materials raised questions about her belief about the importance of teaching vocabulary at higher levels and whether what she was doing was useful. As a result, Ana went on to do some research about teaching vocabulary to higher level learners, she ran a community of practice around it, and she learnt a lot and changed the way she presented vocabulary to higher level learners. For her, this experience was very valuable.

I video your class, you watch on your own, you choose what to discuss, we discuss it

Reflection: The participants felt that, although they were both comfortable with one another and with one another’s classes, videotaping the classes was intrusive for both the teacher and the students, (the teachers felt nervous, the learners, who were twelve year old played up).

Neither of them felt they got anything particularly useful out of the experience – they felt they needed a task focusing on something visible, e.g. teacher-student interaction, the way the furniture is organized, transitions, etc.

The only outcome was that Kat felt that her classroom was ‘two-dimensional’ and she wanted to investigate making it ‘three-dimensional’.

Evaluation

Did the experiment foster agency?

The definitions of agency that Ana Garcia-Stone focused on at the beginning of the talk:

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They were able to act (as in their centre they don’t have to ask for permission to carry out a project like that), and they were able to affect change in their classroom, but not beyond their classroom. The result of engaging in this kind of project is that the responsibility for one’s professional development shifts from ‘others’ to the teacher.

Also, in the words of Simon Borg, teachers will only change if their teaching beliefs are brought to the surface and their teaching beliefs change – this is what development is, and Ana felt that this was what happened with one of her teaching beliefs.

Evaluation quotes

Considerations:

  • What teachers want to focus on might be at odds with the aims of the institution (e.g. what if the institution wants the teachers to use more IT but the teachers don’t want to explore that?)
  • In the institution there might be some systems of accountability, e.g. a performance management system – so how do you account for this learning to someone who wasn’t there? I feel that I learnt and I can write a report on what I learnt, but that might not be enough for my manager at my institution.
  • Time constraints – e.g. does the timetable allow to observe each other’s classes?

References:

References

All in all, the experiment was definitely worth doing for a year, and both the participants miss it – maybe not the peer observations per se but the communication.

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I’ve been thinking of engaging in a peer coaching scheme ever since attending the talk by Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell that I mentioned at the beginning of the post – haven’t been able to do this, mostly because I’ve been finding it difficult to find time for things, what with being a new parent, juggling family and a heavy workload for the past two years. 

However, I really hope to get the chance to do that in the next academic year, and what I found especially valuable about Ana Garcia-Stone’s talk was specific ideas for things to try out and examples of specific takeaways, which gave me a better insight into what kind of things might emerge out of a project like this one. 

I hope that my team, who I’ve written the talk up for, will also find this talk inspiring and useful. 

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Dorothy Zemach gave a very useful practical workshop on using song to a packed room at the NATE conference in Moscow, Russia. Here are my notes from her workshop. 

Abstract: This practical workshop gives examples of activities you can do with songs – far more than just removing some words for students to write in. We’l also discuss how to select songs and which ones work best to teach and practice English. And of course we’ll listen to real music!

The handout for this workshop will be available at Dorothy’s website http://wayzgoosepress.com/freebies next week.

What are some reasons to use songs in the classroom?

  • Students like this – this is a good reason and not the only reason.
  • When looking for songs, the question ‘why questions do my students like?’ is not the main for Dorothy. She wants to find songs that will help with vocabulary, grammar and, most of all, pronunciation (because features of connected speech in slow songs are a lot easier to hear than in conversation).

Challenges associated with using songs:

  • Some songs contain bad grammar – which makes them bad teaching material
  • Bad/explicit vocabulary – also makes the song impossible to use in context
  • Lyrics that you find online are often incorrect and you have to double-check
  • Difficult to find songs for a particular language point.
    Where can you find suitable songs? Save all links – over the years Dorothy has collected a collection of songs that are good for present perfect / two-part verbs / etc.

Dorothy encourages teachers to buy copies of songs we use in class, as it’s only fair to pay the people who created your materials!

Next Dorothy Zemach showed activities that she’d used with five songs.

Tom’s Diner Suzanne Vega

This is a very clear song that can be used with A2 learners.

Stage 1 Read and understand and answer these questions just from listening – to give the learners a sense of achievement.

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Stage 2 Students are given gapped lyrics, in which  all present continuous verbs have been taken out.

