Popular Posts of 2015

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ELT Experiences Annual 2015 Report

It has been an incredibly busy year at work and home. Unfortunately, the biggest problem this has created is the lack of opportunity to blog more consistently. The flip side is that what I have written – which I aimed to be more practical and supportive for English language practitioners – was practical with some ideas for readers to incorporate in their own class. I have decided to review five of the most popular posts from this year.

1. 10 Recommended Books for the CELTA

This was initially written to answer some of the questions which my Facebook Group is constantly faced with: “What books do I purchase for the CELTA?“. It seemed rather popular with over 7,000 visitors checking this post out and commenting on it as well. Many thanks for finding this a useful post.

2. Preparing for the CELTA in Nine Easy Steps

Another popular post was, again, CELTA-related dedicated for those wishing to undertake a CELTA (or equivalent initial teacher training) course. It followed the most popular format on my blog by offering small nuggets of information which the reader could digest and use.

3. Ten Ways to Introduce Target Language

This post was more practical and aimed for current teachers of English. When I wrote this, I was always looking for a different way to introduce target language and wanted to be as creative as possible. In the end, I thought it would be worthwhile to put some of my ideas down and share with my readers.

4. Ten Tips for Lesson Observations

At our school, we were going through a process of observing teachers and during this time, I thought about some of the lessons that I had observed with teachers with years of experience but was still left scratching my head with questions such as “Why did you do that?” or “What did the students get out of the lesson?”. I decided to get some things straight by sharing some things to consider when you, I or anyone else has a lesson observation. Read the post for more information.

5. 10 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

In our school, we had some in-house teacher training sessions and one was the idea of using QR Codes as part of lessons. After the training session, I decided to get back to the drawing board and by writing up some lesson ideas to accompany the session and share with my teachers in our school. It seemed so worthwhile and, as has experienced, some of the teachers needed a helping hand on how to create the QR Codes and what to do with them. Thus, after I created a handout to share, I decided it was worthy of a blog post and decided to share with my readers. I hope you found it worthy.

So these were the most popular posts for 2015. What was your most popular post on your blog? Nevertheless, apologies for my lack of writing this year. It is one of my aims for 2016 is to write more often and to engage more with you, the readers.

What would you like to see next year? Are there any areas of teaching you would like to me to cover? Thank you for deciding to visit my blog over the year and I do hope you found it useful.

May I wish you all the very best for 2016.

N is for Nine years on

Reading “Teaching Unplugged”

After reading Scott Thornbury’s blog post about his forty years in the ELT profession, I thought, rather than post a large reply to his post, I would write a personal blog post about my journey in the ELT profession.  It was incredibly interesting to learn more about Scott Thornbury’s decision to teach as a way to travel as well as being taught the International House method of teaching the grammar of English in ‘contrived’ ways.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be a wonderful chance to share my own journey of becoming an English language teacher as well as the changes that I have noticed in the English teaching industry.

When I first started teaching, it was back in December 2005, after completing a degree in International Business.  I travelled to South Korea with my family fresh off the plane with a rejuvenated sense of teaching Korean young learners.  All that was required when I arrived to become a professional English teacher was to have the following:

  • A university degree
  • Be a native English teacher

Fortunately, I met these requirements and at the time I didn’t even need a certificate, such as the CELTA, to teach English.  I was so happy and keen to jump into the classroom.

I suppose this was the first thing that I noticed in the English language teaching profession was this ownership of the teaching of English, and the backwash was that institutes would only be allowed to recruit teachers from countries which were from either America, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa – which is the inner circle of language native speakers of English.  This had the unfortunate drawback that non-native speakers did not have the opportunity to teach in South Korea – but this is another blog post.  These days, from my personal observation with the South Korean English education system, they are more adaptable with regards to non-native speakers of English – especially for those teachers who are Korean themselves.  However, there still remains some issues of recruitment with non-native speakers of English from those countries which were not mentioned above.

