‘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)

Introduction to Learning Disabilities 1

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.

The ETAI Teacher Training & Development SIG is launched

 

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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:

  1. Producing evidence, that can be used to create practical principles for teaching
  2. Providing new insights / information that would not have occurred to teachers otherwise
  3. 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.

 

 

The Happy Lesson

happy collage 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.”

Both answers were correct.

The Happy Lesson Plan

The Happy Lesson Worksheet

I hope you too enjoy ‘The Happy Lesson”.

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.

Tweeting 2 Learn & Learning 2 Tweet @ IATEFL2015

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‘Engagement’ was one of the keywords that understandably cropped up again and again in presentations at this year’s IATEFL. This was also the conference where I transitioned from being more of a passive learner via Twitter (following other educators to learn about new ideas and tools) to an active learner/user.
As a consequence of actively tweeting from sessions I was engaging in the presentations in a new way. I found myself trying to summarise the speakers’ points and tweet concisely and interestingly. I was happy when people retweeted my tweets and found myself checking the #IATEFL hashtag to see what was hot or not, and what I had missed in other sessions.
One of the best Twitter experiences for me was when I finished my presentation on the last day of the conference and discovered to my joy that three people had been tweeting from my session. This felt like affirmation, that maybe I did have something worthwhile to say after all. I also wonder if my tweeting during the conference had led to people choosing to hear me speak when they could have gone to the IATEFL signature event with David Crystal, or one of the other 18 sessions that were running simultaneously.
A few thoughts and lessons learned:
  1. Use relevant hashtags so that others can see your tweets, i.e. #IATEFL #ELT #edtech #eltchat
  2. Look for the speaker’s Twitter account in advance of their presentation in order to include them in your tweets
  3. RT – retweet tweets that you like, identify with and want to share
  4. Thank others for tweeting from your sessions, and for retweeting your tweets
  5. The conference continues well after it is over with the blog summaries being posted on twitter
  6. As it is s so affirming when someone tweets from your sessions, why not tweet things your students say that will resonate with the rest of the class?
  7. It is a great way to check students’ understanding of a lesson by asking them to tweet what they now know as a consequence of the lesson
Although only a couple of years ago Tweeting seemed to me to be abstract and not relevant to me as an educator, I am now a twitter convert. I have learned so much from following educators on twitter especially Edtech and #eltchat educators, that I can’t imagine what kind of educator I’d be without it.

A fox aspiring to be an OWL -A case study, LAMSIG IATEFL 2015

As a DOS / managing director of a language school I deal with challenges and conflicts on a daily basis, which can lead to stress. I deal with stress by running three or four times a week. Just lately on my runs I have encountered a fox that comes out at dawn and dusk, to look for food. I noticed that we have a number of things in common. We run at the same times of day, we are usually alone and we are looking for opportunities (to eat, in the case of the fox, to get fitter and think clearer, in my case).

At the end of the LAMSIG (leadership and management PCE) which focused on case studies I am left pondering what kind of a manager am I, as portrayed by Thomas and Kilmann,1977? I know I’m not the competitive shark or the accommodating teddy bear, but do identify with the turtle who likes to avoid difficult situations. However I probably am more similar to the compromising fox than I should be as a manager. Now that I have had the time to reflect, actively listen and learn from colleagues from all over the globe I will aspire to become the wise owl, who is able to collaborate more successfully in difficult situations.

So like the fox in my neighbourhood my job can be quite lonely, yet there are opportunities out there for collaboration. I don’t need to fend for myself but I do need to manage, as that is what I am paid for. So the next time a conflict arises I will ’embrace the conflict’, say yes and activate my negotiation skills. I will strive to be an owl by separating the people (their emotions, values and perceptions) from the problem. I will focus on the reasons for the conflict and explore all the options for the benefit of the organisation, and hopefully all involved.

Although not yet an owl, I do feel a little wiser following today’s fantastic LAMSIG PCE.

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The Red Rabbit generates the Tower of Babel

Red Rabbit from Egmont Mayer on Vimeo.

The room is set up with chairs in clusters of 4, with some facing the screen and some facing away from the screen. The guest lecturer is standing in the room as the Dialog language teachers start entering the room. Within seconds they have started moving the chairs into rows and there is little that can be done to stop them. They are expecting a lecture and are deaf to the pleas to leave the chairs as they are. Learning point – tell participants before they enter the room that they are not to move the seats, as they have been arranged in a specific formation, for a reason.

