Sunday, 30 June 2013

30 Goals Challenge - 2. Avoid Burnout

Goal number two of Shelly Terrell's fourth cycle of her 30 Goals Challenge is to avoid burnout, something which affects many of us in what can be the all-consuming profession of ELT.  Shelly herself reflected on this goal in a blogpost which you can read here.  Before beginning writing this, I also read Vicky Loras's take on the subject.  Both Shelly and Vicky came up with practical ways to avoid burnout and I agree wholeheartedly with all of their points. 

For me, though, the key to avoiding burnout is to do what you love doing.  This rather cheesy cliché has real resonance for me:

A few years ago, a sudden and dramatic illness in the family caused my husband and I to rethink what we were doing with our lives.  We had always intended to retire abroad at some point and 'live the dream', but this was the catalyst we needed to bring our plans forward.  We sold everything we owned in the UK and moved to France, where we bought a seventeenth century water mill.  We spent the next couple of years working harder than we ever had before renovating the property, but we didn't begrudge a second of it because we were doing what we wanted to do! 

When the project went pear-shaped (it's a very long story!!), we had to reassess once more.  This time, the path we chose was for me to revisit my past as a teacher and bring my qualifications up to date as an EFL teacher.  So, began our adventure which has lasted eight years to date and has taken us to Turkey, Italy and, now, Vietnam. 

Over that time, there have been occasions when we've found ourselves in a less-than-ideal situation, but those have been few and far between and our answer has always been to move on, to seek a new challenge. 

I am a person who gives maximum commitment to any job that I'm doing.  I work long hours, including doing extra work at home in the evenings and at weekends, but there's no danger of burnout because 1. I love what I do and 2. I have the unconditional support of my husband.  I realise that I'm very lucky and that not everyone can make the same choices as we have (or, indeed, would want to!), but I do believe that everyone should aim to live their lives doing something they enjoy. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My choices as a lifelong learner in the 21st century

I love to learn.  That's why I'm a teacher! Over the years, I'm sure I've learned as much from my students as I have taught them. I've learned about global politics and gained an understanding of how these issues affect the individual through the eyes of my students. I've also learned about more functional, but equally fascinating matters, such as how to make fire using only a stick and a stone, how to make the best risotto in Italy, the significance of the whirling dance of the Dervish, or how the medical system works in Vietnam.  I could go on and on!!  

Now, as well as the learning opportunities I encounter in my day-to-day working life, I'm also inundated by offers to teach me things every time I turn on my computer.  My problem is that I find it difficult to say no!  My thirst for knowledge is such that I can't resist the chance to learn!  As a consequence, I've signed up for courses and then been unable to complete them due to work commitments, time constraints, or simply, life, getting in the way!!  I find the idea of learning with like-minded people from all over the globe irresistible, but the time has come to prioritise.  I have to be selective.  I have to accept that I just can't do everything I'd like to do.  I also need to have some balance, so that not all of my learning is work-related.

To this end, going forward, these are my learning providers of choice:

1. Electronic Village Online (EVO)

A description taken from their own website:

EVO is a set of online discussions and workshops that takes place every year from mid-January to mid-February. Sessions include a range from simple discussions to virtual hands-on workshops. They can serve as a run-up or preview to the TESOL Convention, or a discussion of an issue in the field of teaching language, or experiments with and pedagogy of new technology tools.

An online session is the perfect venue to pre-discuss papers from Academic Sessions or Intersessions, or to carry on a discussion of topics important to your member group. EVO provides an invaluable service to teachers all over the globe, for it brings the convention to those who cannot travel. We usually have over a thousand participants, both members and non-members of TESOL. Most sessions also offer live chats (text and audio/video), including Webcasts from the Convention, and all participants are welcome to any of these live events.

I took part in an EVO course on podcasting earlier this year.  It was practical, immediately applicable, both in my professional and personal life, and very enjoyable.  I'm looking forward to their 2014 offering - I'm sure I'll find something to pique my interest!

2.  Webinars

Webinars are invaluable for my CPD.  I wrote a blogpost about them here.  I love the fact that I learn through stand-alone bite-size chunks.  Again, the only problem is that there are so many available that I have to be selective.  There's really no point in me doing these things if I don't have time to reflect on what I've learned!

