Archive | May, 2013

IH Teachers’ Online Conference #IHTOC60

20 May

IH are running another one of their increasingly popular Online Conferences this weekend:  or at least Friday 24th May and Saturday 25th May.

It’s a slightly different premise this time however, as the speakers are being limited to ten minute slots and there’ll be 60 speakers over the two days.

It’s free to attend and is open to anyone and everyone – you don’t need to work for IH to take part!

I’m speaking at some point around 4pm on Saturday afternoon and I’ll be looking at “The Tai Chi of Reading” – a phrase which had my Tai Chi instructor twitching slightly – but essentially the session borrows some of the movements and forms from Tai Chi and Chi Gong and looks at how to use them to help learners remember and use reading strategies.

If that’s of little or no interest to you, there’s another 59 speakers who between them will be looking at pretty much everything ELT.  My personal choice list includes:  Barrie Roberts on teaching reading, Matt Kendrick on the “oomph factor”, Alex Purcell on Ipads & Edmodo, Sandy Millin on “10 blogs in 10 minutes”, Shaun Wilden on “Appetising Apps”….  and that’s just from Saturday.  I’m hoping to watch as much of Friday as possible as long as work doesn’t get in the way…..

For a full rundown of who’s talking about what and when – follow the link:  http://ihworld.com/ih/ihtoc60.

All the speaker biographies, talk abstracts, time & date information, plus any tech details can be found there.

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IH teachers online conference

Changes to FCE in 2015

15 May

Following on from the extensive revision of the Proficiency(CPE) exam in March this year, Cambridge have just released a revised handbook for the changes they’ll be making to the First exam (FCE) from the start of 2015.  Similar changes are also likely to take place to the Advanced exam (CAE), though details on this aren’t available yet.

The big news is that the Reading and Use of English papers are being squeezed into a single paper.  The combined version weighs in at 1 hour 15 minutes (half an hour shorter than the current combined lengths) and contains exactly the same tasks as the current versions, though each section contains fewer questions (about 20 fewer questions overall).  From a practical point of view the skills, sub-skills and strategies learners might need for the tasks won’t change, and other than changing the frame of reference for the tasks, it appears little else does either.  That said, the descriptions of task focus in the handbook have improved – rather than referring to “lexical / lexico-grammatical” as with the current handbook, the 2015 version offers a bit more detail:  “The main focus is on vocabulary, e.g. idioms, collocations, fixed phrases, complementation, phrasal verbs, semantic precision.”

There doesn’t appear to be any difference in the new listening paper, though the number of possible text types has been reduced – this is, I suspect, simply acknowledging the reality of what is actually used rather than providing a list of possible sources.

A few minor alterations crop up in the speaking.  In part one the timings are reduced from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, but in practice I doubt this will have much effect.  In part three, currently candidates are asked to “talk together about how _________ might be.  Then decide which two would _______” and have three minutes to do this.  The new version separates these two tasks out.  Candidates are given two minutes to discuss the pros and cons of the options and are then interrupted and asked to come to a decision about which option is best in one further minute of discussion.  It isn’t clear whether candidates are required to actually reach a decision – the assessment scales for interactive communication describes “negotiation towards an outcome” but not necessarily reaching it…

Finally, changes to the writing paper.  Possibly to make the exam more marketable to academic institutions, possibly because a change is as good as a rest, but the mandatory Part One task is switching from the letter / email to an essay providing and justifying an opinion.  A title (and therefore topic) is given, along with two ideas to write about, but the candidate is also required to provide one idea of their own.  The possible text types for the Part Two task have also therefore changed and are given as:  article / email or letter / report / review.  So no more stories and also – no more book questions!  At least the Part Two I’ve seen makes no mention of set texts and there are only three questions in the sample tasks provided, but this, it seems, has been quietly dropped.  Which I have mixed emotions about – I’m glad because there’s nothing worse than reading someone’s opinion of a book they’ve clearly not read and because there’s always someone who tries to blag it; but at the same time it seems to reflect a trend away from extensive reading or the inclusion of reading for any purpose other than information gathering – whether this leads the trend or is simply reflective of it, I’m not sure.

