Problem Solving 2 – Solutions

As promised, here are the problems from the last post but this time with added suggestions of solutions. It was really encouraging at our meeting the other day to see how much our staff seem to be on the same page – we split into groups to discuss the problems and when we came together at the end there were more similarities than differences in the approaches. Most people said they had experienced or done at least one or two of the things on the list – I know I’ve probably done them all at some stage.

Let me know if you agree or disagree with the suggestions/explanations. Like most things in teaching, a lot of this is easier said than done.

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Problem Solving – Problems

We were originally scheduled to have a talk from one of our teachers on Classroom Management this week, but they’ve cancelled at the last minute which left me in a bit of a bind. I don’t have time to do up another talk, but I don’t want to miss out a date on our CPD calendar. Instead, I’ve come up with a list of potential problems and have posed questions after them – I’ve sent this on to teachers and on Thursday we’ll sit down for 30-40 minutes and talk about them.
I’m hopeful that this will be a good way to discuss classroom management and that it will spark some interesting conversations and ideas around the staffroom.
Seeing as I’ve gone to the trouble of writing out the problems I figured I might as well invite anyone who wants to join in – leave a response to any of the problems in the comments and I’ll make sure to read your contribution at our meeting on Thursday.
Problems:
1. A student who didn’t pass the progression test expresses annoyance that the class isn’t challenging enough for them. They know all the answers to the exercises already.
What can the teacher do in this situation?
2. The teacher in instructions tells students to find out about their partner’s favourite film. In feedback, they correct lots of errors but don’t ask anyone what the film was.
How do the class feel about the work they do?
3. The teacher wants to check if students understand a grammar point – e.g. present perfect. T asks ‘If I know the time, do I use the present perfect?’  Ss: ‘no’. T: ‘When do I use the present perfect?’ Ss: ‘When you don’t know the time’.
Does the teacher know if the students can use the present perfect?
4. An interaction in an A1 class goes something like this:
T: So, what did anyone do at the weekend?
S1: I go to cinema.
T: You went to the cinema, went to the cinema, good, what did you see?
S1: Batman.
T: Batman, very good, I like Batman. anyone else?
S2: I go to the park.
T: You went to the park.. went to the park.
S2: Yes, I went to the park.
T: Very nice – the weather was good wasn’t it. Ok. Let’s see what we’re going to do today.. …

 

What effect do the teacher’s responses have on the class here?

 

5. The teacher wants to explain the 2nd conditional. To do it, they spend about 20 minutes at the board going through the rules and some examples. The students listen carefully, make some notes and then do some exercises. They get all the correct answers and afterwards most of them are able to make their own sentences using 2nd conditional in free(r) practice. A few days later, the teacher notices that students are making mistakes with this structure.

 

What went wrong?

 

6. To start the class the teacher does a brilliant mingle activity where some students are pirates and others are aliens and they all must work together to find out who is the human and where they hid the gold. It’s amazing – it really gets students up and about and talking. The main lesson is about compound nouns, T does a presentation about them and students do lots of exercises. After all that work, in the last 20 minutes, the class do ‘youtube karaoke’ – it’s great fun, they all go home laughing and smiling.

 

How do the students in this class feel about their coursework?

 

7. An interaction at B1 goes something like this:

 

S1: Is terrible in my country, the politico, they no have good moral, they robber. My father, once he had good job, but now is all… ..
T (interrupting): Yes, ok, now. not ‘politico’ – what do we say?
S2: politician
T: yes, that’s it, politician (writes on board). And we don’t say ‘they no have good moral’ we say…?
S3: They don’t have good moral?
T: Almost, ‘they don’t have…?’
S4: They don’t have any moral?
T: better, but any…. followed by singular or plural?
S2: morals?
T: That’s it… (writes phrase on board). Now, ‘they robber’ .. What should we say?
S3: They are robbers?
T: Yes, that’s ok, but for politicians we have an adjective to describe them, starts with ‘c’
S4: Corruption.
T: That’s it, but that’s the noun, the adjective is..?
S2: Corrupt?
T: Excellent. (writes on board) – Now, who wants to respond to that?

 

What changes would you make to this sequence? How does student 1 feel about their teacher here? Would you respond?

Under observation

Phew.. it’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks/months since I came back to Dublin. I’ve taken on a new job – the transition to admin has become permanent, so I’ve been doing lots of interesting jobs over the past while that I’ve never done before. The first one I’d like to talk about is organising observations.

evalIn the first week that I was back I went to the fortnightly staff meeting to try and catch up on what I’d missed. The hot topic that week was observations – apparently a regime of ‘pop-in’ observations had been implemented and teachers felt in fear of their lives that someone might come in to their class to observe at any moment. Suffice to say, the atmosphere wasn’t great. I, as part of my new role, was given responsibility for observations and professional development so the mess landed on my lap.

