reflections

Reflection: Steps towards materials-light teaching

Me, Matt and Tiago chatted about lots of topics at the first Bangkok ELT Books n’ Beer session last night. Great fun!
The topic of materials-light teaching and dealing with emergent needs came up. Tiago is on a Celta to Delta journey at the moment and mentioned how he would like to try out techniques like Dogme ELT, although there are those fears…

What if I’m not skilled enough to elicit content from learners or prompt interaction?
What if I miss those triggers from the learners that should guide the lesson?
What if the whole thing just falls on its head?

Not Tiago’s words, just what I think we were getting at. We talked about how Dogme ELT must require so much teacher skill and experience, and that got me thinking:

How did I develop the confidence to do things like…

  • deal with having only a loose idea of where things might lead?
  • go with the flow?
  • let the learners lead?
  • enter class without books or handouts?!

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MA, PGCEi or Diploma?

Question from a reader:

I’m after some advice. I can’t decide which professional development course to do. I have a CELTA plus five years’ teaching experience and I’ve been thinking for a while about doing a DELTA or Dip. Then again, I’ve heard that for university jobs like teaching pre-sessional courses it’s good to have an MA. But recently I’ve heard people mention the PGCEi as a future-proofing qualification and I’m like… aargh! Which course should I do?

My comments:

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Guest post: Student and teacher reflection journals

It’s been a while since a guest post on ELT Planning. Michael Walker is a PGCEi-qualified teacher who has spent a while teaching EAP at a university in the Republic of Korea. In this cool post, Michael describes the impact of using reflection journals on his practice and on student learning.

I may be a bit of an anomaly in the EAL field, truth be told, teaching English doesn’t excite me, never has. What does get me up in the morning and into the classroom is developing a student’s interest in learning.

Like many EAL teachers, I fell into language teaching. Spending a year in a foreign clime teaching well-behaved children was and probably still is a cushy option for a recent graduate. However, my interest in learning never left me. In fact, after several years teaching elementary students I found myself voluntarily searching for pedagogical literature, having discussions with other staff members on how to excite and inspire students, and spending hours developing materials that will appeal to a diverse bunch of learners. Not because I was overly passionate about instilling an understanding of comparative adjectives into my students, but just because I wanted the students to develop a love of learning. (more…)

One million visitors!

This blog is about to reach a milestone. By, I guess, Friday it will have had 1 million visitors.

Thanks to my awesome PLN for all your support, comments, and interest! When Martin Sketchley persuaded me to start blogging a while ago I never imagined that…

  • people would read it!
  • trainee teachers would find it useful! So many awesome comments from CELTA/Dip trainees. It means a lot, cheers.
  • blogging would lead to professional writing! Trust me – publishers do read ELT blogs.
  • I would enjoy blogging!

A few random blog facts/stats… (more…)

Should I do a PGCEi?

I’m currently doing a PGCEi through the University of Nottingham. The course is specifically designed for international educators with a focus on improving professional practice. It is an 11-month course which is mostly distance learning, although there is a short face-to-face component.

The course seems popular with teachers who are working at ‘lower-tier’ international schools and who do not hold a teaching certificate from their country of origin. It also seems popular with EFL teachers hoping to transition to international school teaching. However, that’s just a snapshot – my cohort on the course is extremely varied and includes edtech business owners, state-school teachers in Thailand, educational materials writers, and unknown bloggers (*waves*).

Here’s a Q+A style chat I had with a friend on the pros and cons of taking this course. For context, we are based in Thailand, and I currently teach at an international school. (more…)

Peer observation and online teaching

In my post the other day I mentioned self-observation of online teaching. Paul Ashe commented that all these video recordings are great for peer observations too. Absolutely! The whole online teaching/learning experience is awesome for peer obs, especially for someone like me who has just taken on a new role.

I don’t have that rapport with new colleagues yet where I can say ‘hey, would you mind giving me access to recordings of your online lessons so I can scrutinise them?’. Then again, I don’t necessarily need lengthy examples of my peers in action in order to observe great practice. Teacher-student interaction is constantly on display with platforms like Seesaw, and it’s openly available to peers. Google Meets makes it easy for teachers to drop in and out of each other’s ‘classrooms’ when learners need support. From my perspective, that’s a chance to see how other, more experienced teachers go about supporting their learners. Peer observation isn’t only about sitting down and watching a lesson – all this new tech facilitates ‘little and often’ peer obs on the fly. Cool.

Here are some examples of great tips and techniques I’ve observed in recent weeks. (more…)

Self-observation of online teaching

Every cloud and all that. Online learning may not be ideal but it provides some great opportunities for CPD.

The last time I filmed myself teaching was, wow, during my DipTESOL (2014). I remember filming my lessons to analyse my instructions for the self-development record (post here). Six years on, and recording online lessons with my YLs is now standard practice for safeguarding purposes. This means I have tonnes of footage of my own teaching to analyse. Well, if I dare to view it that is… *cringe*.

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My new normal

Talk about a weird situation.

I started a new teaching job on April 1st. I haven’t met my students face-to-face (well, you know, apart from virtually). I haven’t met my colleagues face-to-face either. I haven’t set foot in my new school yet as an employee… and it’s 500 metres from my house! I should be in my new routine as an early-riser right now, but I’m not needed online until 8am. Just… all a bit strange really.

