Weeknotes #2

I used to love bank holidays but since I got really busy, it just means I have to squeeze 5 days work into 4 so they’re not super-beneficial anymore. I did enjoy my weekend, but as I’ve been working 6 day weeks recently it just meant I had a real weekend rather than an extended one. 

______________________________________

Last Week:

Ran into a bit of a hurricane on Tuesday – there were one or two of my team struggling under pressure with things to do so I took on a couple of jobs I wouldn’t normally do. It was interesting to do them, and I certainly have a good understanding of how time-consuming some of that work is. I’ve put on my to-do to try to streamline some of the processes involved to make it easier for the rest of the team and for me should I need to jump in on those tasks again.

We’re all set to kick of a teacher training course next week. We had a really productive tutors meeting on Wednesday where we reminded ourselves of the challenges we’re likely to face and thought up one or two changes we’re going to try to implement. We’ve finally figured out a way to get a listening into the teaching practices (previously we only had the option to use an authentic listening instead of a reading in the final lesson) so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out. I’m not leading that part of the change project, instead I’ll be trying to make our materials assignment input sessions a little more practical. We’re considering having the trainees analyse all of the materials we use in our demonstration lessons to get them used to breaking them down into their individual components and seeing how they work together. I’m cooking up some kind of checklist-type thing that they can use to analyse them. It’ll probably only look like I want it to after this batch of trainees have used it and I get feedback from them on how to make it work better.

We had a bit of go-forward on our great syllabus redesign project so it’s looking like we’re going to get cracking into it early next week. I’m really happy that I’ve been able to get one of our teachers involved as they were doing a little bit of it before and then we got sidetracked. I feel like it’s a really good opportunity for them, and of course it’s going to help me no end to have someone to power through the legwork of it. They’ll be mostly writing objectives based off the material that’s available, so there’s an interesting challenge there – can you write 4 standalone lesson objectives based off a 2-page coursebook spread? The bigger challenge will come when we have to train teachers in how to work that way – they’re used to having more material than they can go through, this will be the opposite. I feel like it’s the way to go, and the single-objective per lesson opens up opportunities for using success criteria, or bringing in a more task-based methodology, but we still get the structure and stability of having a coursebook as the backbone which our less-experienced (and some more-experienced!) teachers need.

I also had a productive meeting with my IRST partner in crime on Thursday. We’ve got a clear(er) direction and we set a fairly tight deadline for us to be ready for the next stage – I’m hopeful of meeting it, but I’ll need some time to open up over the next week or two to really focus on it. It has the potential to be a good project no matter what, so I’m not too panicked about it yet, but the longer we leave it go, the harder it will be to get it over the line.

Next Week:

Looking ahead, my planner is absolutely jam-packed. I have a small window on Wednesday afternoon, and quite a bit of space on Friday from late-morning on but the rest of the week is chock-a-block. Between doing input sessions on the Cert., teaching model classes and observing the trainees’ first lessons along with trying to stay on top of all the regular work it’s going to be challenging. The next 4 weeks are all about survival and hoping we come out the other side in one piece. There won’t be too much done on any of our longer-term projects, but I do hope to get a proposal or two fired off in that time so at least when the light appears at the end of the tunnel I’ll have a couple of things approved and ready to go.

_____________________________________________________

Things are certainly heating up – lots on and lots coming. It’s a real head-down, shoulder to the wheel kind of period. Feels like next time I look up we’ll be in 2019.. 

Take it easy, 

L.

Advertisements

Weeknotes #1

I’m going to try to set aside a bit of time each Friday to reflect on what I’ve done and what’s coming up over the next while. Hoping they’ll build up into a nice overview of what my day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month looks and feels like and how it changes over time. 

_________________________________

Last week:

I’ve started to build a nice Monday morning routine, I’ve got some reports I run off the system and send out, some logging of work that comes in, and a quick check on the numbers for the week. That sets me up for the week and blocks off my Monday morning for me – it’s that kind of work that’s pleasant and not too taxing and that means I have a bit of space saved for the inevitable Monday emergency – if it doesn’t arrive I can crack on with the first big project of the week a bit earlier and buy myself time for later in the week.

I spent a lot of the week writing responses to an inspection report that came in – there was a bit of justifying our processes, contesting some suggestions, accepting others and projecting how we might achieve them over the next while. It was an interesting exercise that makes you really examine the why of what you do. Some things seem so obvious, but when you try to write it down and justify it, it becomes a little trickier.

I had done some feedback with around 8 A1 level classes the week before, so I took the time to do up reports on that for the teachers, along with including a suggestion for something they might like to develop – coming up with the suggestions was quite difficult actually. Interestingly, a lot of the A1 groups had the same kinds of problems/issues (more realistic speaking, greater level of challenge for some) so perhaps we’re actually a lot more standardised from group to group than we might have thought. I’ve managed to sit down with 5 of the 8 teachers to talk about the feedback and they’ve all responded really positively – one even changed his lesson the next day to include one of the points (speaking) and came back reporting that some previously disengaged students had participated fully for the whole lesson – Success!