The first thing I noticed was that the link between observation and development had been severed. Teachers weren’t thinking of being observed as an opportunity to learn something, they were treating it as if they were being tested and getting nothing from it. From the observers point of view, they seemed to be viewing the observations as opportunities to pick apart teachers’ abilities and be rather critical of the standard in the school as a whole. The attitudes on both sides were a little unhelpful and there certainly wasn’t much happening in terms of constructive development. I have made it my business to try to address this issue and hopefully help teachers see the benefits and help observers do their job without judgement.

The first thing I did was stop the pop-ins until I could get a handle on what was going on. This relieved the tension the teachers were feeling and gave me a chance to start the dialogue from a different position, one where they felt less pressure. The next thing I did was start talking about development loudly, to anyone that would listen and I made sure to mention how observations were one of the best ways to diagnose areas for improvement. Finally, I prepared a document explaining the links between observations and development and circulated it to staff for them to understand the processes and rationale a bit better.

“Remember “I wouldn’t do it that way,” is no reason to say another shouldn’t”

That, hopefully, took care of the teachers, now what about the observers? Its hard for teachers-turned-managers to resist imposing their own teaching style on what they see in observations, but it’s so vital to remember that “I wouldn’t do it that way,” is no reason to say another shouldn’t. As an observer you have a responsibility to the teacher and the learners to be as impartial as possible. The best way to do this, I think, is to use observation tasks that measure facts. With that in mind I designed and adapted tasks from a variety of places (see references below) to look at different areas of teaching and learning. For example, one task measures how many follow up questions a teacher asks after each student utterance. Another asks how many times a teacher uses a particular technique to deal with pronunciation. What they all have in common is that they deal with measurable things.

Pronunciation Observation Task - designed by LTElt

Pronunciation Observation Task – designed by LTElt

Because the tasks deal in absolutes (5 times, 10 minutes, 3 questions etc.) they take the opinion out of the process. Afterwards, the teacher and the observer can have a conversation on whether they think something is good or bad, but the results of the observation will be indisputable. I think this moves the observation away from being a question of judgement and towards one of being a question of interpretation and principled decision making.

I hope that these changes will help to highlight the benefits of observation for teachers and discourage observers from being too judgemental but only time will tell. What do you think? Have you had similar issues in your school? Do you like being observed? Do you find yourself being judgemental when you’re observing?

References:

Richards, J.C. and Farrell, T.S.C. (2005) Professional Development for Language Teachers. Cambridge.

Scrivener, J. (2012) Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge.

Wajnryb, R. (1993) Classroom Observation Tasks. Cambridge.

 

Semi-intelligent Design

I’ve just emerged from the pit of hell called DELTA Module 2 (more on that another time..) and I’m back in work about two weeks. Surprisingly, my DOS didn’t throw me straight back to the lions, instead calling on me to redesign our syllabus for levels A2 – C1.. In three weeks.. Alone.. Welcome Home!!

I suppose the first thing to talk about is what the old syllabus was like. We’re a big-ish school (~5-600 students) in Dublin that works with a lot of gap-year students from Latin America and Asia, and as such we need to have accreditation. The accreditaiton body dictates that these courses be 26-weeks long as that’s the length of time the students must study in order to get their visa – so far so good? Ok, so then we had a system where we would use 2  course books per level so each book would get ‘covered’ in 13 weeks. There’s assessment every 2 weeks and every 6 or 7 weeks there’s a ‘big test’ which gives students the chance to progress to the next level.

The books we were using were New English File and Outcomes. New English File has 7 units and Outcomes has 16. The syllabus was basically the table of contents divided up over the required number of weeks. There were a minimum of thought put into it and there were some days where we needed to cover 1 page and others where we needed to cover up to 6 pages!!! Our classes are 3 hours per day (90 minutes, 15 minutes break, 90 minutes). I think my DOS chose me to redesign them because I complained the most about them.

What I really want to talk about here is how different it is when you are constrained in this way by accreditation and the size of the school in terms of the course that you can design. I’ve done DELTA Module 3 and from the gospel according to Graves (2000) we all know that the first thing you do is assess your students’ needs, which leads to your aims and objectives and from there you develop an organising principle and off you go, building in your formative assessment as you go. In our case, we have over 500 students who enrol at different times and start every Monday into classes that never end, they simply return to the start of the cycle and go again. You can see why the theory gets thrown out the window in this case.

