The TESOL Convention was held two weeks ago in Chiclayo, Peru. It owed its success to the organizers and speakers that came from all over the world, but also to its 400 participants that made their ways from different Peruvian regions. (Apurimac, Tacna, Amazonas, Lambayeque, Lima and many others!)
The topic this year was English: Paths to success and I think no other topic could have been more suitable. It makes no doubt that English is the way to go in our globalized world. English as a key to unlock doors to knowledge and opportunities. We were invited to deliver speeches and give demonstrations about how English can be best used and developed in ELT classes and to tell you the truth 3 days were not enough to explore all the different strategies we talked about!
Not only does the TESOL give the opportunity to develop skills and learn new tricks to make English lessons better in terms of content and progression, but it is also an invaluable tool to meet people from different teaching contexts and to make links to further our knowledge in teaching. I have always found that meeting other teacher trainers with varied perspectives about education and teaching can broaden your mind and it is a critical asset that allows to rethink your work under a different angle.
Events like this are keys to ensure the professional development of teachers and in the unity of teachers. Last year, Dr. Yilin Sun, the President of TESOL International explained that “ (teachers) should take every opportunity to improve on (their) practice, that’s what will lead to the path of teacher leadership”.
This year, in an inspirational opening plenary Laura G. Holland, from the University of Oregon opened up the audience’s mind on the importance of collegiality. Building our knowledge as teachers, as leaders but also as colleagues because the improvement in education will come through our ability to consider ourselves as an integrant part of a teaching community.
This year, participants and speakers went one step closer to leadership by putting the efforts into working together. Through the wide variety of workshops and proposed activities, there was room of each and everyone.
The Peru TESOL convention 2017 has one more time proven that it could gather teachers and speakers around a global theme. Teachers should now try to see themselves as leaders, and they should also see themselves as members of a large family willing to endlessly improve for the good of their students, their own good and the good of the whole society.
Check some of the workshops and talks that were delivered during the TESOL:
- Peer observation
- Speak up! Strategies to promote communication in class
- Grammar: Innovative strategies to motivate, Engage and Challenge everyone
- Teaching mixed-ability classes
- Teaching and Learning with the 21st century technology
Getting formally observed is usually an activity teachers are a bit reluctant to go through. Observations usually mean that a manager is going to observe your class and give you a grade at the end of it. The point of formal observations is to assess the skills and techniques of teachers. No doubt it can be scary! However, peer observation is very different in the sense that there is no grade or pressure as the idea is to help you improve on your skills and strengthen your existing abilities as a teacher.
In her workshop Peer observation made easy: Tips, Strategies and Leadership, Laura G. Holland shared ideas and peer observation models to make peer observations valuable tools for every teacher. So, are you ready to taste a recipe for successful peer observations?
Define the benefits of peer observation
Peer observations should happen in a non-threatening environment. An environment of trust, mutual respect and willingness to learn from one another. Because what is peer observation if not learning? You gain knowledge by being observed and by observing your peers. What are the implications of peer observations? What do you expect to earn from the process?
The main challenge is Time. Finding time to set up such a process can be difficult if it is not already part of your school culture. The lack of administrative support can also be considered as an obstacle. Some teachers might not be willing to play the game. Some might consider themselves too experienced, while others might lack confidence to engage in the process.
- Find a colleague you trust and you know will be non-judgmental.
- Set common rules. What do you want to observe and why? What do you want to be observed on? How long will the observation process take place? When will you meet for a feedback?
- Explain to your students beforehand the purpose of your colleague’s presence. You want a class that sounds as normal as it typically is.
- Deliver your class as you would normally do. If you are the one observing the class, take as many notes as possible. Make sure they are clear and organized to read through them after the lesson.
- Try to meet as soon as the class is done to keep all your ideas fresh.
- Engage in a sensitive discussion where you will discuss all the positive elements of the observation.
- Feedback on only 3 main points that you consider essential for further development.
- Be sensitive to each other and super positive. In some peer observation models, there is no negative feedback of any kind. That type of model can be worth using for low self-esteem teachers.