This is a global network of teachers learning from each other through a mentoring programme and a series of courses.  This is taken from their website:

About iTDi

iTDi is a global online teacher development institute that is owned and staffed by dedicated teachers.
Our mission is to provide quality professional development that is meaningful, accessible and affordable for all teachers. We share a vision of a vibrant global community of educators, helping one another to become better teachers.
The iTDi community brings together teaching professionals working at every level -- newcomers and veterans, native and non-native teachers from a wide range of contexts, all sharing a common belief that being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to growing and learning.

iTDi provides:

Online courses to improve your classroom teaching or English language skills, written by some of the most respected authors in English language teaching.
  • A safe, private, supportive, international community of teachers and teacher-mentors, working and learning together online
  • Live online workshops and chats with educators from around the world
  • Live online advanced teaching skill courses

iTDi Principles

We believe that every teacher deserves the chance to improve. It doesn't matter where you start; what matters is where you want to go.
I am currently doing a course through iTDi.  It's called More Breaking Rules and is presented by John Fanselow.  The final session will be this Sunday, after which I will write a post about the course and what I have learned from it.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a huge fan of #ELTChat.  It is the mainstay of my CPD.  This is from the #ELTChat website:
#ELTchat started in September 2010 when a group of #ELTchat professionals began to use twitter to discuss topics of interest to English Language Teachers. It began with the aim of creating a freely available social network for ELT professionals offering mutual support and opportunities for Continuous Professional Development.
Now, every Wednesday at 12pm and 21.00pm, ELT teachers from all over the world log into their Twitter account and for one hour hold an online discussion on a topic they have selected.

I'm a regular participant and summary writer and am proud to say that I have just achieved my gold badge!!

As well as regular webinars, CET also offers a variety of online courses which are great for CPD.
This is a relatively new concept in online learning.  From their website:

About Coursera ®

We believe in connecting people to a great education so that anyone around the world can learn without limits.
Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Our technology enables our partners to teach millions of students rather than hundreds.
We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

Our Courses

Classes offered on Coursera are designed to help you master the material. When you take one of our classes, you will watch lectures taught by world-class professors, learn at your own pace, test your knowledge, and reinforce concepts through interactive exercises. When you join one of our classes, you'll also join a global community of thousands of students learning alongside you. We know that your life is busy, and that you have many commitments on your time. Thus, our courses are designed based on sound pedagogical foundations, to help you master new concepts quickly and effectively. Key ideas include mastery learning, to make sure that you have multiple attempts to demonstrate your new knowledge; using interactivity, to ensure student engagement and to assist long-term retention; and providing frequent feedback, so that you can monitor your own progress, and know when you've really mastered the material.
We offer courses in a wide range of topics, spanning the Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Computer Science, and many others. Whether you're looking to improve your resume, advance your career, or just learn more and expand your knowledge, we hope there will be multiple courses that you find interesting.

For me, this is where the balance comes from!  Although PD courses for teachers are offered through Coursera, I haven't chosen to do any (up to now!!).  Instead, I've opted for courses completely outside my professional life - learning for learning's sake - just for fun.  I have to say that my first attempt was not so successful.  I chose a course about logic, a subject which has always fascinated me.  However, at the time of the course, I had too much other stuff going on in my life, so only completed the first couple of modules.  This time, however, I have chosen a course called The Camera Never Lies about film, images & historical interpretation in the 20th century.  It started yesterday, I've allocated the appropriate amount of time for it, and, so far, it's completely enthralling.  I'm learning so much and being challenged to look at things in a new way.  The fact that I have a whopping 45,000 active classmates is a huge bonus!!

So, that's my take on 21st century learning.  It's exciting, it's collaborative, and it presents endless opportunities.  Best of all, most of it is free!!

Monday, 24 June 2013

30 Goals Challenge - 1. Define your Moment

Shelly Terrell has just launched the fourth cycle of her 30 Goals Challenge.  This is an annual project aimed at educators.  It sets 30 short-term goals each year, the idea being to get us to reflect on what we are doing well, what is not going quite so well and how best to improve what we're doing, both by making changes to existing practices and trying completely new ones.

