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IH Teachers’ Online Conference – this weekend #IHTOC3

29 Oct

This weekend – or at least Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd November – sees the third IH Teachers’ Online Conference, a collection of about 20 webinars hosted by the International House World Organisation and available to all, completely free!

Yep – open to anyone at absolutely no cost.

Worth checking out?

For more information, check out the IH TOC3 homepage.

Or you can view the Conference Timetable (via a google spreadsheet), or download the conference handbook, complete with presenter biographies and seminar abstracts.

In terms of declaring a potential conflict of interest, I should point out that I not only work for IH but that I will be presenting at the conference at 10.30am (GMT) on Saturday morning!

My session is “Keep Calm and Write On” and it’s a look at what learners who need to develop their writing skills for exams (FCE, IELTS, TOEFL etc) need to know – and a range of activities to help them.  It will be my first webinar, so if you do come along, please bear that in mind!

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

End of Year Reflection

29 Jun

Today is the last day of the academic year.  On Monday the school summer courses will begin but that’s next week and it’s Monday’s problem – for now it’s enough to know that we have survived another year without too many problems.

A week ago, we had our end of year wrap up session – talking everybody through all the end of year paperwork, reports, handover notes, choices for the following academic year and the like.  As part of that our Director of Studies asked us to take a moment and reflect on the last nine months of teaching – and asked us to look at a 12 item questionnaire to help us do that.

Now I must confess to a certain amount of cynicism in these matters.  I’m better at analysis than reflection and I find questions that ask me to think about the last time I felt joyful or inspired quite difficult to answer.  How, for example, do you define “joy” and are we talking inspiration generally or the degree of inspiration over the baseline level that I normally work with?

But for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share some of the questions and my answers to them.

The questions that we were given came from Raquel Lynette’s “Minds in Bloom” website and the post: “20 Teacher End of the Year Reflection Questions“.  I’ve gone back to that post to select five questions that I’m going to include here:

  1. What are some things you accomplished this year that you are proud of?
  2. What is something you would change about this year if you could?
  3. What is one way that you grew professionally this year?
  4. When was a time this year when you felt joyful and/or inspired about the work that you do?
  5. Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to be a teacher if you could go back in time and make the choice again? If the answer is “no,”  is there a way for you to choose a different path now?

What are some things you accomplished this year that you are proud of?

Thinking about this academic year, it’s been quite a busy one personally and professionally.  My son was born last October and helping my wife with both him and our daughter has been challenging – huge fun at times, incredibly stressful at others and mostly just very very tiring.  I was very pleased with some of the feedback on my MA assignments earlier this year and if I’d finished writing my dissertation by now that would be my biggest accomplishment – but I haven’t so it isn’t.  Yet.

I’ve also been very pleased by some of the reactions to posts I’ve published on this blog.  Blogging can sometimes be lonely, in the sense that you don’t always know whether what you’re writing has value or has a positive impact on people, so getting feedback and reading and responding to people’s comments is always good.

What is something you would change about this year if you could?

This year I’ve been teaching a group of 10/11 year old beginner students.  It has been very challenging and frankly, I haven’t enjoyed it very much.  What I would change is the approach to the class that I took.  Having now spent a year together I have a much better idea of who they are and what they are capable of, so this is possibly only hindsight, but if I did it all again I would think much more about what boundaries I wanted to set with them and I would write those down and keep a copy handy to remind myself of what they are.  I’d incorporate a much more complicated behavioural routine system with them and apply it consistently.

These are all things that I know I should have done anyway – they aren’t revelations – but I do wish I’d started out on a better footing with that group.

What is one way that you grew professionally this year?

This year I’ve been involved in running the International House Certificate in Advanced Methodology course, in a sort of secondary tutor role, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it.  The course is a quite comprehensive overview of ELT and current pedagogical thinking and it’s reminded me of a few things and taught me a few things – I hadn’t, for example, come across ecolinguistics before.

It’s been a while since I’ve been involved in a teacher training course and I think running the course has helped me think about my own teaching in a different way.

When was a time this year when you felt joyful and/or inspired about the work that you do?

The cynical answer I gave to this question was 1st August 2011.  But in fact, it would probably be most afternoons or evenings.  I’ve been lucky in that my classes have been nice this year, CAE, CPE and Advanced Conversation – all higher level groups and so the level and content of conversation is fantastic.  We have been able to talk about a massive range of topics and issues, some lessons have been approached in Dogmesque way, some in a more TBL approach.  I’ve been able to try new things out and while some of these fell flat, others flew.  There have been lessons and conversations where I’ve come out of the class buzzing with the exhilaration of the debate – hopefully some of this has been communicated to the learners as well!  But these lessons have been fun and, by extension, these have been the times when I’ve felt “joyful” and “inspired”.

Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to be a teacher if you could go back in time and make the choice again?

Hell yes.

I don’t think it’s the teaching that most teachers have an issue with.  Most of the things I read or hear suggest that most teachers would be really really happy in their jobs if only everybody else would just leave them alone.  It’s not the teaching that gets people down, it’s everything else that goes along with it.   But that aside I’d still make the same choice again!




So that’s my five reflections on the last academic year – what about yours?  Why not take a look at the 20 Teacher End of the Year Reflection Questions on the Minds in Bloom site and choose your own five reflection questions to answer?

Special Needs and ELT

27 Jun

I wonder what experience many EFL teachers have of working with learners with special needs.

My own experience is fairly minimal – about seven years ago I did a placement test interview with a student who was partially deaf.  It sticks in my mind because I found it difficult to understand the student and I was obviously concerned not to confuse my lack of understanding with any weaker language areas the learner displayed.

Since then – nothing.  At least nothing that I’m aware of.  Until about four or five months ago when I began to notice that one of my learners was doing an awful lot of hiding in the classroom, her written work displayed some very odd errors – a lot of letter transposition and L1 phonetic spelling of L2 items – and her assessment scores were weak, particularly her reading.  I began to wonder if she might be dyslexic.

Now at this point it gets a bit tricky.  My own view is that if I was a parent and my child’s teacher suspected dyslexia, I would want to know about it.  But this isn’t always the case.  Personally I don’t understand why not – dyslexia doesn’t suggest any lack of mental faculties – just a different way of accessing the world around you.  Nevertheless, it is not always easy to predict the reaction of parents to the implication and as my DoS pointed out, I have no training in this area and am in no way qualified to state with any degree of certainty whether dyslexia is an issue or not.

On reflection I have to wonder why not?  I don’t mean why am I not qualified – the reason there is because I trained as a teacher, not as an educational psychologist.  What I mean is why aren’t learning difficulties covered in teacher training courses?  When I did my DELTA six years ago – we were asked whether any of our schools had a policy related to learning difficulties – only four people put their hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I suspect that most schools would argue that they are generally inclusive and therefore don’t need a policy.  Fair enough.

But I think that CELTA, DELTA and MA ELT courses should include components on teaching learners with learning difficulties as standard.

As an addendum to this story, my student’s mother came into school to see us the other day.  Having had something of a battle to get things arranged and appointments made and so forth, my learner was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.  Frankly, I see this as a brilliant step forwards – because now we can help her move forwards in her learning more effectively and she can stop hiding.

Further Reading & Resources:

Naomi Epstein runs the “Visualising Ideas” blog sharing her ideas and experiences teaching deaf and hard of hearing learners (amongst other things!)

Michael Strong “Language Learning and Deafness“, Cambridge University Press

E. William Clymer & Gerald P. Brent “English for International Deaf Students: Technologies for Teacher Training and Classroom Instruction”  a downloadable pdf from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Sue Swift “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part One” from the ELT Notebook blog, and there’s the second part here: “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part Two“.

Gemma Ormerod’s summary of the #ELTChat on “Teaching Dyslexic Students

Sharon Turner writes as a dyslexic English language teacher, describes what it can be like to be dyslexic and offers some very useful advice for teachers on how to help dyslexic learners in her post: I am Dyslexic and It’s now a blast!

Chris Wilson shares his resources and handouts from a seminar on Dyslexia he gave, as well as links to yet more useful resources.

Chris Wilson also created and links to the IH Young Learners group Dyslexic Learners Linoit – a sort of cork board of guidance and links for teachers of dyslexic learners.

Can you have a normal life and work in ELT?

29 May

objects in the rear view mirror may be more serious than they appear

The car races along the road at 90mph / 145kmph, overtaking slower moving vehicles by forcing them to the side and even causing white vans to leap aside in panic.   As it roars through the outskirts of the town, a police car takes up the chase and eventually pulls the maverick motorist to a stop.  The officer walks slowly towards the vehicle, wondering what on earth could have provkoed such driving behaviour?  A medical emergency?  An imminent birth?

The window rolls down and the officer asks for the documents.

“I’m sorry officer,” comes the reply, “but I’m an English teacher and somebody needs lessons in a hurry.”

“Well, that’s alright then, Sir.  Can I give you an official escort to the school premises?”


