Saturday, 30 March 2013

Leading an ELT organisation in an international environment

Damon Anderson
This was the title of a seminar, led by Damon Anderson, which took place as part of the Leadership Forum at the recent CamTESOL conference in Phnom Pehn.  The context for Damon's talk was the idea of the ASEAN Integrated Community which is due to come into effect by December 2015.  You can read about it here.

As a result of the formation of this community, there will be more need for English as the workforce becomes more mobile.  English is the working language of ASEAN.  Fortunately, there is the political will to facilitate this.  More mobility means more students moving around the region and, as they move into the workforce, there will be more and more need for ESP.  For example, Cambodians will be competing against other nationalities for jobs, even if they stay in Cambodia.

All of this will lead to the provision of more and more English programmes and the need for closer attention to standards.  There are factors which are important for any organisation to succeed and these apply just as much to English language teaching institutions as to any other kind of business. 

The key components for success:
  • Know who the stakeholders are and what they expect.  These will include the owners of the business, any investors and affiliate institutions, as well as the faculty and the student cohort.
  • Establish the working language of the organisation.  If you are running an ELT institution in a non-English speaking country, it is important that there is a common language between all the stakeholders in order for them to communicate effectively.  The working language needs to be agreed at the setting up of the organisation and all meetings need to be held in that language and all documentation needs to be published in that language.  Effective translation services must then be employed to ensure that all concerned parties understand what is going on.
  • Have a mission statement.  A mission statement is different to goals, which are achievable day-to-day aims, in that it sets the overall tone for the organisation.  What is the best ever mission statement? explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
(Star Trek)
  • A good team who have the knowledge, skills and commitment.  Too many language schools hire people just because they are native speakers.  We need to hire people because they have these three key qualities.  Quality assurance starts with this.
  • Good organisation of responsibilities.  Make it clear who is leading and managing and who is responsible for the various aspects of the organisation or particular project within the organisation. 
  • Time.  There needs to be a clear timeframe for every project within the organisation.  Planning is key.
  • Communication.  Modes and procedures need to be clearly stated and adhered to and known to everyone.
  • Meetings.  Regular, purposeful, concise meetings are vital to keep all interested parties in the loop.
    A 236-year old lesson in leadership from George Washington
  1. Creating a context. Leaders must paint a broad and complete picture for their team, providing the perspective that enables them to understand the meaning, repercussions and influences of their decision-making.
  2. Framing the problem. Leaders tackling complex challenges need to make certain that their team fully understands the dimensions of those challenges. No mincing words; no sugar-coating the problem.
  3. Seeking advice. To encourage discussion and contributions from the team, leaders must be clear that they are looking for solutions – without prejudicing the process by offering their own proposal at the start. Everyone who can contribute should be included.
  4. Reaching a consensus. While it’s important to encourage and maintain an open exchange of ideas, leaders must ensure that the group moves toward a consensus solution. Endless discussion is almost never a solution.
  • Budget.  There should be an adequate budget with laid down procedures and regulations.  There needs to be agreed reporting forms and formats which are clear and known to everyone.  How do people have to account for expenses?, for example.
  • Branding and promotion.  Put the name of your organisation on everything!
  • Client base.  Who are your students?  Where are they coming from?
  • Location.
  • Acknowledgement.  It's really important to acknowledge people's contribution in order to get their commitment to you and to the institution.
  • Cultural etiquette.  It is vital to be aware of and make allowance for local cultural differences and sensitivities.  Watch this advert for HSBC as an illustration of how important this is!

When it comes to cultural awareness, as well as the normal considerations, the most important thing to bear in mind is - location, location, location!!  Location affects so many things.  For example, in some cultures the number 4 is unlucky and if you put your language school on the 4th floor of an office building, you may find yourself short of students!  Location also affects:
  • rules and regulations regarding employees and budgets (taxes)
  • currencies and banking
  • possible time differences
  • import/export regulations (could significantly increase the costs of books and equipment, for example)
  • visas
  • national/international holidays (could have implications for academic holidays)
  • branding/promotion (acronyms may not mean the same in different countries)
To conclude,
If you consider all of these factors, your ELT organisation has a much greater chance of success.

What makes a lesson great?

This was the subject of an interesting #eltchat, which I summarisedback in January.  During that chat, reference was made to a webinar with the same title given by Anthony Gaughan.  I knew I had attended the said webinar and just yesterday I came across my notes, so I've decided to write them up.  What follows is a summary of Anthony's presentation.

