Teaching with technology training session

September 5, 2012

I’d like to share the ideas and the links that I used in a practical training session on how teachers can use technology to do 3 things:

  1. to build up and manage their PLN (personal learning network)
  2. to connect with their students outside of the classroom
  3. to supplement their class material / with web resources

The teachers had just finished a 200-hour in service teacher’s certificate course but some felt that the sessions on using technology had not been practical enough. So, this “hands on” technology session was organised (nice example of teachers taking responsibility for their own development!).

I set up a quick web page using the fantastic Check This  for the participants to use throughout the session – it was to be completely paperless, with the teachers working online during the 4 hours.

To get teachers started I had them set up accounts on Twitter  – the best place to start building an online PLN.  Once set up, the teachers then found 10 TEFLers to follow.

To help the teachers think about managing online PLNs, I had them take the first steps in setting up a Netvibes account. Netvibes, which is one of  most attractive and user friendly sites for receiving web feeds, will suggest dashboard links for you to follow, based on topics that you suggest, even if you are not registered a user.

We then found some TEFL blogs to follow via Twitter and the teachers added the links to their Netvibes dashboard.

We also briefly explored ways of using Evernote to store, produce and share (with students) teaching materials and web content, and Scoop It for book marking and finding online teaching and learning resources.

To show the teachers how simple setting up a class webpage can be, I had them make a Check This page for their students and then post there a resource for learning English that they’d found on Twitter. Check This is just so simple to use!

Finally, the group used a collaborative Google spreadsheet to make notes on ways to use 7 different web tools  in class. All the tools were ones that I’ve come across via my own online PLN, including Bombay TV, Animoto and the BYU Corpus of Contemporary American English.

Despite initial problems with web connections and setting up Twitter accounts, the session went quite well. The aim was really to help teachers see that using the web for teaching purposes needn’t be intimidating and that getting started is quite straight forward.

Note: If you were to do a session like this, I’d suggest getting the Twitter accounts set up beforehand, as it took longer than planned…but we got there in the end.

 

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UPTC 2012 Slides and Links

May 27, 2012

I was invited to give some talks at the annual teachers’ conference at La Universidad Panamericana in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The conference title was ENGLISH TEACHER DEVELOPMENT: A HUMANISTIC APPROACH.

The event was really well-organized and a real privilege to be part of. The teachers that attended were great fun too. It was also nice to meet one of my online PLN face-to-face for the first time and also great to extend my PLN further by making new connections.

I gave three sessions: one plenary titled Taking Responsibility for our Own Development; and two workshops, one on teaching using a Dogme framework, and another on using classroom observations as a tool for professional development. Prezi presentations and links for all three talks follow.

Plenary: Taking Responsibility For Our Own Development

In my plenary talk, after quickly looking at how humanistic approaches had found their way into our classrooms through various techniques, methods and approaches, and after considering the weaknesses of various models of teacher development, I argued that the best kind of teacher development would naturally be humanistic in nature. We explored a number of practical steps that teachers could take to kick start their own development, including conducting focused classroom observations and developing an online PLN. Participants were very responsive to the ideas proposed. You can see the Prezi presentation here:

Or see it on Prezi, here.

Web links:
Here’s Brian Tomlinson’s article on the dangers of in-service teacher training, from the Teacher Trainer journal.

And Tomlinson’s article on materials development TD sessions here, from Humanising Language Teaching Magazine.

Here’s a link to Russel Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos, which is where the original idea for using screencasts for grading students’ written work comes from. There are also plenty of other fantastic videos about using technology in the classroom on Russel’s site.

Here’s a link to the International Teacher Development Institute.

Links to books:

Here’s a link to Michael Wallace’s Training Foreign Language Teachers.

Ruth Wajnryb’s book on classroom observation provides a comprehensive, practical guide to using classroom observations as a teacher development tool.

Also, the first edition of Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching had an excellent collection of focused observation tasks, but I couldn’t find the observation tasks in the the latest edition, so I just tweeted him to find out why:

That’s what I was getting at in my talk when I said that the world is flat!

For an extensive overview of teaching methodology, read Richards and Schmidt.

I also mentioned that David Nunan’s Second Language Teaching and Learning was a must read for anybody want to their classes more student-focused.

