Monday, 5 August 2013

Coaching and Mentoring in ELT

This was the title of the sixth 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 Loraine Kennedy and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Loraine began by giving us some definitions:


'Coaching is a developmental process by which an individual gets support while learning to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal.'


'Mentoring is a means of providing support, challenge and extension of the learning of one person through the guidance of another, who is more skilled, knowledgeable and experienced, particularly in relation to the context in which the learning is taking place.'
                                                          Andrew Pollard, Reflective Teaching

Distinction between coaching and mentoring

  • Coaches use questioning and listening techniques to bring out the full potential of the individual, whereas mentors act as advisors, suggesting new paths for the individual to take.
  • To mentor effectively, you must possess an in-depth appreciation and knowledge of the subject on which you are advising.
  • Often the relational positions of mentor and individual being mentored are equivalent to that of teacher and student.
  • In a coaching event, the positional relationship is on a par as the coach's role is to create an environment for the individual to learn for themselves.
  • A mentor is often an expert working with a novice.
  • A coach is more for experienced people - they explore ideas together, but the individual comes to a realisation themselves.
Spectrum of coaching styles
A mentor is more likely to be at the directive end of the coaching spectrum, but non-directive styles are much more powerful and the learning gained is much more likely to stick.
Questions to ask
  • Does your organisational culture support coaching?
  • Are you part of a learning organisation?
  • To what extent does your organisation support the growth of individuals?
  • Does your organisation believe in collaboration?
  • Does your organisation allow enough time for coaching to take place?
  • What needs to change to allow the process of coaching and mentoring to thrive?
If you have the right environment, then coaching and mentoring can happen.

Coaching and mentoring situations in ELT
  • Professional development plans
  • Giving feedback on an observation
  • Resolving work problems - fostering team spirit and maintaining individual morale
  • Managing change
  • Enhancing team effectiveness
  • Counselling students on their progress and learning objectives
Qualities of an effective coach
  • Patience
  • Enthusiasm
  • Honesty and integrity, including confidentiality and trust
  • Friendliness
  • Genuine concern for others
  • Self confidence
  • Fairness
  • Consistency
  • Flexibility
  • Resourcefulness
Skills and abilities
  • Communicating, especially listening
  • Questioning
  • Analysing
  • Summarising
  • Setting goals and objectives
  • Establishing appropriate priorities
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Relating to people at all levels
  • Planning and organising
Underlying principles of being a coach
  1. Ensure you fully understand what coaching is - What is coaching as opposed to mentoring?  What is coaching as opposed to managing?  Be clear about when and why you're coaching.
  2. Check your perspective on people - you always have to see the potential in people.  If you're dwelling on their past mistakes, or thinking that they're 'no-hopers', then you're not in the right frame of mind to be that person's coach.  You have to always be thinking about the coachee's strengths and how best to move him or her forward.
  3. Learn and practise an effective coaching model - start out with a coaching model, but don't feel restricted by it.
  4. Engage your boss - everyone in the organisation has to have bought in to the coaching idea.
  5. Understand and value personality differences - we know that everyone's different and has different motivations.  We know that everyone is at a different stage of their career development.  We must value this and take each coachee from their own starting point.
  6. Prioritise your time and stay focussed - time allocated for a coaching situation needs to be used for coaching!
  7. Stop putting out fires - don't do things for your coachee!  Create a consciousness about being responsible for yourself.  A coach helps, but doesn't do!
  8. Seek regular feedback - feedback should be given and received!
  9. Listen, listen, listen!
  10. Keep growing and developing - when you are a coach, you need a coach!! You'll be a better coach when you are being coached.  Things are constantly changing.  You never reach the finish line.
  11. Be fully prepared - you always need to know where you got to in the last coaching session and how you're going to move forward.
  12. Focus on progression, not punishment - what about the ones who don't want to progress?  What about the ones who've lost motivation?  If handled well, coaching can appeal to everyone.  It's about moving forward, not looking back.
  13. Use the right questions
  14. Remember that the coachee knows the answer already - if you keep quiet or explore the options with the coachee, it's amazing how many times they will come up with the answers themselves.
  15. Break down big goals into little steps
  16. There is no right and wrong - there are many rights!  My right may be different to yours, but both are equally valid.
  17. Maintain forward momentum - keep focussed on solving problems.
  18. Be a good coachee!
Ground rules for being a coach within a coaching relationship
  • Clarify the purpose of the coaching relationship from the start.
  • Set and agree the objectives for each 'coaching conversation'.
  • Be honest.
  • Build your understanding of the coachee's world - what stage of their career are they at?  How is their home situation?
  • Build your understanding of the coachee's relationships - how do they fit into the team?  Do they get support from their family/their friends/their colleagues?
  • Insist on action.
  • Insist on accountability.
Peer coaching
  • Identify a partner you trust and who trusts you.
  • Ensure that both of you want to learn.
  • Set a schedule for conversations.
  • Each identify their learning objectives.
  • Divide the time between coaching and being coached equally.
  • Strive for objectivity, not empathy - empathy is important, but you need to be frank and honest.
  • Avoid moaning and grumbling.
  • Focus on positive action.
  • Agree to hold each other accountable.
Tools and models
1. ADKAR change management model
It is important that the steps are carried out in the order shown.
2. GROW model of coaching
This is a good model to start with.
3.  Achieve coaching model
4. Reflective practice