I guess I'm not the only one who has looked at Shelly's challenges each year and thought 'what a great idea - I really should get involved' and then done precisely nothing about it!!  So, why is it different this year?  Well, to be honest, this year was shaping up to be like all the others. I joined the 30 goals Facebook group  last week, fully intending to reflect on goal number one over the weekend and write a blogpost about it.  That didn't happen!  Instead, I spent the weekend doing a bit of writing, a few household chores and a lot of watching rubbish movies!!  

Then, this morning, came my 'light bulb' moment!!  I was checking my e-mails over breakfast, as is my wont, and clicked on Vicky Loras's  blogpost about the first goal of this year's challenge.  The first goal is:

Define your moment

Vicky Loras

Vicky had dedicated her post to Rose Bard and had written about how she had been inspired by her.  I was immediately reminded of how Vicky herself had inspired me when I was very new to Twitter and my PLN was made up of a mere handful of ELT professionals.  Fortunately for me, she was one of them!  I was living in Treviso at the time and on a train on my way into Venice to attend a seminar given by Michael Swan.  I tweeted about what I was doing, feeling a little foolish about it and wondering who would care.  Within seconds, Vicky had tweeted back, telling me what a fan she was of Michael and how she envied me my day with him. That contact inspired me to share what I learned that day, both through a series of tweets and a blogpost.  Since then, I haven't really looked back.  I've gone on to share conference and webinar experiences through posts and tweets and have built my PLN into the fantastic resource it is today.  I'm happy to say that Vicky is still a part of that - perhaps we'll even get to meet in person one day!

So, thanks to Vicky, I'm on board with this year's 30 goals challenge.  I've answered Shelly's challenge to define my moment on a wall she's created on Padlet.  I reproduce it here:

Andrea Wade
This is my moment to be inspired by all of the amazing educators from around the globe I come into contact with and to try to give something back by inspiring others.
#MyMoment #30GoalsEdu

Saturday, 22 June 2013

What can teachers learn from good managers?

A good manager?
This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 12 noon on 19th June.  As a seasoned summary writer (I'm going for the gold medal with this one!!), I'm used to the process.  However, this is the first time I've written the summary not having attended the chat.  As a manager myself, I intended to be there, but, as is often the way, work interfered and I didn't get home in time.  So, what follows is my attempt to give order to the valuable contributions from my fellow #eltchatters.  I hope I have done them justice!  The chat was moderated superbly as always by @Marisa_C and @ShaunWilden.

The idea for the chat came from a talk by Henry Stewart, CEO of the wonderfully named company, Happy Ltd, entitled 'Choose your Boss'.  It was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of their Four Thought series.  You can listen to it here. 

The talk began with the assertion that a majority of workers are not happy with their manager and that people often leave a job because of their manager.  @KatySDavies agreed saying that, for her, having a good manager is probably the most important thing in a job now - more important than school, location, facilities, etc.  @cioccas told us that she had, indeed, moved jobs because of bad managers.

Henry Stewart's solution to this problem is that people should be allowed to choose their own manager from those already in a management position.  He suggests that companies should choose who manage people based on how well they manage people!  Too often, people are promoted because they are good at their job, not because they are good at mentoring and managing people.  #Eltchatters argued that perhaps Henry Stewart's ideas were not so applicable in an ELT setting and that, in our industry, good teachers can and do make good managers.  In fact, most participants agreed that having a manager who had never been a teacher was really not a good thing.

So, what are the qualities of a good manager?

Henry Stewart quoted these eight behaviours identified by Internet giant Google Inc.:
  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
  3. Expresses interest / concern for team members’ success and personal wellbeing
  4. Is productive and results-orientated
  5. Is a good communicator – listens and shares information
  6. Helps with career development
  7. Has a clear vision / strategy for the team
  8. Has important technical skills that help him / her advice the team
In addition to the eight behaviours they identified for a good manager, they also narrowed down on the top 3 causes why managers struggle in their role:
  1. Has a tough transition (e.g. suddenly promoted, hired from outside with little training)
  2. Lacks a consistent philosophy / approach to performance management and career development
  3. Spends too little time on managing and communicating.
Henry Stewart concluded that people work best when they feel good about themselves and so the main role of management should be on motivating people, valuing them and improving their self-esteem.

So, what did #eltchatters make of this list?

