TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Enhancing Writing Feedback through Digital Technologies

Feedback is an essential part of any writing class. We learn not only from writing itself and the explicit instruction we might receive, but also (or perhaps mainly?) from using the feedback we get from both our peers and our instructors. I believe that we need to try different approaches to improve the kind of feedback we give to our students in order to make it more effective.

Often we complain about students not making changes or reading our comments, so what can we do about it? A starting point is to think about our challenges and look for alternatives and different ways to approach the feedback process. We need to put ourselves in our students’ shoes and give feedback that is clear and meaningful to students. Of course, most teachers also face time limitations, so how can this be done?

The following link is copy of a presentation I gave on this topic at the WAESOL conference at Highline Comunity College on October 25, 2014. Below you’ll also find three links to short tutorials I’ve made on how to use some of the digital tools mentioned. Please feel free to share some of your strategies, questions, and comments. This is a topic I am passionate about and I would love to continue the conversation online!

Click to hear an 18-min version of my presentation:

Narrated Presentation

Link to tutorials:

Kaizena

Google Drive

Quizlet

Nathan Hall on Social Asynchronous Webinars

This will be my first time interviewing a fellow teacher. I felt inspired to do so because I want to share with you all a beautiful professional development project started by Nathan Hall very recently. Since I didn’t think that retweeting his blog post would do justice to how empowering and amazing this project is, I decided to ask him a few more questions about it. I’ve also added his blog post for anyone interested in participating in this 1st Social Asynchronous Webinar (SAW).

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Screenshot 2014-07-14 02.04.28

Note: Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Nathan. I have to say that I am thrilled at this project you’ve started with Social Asynchronous Webinars (SAWs). What a great idea to have seminars online that can space out a topic and include different voices! As you know, I discovered your current SAW thanks to @muranava. It’s incredible to me how all these connections and reflections are shared all over the world by ELT professionals through social media, and I think this idea of asynchronous webinars could really help more teachers connect on a particular topic.
I especially like the fact that you’ve broken up the first one into 5 different weeks -breaking down each video into 10 minutes segments is also perfect for those of us that never seem to have enough time (who does?). Brilliant.

So, let’s get started!

Laura: What would you tell someone who is interested in participating in this new type of webinar? Why should they give it a try?

Nathan: I would suggest that they approach the webinar with two things in mind: to learn and to share. As with any webinar, seminar, or lecture, the person attending is there to learn and I think that is the same with the idea of the SAW. It is about learning with the only major difference in who we are learning from. Instead of a heavily structured format where one or two people have spent a good deal of time on preparing for that topic, it gives the ownership over to the participants. This allows the webinar to adapt to those who are taking part and gives time for those who would like to have voice to prepare to share their ideas and experience. Mostly, it allows busy teachers to get involved in a session over an extended period of time. This is also important when we are talking about people from all over the world who can’t always get involved due to conflicts in schedules and time zones.

Another reason why someone may want to take part in a SAW is that they can be part of sharing in a webinar without all of the time involved in preparing one. If you have something to share, you can simply share it with a text comment, a voice comment, or a short video. I feel this would be especially good for those who may want to share something, but are reluctant for whatever reason to do a full blown webinar on their own.

Laura: How did you come up with this “Video in ELT: Moving from Passive to Active” SAW?

Nathan: This was an idea I had for a while for a blog post, but it sort of evolved into a short seminar I gave for a local group of teachers. I thought it would be good to hear what others had to say on the topic. I feel strongly that we make the classroom a place for knowledge creation instead of being a knowledge dispensary. This is even more important, I believe, when it comes to language education. My hope is that this SAW will give a voice to teachers who already employ these ideas in their classroom and will help us a community to learn from one another. I feel it can be really inspiring to hear stories of how others help their students grow.

Laura: Have you thought of some new topics after this current SAW on ELT?

Actually, no. I am hoping that someone else will feel inspired to take the reins for the next one. Again, I really want this to be about us, not me. If I stopped to think about it, I probably could come up with a few things, but I want to hear what others have to say.

Laura: Since you are so active online and have such insightful posts on both of your blogs, do you have any advice for teachers who may be considering getting a blog started?

Nathan: First off, thank you for your kind comments. To be honest, I don’t always feel like I have anything really helpful to say. I am always surprised when someone says they got something out of what I wrote.