5. High level listening skills
  • Intend to understand
  • Pay close attention
  • Defer judgement
  • Explore for deeper meaning and understanding
  • Concentrate
  • Don't interrupt inappropriately
  • Get inside the other person's frame of reference
  • Listen with your eyes and mind, not just your ears
  • Listen for meaning and feelings
  • Beware of your body language signals
Avoid being patronising
  • Find out what the other person knows and feels, don't presume.
  • Understand the person's character and style of working and respond appropriately.
  • Be careful with words and expressions that can be interpreted negatively and watch the tone of your voice.
  • Don't insult someone's intelligence even if they don't know something you know - don't make them feel small.
  • Avoid using suggestion questions - e.g. don't you think you should answer the phone?
  • Withhold unsolicited advice - wait to be asked or ask if you can make a suggestion.
  • 'Coaching Questions: a Coach's Guide to Powerful Asking Skills' by Tony Stoltzfus available here.
  • '101 Coaching Strategies and Techniques' edited by Gladeana McMahon and Anne Archer (Routledge)
  • 'The Manager's Coaching Toolkit' by David Allamby (Pearson Business)
  • 'Coaching for Performance: Growing Human Potential and Purpose' by John Whitmore (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
  • 'Reflective Teaching' by Andrew Pollard

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Oxford Big Read - an introduction to setting up a class library and using readers

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Oxford University Press and presented by Verissimo Toste.  He based his talk on his experience of setting up a class library for 25 - 30 teenage students.  The idea was that students chose the books they wanted to read and did so at their own pace. They were encouraged to use readers as a tool to learn the language; the scheme was supposed to appeal to them as language learners, not as readers.  What follows is a summary of what Verissimo had to say.

The importance of reading to learn English
  • Remember to tell your students regularly how important reading is.
  • If you go to the gym and do exercise, you will get fitter.  You don't need to know what the muscles are or what anatomy means.  In the same way, if you read, you will learn - you don't necessarily need to know how every grammatical structure works.
Reading needs to be:
  • voluntary
  • routine - i.e. 15 minutes a day, not one hour once a week.
  • beyond the classroom
Comfort leads to routine
  • Stories must interest students from the beginning - they must choose the book.
  • Stories must be appropriate for the level - that is, knowledge minus one. No more than 2 or 3 words per page should be new or difficult.  The student shouldn't need to use a dictionary.
  • Establish a reading routine of 15 minutes per day.
Selecting stories
  • There is a huge amount of choice out there!
  • A library needs about 1.5 books per student.
  • Get catalogues from publishers and use them as a reading comprehension exercise.
  • Allow the students to choose the books.  Tell them to:
    • look at the cover
    • consider the title
    • read the back cover
    • look through the illustrations
    • sit and read a page comfortably
  • Use the 'find your level' page of the OUP website.
Reading in class
  • Create a social environment.
  • Use reading as a five-minute activity at the beginning of a class whilst you're setting up the room.
  • Encourage students to pick up their readers if they finish an activity early
  • Have ten or fifteen minutes of reading at the end of every class.
  • Build a habit where reading becomes a part of every class - this routine may take up to three months to establish.
  • Encourage students to talk about their books and share ideas - because everyone is reading a different book, they will want to talk to each other about them.
  • Make students aware that these books have been written for them.
  • Talk to students about where and when they read outside of class.
  • Focus on the students who are reading and build the numbers up month by month.
Enthusiasm leads to involvement
Here are some reading related activities aimed at generatingi students' enthusiasm which will get them involved and lead to more language learning.
1. Posters
This is a good first activity.  Students make a poster of the book they are reading, to include the title, an illustration and a sentence or some key words. The posters are displayed in the classroom in order to help other class members decide which book to read next.
The posters don't have to be done on paper - they could be digital (using Glogster, for example) or they could be powerpoint slides.
2. Make a film poster from the book
  • Give the book a new title?
  • Who would be the stars - celebrities? classmates?
  • What images could be used to best illustrate the book?
  • How about making a trailer?
This is a very engaging activity which allows students to use their imagination.
3. Wordle
Make a word cloud from a text from the book.
4. Snap
  • Students choose ten sentences from the story and copy them into their notebooks.
  • Students decide which is the keyword in each sentence and underline it.
  • Students write each sentence on a card without the keyword (like a gapfill).
  • They write the keywords on different coloured cards.
  • They play the game of 'snap' in pairs.
  • The games relating to each book can be kept and re-used.
5. Speaking and interviewing a character
  • Students choose a character from the book they are reading.
  • They write questions to ask that character.
  • They role-play interviewer and interviewee with a partner who has read the same book.
  • Students can make up answers if all the information they need is not in the book.
6. Write a postcard to a character in the book
  • Students read and reply to each other's postcards.
These activities create enthusiasm.