Further suggestions. Extra tips
When observing a lesson, you may want to focus only on positive, successful or new strategies that you want to implement in your class. The use of videos can also be of great help to help teachers get involved into the process. Watching videos about teacher training with a fellow teacher can relief the pressure of being observed for the first time. You evaluate the positive aspects of the lesson and may discuss what could be improved in a non-judgmental way.
2. Speak up! Strategies to promote communication in class
During the TESOL convention I had the opportunity to deliver a workshop about Communicative strategies and tips in class. This was a nice way to reinforce the basics with teachers while offering them some food for thoughts with activities and games they may not had tried or heard about before.
We all know that implementing speaking skills can be a little bit tricky as our students may be reluctant to speak up. They might lack self-esteem and confidence, they might be shy or they believe that they don’t have the “right” pronunciation. So, it is our job to help them develop these skills. For that purpose, we need to find topics that interest them, we need to provide the tools, the vocabulary, the grammar they need to progress and we need to think about creative ways to engage and motivate them.
The best way to engage them is to follow a clear progression in our teaching first. A progression that has to be logical for them to acquire the skills they need to use both vocabulary and grammar efficiently.
There are 5 main steps to consider when teaching speaking skills.
1. Base: Grammar and Vocabulary:
The first step, the base is when we teach grammar and vocabulary. This step is essential as it will determine the rest of our teaching so it has to be planned carefully from A to Z. For the first step, what matters is to implement simple, clear language in chunks. We will focus on pictures-words matching up for beginners and definitions or questions/answers for most advanced students.
2.The short model
The second step is the short model when we provide students with listening activities so that they can get used to the vocabulary and grammar in context along with the pronunciation. The second can be an audio or a video. It has to be short, to build on their previous learning and we need to check their understanding.
3. The short practice
This step is more student-centered. Our students will progressively learn to reuse the language they have acquired in more autonomous ways until they reach the final step, the production step. Until now the steps were rather teacher centered. Now, students should be able to immerse themselves a bit more. For that stage, they will repeat the situation but they will change a couple of details. You will monitor their work and provide short feedback. You may also ask your students to perform in front of their classmates.
4. The longer practice
Here the context will vary a little and the structures can be a little more complex. You may want to insist a bit more on gestures here to make the use of language more natural and authentic. Do not hesitate to involve your students in acting as well.
5. The production
The final stage is the production stage. Sadly, this a step that is skipped a lot in class because of time constraint. We don’t always have time to get our students to use the language independently. We tend to use the longer practice as the final step but it shouldn’t. The production stage is really the stage when you can assess your students’ skills and that is the occasion for them to be fully creative when implementing the grammar and vocabulary they have learnt. Something that can be done if you are really limited in terms of time is to give them this activity as homework. You can even convert it into a PBL activity.
6. Extra tip
Last but not least: Pronunciation. Pronunciation is important, it is true but we need to bear in mind that it shouldn’t be an obstacle to learning. I mean by that that many students are reluctant to speak because they believe they don’t have the right pronunciation. Well, what is the right pronunciation? We all have different accents, this does not mean we can’t understand eachother, does it? So just my two cents here, but I think pronunciation should be taught as part of speaking skills ability and reinforced slightly at every stage but it shouldn’t be taught as a skill in itself.
3. Grammar: Innovative strategies to motivate, Engage and Challenge everyone
Another workshop I was really glad to present was the one about Grammar. Delivering a 90-minute workshop on grammar is never enough to explore everything with 35 eager-to-learn teachers, but that is always a good way to share ideas and promote communication between teachers, especially for those who may not be confident enough with their English proficiency level.
Teaching grammar can be daunting not only for newbies but also for seasoned teachers. Students may not be particularly keen on grammar either, so teaching it can be difficult. What if we tried to implement strategies where students were actually learning grammar with fun and interactive strategies? What if students could be challenged through active and collaborative activities? That was the whole point of my workshop. Finding ways and strategies to engage students and teachers in the teaching-learning process of grammar.
1. Main approaches to present grammar
For the presentation stage, there are two main ones: The deductive and the inductive approach.
