Speaking is the most challenging of the four skills to teach in large heterogeneous classes. As speaking is interactive and demands an almost instant response, the pressure to ‘perform’ is often overwhelming for students.
With this in mind I created a fun lesson plan based on the famous song ‘It’s Friday I’m in Love’ by The Cure. Not one of my 10th grade students knew the song but they all quickly ‘fell in love’ with it.
My aim was to get the students speaking and using the lexical chunks from the song. However, to my amazement they quickly began singing the song, and asked me to play it again and again.
Our students are constantly asking us: “Will it be on the exam?” “Is there a grade for this?” When the answer is no, the next question is often: What’s the point? “So why bother? With this in mind we ran an informal evening event at the ETAI national summer conference in Ashkelon with our panel of experts: Denise Ross Hayne, Penny Ur, Batia Laufer, Amos Paran, Ben Goldstein . Our goal was to pose questions, sourced from the audience via Todaysmeet, for our expert panel, who were asked to give us good reasons for why we should still bother being ‘creative and demanding ELT teachers’ in an age of ‘bottle flipping, finger spinners and Google Translate.’
As the convener of the Q & A session I would like to share with you some of my post-event reflections.
Firstly, there was no need for the panel to prepare anything in advance, which enabled them to communicate directly with the audience, and to answer questions spontaneously, on their area of expertise, without investing further time in preparation in contrast to a Pecha Kucha evening (see Pecha Kucha and the Power of (saying) ‘Yes’).
Secondly, we decided to use Todaysmeet to source questions from the audience, because it is user friendly and has a good visual layout, and meant we did not need a person running around the huge auditorium with a microphone.
Lastly, as the panel members were all experienced conference presenters they understood that the aim of the evening event is to keep things light, fast-paced and informative.
Some tips for those of you who might want to use this format:
Set up the Todaysmeet room in advance, with a demonstration question, for example: ‘Why bother coming to ETAI when you could go to the beach instead?’JaneCohenEFL
Create a slide with instructions and a URL address to source great questions, and enable audience participation, as soon as they enter the auditorium.
As the convener, introduce your panel and then go straight to audience questions, otherwise you might expect some feedback like this:“Why bother asking us to write questions if you’re not gonna use them? Anonymous. Or: “Why bother asking us for questions when you’re using yours?” Anon
In order to keep the Q & A session fast paced, use a timer, and tell the plenary speakers that they have 2 or 3 minutes maximum to answer a given question. Note, I didn’t do this but would do next time.
If you want to remember any of the panel’s answers record the event, as it is really difficult to host and remember what was said. Again, I didn’t do this but definitely will next time as I missed out on so much personal learning.
Here is a sample of some of the questions sourced from the audience, and answered by the panel.
Why bother giving our students homework when we know they won’t do it anyway?
Why bother telling my friends how good ETAI conferences are when they never come?
Why bother trying to build up the school English library when kids don’t read books anymore?
Why bother teaching a 45 minute lesson when students can’t stay focused for that long?
Why bother travelling when we can meet online?
Why bother teaching Shakespeare when no one speaks that way anymore?
Why bother looking at research on ESL in the US
Why bother trying to get pupils to read books, they’ll never read enough books to really improve their English.
Why bother teaching English when they plagiarize and use Google translate and don’t understand what’s wrong with it?
Why bother correcting them on present perfect errors when there are more people in the world who use it incorrectly than those who do?
Why bother teaching vocabulary if the students can use electronic dictionaries?
Why bother going to IATEFL conferences abroad?
Why bother spending so much time with grammar when the goal is communication?
Why bother teaching them literary terms? Why not just deal with the message and the useful vocabulary?
Why bother using grammar books with gap-fill activities?
Why bother with spelling tests when our pupils will write e mails and use electronic notebooks in their future?
Why bother giving written feedback on student drafts when they do not bother correcting their work accordingly?
Why bother making kids read books when they don’t even read them in their own language?
After seven years in ELT management I decided that I need to live the life that I want to live and not just continue doing what I had been doing for the last seven years, just because of the ‘conditions and status’, or because that is what everybody expected me to do. My resignation from the Open University surprised everybody, but for me it meant going back to teaching, to learning and to working directly with teenagers.