Other important changes to the writing paper include word lengths, which are now the same for both tasks:  140 – 190 words.  This represents an increase for both tasks, while the length of the writing paper hasn’t changed – so more writing required in the same amount of time.

To download your own copy of the Cambridge English: First handbook – just click the link.  (PDF opens in new window).  If that doesn’t work, try accessing the handbook from their Exam update web page.

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A passion for teaching?

3 May

Recently a colleague emerged from a particularly trying cover class experience, having decided that all of the problems that were experienced in the lesson could be traced back to a single overriding fault – the teacher’s lack of passion for the teaching.  Vainly it was pointed out that (a) this particular class has a bit of a reputation for being tricksy (b) their regular teacher has huge amounts of experience as a young learner teacher and teacher trainer and still finds them a bit of a handful (c) what they really need is to to be suspended from the ceiling by their thumbs until they’re willing to behave.

Which got me wondering….  Which other professions require “passion” from their practitioners?  Is a passion for teaching a pre-requisite for the job?  Or just an optional extra?

I think if you look around at other careers, passion is possibly a nice thing to have but not necessarily a requirement in the same way that it is perceived to be in teaching.  Anyone who’s been anywhere near a hospital emergency room outside daylight hours will be able to confirm that while medical staff may treat you with practiced efficiency and considerate empathy – passion is not often in evidence.  Then there are those professions where passion could be a definite drawback:  a passionate accountant anyone?  Or a a passionate undertaker?

Curiously flattered by the number of students wishing to attend the class that day, the teacher rushed off to the copy room to make an extra set of handouts.

Alright – no matter how much it might sometimes feel like dealing with a bunch of corpses – teaching and undertaking require somewhat different skill sets.  But the point is still valid:  almost every job, profession or career requires competence and professionalism.  Why is it then that teaching also requires passion?

I have written before on the unreal expectations placed upon teachers and the nobility of purpose that pervades the profession.  I think perhaps that the requirement for teachers to display a passion for our profession is tied into that.  Essentially it comes out of good customer relations.  Students, or their parents, wish to entrust their education to someone who cares.  The teacher is therefore required, by convention if nothing else, to demonstrate that they care.  Hence the belief that passion is required to be a good teacher arises and consequently teachers are judged on whether they are good or not by whether they clearly demonstrate a passion for the cause.

Which is possibly unfair.  I suspect that if most of the people reading this take a moment to think their way around their staffroom, they could identify colleagues who are extremely able, experienced and professional – but for whom “passionate” is not an adjective that could be applied to their working lives.

If I think back over the academic year so far, I’m not sure that passion has applied very much.  Hopefully the experience, ability and professionalism have been in evidence – I’m fairly sure there have been occasional bursts of enthusiasm and creativity and with any luck everyone has taken something out of the lessons that they didn’t have before, but passion?  Maybe not.

The new DoS had spent some considerable time perfecting her “teacher’s look”.

Does that matter?  Also not sure.  I think this differs from teacher to teacher and different experiences and standards apply at different stages of a teaching career.  For some, the passion they have for the profession provides a guiding light, a light for them in the dark places when all other lights go out.  We all have moments in the dark places of teaching and if you have that light, so much the better.

For others however, the passion is like paint and plaster over the face of a wall seated on a shaky foundations.  It can cover up a multitude of pedagogical sins and ultimately if these problems are not addressed the whole edifice can come crashing down.

Personally, I don’t think I’m in a professional  place where a passion for teaching is that important to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about what I do and try to do the best I can with the time I have available – but, well, maybe I’m thinking too deeply about the word passion, but I’m not sure I can summon up much of it for the classroom these days and I’m not completely sure I need to either…