The deductive approach is a bottom-up technique. We start with the base, the rules. Students get the rules and deduce when to use the rules. They are provided with a battery of examples. The rules are immediately followed by a practice.
For the inductive grammar, the technique is reversed. Students work out the use and formation of the structure. This technique can involve students a bit more in their learning and it has as the advantage of developing their critical thinking skills. When using this technique, the teacher is a facilitator rather than the one providing students with all the answers. Here’s how we can proceed with this method. You can provide students with a text and ask them a couple of questions that will trigger their critical thinking skills. What is it about? How/Why do you think we use this structure?
2. Approaches to practise grammar
For the practice, we may consider three to four approaches: The communicative approach, collaborative learning, task-based learning or Project based learning.
A. The communicative approach will encourage students to use grammar in true, authentic contexts with a real communicational-functional purpose. Grammar is a tool for communication and as such it will be embedded in speaking activities. The focus is on the communicative task rather than the language structure.
B. The collaborative approach towards grammar learning has to do with a team-building effort. Grammar is seen as a mental (and possibly kinaesthetic) construction that can be built within a group. It is not an isolated activity. We build knowledge and understanding together.
C. Task-based learning is part of the communicative approach in the sense that learners will start with a communicative task without any guidance on the form of language. After the task, there is a general feedback where everyone gets the opportunity to discuss how they achieved the task. One of the advantages of this technique is the freedom learners have in expressing themselves, the focus being not so much on accuracy than on free expression.
D. Project-based learning shares many aspects with TBL, but it is even more ambitious. Whereas TBL makes a task the central focus of a lesson, PBL often makes a task the focus of a whole month, term or year.
There are generally considered to be four elements which are common to all project-based activities/classes/courses:
1. A central topic from which all the activities derive and which drives the project towards a final objective.
2. Access to tools of investigation design, collect, analyse and use information.
3. Opportunities for sharing ideas, collaborating and communicating.
4. A final product (often produced using new technologies available to us) whose final form is chosen by students. It can be in the form of posters, use of technology, survey, articles, presentations among others.
To conclude, I would say that teaching grammar shouldn’t be feared. We need to use the tools we have at our disposal, including technology to offer our students a greater opportunity to develop their grammatical skills. Technology has also an important part to play to make grammar more fun, interactive and more effective for our students.
What? You have missed my workshop about teaching mixed-ability classes? Here’s a catch up article that will sum up the main points I discussed for the TESOL.
To teach is to engage students in learning; thus teaching consists of getting students involved in the active construction of knowledge. . .The aim of teaching is not only to transmit information, but also to transform students from passive recipients of other people’s knowledge into active constructors of their own and others’ knowledge. . .Teaching is fundamentally about creating the pedagogical, social, and ethical conditions under which students agree to take charge of their own learning, individually and collectively
Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Edited by C. Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 1991.
With inclusion, we have now a greater mix of students in our classes. Our students are different in terms of ability, needs, learning styles and learning backgrounds. The question is How do we make sure that we give our students the tools they need to develop their skills? How do we know that our planning provides each and every one of them the right opportunities to learn and grow? Differentiate instruction is one possibility to allow more learning opportunities for our students.
Differentiation or differentiated instruction is a method that allows greater possibilities for our students. There are three main ways to differentiate in our classes:
1. Differentiated content
The idea behind differentiating content is linked to the idea of providing a different learning experience to the whole group according to individual interests and needs. It has to do with the resources the teacher brings to class. The resources have to reflect the needs and abilities of the students. In other words, the material brought to class has to be flexible and adapted.
2. Differentiated process
Process has to do with the way you deliver the course and the way students integrate the content. Students need time to understand concept, they need time to make sense of what they learn. When we teach we need to know our students well to make sure that the process is adapted. You may need to consider different objectives depending on the level and ability of your students. Bloom’s taxonomy is quite useful here. You need to think as well about the way you deliver the courses. How much Teacher-Talking-Time do you use? Are your lessons Teacher-centered? How could you focus more on your students? Have you thought about having Carousel activities in your class?
