Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Integrating new teachers into an experienced staffroom

This was the title of the fifth 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 Fiona Dunlop and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

What are the reasons for hiring inexperienced teachers?
  • they are generally enthusiastic and dynamic
  • to bring new blood to a stale staffroom
  • they often have new ideas
  • to develop/invest in them
  • they have no bad habits
  • more experienced teachers may not be available
  • they will often accept short-term contracts
  • it's cost effective
  • they are local
  • for emergency cover
Challenges and drawbacks
  • inexperienced teachers often have unrealistic time and preparation management
  • they can be overwhelmed by a full timetable
  • they may be unable to manage admin demands
  • they could have a lack of language awareness
  • you may be limited as to which courses they can teach
  • the pace of their lessons is often too slow - they are thorough, but tend to pitch to the lower end of the group
  • they may have a lack of cultural awareness
  • they may not be comfortable with firm classroom management and have problems dealing with difficult students
  • there may be a desire to be the students' friend
  • they may be compared to previous teachers
  • they may not gain the students' respect
  • they don't have a bank of ideas at their fingertips which allows them to think on their feet
  • they may not be accepted in the staffroom by more experienced teachers
  • they may get stressed and be unwilling to say they are struggling
Things which are important to remember
  • New teachers are clients of the school and first impressions count - from the first contact, the experience should be as positive and stress-free as possible.
  • You should compare the new teacher's experience to the student's journey.
  • Remember your own first day in a new school - remind yourself how it feels to be 'the new kid on the block'.
  • Treat new teachers as 'internal customers'.  If you treat them well, then they will look after the school's 'external customers' - the students.
  • The staffroom will be energised by the input of a new ideas.  This is the time for more experienced teachers to shine.
  • Your students will benefit from having new staff and the school's reputation will be enhanced.
  • Treating new teachers well also enhances the reputation of the industry.  ELT gets a lot of bad press - it is often seen as a 'stop-gap' before people move in to a 'proper' profession.
Induction for new teachers

A good induction process is vital.  It should be ongoing and it should be revisited.  Here are some of the induction ideas used by Fiona in her role as DoS of the Wimbledon School of English:

Before the contract starts:
  • Arrange a meeting time with the new teacher.
  • Prepare or e-mail induction documents and other necessary policies.  Include a copy of the student handbook and/or school brochure.
  • Check all materials and class handover notes are ready.
  • Arrange a mentor for the new teacher.
  • Organise a desk and/or locker for him or her.
First day/week
  • Have a copy of the induction checklist for you to talk through.
  • Talk through each point on the checklist, allowing time for questions as you go.
  • Take the new teacher on a tour of the school, including the classrooms where they will be teaching.  Remember to point out fire exits.
  • Show them around the teachers' room and explain where to find everything.
  • Introduce them to all staff members by name and job.
  • Provide preparation time.
  • Be available to help where needed.
First week or two of teaching
  • Check lesson plans regularly - even experienced teachers take a while to settle into a new house style.
  • Arrange an informal observation of the new teacher.
  • Arrange for the new teacher to observe their peers.
  • Give observation feedback and do post-induction - this might include a quiz about your institution.
  • Go through the induction checklist again to check for any problems.
  • Arrange the first formal observation to be done by the end of the third teaching week.
  • Record stages on induction spreadsheet.
  • Do formal observation and follow-up.
  • Check plans of work and admin.
  • Check with the new teacher's mentor.
Developmental opportunities for new teachers

  • Don't overwhelm new teachers - give them small, practical pieces of information.
  • Development should happen naturally when checking lesson plans and just by being around the office.
  • Give short practical workshops and try to grade the training and development according to the teacher's level.
  • Do observations and give constructive feedback.
  • Use the British Council CPD handbook.
Developmental observation types

These need to be timetabled in to a new teacher's schedule.
  • Unobserved/blind - plan a detailed lesson (time the planning to avoid over-planning), run through it with the manager, teach the lesson, have a follow-up meeting with the manager to encourage reflective practice.
  • Filmed/recorded - these should be structured.  It's useful to record the students, not the teacher.  It gives a great insight into how a lesson is being received.  Recording is also the best way to make new teachers aware of their TTT.
  • Peer
  • 10 minute - these should be incorporated into the induction programme.
  • Mentor feedback
  • Short burst/repeated theme
You can find more detailed descriptions of observation types here.

Quality assurance observations

These are necessary to the successful running of any school/department and there should be clear, practical policies and procedures set out, including the name of the person who is going to carry them out.

It's important not to over-observe!!

