Links I have found useful along the way

Below are links to resources that have helped me in teaching English as a second language, and in teaching teachers. I hope they are of service to you too.

If you have any suggestions for links to add to categories that exist, or don’t yet, please comment below.


*Topics are in alphabetical order.

Adult Learning Theory

Assessment

Body Language

Teacher burnout (2015)

Job Satisfaction

Cognates

Cognitive skills

Communication

Nonverbal

Miscommunication

Community (dynamics and rhythms)

Classroom Community

Communities of Practice

“…communities of practice are everywhere. They are a familiar experience, so familiar perhaps that it often escapes our attention. Yet when it is given a name and brought into focus, it becomes a perspective that can help us understand our world better. In particular, it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it.”

“The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice.”

Competence

Complexity Theory

Corpus

Critical Incidents

Critical reading and thinking

Cuisenaire Rods

Culture

Crosscultural Misunderstandings

Deductive learning (see Inductive learning)

Discussions (facilitating discussions)

Ecological Approach

Emotions

Emotional intelligence

Emotions and language

Neuroscience

Empowerment

English (lingua franca, international, dialects…)

Experiential Learning Cycle

Feedback

Writing

Fluency and Coherence (Speaking)

Focus on form

Goals

Grammar (with bonus humor because we all need to lighten up about grammar)

Adverbs

Adjectives

Complement

Function words

Object

Direct

Object Complement

Operators (do, do, do…because we always need a little back-up when being negative, inquisitive, or emphatic)

Particles (pesky little things)

Phrasal verbs (all of them…the ones that love splitting too)

Predicate (no use in denying this part of this sentence. It’s affirmed and here to stay)

Prepositional phrase (wordy adjectives or adverbs)

Sentences

Speaking

Symbols

Verbs

Ice-breakers

Inductive and deductive learning

Integrated skills

Learning-centered education

Learning Challenges (Disabilities)

Learning Modalities

Lexical Approach

Lexis

Listening

Listening (Good listeners)

Phonology and phonetics

Presentation Skills

Correlations

General

Informal and formal (politeness)

Interviews

Phrases

Questions

Surveys

Survey results

Pronunciation

Reading Skills

Receptive skills (Listening & reading)

Reflective Practice

Self and others

By telling others how we feel and other information about ourselves we reduce the hidden area, and increase the open area, which enables better understanding, cooperation, trust, team-working effectiveness and productivity. Reducing hidden areas also reduces the potential for confusion, misunderstanding, poor communication, etc, which all distract from and undermine team effectiveness.

Organizational culture and working atmosphere have a major influence on group members’ preparedness to disclose their hidden selves. Most people fear judgement or vulnerability and therefore hold back hidden information and feelings, etc, that if moved into the open area, ie known by the group as well, would enhance mutual understanding, and thereby improve group awareness, enabling better individual performance and group effectiveness.”

As with feedback, some people are more resilient than others – care needs to be taken to avoid causing emotional upset.”

*I can see this as a useful tool for trainers to use when considering the progress of a course, and the various group dynamics at play.

Social Change/Justice

 

Task-based Language Teaching (Dogme?)

Team-building

Young Learners

 

When Rapport Just Happens

The truth is, I was really worried about walking into this classroom. You see, I haven’t strictly taught a conversation based class in six years. More importantly, I haven’t taught a beginner class in that time either.

To top it off, I didn’t have fond memories of this particular classroom. When I taught beginner conversation classes six years ago, it’s in this classroom I recalled my biggest challenges: building rapport with quiet students whose interest in learning to speak English either didn’t exist or slowly dissipated as the semester went on. I remembered how much I had dreaded walking into this classroom back then. Looking back, perhaps my students’ motivation was a reflection of my apprehension.

Then on Friday, after all that worrying,  this happened.

IMG_4607This was my second class with this group of freshman. During the first class we did an icebreaker activity which involved finding out how old I was (age is an important factor in how relationships are built in Korea). Some students remembered that our Friday class together would be my 38th birthday. I never thought they would remember let alone go as far as buying a cake!

And just like that, my fears went out the door. We had a small celebration together which included one of the best rapport builders I know in Korea: group pictures.

During the rest of the class students shared their own birth dates. Some students discovered they were born on the same day. Then some learned the were from the same city; then the same majors.