Blogging for me has become really comfortable. I was really nervous about doing it at first. I thought I had to be super insightful and had to put on this professional persona in order to be taken seriously. It isn’t like that with blogging. What I really enjoy when reading other blogs is the personal voice. It isn’t about how perfectly you write or how amazing things went in the classroom, I find myself connecting more with a post when I read about someone’s successes AND struggles. It shows that I am not alone when I screw up. It helps me connect with the writer as a person.

I feel fairly strongly about not blogging for purposes other than to share your story. Sure, it can help with networking and possible future employment, but if you are writing for ulterior motives, it shows. People can sense when they are being used for other means. Again, that is why I love following certain bloggers who just lay it out there, warts and all. This shows to me that they have no other real purpose than to connect with other teachers and to learn together.

Nathan blogs at Nathan Hall and ELT Reflections. He often blogs on #EdTech and professional development topics.

The first Social Asynchronous Webinar is called “Video in ELT: Moving from Passive to Active.” Check it out!

 

Learning about Fluency and Accuracy

Last month, I took a course on “Fluency and Accuracy” through iTDi. It’s not every day that you get the chance to be enrolled in a class taught by Penny Ur and Scott Thornbury; confident that there would also be some inspiring classmates in the group, I enrolled without thinking twice about it. One big advantage of online courses like this one is that sessions are recorded, so if you can’t attend a webinar (iTDi courses do one a week), you can always watch it at a later time. After listening to Penny Ur’s session at the TESOL Convention earlier this year and realizing that I could benefit from revisiting my strategies in teaching vocabulary, I jumped at the opportunity of learning more tips directly from her (and Scott!). The course has ended now, and I have walked a way with a fresh perspective on vocabulary, e.g., I might want to think about implementing the three steps to increase accuracy described by Penny. This was, no doubt about it, a great experience, and I highly recommend anyone to consider taking a class through iTDi if a topic that interests you comes up.

As part of the course requirements, I wrote a summary of some of the issues discussed. I did not add my opinion on some of the points presented, but I thought I’d share this summary here in case anyone would like to get a quick review of the course.

Enjoy!

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @IanJames, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @IanJames, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

Penny Ur and Scott Thornbury both began their sessions by working through a definition of these two concepts before exploring some of the issues around fluency and accuracy. One of the reasons why these definitions are challenging is that English speakers around the world have different standards of accuracy. According to Scott, context, audience, and purpose are key elements to take into account when defining the concept of accuracy in language use. Fluency, on the other hand, was defined by Penny as “the ability to understand and convey meaning successfully, smoothly, and rapidly.” Interestingly, Scott brought up a distinction between productive and perceptive fluency. The former deals with the type of language and strategies used to keep the flow of communication (fillers, chunks, pauses), whereas the latter involves non-verbal communication, accent, and even the use of idioms or more complex language. These working definitions of accuracy and fluency were key to conceptualize the issues brought up during the course since we examined ways in which learners can improve their accuracy and fluency depending on their context.

During her first session, Penny explained that sometimes being accurate comes at the expense of being fluent (and vice versa). She then focused on ways in which we can help learners increase accuracy when teaching vocabulary, describing three fundamental steps: 1) mapping form onto meaning, 2) reviewing lexis, and 3) enriching language learned.

In the first step, she explained that it is important to teach vocabulary in a way that is impact-full, i.e., the meaning of new lexis is clear to students and memorable. Most importantly, she argues that asking students to guess words when we are not sure they can guess their meaning accurately is actually detrimental to learning. Instead, Penny suggests translating into L1 if needed or associating words with an image or something in L1 rather than asking learners to guess from context. To support this claim she cites Bensoussan and Laufer’s (1984) study (conducted with proficient English speakers) in which they found that context was only helpful in guessing meaning 24% of the time. If this is the first time students have been introduced to new lexis, Penny recommends ending the lesson by setting up scenarios in which students need to recall words learned.

When it comes to her advice on reviewing lexis, Penny points out that learners need to review a word at least 10 times and learn connotations, collocations, and context. Time efficiency is important, and games like hangman or word searches are not very efficient to review vocabulary. Finding phrases that include the word, odd one out (without an obvious answer), completing sentences. After new lexis has been introduced and reviewed, Penny suggests engaging in a third step, i.e., identifying the known lexis and learning more complex aspects about it, such as synonyms, pragmatics, etc.

Some tips on teaching were given, such as not teaching words together that might be confused (opposites or synonyms, sound similar, mean the same). An example given by Penny was teaching “blue” with “sky” instead of “blue” with “red”.