So our organising principle is to follow the order of things in the coursebook. Our objectives are to be able to do all the things in the book and to be ready to study the next book. Easy right? And that’s what I was asked to do. Fill in tables on a word document with page numbers and exercises and what have you. At least we changed to 1 coursebook only for 26 weeks at A2 and higher, which makes slightly more sense and at least provides a bit more time for teachers to supplement and maybe occasionally assess the needs of the humans in the same room of them and do something that will help them as individuals. We’ve also pushed assessment out to being once every 4 weeks – I’ll post a bit more about that another time, that’s what I’m working on this week.

Anyway, I think I’ve managed to do it in such a way that at least it wasn’t just copying and pasting the title of the unit and giving a page number. For each day I’ve tried to pick out what the main aims of the 2 page-spread in the book are and I’ve put them in. So instead of “Monday, Reading: John goes to the shop” you get something like “Reading for gist, reading for specific information, guessing meaning from context.” etc. I think it’s a slight improvement and it will certainly help those teachers who want to supplement by showing them exactly what skills/systems they should be dealing with.

This experience does highlight the massive gulf between what happens in theory and on CELTAs, DELTAs and M.A.s and what needs to happen in the real world where language schools are businesses and student bodies are not fixed. Where size dictates that courses must be robust rather than tailored, general rather than specific, and most importantly, easy to implement on large scales.

The anti-coursebook brigade will rail and moan, but pity the poor soul in your school who gets told to knock out a 26-week syllabus for every level in just 3 weeks. Module 2….. all is forgiven… take me back!!!

 

Reference:

Graves, K. (2000) Designing Language Courses, Heinle & Heinle.

EL-FREE

How much free work do you do as a teacher every week? Every month? Every year? It has become very clear to me over my 6 years in the industry that there are a number of things that directors, owners, students and even other teachers expect us to do without payment. For this post, I thought about listing some of the things that I have to do for free and stating the case for why they should be paid. This is completely based on my own experiences in Dublin and is not representative of a consensus view. It’s merely the start of a conversation, no more, no less.

1. Lesson Planning.

This is the first and most obvious one that jumps out for me. In all my time teaching I have never once been paid to plan a lesson. I have heard of schools where lesson planning is paid for or others where preparation is ‘included’ in the teaching rate, but I have never received a penny for preparing a class, which is crazy really when you think about it.

Where I work now, I have to submit fairly detailed lesson plans at the start of every week. These are required by the school to meet the accreditation standards that they have. Without them, the school could fail an inspection and thereby lose a massive chunk of its business. However, they have no interest in paying teachers to prepare them and worse, they sometimes come and complain about the quality/detail of those that are submitted.

Lesson-planning is a skill. It’s one that we learn on our CELTA (or other) courses and improve on our DELTA (or other). Not anyone can do it. If you ask a man on the street to come and plan a class, they won’t be able to. This is the very definition of skilled work. I teach 30 hours of classes per week. It takes about 3-4 hours to put together plans for that amount of lessons, but when I started it was more like 10 hours. All of this work, all unrewarded.

2. Administration.

Next on the list is administration. This covers correcting tests, filling in forms, sending and receiving work-related emails and so on. You could include staff meetings in here too. Where I work we do get paid for attending meetings, but it’s at a lower rate than for teaching. That makes sense in somebody’s mind but not mine. We have to run a test every two weeks in my school. If you’re smart you can use peer-correction and you can manage to not have to take anything home, but for my first 3 years as a teacher, marking papers was a part of every weekend, probably 2-3 hours worth every week.

I get around 20 work-related emails each week. I respond to 2-3. Lots of them ask me for ideas about how to improve the school, adjustments to procedures etc. In these cases I provide my expertise for free. I have trained and gained experience so I can make suggestions and I can help to improve student and teacher experience in my school, yet this is not valued, it is simply taken. If you don’t contribute in these situations then you may be overlooked for promotions or interesting projects or basically for anything. In the case of those who don’t have permanent contracts, the willingness to do this kind of work for free may be the difference between renewal and being shown the door.

3. Professional Development

Finally, for today anyway, there’s professional development. As a teacher you are expected to engage constantly in professional development. You must keep up to date with methodology and research, you must attend events and conferences, you must never stagnate, you must always improve. However, I am yet to hear of a school where CPD is paid for.

When teachers improve themselves professionally, they also improve the skills they possess and the service that their school can offer. (Remember, schools consider themselves to be selling a service.) A barista will be paid to learn to make cappuccino hearts, a barman will be paid to learn to make fancy cocktails – their employer understands that better skilled staff equals better profits for them – the schools I’ve worked in have failed to recognise this. Not only is the professional development itself unrewarded, but those higher-skilled teachers are normally not rewarded with increases in wages or improvements in conditions, unless of course, they change to a new school/country.

