Posts Tagged ‘teacher training’

Abstract: A tutor, colleague or supervisor with a notepad taking field notes during a lesson is a common sight on teacher development courses. In this talk, I want to show how the use of Evernote can make teacher observations more effective and create an impact that can last longer, leading teachers in training to further reflection and development. Twitter: @marisa_c; slides will are available on Marisa Constatinides’s slidebean. Video is the most reliable way to capture a lesson. There’s technology allowing to easily videotape the class, e.g. Swivel – the teacher is wearing a device, which allows the camera to follow them. But that’s very expensive. What are some cheap alternatives? A lot of observers take detailed notes of everything that happens, what the students and teachers are doing and saying – essentially, becoming a ‘human video’. Typical notes could have three parts: what happened / what you did well / what you didn’t do so well, advice, suggestions. _notes1 Trainees learn to read those notes, but Marisa isn’t convinced they are ideal. There’s a sense that they are judgemental.  Another problem is that if you don’t capture the lesson it’s easy for the trainer to remember an aspect of a lesson they’ve observed but confuse whose lesson that was. To illustrate, Marisa shared a story: at one point Mario Rinvolucri got his trainees to observe ducks to practice observing objectively and by the end of the day everyone had mixed up their ducks. Marisa Constantinides’s approach Technology stack Marisa uses a tablet with an external keyboard and Evernote. On Evernote, you can include photos, videos, notes and tables very easily. _notes2 This allows Marisa to use the power of images to convey her observations in an objective way and to get a very accurate record of the lesson. Your notes are synchronized with any device – you can get them in your phone, anywhere. Photos Marisa’s reply to the problem of being judgemental is to use the power of images. When you just look at pictures taken during the lesson, you get a good sense of what kind of lesson that was. So e.g. instead of writing ‘you spent the whole class with your back to the class‘, convey that by taking five pictures of that. You could also take pictures of students’ reactions (e.g. when they’re confused) – this is very telling for the teacher who might not have seen this reaction during the lesson. Videos Also, on a tablet you can take a quick video (esp. if you know what part of the lesson you’re looking out, if they are issues that arose from previous lessons) and it’s very easy to share them – done through an ‘attachment’ button. Marisa records the lesson in small chunks (a chunk for an activity). Having smaller chunks and not the whole video allows Marisa to choose what chunk to focus on. Then she might get the trainees to e.g. transcribe the chunk, see what patterns of interaction prevailed, or focus on particular aspects, e.g. ask them How many times did you ask a question when you knew the answer? How many times did students ask questions? Count the number of words in your instructions and rewrite/simplify them. Go through your talk and analyze: instructional (I), directional (D) or eliciting (E). Get trainees to analyze the number of Is, Ds and Es to identify their talk profile. Is there enough I..? Also: see the book on classroom discourse by Sinclair referred to at the end. _notes3 You can also videotape the feedback session with the trainee – both for herself and the trainee. This has been proved very useful (e.g. for report writing) – doesn’t allow you to forget things. Notes – ‘the story of the lesson’. _notes4 Things to discuss with the trainees:  Which bits of the lesson / instructions / … would you omit? What would you do differently? Where do you feel the lesson was thin and you could have added something to make it work better? References John McHardy Sinclair, Malcolm Coulthard Towards an Analysis of Discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London, OUP Marisa’s day started badly as slidebean, the service hosting her slides, was down! But the technological glitches didn’t make this session any less valuable, and we also got to see Marisa actually interact with this software. That was an incredibly informative session, packed full with great advice and I’m really really glad to have been there.  ___________ Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.


This is a ‘year in review’ post and I mainly want to write not so much about my own year as about the teaching ideas that I learnt in 2014 that struck a deep cord with me and really helped me in my work. There have been a lot of insightful, illuminating posts and lesson plans in the blogs I follow, not to mention Teaching English British Council facebook page which have been an incredible source of inspiration, but there also were a few ideas that I’ve been returning to almost on a daily basis, and I want to stop and gather them in one place. So basically this post is a long-winded rehash of ideas you might have already read/heard either elsewhere or on this blog – and it’s also the opportunity for me to ask you:

What were the most important ideas you learnt in 2014? How did they change your teaching?

