Language Learning & Self-Assessment (Keep Talking)

This Double lesson plan has been created specifically for the teachers delivering the 10th grade ‘Keep Talking’ programme in Israeli high schools. I suggest using the lesson in one of the first lessons of the year in order to get the students thinking about their oral proficiency, and to make them aware of the different techniques and strategies available for effective learning.

I have included the lesson plan and the PowerPoint for you to use with your classes. The link to the student Self-Assessment Google Form is in Task 3 in the lesson plan itself.

I hope you and your students enjoy the lesson as much as I did.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.

Why Bother?

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:

  1. 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
  2. Create a slide with instructions and a URL address to source great questions, and enable audience participation, as soon as they enter the auditorium.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
Photo courtesy of Micki Zaritsky

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?

 

‘Toast to Change’ – World Teachers’ Day

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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.”
 
 Don’t miss the soon to be released: ‘The Freedom Writers – Stories from an Undeclared War‘ (Documentary)

My favourite Apps for ELT – Free and easy (with a little practice)

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  1. Quizlet – for learning vocabulary items, lexical chunks, collocations and so much more.You can create a class, and sets of items (no more than 20 items is optimal), you can use synonyms, definitions or translate the terms ( supports most languages including Arabic), add images and even use it for comprehension tasks. It is easy to share with your students, and you can encourage them to make and share their sets. No need for students to sign up. See Sandy Millin‘s detailed guide here .
  2. WhatsApp for creating class groups to share images, texts and recordings – this is the most important App of them all as all the URL addresses can be shared with your students via your class group.
  3. Answergarden for brainstorming, checking students prior knowledge and getting short (20 characters) answers. No need for students to sign up.
  4. Mentimeter for brainstorming, mind mapping, allows for longer answers. I like the visual features. No need for students to sign up.
  5. Linoit – Collaborative board for sharing ideas, images and videos via sticky notes. Easy for students to use. IPhone users now need to download the app in advance to see the canvas (collaborative board), which is a recent and less convenient change. No need for Android students to sign up.
  6. Photofunia for creating fun posters, billboards and other images on Smarphones, using photos from the Smartphone gallery.
  7. Muzy for creating photo collages or storyboards.
  8. Canva for creating Infographics.
  9. Keep-Calm-O-Matic  for creating Keep Calm posters.
  10. Google Translate for instant translations and the Miriam Webster dictionary  app for dictionary work.

All of the apps in this post are free and have websites where you may feel more comfortable creating your language task than on your mobile device. You can then copy the URL address and make it tiny with goo.gl which generates a QR code, your students can then scan the code with a QR Code Reader app, which takes them straight to the task you have created for them.

When using Smartphones in the class always ensure that the use of the app meets the learning aims of the class, and that you have tried it yourself on a mobile device, and preferably get somebody else to try it too.

For those of you who attended my presentation Mobile learning – empowering teachers and engaging students here is the promised powerpoint presentation.

Professional Development in 10 Languages

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Any DOS knows that the quality of their school/programme is dependent on their teachers  knowledge, skills, enthusiasm, passion and ability to  connect to their students. For a school to thrive and  grow it needs to respond to market needs, whilst  ensuring that its teachers are provided with  professional development opportunities that enable  them to stay up to date, develop new skills and most  importantly of all, learn from and share with their  colleagues.

 

One of the first goals I set myself when I started working at the Open University eight months ago was to revamp the professional development programme offered to teachers. With more than 130 teachers of 10 languages,  and around 40 teachers active in the branches, in- company  courses and various tenders at any given time, there is no such thing as one size fits all.  Successful professional development must be relevant to the teachers’ needs and not imposed from above.

 

Challenge number 1: How do we create a programme of professional development which meets the needs of the Arabic, Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, German, Spanish, Dutch and English teachers (who make up more than 50% of the teachers), when we the pedagogical team don’t even speak most of those languages?

 

After revamping the observation and teacher feedback procedures and templates, and having observed many classes myself, I was much more aware of what our strengths as a school were, and where we needed to improve. With my new insights I decided to focus on refreshing our teachers’ knowledge of the communicative language approach and how it is implemented in our school, and the integration of simple digital tools into all courses.

 

Challenge number 2: How do we get our teachers to attend the first workshop to be given in Dialog under my leadership? Many of my colleagues told me that I should expect about 20 teachers to attend. Our teachers live all over the country, and many teach at the given time, and “to be honest as they aren’t paid for professional development they probably won’t come”, one colleague clarified for me.

 

Hmm. That is a tricky one! However, I thought to myself, I do lots of things for myself that I am not paid for, and as a teacher I also love to learn and am happy to give up my own time if I feel that I am going to get something of benefit out of the experience. I imagined that this is probably true of most teachers. With this in mind it was clear that the first workshop needed to have an engaging title and must be relevant and fun. And so on the 2 May 2014, “Integrating digital tools into the language classroom”, which focused on using Smartphones, was attended by 35 Dialog teachers. There was a lot of energy in the classroom and there was a lot of professional conversation: “Professional Development takes place through professional conversation.” Garton and Richards (2011)

 

Not wanting to lose momentum I decided that the next workshop would be two days in October, just before the start of the new school year. In June we sent out a save the date, digital flier. In July and August we worked on the content. It was clear to me that we had to build a programme that would review the schools pedagogical approach and expectations and would set clear teaching and PD guidelines. There needed to be lots of group work activities, both in mixed language groups and specific language groups. There needed to be time to work on an activity or lesson plan with colleagues and time in the computer room learning and experiencing the digital tools to be integrated into lessons. Most importantly of all there needed to be down time, talk time, as this is when most learning often happens. I am supported by three highly experienced pedagogical managers, and together we were going to provide the professional training workshops. However, I felt that a guest speaker was going to make our programme so much more attractive to our diverse teaching team. Who could provide training to so many language teachers? Leo Selivan (Leoxicon) was the obvious answer.

In my next blog post, “The Red Rabbit generates the Tower of Babel”, I’ll share the highlight of the Dialog Language School October Professional Development workshop.

PD Oct 2014 Programme

 

Learning from a mentor

In my lost post I mentioned how frustrated I was with my blog and that I was feeling digitally incompetent as a result. In true digital style I tweeted for help and two ELT colleagues, Julie Bytheway and Naomi Epstein, immediately swooped in to help. Naomi, a local ELT leader, invited me over tonight for a hands on mentoring session. This post is one of the results. I can sleep a little easier and now focus more on content than on layout. I feel so much more digitally competent now.

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