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Tips: 

  • The gaps are too close so Dorothy warns the students in advance that while they’re writing one verb they’re likely to miss the next one. She says that she’ll stop after each verse and play it again.
  • The verbs straightening / hitching are likely to be problematic, so Dorothy will pre-teaches them in advance. In a practicing activity that is well designed the students are able to get almost everything right.

Stage 3 Listen again without looking at the lyrics and raise your hand each time you hear present continuous (this does challenge the students because some words, like ‘morning’ sound like verbs, which means they have to process what they’re listening to.

I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash; On the Rocks
Language point: weather vocabulary

This song has a lot of weather vocabulary. You can see the procedure in the handout – notice that in Task 4 the students talk about what it means because it’s a metaphor.

For lower level students the challenge is that their language level is low but they’re still adults and they have complex ideas. So it’s important for them to sometimes get the chance to talk about complex issues.

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Interestingly, in Libia when Dorothy asked ‘what do heavy cloud mean’, the learners said ‘happiness’ – because it hardly ever rains there and they pray for rain! But this prompted discussion of connotations in western countries – important, e.g. for understanding of films (when we see dark cloud, this might signal that something terrible is going to happen – if you can’t interpret that, you will have trouble understanding the film).

As you listen to this song, notice that the singer sings so slowly that it’s easy to hear the phonemic features, e.g.  what happens with sound /k/ in ‘dark cloud’ .

Working with a song, you’ll probably need to play it several times. When lots of people have covered a song, why not play different versions? If the versions are slightly different, this gives the learners another reason what to listen for.

 

Nothing (Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians) 
Language point:  ‘nothing / something / everything.

 

Stage 1. The students are given gapped lyrics to listen and fill in.

Stage 2. Dorothy asks the learners to explain why the singer is singing ‘Don’t tell me nothing’ – is that bad grammar? No, because actually she’s singing ‘Don’t tell me ‘nothing” – what she’s saying it ‘talk to me’. When low level learners work that out, they feel that they understand the hidden meaning and feel intelligent.

Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
Discussion point: family/culture

Stage 1: discussion.

Worksheet design: notice how pre-listening section starts with some very easy to answer questions, followed by questions that require more thought.

Stage 2: students listen and read at the same time – if there’s any vocabulary or anything else you don’t understand, underline it.

This normally arises some cultural questions related to:

  • Cat’s in the Cradle, a children string game,
  • Little boy blue, a line from a nursery rhyme
  • The man in the moon – this is what little kids are told (as the spots on the mood resemble a face)
  • a silver spoon – the traditional gift for a newborn baby

So these are all things that people heard in the childhood and so they evoke nostalgia.

Stage 3: Discussion

Is this a terrible father? Should he not pay his bills?
Why did he not call? (When this song was written, phone calls were very expensive)
What can you do to have close feeling with your family, given that you have a limited amount of time?
These are the topics that everyone can relate to.

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Exposé – I’ll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me

Language point: two/three-part verbs; phonology (intrusive /w/ in between vowels, e.g. go_w_away, go_w_on – which is very difficult to hear in conversation, but a lot easier to hear when sang slowly.

Worksheet design: for students, Dorothy will normally provide the expressions in a box, for them to listen and choose.

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I hope you dance by Lee Ann Womack
Dorothy Zemach uses this song with more advanced students

Stage 1: Listen (not watch) and decide: what’s the relationship between the singer and the person that she’s singing to?

 

Stage 2: As it’s quite metaphorical, Dorothy provides the lyrics, gets through them line by line and elicits what is implied in each line.

Dorothy 2

Stage 3: Focus on language (language of imperatives..)

Stage 4; Writing assignment: the learners write their own letter to someone they care about (if they can, they can write a poem). They need to do that using the same grammar points (imperatives / I hope you [verb]). Here’s how Dorothy scaffolds this task:

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I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. For me it was very interesting to look at some specific examples how Dorothy Zemach has used songs in class, and I’d really like to try some of these songs and activities in class.

I also really liked the way Dorothy shared practical advice on material writing (e.g. on ordering discussion questions) simply by commenting on the design of the worksheets.

The thing I enjoyed the most was the post-listening activities – the way Dorothy encourages the learners to explore metaphors and culture. I especially loved the post-listening activity that she designed for the last song – I know that I’d love to be in that class. 

I teach Business English students at the moment and I hardly ever use songs with my BE learners – I came away from this workshop inspired to keep an eye out for songs suitable for my context and to use them a lot more in class.  