Actually I almost discarded the idea of this post as it seemed inappropriate to retell other people’s ideas, but I just can’t get this ‘list’ out of my head (and also I find myself retelling those ideas anyway to anyone who’ll listen), so I’ll probably have to get it written after all. So, here goes.

1. Lesson planning from the heart. I remember very well how in my first year of teaching I was teaching a lot of grammar points in a PPP fashion and was really struggling to come up with engaging communicative tasks that would allow the students to use the grammar point that had been introduced earlier during the lesson: time and again, the group ended up using anything but the target language. Back during my Delta Mod 2 course, our course tutor Anne Timson, in one striking sentence, summarized the entire solution to this problem: you don’t plan to teach the language and then throw in a task that will fit your lesson; instead, you pick the task and then teach the language that will support the students in carrying out the task. With this approach, the language that you feed is a lot more likely to be inherently needed to the task; what’s more, you are likely to go far beyond simply teaching a grammar point (e.g. for asking for and giving suggestions one needs not only a range of expressions for giving suggestions (e.g. modals – you should/you might want to and functional exponents, e.g. why don’t you / try +ing), but also spoken discourse (expressions for broaching the subject; for sympathizing; the ways to react to a suggestion – either positively or negatively, explaining why it wouldn’t work; possibly some collocations, e.g. ‘I’ve run into a bit of a problem with..‘, and so on and so forth).

Back in August as I was preparing to teach my first ever teacher training course, I stumbled upon an article called Lesson planning right from the heart by Duncan Foord (English Teaching Professional, 93, July 2014 – the article is available here if you’re a subscriber), and the idea suggested there struck a deep cord with me; we discussed the article with the trainees on the very first day of the course, and I think it sent a very important message and made a lot of difference to the outcome of the whole course.

In his article, Foord suggests planning the lesson in a way that reflects the approach outlined above, by stepping away from a ‘linear’ lesson plan (in which the task comes at the end and might easily get sacrificed for time reasons) and instead thinking of the plan as a heart (the task, which is the lesson aim) – supported by activities, all of which are valuable, and yet ‘droppable’:


I think this is a very powerful idea, one I wish I’d been aware of from day one of teaching, and it’s probably my favorite idea of 2014.

2. In her workshop on writing effective classroom materials, Rachael Roberts suggested a way to phrase tasks to encourage the students to talk more and to really engage with the task. Ever since watching that talk, I’ve been formulating tasks differently in almost every single lesson. (A handout f the workshop, as well as a full recording, is available here; do check it out if you’ve missed it.)

Here are some of the notes I made during the webinar:

Making tasks more concrete: list/rank/sequence/categorize/similarities and differences; give reasons and justify
Examples of how tasks can be reformulated:
What countries would you like to emigrate to? Why? -> Make a list of three countries you would like to emigrate to. Think about why. Then compare with your partner and agree on three countries together if possible.
What would you miss about your home country? -> Work in small groups. Make a list of 5 things you would miss about your home country. Put them in order.
Do you think most people emigrate because hey want to or because they have to? -> Work in pairs. Make a list of 6 reasons why people emigrate. Looking at your list, do you think most people emigrate because hey want to or because they have to.

3.  Horizontal alternative to vertical list, a blog post by Leo Selivan, in which he suggests adapting lists of semantically related words presented in coursebook (e.g. colours, transport or anything else) so that each item is presented in an associated (preferably, high frequency) chunk. I remember reading this post one morning in March and immediately scrapping the material I’d created for a class I was going to teach that day (a list of useful vocabulary from a chapter we were about to read with a group of teens) and rewriting it ‘horizontally’. I haven’t managed to take this idea on board as fully and consistently as the previous two, so ‘consistently (pre-)teaching and recording vocabulary in expressions, as opposed to individual items’ seems like a good New Year resolution.