A good manager
@Shaunwilden pointed out that these eight things would equally apply to teachers and their classes, which is probably why the transition from good worker (teacher) to good manager is smoother and more effective in our industry than in others.  @michaelegriffin questioned the correlation between teaching skill and management, but others begged to differ.  After all, teachers are managing groups of people (students) every day of their working lives.  As @JoshSRound said, 'there are some transferable skills: teachers have to manage students, tutor them, coach them, encourage them, direct them.'

@KatySDavies identified one of her bad managers as being someone who flicked between micro management and then gave no support at all when it was really needed.  That person took no ownership of the work given to staff.  On the other hand, a good manager, in Katy's experience, was one who was supportive without being overbearing and who was genuinely interested in her as a person.  She described the great feeling she gets when she senses she's making a real contribution.

@bhrbahar said that a good manager is fair, honest and has organisational skill.  @jo_sayers added that it is someone who cares and encourages.  The majority of contributors agreed that good managers need to be good communicators with a focus on listening and sharing.  Properly listening and responding to the content of what has been said is vital.

The role of 'coach' was seen as essential, with good managers taking every opportunity to coach their teachers - in meetings, via one-to-ones, through e-mail, at social events, in observations and appraisals, etc.  When there aren't enough occasions like this, managers can seem very disconnected from their teachers.  @cioccas pointed out that teachers need to know that their manager is capable of coaching them, even if they don't need them to.  They can show this in what they say and do, the questions they ask, the interest they show, etc.  Managers could also demonstrate their ability through running workshops themselves, or by finding the right people in their team to do it for them, for example.  It's important that managers make time for coaching.  @JoshSRound told us that he's started to schedule one-to-one meetings with all of his team, a fact which @KatySDavies imagined would make them feel really valued.
In the same way as teachers do for students, managers have to negotiate achievable goals for their teachers.  It needs to be a two-way process and teachers must have a realistic chance of hitting them.

Another similarity between the role of teacher and manager is that both have to know their 'team members' (students or staff) really well.  @MrChrisJWilson told us that one of the best things about his current boss is that he has endorsed his passions and helped him explore them in teaching.  In the same way, if we find our students' passions, we can use that knowledge to enhance their learning.  Good managers should take into account the different learning styles of their teachers as good teachers do for their students.

A good manager briefs well - a useful skill for teachers, too, when it comes to giving clear and unambiguous instructions.

Good managers and good teachers:
  • Listen well
  • Manage discourse well
  • Stay quiet at times
  • Are open-minded
  • Make people feel valued
  • Give clear instructions
  • Allocate tasks well
  • Show concern for and interest in their charges
  • Are organised
  • Negotiate achievable goals
  • Recognise potential and nurture it
  • Treat people as individuals
  • Adapt to the changing needs of their charges
  • Don't hold grudges
  • Solve problems
  • Assess well
  • Value the importance of having a balance between hard work and fun in order to build rapport
  • Encourage
  • Build a sense of team spirit
  • Promote collaboration and sharing
  • Are fair and impartial
  • Step up and take the initiative
  • Explain the rationale behind their decisions
  • Urge people to push themselves
  • Are willing to try new ideas
  • Seek to constantly improve themselves and their methods
  • Are never satisfied with just 'OK'
Some chat contributors felt that we couldn't always make the same assumptions about managing students and managing teachers, though.  @michaelegriffin suggested that it is much harder with headstrong teachers than with generally manageable students and @pjgallantry summed it up with, 'Managing TEFL teachers is like trying to herd cats!!'  If that's the case, Paul, then I've really got my work cut out!! :-)


Does the DOS do it for you? by @JoshSRound
Differentiating Professional Development - the Principal's Role via @cioccas

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Practical guidance on training students to cope with authentic spoken English

This was the title of a recent British Council Teaching English seminar presented by Sheila Thorn and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Sheila began with a question:

Why are listening comprehension exercises in coursebooks not representative of informal spoken English heard outside the classroom?
  • They are scripted - usually because coursebook writers are trying to introduce a language point.
  • They are outdated - language changes so quickly.
  • The speed of delivery is artificially slow.
  • Turn-taking - in authentic speech, people talk over each other all the time.  It's normal!  In coursebook listenings, everyone takes turns nicely!
  • There's a lack of hesitation.  Generally, there are no pauses, no fillers, and everyone speaks in full, accurate sentences.
  • The accent - coursebook listenings are usually delivered in standard English.  There isn't a range of accents.
  • They are recorded in sound studios, so there is no background noise.
  • The people speaking are often actors, so are not as natural as people off the street would be.
  • They rarely use non-native speakers of English.
  • Listening in coursebooks is mainly for modelling purposes so students hear clear examples of structures and vocabulary.
A quote from Michael Rost:
'There is a distinction between learning to listen in the L2 and learning the L2 through listening.'
Coursebooks are all about learning a language through listening, but it is better to learn to listen in an L2 as a specific skill.
Critique of the traditional listening comprehension approach
  1. It's non-communicative.
  2. It's teacher centred.
  • A lot of listening comprehension is testing, not training.  You're seeing how much students understand, but you're not training them to listen any more effectively.
  • It's negative reinforcement.  It's always the same students who get things right and the same students who get things wrong.  Students start to feel that they're just rubbish at listening and it's difficult to break through that.
  • It's boring!  Just listen and answer questions - boring!!  The texts are bland; nobody dies, nobody's on drugs!
  • Listening is intangible.  Unless you've got the tapescript, it's just in the air - you can't grab hold of it.  Therefore, it's difficult for the teacher to work out why a student found it difficult.  Even when students get the right answer, the teacher doesn't know if they got there for the right reasons.
  • The focus in traditional listenings is on the product - the things that were said, not how they were said.  It's better to focus on the process of listening rather than the product.
  • It's over-reliant on top-down processing.  Telling students just to listen to the main words doesn't really help because those small words give meaning about time, aspect, etc.
  • Just exposing students to more listening doesn't really help, either.  They won't just pick it up through osmosis!
The challenges of spontaneous speech
Spontaneous speech is easy for us as native speakers.  It's automatic.  For language learners, though, it's rather more difficult.  As Gillian Brown says:
'Every consonant and every vowel will be affected by its neighbouring consonants and vowels and by the rhythmic structure in which it occurs.'
You don't get dictionary-like, carefully articulated words in a stream of speech.  Something happens to them.  Ellision causes problems for listeners.
Some solutions to the problem
  • Use short, authentic listenings on a regular basis.
  • Practise listening for word recognition - can students hear individual words in a stream of speech?
  • Do lots of de-coding practice.
  • Do intensive listening activities on short pieces, rather than extensive listening (traditional listening comprehension) on longer pieces.
  • Even tracks just a few seconds in length can generate a lot of language activities.
  • With both word recognition and de-coding, follow the communicative approach.  Get students in pairs or small groups to work collaboratively on authentic recordings.
Gapping key lexical/content words in a stream of speech is highly effective. 
  • Can students recognise words that you know they already know in a stream of speech?
  • Can they recognise functional or grammatical words?  For example, even if they don't hear the ending of a word, can they work it out from context?  For instance, 'She promised to help her with her homework.'  Do students know from context that they need to put the 'd' ending on 'promise' even if they can't hear it?
  • By gapping contractions, we can make students aware of how often they feature in natural speech.
  • We can use gapping to practise real life minimal pair discrimination.
  • We can gap unknown words whose sounds conform to spelling conventions.
  • We can dictate short authentic extracts and compare the citation form of a word with how that word sounds in a stream of speech.
  • We can use instant dictation, as advocated by John Field.  Lots of listening comprehension tests a student's memory.  We are asking them if they can remember what they heard.  In fact, when we're listening, the last ten or so words are still in our active brains - they haven't been processed yet, they are still easily accessible.  So, with instant dictation, play an authentic listening, pause it at random and ask students to write down what they think the last four or five words were that they heard.  This way, we can see how effectively students are listening and they will improve with practice.
  • Take an authentic listening into class.
  • Don't give any set-up or ask any questions.
  • Play the listening.
  • Ask students - 'How much did you understand?'
  • Get them to give you a percentage.  (These percentages should be recorded by the students and used to show their progress over time.)
  • Get them to tell you what they think they understood.
  • Be non-committal.
  • Write the points up on the board.
  • Play the listening again.
  • Ask students to write down all the words they heard which they think were important.
  • Get students in pairs or small groups to construct meaning from the ideas and the word lists.
  • Play the listening again and give feedback on how close they were to understanding the meaning.
You could go on to a traditional comprehension exercise if you like, but this kind of activity reflects what happens in authentic listening.