Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sink or swim: working together using cooperative learning

This was the title of a presentation at the recent Cambridge Day in Ho Chi Minh City.  The speaker was David Bohike and what follows is a summary of what he had to say.

What is cooperative learning?
  • Cooperative learning is a learner centred approach which emphasises the importance of student cooperation rather than competition.  
  • It is a teaching strategy where each group member is responsible not only for learning what is taught, but also for helping other group members to learn it.  Students work together until everyone successfully understands and completes a task.  Group members gain from one another's efforts and they all share a common fate.
  • Learning is dependent on socially structured exchanges and requires cooperative strategies.
  • Students are responsible for their own learning.
  • Tasks are designed so students must interact.
  • It is team work not group work.
Why use cooperative learning?
  • Through cooperative learning, students develop real-world leadership skills, such as decision-making, trust building and conflict management skills.
Examples of activities that use cooperative learning

Developing Fluency in the Classroom

This was the title of the first presentation at the recent Cambridge Day in Ho Chi Minh City.  I went to the same day last year with a small group of colleagues and we all found it to be very beneficial.  So, this year I arranged for the majority of my teaching team to attend.  I have to say that, overall, the day wasn't as pertinent as last year's, but there was still enough information shared to make it worthwhile attending.

So, back to the first session of the day.  The speaker was David Bohike, a very experienced teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer currently based in Singapore.  What follows is a summary of his talk.

What is fluency?

Fluency is generally accepted to be the ability to speak with a good, but not necessarily perfect, command of intonation, vocabulary and grammar - to be able to produce spoken language with ease.

Factors affecting fluency

Cognitive factors

  • familiarity with the topic
  • familiarity with the genre (presentation, debate, discussion, etc.)
  • familiarity with the other speakers (to promote fluency, it is often a good idea to allow friends to sit together)
Affective factors
  • feelings towards the topic
  • feelings towards other participants
  • self-consciousness
Performance factors
  • planning time - we need to give students time to think before expecting them to speak.
  • discourse control - where possible, give students control over what they say and how they say it.
  • time pressure - be aware of this; some students perform well when given a time limit, others don't.
Developing fluency in class
  1. Automaticity of chunks - teaching and drilling chunks of language (sentence starters, functional phrases, idiomatic expressions, etc.), so that students can produce them automatically.
  2. Support the learner - by pre-teaching vocabulary, for example.
  3. Knowledge support - give background information about the topic.
  4. Strategy support - for example, teach students how to paraphrase if they don't know the word they need.
  5. Provide planning time - fluency and accuracy improve when students are given time to think.
  6. Repeat tasks - task repetition allows the learner to practice and improve - to have a second chance.
Avoid predictability
  1. 3 - 2- 1 - this is a great activity to improve fluency.  Give students a topic and ask them to speak about it for three minutes.  Repeat the exercise with the same topic, but this time asking the students to speak for two minutes.  Repeat for a third time, but reduce the speaking time to one minute.  By the time students speak for the third time, most of the errors and much of the hesitation will have been eliminated.  It's a great confidence-booster for students.
  2. Speak about new but similar topics.  For example, speak about classroom rules first and then about canteen rules.
  3. Gradually increase the task complexity.
  4. Introduce new audiences as students become more able.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Observation and your teaching staff

This was the title of the fourth in a series of monthly CPD webinars hosted by the British Council.  You can read more about the programme here.

This webinar was presented by Gillian Davidson and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Observations - the traditional view

Observations are often seen mainly as a quality assurance/quality control tool used for performance management, sometimes in response to student complaints.  They are usually done twice a year and teachers dread them!  They are seen as a negative, or simply a 'tick-box' exercise.

Teacher objections
  • Teachers might wonder, 'What right do you have to observe me?'
  • Observations are seen as judgemental.
  • They are seen as an intrusion into the teacher's space.
We need to break this vision.  The classroom is the domain of the students, not the teacher.  Everything we do should be to enhance the learning for the students.  It should not be primarily for the benefit of the teacher or the observer.

As observers, we should be reacting to and commenting on the effect of the activity on the learning of the students, not on the activity itself.