4. Positive feedback.


Feedback was one of the main recurrent topics of the talks I went to at Summer BESIG Symposium in Graz. It was a bit surprising for me to hear it mentioned so frequently, and one thought that was particularly surprising was Marjorie Rosenberg’s remark that negative feedback to a presentation was often worse than no feedback at all (because e.g. if you tell a person they were fiddling with their hands during a presentation, next time they won’t know what to do about this and might end up with even more inappropriate body language). Her point was that what was really valuable was positive feedback that reinforced successful behaviour/language.

Later on, as I was preparing to do my first ever ‘proper’ teacher observations, I dug up teaching practice feedback that our tutors gave us during CELTA and here it was again – a wealth of positive reinforcement, dozens of ticks and smiley faces for every single successful classroom decision I’d made.

CELTA feedback by Simon Brown (British Study Centres Oxford)

A snippet from CELTA feedback by Simon Brown (British Study Centres Oxford, 2010)

I adopted the same approach to giving teacher practice feedback during the teacher training course I taught (I actually had a smiley face and a tick copied to the buffer, inserting them into the feedback form every few minutes.)

I believe this worked really well, making input tangibly more digestible, so the list of take-aways the trainees wrote after the 5-day course was really impressive.

One of the teachers who participated in the course has recently also started collecting post-it notes from the students with things they liked/disliked about the lesson after every lesson, and she’s been finding this feedback loop very motivating and helpful.

Having tried giving lots of positive feedback to teachers, I’ve also changed the way I provide feedback to my students’ writing: now I type a sentence-by-sentence commentary (with ticks and smiley faces of course), painstakingly praising all good lexical / grammatical / discoursal choices (but also prompting the students to improve what was wrong), and again I think it’s been working very well.

On the flip side, I haven’t been giving any more positive feedback to speaking, so another New Year resolution for me will be thinking more about feedback and perhaps finding more ways to give positive reinforcement in class.


As for the other tweaks I adopted this year, I think the most important one was asking the students to organize target language in a ‘brain-friendly’ way and then reproduce it from memory in writing, and then reproduce the model before actually trying the language out in their own production (I wrote a blog post outlining the lesson shape outlining this approach back in spring). This has worked quite well with functional language (with coursebook listening passages working as a model), but my favourite use of this technique has been teaching linkers to lower level students (as in the sample lesson plan here). I also can’t wait to get the chance to teach an exam student or group again, as I think this approach will work with teaching Speaking for exams quite well too (structuring extended monologues and using functional language to maintain a discussion).

So, these were some of the ideas that made a difference to my year – I now want to go back to the question I asked at the beginning of the post: what were the ideas that were important to you?

Happy teaching in 2015, everyone.


Just a ‘yay!’ post

Posted: September 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

My colleague Adam Howell and I have just finished a teacher training course (the first ever for me!) It was a 5 day long intensive in-service course with daily input sessions and observed teaching practice – we said the final good-byes an hour ago and I’m bursting with pleasure. =)

It was an overwhelming week – I don’t know of anything, really, that creates the atmosphere of care and support better than those crazily intensive courses, and experiencing that as a trainer was not in the least less overwhelming than experiencing it as a trainee. But even today in the morning I wasn’t really sure whether any of it worked. However after seeing the last observed lessons today and reading the list of ‘take-aways’ that the trainees compiled I think it did.

Yesterday Adam and I compiled a session that was based entirely on the issues that arose from observed TP. Since it’s rooted so much in our particular situation I’m not sure it could be of any use to anyone, but I thought I’d put it up here for future reference – and also as a reminder to myself of the kinds of issues that less experienced teachers might be struggling with, because for me it was very challenging to know what to expect while I was preparing for the course.

