Enhancing collaborative work among teachers

Enhancing collaborative work among teachers

I am always shocked when I hear teachers telling me that they don’t share their work with their peers. I have been very lucky to work within departments where sharing was a habit and in these departments everything ran very smoothly but I have also worked within schools where sharing was not part of the education culture. I totally understand that some teachers consider their resources as something personal. Creating resources is time-consuming and teachers don’t often get rewarded for their creativity which makes them even more reluctant to work collaboratively with their peers. It is therefore quite natural that many of us turn to online resources sharing websites. But giving my opinion about selling or sharing resources for free is not the main point of this article. What I would like to emphasize with you is the importance of sharing within schools.

Collaborative work is not just about sharing resources with your colleagues, even if that’s already a good start. Collaborative work in schools means sharing knowledge, expertise and experience to enhance the quality of teaching. It consists of different aspects. You can work within your team and analyze performance data to develop strategies to help students further. You can also work on improving the curriculum by planning Schemes of Work or Unit plans together. Another interesting part of collaborative work within schools is the mentoring and coaching aspect. Teachers who have gained experience in building projects can be asked to deliver training sessions to their peers and that is also a great benefit of collaboration.

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The best schools I have worked with consider sharing resources as a key feature of their strategy to improve the quality of learning-teaching. Teachers who take the time to sit down and share good practice are more likely to stay in the profession than teachers who keep isolated. Schools that foster collaboration through resources fairs, department meetings, and online sharing websites are capable of improving not only the teacher retention but they are also capable of dramatically improving the provision on the long-term. If departments share resources they have at their disposal, less pressure is put on teachers to constantly create brand-new resources and consequently teachers can dedicate more time to teaching.

The collaboration between newbie teachers and experienced ones is often fruitful as the newbies will bring some fresh ideas and technological support while the most experienced will have the expertise and explain what can work and what can’t work with students. Having experienced teachers to be in charge of the induction of new teachers will be a good way to engage them both. While experienced teachers will help new teachers in terms of lesson planning, observations and mentoring, new teachers will help experienced ones with other tasks like incorporating more technology or building a new curriculum. From this collaboration should result a better teaching practice for everyone.

Not only will the teachers benefit from collaborative work but also the students. When you have some students in your class and you are not quite sure what to do to best support them, the best thing to do is to contact your peers. They will help you with the profile of the students and together you can then put some strategies in place to unlock these students’ potential.

Collaborating with one another is not always an easy task but it is really worth the try. I suggest you try different options and find the ones that best suit you. Keep in mind that the first step in collaborative work is often the most difficult one but honestly once you have overcome any doubts you may have, collaboration is one of the greatest tool there is to improve education on the long-run.

Teachers need to look after themselves

Teachers need to look after themselves

Teachers are always good at giving advice to students in terms of health and wellbeing. However how many of us do actually have healthy habits, how many of us do nurture their friendships and personal lives? If we want to perform well and bring our students what they need to learn we need to work on our energy, on our mind, diet, body and spirit.

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First of all try to diagnose yourself. Why do you have endless headaches and migraines, stomach aches etc.?We are the type of teachers who are exhausted at the end of the school year because we have given everything we had. We tend to work a lot, sometimes too much even to the burn-out. In some countries especially in the UK, where I used to work, teaching is said to be the most stressful job!Depression, anxiety and burn-out have become the teacher’s diseases and the workload and long hours have left some with no other choice than quitting their position. Our own health and wellbeing is something we often neglect. Even though teaching is a rewarding profession on a personal level, many of us are struggling with the stress and pressure we have to face on a daily basis with new systems being put in place for instance or dreadful behavior from some students.

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Once you know that it is high time you stopped for a while, try to make a list of all the things that usually help you feel better. How about chatting with an old chap, enjoying a glass of wine with your partner or best friend, going shopping, reading a book, having a bath, and watching a feel good movie? These are little things that can make a great change in our busy life. I once needed that time off and a dear colleague of mine just brought me a basket with some cheese, wine and candles to wind down. That made a huge difference! He just spent some of his time listening to me and that helped a lot. He was such an awesome person and I am sure that there are amazing people around you. Maybe not all your colleagues will be supportive, maybe some will even enjoy some kind of competition while all you really want is to have a nice chat. Well then find some people with whom you will have some nice constructive time. They may be members of your department but they can also be members from other departments or non-teaching staff.

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So look around you and stop isolating yourself. There are true people that care for you. We sometimes get so caught up in the work we do that we forget to care about our own relationships. Nurturing relationships is something crucial to our well-being. So, yes, maybe you don’t know what to say to your friends or maybe you are stuck while writing them an email, but at least give it a go.