Dogme ELT – Preparing Class Materials-Light
I ran a workshop on teaching using a Dogme framework. The first part of the session was a micro-lesson sequence involving a dictogloss task about an embarrassing travel experience. I read my anecdote out loud twice, allowing the he participants to take notes the second time. Participants then worked in small groups to reconstruct the text. We then briefly looked at the uses of the past progressive for providing background information, and finally students told each other about their own funny / embarrassing travel experiences.

In the second part of the session, we analysed the dictogloss sequence using the following criteria: Was is productive? Was it communicative? Did it integrate language skills? Was there a focus on form? We then moved on to look at the rationale and principals behind Dogme ELT and looked at Dale Coulter’s excellent ideas of using lesson skeletons to prepare for Dogme classes. The final stage required participants to design a lesson skeleton for an interaction-driven Dogme activity.

The participants really seemed to enjoy this session and I got a lot of good feedback.

See it in Prezi here. And you can click this link: Dogme Handouts, for the handout containing the interaction-driven tasks that I used in the final stage of the session.

Links:
Scott Thornbury on Dogme.

Thornbury and Meddings book,Teaching Unplugged – the link also has downloadable parts of the book in PDF.

Dale Coulter’s Language Moments blog.

Martin Sketchley’s e-book on incorporating Dogme into your teaching.

Initiating Classroom-Based Action Research Projects: Observation Tasks
The third talk was a workshop on using classroom observation as tool for professional development and it drew heavily on Ruth Wajnryb’s book on observation tasks.

The session started with the participants reflecting on their experiences of classroom observation before we brainstormed and discussed the different aspects of the learning and teaching process that could be the focus of observations. The participants then analysed a series of observation forms before planning their own observation plan.

The session went well but the participants initially struggled to see the idea of observation as anything other than an assessment tool. Hopefully by the end of the session, they were beginning to see the potential that observation tasks hold for teacher development! Here’s the Prezi slide show:

See it here on Prezi.

Links
Ruth Wajnrib’s Classroom Observation Tasks

Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching


Student-Generated Comprehension Questions

February 8, 2012

Paul Emmerson, the TEFL writer / trainer has an excellent section on his website with tips on using authentic texts in class which involve zero preparation.

I’d been looking for ways to make work incorporating authentic reading and listening texts purposeful and fun without depending too heavily on worksheets (last thing my production workers want either before or after their 9-hour shift is a worksheet; and part of the ongoing “unplugging” of my teaching!) and was delighted to find Paul’s ideas. I’d like to add to Paul’s ideas with a couple of my own.

Image-based Text Summaries.
Show students a collection of photos related to the article / report that you’re going to use (a lot of online newspapers have news galleries that you can use – see the Guardian ones, for example). Instruct students to write down a few words /phrases that come to mind with each picture. Get students to pool their ideas and write a 2-or-3-sentence summary of what they expect to see / hear in the story. When students are done, give them the text to check their ideas. They can then amend or add to their summaries.

Key Info Prediction Task
Activate students’ prior knowledge and topic knowledge by looking at the headline and photo of a news article and pre-teach any necessary vocabulary. Then, write some of the key details from the text on the board and have students try to guess what the details refer to – students can discuss their predictions pyramid style and come up with a final list. Then, give out the text and get students to check their answers.

Jumbled Articles
Find two different news articles and cut them up into sections which each contain 2 or 3 sentences. Give each pair of students the two jumbled stories and have them separate and order the texts. Once they have finished (and you have checked that the texts are in the right order) give one of the complete texts to one of the pair, and the other complete text to the other partner (i.e. text 1 to student A, and text 2 to student B) and have them write 3 or 4 comprehension questions based on their text. Finally, have students exchange texts and questions and get the students to answer each other’s questions about the text.

Typical Texts
With texts that tend to have a fairly predictable structure, such as film reviews or job ads, have students write questions that they expect the text to answer, then give out the text and have students answer their own questions (i.e. What happens in the film? Who stars in the film? What’s the salary? What are the main job responsibilities?) Here’s a sample text that you could use for this:

Would love to hear more ideas from you…


Adaptable, Fun, Student-Centered? Too True, No Lie

November 21, 2011

Recently, I mentioned reading some great posts on Dogme and materials-light teaching (for Dogme teaching in a nutshell, see Oli Beddal’s post, here). While reading, one comment caught my attention – a comment in which a teacher talked about how he frequently uses variations of the game, 2 Truths and 1 Lie, in class, not only because it is materials-light but also (and more importantly) because it always goes down well with his students, and because it can be adapted for just about any language area.