We organized the session as a series of ‘case studies’. I especially liked the way the last case study on boardwork worked – owing a debt of thanks to Jonny Ingham for his wonderful sample of board work in his post on tweaking error correction.

Case 1:

Situation: Ss were asked to use phrases (for discussing problems/possible solutions in a meeting) to discuss problems. Ss were not given examples or problems to work with.

Issue: Ss had two tasks hidden as one – in addition to using the target language, they had to do the creative work of figuring out what to talk about.

Possible solution:

Other possible solutions:

Case 2:

Situation: Ss were asked to do a role play of a decision-making meeting, using polite phrases for agreeing/disagreeing. Role play was for directors of a kitchen appliances company considering outsourcing production from the expensive UK.

Issue: Ss ended up reading arguments from the card rather than their own utterances, due to a) irrelevance of the subject to Ss and/or b) no familiarity with vocab/concepts on the cards themselves.

Possible solution:

Other possible solutions:

Case 3. Exploiting opportunities for communication  

Situation 1: In a lesson on future forms, students write 5 sentences about their future plans. The task is to try out the following expressions: I’m going to.. I’d like to.. I will… Present simple for timetables. After the activity, each student reads out their sentences and the group moves on to the next activity.

Issue: The students are a bit bored.

Task: Devise a follow-up task to give the students the chance to communicate. 

Case 4. Listening

Situation: A group (A2) listens for the first time to the opening of a presentation that will be used to mine for job interview expressions. The teacher assigns a gist task (4 simple question). After the first listen he asks ‘What is the answer to number 1?’ etc. The same student gives answers to all the questions.

Issue: Only one student understood the listening text. The rest of the students are unlikely to understand target language from the text because they didn’t understand the text.


Other possible solutions:

Case 5. Feedback to pair work

Situation: Students get a list of personal traits and qualifications and are asked to sort them into the ones necessary for a TV presenter, for a sales director or for both, and then come up with a job description. They do the task in pairs. For feedback, one person from each pair reads out their job description.

Issue: While one person is reading their description, the remaining students aren’t listening.

Task 1: Devise a specific task that will make it necessary for everyone to listen.
Task 2: Devise a specific communicative task that will encourage the students to share the results of their work.

Case 6: Personalizing the language


Lesson aim: Students will be able to answer questions in a job interview.
Situation: The students do a vocabulary matching task, in which they match 12 personality traits with their definitions (e.g. ambitious – really want to achieve a lot). The students cope with the task well and move on to read a text about 3 people who have some of those traits.
Issue: In the task at the end of the lesson, the students don’t use new vocabulary.


Other possible solutions:

Case 7. Giving feedback.

Lesson aim: Students will be able to speak about qualities and requirements for different types of jobs as well as describe what necessary, preferable, mandatory, prohibited for different jobs.

Lesson focuses on 4 modals of obligation (should/shouldn’t, have to, must/mustn’t)

At the end of the lesson the students produced:

S2: Applicant must be workaholic, he must good for studying, he must interest in new technologies and he must have a high degree in engineering academy and he must have five year experience in IT sphere.

S3: Applicants must be experienced in management, have fluent in English , have strong negotiation skills and have strong record in selling.

Task: think what delayed correction you’d give. Decide:

  • what to focus on
  • organize boardwork – refer to this sample of boardwork:

This awesome sample of boardwork was created by Jonny Ingham – see the post here:


















That’s us trying ideas out – we went from board to board, pointing out really effective elements and suggesting improvement – and in the end the teachers redesigned the boards taking this feedback into account.

2014-09-25 17.21.18

Today we revisited that session on case studies and formulated a few ‘tips for a successful lesson’ that came out of those cases.

After that, the teachers went off to spend a few hours coming up with a full list of tips that had come out of teaching feedback sessions that they had started incorporating into their teaching. Somehow it was a pleasure for me to read, so this being a ‘yay’ post, I’m including the list. =) Capture