Tools and Rules

Observation types
  • Management - used to check performance and maintain quality.  These can be done formally at a pre-determined time or as drop-in observations for 10 - 30 minutes at a time.  In a good school, QA/management observations can be developmental as well.  They just need to be kept separate from performance management observations which are done in response to a complaint or identified problem.  In these cases, teachers need to be told that it is a performance management issue.
  • Peer - a really effective tool.  Teachers learn most from observing, and being observed by, their colleagues.
  • Self - this should happen after every lesson in the form of reflective practice.
  • Blind - observations done with a mentor's support.
Advantages and disadvantages of each type

 Observation sheets

Using observation sheets gives focus to the observation and makes it objective.  Before choosing an observation sheet, ask yourself what kind of teacher you're observing and why you're doing it.

Here is an example of a section of an observation sheet:

Using such sheets gives a detailed overview of your teachers and keeps feedback objective and non-judgemental.  It's a good place to start with a development plan and is particularly good for new teachers.

More experienced teachers who already have a development plan can choose a specific area that they would like feedback on.  Look at this example of part of an observation sheet for commenting on teaching lexis:

With more experienced teachers, then, we may need to focus on the detail of a lesson (lexis, a particular grammar point, the use of an IWB, etc.) and will therefore need different observation sheets for different purposes.


Here are some rules for making observations developmental:
  • Make time - it's so easy to put off doing observations and reduce the time you give to teachers.  You must make time.  Put observations, feedback sessions and follow-up sessions in your diary.  Every time you do an observation, you're saying 'teaching is important'.
  • Give warning
  • Be objective - if more than one person is responsible for doing observations, it's important that you are all observing on the same criteria.
  • Behave appropriately during observations -
  1. stay quiet.
  2. don't pull faces.
  3. take notes, but pay attention to the lesson.
  4. don't interfere.
  5. don't take part in the lesson.
  6. use an observation sheet to help you focus.
  7. focus on the learning - what you like and don't like is irrelevant.  All that matters is whether the students like it and whether they are learning.  You are not watching the teacher as a person, but as how the teacher is affecting the learner.
  • Feedback promptly - choose your language carefully during feedback.  Be as objective as possible.  Don't use 'I liked.....', 'I felt that.....', etc.  Instead, use 'I saw....', 'You did....', etc..
  • Follow-up - the feedback should always include ideas and suggestions, things to do, an action plan.  So, the follow-up is very important - it is what makes an observation developmental.  The teacher needs to write something about what they did and how it worked out and then he needs to sit down and discuss it with the observer.
  • Value the process!! - Don't let observations be a 'tick-box' exercise.
Giving feedback
  • Make it useful - it's no good to say, 'yes, it's fine'. 
  • Make it balanced - teachers can only take so much criticism at any one time.
  • Make it reflective - reflection is one of the most difficult things to do and teachers need to be trained not to look at the lesson as a whole, but to break it down.
  • In written feedback, use 'you', rather than 'the teacher' or 'Susan'!!
  • Agree a development plan.
  • Keep records.
  • Follow-up.
The Observation Process


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The 'orror of herrors - a webinar summary

What follows is a summary of a recent webinar on errors and error correction by Robin Walker.

Causes - the origin of learner errors
  1. Carelessness
  2. Mother tongue interference - for example, a Spanish learner might say 'John is ill since four days' as a direct translation from his native language.  A Vietnamese learner is likely to omit the verb 'to be': for example, 'I tired'.
  3. Teaching materials/methods used - these can force students to make errors.  For example, 'She told she was on holiday.'  This confusion between say and tell could be a result of the way it was taught.
  4. Overgeneralisation - students may over-use the rules they've learned.  For example, the insistence on third person s can lead to errors such as, 'She must goes soon'.
  5. General order of difficulty
  6. Risk-taking/creativity - the more creative a student is, the more errors he will make.
Correcting students' written errors

As teachers, we are far too ready to put a red pen through something.  In reality, we can't second guess our students and it is presumptuous of us to correct their writing to what we think they were trying to say.  Look at this example of a student's writing:
  • Festival, we'll have hake with crap sauce. - Here the teacher might be tempted to correct so that it reads, 'At the festival, we'll have hake with crab sauce'.   The correction of 'crap' to 'crab' is a fairly safe assumption and it was, indeed, what the student meant.  However, on questioning him, the teacher discovered that what he wanted to say was, 'First of all, we'll have hake with crab sauce'!
We feel so duty-bound to correct that we over-correct, but any error correction is ineffectual if we don't know for sure what the student wanted to say or what caused the error.  

