Online personalities

I’ve recently read a BBC article about rather interesting research results: apparently, in the world of online work it’s not the charismatic people who are getting promoted nowadays. It’s the ‘working horses’ who do not rely so much on their charm and prefer to get the job done. The author of the article quotes one of the researchers: ‘Virtually, we are less swayed by someoneโ€™s personality”.

Naturally, I’m thinking about how this applies to the online classroom. If you tend to be a charismatic teacher, how well has this translated to the online medium? And who are the best teachers now? And, most importantly, how can we become the best teachers? Thinking…

Finnegan, begin again

I’ve been re-reading this article for quite some time: it’s about the so-called ‘shoshin’, or the beginner’s frame of mind. Apparently, the term related to Japanese Zen, but the idea can be applied to other spheres, especially professional development. Christian Jarrett, the author of the article, explains in a very clear and simple way how overestimating one’s expertise can lead to close-mindedness, and then lists several ways to keep one’s mind fresh and open, like the mind of a beginner. For example, it’s useful to notice gaps in one’s knowledge, develop a growth mindset and – a rather unusual technique of finding things that inspire awe.

P.S. You can laugh all you like, but tonight I was feeling awed by the sheer beauty of English grammar (infinitives with modals of deduction, of all things)!

Lesson study for teacher teams

Apparently, generations of teachers (especially in Japan) have been using this great CPD approach, but I only found out about it several months ago, in a random article on materials writing. Here is a great resource to start with: What is Lesson Study? at Teacher Development Trust. The gist of the idea is that several teachers get together, plan one lesson, teach it in turns and meet up regularly to discuss, make modifications and reflect. What makes it different from, say, regular action research? It’s very much a team effort where several heads are put together and different strengths and weaknesses of the teachers can compensate each other (and it’s also more fun). Also, because one and the same lesson is re-taught again and again, you can address the tiniest details and get to very interesting conclusions. I suppose some products and syllabi lend themselves better to this approach, but the idea is definitely worth exploring!

Stacking your talents

Here is a very interesting idea to consider for professional development in the broader sense: it’s hard to reach the absolute top in one area, but it’s much more realistic to be in the top 25% in two areas that, taken together, give you a unique profile. Kyle Kowalski describes the idea in detail in this longread and then applies it to his own work experience, qualifications, personal strengths and interests.

Applied to the ELT world, good ‘stackable’ skills could be teaching exam preparation classes, being an examiner – and perhaps something less usual, like statistical analysis or universal design… For my own part, I’ve been focusing on very similar, language-related skills (translation, interpreting, teaching) So, perhaps it’s time for a professional audit and a venture into a totally new, but complementary area?

IATEFL 2020 โ€“ Global Get-Together, Day 2

The second day began with a thought-provoking talk by Catherine Walker. She spoke about the recent changes in education, about inclusivity and how synchronous lessons by their very nature exclude people with special needs or lower income (no devices, low bandwidth.) Asynchronous learning is more inclusive and allows us to support these categories of learners a lot more, so perhaps this is the way to go. ‘We do not support technology, technology should support us’ – can’t agree more. It’s interesting how some of the presenters truly practised what they preached – for example, Catherine described every picture on her slides to support the visually impaired (incidentally, it also helped me because I was listening and cooking :)).

Then I watched Alex Warren’s webinar, or rather, workshop. It was so engaging that I dropped my spoon and started taking part in the polls ๐Ÿ™‚ He spoke about using TED talks and offered a very workable model based on flipped learning. In short, after the learners have watched the talk at home, in the lesson the learners are asked to talk about what they remember, there is a quick comprehension check (Alex demonstrated how he uses Zoom tools for that), then there are critical thinking tasks, then creative assignments of various kinds (comment boxes on Padlet, ‘interview the speaker’, all kinds of written and spoken responses). One more important takeaway: if flipped learning doesn’t work very well for you because the learners don’t do their pre-lesson homework, stress the benefits of personalised learning they can get when they view the talk on their own. (They can slow down, use the subs, re-watch as many times as they like etc. )

Gareth Rees began his presentation with a photo of a urinal (!). The urinal was equipped with a video screen, so the idea was ATAW (viewing anytime, anywhere) – really memorable ๐Ÿ™‚ There were lots of interesting examples from his own experience and materials, techniques that fit into a neat model (DARE: description, analysis, reflection, evaluation) and useful recommendations. Teacher’s video selfies, students making videos of the teacher demonstrating a pron task, students’ video responses – the idea was that videos work best if they become almost unnoticed everyday practice.

I had to skip Adrian Underhill’s talk and part of Laura Edward’s presentation – looking forward to the recordings. A few ideas gleaned from Laura’s talk: invite guest speakers to online lessons, use chat for more informal feedback and backchanneling, use rubrics for peer assessment that students can copypaste into the chat.

Then there was the panel about sustainable online teaching and learning with representatives of several sigs, including Andy Hockley, the Coordinator of my own LAMSIG. There were a lot of interesting thoughts about how we can move to real, not emergency, online learning, and I really liked how Sophia Mavridi expressed hers: ‘After the emergency, experts need to come to the fore’. I totally agree: eventually we need to stop focusing on the tech tools and start thinking about pedagogy, instructional design and materials.

