Professional Development in 10 Languages



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


Highlights from the PCE & ETAI Summer conference 2014 Music, Mime, Movies and More

ETAI Highlights

Russell Stannard, creator of, was this year’s British Council sponsored presenter. Russell started his hectic presenting schedule with a 90 minute workshop which focused on getting students speaking and developing their fluency through the use of digital tools. Russell started us off with a pair-work activity in the virtual classroom, set up by Russell, on TodaysMeet. We quickly joined the classroom and wrote our greetings to Russell before being asked to define the role of Learning Technologies in the classroom. We finished off with an activity for low level learners where we had to list all of the fruits we could think of. The fact that students don’t need to sign up to the site makes it immediately attractive for teachers. It is intuitive and easy to use and a cool tool for brainstorming. Russell went on to share with us a variety of tools that he has used over the years to encourage his students to speak both inside and outside of the classroom in a connected way: mailvu, vocaroo, Brainshark and presentMe. As always Russell’s energy had everybody excited about using this great audio visual tools. You can check out Russells presentation here.

‘M is for More and Making the Most’ was Russell Stannard’s talk on day one of the conference which focused on a variety of screen capture tools, and in particular JING. Russell described how these tools meet the needs of different learning styles. Russell shared examples of how he uses these tools to provide oral feedback to students on their presentations and written work. Russell has found the results to be very powerful as the combination of spoken feedback together with highlighted text, is more likely to be embedded by learners than traditional feedback methods. Russell has also used screen capture for teaching pronunciation. Russell gives a word list and then highlights the syllables to be emphasised, whilst adding his voice. A nice homework task is to get students to choose a picture of a famous person, JING it, and then record your voice describing the person. The JING lind can then be uploaded onto a class WIKI or blog or sent directly to the teacher. Russell demonstrated in Chinese (which he is currently learning) how even beginner students can provide oral information about themselves with screen capture. Russell typed on a word document: Tell me 3 things about yourself: Name; Job and the Languages you speak. Russell then JINGed it, recorded his speaking which he can then simly upload, or send it to his teacher. See Russell’s presentation here.

Russell Stannard gave the closing plenary ‘Where is Technology Taking Us? to a packed auditorium. Russell discussed how collaboration and communication are now the essential skills required by employers for new recruits in the 21st century workplace. Consequently teaching and learning needs to change to prepare learners to become lifelong learners, who will need to be autonomous. We need to prepare them to train, retrain and retrain again as new professions are constantly being created. This is particularly pertinent to language learning, as English is needed more and more as the global tool of communication. As teachers we need to think about how we can help our students become better learners, how we can encourage them to collaborate and work in teams and focus on problem solving on real world tasks. We need to look for ways to assist our students to make decisions about their own learning. Russell left us all with the desire for more. You can see Russell’s presentation here.

Leo Selivan, had his audience totally absorbed in his workshop ‘Not a word was spoken (but many were learned)’ Leo took his former film in the classroom workshops to a whole new level, with ‘Sound Off’ and ‘Vision Off’, ‘Split viewing’ and ‘Dictation’ techniques being radically upgraded through the use of silent movies and lots of pair/group work. Leo’s chose of short movies which provided language rich speaking opportunities, along with the given task of ‘commentating’ the movies, was both challenging and entertaining and pedagogically sound. Check out Leo’s handout here.

In ‘What Teen Learners Can Learn from Children’, Leo Selivan shared with us his passion for lexis. I loved the analogy of the ‘Biological Clock of the brain’, whereby our ability to learn languages decreases dramatically as we get older. This certainly rings true for me. Leo described Krashen’s model, whereby language can be acquired either implicitly or explicitly, where acquisition is defined as a subconscious process, similar to L1 learning, whereas in contrast learning is a conscious process and the result of formal instruction. Leo pointed out that child learners see language as a tool for communication in contrast to older learners who are aware of language as a phenomenon. Leo shared language research by Fillimore  and Wray to demonstrate what older learners can learn from children. Leo concluded by telling us to start teaching with chunks and then try and accelerate the process of chunk learning, we should focus on probable language rather than possible language. You can see Leo’s presentation here.