We’re having a lot of building trouble (the heat is intense) so a good bit of the week was eaten with running around after that and trying to calm a few irate folks down. We’ve got a full-time Cert. TESOL coming up too, so there was plenty of timetabling fun to be had – extra fun as we’re trying to train up a couple of new trainers and so I had to generate shadowing schedules for them too.

Finally, we had a relatively inexperienced teacher give a presentation on Thursday evening (yes, yes, a twilight session – they do have some value if it’s not the only avenue you provide for CPD). She spoke about using real-world topics in class and showed examples lessons she did and the challenges involved in doing lessons like that. She really believes in language teaching as a means for social change so it was brilliant to see her speak so passionately about it. She was super-nervous, but even with a load of tech problems she was great – I tend to stay quiet during sessions these days, but the level of engagement and contribution she got from the other teachers there was brilliant. Hopefully she takes it on now and goes to present somewhere externally.

I didn’t quite get to my big-ticket items on my to do – a whole-school syllabus redesign and the development of a new specific purposes course. I’ve managed to do a little bit on the specific purpose today but it’s falling further and further behind its deadline. If it doesn’t pick up soon, our launch date may have to be pushed back – cue panic in sales/marketing/across the land.

Next Week:

I’m going to spend some time this afternoon to plan out next week, the two big ticket items will still be there and I’ve got some policy reviews and updated procedures to tighten up before we launch our new teacher’s handbook.  There’ll be more prep. for Cert. TESOL too, we’ve got a part-time coming up in September that needs a lot of TLC before it’ll be ready to fly.

We’re going to headline the syllabus conversations for next week so hopefully we’ll have a clearer timeframe for how we can update and roll out by the end of next week – I’ve been trying to get this over the line for months so it’s really dragging on me right now.

On a more personal note, I committed to doing a research scheme this year and I’ve got nowhere fast since I started last June – I’m going to have to carve out some time to get it up and running or it’ll be over before it begins.

___________________________________

So there you have it, my week in a nutshell – not the worst one I’ve ever had, but not a spectacular one either. 

Take it easy, 

L. 

Disengage

There’s a lot going on in ELT these days. Particularly if you inhabit the corner of ELT-internet where I’ve been known to hang out. People have been bashing each other’s opinions, theories, haircuts, methodologies, whatever – and that’s fine. Let them at it I say, just keep doing your own thing – get what you get from your PLN and filter the noise.

That’s becoming more difficult. We lost a couple of people this week who have switched off Twitter or gone dark for a while because the noise has become unbearable. And the noise seems to be mostly about “X said this, but didn’t respond to my point about Y” or “I’ve written in 12 separate places why they are wrong, but they haven’t refuted a single thing – guess those losers have realised that I am the almighty and am right.. MWAHAHAHA.” Or something along those lines, either way, it’s tiresome.

What struck me, is that people seem to think they are owed a response by someone. That you can go comment on a blog or reply to a tweet and that the other person is now somehow, legally, physically, morally or otherwise obliged to respond to them. It’s a level of insanity that’s new for me. When they don’t get a response in 5 minutes, or an hour, or even any amount of time, this then becomes fodder for their campaign of persecution or whatever it is they’re at. It all just seems like a giant waste of time.

Anyway, as pointless as it may be, I just wanted to put a reminder here that NO ONE OWES YOU ANYTHING. Not a response. Not a debate. Not even to allow your comments appear on their work. You can scream and shout about STIFLED DEBATE, FREE SPEECH, MY RIGHT TO MY OPINION, and it won’t matter one little bit.

People have lives outside of your little internet bubble. Maybe they haven’t seen your comment yet. Maybe they have and deleted it because they hate you and all you stand for. Maybe you are only a ghost and your comments never appear anywhere. Either way, when you write to them you are requesting a response. You’re not entitled to one. You are attempting to initiate an interaction. That doesn’t mean you’ll get one. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they are now on your timetable.

All that energy burned and wasted agonising over whether someone has read or responded to something you said – you’re just craving that dopamine rush of notification that’s all. You’ve become a conflict-addict, and that stress will get you in the end. You’d be better off taking up heroin – at least the highs would be peaceful.

As for me, I’m going to keep on trucking on, fighting the good fight, ignoring the nonsense, and trying to get value for the time I spend online trying to develop as a teacher and/or organise as a worker. And for those of you like me, when the noisy ones get too loud just remember the wise words of the Captain above “Disengage!”

 

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.

Continue reading

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.