Another panel I watched, Moving to Teaching Online, focused on the practical side of teaching in this new reality. I was happy to hear how optimistic the participants were: like Andy Johnson said, ‘You should never waste a crisis’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Sandy Millin shared a lot of practical advice, especially useful for the teachers who are still learning to teach online; Joshua Underwood suggested that it would be useful to develop our (and our learners’) camera literacy: he recommended a webinar called ‘Own the screen’ or something like that, but I haven’t been able to find the link yet. In a nutshell, we need to learn how to be more comfortable standing up, moving around on Zoom, and teach our learners how to express themselves physically in the virtual environment. I also enjoyed the participants views of the future: Heike Philp suggested that one day, after we go back to our face-to–face teaching, we will start developing the online world again and create a rich online environment, maybe VR, 3D or something equally exciting. Sandy said that her school will probably move to a mix of online and f2f in September (this is what most of us expect, I think!); Andy expects a backlash with more physical teaching for some time, but then online teaching will be here to stay. Josh hopes that when we’ll go back to physical classrooms, we’ll improve them and make them more inclusive – and that generally things will get better. Hear, hear!

And then – too soon! — Gabriel Diaz Maggioli closed the event.


Now, I might be biased (and in case of IATEFL I most certainly am), but this was the greatest online event I’d ever watched. It was supposed to replace the physical conference, but it did a lot more: it engaged and supported a lot more teachers all over the world who had not been planning to come to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Harrogate 2021, the organised chaos of the registration queue, lotteries, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, the friendly conversations with strangers and old friends at lunch or over a pint – but the Get-Together was totally worth it and I hope it will happen again, not to replace the conference, but to add to all the wonderful things that IATEFL does. Ahem, sorry ๐Ÿ™‚ Time to stop singing praises and get back to work!

Post-conference efforts


I was talking to a few teachers during a conference coffee break on Saturday, and they shared how unrealistic many of the things they’d heard are. Yes, there areย too many ideas and so little time to put them into practice, and sometimes the students are not as ideal as we would like them to be – and yet I feel that it’s worth making an effort and trying out at least something new. I saved this cool link some time ago, and I think it’s the perfect time to share: it’s advice from conference experts (in a totally un-ELT field, which makes it even more interesting) about how to plan your work and thinking process after an event. There are quite a lot of approaches to choose from: create a special template, write about the best ideas, rewrite and teach, ‘pick one for one’, analyse the ‘wow, hmmm, meh’ – some excellent tips there! Hopefully, this will help with conference hangover ๐Ÿ™‚

Avoiding analysis paralysis


Here is a bit of consolation for trainers and teachers who sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed about collecting data they have collected to inform the course. The post is about e-learning, but can be easily applied to face-to-face as well.Perhaps a simpler pilot or a proof of concept would suffice, or even – God forbid – no needs analysis. I really like the idea of meeting the course participants and finding out about their needs informally, as well as building smaller-scale pilots first. What do you think, is it a dangerous idea, or it makes sense? ๐Ÿ™‚

Is your training session just common sense?


Here’s another great post by Tom Sherrington about how participants tend to put up defences in the training room. Instead of thinking how their teaching practice could be improved even further, some people decide it’s just common sense and what they’ve been doing anyway – even though it’s probably not consistent or deep enough. Guilty as charged! I do this sometimes as well, and I know it takes a lot of effort and courage to admit there’s always room for development and growth, especially after so many years of teaching…

The soft skills conundrum


I’ve been thinking a lot about soft and professional skills: what they mean for people and what classification to use. Here is an article to read about it, with examples of soft/professional/workplace skills and hard/core skills. For example, coding and other computer skills are hard skills, and it’s all clear enough. Communication and teamwork are examples of soft skills (another great article, with quotes from experts) which are very important for the workplace. And then there’s a bit of confusion: if you need to manage your team or communicate with a prospective buyer, you can’t just rely on hard skills to do your job, can you? So, I’m still looking for a perfect classification ๐Ÿ™‚

Teacher Academy vs INSETT


Here is a very interesting introduction into a point-based online system for the professional development of teachers within one school. John Meehan describes how the the online website is organised into several PD tracks and each teacher is free to select ‘courses’ (which are more like tasks – e.g. read an educational book or try out a new activity) and earn a certain number of credits for them. There is a set number you need to collect during the academic year, and here’s the most interesting part: to get the credit, you don’t only have to submit a ‘deliverable’, or evidence of having done it, but alsoย write a reflective blog post about it on the school website. Administrators look through the posts on a weekly basis and showcase best practice examples. This is a very useful, self-regulating (almost) CPD model with a lot of communication between teachers – really worth looking into!

P.S. The scheme is called the igKnight Academy – do the creators see themselves on a crusade against ‘one-size-fits-none’ INSETT, I wonder? ๐Ÿ™‚ Still, it’s an excellent effort to make CPD better for everyone.