Time to gather stones together


Here is a post by Clare Maas to inspire your summer work: how to reassess and improve the materials you created for your classes during the academic year. She recommends taking a week to look through the semester’s worth of materials, and check for issues with the timing, staging, examples etc – while your memory of the lessons is still fresh. Something we should do every week perhaps, just like Clare suggests at the end of her post, but there’s never enough time during the year!

Are you flustrated by portmanteau words?


This post from Scholastic made me research the topic for a while: apparently, there are more portmanteau words in English than I thought! Hangry, bromance, chillax… Great stuff. (And did you know that they are sometimes called centaur words? Not sure if it’s widespread enough, but still – wow.) Martin Wilson, the author of the post, suggests that these words should be taught to learners of English and lists several reasons for it. And if you are looking for more inspiration, this post from Macmillan is an absolute must-read: a lot of well-known ELT authors, linguists and bloggers have shared their favourite portmanteaus, and ‘flustrated’ from the title is just one of them.

What’s your favourite portmanteau? Anyone? 🙂


Coaching learners of all ages


In my exploration of teacher training and coaching posts, I’ve stumbled upon this (now sadly silent) blog again: Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord wrote about different aspects of coaching as teaching. There’s a lot of useful information: interviews with other experts interested in coaching in ELT, activities to try out in and out of the classroom (try Drives, for example), articles and ideas for teaching and for thinking about teaching.  A few hours of reading, and suddenly I remember that I haven’t posted the morning blog yet – so here it is 🙂

P.S. I wrote about their ‘Evaluationator‘ in my series about the Sense of Progress, by the way. Good stuff for learner motivation, too!

Classroom management in the training room


Here is an interesting blog post by Tom Sherrington about teachers’ behaviour during professional development workshops. He puts the behaviours into several categories: learning behaviours, group behaviours and off-task behaviours – and does so with a smile. His conclusion is that, although disruptive behaviour often has to be challenged, it’s usually not a sign of dissent: we just need to accept that this is a very normal and human thing to do.

If you’ve ever done a teacher training session, did you notice anything like that? There are times when even 11 rules for teacher trainers don’t help!

Din in the head as a learning experience


Have you seen this article by Stephen Krashen on Twitter yet? Whatever your linguistic  views, don’t miss it if you like a good metaphor. Stephen Krashen puts forward the Ecstasy Hypothesis: when we learn a new language (of words, music or movement) or meet a new interesting person, the processes in our brain are similar: there is some kind of pleasurable noise, or ‘din’, in our heads that contributes to the process of learning. I think there needs to be more research done before we can plan for this effect in lessons, but to me, it’s an exciting idea that I can already discuss with students and colleagues. I am certainly experiencing it now with Korean, the language I’m not learning but getting a lot of comprehensible input in!

From coursebooks to booklets


If you sometimes veer into educational blogs rather than just English as a Foreign Language, you may have noticed a new fashion: booklets. Teachers of all kinds of subjects have started putting unit materials and activities together, printing them out as handouts and have the students work on them more or less independently.

While some booklets are probably fantastic, to me this seems awfully counterproductive: why would a teacher have to write a coursebook? What about the quality? What about the workload? What about the nice glossy paper and colour illustrations that you only get in published materials? (Ok, the last one may not be as important – but why is it that there are no good official coursebooks in many school subjects?)

And this brings to mind our own ELT/EFL debate about coursebooks and how we denounce them and then find ourselves writing our own or cutting up others’ for every class… It also reminds me of ‘metodichkas‘ in Soviet universities – those thin grey-paper booklets that university teachers had to produce to support their course. Some were ingenious, others rather useless: is education coming full circle now?

Constraints and choices for reading


Here is a very recent find: an illustration of how a simple collection of facts can become an engrossing adventure. Tom Kuhlmann writes about converting an electronic template to create a gamified activity, but for me the tech side of things is not as interesting as the whole approach. Imagine you have a series of short bios, or other texts about several characters. Normally, you would add a picture to each text, and that’s it. What you could do, however, is to add an interesting context and a challenge: the texts become interviews after an incident or crime, and you are a police detective who has to put the pieces of puzzle together. And then, very importantly, you introduce some constraints: each text is worth a number of points, and you can read only about several people before you are ‘ousted out of the building’.  So, from static passive reading you are moved into the realm of critical thinking: who do I choose, how do I continue my search and not fail? Interesting stuff, and seems easy enough on the surface (probably not so easy when you start building those activities, but at least now I know how they work!).

P.S. The principle of the activity reminds me of one of my favourite educational games – The Quandary. Has anyone ever tried it?

What happens if you stop marking


To answer the question in the headline – apparently, nothing! Stuart Kime from Evidence-based education did small-scale research with 30 teachers for about 3 months, and the students who received no written feedback had roughly the same exam results as the control group. It’s interesting that some teachers felt guilty, and some students felt shortchanged nevertheless. I wonder if the experiment could be replicated in a private language school: sometimes too much attention is given to verbal feedback and student satisfaction surveys, whereas wouldn’t it be more productive to have more concrete evidence of the learning progress?

P.S. If you’re not ready to go to such an extreme, perhaps just getting rid of the red pen could work (replacing written feedback with recorded video comments).

Sporfing your lesson plan


This post by Ewan McIntosh warns against ‘the Sporf Strategy’ – adding too many components to your business plan and forgetting that you cannot use ‘the spoon’, ‘the fork’ and ‘the knife’ all at the same time. Isn’t it true for lesson plans? On the one hand, it’s great to have multi-purpose activities and integrated-skills lessons… On the other hand, it’s really helps to have one focused lesson flow.

What do you think – do you prefer lessons to be like a sporf, or like a… let’s say, knife?

The Matthew effect for mixed-level classrooms


I recently read about the Matthew effect in this post by Paul G Moss: apparently, there is a sociological term based on the New Testament (hence Matthew) which describes how the rich get richer and the poor get even poorer. In the context of education, the Matthew effect results in more cognitively challenging tasks, more development, better learning and better jobs for those learners who have access to more knowledge – and vice versa. Even though the quotes seem to relate to social equality and opportunities for learners of all backgrounds, I’m wondering: is there really some kind of mini-Matthew effect in ELT? If you speak English a little better, you sit with a stronger student, you get a more difficult task together, you develop faster, you get better assessments and you can move to a higher level – possible? Is it what learners are thinking when they are not happy about sitting with a weaker partner?