Lindsay Warwick gave a great talk on activities that encourage learners to engage more with reading texts and make them more active and critical readers. Here are my notes. 

Abstract Academic reading requires a while new set of skills that even learners with excellent English need help with. Not only do they need to understand the ideas in a text, they also need to be able to question those ideas and critique them. In this talk, I will suggest practical ways to help learners develop these skills in order to make them more active and critical readers.

Lindsay Warwick shared some ideas for before reading, while reading and post-reading activities that encourage the learners to engage with the text more. These ideas are summarized on this slide:

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Pre-reading

Lindsay encourages her learners to predict the content of the article, based on headings, subheadings, the visuals and so on. She also sometimes gives them a reason for predicting, e.g. Imagine that you need to write an essay on this topic. Will this article be useful/relevant? 

She also uses Padlet to get the learners to share their prediction – one of the benefits is that the quieter students share their ideas with the whole class.

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Questions

According to research, teachers ask on average 300 questions a day. But how many questions do students ask? Lindsay Warwick encourages the learners to ask questions, based on the predictions they made, and also gives them a table that encourages them to continue with this as they read:

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Highlighting

Another way to engage deeper with the text is to highlight key ideas.

Lindsay recommends Scrible – a tool that allows you to annotate any article online.

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Post-reading activities

Drawing connections:

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Lindsay also gets her students to put on the skeptic hat and respond to texts with ‘yeah, but’. She scaffolds them with giving them questions to consider:

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Reading critically

Lindsay uses the Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site to introduce the idea that not all sources can be trusted. This particular site is more ‘tricky’ than most ‘fake news sites’ because it’s very difficult to spot that it’s fake.

Another activity she does is ask the learners which of these ideas they believe:

If they believe some of them, she gets them to go and prove them. This activity encourages them to critically assess sources of information.

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I can remember several occasions when my learners were able to answer every single question on a reading passage but the first one, because the answer to the first question was in the title of the article, which they had skipped. I find the skills that Lindsay were talking about quite difficult to teach, and I really liked the practical ideas that she shared and in particular the way she scaffolds her learners, providing them with a table or questions to structure their thinking. Regarding the tools she recommended, I haven’t tried Padlet with my learners but I’ve tried Scrible and it was a very satisfying experience – I wrote a post about it some time ago. I also loved the myth busting activity – I tried working with similar myths with my teenage students and it was a lot of fun, and I’d love to get the chance to use this particular activity. 

To sum up, although I haven’t taught reading for a while, much of what Lindsay said reminded me of some of the struggles that I’ve faced, and I really liked the activities that Lindsay suggested and I hope to get the chance to try them. 

 

David Evans gave a great keynote at the NATE conference in Moscow yesterday, in which he suggested that teaching has a lot in common with public speaking, overview research into what makes TED speakers good communicators, and suggested ideas how teachers can benefit from this research. He is an absolutely amazing speaker who got the audience roar with laughter and no talk summary can do his talk justice, but still here are my notes. 

Abstract Public speakers and teachers have much in common. The both need to be able to command attention and engage with an audience, while putting their points across in a simple and compelling way. But the real key to success in both fields is to remember that it’s not just what you say, but the ways that you say it. So, in this keynote talk David Evans draws on research into what makes a successful TED speaker and applies those lessons to the classroom. He will discuss the importance of body language and talk about how we can control it. He will suggest ways of using voice and gesture more effectively, as well as proposing some ideas for overcoming nerves and boosting confidence. He will also draw on exmples from the courses Keynote and 21st Century Reading, both produced by National Geographic Learning in association with TED talks.

David Evans started by making a point that TED talks are wonderful examples of communication and a lot of research has been done on what makes TED speakers fantastic communicators. In his keynote talk, David Evans wants to explore some of these insights and how they can be applied to teaching.

confident connections

He started out with told a story that exemplifies that it’s not what you say – it’s the way that you say it.  In this story high school girls were making a mess in the restroom by applying lipstick and leaving lipstick marks on the mirror. The school headmistress addressed the girls twice ordering them to stop, but this didn’t work. Then she showed them how the mirrors were cleaned with the water from the toilets, and not a single lipstick mark appeared on the mirrors again.

The way that we say things is incredibly important. And yet as teachers we often spend a lot of time thinking about the content of what you’re going to talk about, but spend far less time thinking how we’re going to say that.

