Pirate turned teacher


To continue the topic of hooks and anchors: have you read Dave Burgess‘s book ‘Teach like a pirate’? PIRATE is an acronym that stands for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, Enthusiasm. It’s not just a rehash of the tenets of the communicative approach: it’s inspiring, energetic and a bit wacky – in a good way. To get an idea of ‘pirate teaching’, I really really recommend reading this innovator teacher’s series of posts about implementing ideas from the book; and here is a pdf of the best pirate hooks from 2 Smart Wenches that you can start applying straight away.

Ahoy, mateys! (sorry, couldn’t resist)


Hooks for discussion and thinking


What happens if you bring hooks into the classroom? Metaphorical hooks, of course: short and challenging (low-floor, high-ceiling) tasks, sometimes with a visual prompt.

“There was confusion, conversation, wonder mixed with frustration, some magical revelations, and lots and lots of rigorous thinking.”

And then:

“…my lessons feel different, classroom discussions click, rigorous thinking is undertaken, and students enjoy learning. From the students’ perspective, … class becomes fun.”

All this is coming from a math teacher who started creating special hooks for students and was amazed by the results.  If it works for maths, can’t it work for language?

I can imagine a guided discovery sheet with two contrasted jokes. Or an interesting quote taken out of context. Or a secret message written down in phonemic script that has to be reconstructed – more ideas?

Posters that can cast anchor


What happens to posters we create in a lesson? In my experience, they either disappear, never to be seen again, or slowly peel off the walls, collecting dust and blending into the background. How about making them more effective and useful? Here is a great article about ‘anchor charts’  which explains how, when and why they work. There’s much more to classroom drawings if they are planned well!


Take the scaffold down


Here is an article from Katie Martin (the name resemblance is purely coincidental) which questions the amount of scaffolding and support we provide to our learners.

She says, “When we limit people to what we know or what we teach, we are limiting countless possibilities of what they know and can do without us.”

In her experiment, the trainees were able to produce much more original results than they would have if she had provided a template.

Definitely something to consider!

I can’t get no satisficing


Here is a rather nifty lesson plan built around the idea of ‘satisficing’ versus ‘maximising’: how some people are happy with what they get, and others need to get the absolute best. According to the author, it can be used at the pre-intermediate level, but looks like higher levels may benefit more, especially if you use the TED video linked to the lesson and perhaps give this article as reading homework.

My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (6 of 6): General impressions


This was my third IATEFL conference, and I finally felt less like a beginner. Weak pre-intermediate, perhaps.

Looking back now, I am sure it was worth the hassle of travelling, the expense of tickets and hotel, the nerves of getting ready to speak in front of an unknown audience.

It’s not just about the workshops and talks, even though I did my best to attend as many as I could. After all, you can watch some online, and read about many of the others.

It’s not just about another opportunity to spend time in a country I love – though who am I trying to fool? 🙂

It’s not just about discussions in the breaks and networking, and not only about seeing old friends, though very much so.

It’s about the atmosphere, the unique background against which all the rest was happening.

Ok, call me an idealist, but you are among thousands of colleagues who are keen on their jobs, open to new ideas, seeking answers to their questions. It heightens your perception, makes everything you hear more memorable and exciting, builds new neural connections. A year’s worth of professional development in one week!

So, for me IATEFL 2018 was just the same as IATEFL 2016 and 2017, or multiple local IATEFLs in Ukraine, or the Teaching Skills Forum in Jordan, or translation seminars at writers’ conventions I used to attend: absolutely amazing. And this concludes my conference series for now.


My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (5 of 6): Plenaries

‘How did you like the plenaries this year?’ asked a colleague I’d met in Glasgow in 2017.
I hesitated and didn’t answer at first.
Did I like the plenaries?
Plenary sessions are tough. If you make them too practical, they won’t be relevant for half of the audience. If they are too far removed from ELT, the other half will say that they have wasted their time. If they are done by ‘luminaries’, someone will come forward and say that there are no new voices, or no equal representation.
So – no, I didn’t like some of the plenaries, but I enjoyed the others. And, whatever my personal preference, I really liked the choices that the organisers had made.

1. What is SLA research good for, anyway? / Plenary session by Lourdes Ortega


Is there any tension between ELT practitioners (teachers) and researchers (linguists)? If there is, we need to learn to work together: linguists can make their research more accessible, and practitioners can accept that knowledge is contradictory and conclusions are never finite. Lourdes mentioned several myths that had been discredited by research but are still popular in ELT:
1) Less L1 in the classroom does not mean better L2; it’s actually the other way round
2) Earlier is NOT better
3) Error correction… wait, the jury’s still out on this one.
Something to think about.

2. Sausage and the law: how textbooks are made / Plenary session by Dorothy Zemach

I had to watch this session online because my own talk was scheduled immediately after it, and I am glad I found the time. Dorothy made it clear why so much seems wrong about materials writing and publishing, and at the same time remained very supportive of coursebooks. If we want to have better materials, we need to examine and compare them and speak openly to the publishers. And of course not to pirate copyrighted materials.
And yes, books should be written by professionals.


3. Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women/ Brita Fernandez Schmidt


Brita’s session was unusual and very touching. It was about the power of education and human kindness, her organisation called Women for Women, and other things which she described much better than could ever be done in a blog.

4. Living to tell the tale: a history of language testing / Plenary session by Barry O’Sullivan


A fantastic journey into the past of IELTS, the Main Suite and other beautiful instruments of torture for poor candidates. Here are two ideas that I’d like to re-post:

1) The future of testing is tech-driven, localised and personalised (not global!)
2) A test is a snapshot, so is always slightly out of focus. If possible, we need to use other kinds of evidence to supplement it.

5. Mugging de Queen’s English / Plenary session by John Agard

ScreenCapture at Tue Apr 24 20:54:22 EEST 2018

This was a fun show by a poet who had decided for some reason that we are all primary teachers, and even said so. We didn’t mind because his poems were great anyway. More literary readings, please! (I really recommend watching his recitals, e.g. here or here.)

My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (4 of 6): the ‘Native/Non-Native’ Debate

A topic which is very close to my heart; it was great to see a growing number of presenters who viewed it from different angles. As before, you can see more slides and notes in my little database if any of the sessions below interest you.

1. Managing and developing teachers with lower English proficiency / Gerhard Erasmus

Gerhard spoke about a British Council project in Nepal and through discussion questions and stories led us to an understanding of what such teachers may need. He also mentioned the difference between teachers and any other language learners: they need to be able to use L2 in classroom communication. It’s very different from my own context: very proficient NNSTs, on the other hand, need to focus on other areas of language (not classroom instructions) and on increasing their level of confidence.

2. NNESTs’ professional confidence in the ‘standard British English’-model workplace / Yoko Kobayashi (poster)


This is a poster presentation which I missed because of all the running from building to building between sessions, but I still wanted to include the photo of the poster. It was inspiring to see that Malaysian teachers of English in the research were professionally confident, and this confidence stemmed from many years of training and (!) their status as NNSTs.

3. Teacher profiles: native, non-native, qualified, trained? / Jasmina Sazdovska & Zsuzsanna Soproni


Jasmina and Zsuzsanna presented the results of a survey of more than 300 ELT teachers about the most important qualities of a good English teacher. Perhaps not surprisingly, language proficiency was seen as the most important characteristic by native and non-native speaker teachers alike.
Their solution to the native/non-native issue? Pay more attention to language proficiency and review the contents of teacher training courses. I can’t agree more!

4. The only non-NEST in the village / Sebastian Lesniewski
This presentation was at the same time as Ross’s, but I was able to catch it on video later (thanks, Sebastian!)


Sebastian quoted IATEFL speakers from previous years and used his personal experience to reflect on the position of non-native speaker teachers in ELT. I agree with him that ‘non-native’ is not a derogatory term, but we do need to look for better ways to talk to students about our origin. He also said that as non-natives we need to try harder and be better teachers to compete in the market, but he sees this as a positive challenge – do you?

5. ‘Native’ & ‘non-native’ English teachers: contrasting opinions / Ross Thorburn 


I had already been familiar with Ross’s research and wrote about it here. What was particularly interesting in his presentation was the paradoxes that he saw in the customers’ attitudes. For example, students think that ‘natives’ are better at teaching pronunciation, but they often can’t tell the difference between a native and a non-native accent; also, they consider ‘non-natives’ better teachers of grammar and vocabulary, but at the same time are ready to pay more for a ‘native’. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but, to reiterate Ross’s quote from Dr House:




My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (3 of 6): Professional development

These sessions focused on the professional development of teachers from the point of view of teacher educators, or at least this is the way I saw them. I’ve put photos of the slides and more detailed notes into a OneNote notebook if anyone’s interested.

1. Inspired professional development: the road ahead / Silvana Richardson & Gabriel Diaz Maggioli


A brilliant presentation which dotted quite a few i’s for me.
The speakers took turns to explain each of the features of effective professional development; you can see photos of the slides here, or, even better, read their white paper.

INSPIRE means:

I am particularly interested in ‘Impactful’ and ‘Evaluated’. Yes, there are a lot of PD opportunities around, but we need to concentrate on the ones that bring about a positive change in learning. Now, to choose a good evaluation tool…

2. The way we were / Alan Maley


I had always admired Alan Maley’s ELT book reviews, so I thought it would be great to see the person behind them; I was looking not for teaching tips or quick fixes, but rather for the philosophy of professional growth, and this nostalgic session did not disappoint me. Alan spoke about how teachers’ unique experiences make them what they are, shared his personal memories and encouraged us to reflect more on our professional journeys.

3. Teacher development over time / Tessa Woodward & Donald Freeman & Kathleen Graves


This session was quite practical: the presenters demonstrated a few reflection activities from their new book (of the same name).
We talked about the teaching aids we prefer to use and which we used in the past; what being a good teacher means in our contexts and where we are heading now. Very good activities for any training session!