What to look for when doing a QA observation:
  • Preparation
  • Presentation
  • Pitch
  • Pace
  • Staging
  • Achievement of aims
  • Subject matter
  • Error correction
  • Variety
  • Rapport
  • Pronunciation work
  • Use of aids
  • Classroom management
  • Flexibility
  • Learner training
British Council CPD Framework

It has:
  • a handbook for managers
  • a handbook for teachers
  • a framework for CPD
  • a portal with advice, suggestions and video clips
Give a copy of the CPD handbook to new teachers during induction.  It can be used by mentors and teachers together.

Hints for the manager
  • Make sure the induction process is ongoing.
  • Induction should be for everyone regardless of why or for how long they are in the school.
  • Use an induction checklist to make sure nothing gets forgotten.
  • Provide clear guidelines for mentors.
  • Compile FAQs and example scenarios to talk through at induction.
  • Give hints on lesson preparation and provide sample plans - provide time limit guidelines and give teachers the opportunity to prepare together.
  • Provide a bank of last minute lessons and ideas in the teachers' room.
  • Run regular ideas swapshops - immediate and practical.
  • Introduce everyone to each other!  Provide a board with teachers' profiles and photos and a 'come to me for.....' section.
  • Don't assume anything!
  • Provide a survival checklist of admin jobs for the first day/week/month.
  • Arrange 10 minute meetings every Friday with the DoS if possible.
  • Clear systems will set the foundations.
  • Notice the positives new teachers can bring.
  • Remember your first experiences.
  • Retention of staff is good for your school!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Five Communicative Language Learning Activities

This was the title of a recent Cambridge English Teacher webinar given by Peter Lucantoni.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say including descriptions of his five suggested activities.

Communicative Language Learning (CLL)
  • CLL seeks to bring students beyond grammatical competence.
  • Students need to decode language and manipulate it in private dialogue.
  • This leads to communicative competence.
We need to move from knowing the forms and structures to using them in practice.
Some activities:
1. From letters to grammar

Students must listen to a series of letters and then think of a meaningful phrase which uses each letter as the first letter of a word.  The order in which they use the letters is not important.

For example, given -  A D I F , students might produce:
  • A day in France
  • Fantastic dreams are incredible
  • I ate David's fruit
Students think of the vocabulary first and then the grammar they need to make a phrase.  It becomes easier for students as they do more examples.
You can make this activity more challenging by telling the students that one of the words needs to be something specific - an adjective, an adverb, a pronoun or an irregular verb, if you are focusing on grammar, for example.  If the emphasis is on lexis, you could ask that one of the words be a colour or a family member, for example.
As an extension, you could put students in groups and allow them to choose four letters which they then exchange with another group to make phrases. This is a good warmer or filler activity to reinforce grammar or vocabulary.  It encourages creativity - students could make silly sentences, for example - as long as they are grammatically correct.  It can be used with all levels. Generally, students like the element of competition involved.

2.  Numbers and sizes ratios

(From 'Grammar Activity Book' published by CUP)

This activity focusses on general knowledge and guessing numbers and size.  Learners then have the chance to produce their own version of the activity.
  • Put learners into groups of 2 or 3
  • Learners look at comparisons on the board or in a handout and discuss how big the difference is between them
  • They then match the comparison to a ratio
  • Then they write a sentence expressing the ratio
For example:
The world's tallest man is 2.5m tall.
The world's shortest man is 0.5m tall.
The ratio is 1 : 5.
The world's tallest man is five times as tall as the world's shortest man.


The age of the Egyptian pyramids v the age of the Aztec pyramids - 1 : 2.
Aztec pyramids are twice as old as Egyptian pyramids.


Number of rows on a chess board v number of squares - 1 : 8.
There are eight times as many squares on a chessboard as rows.

Other examples you could give:
  • Number of circles on the Olympic flag / number of circles on the Japanese flag
  • Paris, distance from London / Athens, distance from London
  • World's highest mountain / world's highest waterfall
  • Population of London / population of Mexico City
  • Number of countries bordering Spain / number of countries bordering the USA
  • one mile / sixteen kilometres
Students will need to research the answers using websites in English.  They can also do further research and compile their own ratios which they then exchange with classmates to write further sentences.

The purpose of this activity is to get learners to think logically and critically, to use their general knowledge and to practise comparative forms.

3.  Question to question

Sometimes we answer one question with another question, rather than giving a direct answer.  Why do we do this?
  • for clarification
  • because we don't know the answer
  • to show interest
  • to stall
Common questions we might use:
  • I'm sorry, what did you say?
  • Really?
  • What do you mean?
  • Could you repeat that?
  • Why do you ask?
  • Don't you believe me?
Give students a jumbled dialogue like this:
and get them to put it into the correct order:
Then get students to create their own dialogues having given them the functional language they need.  First they need to think of a context or situation (for example, parent/child, husband/wife), then write the dialogue, then read it aloud or act it out for their classmates to guess the context or situation.

