Archive | June, 2012

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.

Great Time Lapse Videos

26 Jun

The Guardian today has a fantastic collection of time lapse videos gathered from the far reaches of the internet.

One of the most visually appealing is the “Terra Sacra Time Lapses” (as below), which has landscapes and locations from 24 different countries all bundled into six minutes:

A nice challenge for learners might be to try and identify as many of the countries / locations as possible, followed by a discussion on which of the locations featured they would most like to visit and why.  This could then turn into the learners planning their own round the world trip.

Another video that might be fun to use in class is “The Sandpit” – a sort of day in the life of New York city:

Apart from the obvious comparison between life in New York and life wherever your class are, there are a large number of activities displayed in the video – asking learners to identify these and then to say which ones formed part of their daily routines might help focus classes on the similarities of life across cultures, rather than focusing on the differences.

Guardian readers have also added some of their favourite time lapse videos in the comments section below the article – it’s worth checking out some of these.  There’s a nice one from the British Geological Survey showing a year in the life of a glacier – and showing the visible reduction in glacier size over the course of the year – visible evidence of global warming?

IATEFL Dates & Rates for 2013

21 Jun

So anyone thinking of going to IATEFL next year, it’s running between the 8th and 12th of April in Liverpool.

Check out all the application and registration dates, as well as the conference fees via the link:

Ten Things Worth Further Investigation (#03)

20 Jun

More items emerging from the black hole of the internet that is my “Further Investigation” folder.  These are the links to various interesting things I’ve saved to look at later and which have languished there unremembered until today.

Where remembered, the original sources are credited – apologies if you spotted this first and I’ve forgotten where I found it – let me know and I’ll update!

If you liked this post – why not take a look at the first two posts in the series:  #01 or #02 ?

(1) Spotted via Nik Peachey’s Daily English Activities – “The 100 most common words in English” game.  This is a time limited challenge game where you have 12 minutes to find and enter the 100 most common words in English.  This would be excellent for any exam group, particularly those who need to do a Cambridge Use of English paper  (open cloze tasks!).  It would also be good for anyone teaching with an interactive whiteboard – particularly as motivations and attendances drop towards the end of the year!

(2) Another Nik Peachey spot – this time from Nik’s Quickshout – is free online video conferencing rooms.  I haven’t tried playing with it in any great depth, but it looks like it would be an invaluable tool for anyone working with distance lesson provision, business classes, or of course – meetings!  Nik has a range of suggestions to further exploit this tool, so check out his post.

(3) Not so long ago I wrote “In defence of: The Test” – Annie Paul has written a similar piece for TIME Magazine: “In defence of School Testing” which takes a similar line to my own – don’t blame the tool for the way that it gets used!

(4) How many ways are there to plan a lesson?  More than five according to Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, who summarises and links to posts describing five different approaches to lesson planning from herself, Anna Loseva, Steven Herder, Cecilia Lemos, Yitzha Sarwono & Scott Thornbury.

(5)  I spotted my colleague Neil doing another one of his fantastic computer room lessons, learners all fully engaged, all using English, all working to task (and not looking up dodgy videos on you tube) – in short the opposite to most of my computer room lessons.  On this occasion his secret appears to have been Comic Master – an online graphic novel creator.  I think, having experimented with it myself, I would probably pre-print a layout page and get the learners to storyboard it before they hit the computers as I think this would reduce faffing around time later on.  But a great resource to get learners, especially younger learners, writing.

(6) Arising out of the Comic Master, by way of an accidentally clicked link, are the “Read Me” Resources.  Aimed specifically at 11-14 year old boys, this site includes ten different lesson plans and downloadable materials to encourage reading “in and outside of the classroom”.  It is aimed at native speakers in the UK education system – but I don’t think it would take much to adapt things.  Definitely worth a look if you have recalcitrant readers!

(7)  Copyblogger has a nice looking infographic with some of the more common mistakes found on the internet “15 Grammar Goofs that make you look silly“.  I can think of two ways to use this – firstly you could just print it out and stick it to the wall of the classroom.  Secondly, you could send your students on a “grammatical fail” webquest – get them to find one example of each error from the internet, but no repetition of websites allowed.

(8)  Three typing games from – which also, as you might imagine, has a free typing speed test available.  The games are relatively simple and are designed to encourage keyboard layout knowledge – the better a touch typist you are, the better you’ll do in the games.  So not strictly language learner related, but possibly worth exploring as part of digital literacies?

(9) Another one for the digital literacies folder – I’m not sure where I came across this, so apologies to whoever should really have the credit – The Gwigle Game.  The game asks you to guess the missing component of the search term – as the game progresses the player learns more about how to make most effective use of the Google search engine – and no doubt many others.

(10)  Finally – Chris Tribble reflects in The Guardian on the discussions in India arising from his latest BC publication “Managing Change in ELT: Lessons from experience” – education reformers or those interested in the process should read this.  The BC publication is available as a free download on their English Agenda portal.

A brief survey of Working Conditions in ELT

12 Jun

The response to one of my recent posts on whether it’s possible to have a normal life and work in ELT was quite strong and very heartfelt – clearly there are a lot of teachers who are feeling themselves to be under some strain…

So I thought I’d try and take a snapshot of the profession and the way we work within it.

The questionnaire below should only take about ten minutes of your time.  Scroll down for more questions and don’t forget to click the “submit” button at the end!

If you’d prefer to complete the form via the Google Docs page rather than on the blog (as below), then just click on this link:  Google Docs: A brief survey of working conditions in ELT




Thanks for taking the time to fill this out – I hope it didn’t take too long and stay tuned for the results!

CAE Online Resource Directory

4 Jun

For those involved with CAE exam classes – I’ve just put up a directory of online resources which you can access here:

CAE Online Resource Directory

There’s a mix of exam information, online practice exercises and teaching advice, so take a look and see what you think!

Predictably, a lot of what’s out there for “CAE” – or “Cambridge English: Advanced” as we should more properly call it – is just details for various courses run by schools and language training centres.  There isn’t as much out there as there is for FCE.

So – if you know of anything that I haven’t included – please do let me know – you can do this by leaving a comment here, or via the feedback form on the about page.