It would never happen, which is a shame really because we all sleep in occasionally or something overruns and there are moments when the ability to flout the legal speed limit would be quite handy.  But I can think of absolutely no situation within my own teaching experience, that could possibly be classified as “an emergency”.  Problems – yes.  Plenty of those, frequently hanging around together waiting to mug you when you’re not expecting it.  But an emergency?

Teachers are not doctors, no-one is going to die if they don’t get taught the second conditional.  The fate of nations does not hang on whether extreme adjectives are taught with the right sort of intensifying adverbs.  We are teachers.  We turn up, help our classes get where they’re going for that particular lesson and move on.


Isn’t that how it works?

So why is our time not our own?

Scott Thornbury, in his recent talk at the APPI conference, talked about the reasons why many teachers enter the profession in the first place and at what point the dream begins to fade.  It’s usually, he suggested, when you have a day similar to the one Mike Harrison describes in his blog.  Mike talks about a working day that runs from 9.30am to 8.30pm at night.  Oh, and you get half an hour for lunch.  Sound familiar?  Mike’s situation seems to be a “typical working day” – I’d be interested to know what his contract states about the hours he’s expected to work because contracts don’t always tell the full story.  I’ve had contracts which only specified the number of teaching hours I was expected to fulfil per week – but the expectations of the school were that I be at work for a set period of time per day and made no mention of the extra-curricular activities the school expected me to take part in.

This for me, is where the ELT industry tries to have its cake and eat it.  The expectations stakeholders have of teachers frequently exceed the job description.  Can I, for example, be requested to teach a new class at short notice (be it a cover class or a new contract) which doesn’t fit into my existing schedule?  (Say that I usually teach a full schedule in the afternoons and evenings and this new class is at 8.30am?)  If the parents of a failing child want me to help their child with extra homework or even extra tutorials – am I obliged to do so?  The answer of course is “yes”.  I am obliged to do all of these things and of course as a consummate professional I do them with a spring in my step and a smile in my heart.  (most of the time…)

But I can’t help feeling that working in the ELT industry seems to be diametrically opposed to the concept of “a normal life”.  I don’t just mean the late evening classes – I mean the expectation that we are always available to do whatever is required of us, whenever it is required.

In his 2004 Daily Telegraph article, Sebastian Creswell-Turner puts it like this:  “OK, you pathetic bums, this is the score. I’m not promising to give you any work at all, and if I do give you the odd hour here and there, you’ll be paid peanuts . . . but, all the same, I want you to be fully available for anything and everything. Plus, you’re all going to pretend that you are immensely privileged to be doing this grotty little job. Geddit?”

Again, there are probably chords being struck around the world with that one, though I’ve always been fortunate enough to work for a decent enough salary wherever I’ve been – perhaps I’ve just been lucky in my choice of employers.  Truth be told, that quote from Sebastian is the only part of his article that resonated.  The rest of it is a fairly jaundiced and stereotypical view of ELT, and fortunately Luke Medding’s eloquent rebuttal in The Guardian deals with most of the serious objections so I don’t have to.  Though I note with interest the bit in Sebastian’s article where he appears to have been turned down for place on a CELTA course by International House London…

Whether an accurate portrayal of ELT or not, and I certainly don’t see myself in Creswell-Turner’s descriptions, what he says does give me pause for thought.  The situation he portrays is not one I face particularly at the moment, but it is one that exists and perhaps even prevails in ELT.  This should not be so.

So why does it exist?  Possibly because there is an unwritten nobility of purpose that pervades the teaching world.  We don’t teach, it is argued, because we want to be rich – we do it because we care.  We do not exist in the realm of material things, we serve an ethereal higher purpose.  We are the ones who meld the minds of the future generations, we challenge and shape opinions, guide our charges to critical thinking, we help our students become more than the sum of their parts.  This view of teaching holds that what we do is a vocation, it is a noble calling and as such there are sacrifices to be made in its pursuit, the rewards of teaching are not pecuniary, they are to be found in what Maslow termed “self actualization” and “transcendence”.  We need to grow as individuals, achieve our full potential and to help others do the same.

As justifications and self-deceptions go, it’s quite a good one.  And I don’t deny that these aspects of the job are rewarding, my point is only that these things are not enough of a justification for the industry as a whole to treat us as less than human beings.  The obvious question simply being – why can’t we have both?

I can cope with the late nights, the extra work, the marking,  the reports, meeting the parents, writing up the lesson records, the required teacher development seminars, the staff meetings, the observations and the cover classes.  I can cope with all of these things because these things are the job that I have chosen to do – but can I please have a normal life as well?  Or am I, like the rest of the industry, trying to have my cake and eat it too?