The purpose of this activity is to teach functional language, to practise intonation and question forms, as a confidence booster, and to have fun!

4.  Alphabet dialogue

Students create a paired dialogue so that each line begins with the next letter of the alphabet.  e.g.:
  • Ahmed, how are you?
  • Bad, really bad!
  • Come on, it can't be that bad!
  • Do you think I'm joking?
  • Everyone knows you're a joker.
Stick to four or five line dialogues and start with random letters of the alphabet (perhaps drawn from a hat).

For higher level students, you could combine 'alphabet dialogue' with 'question to question'.

The purpose of this activity is as a warmer, a confidence booster, to practise real time speaking using colloquial language, and to practise sentence starters.

5.  Sloobie

In this activity, learners look at a text which contains nonsense words and try to make sense of it from a grammatical perspective.  It is good for helping students with their 'decoding' skills and gives great opportunities for creative language use.

An example of a nonsense text:
Students need to identify parts of speech by looking at the word order.  For example, 'brumpting' and 'ticfrous' must be adjectives.
You can ask students to speculate on meaning by asking questions such as:
  • What is a sloobie?
  • What does it do?
They can then discuss and justify their answers in groups.  Alternatively, for lower level students, you can give the students the words they have to substitute into the text:
You can get students to create their own 'sloobie' for their classmates to solve by writing real sentences and then substituting some of the words for nonsense words.
The purpose of this activity is to practise guessing meaning from context, to identify parts of speech and to be creative.

It's important to model all of these activities well and to give students the functional language they will need to complete them.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

30 Goals Challenge - 3. Choose your personal theme song

Goal number three of Shelly Terrell's fourth cycle of her 30 Goals Challenge is to choose a personal theme song.  Shelly began her own blogpost on this  with a quote about music, and I'd like to do the same:

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” – Plato.
The type of music I enjoy would surely be unrecognisable to Plato, but the sentiment behind his words still resonates strongly with me. 
Music has always been a huge part of my life.  My Dad loved popular music and some of my earliest memories of my childhood involve him belting out his favourite tune of the moment while my Mum begged him to put an end to 'that racket'!! :-) 
Moving on from my Dad's choices (though I have to say some of them remain favourites of mine to this day!), my musical influences were those of my peers.  I was never one to want to stand out from the crowd, so, along with every other young girl in the UK in the seventies, I loved Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers!!  Later, I did become a bit cooler, especially when I went to university in Manchester in the eighties and discovered great bands like The Cure, The Clash, The Smiths, The Housemartins, etc. etc.
So, there has always been a musical soundtrack to my life and, being an EFL teacher means that I can also bring my love of music into my work setting by using songs in the classroom - some of my best lessons over the years have involved music to some degree.  Choosing one personal theme song, then, has proved somewhat problematic, so I've cheated and chosen two!
The first is 'Something Inside So Strong' written by Labi Siffre, a British singer songwriter who was inspired to write after watching a documentary about apartheid in South Africa.  It became a hit in the UK in 1987, while I was at university, and was soon adopted as an anthem of the campaign to secure the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.  It has been used in other campaigns since, notably by Amnesty International.  It remains inspirational to me - I can't hear it without thinking back over all of those years to my political awakening.
My second choice is 'Proud' by Heather Small.  I've always loved Heather's voice and she has made a habit of recording inspirational songs.  When she was lead singer of M People in the nineties, she released 'Search for the Hero Inside Yourself' which includes these lyrics:

And that's why (why) you should keep on aiming high
Just seek yourself and you will shine
You've got to search for the hero inside yourself
Search for the secrets you hide
Search for the hero inside yourself
Until you find the key to your life
In this life, long and hard though it may seem
Live it as you'd live a dream
Aim so high
Just keep the flame of truth burning bright
The missing treasure you must find
Because you and only you alone
Can build a bridge across the stream
It's a great song, but not the one I've chosen!  As a solo artist, in the year 2000, Heather recorded 'Proud'.  I loved it from the first time I heard it.  The lyrics carry so much meaning.  The song was later adopted by Oprah Winfrey as the theme tune for one of her shows and, later still, by the Olympic Committee for London 2012.  These two facts would normally put me off a song, but, I can't help it, I still love it!!  The question, 'what have you done today to make you feel proud?' is great - it's not about other people - it's about you being proud of yourself!
I hope you like my choices!