The average teacher probably spends 2-3 hours a week on CPD whether they know it or not. Reading an article about a new technique. Searching online for new materials. Even looking in the dictionary for the definition of a word and making an example to use in a class the next day. Referring to Swan to answer a student question the next day. These are all examples of CPD, even though they may not look like it. Throw in 1 conference a year and a couple of talks/videos and you’re looking at about 2/3 weeks pay per year that is not being given.

Solutions.

There are few, if any, viable solutions to this problem. One obvious one is industrial action – a work to rule if you will, where teachers only do the work they are paid for. The problem with this is that teachers are not organised and that it’s quite a drastic action. Another solution would be if teachers were paid salaries rather than wages based on hours taught – perhaps then this extra work could be included in the salary package. I’m speaking from my experience in Dublin where the private language schools pay by the hour for contact only, maybe in other countries there are other systems in place.

These are the kinds of things that teachers need to start talking about. The conversation has started on Twitter already thanks to a proposed TAW_SIG and there are other groups out there who want to do the same. What do you think? Do you work a lot for free? Let me know in the comments.

DELTA Force

At the start of 2014 I was at a bit of a crossroads in ELT. I was cross, and I was thinking about hitting the road. I had a chat with my DOS at the time and he told me I should be all in or all out. I went away and thought about it for a while and I came to the conclusion that if ELT was going to be my ‘real job’ I should really make sure I’ve got the right qualifications. I already had a CELTA, as you need one of those to work in (most) schools in Dublin and I wasn’t quite ready for a full-time M.A. in TESOL, so I went for DELTA.

Do you think I need a gun to pass Module 1?

Do you think I need a gun to pass Module 1?

The good news here is that DELTA counts for about half of an M.A. in TESOL in some universities so it’s a good first step. The better news is that you can do it by distance learning, so you don’t need to give up your job to do it. I went with Distance DELTA, but there are other online providers as far as I know. So far I’ve done Module 1 and I’m in the middle of Module 3. For the uninitiated, we’ll have a quick rundown of the modules and what they’re like.

Module 1

This is a test. There are 2 papers. You need to define some ELT terminology, evaluate some student work, explain lots of tricky language, evaluate a test, identify the purposes and theories behind some coursebook material and then give a range of opinions on some topical part of ELT. It takes a lot of reading to get up to speed with it, but as exams go it’s not the worst I’ve done. (Take a bow Driving Test, 4 times and my licence is still green.) Distance DELTA give you lots of practice papers and train you in exam technique. They also have helpful notes on the main topic areas. If you’ve read more before you start, you’ll have a serious advantage.

Module 2

I haven’t done this part yet, but it seems to be like a SUPER-CELTA, it’s a 6-week course when done full-time or 9 months part-time/distance. You have to plan lessons and then be evaluated on them. Each one has to address a specific language point. I’m leaning towards going away to do it. I’d prefer to hammer it out in 6 weeks than have it hanging over me for 9 months. Also, Jim Scrivener teaches some of the one with Bell in the U.K. It would be nice to learn from one of the giants of the industry.

Module 3

I’m currently doing this one through Distance DELTA. It’s like a thesis. You pick a specialist topic and then design a course for a learner/learners within that specialism. You need to do needs analysis, diagnostic testing, set objectives, find materials and design an evaluation. You also need to do a tonne of reading about those areas and about your specialism. I chose one-to-one as my specialism as I teach a fair amount of one-to-one classes at the moment, and I’d like to do more. Also, it’s an area that’s relatively light on reading and resources which means you can explore your own ideas a bit more without going against the common grain and also means that you might be able to become a leading expert in that field. I’m about halfway through at present, I’ll post a bit more about it at a later date.

So there you have it, that’s what a DELTA looks like. I’ve heard of people who have done the whole thing in like a 3-month full-time whirlwind, but that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed Module 1 more than I’m enjoying Module 3 at the moment, but I think when I was in the middle of Module 1 I wasn’t too happy either. It’s hard to work and study at the same time and a lot of things get sacrificed along the way. You’ll need an understanding boss and a support network of some kind (friends, family, colleagues, Twitter) and you’ll need to want to learn.

It’s been good for me as a teacher who likes to set a high standard in work, as now when I complain I have some theory to throw weight behind my arguments and it helps you see that even with a CELTA and 6 years experience, there’s still a whole world of information out there to be learned about. I’m hopeful that in the end I’ll be a better teacher, and also, and perhaps more significantly, more secure and valuable in my day job.