Dr Carol Goldfus gave a riveting presentation, ‘The Brain and Music’ in which she described how teachers can use music to shape the brain and dramatically improve learning outcomes – “Teachers are’ after all the ultimate brain changers “they are in a profession of changing the human brain every day,” Sousa, 2010, p.23. Goldfus’ energetic statement, ‘We teach language, we do not teach the present simple because the present is not simple. We do not teach the present perfect because the present is far from perfect. We teach language,’ clarified even more forcefully for me why grammar should take the back seat in our classrooms. Goldfus explained that humans are not born with a reading a brain, but rather it is developed through good teaching. Goldfus suggested playing music at the beginning and end of a lesson and teaching in the middle. The reasoning for this is that by listening to music the frontal part of the brain is activated, it is this part of the brain that that is responsible for planning and spoken language. Goldfus asserted that by listening to music we are naturally rewiring the brain. Classical music can be used as an intervention tool for teaching. It provides an excellent model for organizational and rule-governed behaviour. Goldfus asserted that the goals of listening to music in the language classroom are:
1. To develop sensitivity to organizational and rule-governed language
2. To develop timing, sequentiality and fluency
3. To develop word meaning and store the information in the brain
The audience left the room with a strong awareness of the power of music and our power as humans to rewire our own brains, and to assist our students to do so too.

For details of my own PCE Think mobile! Think more! workshop you can read my post here.

Think Mobile! Think More!

At my workshop on Monday’s PCE in Jerusalem I discussed the issues raised in this article Why apps and smartphones are the future for education. I showed teachers a number of ways that they can integrate smartphones and mobile devices into their language lesson to engage and motivate even the most reluctant learners.

Think Mobile! Think More!
Think Mobile! Think More!

Want to get your students speaking and writing more in English,
and motivated and excited about their homework? In this
hands-on workshop you will learn how to integrate mobile
technology, Web 2.0 tools and a few simple thinking routines
into your lessons and homework tasks, and engage even the
most reluctant learners.

See my slideshare presentation here.

The Way Back Home – ESL lesson plan – Year 4

I recently gave an ESL lesson in my 9 year old’s Hebrew speaking class. The class have been studying English for almost two years. My aim was to give them a positive experience, integrate some digital tools to enhance the learning outcomes, and lastly to show the teacher that you can do interesting things beyond the textbook. I chose to teach The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers, and decided to use Quizlet for the very first time. The class was equipped with an overhead projector, speakers, an internet connection and a computer. I created the keywords list in English with Hebrew translations and decided to give it a go. The response was so exciting. The pupils liked the flashcards but loved scatter and race and were shouting out the words in English as they appeared in Hebrew on the screen. I typed the answers, to avoid choosing one lucky child, and we played as class a couple of times to beat our previous score. I chose to show the Youtube video of the story rather than the book itself to engage everybody whilst enabling even the pupils at the back of the room to participate. I have since then added a few things to the lesson plan and would like to invite you to collaborate on the lesson plan to make it more interesting. Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing your edits to the google doc provided here.

Collaborative lesson plan ‘The Way Back Home – Oliver Jeffers’

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.


Struggling to add share buttons on my edublog

I have just spent about 5 hours trying to update my blog, when I thought it would be just a matter of paying to become a pro-user and then I would be able to add a few more pages and start adding some, share buttons (twitter, facebook etc) and ‘fascinating’ content. However, I have not managed to add the share buttons despite using the edublogs help videos, as well as other online videos. So I still have no new content, and I feel frustrated and digitally incompetent.

Are my conversation classes more than recitation?

In my new job as Managing Director of Dialog, The Open University Israel, I am keen to ascertain what is the conversation based approach being employed in our school. Is it the communicative approach or a mixture of approaches (eclectic) or is it more akin to PPP?

Having observed a number of classes and teachers it is too early for me to say, however what I can say is that I need to refresh my ELT and LOTE pedagogical knowledge. This is what led me to reading Phillip Chappell’s “Engaging learners: conversation-or dialogic-driven pedagogy? (ELT Journal Volume 68/1 January 2014, pp.1-11) The article looked at the conversation that most often takes place in language lessons based upon Dogme principles. According to Chappell the most predominant form of conversation is recitation script which is most akin to classroom talk rather than the desired natural conversation that teachers strive for. However Chappell purports that if teachers record a few lessons and transcribe the conversation taking place, they can reflect upon whether the language is more ‘classroom talk’ or ‘dialogic inquiry’ – “those language acts whose purpose is to engage another in one’s attempt to understand” (Lindfors, J.W 1999).