Here are aspects that are very important to the impression we make on our audience, whether we are giving a talk or a lesson:

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First impressions

First impressions are important. And they’re important not only the first time. Every time you walk into the classroom, you’re making an important first impression: the learners assess what mood you’re in today and what to expect from you and the lesson today. It is possible to change a first impressions, but it’s really difficult.

How long to you have to make a first impression? Researchers into TED talks discovered that people have the same opinion 7 seconds into the talk as they have at the end of the talk. If at the beginning of the lesson you appear unprepared and students think, ‘What an idiot’, it’s going to be difficult to turn this into a good lesson!

Factors important in terms of creating first impressions?

Body language 

Posture. To control the class and command the room you need to make yourself appear big i.e. standing up straight, using your voice properly, breathing correctly. If we appear small, we look submissive and like we don’t want to be in control.

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Controlling the space that we have. If you’re too still, you will appear boring. But fidgeting is distracting too – this is bad too, so balance is important.

Facial expressions are extremely important because of so-called mirror neurons because the people listening to us subconsciously ‘recreate’ our facial expressions.

Here’s a 3 minute extract from David’s talk in which he demonstrated what effect our facial expressions make on the people listening to us:

Then David showed this video which exemplifies that to an extent, we listen with our eyes:

Smile

David maintains that we love Mona Lisa because she’s smiling and that’s unusual in a work of art. One reason for the absence of smiling is that models were encouraged not to smile: in the past, when people smiled and you could see their teeth, which were either missing or black! As teachers, we might tend to think that teaching is ‘a serious business’ and we’re not in class to smile. The TED research discovered that the more the presenter smiles, the more intelligent they think the presenter is. So if you want your class to think you’re clever, smile at them!

Voice

The voice is extremely important.
Correct posture makes sure we breathe properly, which is important for our voice. Another thing to think about is resonance. You need to get resonance using the whole front part of your body. You need to feel your voice in your chest, not only throat and/or face. Another important factor is variety – according TED research, particularly in terms of establishing the speaker’s charisma. British people use enormous variety – the pitch goes up and down and slow and fast. Russians, for instance, sound ‘on a level’.

A few TED talks that David recommended:

  • The Hidden Power of Smiling (Ron Gutman)
  • The Neurons That Shaped Civilisation (Vilayanur Ramachandran)
  • How to speak so that people want to listen.
  • Your body may shape who you are by Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy says don’t look protective (placing your hand on your face/neck), avoid hand-hiding, etc. However, this is not the most important. Our body language can change our brains: the way we stand or sit changes the way our brains work. When we stand in a dominant way, testosterone is released into your brain. These hormones stay in your brain for quite a while – and you can change them by the way you position your body.

If you you have a class that you dread, David Evans recommends that you find a free classroom,  stand there in a ‘wonder woman’ for two minutes and in the few seconds of your lessons your students will know not to mess with you. Your colleagues will think that you’re absolutely mad, but you’re an English teacher, so they know that already.

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As I mentioned at the beginning, this was a great and inspiring talk, and I actually enjoyed this talk exploring research into TED even more than the actual TED talks, which says something! The talk was filmed and apparently the recording will be available to NATE members. 

NATE Conference 2017

Posted: May 18, 2017 in Conferences

I’m very excited and honoured to be the conference blogger at the XXIII National Association of Teachers of English Russia annual conference. Expect lots of conference reports from me in early June!

If you can make it to Moscow in June, the program features a fantastic line-up of speakers and it’s not too late to register.

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Hello everyone!

This Saturday I’m doing a workshop for IATEFL BESIG on using YouTube as a corpus of spoken English. 

Below is the abstract – if the topic seems interesting, you’re very welcome to take part! You’ll find the link to access the workshop on the BESIG website here.

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Abstract. YouTube is a vast source of subtitled spoken English ranging from general to business to ESP, and it has long been an extremely valuable source of authentic video in the business English classroom. Moreover, as technology develops, there appear new ways of using this resource for language learning, and so its pedagogic value keeps growing.

In particular, recently there have started to appear tools that, to a certain extent, allow to access YouTube as a corpus, i.e. find examples of use of specific lexical expressions and grammar. In this workshop I will overview some of these tools and then look more closely at http://tubequizard.com, a free corpus tool and quiz maker. We will look at a variety of classroom activities and teaching techniques that this technology has made possible, concentrating on two areas:

(1) exploring lexis, grammar and discourse in business-related and specialist channels, and
(2) finding, analyzing and exploiting subtitled authentic models in the business English classroom.

