Review: Silly Shakespeare for Students

Silly Shakespeare for Students is a new series from Alphabet Publishing. It offers simplified versions of well-known Shakespeare plays, making them accessible and fun for English language learners. You can read the blurb from the publisher here.

A few key points about the resources…

  • Each play in the series has been cut to about an hour
  • They’re all done in rhyming couplets – short, sharp and engaging
  • They include lots of humour throughout, regardless of the original genre
  • Plays include stage directions, some production notes, plus an explanation of how the play has been adapted.

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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…)

Materials writing news and views, June 2020

Rushed off my feet. No time to put any news and views together in recent months. This one will be more views than news, and a bit loose.

So, what’s going on?

Work
I expected loads more cancelled projects due to COVID-19. There’s been talk of some, but it also seems like there are plenty of contracts around. My usual ‘bug all my connections on LinkedIn until someone caves in and offers me writing’ has reaped the usual rewards. Having said that, I’ve been too busy to take most things on. New teaching role (see here), lots to learn.

Change?

There’s understandably a lot of worry at the moment for writers. The question on everyone’s lips seems to be…

Will pay remain this low?

Yeah, probably. Experienced writers love to reminisce about when royalties and other perquisites came as standard. When publishers’ demands were reasonable, when writers really did retire to the Cayman Islands… We’re talking back when Babylon Zoo topped the charts with Spaceman. (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…)

Useful links: Project-based learning

I’ve been reading a bit about project-based learning (PjBL) recently. I had to write a critique of an approach used in my context as part of the PGCEi. Our Secondary course now follows a PjBL approach*, so I thought it was worth trying to understand the approach in more detail and evaluating whether it’s effective. Here’s some useful reading on PjBL in general.

Larmer et al (2015) seems to be a go-to resource for PjBL, and set out some clear design principles for the approach:

Check out their ‘Gold-standard PBL’ white paper for an overview.

Thomas (2000), shares a great overview on the difference between ‘doing a project’ and ‘project-based learning’. They stress that in PjBL…

  • projects are central to the curriculum rather than peripheral
  • driving questions or problems guide the learning
  • projects are student-driven and realistic (authentic)
  • projects involved constructive, sustained investigation

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Bottery’s Educational Codes

During the face-to-face component of our PGCEi were introduced to Mike Bottery’s Educational Codes and Values (from The Morality of the School, 1990). Bottery outlined four codes which underlie approaches to education in schools. Here’s a grainy snapshot from Bottery (1990:7)

In an update from 2018, Bottery added an additional ‘Ecological code’. (more…)