Although I myself have always thought my lessons very much reflected the Inquiry dialogue approach, after reading Chappell’s analysis of a number of ‘typical’ language interactions in the ELT classroom, I now believe that too many of the conversations taking place in my classes are more recitative than I would care to admit. Will I find the same in the classes that I am going to observe, and if I do what am I going to do about it?

e-merging forum 4 – Moscow 2014 – ‘Learning Technologies Track’

emerging forum 4

I recently returned from the e-merging forum 4 in Moscow where I had the opportunity to facilitate the Learning Technologies track together with Elena Kazachkova and Nicky Hockly. This was a wonderful professional development opportunity for me as I was able to learn from the local presenters as well as from Nicky, who is both a great presenter and an advocate for incorporating LT into the ELT classroom along with the active teaching of ‘Digital Literacies’. In each of the presentations, in the LT track, the themes of engagement, motivation and learner autonomy as enhancing learning outcomes came through very clearly.

In Elena Peresada’s talk: ‘How to Gamify your English class’ we were shown how all students can be motivated to achieve ‘Personal Bests’ through the use of a game design approach to teaching. Elena explained that XP points (experience points)’ a leaderboard and healthy competition are criteria for this approach. It was interesting to see that Elena has flipped the concept of Gamification by applying Online Gamification rules and techniques to traditional learning in her classroom without any computers, to increase student motivation and self-autonomy.

Anna Avramenko’s talk: New educational standards, Mobile competence of students and teachers in Russia, referred to the mobile competencies of both teachers and students. Anna highlighted the difference between ICT and MT( mobile technology), and said that many teachers do not yet feel comfortable with MT, despite the fact that this is their students preferred way of learning. Anna explained that with the use of MALA (mobile assisted language assessment) teachers and institutions are able to track progress immediately and effectively. Anna also spoke of PELE, a peer assessment system, and said that students are keen to use online polls in class, as polls provide instant feedback, which students find both motivating and engaging.

Vera Bobkova led an interactive workshop: ‘Time savers for Busy Teachers’ which gave the audience an opportunity to see that engaging activities can be prepared quickly by using online tools such as a dictionary apps, crossword creators, story cubes and the ‘Big Wheel’. Vera’s message was, get the students to create the games and tasks wherever possible, because they love it, and their learning is enhanced; and the best of all is that it saves time for busy teachers.

Anna Loseva shared with the audience her use of Social media as a learning opportunity for students. In her talk: ‘International student collaboration on Facebook: what it is and what it isn’t,” Anna explained how she had responded to a single student’s request for authentic language practice. Anna set up a FB group in 2011 for 17-23 year olds, and asked teachers to join and bring their students to the closed group. Since then the group has grown to over 500 members from 23 countries. Anna shared the challenges and the successes, and encouraged us all to try this medium for engaging learners by providing authentic language opportunities.

Little pigeons can carry great messages or using online post its in ELT, Anastasia Fetisova shared her ‘fetish’ for post it notes. Anastasia started off by showing us multiple ways of using physical post its for ice breakers, for spelling words, for writing poems and for labeling the body parts of some willing volunteers in the audience. Anastasia then went on to share with us a multitude of digital tools that offer numerous creative ways of using post its to engage, motivate and stretch our learners, for example,;;; (Creating and expanding sentences);

In her talk: Using Wikis to create collaborative teacher student sites, Alexandra Smirnova spoke of the Wiki as a collaborative storeroom, as a tool for organization and collaboration, where everybody can be involved from the teacher, the students to the parents. Alexandra explained that all digital tasks can be stored in the one place on a Wiki, from Vokis, to e-books, to podcasts and videos, which is really useful for everyone to quickly access each other’s work. Lastly, Alexandra showed us how we can use hypertext to create web quests.

The Learning Technologies plenary: Digital Literacies, was delivered by Nicky Hockly, who so skillfully convinced us all of the existence of the endangered species; The Pacific North West Tree Octopus, which surprisingly enough does not exist, in order to demonstrate how our students tend to assume anything that is published on the web must be authentic. Nicky showed us the importance of evaluating websites and how to do it and emphasized four areas that need to be focused on: Information; Language; Connections and Redesign. After she presented the theoretical background to integrating Digital Literacies in the ELT classrooms, Hockly share some great activities with the audience using Remix and Literal Videos. Check out: and Catch an interview with Nicky Hockly after she gave her plenary for more information.

For my video summary of the entire conference you can catch me on the TeachingEnglish website. Now I can’t wait for e-merging forum 5.