During the second half of the course, Scott cited Gatbonton, E. and Segalowitz, N. (1988) to explain that practice activities for fluency should be “communicative, authentic, focused, formulaic, and inherently repetitive”. Role-play, guessing games, surveys were mentioned by class participants and highlighted by Scott as sample activities meeting the previously mentioned criteria.

On the other hand, the point was made that when it comes to improving accuracy, feedback and correction, along with giving enough time for learners to review their language, are essential. During the last session, Penny claimed (and demonstrated) that in order to communicate, vocabulary is more important than grammar. In my opinion, this last point has ramifications into our every day teaching that we must take into account, since, as Penny notes, many textbooks do not give vocabulary the place it deserves in language learning.

Online or Face-to-Face? Questions in Course Design

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/"

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”

 

This was the last week of Blended Learning course I started 6 weeks ago. The facilitators of this course did a fantastic job at creating different ways for participants to stay engaged throughout the course, reminding us that we could choose to join in as little or as much as we wanted. I listened to their weekly webinars, read the corresponding chapters, and even though I could not meet my weekly blogging goal, I’d like to share some thoughts that resonated with me.

These past three weeks, BlendKit14 addressed issues related to assessment in a blended learning environment, content and assignments, and quality assurance. It was interesting for me to note that most of the considerations in curriculum design for a blended course dealt with aspects we also take into account in a F2F (face to face) environment. And I suppose that makes sense. Regardless of whether we are planning a course to take place in a super high tech classroom, one with minimal resources and no classroom, or fully online, designing a course requires us to think about student needs, objectives, content, assignments, and the way it can all come together. However, what stands out to me as a difference between planning to teach a blended course and preparing for a F2F course is that designing a blended course has a built in need to make decisions about which type of activities students will benefit the most from. Perhaps one could argue that F2F classes are no different in this regard, but when I was thinking of how I would teach my current composition class if it were a blended course, I often wondered “which lessons would work better if we have a F2F class?” or “could students learn how to do X or Y by working online with other students?”. In short, because a blended course gives the option of asynchronous work and the use of many more resources online, there’s also the need for us to go deeper into the reasons why we choose any particular type of activity e.g., conducting a group discussion in the classroom vs on an online forum, reading at home vs. engaging in a reading activity in class. Even though I will not teach a blended course next fall, I will continue to have access to a LMS (Moodle) and since I do tend to integrate technology quite often in the classroom, I’ll be revising my course objectives to see if any of them could be better met by working on them asynchronously.

When thinking about blended content and assignments (week 4) #BlendKit14 started with a section titled “questions to ponder”, and again, I find all of these questions relevant and valuable to my F2F teaching context.

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?

  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?

  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?

  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Learning about how to design a blended or hybrid course has taught me that there are lots of important questions we need to ask ourselves when thinking about the mode in which our courses take place. Sounds a bit obvious to state, but I think questioning even those teaching decisions which we think are so clear could make a big difference when it comes to student participation and learning. Each week during the BlendKit14 course I got to hear about the experiences of two faculty members teaching different courses and if something stood out from  what they shared, it was that teaching the same content using new tools will involve lots of reflecting about what we are doing, how the students respond to it, and which changes need to take place. I know many teachers who strive to do this in their F2F classes already, but as more and more schools move towards integrating blended courses, we will need to start taking a deeper look into why and how we integrate web 2.0 tools into our courses.

So, in the spirit of questioning our current practices and use of technology in teaching, I’d like to ask the following question:

Which learning objectives in your current class could be met by conducting asynchronous online activities? which ones require a F2F class, and why?

Am I learning Japanese?

Sharing an inspiring post by Ann Loseva, an English teacher from Moscow whose blog is a joy to read.

Ann talks about her experience teaching herself Japanese, and in the process, explores what learning through the use of apps, resources online, and support from other learners online might look/feel like. Her blog post made me ponder on whether learners need for a schedule or curriculum to make tangible progress in language learning -a given for most of us teachers of ESOL, but something she seems to be exploring at the moment. And wait, did I mention she’s teaching herself Japanese?? If only for that impressive reason, you should read her blog post and discover how she’s doing it.

Thanks Ann for planting a little seed inside my head and making me think about teaching myself my dream language, Arabic. There’s something incredibly empowering in knowing that with all the resources online and enough motivation, I could perhaps make it happen! Looking forward to reading more about your experience learning Japanese.

