Teaching with a twist


Marc from TESOL TOOLBOX has started an interesting series of ‘oldies-but-goldies’ with a twist, where he describes a well-known ELT activity and suggests modifications to it. Here is, for example, a twist on a typical brainstorming activity which makes it even more engaging for students because the teacher introduces a competitive element into it. Another activity he writes about is jigsaw reading – but did you know you could slightly ‘sabotage’ it to your teens’ delight? Definitely something to check out if you are looking for fresh teaching ideas.


Taking sides re retrieval practice


Here is a thought-provoking article from The Learning Scientists about different approaches to revision. Some teachers think that tests are boring, and try to hid retrieval practice behind other activities; others do not mind doing a lot of low-stakes non-threatening tests (these unassuming little checks reduce text and exam anxiety, provide regular revision and, of course, increase the sense of progress).

And which side are you on?

It’s time, Jim, but not as we know it


I’ve been looking into time management in the classroom – did you know, for example, that eliciting can be a huge time-waster? And technology can be both hindrance and help, depending on your preparation. Here are two articles with more advice: Tim Wilson’s “Better time management in the classroom” from the point of view of a teacher, and Neil Staker’s “How can I improve time management in the classroom?” , which can be useful for teacher trainers. The latter offers the best advice I’ve read so far: “The clock is half full”. We just need to focus on the time we have and make the most of it!

The many faces of co-teaching


Co-teaching has been coming up quite often in my RSS-Reader, but this article on educonnections.org is among the best I’ve read. The authors start from the rationale of teaching together, add a few video examples and then list quite a few models of co-teaching, from ‘Station teaching’ to ‘One teach, one assist’. Makes you appreciate all the variety of human interaction, doesn’t it?

By the way, Kamila has an interesting blog challenge about Team Teaching, do check it out if you have something to share!

Rules for classroom instructions


Here is a great infographic from ELT-Connect about 10 tips for giving classroom instructions: a useful refresher that can find itself on the wall of a teacher’s room or in a newly-qualified teacher’s folder. It has keywords, clear explanations, examples of activities and even justification of why each tip works.

My favourite tip is No.9, “Never Assume” – good for lots of other situations, too! And which one speaks to you the most?

Reflective cycle: stop and feel


I’ve recently read about an interesting approach to Kolb’s experiential learning cycle in teacher training from Zhenya Polosatova: in her post, she suggests that participants should ask themselves ‘How do I feel?’ at several stages of the cycle. The beauty of this approach is that focusing on emotions actually helps the teachers put them aside and look at the facts. “They learn to separate ‘facts’ (data, evidence) from ‘opinion’.” Zhenya also mentions various factors that may affect the choice of the stage where we would use emotions, and invites us to also consider positive feelings like being proud of the students’ achievements.

Would you use something like this in a training session? I rather think I might, though I am a bit wary of going too deep into the emotional side of things!

More of the same or more of a good thing?


Here is an inspirational read for those who still hesitate to submit a conference proposal, start a blog or facilitate a training session because they think they have nothing new to say. The author, Shaelynn Farnsworth, reminds everyone that there is nothing truly original about stories in general and about education in particular: we rehash old ideas, recycle somebody else’s methods, engage in ‘principled eclecticism’ – and it’s ok because each of our stories adds to the development of our profession, and our enthusiasm still fuels the enthusiasm of everyone else.

Well, I’m feeling even more inspired now, and you?

Sense of progress 10 of 10: putting it all together


An important caveat: what follows is a blog post, not particularly serious or academic – just my own practical take on progress and on how to make it more obvious in the classroom. It’s a synthesis of all the previous posts in the series and the sources they contain, and I’m making loads of assumptions and generalisations here! There’s research supporting some of the ideas, but none of them will work with all learners all the time, so feel free to experiment and let me know what has worked for you.

Why is the sense of progress so important?

Because it’s directly related to student satisfaction. It’s human psychology: when we feel we’re making progress, the sense of accomplishment releases dopamine, which affects our emotions, perceptions and motivation. So, when our students feel a greater sense of progress, there’s a greater chance they will enjoy their lessons, see even boring tasks in a more positive light, study harder – and learn more! Even better: if we consistently work on the sense of progress, we can create a positive feedback loop for our students, and then just sit back and relax 🙂

How exactly does it work?

By regular achievement of meaningful goals.  Small wins, or ‘proximal subgoals’, are very useful because big goals can take too long to achieve. So, it helps to break down goals into small tasks and mark their completion in a tangible way. We also need to remember that there is a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability about progress, and manage our students’ and our own expectations.

What can we do?

Claire Gadsby’s presentation inspired me to adapt Dylan William’s five strategies of formative assessment, and one clever colleague helped me with a mnemonic:

PURPLE (one of my favourite activities in the series is the purple pen of progress – a nice metaphor!)

