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.

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.

Ruth Wajnrib’s Classroom Observation Tasks

Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching

Teacher Development Through Songs

July 27, 2009

After apparently looking at some of the song-based activities on my materials page, a teacher that is currently taking a language awareness course with us asked me an interesting question – “How do you decide on the kinds of activities to do with a song other than filling the gaps?”

It was a question that got me thinking and then made me realise that perhaps I don’t always have learners’ needs or interests at heart when I’m planning classes!

Or, to put it another way, I have selfishly exploited songs in order to further my own teacher development without a care for the needs or interests of my learners!

Anyway, in response to the teacher’s question, after thinking for a few seconds, I made a rather bold statement: “You can do anything with a song!”

Such a statement needs to be qualified, so here goes…

Filling in the gaps
Now, as good EFL practitioner, supposedly well-read on contemporary methodology, I should stress the importance of basing decisions about content on learner needs – and that of course holds true for songs that we choose to use in class and types of task that we plan and design use with them. In an ideal world we should ask ourselves what our students are going to get out of doing these tasks with this song and how is it going to help them.

But, how many teachers working in EFL/ESL live in an ideal world?

So…first of all, let it be said that there is nothing inherently wrong with simply filling in the gaps and talking about the lyrics. That is perfectly acceptable – particularly if the song has been requested by students because they like it. Indeed, by letting students choose a song to do in class you will be making your classes more learner-centred and David Nunan will be very happy. It also gets you dogma brownie points. Filling in the gaps is okay too when the song is being used as a bit of light relief…a change from the monotony of the coursebook (the it’s Friday afternoon, let’s do a song syndrome).

Second, the lyrics of some songs naturally lend themselves to work on particular grammatical structures –I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 and Should I Stay of Should I Go by the Clash come to mind as obvious examples. Meanwhile Where The Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and Kylie is great for focusing on cohesive devices (although, when I did that one, a couple of my students complained to the school’s owner about the song being too depressing and I was told that I could only use songs suggested by students from then on and after being coerced into doing a class on a Savage Garden song, I stopped using songs until I changed jobs).

It’s all about me, me, me!
But for me, regardless of learner needs or interests, or indeed syllabus content, using songs has been just another way to put what methodology stuff that I’ve read into practice – a means of self-directed teacher development.

Here’s a specific example – after reading Mario Rinvolucri’s More Grammar Games I was really keen to try out some of cognitive activities inspired by Caleb Gattegno (yes, those Silent Way activities that were dismissed as pure hippy nonsense on my CertTESOL course). So what did I do? I downloaded the lyrics of The Importance of Being Idle, which at that time was one of the most played tracks on my iTunes and got to work and set about eliminating the final two words of each line of the first verse and removing the gaps between words in the chorus. The results of that particular endeavour can be found on the teaching materials page on this blog.

A similar thing happened when it occurred to me one day that I had been shamelessly neglecting to do work on diphthongs with my Mexican learners and that it was probably because I didn’t feel confident enough with my knowledge of phonology to do it. So, I chose a song that I liked, identified words in the lyrics that contained diphthongs that I perceived to be problematic for my students and before you could say tlacoquemecatl, I had a lesson ready to go.

Not very student-centred but a great way for me to a) provide some light relief and b) try out something new.

Most songs contain, to varying degrees, a variety of grammatical structures, collocations, slang, idioms, cohesive devices and most if not all English phonemes so I stand by my original assertion – you can do anything with a song!