I changed jobs because I wanted a challenge. Well, in three weeks (there was a two-week holiday) I’ve had to learn the basics for Google Classroom, Seesaw, Google Meets, Teams and Firefly among others. I’ve had to learn about Read Write Inc, Bug Club, Oxford Owl, and upskill by using Google Drive/Docs/Slides as standard (makes me realise how archaic the practices were at my last school tbh).

‘Guided reading’ as well. That was kinda new in my current format. Inquiry-based learning. Project-based learning (a purer form to the sort I’ve encountered). SPaG. WIDA. Bloody hell… *head explodes*

Meanwhile, I’m sharing a classroom space (i.e. one room of the house :/) with my wife, a fellow international school teacher who is somehow managing to do a lot of the above while dealing with foundation stage learners. Brutal. My breaks are then spent with my 18-month-old trying to ignore/correct his humorous use of the word ‘dick’, which appears to be his version of a Thai word (sounds like ‘dtit’) meaning stuck. In case you’re interested, he doesn’t have much space to manoeuvre his trike between the carpet and the table.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!?! This was supposed to be a fresh start *IN* a new school.

Well, it is. It’s real. You know what? I’m enjoying it! It’s such a bizarre situation but it’s awesome. Everyday I wake up and I’m like ‘right, what can I do today to support my learners?’ Building a rapport with them isn’t easy, but then it always has its challenges. I get to learn more about my learners now than I think I ever will. I get to hear the support they are getting from their parents (in the background of calls), and I get to see them following their interests (like reading a comic when I’m trying to talk about grammar!). I get to teach them while they are much more at ease (‘at home’ in fact). That’s not always the case in a formal learning environment. They’re really good, I mean, the ease with which they have adapted to online learning actually puts me at ease! And they’ve still never even met me. I mean, kudos to them, seriously.

Meeting new colleagues is probably weirder than meeting the students to be honest. I don’t want to be that guy who asks lots of (pointless) questions, because that involves lots of emails or messages when people are bombarded with them anyway. Thankfully, everyone I have contacted has been great. And the online thing is a blessing in disguise to be honest. I mean, anyone who’s met me in person knows it’s only a matter of time before I have to mask my nervousness and insecurity with pun diarrohea (Urgh, seems I’m a crap speller…).

Right, jokes aside and all that. My wife said to me the other day ‘you know, I haven’t heard you complain about this job yet, you seem… happy’. And I am. There’s a reason. After five years of teaching learners for two hours per week, I think I’d stopped understanding what learning is. Well, what progress is anyway. In three weeks of actual teaching so far (and seeing the students every day), I’ve had a tear in my eye twice already just witnessing my learners develop. I know that sounds a bit naff but I’m serious. I’ve left online calls with some of my students thinking ‘what just happened? Did they just… OMG they totally absorbed something I said in passing last week and they used that language freely in conversation and OMG they just spoke in a full sentence and…’. Blah blah.

The best thing is, I know I’m working with at least one colleague who gets that feeling too. They’ve told me. I feel like its finally okay to care and be invested in what I do. That might be my new-normal (can we hyphenate that yet?).

Hey, early days. Barely a month in. I just get that feeling though… I could be in the right job.

All change!

It’s the end of an era! I’ve spent nearly five years with the same language school (British Council) here in Thailand, which is a pretty long stint.

Overall, it’s been a good experience. I mentioned before that the pay and conditions were good at our centre in Bangkok, and that probably kept me there slightly longer than expected. It wasn’t easy as a materials writer being a full-time teacher too, and I’ve had to turn down some good writing opportunities over the years. But hey, teaching is always my priority.

As with any job, there are highs and lows. The highlights of my time in the job included…

… working in a close-knit team. We have five centres here in Bangkok, and when I first arrived I was placed in the ‘main office’. It was a regional hub which I found a bit anonymous to be honest. Most of the important managers hung out there, making it easy to bug them so they couldn’t hide behind their emails. But apart from that it was a bit… soulless? So, I took the opportunity to move out to a smaller branch. We had a team of only 7 or 8 teachers over the years, and everyone got on well. I had some great managers at that branch, loved my classes, really enjoyed working with the students and engaging with parents. Awesome, I’ll miss it. (more…)

Types of curriculum

Leslie Owen Wilson’s useful post on types of curriculum is well worth a read. Before I read it my idea of ‘a curriculum’ was narrow. I thought of it as a group of subjects that are taught, plus the skills or knowledge you hope to develop. Hmmm.

So the curriculum is taught, it’s not learnt? And it’s about what ‘you’ as the educator hope for your learners to develop? And its about skills and knowledge, not dispositions or mindsets? Etc…

Wilson’s summary made me realise that there’s so much more than just an overt curriculum, which I guess is the one I tried to describe. I knew that in practice, because I used to spend most of my time as an EFL teacher rejecting the prescribed resources and teaching things that were more relevant or interesting for the learners (shhhh!). Most teachers do that anyway, but the fact that no one ever really checked what was going on in my classroom meant I had tonnes of flexibility with my ‘curriculum-in-use’. Trust me, P4C went down a lot better with the learners than grammar gap fills, so I don’t feel guilty. (more…)