Ann Loseva's Space

I am in the process. More accurately, a couple of days ago I pulled myself out of the 2-month stagnation process, thanks to this post of Sandy Millin about how she actually is learning Russian. Thanks again, Sandy, for this unintended nudge, which I’m just hopeful will mean effort on my part for more than a few days after this post is out.

Over to the more detailed answer to the question in the title. I am learning, of course. Am I enjoying Japanese? Very much. Am I progressing? Well, I believe I am. Am I happy with my progress (and myself learning)? Not at all. The funniest thing for me here was to look back and track out my post of Dec 3, 2013, the moment when, having studied Japanese for a whole one long week, I came up with morals and lessons, both for myself, for students…

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Blended Interactions in ELT

This post is my reading response to last week’s BlendKit chapter, “Blended Interactions”. Even though I have not taught a blended or hybrid course (yet), I am interested in exploring the possibilities of mixing face-to-face and online components in a composition class for English Speakers of Other Languages in the future, hence my participation in the BlendKit MOOC offered by the University of Central Florida.

This week’s reading explored the value of interactions occurring in both face-to-face (F2F) and online settings. Some questions that came up for me were, “how do I determine which objectives can be met via online interactions?” and “which learning activities would be more effective in F2F meetings?” My first instinct is to start listing all the objectives and activities I have arranged for my current course, which again, is completely F2F. If I were to teach this same course following a blended approach, could I expect my students to successfully participate in seminars online? Like many English teachers, I have often struggled to find ways to encourage class discussions, especially if students come unprepared to class. Could allowing them to read at home and take their time for asynchronous discussions yield richer discussions?

The authors of this week’s text claim that

“asynchronous activities allow students to enter more deeply into the material or an idea. There is time to look up facts, to draft an outline of what to say, and to revise mistakes before others respond. For students who speak English as a second, third, or fourth language, asynchronous activities give them time to translate instructions or other students’ ideas and to refer to other resources before they communicate their own thoughts” (Thompson). 

While I have had a similar experience as a learner, I realize that the issue is not just deciding which activities would work better online or F2F. This might be more of a practical question, but deep down, what I need to understand is what my role as a writing instructor would be in a blended course, and perhaps more importantly, what the role of students, including the interaction among themselves, should be in a blended course.

Thompson et al encourage teachers to think about the role of educators and the process of learning in a networked world by highlighting four different models brought forward by other educators. Those models, as listed in this 2nd Chapter, are: 

  • John Seely Brown’s notion of studio or atelier learning;
  • Clarence Fischer’s notion of educator as network administrator
  • Curtis Bonk’s notion of educator as concierge
  • George Siemens’ notion of educator as curator
modern art....fancy a taste? @fionamau

“modern art….fancy a taste?”
photo by @fionamau (ELTPics)

While I had never heard of these models before, Brown’s and Siemen’s models caught my attention because they describe processes that are (or could be) part of my writing classes. Brown’s Atelier Learning, for example, is about students showcasing their work in progress to a larger audience, perhaps via a blog or online page where students could write for a larger audience. Although my students do not currently write online, I would like to try creating an environment where learners would be free to read and comment on each other’s work online without some of the pressure that giving feedback can have in a F2F environment. My role then would be that of organizing our “writing studio” and creating an online place where students are aware of their audience and care for the feedback they’ll get from everyone who will be able to appreciate their work, not just their teacher.

The other model described by Thompson et al is Siemen’s Curatorial learning. In this model the teacher is described as an “expert learner” and one who “creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected” (qtd. in Thompson). This definition reminded me of those times when I’ve thought of giving student guided access to different resources (e.g., corpus-based tools for vocabulary, writing guides online) or when I’ve offered choices to students when it comes to topics to explore in their writing. Being a curator is perhaps not that different to being a facilitator, but what I appreciate about Siemen’s model is that it brings up this image of a carefully planned space that could stay for students to use as a resource long after the actual course is over.

But back to the value of our interactions in a blended course as it applies to teaching writing and/or ESOL, I have to wonder. In this day and age, how vital is it for students to be in a F2F setting in order to communicate in English? Thompson et al seem to encourage us to think of ways we can foster a sense of community and belonging in a blended course through the F2F component. Can students come together in the process of expressing themselves in a new language if they don’t see and hear each other in the same room? It is not uncommon to hear of many people around the world nowadays who have learned English because of their need to communicate with people they have not met in other parts of the world. Could it be then that we can transfer a sense of community and belonging to a blended classroom of English Language Learners? I don’t have an answer at this point, but I do have a deep curiosity and desire to give it a try in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to continue learning from your experiences or thoughts on blended learning in ELT!

