A positive Q&A with Sarah Mercer

sarah QA

Here is the link to a wonderful session with Sarah Mercer that LAMSIG organised yesterday (I helped a bit too :)). It’s a shame that I had to leave 30 minutes in to teach a lesson, but we have the recording – which I really recommend viewing, or even listening to, whether you are a teacher, a manager or a little bit of both.

There were lots of interesting discussions about the situation we are going through and whether we can expect any post-traumatic growth, what coping strategies work and which don’t (e.g. planning doesn’t work anymore!). Sarah spoke about the difference between resilience and flourishing, about blurred boundaries between home and work and, most importantly perhaps, about the role of the manager who is the hub of the team and as such has to support and connect the teachers with microconversations, appreciative inquiry and generally communicate openly and honestly.

The final question was about something that worries me too: what’s going to happen after the virus is gone? Watch the video to find out what Sarah thinks 🙂


Discussion management in breakout rooms


If you have been wondering how to make discussions in multiple breakout rooms more productive and controlled, here are great materials from one of my favourite bloggers, Mark Makino: Discussion Circles. Mark explains how the activity works (it’s based on roles distribution, really nifty: you get a discussion leader, a harmoniser, a reporter and a devil’s advocate), how it can be modified for different levels of familiarity with the task, and shares three versions of digital handouts to go with it.

Thirty minutes of your lesson covered, in the most effective and developmental way: the students listen to each other more carefully, quieter students get a chance to contribute equally, everyone can try themselves at unusual roles and stances. Perfect idea for those teens!

Coursebooks are not lazy


To catch the last minutes of today (it’s a daily blog after all!), I’m going to share this great post by Tom Sherrington about the benefits of coursebooks/textbooks. He does say that his positive view relates only to ‘decent’ coursebooks, but I’ve found even my least favourite coursebook useful nowadays: to spare the kids’ eyes and reduce their screen time, I can sacrifice a bit more time to make these (rather awful) pages work.

Tom writes about the most important features of a good textbook (from the perspective of general education): broad overview of subject, explanations and diagrams, reading materials, quality visuals and plenty of questions and answers. Applied to the ELT context, we need very similar things: a good scope, nice visuals and grammar schemes, loads of practice activities (which are not always gapfills). There are quite a few decent books available, and yet why do many teachers prefer not to use them?


Remote teaching without the Internet


If you’re a teacher, I bet you’ve sometimes wondered how we would be working now if the Internet hadn’t happened! Here is a very interesting article I read on Larry Cuban’s blog (it’s by Michael Hines, a Stanford professor).  It’s an account about teaching school subjects over the radio, with tasks sometimes published in newspapers – a real educational experiment which happened in Chicago in 1937 because of an epidemic. Michael describes how the ‘school-by-radio’ was set up, its advantages and disadvantages, the attitudes to it at the time – and concludes that even though it was the best schools could do at the time, as soon as the epidemic was over, education returned to the face-to-face mode again.

So, is it time to start thinking what’s next?

From business to school


Here is an interesting post by Larry Ferlazzo listing a few things teachers can borrow from the world of business. With the same caveat that Larry makes (“most business practices have no place in schools“), I find those moments of transfer extremely valuable. Also, the ideas can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the context, which makes for a useful framework. So, here are a few thoughts from me based on Larry’s list.

  1. How do we highlight a gap? (goal-setting, test-teach-test, upgrading feedback)
  2. How do we pose questions? (‘broken record’ questions, critical thinking activities)
  3. How do we ask for less?  learner autonomy – just 5 minutes of English a day)

How would you interpret this list?

Work with what you have


Here is a very interesting polemical post by Rolin Moe: A Manifesto Against EdTech© During an Emergency Online Pivot. The author is an EdTech expert, and he warns teachers against overuse of new flashy apps now that we are in this emergency teaching situation. “The best tools to get through this are the ones we have regular interaction with, not those brought in as a panic buy.” In short, pedagogy comes first and needs to be informed by technology – and we need to choose the tools that are available to us and have already worked well for us and our learners.

What about you, do you feel you have to run and learn about this app, and that app, and feel guilty when you don’t have the time? 😉

Are you Into Film?


You’ve probably known about this resource all along, but I only heard about it a few days ago at Gareth Rees’s webinar at the IATEFL Get-Together. It’s a charity in fact, an organisation that provides support to young people and educators who are interested in film viewing and film making. They have clubs, training events and many other things, but to me as a teacher their website is first and foremost a great collection of ready-made film-related activities, from pdfs to ppts to film guides and articles: definitely not to be missed. You have to register to access the resources, but you don’t have to pay. I started with a great PowerPoint about the Wonder Woman (really high quality visuals and good discussion questions), and then stumbled upon this collection of guides (perfect for a remote homework pack), and then read Home Education tips from a teenager – really good advice!

Have any of you been using this website? How does it work in your lessons?

A forest of virtual whiteboards


If you’re not happy with the whiteboard in Zoom (it has its uses, but is a bit clunky, isn’t it?), Matt Miller from DitchThatTextbook has great advice for you in this post. I like that he includes built-in boards in the apps like Flipgrid, native Windows IWB and even physical boards in his overview, and the things he picks up on are very useful whether you are preparing a screencast for asynchronous teaching or need a better board to share during your live lesson.  He also mentions Jamboard, which I keep hearing about, and Eva Buyuksimkesyan has a whole post about – the next thing on my to-try-out list!

Zoom fatigue is real


Here’s an post to share with colleagues and students: a suggestion why teleconferences feel more draining than regular meetings (and face-to-face lessons). There are several reasons the author puts forward: trying to pick up on people’s body language in the absence of information, still learning to use the new medium, multi-tasking, bad physical posture, paying too much attention to one’s own image on the screen – these are pretty obvious. But the author goes further, into theories of perception, and writes about eye contact, body positioning in space and makes other interesting observations.

How about you, do Zoom lessons exhaust you or not so much? If yes, what can we do to mitigate this?

Open or closed questions?


Now this activity is very much about workplace skills or even life skills, and can be transferred to the ELT context to bring an extra dimension into your grammar practice. The idea is to demonstrate the difference between fact checking and information gathering. In short, the participants have to guess each other’s secret words by asking only closed, and then only open, questions – and hopefully they will see that open questions let them guess faster. (Check the original post for a complete description of the activity.) I’d say it’s more suitable for the Intermediate level and upwards: lower levels would not have enough language to answer questions at length, which defeats the purpose of the activity. And of course, doing it online is even easier: use the private chat function to give out the ‘secret’ words, put the learners into breakout rooms in pairs or threes, and have them return to the main room as soon as they are done (and possibly get another set of words).

P.S. Check out one of my earlier posts about questions, which refers to the QFT technique – another idea from an non-ELT context that we can borrow.