To conclude

Why should students read a lot?
  • To extend their contact with the language
  • To reinforce classroom language
  • To contextualise language
  • To increase motivation
  • To expose students to new experiences
  • To give them a feeling of achievement

Friday, 2 August 2013

Corpora and the advanced level: problems and prospects

Michael McCarthy
This was the title of a recent Cambridge English Teacher webinar presented by Michael McCarthy. What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Key issues at the advanced level

Beginner level English is easy.  Students need to know basic vocabulary and grammar.  Once you get up to upper-intermediate and advanced levels (B2 - C1 - C2), though, it gets difficult!  There really isn't much consensus about what we should teach at advanced level, but evidence from corpus can help us decide.

Once you get beyond the 2000 or so most common words, vocabulary becomes a vast catalogue of low-frequency items, so how do we know which words to teach?  Grammar loses its sense of progression and tends to be a rag-bag of difficult and arcane items.  How do we bring a sense of usefulness to the grammar at this level?

Assessment targets become more difficult to distinguish at higher levels.  For example, fluency:

  • B2 - fluent
  • C1 - very fluent
  • C2 - extremely fluent
What does this mean?  How do we judge it?  Lower level learners get lots of opportunities to show their level in exams.  Higher level students perhaps don't.


The English Profile programme uses corpora to answer questions about vocabulary and grammar.  It is available online here.

The main problem is, if we just teach and learn new words as they come up, we find that these words give back less and less.  The first words we learn give great text coverage, but as we learn more words, the return reduces as they are less common.

At more advanced levels, collocations and language chunks become much more prominent.  The same words appear in more and different combinations. Register, connotation and style become more important.  There is more specialised vocabulary and subtle, evaluative nuances of adjectives, for example, need to be explained.  There is also a growth in domain-specificity - vocabulary particular to specific disciplines.

There is evidence of possible slowdown and attrition at higher levels, too. The pace of learning slows and students may even reach a plateau and stop developing completely.

The English Vocabulary Profile gives labels for words and phrases and can be browsed by CEFR level or by the vocabulary item itself.  This helps teachers to know what vocabulary is most useful for students to learn at a particular level. It also gives students a progression if they focus on the words they need to know at each level.

Grammatical issues

At higher levels we can focus on:
  • New or not typically taught functions for known forms.  For example, we can teach the uses of present perfect that we haven't had time to cover at lower levels.
  • Low-frequency patterns - structures that are still used by native or proficient speakers, but not often.
  • Patterns that underlie academic success - grammatical structures that help students to score well in exams.
Example - Future Perfect (Continuous)

The common usage which we teach at intermediate level is - At the end of this year, I will have been living in Vietnam for three years.  However, if we look at corpus, we can find another common use for this tense:

You'll have heard about the terrible earthquake.
You'll have been given a handout.

Here, future perfect is used to make assumptions about the present - things that have already happened!

Look at these examples from the corpus of present perfect continuous being used in the same way:
At higher levels, we should find and teach examples like this.  We need to show our students different functions of grammar which is already known. They will be able to use them in their speaking and writing, and recognise the meaning when they hear or read them.

Example - Subjunctive Patterns

Here, we are talking about instances where the verb is always in the base form.  For example,

They insist that he wear his uniform at all times.
......their insistence that he wear his uniform ...... important that he wear his uniform .......

verb/noun/adjective + that + subject + base form of the verb

We can look at a corpus and see how the subjunctive is used.  Although it's not so common, it's useful and students think they're making progress when they learn about it.

Look at these examples taken from English Profile:

We can teach these structures as a piece of grammar and link it with vocabulary by using English Profile.

The power of the corpus is that it can give coherence and purpose to syllabi at higher levels.

Example - Nominalisation

Here, we are talking about the process of turning a verb into a noun.  

We fly at seven.    >        Our flight is at seven. 
Mr X donated Y.    >        Mr X made a donation of Y.

It is seen as a sign of good academic writing.  This can be confirmed by looking at the Cambridge Learner Corpus which takes examples from students' work and researches what grammar structures and vocabulary attract the highest marks.

Example - Modality

Analysis of success at higher levels indicates that the use of adverbs after modal verbs is good!


The corpus is relevant and current - results from it can be put straight into teaching materials.


  • What is it that remains to be learned at higher levels?
  • How can the corpus help us to decide what must be taught and how to teach it?
Students can't learn every word in the English language, so tell them to concentrate on the words that interest them.  By reading texts that interest them, their general vocabulary will improve and they will make progress - FACT!!