UPDATE (13 / 06 / 2012):  If you enjoyed this post, or if it struck a chord with you, why not take a moment to complete “A Brief Survey of Working Conditions in ELT“?  The aim is to try and take a snapshot of the situation in ELT at the moment – what are the problems we have in our jobs?

Take a look and add your voice to the discussion!

#APPI 2012: Anna Uhl Chamot – Teaching Learning Strategies in the English Classroom

28 Apr

I’m hoping this will be a follow up to the talk Anna Chamot gave yesterday at #APPI, which was more about the why of learning strategies, why they are important and how they can help.  This I’m hoping will be more about the what and the how, what learning strategies are useful and how to teach them.  She did say yesterday that “explicit instruction” is  often necessary, so that might feature.

This is another “live blog” – so apologies for any typos or missing bits, I’m going as fast as I can – I promise to come back later and try and clean things up a bit!

A brief biography of Anna Chamot and her academic background from George Washington University.

Anna Uhl Chamot – Teaching Learning Strategies in the English Classroom

Asking teachers what are your students doing to learn often comes back with and answer relating to what the teachers are asking their learners to do – which is not the same thing!

What are learning Strategies?

  • what learners do to complete a task
  • how learners understand, remember and recall information
  • how learners practice skills to achieve mastery of those skills

Why teach learning strategies?

  • understand how your students learn
  • share the strategies of good language learners – learners may have strategies to share – peer teaching
  • increase students’ self-efficacy (feeling of competence towards a task)
  • create a climate of thinking and reflection
  • use creativity to make learning strategies concrete (move from the abstract to the real)
  • motivate your students and yourself!

Tips on Teaching Learning Strategies:

  • build on students’ current learning strategies – all learners have learning strategies, but not all the strategies are successful ones.  Often it’s possible to transfer strategies from one environment to another – learners may feel that what they learn in one situation doesn’t apply to what they learn in another.  Think about what they are already bringing to the classroom.
  • model how to use the learning strategy – language can be a barrier to communicating successful learning strategies, so when learners don’t have the linguistic ability to understand learning strategy instruction, they need to see it modelled, teachers need to communicate the process, not just the task.
  • name the strategy in English (see bibliography at the end of this piece for strategies and their “names”
  • give examples of how to use the strategy (this is similar to the modelling)
  • let the students choose their own strategies – people are different.  If it doesn’t work for a learner, don’t force it on them.

Metacognitive strategies:  (these are applicable to any task in life, not just language learning)

  • Planning:  understand the task / set goals / organise materials  / find resources / is it working? – revise the plan if necessary.
  • Monitoring:  while you work on the task – check your progress on the task / check your comprehension (do you understand?) / check your production (are you making sense?).
  • Evaluation:  (post-task) – assess how well they accomplished it, teach students to self-assess and self-evaluate / assess how well the learning strategies they used worked – if not, try a new one?  / Identify changes you’ll make the next time you have a similar task to do.
  • Self-management:  manage your own learning – determine how you learn best / arrange conditions that help you learn / seek opportunities for practice / focus your attention on the task.

Social Learning Strategies:

Cooperation (working with others):  complete tasks / build confidence / give and receive feedback / learn from each other.


PREPARATION – ways to discover students’ learning strategies:  students describe how they figured something out / discussion (how do you do this, how do you learn new words, how do you know you’re right?) / class survey of learning strategies (find someone who)  / learning strategy diaries

PRESENTATION – model the strategy by acting it out (pretend difficulty and go through the thought process by “thinking aloud”)  /  ask the students if they use the strategy / give the strategy a name / tell the students WHEN  and HOW to use it / make it concrete with visuals and realia (see also icons given in the websites in the bibliography).

PRACTICE – choose a challengeing task / name the strategy to practice / remind students to use a strategy / ask student to identify the strategy / encourage students to use them independently

SELF-EVALUATION – discuss how they used the strategy / keep learning stratgy logs / identify and defned preferred strategies / relfect on themselves as strategic thinkes

EXPANSION  find new uses / contexts for thr strategy /  survey strategies used by others / teach a stragey to a friend or sibling / collect tips on using strategies / make a learning strategy book for other students (e.g. from this years class to next years class)

Developing Metacognition:

  • model your own thinking
  • students explain their thoughts about learning
  • students describe their plan for completing a language task
  • students explain how they monitor a task
  • students evaluate their own performance on a task

Websites / Bibliography:

Resource guides for teaching language learning strategies in primary, secondary and hihger education:

List of Learning strategies and research references:

#APPI 2012: Nicky Hockly – Digital Literacies

27 Apr

This blog post reports from the APPI 2012 conference in Coimbra, Portugal.  The theme of the conference is “Motivated Teachers make a difference” – I’m updating as I go, so apologies for any typos, I’ll try and clear those up later.