On 30 August I rolled up to the pre-teaching in-service day at my new school feeling both excited and nervous. Those feelings were personified two days later when I stood at the door of my first class, waiting for the students to stand. How would they perceive me? Would they behave? Would they understand me? Would they participate in the speaking tasks? How was I going to remember all of their names? I was full of doubts, but as soon as I stepped into the room, greeted the class and started off with a ‘Getting to know you’ icebreaker, those initial doubts evaporated. I left the room feeling energized and excited to be back in my own classroom, after a seven year gap.
Since then I have had a few great lessons, many ordinary lessons and some less than good lessons. Following each lesson I reflect on what went well, what could I have done differently, and did I actually meet the learning aims that I had set? I often think to myself, if I were observing this class I might have asked the teacher why she corrected that particular mistake and interrupted the student’s fluency, or, why didn’t she scaffold the task better, or had she noticed that boy in the back row, who was on his phone under the desk, during most of the speaking task.
I used to think that if I am the best teacher I can be and plan my lessons really well, the students will respond accordingly. But I now think that this isn’t always enough.
I used to think that if I integrate technology effectively to enhance the learning outcomes, the students will be motivated and engaged. But I now think, that sometimes this is true, but quite often, it is not.
I used to think that through my teacher training I could have an impact on so many more students than I could in the classroom myself. But I now think that there is nothing more satisfying than engaging with the students themselves, in a large classroom, with all its challenges, and seeing everybody engaged and on task.
Hosting the Pecha Kucha evening at the 7th International ETAI conference, 4-6 July 2016, provided me with the opportunity to source the international and local presenters, send them guidelines with a delivery deadline, and then review their presentations, to check they had met the criteria and had the automatic timings set correctly. The presenters in order of their presentations were:
When initially approached, some of the presenters immediately gave me an affirmative answer, “Yes, sure” or “Ok”, whilst others were more hesitant. One presenter wrote to me saying, “If truth be told, I’d forgotten that I’d allowed myself to be talked into doing a Pecha Kucha!!! I’d been thinking about chickening out, but …. hey why not! Another presenter stated, “At first I groaned – And then I thought about what I could do …. So, end of moan. I am happy to do something. Am I mad? Yes, I am.” The latter responses were similar to my own when Leo Selivan (Leoxicon) asked me to host the event. “I don’t think I can. I work full time. I’m studying etc.” I responded and then I stopped myself and thought – If Leo is asking me then he must believe I can do it, and in the words of Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” This year’s team of courageous ELT presenters demonstrated that they also subscribe to the Branson philosophy, and as a result each of the presenters put themselves out there, and we, the audience, benefited from their experience and humour, and had a great time.
Giving a Pecha Kucha is different from being a plenary or keynote speaker, it seems to fall much more into the ‘edutainment’spere, and the pressure on the presenter to ‘perform’ is not insignificant. For the host, though, once the presenters have agreed to present and their presentations have been received and checked, all that is left to do is to choose the order of the presentations, upload them onto the computer in the auditorium, check the timings, and write some introductory notes about each speaker. There shouldn’t be any surprises.
However, on Tuesday 5 July, a few hours before the Pecha Kucha evening was due to start, I bumped into Mel Rosenberg and Andy Curtis, who told me that they had had an idea that they wanted to run by me. “Andy is going to do my Pecha Kucha, sight unseen. What do you think?” I looked at Andy and asked him, “Do you know what Mel’s Pecha Kucha is about?” “No, not a clue.” Andy responded. “Though it would be a great example of creativity, if I presented it without seeing it, don’t you think? Do we have your permission to do this crazy thing?” I thought to myself, Mel’s presentation is not clear to me, and I’ve seen the slides, so how is Andy going to present it? But then I thought, this could be an opportunity to do something different from the ‘traditional’ Pecha Kucha format. So I said, “Yes. I like the idea.” Andy looked a little surprised, as he hadn’t expected me to agree quite so quickly. And thus the first Pecha Kucha ‘Unseen Hack’ was born.
Video courtesy of @MelRosenberg
As teachers we are always putting our students on the spot in front of their peers, asking them questions, getting them to do presentations, prepare speeches and debates and complete numerous other language tasks, that many of them don’t feel comfortable doing. Our students usually have no choice but to say ‘yes’, as the task often forms part of their summative assessment. As teachers/ELT professionals we must be role models for our students, and also be willing to put ourselves ‘out there’ in front of our peers, even when we may feel uncomfortable about the request, because saying ‘yes’, can be both challenging and rewarding. In fact, Emily Liscom (Education to the Core) would go even further, and say that by using the word ‘Yes’, to our students more than the word ‘No’, we might be surprised to experience improved classroom management and teaching strategies.