3. Differentiated product
When we say differentiating product we mean that we give students different options of format for them to give evidence of what they have learned. The way they will present evidence if their learning has to be individualized and personalized. It has to show their knowledge in a personal way because we all learn in different ways and the way we integrate knowledge an understanding is very personal.
4. More food for thought
Carol Ann Tomlinson is an American educator whose focus has been instruction for struggling and advanced learners, effective instruction in heterogeneous settings, and encouraging creative and critical thinking in the classroom. I would suggest you read some of her works available here:
1. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition, Tomlinson, C.A (2014)
2. Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom
Tomlinson, C. A. & Moon, T. R. (2014)
5. Teaching and Learning with the 21st century technology
Faster, more diverse, more complex, more competitive, more technological: the world has changed and so has the teaching-learning process. The ESL world has also been affected by the changes brought by a globalized and digitized world. How can English language educators offer the tools their modern learners crave?
It makes no doubt that traditional forms of teaching such as lecturing or other teacher-centered methods are no longer adapted to the new generation of learners. But who are these learners? What are the conceptions and misconceptions about them? What are the needs of these learners?
In a motivational plenary, Doctor Karen Jogan, from Albright College in Reading PA, offered some technological tools to be used in class and outside the classroom to bridge the gap between teachers and their digital native learners. Here’s an overview of the great ideas and tools that can be used inside the classroom and outside the classroom.
1. Digital material: Pros and cons
The wide variety of technological tools we have at our disposal should be seen as a plus but in no way as a replacement to planning and teaching. Maria Brown, whose work at the Education Department, at Dubai Women’s College and her great contribution to the ELT world through TESOL Arabia, also highlighted this important feature. Technology is a tool to improve learning and to make our students grow. As a result, those tools have to be carefully chosen and they have to be embedded in the teaching-learning process in a sensitive way. The use of technology should be synonymous with personal and intellectual growth rather than waste of precious teaching-learning time. So, once we are clear about our teaching-learning objectives, then we are ready to implement digital tools in class. Not before and not the other way round. You will find a non-exhaustive lists of material I use and other teacher-trainers use in class and outside the class to create more engaging interactions and to facilitate learning.
2. Digital teaching tools in class for students
Kahoot a free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn – any subject, in any language, on any device. You just need to create an account, browse quizzes or even better create your own!
Popplet. In the classroom, students can use Popplet as a mind-map. Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images and create links between the different ideas.
Socrative. Another way to create quizzes with multiple choices, true-false or short answers activities.
Textivate. An interesting tool to work on text. If you create an account you can simply copy and paste a text you want your students to understand and/or memorize and the platform automatically creates activities based on your text (matching up, filling gaps, punctuation, games…) Good tool for literacy. The interesting version is not free though, but it is worth the try.
3. Digital teaching-training tools for presentations and webinar
Cue Prompter. If you want your students to deliver a presentation but they lack confidence in doing so, this tool can help them gain confidence. If is also a good way to avoid that they read their papers while delivering a speech.
Zoom. Probably one of the best tools for meetings, webinars and training online. The basic free version allows you to actually do quite a lot.
Swivl. If you are working as part of team, this is a great tool to buy to monitor students’ work, listen to their dialogues in class and prepare filmed presentations.
Office Mix. A good way to make your powerpoints more interactive.
4. Learning Management Systems and Open Educational Resources
In our digital world, more and more students start learning online with their laptops, tablets and/or cell phones. LMS have facilitated learning in such a way that learning material is available everywhere at anytime.
Learning has been made easier with an access to material, videos, blogs, assignments, feedback available to facilitate the life of students and teachers. Here you will find three interesting platforms:
With the access to Internet we can now have a greater access to learning. OER can be used for learning at a lower cost. Check these ones:
Openstax. A good way to cut down/off the price of textbooks
Coursera. Online courses from top universities like Yale and Stanford
Udemy. Online courses with a wide variety of subjects
OER commons. A digital library where you can explore publications, textbooks and resources for free while joining a network of educators
As a conclusion I would simply say that 21st century technology has brought to us learners and teachers an incredibly unlimited possibility to continue learning and keep on teaching. It is now up to us to embrace the change and implement those tools in our classes.