Where do i goAfter a year, I joined a four week intensive CELTA course at the British Council in Seoul.  I had to go to their centre and go for an interview before being accepted on to the course but it was highly competitive and I was the only Brit on the course.  It was a joint interview with a fellow non-native English teacher and it was so nice to see the British Council accommodate non-native speakers of English on the course.  It didn’t seem such an exclusive course for just native speakers of English and we were able to share ideas of teaching English to adult language learners.  We were introduced to the British Council/CELTA method of teaching English – much like Scott Thornbury’s IH method – where we taught small elements of language items and grammar through a context.  I was very keen to put this into practice with my learners at our small school in a rural town of Korea but quickly realised that this was not so transferable towards young learners and I wanted to teach at an adult institute and I moved on to Wall Street English in Seoul.

I was so enthusiastic and keen to teach English via this newly discovered communicative method that I was quite popular among the learners.  My basic stages in all my lessons were:

  • Introduce the topic and elicit possible vocabulary
  • Introduce vocabulary for main activity
  • Undertake the main activity (reading, listening, etc)
  • Provide feedback and end lesson

I perfected this method so well and gave space for Korean language learners to communicate, that my lessons were rather popular.  I noticed an improvement in their fluency and keenness to speak with each other in English – a marked improvement from Korean young learners but a different kettle of fish.  After a few years, I returned to the UK.

My initial impressions of English language teaching in the UK was different to my views from South Korea.  I felt like I had just started out again as a teacher.  I was used to monolingual classes with students who were intrinsically motivated rather than groups of students where I had to try to encourage less motivated learners in class.  I was a bit wet behind the ears and jumped in with both feet.  It was the first time that I had taught alongside non-native English teachers.  This was one development that I saw in English language teaching from two different perspectives.

Soon after completing a few years experience in the UK, I decided to take a post-graduate course at the University of Sussex in English Language Teaching.  I decided to do the one year full-time course with a dissertation at the end of the academic year.  The first academic term was incredibly challenging but I pushed my knowledge and understanding of second language acquisition for language learners.  It was here that I was introduced to the concept of World Englishes and the ownership of English – which is still a hotly contentious issue.  At the end of the academic year, after completing a Diploma level course as part of my MA course, I decided to research teacher and learner uptake of Dogme ELT.  It was under-researched at that point in time and I found a new passion in language teaching.  I had only discovered the book “Teaching Unplugged” after receiving a copy to review on my blog just a month or so before I had to start my research.  I met with many teachers, posted a lot on Twitter and was keen to practice much of the lessons in the book as much as possible.  I completed my dissertation with a mark of 80% and was so happy.  I also volunteered at the IATEFL in Brighton that year and met up with the likes of Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings.  It was so nice to feel part of a group of language teaching professionals who were keen to strip back to basics with English teaching and it was then that I noticed a change in the air where teachers were becoming more experimental in their teaching practice.

After completing the MA course, I gave a talk at IATEFL Glasgow a year later on Dogme ELT to highlight the results of my research and, still at this time, it was a popular discussion in the ELT world.  However, since then, the discussion of Dogme ELT has quietened down a little bit more but there are the occasional posts from other bloggers but it has focused now more on culture in the classroom and translation has had some kind of resurgence – with a recent book by Philip Kerr “Translation and Own-language Activities“.

Finally, last year, the assessment of English, particularly those that are involved in certain professions, has stoked some interest by some academics and I was asked to attend a round-table discussion on the testing of English and the replacement of the Common European Framework (CEF).  In the classroom though, the CEF is rather popular and many coursebooks now align towards the CEF with “can do” statements.  It is an interesting development for teachers and something which kind of constricts learner freedom in language education where students are expected to acquire certain nuggets of knowledge and not beforehand.  However, there is the understanding that language learning is an unexpected and emergent phenomena which is completely unpredictable.

A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow
A talk about Dogme ELT at IATEFL Glasgow

So, where have I seen language teaching develop?  Well, we had a resurgence in the communicative method when I started out – but this could have been going on for years before I started teaching.  There was also some interest and enthusiasm for more experimental and eclectic forms of teaching – Dogme ELT – but translation and own language use in the classroom is becoming more accepted in the classroom.  As a side note, I once asked in the CELTA where we stand in relation to translation and all I got was a lot of stares from the other trainees and trainers on the course.  I never felt that comfortable with translation in the classroom again.  There is finally some focus on standardising English teaching through the CEF and it is becoming less flexible.  However, there is some interest in teaching cultural aspects of language rather than grammatical items and I hope that in the future language teaching develops on to more cultural specific areas and the sharing of cultures through a common language.