  1. P is for PURPOSE. When we help our students understand the aim of the lesson, of the course or an activity, when we talk to them about their study goals and the ‘big picture’ — we give them an opportunity to plan those ‘small wins’ for themselves and keep their learning meaningful. There are a lot of activities that can be used for this: signposting on and off the board, ‘why we are doing this’ discussions, goal-setting activities and can-do checklists.
  2. U is for UPGRADING FEEDBACK. As teachers, we need to observe our students in the classroom and give them feedback that would help them grow: model desired performance, praise and challenge when necessary, provide continuous support and communication (sometimes this has to involve parents).
  3. R is for RESULTS. To feel progress, it is useful to provide some evidence of learning: comparison of ‘before’ and ‘after’ results, focused reflection activities, tangible results of time and effort spent. All kinds of pre- and end-of-course tests could help here, as well as diaries and portfolios, vocabulary notebooks and progress charts.
  4. P is for PEER SUPPORT. When organised well, peers can become real ‘nourishers’ for each other and help us create the positive feedback loop. From motivational pairs to peer assessment activities, there are a lot of ideas that can help use the group power.
  5. L is for LEARNER AUTONOMY. If progress means different things to different people, it makes sense to let each student chart their own course in learning. All those learner autonomy principles can in fact help increase the sense of progress: self-assessment through various taxonomies and the CEFR scale, reflective diaries and blogs, focusing on personal goals and learning pathways, using adaptive learning systems…

And this brings us to E for EXCELLENCE. Well, at least closer to it.

To tell you the truth, I’m quite excited about the topic, especially now that it’s part of our teacher development strategy this year.  Certainly, we shouldn’t forget about ‘progress paranoia‘ and ‘weighing the pig’, but let’s face it: wouldn’t you like more of your students to do well and to know that they are doing well?

Sense of progress 9.75 of 10: journal articles


For the penultimate post in the series, I’ve decided to run a simple keyword search on ‘sense of progress’ and ‘progress’ in ELTj, ETP and MET. Here are my top five articles:

  1. Effective signposting by Erin Herrick ETP Issue 86 May 2013
  2. How (not) to fatten a pig by Scott Thornbury ETP Issue 117 July 2018
  3. It works in practice (various) ETP Issue 99 July 2015
  4. Using vocabulary notebooks for vocabulary acquisition and teaching by Deborah Dubiner ELT Journal Volume 71/4 October 2017
  5. Motivational partnerships: increasing ESL student self-efficacy by Paul N. Cave, Norman W. Evans, Dan P. Dewey, and K. James Hartshorn ELT Journal Volume 72/1 January 2018

If you can get hold of any of the journals, just check those amazing articles without reading my scanty summaries. Otherwise, here they are:

Erin Herrick’s article about signposting focuses on boardwork: for example, ‘all aboard’ is the technique when you put the whole lesson plan on the board at the start of the lesson.  There is also ‘half-board’ (just signpost the skills/language and fill in the contents later) and ‘board as you go’. Useful stuff to keep the learners focused on the goals and yet remain flexible.

Scott Thornbury describes attempts to define progress the ELT industry has made through the years, and warns against ‘weighing the pig’ too often. It’s a wonderful read, if only for the scope!

The ‘In Practice’ section of this ETP issue describes a great project called ‘Film of Progress’ by Joanna Czeredys, who made a film of her one-to-one student’s achievements and gave it to him at the end of the course.

The article about vocabulary notebooks is particularly interesting because the participants of the study were very advanced learners of English (pre-service teachers); it also has evidence that vocabulary notebooks are a great technique to make progress more tangible and individualised.

And finally, motivational partnerships are a nice nod to humanistic language learning. In this research, students were put into ‘motivational pairs’ and supported each other by celebrating their success, inspiring each other with their own example, persuading each other that success is possible, supporting each other’s well-being. This increased the students’ belief in themselves and their ‘self-efficacy’, and thus helped them make more progress.

Any other reading recommendations? The topic is so huge that I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface!


Sense of progress 9.5 of 10: vox pop results


Ok, I’ve cheated a bit: the Hofstadter’s Law is affecting not only the time I need for the Sense of Progress series, but also the number of posts! Apparently, this is not the last one.

I have had ten respondents on social media so far (thank you all!): not exactly ‘big data’, but very interesting results nonetheless. So: when we think about our own progress, most people look back and try to compare their present achievements with the past. Making lists of tasks and crossing them out is the most popular tool. As one of my colleagues said, ‘There is always progress if you’re moving, the trick is to learn how to notice it’. Some people rely on others (feedback from students, spouse’s help), others prefer to evaluate their own progress themselves. Finally, some see a strong connection of the sense of progress with motivation: tangible results and recognition are important markers of achievement, and acquiring new knowledge and skills provides a sense of mastery and purpose.

Speaking about teaching techniques, the most popular approach is to record student work at the start and the end of the course and provide opportunities for comparison. Quite a few teachers use can-do checklists (could it be our personal habits affecting our teaching?) and reflection tools like metacognitive discussions and learner diaries. Sometimes it’s hard to demonstrate progress: in one of the discussions we decided that ‘it’s easier in sports than ELT’! That is why some teachers also use praise to encourage students to use new language, and lesson menus that can be ticked off as the lesson progresses – so that learners see value in the process of achieving their goals.

What do you think, does this ring true?