Plenary Session:  Nicky Hockly – Digital Literacies

Again – some quotes from the abstract:  “Digital Literacies are key 21st century skills … we look at some of the theory underpinning them and some practical classroom activities that can make a difference to students”.

(Editor’s note: I’ve spotted the telltale “prezi” navigation buttons in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, so I’m expecting lots of looping and whirling!  Fair play to Nicky who’s still hobbling around on crutches after breaking her leg some weeks ago!)

So here we go:

With a completely straight face,  Nicky Hockly’s trying to get the entire audience to dress up in a lumberjack outfits and march in support of the Pacific North West tree octopus.  She’s almost got everyone convinced…. and has now come clean!

Essentially, we’ve just had a fairly typical reading lesson: prediction, schema raising, etc – but with the spoof website (as above).  The point being that one of the skills learners need is to be able to assess the veracity of websites on the internet, in particular by examining the different features of websites and analysing them:  e.g.  news / blog / hyperlinks / links to official orgs / other research / content tabs / url / layout, font, colours / images & maps / style of language / quotes.  The website is a parody, so it does contain most of these features, but as it is a parody, they don’t match our expectations of authenticity.  Learners need to think about these things and use them to approach websites critically – in other words we need to develop learners’ digital literacies.

Digital Literacies (after Mark Pegrum):

  • Focus on Language:  texting / hypertext / multi-media / mobile / gaming / tech & coding / print
  • Focus on Connections: personal / network / cultural & inter-cultural / participatory
  • Focus on Information: search / tagging / info
  • Focus on (re) design:  remix

See: for more information.

Focus on remix literacy:

Taking original information, re-presenting it and adding something new and original.  Similar to the idea of remixing music, but extended into an approach to accessing and processing information, possibly with the idea of provoking thought or subverting convention.

An example of remix literacy:  literal videos:  videos that de-construct original content and re-describe the action from a literal, and occasionally subversive point of view.  Exploiting them: or – get learners to redub / subtitle their own videos, using videos from You Tube.  Great examples of this include the parodies of Hitler’s tantrum from the film “The Downfall”.  Apparently copyright laws permit original material to be used for the purposes of parody.

Be careful with the distinction between copyright & fair use.

Implications of Digital Literacies:

  • integration into syllabus, using a web text instead of a paper text.
  • Digital divide – find out who in your classes have the access to the technology.  Technology use does NOT equate to digital literacy.
  • Student learning – use of technology needs to be principled, make sure you aren’t using the tech for the tech’s sake, but that there are clear learning goals involved.
  • Develop and keep up with development via a PLN
Nicky has links to all the talk resources and videos, plus further reading here:

And I’ve just found her Prezi for this session online:

#APPI 2012: Anna Uhl Chamot – How language learning strategies instruction motivates teachers.

27 Apr

This blog post reports from the APPI 2012 conference in Coimbra, Portugal.  The theme of the conference is “Motivated Teachers make a difference” – I’m updating as I go, so apologies for any typos, I’ll try and clear those up later.

Plenary Session: Anna Uhl Chamot – How language learning strategies instruction motivates teachers.

The abstract for this session says “Teachers’ motivation increases through understanding how their students’ learn and how to help them achieve success” – which I’ll admit to a certain amount of cynicism regarding.  Not that I don’t want to better understand how my students learn, but I’m not sure it increases my motivation per se.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see the strategies for making learners more effective learners!

So here we go:

Session aims:

  • Describe a model of motivation
  • Share examples of teacher motivations
  • Idenify importance of learner attributions
  • Define language learning strategies
  • Review research on effects of language learning strategies.
Model of Motivation:


Value is the value that you attach ot the thing you’re doing.  Expectancy is whether you think you’ll achieve your goals – we don’t like appearing weak or unsuccessful, so expectancy of success is important.  Attribution is – to what do you attribute your success?  What are ther easons for your success, are they internal, i.e. your own work or external – work done byothers.  Internal attribution is more motivating.

What motivates teachers:

  • Value – I love my subject
  • Expectancy – I want and expect my students to learn
  • Attribution – I know what I can do to help my learners become effective learners

Examples of value:  helping learners achieve goals  /  sharing knowledge  /  investigating and sharing passion for the subject.