I hope this answers your question Scott: “What’s changed since you started teaching?”

Drawing Challenge

I was reading some wonderful blog posts and saw that David Harbinson took up a drawing challenge which Sandy Millin started.  I really enjoy including drawings to complement vocabulary – I believe that it brings the language to life and students either end up taking photos or copying my (usually poor) drawings which accompany the vocabulary.  I suppose when I first started language teaching, I never included any drawings on my whiteboard and relied on flashcards (due to teaching young learners) or using my phone to translate words.  However, the past few years, I decided that it was probably best to develop my skills in drawing.  I have always been, what I consider, an artist with two left hands.  I find it incredibly difficult to draw anything representing animals or anything complex on the whiteboard.  I usually get ripped into by my young learners at how bad my drawings are.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be great to take up the drawing challenge.  Just below was a picture that I included in a young learner classroom around Halloween last year.

My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton
My best attempt at drawing a scary skeleton

The Rules (as described by Sandy)

1. Choose four things you often have to draw in the classroom, or that you’ve had bad experiences drawing in the past (!). I suggest a person doing a particular action or job, an animal, a vehicle, and a miscellanous object, but you can draw whatever you like.
2. Draw them in any way you see fit (on a board, on paper, on a tablet…) but don’t spend any more time on it than you would in a lesson.
3. Share the results for us to guess what they are.

My Drawings

I shall let my readers tell me what you think these are.  You are probably wondering what number 3 is but I did say I was pretty awful at drawing pictures.

Attempted drawing

In Response to Marisa Constantinides

In December, I was tagged to a blog post by Marisa Constantinides and have just got back to blogging after a busy Christmas and New Year in South Korea as well as a busy start to the year with LTC Eastbourne.  Nevertheless, the blog post by Marisa was to partake in a blog challenge and is the first time I have participated in a blog challenge.

So here is the task …

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 random facts about myself

  1. I once took an A-Level in Photography when I was 17 years old and after two years I achieved a grade of ‘E’.  Not something that I am particularly proud with.
  2. I got my first job when I was 16 years old and worked part-time as a cashier for a national home improvements chain for about 3 years.  It was a wonderful experience.
  3. I enlisted in the Royal Air Force when I was 20 years old and spent the next three years repainting and respraying military aircrafts, vehicles and equipment.  I was mainly based at RAF Odiham, the home to the Chinook.
  4. My wife made me promise to go to University if we got married.  After a few months of marriage, I went to University as a mature student. I suppose I am a late academic starter but it hasn’t stopped me achieving more than what others expected.
  5. I have never been very good learning languages in an academic environment, but I have made the decision to take a Korean Language Test (TOPIK) this year and am self-studying now in preparation for an April and October examination.
  6. I absolutely adore Korean food and drink.  I try to head over to H-Mart in London as often as is possible to get my fix of Korean food.  I even have a store card!
  7. My first ever computer was a BBC Microcomputer.  It had a tape to load up programs and I even tried to create my own games.  My parents always found me on this computer.
  8. I got to travel a lot when I was young and lived for a total of 5 years in Cyprus as both my parents were in the Army.  I suppose this was what inspired me to travel in my later years.
  9. I love to ski but don’t often get round to doing this.  I was able to go skiing a lot when I was young as my father was also a Ski Instructor.  As a family, we used to ski in different countries: France, Switzerland, Finland, etc.
  10. I can’t eat eggs if they are given to me due to an allergy or something related to post-traumatic stress.  When I was young, my mum would always make me egg sandwiches.  One day at school, I had enough of them and brought most of my lunch back up across the playground.  Since then, I can’t stomach any egg but am fine when egg is used as an ingredient.
  11. When I was about four or five years old, on Christmas Day, I woke up extra early to find all the presents for my family and myself under the tree.  I proceeded to open all presents, not just mine.  A few hours later, my parents awoke to see all their Christmas presents open under the tree and I was in the middle of what looked like a bomb site with wrapping paper surrounding me and all the toys and gifts in the centre.