It's a good idea to use a writing error correction code to encourage students to self-correct.  This is the one we use in my institution:

Writing correction code from Andrea Wade

Whichever code we use, we must remember to use the ? more!!  If we're not sure what the student meant, then we need to simply use a ? and ask our student to explain what they were trying to say.

Classifying errors

What can we gain from classifying errors?  Well, it certainly helps to concentrate our minds.  We could, for example, consider two types of error:

LOCAL - e.g. 'They fly to all of the countrys in that area.' - We can ignore local errors.

GLOBAL - e.g. 'What to have abridgement about of the what I did last week.' - These errors impede comprehension.  We should put a ? and go back to question the student.

This scheme of two types of errors doesn't work, though - it's not sophisticated enough.

Here's an alternative:

This is the scheme to have in your head when you're monitoring around the class or when you're marking writing.
Correction methods
a)  Repeating the error
b)  Writing the correct version above the error
c)  Using error codes to indicate the type of error
d)  Reformulation/recasting
e)  Using some sort of gesture to show where the error is
f)  Leaving a slip of paper with the error written on it
g)  Making a note of errors and treating them later
h)  Treating common errors at the end of the class
i)  Limiting correction to certain types of error
j)  Ignoring the error

On the spot



a)  d)  e)  i)  j)

f)  g)  h)  i)  j)


Don’t do this because students can correct their own work later!

b)  c)  g)  h)  i)  j)

Strategies to use in the classroom
1.  Laugh at mistakes
  • Don't laugh at students, but laugh at mistakes together!
2.  Have it back!
  • Give work back without correcting anything.
  • Ask for a re-write before marking anything.
3.  Peer correction
  • Students choose a classmate to check their work before they hand it in to the teacher.
  • The person checking the work signs it.
  • This makes all the students think carefully about mistakes.
4.  Four pen dictation
  • The teacher chooses a 150-word text from a previous unit and dictates it to the class.
  • The student writes what he hears in pencil.
  • When finished, the student checks his writing for mistakes and marks them in blue.
  • The student then passes his paper to a partner who corrects any further mistakes he finds in green.
  • The teacher then corrects in red, or, alternatively, puts the accurate text on the board for students to correct themselves.
5.  Error auction
  • Put the students in teams and give them 'money' to buy correct sentences.
  • Use sentences containing the students own mistakes.
  • Which team 'bought' the most correct sentences?
6.  Error maze

7.  Error lists
  • Students make lists of their repeated errors so that they become more conscious of them.
8.  Flavour of the month
  • Errors that are really irritating to the teacher are displayed on a poster in the classroom.
9.  Error evaluation

Students categorise their own mistakes as follows:
  • A mistake I'm always making and it really irritates me!
  • A mistake I made this time that I thought I'd stopped making.
  • A mistake that I've not made before, but I know how to correct it.  (Great!  Congratulations!)
  • A mistake that I haven't made before and I don't know how to correct it.  (Tell them - it might be from a future lesson.)

Final thought

The three Cs - CCC

Charity - learning implies making errors
Care - as to when and how to correct
Confidence - learner attitude is key

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Promoting CPD in your schools

This was the title of the third in a series of monthly CPD webinars hosted by the British Council.  You can read more about the programme here.

This webinar was presented by Gillian Davidson and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.


Why do CPD?

Penny Ur said of CPD, 'It's the difference between five years' experience and a year's experience repeated five times.'

Some teachers never develop - they just keep repeating what they've always done. As educators we need to lead by example and keep on learning.