“See you” all next week…

Sources:

Thompson, K. (n.d.). BlendKit Course: BlendKit Reader: Chapter 2. Blended Learning Toolkit. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from https://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-2/

Thinking About Blended Learning in EAP

Image

Photo from ELTPics “Huayhuash Lake in Peru” by @VictoriaB52

 

 

This post is part of my reading response to the first unit of a Blended Learning course (#BlendKit14) that I am currently taking online (offered by the University of Central Florida and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities). I will continue posting on the topic of blended learning over the next four weeks.

Although I am not planning on designing a blended course for ELT at the moment, I am curious about the possibility of teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) online in the future. I would love to find out from teachers (or learners reading this blog!) if you think there could be advantages combining online and onsite learning activities in EAP. Also, what should we be mindful of when designing blended courses? I teach an English writing class to first year university students in non-English speaking country, and I am often looking for ways in which students will be encouraged to collaborate with each other in their writing and/or while reading and analyzing texts in class. What if students came to class for presentations and debates, but also had time offline to write their reading responses and interact with each other via forums and blog posts? Is blended learning a better alternative to traditional face-to-face courses or could it be mainly a beneficial option to some learners?

Hybrid or blended-courses are becoming more and more common at many higher education institutions nowadays. Some of the subjects taught range from accounting to marine biology classes. This is not surprising since the appeal of being able to learn through both onsite and online interactions is huge, especially when we consider that blended courses allow more flexibility for learners who need to complete work asynchronously due to their own work or personal schedules. But blended-learning works well for many learners not only because of the asynchronous nature of the learning activities in the online component. Blended courses allow participants to connect with each other in ways in which a traditional classroom does not often encourage (e.g., via blogs, sharing sources). Also, students get to participate in class by using different skills than those required in traditional face-to-face education only. Think of reading seminars and group work; discussions in online forums allow participants more time to think and polish their responses -a luxury we often don’t have when participating in a live class discussion. Additionally, in a face-to-face class we do not have the option of ‘skimming’ replies from participants who are speaking and focus our attention on replying to comments that caught our attention. I speak from personal experience here. Having completed an MA in TESOL (online) at the New School with the chance of taking some courses onsite during the summer, I have to say that quite often I enjoyed the online discussions more since I could browse different responses and think more about the replies I gave to others’ posts. I enjoy face-to-face discussions, but from my experience I’ve come to believe that online discussions can be deeper and more challenging at times.

By designing a course in which web 2.0 technologies are incorporated in addition to more common methods, learners are given the chance to explore online resources that they’ll be able to use and refer to in the future. BlendKit2014 facilitator Kelvin Thomson explains in his first chapter of the Blendkit Reader that “blended learning lends itself to learner-centered, teacher-guided (as opposed to teacher-directed), interactive, and student-collaborative learning.” As a teacher (and learner) who is drawn to the use of technology when exploring new content and connecting to others, I find myself wondering how a hybrid or blended course would work for English language learners in an academic context. What exactly about having an online component could benefit students in EAP? What are the limitations to keep in mind? I would love to see peer reviews conducted online, hoping that perhaps some of the insecurities of giving peer feedback in person would be lessened. But would they?

I’ll probably have more questions (and perhaps some answers?) as I keep reading and interacting with others in the BlendKit course. For now, I hope to hear from other teachers interested in blended learning. Please share some of your thoughts!

My Experience at TESOL 2014 and My New-Found Love for Presentations

TESOL 2014 Logo

Last month I got to participate at the TESOL Convention in Portland, and what an enriching experience that was! First of all, I had not presented at an international conference before, and even though I just gave a poster presentation there, it was such a great opportunity to focus on learning more about a topic that has interested me these past few years: vocabulary acquisition and using corpus-based tools for language learning. I want to do more poster presentations now; it’s such a fun way to learn more about an area that you care about while also meeting other teachers with similar interests.

And well, all of this got me thinking: why is it that many of us teachers of ESOL shy away from presenting, and why is attending conferences so energizing and motivating?

Two big questions, I know, but worth exploring because of what it can mean for our every day practices.