The 11 questions Marisa asked me

  1. How long does it usually take you to draft and finalise a blog post? It takes me a few hours to draft a blog post.  Sometimes I hit on the publish button without rereading what I have written and then have to make edits post publication.  However, this blog post has taken me two days to complete.  I usually have difficulty finding the time to blog when juggling with so many other things.
  2. Which ICT tools do you actually use with your classes? Some of the tools that I use with my classes include using WordPress to create a PLE, Soundcloud to record and share speaking practice as well as Power Point.
  3. What is your absolute dream job? My dream job would involve learning more about culture and languages.  I suppose the closest to this is teaching English to language learners.
  4. Which classroom activity do you absolutely enjoy using with your students? I love to just have a conversation with my students and provide language necessary for learners to use the next time they need it: Dogme-esque style.
  5. How many of your current friendships were started through a social network? I have met many other like minded individuals through Twitter who are interested in language learning and perhaps one close friendship to a person who has assisted this blog since last year: Scott Worden.
  6. Which household chore do you hate the most and which one do you love the best? I absolutely hate clothes washing! I can’t stand it.  I know that I have to do it but all your clothes are damp and cold and you start to get quite cold yourself.  However, one thing that I really love is ironing.  It might seem contradictory as I hate clothes washing but I find ironing so relaxing.  Your clothes are a little damp but you soon warm up when you start ironing.
  7. Name your 10 Desert Island CD’s.
    1. Hell Freezes Over (The Eagles)
    2. Dreams Can Come True (Gabrielle)
    3. Best of British (Compilation CD)
    4. Back to Bedlam (James Blunt)
    5. 21 (Adele)
    6. Love Sensuality Devotion (Enigma)
    7. Vibesman (Roy Ayers)
    8. Sting / The Police (Compilation CD)
    9. Samba Pa Ti (Santana)
    10. Masters At Work: The Tenth Anniversary Collection (Compilation CD)
  8. Do you wish you had studied something other than what you did study? I have tried to study something different.  I tried to study photography and I didn’t really succeed, studied maths and soon realised I wasn’t very good at this either, as well as studied International Business and really enjoyed studying something that was quite natural and very stimulating.  Through my efforts, I now know what my strengths and weaknesses are.  I suppose I would really like to study Korean language in the future but I will stick with self-studying for the moment and see how I get on with my future exam.
  9. Describe the naughtiest thing you have ever done.  In the UK we have to separate our rubbish: plastics in one box, tins in another whilst normal household waste goes into a black bag.  I have found it quite time consuming to separate the rubbish and put it all together in the black bag and thrown it away.  Is that naughty?  I guess so.
  10. What artistic aspirations or skills do you have? Before I enlisted the RAF, I used to play the saxophone quite well.  I was involved in the local jazz circuit and used to play at a bar in Brighton with some other musicians.  We played at golf clubs, charity events as well as at the local halls.  I had played the saxophone for about 10 years before I joined the RAF – first at school and then afterwards.  This was the only artistic skill that I had.  I tried drawing and painting but soon realised that my sheep were more like white blobs.  It would be nice to play the saxophone again but there is always something new to try.
  11. Which TV series or film do you keep watching again and again? I love watching ‘Lost’.  I keep watching the series and love the whole timelines in the series.  I always recommend my friends to watch it but they soon reply that they find the timelines quite difficult to follow but the main focus are the characters and the development of their lives.  Absolutely love it!

11 bloggers tagged in this post … anyone else wishing to respond to this post

Unfortunately, as I am so late in responding to a tagged blog post that those that I wished to tag to this blog post have already been involved with this sort of tagged posting.  Nevertheless, if you wish to be involved in this blog post, please comment and/or send a link to your response and I will add you to a potential list below.  To come to think of it, there is a husband and wife blogger that I would like to tag to this post, and they are called:

  • The Conleys – They have have been writing about their experiences of teaching in South Korea and it would be great to see them answer some of the questions that I have asked below.