Thank you to each of the six/seven presenters for saying ‘yes’, when I approached you – each of you were courageous and inspirational, and are great role models to other ELT professionals and students across the globe.
The end of the school year is Coming Soon, so here is a lesson for you to try with your students. As in previous years (2015 –The Happy Lesson, 2014 – The Way Back Home) I went into my son’s English class and gave a lesson. This year I chose to use the Kung Fu Panda 3 movie trailer, to provide the students with an engaging and fun lesson which would both be accessible for all learners, and challenging for the more advanced students, whilst encouraging students to work in groups.
My son’s class were very excited about the lesson, they particularly enjoyed the Quizlet vocabulary set that I had prepared, and within the limited time created some cute Compare and Contrast Panda posters.
“What is a book? According to the Merriam Webster dictionary it is “a set of printed sheets of paper that are held together inside a cover.”
At this year’s ETAI winter event more than 50 English teachers were taken on a book discovery tour through the impressive National Library of Israel, in Jerusalem. The 120 year old library has a collection of more than 5,000,000 books, 2000 manuscripts, 700 personal archives and 30,000 hours of recordings which are available to the public, at no cost.
As a consequence of my experience I would like to share with you ’10 things I now know about the National Library of Israel’:
The map room houses the most significant Holy Land maps’ collection in the world
The Ardon Windows (pictured) represent Isaiah’s vision of eternal peace
The oldest book in the museum is a Koran, dating back to the ninth century
Israel’s ‘Book Law’ requires two copies of all printed matter published in Israel to be deposited in the national library
The museum is divided into 4 major collections: Judaica, Israel, Islam & the Middle East and the Humanities
Gershom Scholem loved to write notes in the margins of his books, which can be seen in the Gershom Scholem Library (comprising 35,000 items related to the Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism and Hassidism)
‘Ephemeral’ means transient or short-lived
TheTime Travel and EuropeanEphemeralcollections are made up of letters, tickets, posters, postcards etc., and provide a rich resource of life and culture that can be used for engaging our students in the English classroom
The library has an educational partnership with the UK, available via an online site, and includes lesson plans and worksheets for use in British classrooms, which could be relevant to our English language classrooms in Israel
The National Library has a resource rich Facebook page in English which is regularly updated, and provides authentic materials for English teaching.
So why should English teachers teach with Primary Resources? Karen Ettinger, Project Manager for Education at the NLI, explained that primary resources are motivating, relevant, make use of authentic material, enable students to practice 21 century skills, exercise their critical thinking and research skills, whilst connecting them with their past. So if you want to do some, or all of the above I strongly recommend a trip, either physical or virtual, to the National Library of Israel.
Thank you to all of the National Library staff who took us on a journey which made me think differently about the role of the library in the English language classroom today.
Today is International Teacher’s Day and last night I met one of the most inspiring teachers of our time. A person who shared the story of the 150 Freedom Writers from room 203, at Wilson High School, Long Beach California. The writers, who were destined for a life of poverty, violence, teenage pregnancies and worse, were reached by Erin, and were given the opportunity to change the ending to their narrative through the writing of a diary. Erin turned classroom 203 into a home, a place where there was hope, a space where the students belonged, a space where they could dream of a better future, where they ultimately changed their future.
“I believe in the power of legacy and the power of words.” Erin explained. She described how she got through to her 150 fourteen year old English students by showing them that they were not ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’ or ‘nothing’, as they had always been told. She showed them what they had in common, firstly with each other, and then with the protagonists of the literature that she chose for them to read. The Rookie 23 year old teacher didn’t know how she was going to get her students to change, so she thought to herself, “If I can’t make them change then maybe Anne Frank can.” She added, ‘Anne Frank changed my students’ lives.”
Erin Gruwell, or Ms G, as her students called her, is currently on an American State Department sponsored tour of Israel, where she is speaking to Jewish and Palestinian educators about the Freedom Writers Diary, and the message of ‘change being possible.’
Last night I was inspired by Erin’s empathy, passion, energy and sheer humanity, I was inspired by Betty Pollack (pictured above), a Dutch Holocaust Survivor, whose brother Jack Pollack met with, mentored and inspired the freedom writers. Betty’s energy and passion for life and her story moved us all.