Sometimes we can plan ways to build rapport with our students, but most of the time it’s just about being open to genuine moments of connection.

To learn more about building rapport with your language students, join #KELTchat tonight (September 9) from 8 to 9pm (Korea time) on Twitter.

Possible to Make Assessment Culturally Inclusive?

A dear friend and colleague of mine, Amy Puett, posed a very interesting question about culturally inclusive language assessments a while back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very helpful in answering. What I could offer, however, was a space to share this question with the larger world of ELT. If you have any insight into what Amy offers below, we’d be very grateful.  

 

I’m currently working on an MA in TESOL, and I’m doing a research project on biases in spoken assessments. In my experience, there hasn’t been a lot to account for in differences in cultures, ages or purpose when it comes to assessing students in their level of spoken English. The standard guidelines for assessing one’s level of spoken English are generally the CEFR and ACTFL guidelines; however, these don’t account for shy, uncommunicative Korean students who might be under a lot of pressure with their studies or a socially astute Pakistani student who knows when and where to pull out stock phrases to impress others with their English skills. Also, there is little room in these guidelines to accurately describe young learners. I’ve taught many Korean elementary students who are at a B1 level of reading, and I can’t see the students acknowledging their level by saying “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”

Even the guide to using the CEFR guidelines states in the introduction that ‘The Framework aims to be not only comprehensive, transparent and coherent, but also open, dynamic and non-dogmatic. -Council of Europe (2001a:18)’[1] It also mentions that it’s not expansive in describing young learners. [2] However, I have still witnessed that many students are nonetheless labeled with these terms, which I feel can affect how some teachers teach them. The ACTFL has similar issues. For example, the following is said about a student with ‘low intermediate’ speaking skills:

“At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.”[3]

It would be beyond many people’s conscience to behave in such a manner in some of the countries I’ve taught in, and they would learn how to fake responses or gloss over any gaps in their understanding. I also know language students of higher speaking levels who would act in the same manner due to their naturally shy nature in dealing with foreigners.

I feel there must be more TESOL instructors can do to incorporate a more inclusive set of terminology that would allow either more room for interpretation or include a more sets of guidelines to adequately assess students and describe their levels of spoken English language skills.

My question is can any share their experiences with this issue or recommend relevant research? Any help would be appreciated.

 

You’re “just” an English teacher

“Just”. Small word, heavy meaning.

When I Googled, “I’m just a teacher” I was surprised at what I found. It’s a hot topic! Hot enough to dedicate a poster to.

click to find the poster at busyteacher.org
“Just an English teacher” is a phrase I’ve heard in a few different contexts. Sometimes it’s used to confirm that this is the essence of our work. We teach English to speakers of other languages, and while we have other responsibilities such as caring for our learners and managing classroom interactions, there is nothing inherently special about the work. I understand the sentiment, but I also grapple with it because “just” is a weighty word.

Sometimes the phrase is used in dismissive ways, as the poster above implies. This is the context I am referring to today. The memory of this phrase leads me to a school where I used to teach. During a staff meeting, one of the administrators tried to justify why the English language teachers had different responsibilities from teachers of other subjects. Without going into detail, on multiple occasions he explained this was because, “you’re just English teachers.” He implied we were of lesser value.

This story came to me today as I read the quote below. It made me wonder: does he understand what some English language teachers take into consideration before they go to class?

From bundles of acoustic cues in the speech signal , the listener manages to identify phonemes, the sounds of the language. Then the phonemes are built into syllables, the syllables into words, the words into phrases and the phrases into clauses or sentences. Finally, the sentences have to be converted from language into ideas.*

– Listening in the Language Classroom, John Field,  p. 129 (Kindle reader)

And then of course, part of the English teacher’s task is to make sense of this knowledge in order to help learners. The teacher tries to use this knowledge in order to turn it into someone else’s skill. This brings “alchemy” to mind.

As the quote suggests, language is incredibly profound and complex. It is a representation of the human mind. What could be worthy of higher regard than a system that aims to create human connection or that puts ideas into action and tangible forms? 

Take the word “just” for example. This word prompted me to write this piece which is now on your computer screen or in your hands.

There is weight in words.

And there just isn’t something just about that “just”.