Again, if anyone would like to invite themselves to be involved with any of the questions below, please let me know and I will add you to list above.  Perhaps, I could reach a target of 11 bloggers!

My 11 Questions

  1. Tell me more about your favourite food you like to try or restaurant you like to visit.
  2. What achievements have you set yourself for 2014?
  3. What is the weirdest activity you have ever tried in your life?
  4. Who do you most admire in your life?  Why?
  5. What do you think is more important: happiness or money?  Why?
  6. Describe your favourite teacher from school.
  7. Are you learning any other languages at the moment?  Why/why not?
  8. Where would you like to go on your next holiday?
  9. What would you do if you suddenly won the lottery?
  10. When did you first learn to ride a bicycle and what was it like?
  11. What pet would you like to have?  Why?

Well, that’s it from me.  Best wishes for 2014.

Student Feedback: A Trivial or Important Issue?

Michael Griffin recently wrote a wonderful post on the usefulness of anonymous feedback (Why I (often) prefer non-anonymous feedback) and it got me thinking about whether feedback can be useful for teachers or is it that sort of data that senior management/teachers decide to look at.

In my opinion, I think it would be nice to give students the choice whether they put their name down or not on a feedback form rather than being too prescriptive. It is accepted in our profession that students are from various backgrounds and it would be considered unacceptable to be too prescriptive as there are various cultures which don’t mind being transparent while other cultures prefer to be more anonymous.  In our school, where we have continuous rolling courses during the year, we decide to undertake first week feedback forms, which I believe is crucial to see what is working and what isn’t, as well as end of course feedback.

Obviously, it is nice to keep the feedback – I prefer the term ‘feedback’ to the term ‘evaluation’ as it seems if you are ‘evaluating’ you are testing to see if something is done correctly – as transparent and suitable as possible. The most useful questions to ask for the first week are:

  • Are you learning?
  • Do you enjoy your classes? If not, why?
  • What would you prefer to focus on? (speaking, listening, etc)

The feedback from this would indicate how to deliver future classes, so don’t leave it too late. It is nice to act on feedback and with a principled approach. This leads me on to my final point. It is good that teachers are receiving feedback but if you are just doing feedback for the sake of it, it will be worthless. It is important for teachers to react to feedback rather than confirming what they already know, such as “I am a good teacher” or “That was a good course/lesson and students agree with me!“.

  • Are there any patterns to the feedback? (particular students preferring a different learning style)
  • Why do learners like or dislike particular tasks?
  • Can you be open with the learners so that you are able to deliver a bespoke course?
  • What would I do differently with the information that I have now?

So again, feedback is useful if teachers or management are able to see the woods from the trees and are able to familiarise themselves with what is important.  Nevertheless, feedback can be a useful tool but there are advantages to other schemes of feedback in the form of buzz or pop-in observations.  This could complement feedback forms and also give teachers an opportunity to seek advice or support from more experienced teachers or senior management.

How do you receive feedback about your lessons?  What do you students think about feedback?  What sort of student expectations are there with feedback or teaching?  Do students expect teachers to deliver a course as the teacher is the teacher and the student is the student?

Aims and Objectives on the Whiteboard

Thank you to Mike about his post on stories about aims on the board.  I suppose writing up aims and objectives in the lesson is fast becoming the norm.  It is becoming more and more established, particularly in the UK, for teachers to be able to show students the aims and objectives of the lesson.  This is, in relation to how private language schools in the UK operate, are required to show clear and transparent progress for students and within the lesson, as expected by British Council and the Independent School Inspectorate.  However, why do teachers consider writing the aims or objectives of lessons on the whiteboard as a waste of time or too bureaucratic?  Lesson aims have always been conveyed, usually orally, and if aims and objectives are shown on the whiteboard, they can then be crossed out or the lesson could demonstrate progress during the day.  What is the difficulty?