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight.

Below are my notes from the mini-workshop on How to write writing activities by Rachael Roberts, who has also written a book with the same title: 

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Rachael started by pointing out that writing activities are often left out or ‘done for homework’. In one-to-one context writing is also ‘weird’ because it’s silent. But increasingly more and more communication is done through writing, and so Rachael is passionate about teaching writing.

Sometimes when the learners are set a writing task, they aren’t given any support and so they have to ‘take a plunge’. In contrast, Rachael is going to focus on how to make the task manageable, i.e. scaffold the learners.

To break down the writing task, we need to think about the ‘ingredients’ of a piece of writing and

  • select which ingredients are key for the task;
  • decide in which order to approach them.

Key ingredients

Example: for a letter of application key ingredients would be the register and set phrases. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a report, it’s extremely important to think about the organization.

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Regarding lexis, there might be two ‘kinds’ of vocabulary that are key to the task:

  1. language to help organize the text and
  2. topic-related language.

For (1) the best thing to do is to have a model. Possible scaffolding: highlight the key expressions in the model and set the task for the learners to sort the expressions.

For (2), Rachael looks at samples of texts on the topic and puts them into a word cloud. This might reveal some vocabulary that isn’t obviously associated with the topic E.g. in this example you see that climate change is related to migration and crisis.

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Logical order

To help us explore the typical order of a writing lesson, Rachael invited us to order the following stages of writing an essay:

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Here is the ‘key’ – a layout of a writing lesson:

  • Tasks to activate schemata and, possibly, introduce some language
  • Read a model essay.
  • Start analyzing the essay: identify the thesis statement; identify the topic sentences;
  • Focus on grammar: identify the passive statements (focus on grammar after focus on meaning and context); practice passives (rewrite a set of sentences, using passives where appropriate);
  • Do the actual writing: the plan, a draft, check against a checklist and revise the draft.

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It seems that in this session Rachael has achieved the impossible and distilled the nuts and bolts of teaching writing to a fifteen minute workshop that included a practical element. An extremely useful, clear and concise framework to keep to hand.

As I mentioned above, this workshop was based on a module that Rachael wrote for ELT Teacher 2 Writer. It’s now also a chapter in a print book, which was great news for me, because I vastly prefer hard copies to ebooks – so I grabbed the book the moment it came out. I’ve just finished reading the chapter written by Rachael, and I really really enjoyed it.

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In the book, it’s a 38 page chapter (in other words, quite manageable for even a very busy teacher), and just like the workshop that Rachael gave, it’s an extremely clear, concise and hands-on take on creating writing activities. About a quarter of the module is devoted to an overview of activities and task types that might be used to help learners with the different ‘key ingredients’ of a writing task. Rachael also touches on the practical consideration of

  • how to choose which approach to teaching writing to use
  • how to analyze and write model texts
  • the ways writing for digital might be different from writing traditional activities, and more.

She mentions a lot of pitfalls to avoid, and also includes over a dozen practical tasks for the reader that really help process the ideas in the text. All in all, I can recommend this module not only to teachers who actually create writing materials, but also to anyone who teaches writing and wants to gain deeper understanding of how coursebook materials on writing work. 

The second pre-conference event at the BESIG annual conference 2016 was on Creating excellent ELT materials. In this session five experienced ELT authors who have written teacher training modules published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer gave 15 minute workshops related the topics of the modules they’d written. This was a whirl of brilliance: a fast-paced but at the same time very hands-on session packed to the brim with invaluable insight. Below are my notes from the first of those mini workshops. It was delivered by Evan Frendo and focused on one of the topics that he addressed in his book on writing corporate training materials: 

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Evan started his workshop by looking as some of the reason that might motivate a company / training department to commission in-house materials:

  • current materials are inadequate
  • company enters a new market / launches a product with specific language needs
  • a request from in-company language trainers
  • feedback on current materials from learners might trigger a request for company-specific materials
  • it can be as simple as a new HR manager
  • or you sell them the idea

Next he shared two examples of timelines for material writing projects that he’d done, the first one for a ‘traditional’ set of materials and the second one for an e-learning course (his e-learning courses are show-cased here):

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Next Evan asked us to imagine we are sitting down for an initial meeting with your potential client. What do you want on the agenda? Here are his points that he recommended discussing:

  • Objectives: what do they want out of the project? Often this is not done well and this is revealed half way through the project.
  • Approach: are you going to adhere to the approach they want or will you try and insist on your approach?
  • What human resources do you need? Who is the team on your and their side.
  • Timelines: milestones, etc.
  • Risk management. ‘What happens if’-type questions. Rarely done well – but up to a third of projects might not see the end due to force major factors like the change of company management, acquisitions, etc.
  • Communication with stakeholders: face to face? online? Evan recommends doing at least a couple of face to face meetings to build rapport and relationships – if things start to go wrong, it’s the relationship that was forged during those meeting that will help you to weather the storm.
  • What are the constraints? What happens when there are changes – and there are going to be changes?
  • Access to places and people: you do need a corpus. Unless this is put this down in writing, you’re unlikely to get this access.

I found this mini session very interesting and informative. I’m currently enjoying the security of writing materials for a company where I’m employed full time, and the reality of writing in this setting is obviously a lot less harsh than writing as a freelancer. So I can see how I might start taking some things for granted and so, when I venture ‘out there’, it will be all too easy for me to overlook some crucial things that need to be discussed. For instance, I would never expect up to a third of projects to never see completion. So for me Evan’s checklist of things that need to be discussed at the start of the project is simply invaluable, and so are the other tips he gave, e.g. how to actually land a project. But the real gem of the session for me was the two project timelines that Evan shared. I’ve never participated in creating an e-learning course, and it was very interesting to sneak a peek at a real project with its stages and the associated timelines.

Also, as Evan’s session was related to his book ‘How to write corporate training materials’, I just have to mention that I can’t recommend this book enough. In this book he offers a very clear framework for creating a company-specific course and liberally supports it with examples from his own experience and from research (I particularly enjoyed the case studies at the end of the book).  This title was an invaluable resource for my Delta Module 3. It’s also short, which means it’s an ideal starting point for someone who teaches general or exam English but is thinking of venturing into business English, so I’ve been recommending it to my friends who’re thinking of taking that step. 

I love mind mapping, so I couldn’t wait to hear what Ron has to share with us! Here are the notes from his workshop.

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The work is based on eight years on research into mind-mapping and how they influence second language learning. The focus is on B1-B2-C1 Business English classroom.

Ron Morrain maintains that, if we are to be great teachers, we need to (1) attempt to integrate the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, (2)  Task-based Language Teaching and (3) understand Project-based learning.

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Ron starts a lot of his classes immediately with a mind-map to win the learners over – in his experience, using them half-way won’t work. Here are some mindmaps that his learners do – notice two things:

  • They’re based around questions, e.g. What do I expect from this course? It’s crucial to find out the learners’ expectations and beliefs from the outset.
  • His mind maps have this ‘personal touch’ – they don’t have the feel that they were ‘produced in a Word document’. He draws them on A3 paper and laminates them.
  • All of his bubbles are always numbered (to guide the learners / see the structure and logic – see also examples below.

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In Ron’s school, they make no paper copies. In class, he passes his laminated copy around the class, the learners are responsible for getting a record – taking a picture, and then they navigate through the mind map using their own technology: tablets or smart phones, which makes it a ‘living object’ that they know where to find after the lesson. Also, it is the students who share the picture of the  their electronic management system and it is their pictures that Ron uses when he projects them. Basically, this is part of

Another example, at the beginning of the course: these are the speaking topics that we’ll be dealing it:
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Here are the writing topics:
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Ron mostly uses mind maps to guide the learners to produce a product (and the product will always be based on a skill) – below is an mind map that guides the learners to produce a 200 word restaurant review that’s going to be posted online.

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Again, notice how numbers highlight the structure of the review. The questions in the bubble prompt the learners to start researching on the internet (which takes care of input) – putting the learners in control of their learning. The learners must be result-oriented, and it is the them who choose what they’re going to read.

We moved on to discuss the ‘how’ of using the mind maps based on this mind map:

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First, how does the use of mind maps encourages the use of the 4Cs and a range of other questions.

E.g. to introduce Critical Thinking he introduces bubble #4: thinking critically about their area.

What happens afterwards? The learners’ product is assessed (and all teachers in Ron’s school are paid to become examiners so that they’re skilled as assessing learning).
When the mind map is used for speaking (e.g. CV mind-map below, where the learners present themselves for their partner): they have to listen pro-actively and take notes. When he asks them, ‘Did your partner make any mistakes’? they can’t answer ‘I don’t know’.

More examples – there are more business-oriented.