Teaching values in the classroom

Teaching values in the classroom

I have been teaching languages for years and throughout my career as a teacher and teacher trainer I would say that teaching is not just about teaching your subject it is also about teaching values. It especially true when you teach languages, as you need to raise the awareness about cultural differences. However I truly believe it is our roles as teachers to convey values whatever our subjects simply because we are human beings and we work with human beings. Our classroom is a mini community and we teach students from various backgrounds; students with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, students with diverse moral and religious beliefs with different needs and aspirations. This is what makes teaching unique as a profession and we should be in charge of instilling values in this great mosaic of differences.

However that is not as easy as it seems. I used to work in some socially, culturally and economically deprived areas and teaching these values can be an everyday fight. How can you instill these values to teenagers being responsible for their disabled parents, explain to the bully the importance of respect, insist on children’s right when some children are abused? How can we teach them the values of respect, care, honesty etc. if they don’t even receive these in their own home?

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How can we teach values on top of teaching our subject? The first question we need to ask ourselves is about the moral and ethical values conveyed in your subject. For example if you teach languages the questions of respect, empathy and tolerance are naturally embedded in the curriculum. Indeed at some point in your curriculum you will teach topics such as religions, multiculturalism or education and through these topics you will necessarily talk about values. But isn’t that the same in any subject? Respect, care, empathy are universal values and they have to be taught inside and outside the classroom. All our teaching should be based on these values whatever our subjects.

As teachers we tend to naturally promote these values when we encourage and promote communication in the classroom. When students are given the opportunity to express themselves and give their opinions on different topics we teach them the values of respect, as they need to listen to eachother. Communicative activities are important to build values of empathy and care. When our students listen to each other and share their feelings they learn from one another and having recurring speaking activities will build a sense of belonging to the community, to the class.

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Setting common rules in the classroom is also crucial to develop values. Have you ever seen a society without rules? I doubt so. Otherwise it would be anarchy. Rules have to be accepted by all and followed by every and each one of the members of the group. These rules have to be reinforced and a sense of consistency should apply so that students know where the boundaries are. It goes without saying that the teacher should be the first to model and follow the rules.

We probably won’t change the world and we probably won’t change our students’ world and change the family they live in, or their past experience, or their beliefs, or their social, cultural and economic background but we can try to lead them. It is our duty to help them find ways to unlock their potential. Students can be taught that they are capable of achieving their dreams and they have to be taught that some values are necessary to live with one another.

How to be an outstanding teacher? (Part – 2)

How to be an outstanding teacher? (Part – 2)

In order to have this great recipe work there are some principles we always need to put into practice. Collaborative work can be enhanced through a wide variety of learning activities like puzzles, dominoes, watching short videos and predicting what comes next, storytelling, Pictionary etc. Using technology is also a great tool when it comes to engage students. Videos, music, web quest, blogs, texting, websites etc. are just some of the few resources that are at our disposal to enhance learning. However technology has to be used carefully in order not to lose the purpose of the lesson. By using a lot of technology or games we will probably have happy students but we always must keep in mind that our learners are here to learn first and at times technology can be distracting from learning.

Another important feature to create an outstanding lesson is to allow students to develop their critical thinking so that they can be independent thinkers able to take responsibilities for their own learning. Developing critical thinking is probably one of the most difficult tasks of a teacher but it’s not impossible and it has to be implemented to stop the old habit of spoon-feeding. Spoon-feeding has been used for many years in schools because of the fear of bad results, which is an understandable reaction from teachers who want their students to succeed and who want as well to develop in their own careers. I have witnessed on a number of occasions teachers encouraging their students to learn transcripts by heart that they would merely recite for their exams. This is of course not acceptable but I wouldn’t blame these teachers. I would, however, certainly give them some tips. Spoon-feeding is of course useful on the short-term but on the long run this type of teaching leads to no good results at all as students won’t get any analytical skills nor will they get methodical skills. Hopefully the spoon-feeding habit has been criticized lately and schools try to put in place activities and strategies that will enforce learning on the long term.

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Differentiation is also a key element to build an outstanding lesson. There are many ways to differentiate in a lesson such as using different modes of interaction, mixing groups, using different worksheets and activities etc. Students for example could all be asked to complete a task with different activities leveled by abilities. Differentiated worksheets can also be used where some students will have to complete the whole worksheet while some others will have to complete just some of these. The use of carousel activities and the use of color coding for students are also some powerful ideas to differentiate. An exemplar collaborative task was shown with the idea of there being one.

Finally, one of the last things to mention is assessment for learning. This is a very important part that makes the difference between a good and an outstanding lesson. Assessment for learning is essential to measure our learners’ progress and therefore this should appear in our lessons. Here are just a couple of ideas to turn assessment for learning into a habit: a progress wall where students place a sticky note to assess their progress, a SMART target setting, a mind map to check what they have learnt in the lesson, tracking sheets/stamps, verbal and written feedback and questioning techniques.

In conclusion, when we prepare our lessons and aim for excellence we need to consider lesson planning with clear learning objectives and outcomes, students’ engagement, differentiation, progression, use of technology and assessment for learning as the main ingredients of success. Are you ready to cook an outstanding lesson?