When I reflect back on my CELTA course, I was expected to write clear aims and objectives for the lesson.  This was more relevant  when I undertook the DELTA equivalent.  I consider this more professional and explicit.  If I were to question teachers: “What are your aims for today’s lesson?”, there are likely to a range of answers from “speaking” to “grammar”.  Are these really aims?  The next question I am likely to ask is “Why?”.  Teachers are usually quite defensive and, as was suggested in one of Mike’s replies, from Josh Round, teachers feel like they are going to be revealing something that I don’t necessarily want to.  However, you could always build up the context and then once interest is generated, teachers could then stipulate what is going to be covered or demonstrated during the day.  Another way around this is to write up the aims and objectives once they have been achieved as a post-reflection with teachers showing learners that they have achieved particular areas within their day of study.

I suppose the key point to writing up lesson aims is that teachers are planning their courses to suit their students’ weaknesses.  It is a good diagnostic tool as the teacher could reflect on what areas of language could be developed or what does not require greater support.  Unfortunately, due to the ever-increasing emphasis on continuous assessment (which in itself is not a bad thing and does professionalize the industry), it requires teachers to another thing to do during the initial part of the lesson.  However, I do believe that it does get teachers to pre-reflect and post-reflect on their lessons and offer an opportunity for teachers to better plan their daily and weekly lessons as well as the curriculum as a whole.

What do you think about writing up lesson aims on the whiteboard?  Do you believe that it would devalue the lesson itself?  Would it give the ‘game away’ for the building of context?  Are you involved with schemes of work, aims and objectives of lessons and the (perceived) increasing paperwork involved with EFL or ESOL in the UK or abroad?  Does the writing of aims and objectives demonstrate greater professionalism in the industry?  Is there a better way than writing up aims and objectives on the whiteboard?

Scaffolding Emergent Language

Scaffolding at my language school

More explorative and experimental teaching methods, such as Dogme ELT, with a focus on authentic interaction with students and teachers, in my limited experience, tends to be geared towards developing and scaffolding emergent language when is appropriate. However, what should teachers and students do with emergent language which has been scaffolded?

Hopefully the immediacy and relevance with emergent language will assist in the remembering with learners but occasionally there maybe a small number of students who need reminding. As a side note, a few days ago, I scaffolded ‘bad memory’ to ‘a memory of a goldfish’ and a few days later the student in question who helped raise this language mis-remembered the idiomatic expression and said “Sorry, I have a fish memory”. We made a small joke about the expression and kept the class involved as I poked fun at the forgotten expression and the students memory but made sure the student wouldn’t forget the expression. It was jovial and lighthearted with the class being involved and laughs exchanged. Nevertheless, we do need activities to help students memorise and remember expressions and grammar points which have emerged in the exploratory and humanistic classroom.

The first idea is to get learners to purchase a notebook so that they can write down and record language as it emerges. If your students are anything like mine, they are probably already doing this. But to help this, you could create a Wordle of vocabulary from the previous lesson and handout or upload to the class blog. This Wordle could be used for the teacher to keep a record of language emerged during the week and then be used alongside a last lesson activity (like ’20 questions’ or ‘back-to-the-board’) to recycle or review vocabulary from the week.

Another activity is to ensure emergent language, which has already been noted, is actively being used during natural interaction to ensure it sticks. This could be done by the teacher or students. For example, the other day I scaffolded my examination class the term “chop chop” to mean “hurry up”. I made an effort for the remaining part of the lesson to keep repeating for all learners. I then noticed that learners were starting to reuse this phrase during the lesson. Mission success! Thus, repetition and recycling (whether orally or in writing) is key for getting learners to remember language.

A third activity is getting learners to write a learning diary or a blog post on the terms or phrases learnt during the day in class and then getting learners to review the post or adding vocabulary that they had learnt. This will naturally get learners to reflect on lessons and language which had emerged. To assist this process, it’s good practice to get learners to take a photo of the whiteboard. They can keep a digital copy of the whiteboard and then upload for blog posts. Furthermore, I always find a good sense of achievement when learners decide to take a photo voluntarily.

Finally, it’s a good idea to create wordsearches or crosswords to be used as a follow up class activity. So, what are you waiting for?  Why don’t you keep a notebook yourself or take a photo of your whiteboard and start creating your own puzzles for emergent language?

So how do you deal with emergent language? What do you do to recycle emergent language? How do your learners react to language that you scaffold?