Related links

Google finds

Shout-outs

  • Thank you David Harbinson, Rachael Roberts, and Ljiljana Havran for leading me to John Field’s book.
  • Although I didn’t join the chat on “words” last Sunday, #KELTchat got me thinking about words this week. Thanks!
  • I watched this talk by Ruhpa Mehta about “the weight of words”, and now I see this expression in a different light. I’ll definitely be paying attention to her organization, NaliniKIDS, and look forward to learning more about her method for developing emotional literacy.

*Note: John Field does goes on to say this isn’t necessarily the way a listener processes language. He uses this sequence as a representation of the different types of decoding that goes on while listening. The quote could be one representation, but it isn’t the only one.

Questions I ask myself before class

I’m currently working on a project that asks me to question what teachers may need to consider and do in order to confidently teach an English language class. To do this, I wrote a list of questions that have come to my mind during my years of teaching, and thought it might be of use to you as well. The list below relates to questions I try to ask myself before class, with “before” being subjective to time. I also intend to create a list of what I think about during and after class.

  • Individual learners – Who are my learners? What do they already know about English? What are their interests in life? Why are they here? How do they feel today? What’s going on in their lives that might affect their time here?
  • Group dynamics – Do the learners get along? What can I do to create a community (collaborative rather than competitive)? What are the cultural dynamics at play? How do the learners relate to me?
  • Classroom dynamics – Is the layout conducive to discussions or the tasks I have in mind? From what I know about them (how they may feel today or their personal preferences), or based on the task I have planned, will they need to move around? How can I display visuals?
  • Materials – Do they have a textbook (assigned audio)? Will I use what’s in it or will supplement it? Will I disregard parts of the chapter? Will I create my own material? Will they create their own material? If so, with what and how? Will I tell them what to create or will they decide?
  • Language – Are we starting with target language in mind? How could I visually or conceptually clarify the language that comes up? Do I have examples or visuals (audio) to help clarify the language skill (i.e.: genre; communicative purpose; register)? Do I want to be explicit (deductive approach) or implicit (inductive approach) with my clarification, or both? Is metalanguage needed (thanks to Chia Suan Chong for this inspiration)?
  • The language lesson – How can I structure my lesson in a way that the learners feel supported yet also challenged? Do they need a heavily structured lesson or do they work well with a more laid back, organic approach? Writing skills – What do they need to know in order to write a successful text? What is the genre or purpose of the text? What kind of language (register, grammar, lexis…) is needed to write in this genre or to communicate a desired message? How much time will I give for thinking, planning, outlining, revising, editing, and sharing with the audience? Will they share their text, and if so with who and how? Reading and listening skills – Is the text meaningful to the learners? Do I need to pre-teach lexis? What language may they find challenging? What skills (prediction, scanning, skimming, listening for details or gist…) will be needed to complete the task? What questions can I ask to help them catch the main idea and specific details? Speaking- What are they trying to communicate? Is it a conversation or a presentation? Is the topic meaningful to the learners? What is the context (i.e.: what is appropriate or inappropriate  language)? Do they have a reason to use the language (i.e.: is someone listening and does that person have a reason to respond)? Do they have enough time to practice the language? How will I help them clarify the pronunciation? 4skills – How will I help learners balance accuracy and fluency? How will I deal with errors? Can they self or peer correct?
  • Approach – How does what I know about how languages are learned inform how I create opportunities for learning (i.e.: input theories, output theories, affective learning theories…)? How will my past experience with learning language inform my approach? What methodologies would would work best considering the needs of my learners (audio-lingual, CLT, TBL, grammar translation…)? How can I mix these up to serve them best?
  • Teacher (self and intentions) – How am I feeling today? What do I need? How do my past experiences influence today’s class, and what am I ready to do about it?

Now for the last question: what am I missing? If you notice I’ve missed an important question, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Susan Barduhn IATEFL 2013: exploring what moves expat language teachers

I first met *Susan Barduhn at the 2006 KOTESOL International Conference. When I saw her presentation, What Keeps Teachers Going? What Keeps Teachers Developing?, I was already saving up for my MA TESOL at The SIT Graduate Institute. Observing how she engaged the audience, I realized once again why I had to go to Vermont, USA.  Finally, in 2007, I sat in my first classroom with her. We sat in a circle, and she asked us questions. Once again, I was engaged.