Examples of Expectancy:  seeing learsner make progress  /  seeing learners get engaged in the subject  /  inspiring learners  /  helping learners make more of an impact on the world  /  seeingn learners apply the knowledge successfully

Examples of Attribution:  knowing learners have the skills and ability to succeed  / knowing that you know what you’re talking about / personal confidence

Student Motivation:

  • Value: Is English interesting and enjoyable?
  • Expectancy: Can I really learn English?
  • Attribution:  Why am I a good (or not) English learner?

Learner attributions types:  luck / ability / own effort.  Luck, belief that the grade on the test was a fluke – not really a valid thought process.  Ability – belief that “I just can’t learn language”, or that language learning is genetic… Own Effort – this is the one that we as teachers can actually influence and does actually impact learning.

Learning strategies:

  • thoughts and actions that learners use to help them complete a task
  • ways of understanding, remembering and recalling information
  • ways of practicing skills so that they are mastered more easily

Many learning strategies are invisible because they occur within the mind, but by talking to learners about these strategies we can help our learners be more aware of their own thinking and their own learning processes.

(Editors note:  this seems to correspond to the movements from Unconscious incompetence to Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence to Unconscious competence.  I forget where that comes from.)

Learning strategies are not:

  • fixed or permanent – they can be changed or evolve over time
  • teaching strategies
  • learning styles
  • used only by “good” learners
  • always good strategies – the same strategy can work in one situation, but not in another.

(Ed:  I conclude from this that learning strategies are context and learner dependent)

What the research says:

  • Using a variety of appropriate learning strategies is correlated to higher self-efficacy.  It’s important for learners to feel as though they can succeed at the task.
  • Successful strategy use correlates to motivation.  If learners believe they have the abilities or skills, they believe they can succeed, they are motivated.
  • Using and reflecting on strategies develops meta-cognition and self-regulation.  Better understanding of what helps you learn, helps you to control your learning process, thus making you a more efficient learner.
  • Strategy instruction improves academic performance
  • Instruction needs to be explicit, not implicit.
  • Learners need to develop meta-cognition.
  • Transferring strategies to new tasks is difficult, so needs to be taught.  Learners tend to think they need to start again from scratch and need to be made aware that skills are transferrable.
  • Learning strategy instruction may need some L1 instruction.  Some concepts require a certain language ability in order to be expressed and understood.

For more information on learning strategies for language teachers the following website: has handouts and more information.


Teacher Development: English Agenda from the British Council

7 Apr

The BC have just launched a new website aimed at language teaching professionals:  English Agenda.  Amongst the many things you can find there, two components  in particular caught my eye:

  • Research and Publications
  • CPD (Continuing Professional Development)

The first is a great resource for anyone working on higher level qualifications (e.g. DELTA or MA) with downloadable BC commissioned documents and reports, as well as directories of ELT related academic research.

The second is approached both from the point of view of teachers wishing to extend or continue their personal professional development, but also includes resources for managers who might need to provide such professional development.  Again, there’s lots to download….

All in all, worth taking a look at!

#eltchat summary: Time Management for Teachers

28 Mar

A long time ago, I suggested “Time Management for Teachers” as the #ELTchat topic – this was largely because I occasionally find it difficult to balance the varying demands of the job and I was keen to find out from everyone else how they felt about their jobs and basically – how everyone copes with it all.

Predicatably, having volunteered to write up the summary, things then got a bit hectic at work and it’s only now, about a month later, that I’ve been able to find the time to get down to it.

Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.
Ambrose Bierce

So here it is – thanks to all those who took part, there were some great contributions made.   I’ve not directly attributed the ideas mentioned to the contributors as there were just so many of them…   Possibly because the concept of time management is essentially a personal issue – which is to say we all have different skills, different responsibilities and different issues with time management – there were a large number of threads that ran through the chat.  I’ve tried to weave them together into a coherent whole, but apologies if I’ve missed anything!


Social Media:

The irony of a group of educators getting together to chat for an hour on twitter about how little time they all had, was mentioned early and the amount of time that people spent using social media was definitely an issue for many.  Managing social media use effectively can be difficult – the simplest solutions are usually the best and simply “turning off” twitter or facebook might be one approach, arranging “social media free time”, taking a technology free weekend  – or limiting participation to more quality based interactions, taking advantage of the opportunities that social media afford us, rather than becoming a slave to it.  So, using Twitter more to take part in events like #ELTchat, rather than attempting to spend every waking hour on it.