A lesson should be built around five characteristics or elements which are primary to a GREAT lesson:
  • Group dynamic
  • Relevance to learners' lives and needs
  • Emergent language and ideas focus
  • Attentiveness
  • Thoughtfulness
Group dynamic
Some questions to ask ourselves:
  • Can dynamic be generated?
  • How do we promote rapport?
  • Are we blocking rapport?
  • Can (and should) teachers manage the group dynamic?
  • How well-prepared are teachers in various educational settings to work sensitively with the group dynamic?
Students have to be convinced that they are working towards mastering the language.  Telling them that something is relevant is not enough.  The activity has to be seen to be relevant.
A needs analysis is usually only done at the beginning of a course.  Inevitably, needs change over time, so a course becomes decreasingly relevant.  You can overcome this by exploiting learner journals.  In this way, it is easier for the teacher to keep pace with student needs and students also become more conscious of their own needs.  You can read Adam Beale's blog for more on learner diaries.
The lesson content has to have a recognisable profile, but it has to adaptable. It has to change and it has to clearly relate to the students' needs and interests.
Emergent language and ideas focus
Language develops over time and relates to the point of need.  Instant and constructive feedback is required at the moment the language emerges. Teachers should be language 'snipers' - marksmen!  They should hear the emergent language and pick up on it immediately.
As a teacher, when you hear something new, capture it and do something with it.  Ask yourself:
  • Have I heard this from this learner and this class before?
  • Is this highly relevant to the conversation?
  • Have others asked the speaker to clarify the meaning?
  • Was there a pause for thought?  Was it hesitantly delivered?
  • Was it used to get around some lack of lexis or grammar?
Attention is limited to a relatively short period of time, so it is important to use the lesson dynamic.  Be aware of getting, and then holding onto, your learners' attention.  Try pausing for three seconds after every instruction or chunk of language.  It helps the students to focus their attention.  It really works!!  It gives them processing time.
Consider the flock of birds/buckshot analogy.  If you want to gather birds rather than scatter them, don't use a shotgun, use food.  How do you know what kind of 'food' to use for your learners?  What will get their attention?  Gather data. Take notes.  Eavesdrop on their conversations.  Snoop.  Listen for language students want clarification on.  Listen and note the topics they talk about.
Play loud music and force students to talk over it.  Not only does this get their attention, it helps with their confidence and their voice projection.
How thoughtful are you towards yourself and towards your students in class? How thoughtful are your students towards each other in class?
Use silence - thinking pauses.  See Scott Thornbury's blogpost on this.

How compatible are busy classroom environments with true thoughtfulness?  Ask yourself:
  • How often during a lesson am I thoughtful about:
  1. how I am feeling?
  2. how the learners are feeling?
  3. how appropriate to the moment is what I've planned?
  • How can I calm (but not subdue!) the environment to allow for more thoughtfulness?
Allow white space in your lesson plan.  In other words, leave some unplanned time.  Gain focus in your lesson through interest, not time pressure.  

Take a 15-second vacation:  go to the window and focus on a tree or a bird, for example, for a full 15 seconds.  You'll be energised and so will the class.

Here's to lots of great lessons!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Connected Classroom

This was the title of a recent webinar I attended.  It was presented by Russell Stannard of fame.

Russell Stannard
What is 'the connected classroom'?

It's about connecting what we do in class with what we do outside of the classroom.  Russell is particularly interested in using technology outside of the class and is always looking for ways of getting students to do more speaking practice.  It's so easy nowadays for students to record themselves and send the recording to the teacher.  This webinar focused on three ways to do this.

How do we 'connect' our classrooms through speaking activities?

  • Prepare the speaking activities in the class, but get students to do the recordings at home.
  • The key is motivation - this requires thorough preparation and practising the speaking activity in class.  Vocabulary, grammar, structures, etc. should all be practised.
  • Start by sharing a recording of your own with the class.
  • The more you connect the class part of the activity with the homework part, the better the students tend to do with the recordings.
  • Plan the whole lesson, including the homework, as one.
Examples of 'connected' speaking activities
  • Providing personal information
  • Talking about a best friend
  • Talking about your daily routine
  • Making a 'shopping channel' recording, e.g. selling your telephone
  • Describing an object which is important to you
  • Talking about a picture
  • Sharing a timeline of your life (or the life of a famous person)

Benefits of 'connected' speaking activities
  • Students can work on their recordings at their own pace and repeat the activity as often as they need to.
  • Students get to speak English outside of the classroom.
  • They are useful for students to build up a portfolio of their work (particularly good for showing improvements in speaking ability over time).
  • They are great for encouraging students to be more autonomous and to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • They are useful for assessments.
  • They are a great way to practise for external exams.
  • They can be used for individual students, pairs or, even, small groups.
This is a very easy-to-use tool whereby students can make recordings and, when they are happy with the results, they can e-mail them to their teacher.  There is also the facility to embed the recordings (in a wiki or blog, for example) or to download them (as an Mp3 or WAV file), which is useful for students to build up a portfolio of their work.
With vocaroo, recordings can be up to five minutes in length.  The simplicity of the tool means that it's very good for use with low-level students.
This tool allows students to record video as well as audio, so is great for recording adverts, for example.  Recordings can be up to ten minutes long and can be e-mailed to the teacher.  It is a more sophisticated tool than vocaroo and is better for higher-level students.  Unfortunately, mailvu does not allow you to download the recordings, but they are kept online for 365 days before being deleted.
This tool allows you to upload video, powerpoint, pictures, word documents, etc. and then add your voice to it before sharing on the internet.  It is a great way for students to practise presentation techniques.  It is free for recordings of up to 15 minutes.
Potential problems with 'connected' speaking activities
  • Have students got access to the internet?
  • Have they been given enough guidance to make the recordings?
  • Do they have an appropriate framework to work with?
  • What are you going to do about giving feedback?  You could give general feedback to the whole class and then play the best examples in class (with the students' permission) or you could try using peer evaluation.
Don't let these potential problems stop you, though - the connected classroom is the way forward!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

My first presentation at an international TESOL conference!