Last night I met Erin Gruwell who said “what we are going to talk about tonight, is the world as it should be.” This is “the story of those kids who put down their fists, put down guns, and picked up a pen, and just like Anne Frank, left a legacy.”
I recently signed up for some college classes to get myself out of the office and back in the classroom as a student. Due to my heavy work load I decided to take it easy and to start with just one class this semester. I also realised that I needed a F2F class, as I was missing the human interaction of a classroom. I have taken numerous online courses over the last few years so knew what both settings have to offer.
Introduction to Learning Disabilities, Thursday evenings, 18:00-19:30, Levinsky College: The lecturer, Ahrona Korman Gvaryahu, filled the class with her energy, passion and ability to keep the students’ interest despite the late hour. Ahrona made it clear that the course would be focused on the LD students and on their parents, and not on the teachers. Ahrona didn’t use a PowerPoint, she talked and showed us two YouTube videos. We were given a pre-viewing task and were simply encouraged to actively watch. The inspiring Rita Pierson, bowled me away with her insights and understanding of learning and teaching. “Every kid needs a champion”, is a must watch for all educators.
The underlying message of this first class was that the human connection that we make with our students is the critical component for successful teaching. “The teacher is the glue.” I couldn’t agree more and can’t wait for next week’s class.
It isn’t often that you get an opportunity to be present at the start of something new, something that has the power to change the way we think about teacher training, about the proficiency of non-native ELT teachers, and about the role and impact of research upon English teachers in the classroom. Today, at the ETAI pre-conference Teacher Training and Development, inaugural Special Interest Group, I was privileged to witness the start of a movement for change.
Dr. Lindsey Shapiro Steinberg, opened the day with questions regarding the recruiting of talent, and whether need necessitates compromise. What is a good ELT practitioner? What level of proficiency is required by English teachers? What is learning, and how is learning assessed? Following Dr. Shapiro Steinberg’s opening Dr. Debbie Lifshitz spoke about ‘Shaking Up the Israeli Conventions of Teacher Training.’ With statistics to demonstrate the challenges faced by Non-native English speaking teacher (NESTS) trainees, regarding proficiency at entry and exit of teacher training programmes, and the challenges that lay ahead. Dr. Lifshitz suggested that proficiency levels of NESTS are critical for teacher retention in the schools, in a system where teachers are aging, and more than 40% of newly qualified English teachers never even enter the school system upon graduation.
Following the morning presentation participants divided into 3 discussion groups, Proficiency, Methodology and Linguistics, and discussed changes that could be taken by each of these areas, to positively impact upon the proficiency of future NESTS . (Watch the ETAI website for a summary of each group’s suggestions.)
The afternoon session was expertly led by Professor Penny Ur who discussed ‘Research and the language teacher.’ Professor Ur asserted that “Research is not the main source of teacher knowledge, but it can enrich it.” She stated that it contributes to teaching in three ways by:
Producing evidence, that can be used to create practical principles for teaching
Providing new insights / information that would not have occurred to teachers otherwise
Contradicting inaccuracies in methodology or firmly held theoretical beliefs
Professor Ur provided numerous examples of why research is regarded so highly by the academia and ministries of education, and yet is often seen as trivial, irrelevant or impractical by teachers in the field. The sheer quantity of literature is overwhelming, and therefore needs to be read selectively and critically. Professor Ur suggested that if we want preset and inset teachers to read research there is a need for ‘mediators’, chiefly teacher trainers, who can mediate the research on their behalf.
The day closed with an open discussion led by Professor Penny Ur and a thirst for more discussion and dare I say, action. “Professional Development takes place through professional conversation.” Garton and Richards (2011) Today was truly a day of Professional Development at the inaugural Teacher Training & Development SIG.
It is always fun for a DOS to get back into the classroom and give a lesson to a class of young learners. Once a year I go into my son’s class and give them a lesson that aims to engage the students, use all four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) encourage group work and integrate technology.
Today’s lesson did all of the above in only 45 minutes. Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ song was the inspiration. The students loved the Muzzy ‘Word Play’ website and were excited to see their class poem come alive literally on the screen in from of them.
I have included here the powerpoint, the lesson plan, the worksheet and the video clips for you to use.
When I asked the students why I am happy in the fourth slide, one of the students said “Because you finished the marathon.” Another student said: “Because of your man.”