Ultimately, the key to managing social media use seems to be self-control…

What takes up all our time?

The problem of faffing about, seeking lesson planning inspiration, trying to decide on lesson content, selecting and preparing materials, creating documents and handouts seemed to be one of the biggest “problem” areas.  This isn’t helped by the wealth of information and resources that are out there – both on the resource shelves in the teachers’ room or in the list of bookmarks in your web browser – and quite possibly a predilection amongst teachers to always want to try and re-invent the wheel, or to build the better mousetrap.

Another area of concern was with the administration that seems now to have become part and parcel of the teaching trade:  registers, lesson summaries, feedback, assessments, form filling, reports on students, reports on teachers (a DoS issue?), marking and providing written/writing  feedback were all mentioned here.

It occurs to me as I write this now that the biggest time consuming area of a teacher’s job seems, on the above evidence, to be the teacher’s job…  I’m not sure what we can do about that!

There are however, things that we can do to help streamline the tasks we encounter in our working lives:


Most people felt that, by and large, the important stuff got done and that the problem was therefore in deciding what was important and what was not.  What was qualified as important included the planning and preparation, marking and assessment and teacher development.  What was given as not important was “the other stuff”.  Importance probably therefore depends on your role and your context, but people suggested a number of prioritization techniques that might be useful:

  • Dividing tasks into (1) Immediate  (2)  Next Week  (3)  Life goals
  • Categorising things into “Necessary”, “Should” and “Might be nice” and then deleting everything in the third column.
  • Using a piece of A4 paper quartered into: Urgent Action,  Ongoing Projects,  As & When, Talk to /delegate
  • Daily Planning – start the day by setting out what you hope to achieve in it.
  • Sticky notes and reminders
  • Diaries
  • Google Docs / Charts / Calendars
  • Smart Phone Calendars & reminders
  • The urgency / importance matrix (see below) – categorise your tasks according to their urgency and their importance.  Anything in the top left box should be done immediately, anything in the bottom right can safely be ignored or left for the time being!


In terms of attempting to cut down on the amount of time that we spend in the lesson planning and preparation stages, as well as the marking and feedback processes – there were again a number of suggestions and techniques people shared:

Less is More – don’t try to over control things.  Try planning with a pen and a bit of paper, away from the technology and you might find things go a lot quicker.

The 50% rule – don’t spend more time planning the class than you do teaching it.  If your class lasts for 60 minutes then you should only be spending 30 minutes in the planning and preparation.  This rule was also interpreted as “only plan half the class” and let the rest of the lesson emerge naturally.

Course Planning – by sketching out a rough plan of what you hope to be doing with the class over the duration of a course, you remove a lot of the “what am I going to do with them today” element – it’s already there in the course plan.  This can be quite useful if you’re working with a course book with more lesson content than you have lessons!

Keeping hold of your old lesson plans – no class is ever the same, but lesson content frequently is – if you’ve put the time an effort into a really great lesson that’s worked well – keep it!  Then when the language point comes up with another class, you’ve got something ready to go.


Providing feedback to learners on their performance can be very time consuming, particularly when it comes to feeding back on their writing.  Top Tips for making this easier on everyone include:

Involve the learners in the process – as much as possible.  Ask them to provide the corrections on homework tasks and to assess each other’s writing.

Try and avoid distraction – find a quiet room and get down to it.

Colour Coding – differentiate between error types and colour code them.  This puts the onus on the learners to actually do the correction, you’re just guiding their thinking.  This works particularly well with e-documents, for example if your learners email you a word document to correct.

Jing – a video recording screen capture device, this allows you to record you making your corrections to your learners’ work.  Works well with the colour coding idea.

Wikis – the open editing nature of the wiki allows learners to post their content / answers on the wiki and for the whole class to be involved with the correction, as well as the teacher.

Edmodo – a free online networking tool that allows you to create groups with your learners and has an assignment annotating tool / feedback channel as well.

Pre-Planned feedback forms:  by creating a form, for example with the assessment criteria for a writing task, you can jot down quick effective notes on learner performance in specific areas.  Just print them out, fill them in (or the other way round) and hand them back with the assignments.

Tech Tools:

(NB:  These are tools that people suggested during the #eltchat – the descriptions come from the relevant websites.  If anyone has direct experience of using these tools either successfully or unsuccessfully, it would be great if you could share them in the comments section!)

Summify:   Content aggregator that helps you collate all the information coming at you from social media sources, meaning you get to spend more time on the things that matter.