How to be an outstanding teacher? (Part – 1)

How to be an outstanding teacher? (Part – 1)

I attended a while ago a course entitled “How to be an Outstanding MFL teacher ”. Not only was it interesting but it was also inspiring and refreshing. I think we all know what makes an outstanding lesson. But how can we make sure that we have outstanding lessons in the classroom?

No doubt that the first step is your preparation. Coming to a lesson with no lesson plan and hoping that everything will be ok is pure non-sense. Before entering the class you should be clear about what students need to have learnt by the end of the lesson. You also need to have put in place strategies to evaluate, to measure how much they have learnt and which activity was the most useful for each of them. In other words you need to have clear learning objectives that will be broken into linguistic, cultural and grammatical objectives. Ask yourself the following questions: what am I going to teach today? How will I teach it? Which resources do I need? Which activities are best suited to me students? What are my students going to learn? How will I know and will my students know if they have completed the objectives and reached their targets?

The more you detailed your lesson plan the easier it will be for you to use it in the lesson. A good MFL lesson has to show progression from these objectives towards the end of the lesson. The four skills: Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing have to be assessed during each lesson to ensure a fair progression. A good lesson should also be adapted to your students’ needs and abilities. This differentiation has to appear on your lesson plan.

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Once your lesson is clear with all its objectives and resources, just go and teach it! Easier said than done will you say. Well, take it step by step. First display your objectives on the board and/or powerpoint and have your students to write a smart target according to these objectives. I personally prefer having some vague objectives in order not to spoil the rest of the lesson. For example instead of writing: ‘ Today, be the end of the lesson you should be able to use the rules for the past tense’ I will probably write something less specific such as:‘ Today, be the end of the lesson you should be able to tell the class about your last vacation’. Your students don’t necessarily need to know the exact details of the objectives but these objectives need to be understandable by all.

As we were reminded during the course, what makes an outstanding lesson is when students are fully engaged in their learning. In other words in an outstanding lesson we are looking for collaborative work among students, independent thinking, ability to elicit new concepts, active learning and assessment for learning. These are the key ingredients to success without mentioning of course differentiation and target language if you teach a MFL.

How to develop writing skills?

How to develop writing skills?

Depending on where you teach on the globe you will soon discover that writing can be too much emphasized or on the contrary that it can be left behind because the teacher and learners don’t see it as something as important as speaking skills. Actually a good balance between the four skills Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing is important to create well-balanced language learners. Our writing tasks will be meaningful when they have a purpose.Consequently before asking your students to write you need to think about planning the writing task beforehand.

The more you review prior knowledge with your students and build interest around the topic with videos, songs, discussions, debates the better the results you will get for the writing task.

In other words you need to find a purposeful activity in which for example students will write a letter to the mayor to complain about the traffic and offer some solutions, or you can ask them to write an article that you will send to a real magazine or newspapers, maybe writing SMS, classroom blogs, social network pages could be good ideas to motivate your students. The aim of this is to find your students some kind of valuable audience. Avoid having them to write just for the sake of it but try to have some contests within your classroom. For instance you may decide to ask them to write a song or a poem and the whole class may vote for the best one which will receive an award.

Writing product and process writing

The writing product is the imitation of an existing writing document. For that type of writing what we are looking for is that our students produce a piece of writing that is very close to the original. We need in that case to train our students to do great forgeries!

When we talk about process writing what matters are the stages we teach our students to produce their final piece. What is important is to teach them how to do a great piece of writing.

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Before writing you need to give your students plenty of time to structure both their thinking and writing skills. A good idea is to pair up students together so that they can first of all brainstorm ideas and plan for organizing them. At that point you need to monitor their progression, as they may need some vocabulary and ideas if they feel stuck.

A good idea is to pair up students together so that they can first of all brainstorm ideas and plan for organizing them.

After this first preparation stage comes the drafting stage that you need to monitor closely to ensure the best results for the final product. You will at that point provide guidance and correct any mistakes. Instead of being the one who will correct you can also ask the groups you have formed to move around the classroom and peer assess their friends. The comments they will make on their friends’ drafts should help them to reflect on their own work and further their writing skills.

After they have produced their final product presenting it to their peers is a great idea so that they have the feeling to have a real audience. Offering a prize to the best writers’ team can follow that final stage and all the texts could be copied and displayed in the classroom to show good practice.

Writing ideas

Here are some ideas you may want to try in your classroom.

  1. The classroom book: This book will be your students’ property and they will write anything they want while the book is in their possession. The next student to get the book can read about his friend and eventually assess his/her work.
  2. The classroom newspaper: Students in groups prepare a newspaper with different articles based on their interests ( a fashion page, an horoscope page, sport news etc.)
  3. The classroom blog, newsletters, website : Students write about their school life on the blog and can read other students’ blogs
  4. A speech : the topics are endless
  5. A letter : to a newspaper, a government official etc.
  6. An essay where they express their opinions
  7. A movie review
  8. A conversation, a screenplay, a song, a poem to present to the class
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