“Two Truths and One Lie”, I thought. “I haven’t used that for a while!” And my mind wandered back to the early days of my teaching career. It’s a learning activity that I associate with the the period immediately after passing my CertTESOL. Part of the newly qualified teacher’s classroom survival kit.

But why? If it’s communicative, fun, adaptable, why did I stop taking advantage it?

With no good answer to my question, I decided to put Two Truths and One Lie’s adaptability to the test and put it to use in class last week.

My Challenge
I currently teach a number of blended courses at a large international company. Learners spend 2 hours working through a unit of Tell Me More – commercially available language learning software, and my colleagues and I are required to design and deliver the face-to-face element – two-and-a-half hours of consolidation work and productive skills development based on the online material.

Last week, the language areas that my group of B2/C1 level learners worked on on-line were lexis related to airports and, teacher’s favorite, reported speech. I challenged myself to work 2 Truths and One Lie into the lesson.

You can download my lesson notes and handouts by clicking the following link, Reported Speech 2 Truths 1 Lie

The Lesson Sequence
Rather than worry too much about tense change and “back shift”, I targeted reporting verbs, in order to expand the range of my learners’ vocabulary. I prepared a dialogue script – two friends discussing a recent travel nightmare. I initially used the script as a gapfill exercise to check some of the airport lexis that had been presented online (testing language seen online is a course requirement). After some brief teacher-centered, form-focused work on reporting and reporting verbs, I had learners use a number of reporting verbs to complete sentences about the conversation that they’d read in the previous stage. Learners then did some work analyzing the structures that follow the various reporting verbs before classifying the verbs as either “attitude” or “non-attitude” verbs (in line with the classification in Parrot).

Further consolidation work was provided by having learners listen to and take notes on a course book recording in which a couple discuss their honey-moon trip to Europe. Having compared notes, learners made reporting sentences based on the recording, using the verbs from the previous stages.

Two Truths and One Lie
I planned to use Two Truths and One Lie not only to provide fun speaking and listening practice but also as a vehicle for getting learners to use reported speech. I set up the activity, demonstrating with my own examples and having learners interrogate me. I then had them write their own sentences in order play the game before pairing them up and instruct them to start. I monitored discretely, taking notes and letting the activity run. Once the majority of pairs had finished, learners changed partners. I asked one learner to report back on the previous stage but pushed her to do so by using reporting verbs (i.e. “My partner claimed that…”,). I then instructed learners to report back on the previous stage to their new partners, using reporting verbs.

Reflection
The lesson was effective in the sense that learners it provided further practice of work that learners had seen online, integrated all 4 skills, and provided study and fun (and hopefully) memorable practice of a notoriously difficult grammar area. In the final stage, learners had to be prompted, in some cases, to use the reporting verbs, but then expecting spontaneous production of new language so quickly is probably a little over optimistic.

So, Two Truths and One Lie passed my first test – it was easily adapted to fit my class last week. And I will endeavor to put to use in a different class this week too. And leads me to my final question: Is good teaching (or a least a large part of it) simply about having a repertoire of highly adaptable, easy-to-set-set up, learner-centered activities?


Focus on patterns, not just exceptions

November 2, 2011

My advanced level students seemed surprised yesterday when I corrected their mispronunciation of the words figure and feature by referring to the pronunciation of bigger and teacher. Of course, negative transfer from the L1 means that Spanish speakers tend to pronounce words as they are written and thus pronounce the u in the final syllable of the two words mentioned above. Yet, the final syllable of words in English spelled er, re, or, our, ure, ar, tend to be pronounced in the same way – /ə(r)/.

It surprises me that this particular pronunciation pattern hadn’t been pointed out to my students’ before, as they worked their ways up to an advanced level.

Surely part of our jobs as language teachers is to work with, and exploit patterns and regularities (as well as the exceptions!) in English.

Another example of this kind of thing, with beginner level students, might be showing how regular English question patterns are – e.g. Can you..? / Do you..? Did you..? Are you..? and working with this pattern, rather than over-analyzing conjugations and subject and auxiliary inversion.

It would nice to hear other patterns that you think English teachers should exploit!