4. Learner-centred observations of teachers / Christian Tiplady


Christian made a case about including student feedback into lesson observations and assessment. His results show that learner feedback encourages the teacher (and the observer!) reflect on the lesson and is generally beneficial. Very true.

5. Professional development plan – a real jigsaw puzzle / Natalia Bagdavadze 


Nata approached institutional PD from an unexpected angle: instead of recommending a narrower focus, she suggested that we embrace the complexity of professional development and give teachers more roles and opportunities, making them ‘multipotentialites’ (the term was borrowed from this TED talk). It would be interesting to see this idea trialled over a period of time and evaluated (INSPIRE, remember?).


My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (2 of 6): Leadership and management

This post is mostly about academic management: the first five sessions look at the professional development of teachers from a manager’s perspective, though there is a huge overlap with the CPD strand (coming tomorrow); the last two focus on customer experience. I’ve also included the pre-conference presentations: before, I focused on my impressions; now it’s time for the contents. If any of the sessions interest you, the photos of slides and more comments are available here. Or you might just decide to contact the presenters!

1. PR for PD: Harnessing individual energy to empower institutions in teacher development / Clare Magee & Fiona Wiebusch (PCE)


Clare and Fiona offered alternatives to the ‘Friday workshop model’ and insisted that teachers only need space, time and money, and that the managers simply need to provide these and get out of the way (a common, slightly controversial, thread in many presentations this year). That said, they had a lot of interesting options to suggest to teachers, focusing on space, or Platforms: face-to-face (tea room, meetELT in a pub, 1-day TD fest); peer-to-peer (peer partnerships, pineapple charts for observations) ; digital (e-News, social media). I particularly liked the idea of Passion Platforms and would like to find out more. An idea for a future post, perhaps!

2. Trusting Practitioners / Ed Russell (PCE)


Ed had cool ideas about how to engage very experienced teachers with niche interests – and of course building trust and good relationships. Teachers are invited to think about a very concrete teaching issue (puzzle) and share in a PDG (Personal Development Group).

There are 5 stages:

  1. Identify a puzzle and form a question
  2. Review literature and watch colleagues, decide on your action
  3. Share the plan with the PDG, get feedback
  4. Do what you planned to do and keep a record
  5. Reflect on the experience and share.

I like how the focus is moved to the individual, but at the same time the manager provides structural support. It would be nice to know what happens next.

3. Culture Change in ELT Staff Rooms / Liam Tyrrell (PCE)


Using examples from his own management experience, Liam spoke about the general approach to changing the culture in the staff room:

  1. Picture the desired change
  2. Find your allies and engage the Silent Majority
  3. Give the teachers a lot of choice, but don’t control too much, just ‘take the admin heat’
  4. Recruit people who fit well with the culture

‘Taking the admin heat’ is one of those missing components in the grass-roots teacher development: yes, we should offer a lot of opportunities and ‘let them run with it’, but relinquishing all control is not really helpful.  (So true!)

4. What IS there to offer teachers in the happiest country on earth? / Ania Kolbuszewska (PCE)


Ania spoke about introducing a new CPD concept in Switzerland, in a multilingual and multicultural environment. Even though my context is very different, I found her approach very useful: begin by observing teachers in action, ensure that you all speak the same language (agree on terms), be aware of cultural differences and try to minimise misunderstandings (using top-down strategies if necessary).

5. Creating a culture of CPD, centre-wide, brand-wide, company-wide / Oliver Beaumont & Duncan Jamieson


The presenters compared professional development to a garden (and ‘sprayed’ us with a yellow watering can!) On a more serious level, they highlighted the importance of sustained development, with feedback and coaching, and shared three CPD schemes they use:

  1. Flash training  (teachers are asked: ‘How do you…’ and analyse their practice; have very quick input; decide what you’ll do this week; reflect). All this should take place within one week and not take longer than 20 minutes.  I really like the economical approach to time here.
  2. Personalised Peer Observations (the teacher chooses an observation focus and creates an observation tool before doing a peer observation. Then the observer and observee reflect together and come up with an action plan). I think making their own observation tool is crucial here – could be combined with pineapple charts!
  3. Academic Flair Development programme (this scheme takes INSETT to a new level by introducing action research and limiting the focus to several topics a year). Something worth looking into.

6. Magic moments: making your students’ experience memorable / Ben Butler


Ben gave us quite a lot of information about managing customer experience and explained the difference between touch points, moments of truth and magic moments. It’s important to see everything that happens to a student as a whole journey, from sales to teaching and operations, and establish a customer service mentality throughout the whole team.
7. The highs and lows of student expectations / Sophia Amaryllis Bennett


Sophia spoke about the forces that pull our students in different directions and whether we can do anything about it: culture, peers, family, goals, as well as changing trends. It’s interesting that the better we do, the better we need to do in future, and should never rest on our laurels. We also discussed very interesting case studies – a great way to internalise the input without leaving the session.

To be continued!