Benefits for teachers
  • Increased job satisfaction; motivating and interesting.
  • Broader knowledge, skills base and ability to self-analyse.
  • Ability to take control of development and career planning.
  • Develop transferable skills.
Benefits for the school
  • Establish career paths, which make us more attractive employers.
  • Enables us to respond to customer needs effectively and promptly.  This means that we can guide teachers in areas where students want changes.
  • Improved student feedback and staff retention.
  • Enhanced reputation leading to better staff recruitment.
What constitutes CPD?
  • workshops
  • seminars
  • training
  • conferences
  • observations
We need to differentiate between training and development.  
Training is required when teachers need to learn a new technique or skill - when interactive whiteboards are introduced to a school, for example.  Training is what you need to be able to do your job.
Development, on the other hand, is what you need to continue to improve in your job.  If you have a school with lots of experienced teachers, training is not such an important part of CPD.
What prevents effective CPD?
  1. Time - everyone is too busy!  We need to make time for CPD.
  2. Money - conferences can be very expensive.  Some teachers are reluctant to do CPD if they consider it to be unpaid work.
  3. Difficulty - genuine and effective self-reflection is very difficult!
CPD activities
  • Teacher conferences (e.g. IATEFL)
  • Local CPD groups
  • In-house CPD sessions - attending and running them
  • DOS observations - teachers working together with their DOS to identify areas for improvement
  • Peer observations - one of the most effective ways to learn
  • Pop-in observations - short observations to see a variety of lesson types
  • Self-observation
  • Reflection - via a lesson journal, for example
  • Online support - blogs, portals, publisher sites
  • Idea sharing groups - in school and online
  • Mentor/buddy system
  • Trial one day a week - find something new to try out in class one day a week and reflect on whether it worked or not
  • Shared board in the teachers' room for lesson ideas - the one-page lesson synopses from the British Council, for example
  • Reading
  • New projects - courses, teaching a new level, etc.
  • Action research
  • Writing articles - if you write about something, you think about it more
Remember, a lot of the CPD is FREE!!!!
What do we need to make CPD happen?
Teachers need to feel excited about development.  We need to create an external culture of CPD in our institutions and, by doing so, we hope to create an internal culture within each of our teachers.  We can't force an internal culture, but we can create an environment which encourages it.
Creating the culture
We can do this by:
  • Incentivising
  • Creating a clear link between a teacher's performance plan and appraisal.  (CPD must be seen to be expected, not optional.)
  • Showing the value of CPD
  • Rewarding achievement (this reward doesn't have to be financial)
  • Leading by example - the manager should be seen to be taking control of his or her own CPD
  • Analysing the beliefs and behaviours of our teachers to help us to help them to make their plans
  • Acknowledging and encouraging
Individual CPD needs
The desire for CPD needs to come from within.  Otherwise, it becomes a 'tick-box' exercise.
  • Performance plans - teachers need to set their own goals.
  • Self-directed - guided by the DOS, but the basis should come from what the teacher wants.
  • Stage of career - a teacher will need more training early on in their career and more development later.
  • Career goals and plans
  • Stage of personal life - there are times when CPD needs to go on the back burner for a while.
  • Feedback - needs to be structured and must acknowledge and recognise effort.
Classifying beliefs, behaviours and performance
If teachers lack confidence, they don't put the effort in because they fear failure. At the other end of the scale, teachers who are over-confident feel they know everything already so don't need to make an effort.  In both cases, performance is poor.  Effort is key to improving performance.  The harder you try, the more you move towards success.
We need to consider where our teachers lie on this bell curve and adjust our approach accordingly.  If teachers have no self-confidence, we need to boost it before setting them free with their CPD plan.  Equally, if a teacher is over-confident, we need to control that before allowing them to plan their own CPD.
Validity of CPD exercises and activities
Any CPD exercises and activities need to be seen to be contributing towards a teacher's CPD.  We can't expect a teacher with 20 years' experience to turn up to a workshop intended for post-CELTA recruits.  They won't see any value in it and they will be turned off when it comes to other CPD sessions.
We need to make sure that CPD plans are individual.  It's very unlikely that we'll run a workshop that every teacher in our school or department is expected to attend.  That would be like running an English class for elementary to advanced students.  We need to consider putting our teachers into 'levels' for their CPD, perhaps by using the British Council framework.

