General

IATEFL 2017: Does feedback work?

A summary of Loraine Kennedy’s main points from the talk ‘In one ear and out the other: does feedback work?’ You can access the session here (again, won’t embed).

Orientation

This talk was specifically about in-service feedback for teachers, not about feedback on training courses

If we are not giving feedback for the right reasons, and getting the right results, then why bother?

Studies (e.g. Kluger and Denisi 1996) have shown that only a third of feedback has a positive effect – two-thirds has either a negative or no effect. With this in mind, Kennedy considers how to change the way we approach professional learning, and the impact of feedback on teaching performance and ultimately student learning.

What is feedback?

  • Feedback is limiting the discrepancy between current performance and future goals.
  • We often think of feedback in narrow terms (e.g. observations). Hattie and Timperly (2007) point out that even reading a book related to teaching can be a form of feedback.
  • Only feedback that is sought and accepted is likely to have an impact

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IATEFL 2017: Developing teacher talk

I’ve just watched Jamie Keddie’s talk entitled ‘Developing Teacher Talk’. I was excited about this one. I’m a fan of Jamie’s site and I recently watched his TEDx talk On Videotelling. Here’s a link to the talk (can’t embed again).

Keddie knows how to warm an audience and started at his anecdotal best in this talk. He was a model of good storytelling – reminding me a lot of a former colleague who was just as engaging. He started with a couple of stories about misunderstandings he (or people he knew) had encountered – barmaids mistaking ‘pints of lager’ for ‘pina coladas’ and a family member referred to as ‘a hungry old man’ rather than ‘a hundred year old man’.

These highlighted the point that anecdotes are a compelling way to introduce a topic. Keddie is known for his interest in using video in the classroom – he pointed out that teachers often use videos as a way to introduce topics when a story from the teacher could be just as effective. (more…)

IATEFL 2017: Integrating pronunciation

I just watched a good talk from Mark McKinnon and Nicola Meldrum called ‘Making pronunciation an integral part of your classroom practice’. Here’s a link (I can’t embed the vid for some reason).

I’m a DipTESOL graduate so ‘pron’ is close to home for me. OxfordTEFL is also top of my list for places to work so I was excited about this one!

McKinnon and Meldrum started by mentioning the need to treat pronunciation as equal among language systems, and to integrate the teaching of ‘pron’ into our daily practice. ‘Sounds’ good to me.

They led with a video of one of their learners, Isabel, who was recorded completing a speaking task. As an audience we analysed some of the pronunciation problems she had. The point was to emphasise that analysing our learners’ pronunciation was important – once we know what the issues are then we can ‘begin to integrate relevant and useful pronunciation work’. True. (more…)

Metaphors for teaching materials

What are coursebooks to you? This question prompted plenty of discussion on our materials development course. We were given various metaphors to choose from – a springboard, a straitjacket, a recipe, a compass, etc. I opted for a crutch, as I felt it was something that supported the students learning (and my planning). Mind you, one coursebook I used recently felt more like a headwind. More specifically, a headwind while running on a sloping, pebbly beach in winter during a mild storm. I won’t name the book in question…!

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The role of teaching materials – deficiency vs difference

I took a course on materials development recently. It was really good – plenty of input and ideas I could apply in my current context. Here’s a link to the course if you’re interested.

The role of teaching materials (as in externally produced ones like global coursebooks) is something we considered early on in the course. We came across a good article which talked about  perceptions of materials.

Allwright (1981) mentions two ways in which teaching materials are perceived. There’s the deficiency view, that ‘we need teaching materials to save learners from our deficiencies as teachers’ (ibid, pg. 6). This suggests that a writer holds expertise above the teacher – they know how to map a syllabus better or how to make sure activities are logically sequenced. Allwright points out that this leads to the idea of ‘teacher proof materials’ – it doesn’t matter how deficient you are, the quality of the teaching materials will get you through…

Alternatively, there’s the difference view. This is more respectful of both writer and teacher roles. It suggests that teaching materials are written by those with different expertise to teachers. Writers might be skilled in making principled decisions about materials design, but the teachers are equally skilled in delivering the materials effectively.

I’m not sure I’d use the term ‘deficient’ to describe myself or my teaching colleagues (!!!), but I can see what Allwright is getting at. When I was fresh off the CELTA I used to think the coursebook and its teacher’s notes were there to mask my inability to teach – I could never write anything better than what was already there. As my confidence and experience grew I began adapting coursebook materials more. I came to realise that without tweaking them to suit my context it was actually the materials that were deficient! So with experience I settled on this ‘difference’ view – someone has put together these (normally global) resources in what they feel is a principled way, but they need me to realise how they can work for my students. As the teacher I’m just as empowered as the writer…

Deficiency vs difference – what are your views?

This article is worth a read:

Allwright, R.L. ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal volume 36/1 Oct 1981

Learn English through football

Ball ball ball, footie footie footie! I’m a bit obsessed with the beautiful game, and I’ve taught plenty of students who are too! You may have come across Premier Skills English before, the British Council/Premier League site dedicated to teaching English through football. It’s full of great resources, really well-designed and well worth a visit. Premier Skills would be my first port of call for footie related ELT material, but Languagecaster.com is a new favourite of mine! (more…)

Teachers – which sea creature are you?

I wrote a post a while back comparing learners to different birds. Svetlana at ELT-cation requested more, so here I’m comparing teachers with sea creatures. Which one are you? For a quiz version of this post click here.

(Note: this is more about behaviour than looks, so don’t be offended if you’re a frogfish or something!)

Parrotfish

The creature – a fish that gives back what it takes. They spend most of their time munching on coral. The coral then ‘reappears’ as white sand on tropical beaches. They have a weird ability to create a cocoon out of mucus at night. This stops other creatures from picking up their scent so they can rest easy!

The teacher – very well balanced. They are always happy to share resources and allow other teachers to benefit from their industrious nature. They’re seen as a really positive influence. Although their great work often goes unnoticed, the bits that managers recognise mean ‘Parrotfish’ avoid any major problems in the staffroom. (more…)