Type it in the Chat

Here’s a great post by an ELT teacher Olivia about using the chatbox in online lessons for better student engagement, more effective feedback and a more inclusive and personalised environment. I particularly like the types of activities like interactive storytelling, secrecy games and modifying model texts. So much fun to be had in such a small window! The only thing that stops me from using the chat more is the typing speed of some learners – any advice on that?

Online personalities

I’ve recently read a BBC article about rather interesting research results: apparently, in the world of online work it’s not the charismatic people who are getting promoted nowadays. It’s the ‘working horses’ who do not rely so much on their charm and prefer to get the job done. The author of the article quotes one of the researchers: ‘Virtually, we are less swayed by someone’s personality”.

Naturally, I’m thinking about how this applies to the online classroom. If you tend to be a charismatic teacher, how well has this translated to the online medium? And who are the best teachers now? And, most importantly, how can we become the best teachers? Thinking…

The Reflect EFL conference

Do you agree that online conferences are the new normal? I wish it were not so, but for the time being it’s the best way to exchange ideas and make new contacts in the field. As one of the invited speakers at Reflect (a big shoutout to the organisers!), I was able to see other presentations for free, sitting in my own home – CPD has never been more convenient.

It was a one-day event with three strands, so I couldn’t see as much as I wanted to. Still, I really liked Svitlana Salova’s presentation about teachers’ well-being (remember that ‘the situation is not as bad as it seems‘), Maria Penner’s talk about teaching young learners online (‘The contents of your lesson are on both sides of the screen!‘) and Hugh Dellar’s take on how not to plateuau if you are an advanced learner (the best advice for busy teachers: ‘build language development into lesson planning‘).

My own presentation can be found here; it’s an update of my last year’s Wizard’s First Rule (with one more rule added) for teacher trainers. I try not to revisit the same topics again and again, but this time the conversation felt truly different: we’ve all come an awfully long way since March 2020.

Spin the web of speaking

Here’s a useful article from Edutopia by Emelina Minero about adapting traditional techniques for student engagement and participation to the online medium, both synchronous and asynchronous. I’m particularly concerned with the former: for example, how do you plan a think-pair-share? Do you need to introduce rules for using the chat? And an absolute cherry on top: you can do a spider web discussion! If you haven’t used it before, do check the original article: it can be done both online and offline and looks incredible (as long as you have a few nice markers).
So, which strategy would you like to try or revisit first?

The power of PowerPoint

All week I’ve been looking at presentations, showing presentations, speaking about presentations… And what do you know? I still don’t hate PowerPoint. In fact, I like it more and more every day: for example, today I accidentally converted a SmartArt matrix into a set of figures and it solved a long-standing formatting issue 🙂 Anyway, there are lots of teachers who are much better at this, and this collection by Matt Miller at DitchThatTextbook.com proves it. Some of the ideas are for the teacher, others for collaborative or individual student work, and, most importantly, there are ready-made templates you can download and save yourselves quite a lot of time!

In positivity we thrive

Here is an interesting article by Katy Asbury from the wonderful LearnJam – you can trust these guys to come up with new approaches to learning, especially learning online! In fact, I had to take a page of notes before I could write this paragraph because some ideas were less familiar to me. In a nutshell, Katy suggests a way to deal with the affective filter by introducing a kind of ‘positive framing’ which helps learners to self-regulate their emotions, cast their learning ‘story’ in a more positive light and thus get better learning results. How exactly can this be done? By constructing a special ‘learner persona’ which describes the goals, motivations and frustrations of the learner.

I suppose having a persona like this will help learners distance themselves somewhat from their learning pains! According to Katy, it will help if learners refer to themselves in the third person. … Hmm, maybe this teacher/blogger should start experimenting with herself and reframe her weak attempts at learning Chinese? 🙂

More proof of the value of pre-watch activities

Here’s an article from the BPS Research digest which describes how researchers explored the testing effect in learning.

Answering prequestions may be a simple and effective way to boost your learning from videos and perhaps short lectures too” – and from reading texts, I bet! I know, it all seems a bit obvious to us ELT teachers, but it’s still nice to have scientific evidence for what we were assuming all along. Also, it might help deal with those doubting Thomases in the classroom…

Human and humane feedback online

Here’s a post with a rather nifty infographic with 5 ways of giving feedback in the online classroom by Aoife McLoughlin from ELT-Connect. The suggestions are not totally unexpected (e.g. record your video or audio with annotations), but they are presented very nicely. I have a question about ‘feedback buddies’ though: the recommendation is to pair stronger students with the weaker, and we all know how it can go! Also, there will be less reciprocity in this type of feedback – use at your peril. Nevertheless, the infographic is quite useful, and I can totally relate to this thought: traditional written comments can be misinterpreted, so using your voice and visuals is one way to avoid discouraging learners too much and perhaps will result in better learning, And what do you think?

How ‘s your intuition these days?

To continue the discussion about keeping a fresh outlook on things, I’d like to share this article from Harvard Ed. Magazine: “Teacher’s Intuition” by Lory Hough. It’s a warm and sympathetic piece of writing about teachers who make intuitive decisions every day – and now their job has become much harder. Whether you are teaching online and getting just a fraction of the information about your learners’ non-verbal reactions, or you’re observing them in a socially distanced classroom behind masks in their little silos, it’s really difficult to ‘read the room’. If it’s so much harder, what do we do? According to the article, we can use science (i.e. understand how people learn in these new environments), reflection, data collection about students… Also, the author recommends distancing our work from our personal experiences. Not an easy feat, right?

Finnegan, begin again

I’ve been re-reading this article for quite some time: it’s about the so-called ‘shoshin’, or the beginner’s frame of mind. Apparently, the term related to Japanese Zen, but the idea can be applied to other spheres, especially professional development. Christian Jarrett, the author of the article, explains in a very clear and simple way how overestimating one’s expertise can lead to close-mindedness, and then lists several ways to keep one’s mind fresh and open, like the mind of a beginner. For example, it’s useful to notice gaps in one’s knowledge, develop a growth mindset and – a rather unusual technique of finding things that inspire awe.

P.S. You can laugh all you like, but tonight I was feeling awed by the sheer beauty of English grammar (infinitives with modals of deduction, of all things)!