The future of /θ/

telescope

Not very academic, but an entertaining read nonetheless: how English in certain urban areas is predicted to change under the influence of new cultures and technology. Glottal stops, consonant smushing and emojis – sounds like goo’ noos to me. And what do you fink?

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What’s in a webinar

computer-coffee

If you are not afraid of  “procrastination by learning”, here is a useful selection of tips about webinars from Harvard Business Review, from the more common note-taking to the less obvious building of new professional connections. And perhaps their best advice: “Choose webinars carefully. Time is limited and not all webinars are created equal.”

My plan is to go through 3 weeks’ worth of the EVO Flipped Learning course this weekend, and yours?

An elephant in the classroom

 I really like this post by the Secret DoS: to me, it’s about the balance that we lose sometimes when we focus on the entertaining value of activities rather than on the learning opportunities they offer. Who said that learning English should necessarily be fun? But somehow we’re so used to the idea that we do not think about the elephant in the room: not all learners like learning English. And the most liberating thought of all: they don’t have to! Our job is just to help them achieve their goals in the most effective way. What do you think? 

To err or not to err

red_pencil

If you have ten minutes today for an enjoyable longread on educational psychology, here is an article by Claudia Wallis about the science behind error correction. There are a lot of examples from U.S. schools where the learners were able to develop a growth mindset because the teacher encouraged them to see the benefits of errors and explain their right and wrong answers. “The students began to see errors as a path to learning rather than humiliation.” It all sounds very persuasive.

And yet, the behaviourist desire ‘to model correctly’ is deeply ingrained in us, teachers and learners alike. For example, it’s hard to disagree with this post by Gianfranco Conti, who says that correcting errors in students’ writing has little effect on their learning (unless it is supported by a lot of remedial activities) and concludes: “better invest your time in planning and resourcing your teaching more effectively”.

So, are you with behaviourists or with cognitivists?

The real power of reading

neurons

If the picture doesn’t say it all, this article by Annakeara Stinson has lots of arguments in favour of reading, especially the reading of more challenging books (how about books in another language?). According to the research quoted in the article, we develop complex thought patterns, increase the blood flow in the brain (in a healthy way) and can actually become kinder and more sympathetic. Something to try with those naughty teens, don’t you think?

Openness as a key to success

open_heart

To continue the conversation about the teacher’s role and our ‘black robes’ (by the way, Mark has a new instalment in the series about the teacher’s authority as perceived by students), here is an article from Edutopia about being a real person in the classroom. “When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, acknowledge our imperfections, and tell our stories, we show our students that we are, in fact, more like them than they may imagine. As we let ourselves be known, our students will likewise reveal themselves, and thus our connection grows.” This connection can help us maintain authority in the classroom and provide opportunities for more learning.

So, shall I tell my students that I don’t particularly enjoy cooking? (Unless I have a thermometer, an electric multicooker and thirty-three Sri Lankan spices.)

Spoons, glorious spoons

spoon

‘Objects’ are a very well-used tag in my blog, but there can never be too many realia in the classroom, right? Even an unglamorous kitchen utensil will shine if you know a few tips and tricks. Read Lana’s post to find out how you can use spoons to practise pronunciation, review vocabulary and organise stirrers. For even more ideas, check this video from the Teaching Channel on how to combine spoons with sticks to encourage student engagement and help with nomination in large groups; also, have a look at this version of the Spoons game by Jennifer Findley which requires some initial learner training, but is infinitely reusable.

Another stitch in the picture

embroidery

Have you been following the web carnival organised by IATEFL’s Teacher Development SIG this year? The idea is to ‘stitch a tapestry of teacher development’ with live events, blog posts and tweets (hashtag: #tdsigcarnival, and I love it. Here is my own contribution to support it – no curated resources today!

The story began 3 years ago, when I was writing an assignment for the IH Cert in ELT Management. I had to analyse the current professional development system where I work, and suggest improvements. The thing is, ‘where I work’ is extremely well developed in terms of systems and processes. (We have a centre-wide academic plan that informs each teacher’s yearly learning plan that is entered into an electronic portfolio by the teacher and their mentor and is discussed at certain checkpoints during the year and supported by observations, training sessions and… Well, as I said, it’s a very well-developed system.) It’s so robust that adding another component is simply not feasible. Hmm, we could do more peer obs. Or organise a teaching blog. Or work on the learning plan together… I think even the paper I used for my assignment notes groaned. No, no, who’s got the time for all that?!

At that point I was ready to fail my assignment. And then I remembered that it’s a management course after all. How about the division of labour? If I’d like people to work in teams, why should they all have the same roles and duties? This is how the idea for Team CPD formed, and this is how it works:

5-6 teachers choose the same topic to work on this year, e.g. error correction, listening subskills or Demand High.

They get together and choose their role on the team:

  • Reader (who reads a lot of books and articles and reports to the team),
  • Lesson planner (suggests lessons and activities to explore the topic),
  • Statistician (designs surveys and other ways of getting feedback),
  • Presenter (shares the results with other teachers or a wider audience)
  • Leader (responsible for meetings and communication).

They meet several times a year and share the results of their work with each other.

What are the benefits? All of the participants do only part of the work: they don’t have to read so much because their Reader has done it for them; they don’t have to design the surveys from scratch because the Statistician has the surveys ready. They save their time (yay!), explore the topic in more detail (double yay!) and have fun collaborating (triple yay!).

Now, you may be wondering if my assignment has ever been used in real life. Actually, it has:
Year 1. Piloted it with 5 new teachers. Adjusted the process based on their feedback.
Year 2. Presented the idea to all teachers. Two voluntary teams formed and worked till the end of the year with very positive results. (I showed some of their feedback in my IATEFL talk in Glasgow!)
Year 3. One of the original participants is leading the project. Three teams have formed – and I have no idea what they are up to because it’s all self-organised now 🙂

How learning can lead to procrastination

procrastination

The author of this article states clearly: “Knowledge is worthless unless it is applied.” Learning for the sake of acquiring new information feels good, but it is just another form of procrastination – unless we make a conscious effort to incorporate this new information into our life. Compare it to the idea of ‘forced output’ we use in language learning (there’s a nice blog post by Rachael Roberts about it.). It seems that by challenging and ‘not helping’ our students we actually help them avoid English learning procrastination – what do you think?

A nourishing narrative

sweets

Did you know that sweets can teach you how to write? I’m not a big fan of using food in the classroom (just one thought of all those allergies and other health issues makes me shudder), but I really like how the author of this blog post (Stephanie from Teachinginroom6) has staged the process of acquiring narrative skills. Mind you, the sweets are not a reward, they are an important prop! Stephanie says that her students now “see that a narrative that is focused on one specific event and is narrowed down is much more engaging and exciting to read.”  She adds that they had “an amazing time”, and it sounds very convincing.