At the conference, I had a chance to participate in a few Electronic Village events organized by the Computer Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS). They definitely put out some great workshops, and I know that from now on, I’ll always attend at least a couple at each conference. I love the collaborative spirit of all people involved, the hands-on nature of the work shared, and of course, the geekiness of it all.  One of the workshops in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) category, was about using www.wordandphrase.info to learn vocabulary and explore words in depth. So useful! I was there with 2 or 3 other attendees who got to share their own experiences or ideas using the site. Getting to hear what works well (or not so well) for teachers in other contexts is such a great added benefit of these sessions. What’s best, it was right before that session that I met @avafruin, ELT twitter friend from California. How exciting to finally connect in person! At another session, I accidentally ran into @citoyennemondia, an insightful teacher I first met because of her participation in the ELT Paper Club. What a great coincidence! Meeting “old” Twitter friends and making new ones, like Autumn @TESOLatRennert and @Dan_Ferreira_jp l is definitely one of the most exciting parts of ELT conferences.

But back to the first question: Why do we shy away from presenting at conferences? I think we don’t realize how much we have to share with others, and ironically, I think many of us English teachers are a bit intimidated by the academic community and research. Of course, a great number of teachers of ESOL are overworked and underpaid, so thinking about conducting research or exploring teaching-related topics in depth might seem to be too much work, but what I have learned is that it all pays off. Exploring a challenging aspect of ELT brings the gratification of finding out that others may go through your same struggle, that there are solutions you had not thought about before, and that perhaps some of what you had been doing and were not so sure about is actually grounded in theory. Or perhaps you’ll learn, like I did during Penny Ur’s  and Eli Finkel’s presentation on vocabulary acquisition, that some of your ideas about learning are not necessarily the most efficient. Case in point, learning vocabulary by guessing from context. At their presentation I found out that apparently students could benefit more from getting a brief explanation of the word or hearing examples of it used in context rather than being asked to guess meaning from context, especially when there are too many unknown words in the text.

Now, what is it about connecting to others that is so motivating?

Teaching can be a pretty solitary act. We often don’t have the time to talk to our colleagues and learn what they are doing. I know sometimes I’ve felt like I’m the only one struggling with a particular issue in class, and I’ve also often had second-thoughts about my approach to learning different skills or language items. Well, connecting with other teachers at conferences and online (though blogs or social media) brings this new energy and confidence that a) other teachers have experienced your same struggles and can offer useful tips or help you think of new ways or approaching old dilemmas, b) our learners share a lot more in common than we think, and there’s a lot for us to learn from each other.

There’s about a month and a half left to apply for next year’s TESOL Convention in Toronto, and although I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it, I want to apply and try my hardest to make that happen. Of course, TESOL is not the only place to present and I think it’s a great opportunity for any ELT professional to plan a presentation. In fact, it might even be better to consider presenting at local conferences, to colleagues, at an online event (like the RSCON), or at a regional conference. There are so many outstanding teachers out there with so much to share. I encourage you all to participate and connect to teachers in our profession -we’re so privileged to be in a field that keeps reinventing itself and growing more each day. Let’s embrace it!

Baloney Detection and the Grandmas of SOLE

The Secret DOS

IATEFL…sounds like a badly aspirated “I hate EFL”. Where were the marketing people that day? It seems as if after the latest IATEFL shindig, two people who won’t be needing marketing gurus are Russell Mayne, aka @ebefl, and Sugata Mitra. Of course, Mitra doesn’t need a publicist because he is his own best publicist; his message is enchanting; his mannerisms are endearing; he is a polymath who has approached the problem of educating society’s outcasts and thinks he may have found the solution: a hybrid lo-tech/hi-tech mechanism that has Indian children from socioeconomically deprived communities struggling to help Geordie grandmas improve their pronunciation – assuming I haven’t misunderstood anything here. People loved it.

Russ doesn’t need a publicist because, weirdly, he did the opposite of Sugata Mitra and people loved it. Sugata told people that the solution to the challenges of creating a more equitable world was simple and straightforward. Russ…

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How to teach

A thought-provoking post by @TheSecretDoS that reminded me of Dogme language teaching. Language originating from Ss -not books #mustread

The Secret DOS

A bit of a polemic today, to mark the fact that I have woken up at some sort of ridiculous hour and now need to keep my brain occupied while waiting for the rest of the family to stir. The backstory: I am currently teaching a class that ranges from complete beginner to…well…to what exactly? I couldn’t possibly begin to tell you and I have been doing this job for over twenty years. Some of the students at the higher end of the ability scale are capable of talking, of joking, of communicating, but cannot spell, write, read or understand spoken English with any degree of accuracy. What placement test will ever be able to label them with certitude? At least one of the students in my class says absolutely nothing. When she is asked a question, she folds in on herself and tries to do that sort of physical…

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