Several months ago, a member of my wonderful PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter, Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas), sent me a DM (direct message) suggesting that we could perhaps present together at CamTESOL 2013 which would be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in February.  I thought it was a great idea, especially as her proposed topic was 'How teachers can connect via the internet'.  We had an initial 'discussion' on Twitter and agreed that we would submit an abstract before the deadline, which was months away.

Then, as often happens with these things, we were both busy with work and life in general and CamTESOL was put on the back burner - until, that is, I happened to mention our idea in a Tweet to another of our PLN, prompting Lesley to check the date for abstracts and discover that it was the very next day!!  Talk about leaving things to the eleventh hour!!

We hastily put our abstract together and completed the necessary paperwork by sending the forms back and forth via e-mail.  Breathing a joint sigh of relief, we then sat back and waited for confirmation that we had been accepted.  When this arrived a few weeks later, it suddenly became real - it was no longer simply an idea in our heads - we were really going to do this!!  It was so exciting!

In the months leading up to the conference, Lesley and I exchanged a few e-mails expressing our thoughts on our workshop, but, in the end, we decided to leave the main planning to a couple of days before, when Lesley would be staying with me in Binh Duong

So it was that on the Tuesday before the conference, we said goodbye to my Mum at the airport (she had been staying with us for a month) and met up with Lesley.  Although we'd never met before, we recognised each other straight away and it felt like we'd been friends for years!  We talked non-stop during the hour-long taxi journey home and continued all the next day when Lesley came to work with me so we could plan our workshop. 

Lesley had had much more experience than I had of presenting at TESOL conferences, so I was happy to take her advice and 'pinch' slides she'd used in previous presentations when putting ours together.  In truth, though, we worked very well together and agreed that the basis of our workshop should be the story of how we 'met' online and how we came to be collaborating on this project at CamTESOL.  After all, we were living proof of the power of the internet, and social media in particular, to bring colleagues from different parts of the world together.  We decided not to script our presentation, relying instead on anecdotes and our enthusiasm for our subject to carry us through.

These were the details we submiited to the CamTESOL organisers before the event:

Session Title:  Connect with teachers around the world
Subtitle:   How to use the internet to develop a personal learning network (PLN)
Take charge of your own professional development.  By using the internet, you can decide when, where and how to keep up-to-date with all the latest developments in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  This workshop will show you how to use Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other online forums to learn from, and share ideas with, a huge network of colleagues from all over the world.
We will demonstrate the advantages of building your own PLN and the ease with which it can be done, at no cost to yourselves.  We will share the story of how we came to collaborate on this project through ‘meeting’ online.  You will leave the workshop with the beginnings of your own PLN and the means to develop it further.
This is the PowerPoint we put together:

On the day, we were very ably-assisted by another member of our PLN who we met for the first time at the conference, Mike Griffin (@michaelegriffin).  He moved the slides on for us because neither Lesley nor I had thought about bringing one of those natty remote gadgets that you can use to make the job easier!

In the end, the workshop went extremely well.  Initially, we had planned to have a live link-up to show the power of Twitter.  However, on arrival at the conference, we were told that we would not have an internet connection in our room.  So, in the hour before our presentation, we put out a plea to our PLN to Tweet about their reasons for using Twitter, in the hope that we could at least read out their replies.  As it turned out, a technician did manage to hook us up to the internet just before the workshop started so we were able to show the #CamTESOL feed on TweetChat live.  As is always the case with the amazing people in our PLN, they came up trumps and we were able to demonstrate so effectively why we love Twitter and what it can do in terms of PD and networking.  Thanks to @sandymillin, @SophiaKhan4, @vickyloras, @pterolaur, @gotanda, @leoselivan, @TheSecretDoS. @trylingual, @AnneHendler, @damon_tokyo, @oyajimbo, @forstersensai, and @iTDIpro for their great replies and for the RTs.  Many apologies if I have missed anyone out!!

At the end of the session, we gave out this flyer:


The feedback we had from attendees was all positive - they admired our passion for our subject and had seen for themselves the benefits of developing a PLN.  We met lots of people and hope that we will continue to connect with at least some of them online!!

The whole experience was a really positive one for me and I hope to repeat it fairly soon!  I thank everyone involved, but especially my co-presenter, Lesley Cioccarelli, without whom none of this would have happened!!