Product for the mind map below: a presentation, leading to writing (a 200 word essay). Again, notice how the questions prompt the learners to go out, do their research and take their learning in their hands.

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The company profile – the product here is not only a presentation but a Pecha Cucha. There are 10 bubbles, and they are only allowed 3 minutes to present their company. This is a great challenge for the learners and they love it.

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So, to round up, here are some of the reasons to use this approach.

Mind-mapping

  • reduces text-heavy materials
  • promotes storytelling as the people are going to be talking about themselves
  • promotes online learning
  • removes ‘talk and chalk’
  • incorporated different teaching approaches, e.g. TBL
  • a wonderful way to elicit target language in a natural way

One participant (Kirsten Waechter’s) take-away: I should learn to trust my learners more and ‘let go’.

You can find an example of a lesson plan that uses a mind map that Ron created for Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat.

And there’s a new title coming!

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I was blown away by this session. I am an avid mind-mapper already, but as they say, the devil is in the detail, and what I particularly liked was the look and feel of Ron’s maps – amazing! – and his ‘demand high’ attitude and determination to really push his learners to go and grab responsibility of their teaching. I find this to be one of the biggest challenges – and necessities – working in company, and it’s great to see a very consistent approach to driving learner autonomous work. And of course I loved the amazing mind maps that he created and shared. Can’t wait for the book to come out! 

Here are my notes from one more talk at the BESIG 2016 annual conference. Akos Gerold and Justine Arena were focusing on CBI, the type of job interview that they’ve been helping clients with.

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At the beginning the audience brainstormed some traditional interview questions:

  • Tell us about your weakness
  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Most of them have been around for a long time and the answers to them might not be that informative because they can be rehearsed and, what’s more important, it’s pretty easy to simply say what the interviewer wants to hear rather than the truth. Also, they do not measure how well the interviewee will do specific tasks. As an alternative, HRs have come up with CPI – competency-based interview.

What is CBI and what is the difference between CBI questions and traditional interviews?

CBI interview is about learning about the past to predict the future. Focusing on the situations that the applicant found themselves in that are similar to the situations in which they’re expected to perform. As they focus on situations and behavior that the applicants displayed, they’re also called situation interviews or behaviour interviews.

In contrast, in the ‘traditional’ interviews the aim is to form a general picture and the panel is trying to establish if the applicant meets a set of criteria.

Typical CBI questions:

Situation

  • Describe a specific situation when you..
  • Tell us about a time when you…
  • In the past, have you ever…

Action

  • What did you do?
  • how did you approach it? what was you role?

Outcome

  • What was the outcome?
  • What did you learn?
  • Have you applied what you learned?

Example

Competency: communicating with impact.
Achievement oriented question: Describe a situation in the past when you were able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.
Adversity oriented question
Describe a situation in the past when you were not able to persuade someone who was difficult to persuade to agree with you way of thinking on a substantive issue.

How they are conducted:

Part 1: Traditional-type questions: tell me about yourself; why did you apply for this job – to build towards CBI questions and to put the applicants at ease.
Part 2: CBI questions – the same for each applicant, to be able to compare the answers across all applicants.

Preparation: questions

If you’re preparing a client – how do you know which questions they will be asked?

Job description >> isolate key tasks of the job and core values of the company >> turn them into open-ended CBI questions.

Example. Client: regional manger, apple customer experience
Primary responsibility: developing and maintaining a group
Some of the possible tasks and the corresponding CBI questions:

  • coaching them to overcome challenges and difficulties >> Tell us about a time when you coached a team to overcome challenges and difficulties?
  • dealing with interpersonal issues >> Describe a situation when you had to help a team deal with interpersonal issues?
  • building team atmosphere >> Have you ever built team atmosphere?
  • motivating team members >> Tell us about a situation when you had to motivate team members.

But note that we also need to balance achievement oriented and adversity oriented questions.

Preparation: answers

  • Come up with situations from your past that best exemplify your competences – you don’t want to think about that under the pressure during the interview.
  • Apply STAR motel (situation / task / action / result)
  • Even if the question sounds like a closed question, it’s a trick – they still expect an extended answer.

I found this a very useful session. The type of interview that Justine and Akos talked about resembles quite closely the soft-skill part of the interview that some of my learners need to pass, and it is very nice to have a very clear framework for preparing towards this type of interview. I think I’ll be referring both my colleagues and people who need to prepare for the interview to this write-up.