We also need to remember that our recognition as managers of a teacher's effort adds validity to any CPD activity.
Acknowledge and encourage
  • Keep it simple - some teachers are happy to spend time writing self-reflection notes, but others aren't!  CPD should never be something a teacher resents.
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Recognise effort as well as results - not everything you try works! However, something that doesn't work can be just as valuable an aid to development as something that works really well.
  • Reward - by asking a teacher to deliver seminars to the rest of the staff or to mentor a new teacher, for example.  Make sure, though, that this is considered to be a reward and not simply even more unpaid work!
  • Check in regularly - write annual CPD plans, but meet with a teacher every three or four months to assess progress
Tips for implementing a CPD programme
  • There should be something for everyone - one size does not fit all!
  • There should be a system for aiding reflection.
  • It should be teacher driven - the manager can feed in ideas, but the teacher must agree.
  • Performance issues should be kept separate to CPD.  Once CPD is linked to performance, it becomes unattractive to the teacher.
  • It needs to be linked to an appraisal system.
  • There should be regular meetings between the teacher and line manager when they sit down together at an agreed time.

Classroom based teacher development

This is a summary of a webinar I attended recently.  It was presented by the wonderful Willy Cardoso (@willycard on Twitter).  You can read more on Willy’s blog:

So, how can we develop as teachers whilst we are actually doing our jobs?
Observation Tools
1.    Video recorder

Ø  Watch yourself teaching. 
Ø  Record your lesson, or ask someone else to. 
Ø  Give students the camera to record the lesson for you.  Get them to pass the camera around.
Ø  Record activities – group work and pair work, for example.
Ø  Develop a culture of having a camera in the classroom.
Ø  Watch the videos back with the students and talk about what’s happening.

2.   Audio recorder

Ø  Have a mini recorder in your pocket to record secretly.
Ø  Listen to yourself later.  Yes, your voice is horrible – get over it!!

3.   Colleagues

Ø  Peer observations – observe your peers and encourage them to observe you.
Ø  Describe, don’t evaluate.
Ø  Discuss later and ask/explain why things were done.
Ø  Could use these occasions to count things, e.g. number of corrections per student.

Involve Learners 
1.   Give them an observation task

Ø  Use questionnaires or set a specific question, e.g. How many times did the teacher correct me in this lesson?
Ø  Data can be used for learners’ reflection and development as well as the teachers’.  For example, ‘Was there little correction because I didn’t speak very much?’  ‘Am I too good for this class?’
Ø  From the teacher’s point of view, ‘Why did I correct this student more than the others?’  ‘Why does this student think I corrected him only three times when I know I did it six times?’  ‘Should I be more explicit with my error correction?’

2.   Discuss pedagogy

Ø  Everyone thinks they know how to teach!
Ø  Encourage learners to discuss how they’ve learned something other than English.
Ø  Find out what students think about teaching and learning and use the information to help with your own development.

Validity of Bottom-Up Knowledge
Documentation is very important.  Share the knowledge and make it available.
1.   Portfolio

Ø  As a teacher, you should build up a portfolio like an architect or a designer would have!
Ø  You should include – photos, lesson plans, student testimonials, blog articles, videos of your teaching, certificates of attendance, etc.

2.   Blog

Ø  A blog can be your best business card!
Ø  It doesn’t really matter whether it’s good or not, but it advertises the fact that you are a developing teacher.
Ø  You can use your blog to reflect on your lessons.
Ø  A good blog can also show what kind of knowledge you have.
Ø  Blogs bring teaching down to the chalk face – they reflect what is really happening in the classroom and contribute to the body of knowledge of our profession.

3.   Workshop

Ø  Start small – within your own institution or even just for yourself or a few colleagues.
Ø  Share things you find out.
Ø  Try to develop yourself by creating materials that can be useful for others.

Critical Teacher Development
1.   Uncover/unpack

Ø  What is behind what we do?
Ø  What principles and beliefs underlie the metaphors we use to talk about teaching and learning?

2.   Localise

Ø  Localise the lesson in its social and political context.

3.   Be self-critical

Ø  Beware of the Apprenticeship of Observation 
Ø  Our training and development as teachers began with the very first lesson we ever had as a learner.
Ø  Be critical of ourselves – the technology we use, the jargon, etc.