In The Spirit of Dogme: 4, 3, 2 Presentations and Other Gems

October 19, 2011

Recently I’ve enjoyed reading various blogs / blog posts on putting Dogme or materials light teaching into practice in the ELT classroom. See the excellent An Experiment with Dogme, ELT Reflections, and Language Moments, for example.

As Thornbury writes in his A to Z blog, Dogme is all about “teaching that focuses on emergent language.” What this means is, rather than walking into the classroom with a pile handouts and predetermined set of activities “to do”, or language areas “to cover”, we work with the language the naturally results from classroom talk.

Spurred on by the excellent blogs and posts that I mention above, here are 3 staples of my classroom teaching over the years that seem to fit in with the spirit of a Dogme approach to ELT.

N.B. I do not claim to have invented these activities, they all come from, or are adapted from, published teaching resources.

4, 3, 2 Presentations
Basically, students prepare a 3 minute talk on a topic of their choice. In the first round they give their talks in four minutes to each other. Students then change partners and give their talks in three minutes to their new partner. In the final round, students switch partners again and repeat their presentation, but this time in just two minutes. The idea of all this being, of course, that it boosts fluency and automaticity as students get the chance to repeat their talks.

Variations / adaptations are infinite – students can be given specific lexis / chunks to use in their talks, and can be asked to tick of lexis / chunks as they hear them. A really fun one that was suggested to me the other day by my colleague Mike Rowley for higher levels, is to have specific pieces of languages to be used but also to have the listener interrupt and try to stop the speaker getting his or her message out.

15 Minutes of Today
This is nice for intermediate + learners and above. Each student thinks of a specific 15 minute period of their day and then writes down 20 things that they did during those 15 minutes. The teacher helps out here pushing students to break activities such as making a cup of coffee or checking email down into its individual actions (“I filled the kettle”, “I took a spoon form the drawer”, for example). Once students have their list of 20 activities, they read six of them randomly to their partner. Based on those six, the partner has to guess another six actions / processes from their partner’s list (e.g. “Did you boil some water?”). In a business English context, this work really well as generates a need for quite specific lexis for processes and work tasks.

Collaborative Emails Error Correction Task
This small group writing task works really well with classes of 8 to 16 business English students and in classrooms where there is a large board. You start by asking groups to think of a work problem that they can all identify with (for example, server problems, or low staffing levels) and then ask to state specifically what the problem is and who they would address this problem to. The teacher then divides the board into sections according to how many groups there are. Groups are then given time to plan and write their emails on their section of the board. Once they are done, the other groups are invited to come make any changes that they feel appropriate to the other group’s emails. This correction stage typically provokes a lot of discussion and generates a lot of language work.

Teaching Resources
Here are some resources that have helped me teach “materials light” over the years: Mario Rinvolucri’s Grammar Games and More Grammar Games is a must for so many imaginative classroom activities; Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking has a load of good ideas; as does, of course, Thornbury’s How to Teach Speaking. And last but not least, the Humanising Language Teaching online magazine, which, while not the most user friendly website, is well worth exploring.


Blended Learning – The Best or Worst of Both Worlds?

October 7, 2011

At a talk /workshop on blended learning in Mexico City recently, Pete Sharma referred to some research which claims that learning outcomes on blended courses are superior to those on either 100% face-to-face or 100% online courses. The piece of research (which is actually an analysis of existing research), from the US Department of Education, is here.

The report states the following:

The corpus of 50 effect sizes extracted from 45 studies meeting these criteria was sufficient to
demonstrate that in recent applications, online learning has been modestly more effective, on
average, than the traditional face-to-face instruction with which it has been compared. It should
be noted, however, that this overall effect can be attributed to the advantage of blended learning
approaches over instruction conducted entirely face-to-face. Of the 11 individual studies with
significant effects favoring the online condition, 9 used a blended learning approach.

The authors speculate that the reason for these findings might be:

additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for
collaboration, that has proven effective

There’s also loads of other research available online that apparently backs this up. To be honest though, my experiences with teaching on blended courses in EFL have been mixed. What about you? I’d love to hear any comments on teachers / learners experiences of blended learning.

Here’s what I’d like to know:

In your experience
…are learners on blended courses more highly motivated?
…what new challenges do teaching blended courses present for learners and teachers?
…are learners really taking advantage of the additional flexibility of blended courses?
…when it comes to designing and planning classes, are there any particularly good models to use?
…what can teachers do to make the blended experience more engaging / productive / effective?