Leo Selivan, of Leoxicon, is ready to start but is struggling to be heard over the noise of 55 teachers chattering excitedly in 10 languages. Suddenly the room is silent and Leo has their attention. Leo opens the session with a discussion around the use of videos in the classroom, with a particular focus on the possibilities of generating language from silent movies. The teachers are interested but not yet convinced. Leo asks the teachers to organise themselves into language groups of up to four per group, with one person per group facing the screen and the others with their backs to the screen. The task is for the ‘watchers’ to describe what they see on the screen, while the other members of the group listen carefully and try to understand the plot unfolding, on the screen that they can’t see. After 2:46 minutes Leo stops the movie and asks the teachers to swap places, the ‘watchers’ are now the ‘listeners’, and the ‘ listeners’ are now the ‘watchers’. The narrative continues…

As the teachers listened, described, questioned, gestured and laughed aloud, I wondered around the room enraptured by the cacophony of languages being heard. This was organised chaos, and it was exciting. The descriptions of the ‘Red Rabbit’ that I could identify in so many languages, including Spanish, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Italian, French and English was akin to what I imagine it might be like at the United Nations. As I looked across the room I was clearly aware that the teachers were engaged and on task. The scene created was reminiscent of the story of the Tower of Babel, though this time the tower was the Red Rabbit, and the goal was to generate language rather than reach the heavens.

Four months later and the activity has been tried in a number of Dialog classes in multiple languages. An English teacher reported that one student in a pre-intermediate class was so excited by the experience, and refused to let his language limit his narrative, that as he gestured wildly he shouted; “Oh it is a big, big rabbit. It is a Rabbit Rabbit!”(Doubling a word in Hebrew, is a common way of emphasising something.) A Spanish teacher used the activity with her pre-intermediate class, and stated that though her students really enjoyed the activity they were frustrated by their limited vocabulary, she told me that she now realises that she should have pre-taught the requisite vocabulary. Reflection par excellence!

As English teachers you’re probably not trying to create the Tower of Babel but I strongly suggest using this activity, and the others Leo shares in his blog, “Not a word was spoken (but many were learned), with your learners for a fun, interactive and challenging learning experience.

Teaching with Technology – First Task = Create your own online course!

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After the first online synchronous lesson of ‘Teaching with Technolgoy‘ with Dr Nellie Deutsch on Tuesday 6 January, I was all fired up to really learn about teaching online. Due to terrible weather and an unusually slow internet connection that night Imissed parts of the audio and as a consequence didn’t realise that the first task would be to set up a Blog or Wiki (luckily I already have both), answer some questions on one of those platforms and then set up my own online course.  The first task I can do without too much problem. However I am concerned about my ability to set up a useful online course without any real planning. However, I do have a need for such a course as I want to provide online teacher training to my teachers at Dialog.

Task 1: Answer the following questions:

What does teaching with technology mean to you?

Teaching with Technology means using technology to support and enhance the learning aims that I have set my students. Technology today is at our fingertips, in our pockets and in most classrooms. As a language teacher in 2015 the free resources at my an my students’ disposal our limitless. Why wouldn’t I use them? With apps and websites to enrich our lessons and engage our students, with Wikis and Blogs, and collaborative noticeboards such as Linoit and Scrabblr, and vocabulary learning tools such as Quizlet, the opportunities are truly endless and  even overwhelming. However as a teacher / teacher trainer it is my role to choose the tools that enhance the learning goals. I need to ask myself reflective questions such as, “Am I showing this Youtube video because it relates to the theme, promotes listening comprehension and expands the students’ vocabulary, or am I using it because it is cute, the students will love it and the school will be happy that I have integrated technology into my lesson?”

So for me technology is a must but it must be simple, I must have a back up plan for when it doesn’t work and it must, most of importantly of all support the learning aims not drive the class.

What do you expect students to learn from the course?

‘EFL Teacher Training for Language Teachers of Adults’ – this course will be a pilot for a language teacher training course that I want to create for ‘Dialog’ language teachers to access online at any time. We have new teachers joining us on a weekly basis who come with all different teaching backgrounds. This course will provide an introduction to communicative language teaching, with a focus on the integration of Learning Technologies into the learner-centred classroom.

What skills and knowledge do you want them to acquire by the end of the course?

Students / participants will have a clear understanding of what the communicative approach to language teaching is and how it relates to adults in particular.  Setting the stage, and the importance of making an impact from the very first lesson; the use of L1 (native language) in the classroom; differentiated instruction; lesson planning; 21 Century teaching skills; the role of homework; teaching grammar and vocabulary; error correction versus fluency, evaluating and  assessing content , and lastly evaluating and assessing student levels and progress.

What teaching strategies (lecture, discussion, group work, case studies, etc.) will best help students achieve these goals?

The course will combine synchronous lessons supported with PowerPoint presentations, reading assignments, discussions and tasks such as creating a model lesson plan.

 

 

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