Evernote:  Note-taking and clipping tool that helps you keep track of all the stuff you find interesting on the web and in the real world – also lets you synchronise across devices.

Jing:  video recording screen capture tool – takes screen shotes and records up to five minutes of video.

Edmodo:  educational network provider / online learning platform provider.

Dropbox: online file storage for free, also allows you to share your documents etc with friends.

Doodle: a meetings scheduling tool – useful if you’re trying to set up meetings with participants with differing schedules.

Remember the Milk: task management software / app that has options or versions for a variety of different platforms and has a reminder feature and a share feature.

Toodledo: another task management software / app with versions for different platforms and what looks like a handy “scheduler” task that tells you what to do when you have a free moment.

Twiddla: a sign up based synchronous collaboration tool – multiple users working on one canvas.  Described as “team whiteboarding”.

A more holistic perspective:

Procrastination is indeed the thief of time and most of us would probably get more done if only we’d “just do it”.  Perfection is an impossible target that while we might constantly aim for, we should know our limits and accept that not everything will always be achieved to best effect.

Take some thinking time – or some “fresh air breaks” to go outside and not be in the office, change your location and change your perspective, step back from things for a moment before you once again step forward.

Build time into your day for the unexpected – it’s what we don’t expect that knocks us off track and stresses us out.  Add the Unallocated Necessary Hour to your day, and use that time for whatever emergency crops up that day.

Links & Further Reading:

Cybrary Man’s Lesson Planning Pages:

Cybrary Man’s Organisation Pages:

Russell Stannard training video on using Jing:

There were a couple of other links, which unfortunately, now seem to be broken.  Apologies.


#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.

Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.

For more information, check out the website.

The quiet one in the corner of the room

26 Mar

Take a moment to think about one of your classes.  Think back to the very last lesson you had with them.  Have you got them clearly in your mind?  Are they sitting in a horseshoe or are they at desks or tables?  Who’s sitting at the front?  Who’s at the back?  OK – now take a mental snapshot of the class in 3… 2… 1… CLICK.

Freeze that frame and sketch it out on a bit of paper – drawing a rough plan of the room and who’s sitting where.  Now think back again to that last lesson and give each student a mark out of ten for the following two things:  (1)  Contribution to the class  (2)  Amount of interaction.  I’m differentiating between the two here because the interaction that takes place in a classroom doesn’t always contribute to the lesson.  There’s gossip and catching up that goes on that may be off topic and while better teachers than I might take that gossip and develop it into something  pedagogically meaningful, I often just find it distracting.  But anyway….  have you given those learners a mark yet? Good.

Did any of your learners get a pair of tens?  Did anyone get zeros?  Should anyone have been given zeros but you didn’t give them the zeros because you felt a bit sorry for them?

Not every learner feels the need to contribute  to the level that we as teachers might feel is desirable.  Conversely, a lot of teachers probably feel that it isn’t desirable for every learner to contribute!  (I joke – but I bet you had a student in mind when you read that!)  The degree of interaction or contribution that we require from our learners might well vary depending on the lesson content, participants and our experience of that classroom.  I’ve had the fortune to observe lessons where the learners might not have said very much, but where they were clearly enjoying the experience and appeared to be benefiting from it.  I’ve also observed lessons where half the class were interacting very vocally, but not contributing at all, and where the rest of the class were doing their best to learn, but to stay out of the firing line…

The reason why I’ve been thinking about this lately is because of a learner in one of my classes.  “M” joined my class earlier this year, having transferred from another school, “M” was friends with another learner in the class and they would sit together, skip class together, be late together and snatch whispered snippets of chat together.  As a substantial number of the other members of the class were brasher, more confident, less focused and generally livelier and more difficult to keep on track – “M” didn’t stand out as particularly different – just quieter and less prone to making a contribution unless directly asked a question.  It turns out, via a discovery process that I won’t go into here, that “M” accidentally skipped a level, joining a group that was approximately one academic year ahead of where she should have been placed.  It only took me two months to notice…

I guess the point is that learners may well have good reasons for keeping quiet and not putting their heads over the parapet.  But one of those reasons might well be lack of understanding.  So, in an attempt to shut the door after the horse has bolted (“M” has now switched into a more appropriate class), I’m going to try auditing my classes for Interaction and Contribution – just to see who else might be sitting quietly in the corner – and why that might be.


If you’d like to try auditing your own classes, you can download a “self observation” task handout by clicking on the pdf link here:

teflgeek – Self Observation Learner Interaction & Contributions

It includes a basic procedure and two handouts to help with data gathering and results interpretation.


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