reflective practice

Dip Tips: Phonology and you

I sometimes hear from DipTESOL trainees who are finding it hard to get to grips with phonology. Common problems include:

  • Arrgh! I just don’t know where to start with it? What should I learn about first?
  • It’s not the learning about phonology, it’s how to integrate it

A good way to approach either of these points is with a bit of reflection.

I did my Dip with TLI Europe, who were really good. Before we started the module(s) on phonology, our tutor sent us a few diagnostic/reflection questions. These helped us understand more about our current practice in this area, the needs of our learners, our attitudes to teaching pronunciation and our areas for development.

If you are mentoring a trainee I recommend going through some of these questions with them. These are mainly exploratory and designed to prompt discussion.

If you are a trainee then feel free to respond to any questions in the comments and I’ll offer some advice if needed/if I can! (more…)

#ObserveMe

I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.

Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.

The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!

Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.

I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!

Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*

Feature image: TonyCrabbe

Encouraging autonomy in teen classes

You might not need to encourage your students to take control of their learning. I do. My teens aren’t used to working independently or undertaking tasks without the teacher directing proceedings.

Our current topic is health and fitness. I found this great information booklet online entitled ‘Take charge of your health’, which was aimed specifically at teens. It looks like this, and you can access it here.

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Booklet produced NIDDK

My teens had studied this type of stuff in their mainstream schools. I knew there would be a lot of transferable language, so I felt they were ready to try a different approach to the lesson… (more…)

30 tips for developing teachers

Some teachers have clear direction when it comes to development. Others, like me, have always been a little bit lost. I found that once I finished my initial teacher training there wasn’t much support or guidance when it came to improving my skills, subject knowledge or knowledge of the industry. There was the odd teacher training session or peer observation, plus the occasional chat with a colleague, but for the most part I just had to get on with things. So, I did.

Taking control of your own development is the best thing you can do. Moreover, it’s easier than you think – it just takes a bit of interest and a bit of drive. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. They’re mostly aimed at teachers fresh off a CELTA looking for inspiration, but some will be useful whatever your experience.

Note: Sketch (ELTexperiences) wrote a couple of similar posts on this when we were working together, so click here and here to see his ideas.

Documenting your progress

It’s said that for development to be successful it needs to be documented. Try these things to help:

  1. Keep a teaching journal

Record your thoughts and reflections on lessons – things that went well, things that didn’t, things to improve on, useful things you’ve read, self-evaluation tasks you’ve tried, etc. It will be a good thing to look back on, and might help you gather your thoughts.

  1. Start a blog

A ‘web log’ – it can be like a journal/diary anyway. The difference is that other people can see it. You can get feedback from others, useful tips and ideas. I started this one on wordpress.com. It only took me 10 minutes to set up and it’s free. I’ve motivated my colleague to do the same so you can see one that’s just starting out here. Please comment and keep him reflecting 🙂

  1. Add teacher development aims to your plans

This is a practical tip for lesson evaluation. At the end of a lesson, write down two things that went well, and two you could have improved on. Our CELTA YLX tutor called these ‘Glows and Grows’. Try and work on the points to improve in the next lesson. Writing these down somewhere is a great way to evaluate your progress. If you’re me, it’s also a great way to notice how many times you’ve had to focus on GIVING BETTER INSTRUCTIONS! AAARGH! (note: had a formal obs yesterday – guess what came up?!).

A framework of reference

  1. British Council Continuing Professional Development Framework

It’s useful to have a bit of guidance when it comes to professional development. Download this free document from the British Council. It’s a CPD framework highlighting various stages of development and key professional practices. It might help you recognise the areas you need to focus on. (more…)

Interactive whiteboards – some pros and cons

At my current school we have interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in every classroom. These are a luxury, but I do think they have their drawbacks.

In ‘400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards’, Sharma et al (2011:10-11) list these benefits of using an IWB:

  • Teachers and students can use a wide range of multimedia in the classroomwhiteboard3
  • They can make lesson lead-ins memorable (using videos, photos, etc)
  • Reviewing language has never been easier’, especially as you can save the flipcharts you create
  • They help with creating personalised content
  • It encourages ‘heads-up’ learning. Teachers can keep learners working at a similar pace, and focused by controlling what’s on the whiteboard. Feedback can be instant too.
  • Audio transcripts can be displayed easily.

This is a fairly loose list of benefits – there are plenty more. However, they don’t mention many problems with using IWBs. They highlight that…

  • technology is never 100% reliable
  • there’s a temptation to use the IWB merely as a presentation tool (teacher-centred)
  • there’s a tendency to overuse IWBs at first

Perhaps most importantly, they stress that IWBs are just another classroom tool – they should enrich the learning experience, but not take over.

Their book is a useful resource for IWB users, but it lacks discussion. Here are a few more pros and cons with IWBs that I’ve been thinking about recently. (more…)

Some thoughts on authentic listening materials

I’ve been a materials writer for 2 months now. It’s about time I started reflecting on it. I haven’t had time to do so as it’s a very busy role – hence the lack of blog activity.

I’m currently writing lessons for a functional, task-led syllabus. There’s a strong focus on speaking, listening and pronunciation. Each lesson has a listening text (well, bout 90% of them do) which is a model for the main task that students complete during a lesson. Target language and target pronunciation features (normally suprasegmental) all appear in the listening text. The text itself is commercially produced, by which I mean I write it, it’s kind of semi-authentic.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of these listening materials since starting the job (and even since teaching the product). I’m trying to decide whether I’m pro- or anti- when it comes to these semi-authentic materials, or whether I need to have either stance. Here are a few of my thoughts. (more…)

Reflection on CELTA and Trinity TESOL Courses

In her latest guest post, Nicky Salmon talks about the importance of reflecting on your teaching practice.

A very important part of any pre- or in-service teacher training course, is REFLECTION.

On a CELTA or Trinity TESOL course this will mostly be reflecting ON your practice, which means you will look back at the lesson you have just taught to reflect on

-what went well or not so well,

-reasons for these,

-what you can use again or change for next time.

Your ability to reflect on your planning and teaching is an assessed part of the course but many people find the whole process very difficult.

It might be because you have never reflected formally before.

It might be because you just don’t know what to prioritise in your reflection.

It might be because you just don’t know what language to use as you reflect. (more…)