This is what Susan does. She asks questions and engages learners to explore their beliefs and come to their own conclusions. And this is what she did for her plenary audience at IATEFL Liverpool. In her talk, Language Dealing, she helped us ponder the statement, ” ‘If English were a drug, expatriate teachers would be the dealers…’ Via metaphors of drugs, drug dealers, postmodern dance and medieval knights errant, she explores the identity and intentions of EFL teachers. Through her metaphorical speculations she suggests that the “phenomenon of expatriate English teachers could be considered a historical, cultural movement.”

Susan brought many interesting points and examples to the surface, including one where she compares expat EFL teachers to expat teachers of Mandarin. I found myself nodding in relief throughout her talk: relief in knowing that someone was speaking for the itinerant teacher; that someone was bringing more clarity to our story. But it was one point that really made an impact on me, and I’ll only focus on this discovery. I highly recommend watching her talk to get all the juicy details.

The Question

Is English really the drug, or is it something else? Is it pedagogy? Is it culture? Is it values?

This is what Susan wanted to find out when she interviewed 200 native and non-native speakers of English (must have lived in at least two countries outside their country of origin for  a total of 6 years). One of the questions she asked was, “What motivated you to live in each country?” This is what she discovered about why these teachers progressed through each country:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development
Expat English teachers delving into professional development: KELT-chat and KOTESOL

Then she asked us to look at the same answers like this:

  • Country 1:  Travel, adventure, Peace Corps
  • Country 2:  Prof dev, culture, love of teaching
  • Country 3:  Love of teaching, prof dev, career advancement
  • Country 4:  Career advancement, economics, prof dev
  • Country 5:  Prof dev, career advancement, economics
  • Country 6:  Family, attracted to change and risk, prof dev
  • Country 7:  Love of teaching, prof dev, attracted to change and risk
  • Country 8:  Looking for greener pastures, attracted to change and risk, personal development 

And so at the end of the talk, she posed a new question:

Could the drug actually be professional and personal development?

To this, a resounding “yes!” rang in my mind. It connected to one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite ELT bloggers, Laura Phelps: TEFLing at 35: a life gone right. In this post she expresses many reasons why she hopes she will still be teaching in different parts of the world by the time she’s 35, but this is the one I think speaks true for many teachers out there:

I want to be a 35 year-old who feels confident in the work I’ve chosen to pursue and who learns for the love of learning, not studies for the extra pound an hour. I want not to be freaked out by the prospect of no computers, no photocopier, no board, no books, no desks and no chairs. I want to keep those students in my life who make me cry with laughter, cry with despair, and open my eyes. I want to mentor and be mentored.

Over the past year — or maybe 18 months (see Things that may not have happened if I didn’t use twitter for an exploration of personal and professional development by expat in Korea, Alex Walsh) — I have observed and been involved in amazing organizations and loose collectives of professional development: iTDi, KELTchat, AusELT, KOTESOL and ELTchat to only name a few. I have been reading incredible blogs by teachers who are diving deep into their teaching world. Choose any of the blogs on the write-hand side of this page find and you’ll find their stories.

Who are these teachers? Most of them are exactly who Susan describes.

I am extremely grateful to Susan for doing this research and for presenting it to us in this way. I very much look forward to learning what else she finds out about this identity group.

-For a summary of Susan Bardhun’s IATEFL plenary please visit Chia Suan Chong’s post written live from the talk.

* Susan is a Professor and the Academic Chair of the MA TESOL Low Residency Program at The SIT Graduate Institute. Watch her IATEFL  interview to learn more about the program.

The Vulnerability of Failing: IATEFL 2013 Failure Fest

IATEFL Failure Fest: how is failure a better teacher than success?

When I first heard that Ken Wilson was going to lead a session on failure at IATEFL Liverpool, I was intrigued, but mostly I was grateful. I imagined the Failure Fest as a space for reality checks, healing, and great learning for ELT professionals. Sophia Khan wrote about this beautifully in her debut blog post, Why We Should Celebrate Failure Fest,

what I like about Failure Fest is that it says: “I am human, just like you”. It focuses on our similarities rather than our differences. Finding a shared emotional experience creates a sense of solidarity, mutuality and possibility. Because we are alike – human – I can learn from your mistakes – and your achievements – as if they were my own. What is possible for you is also possible for me. No matter how qualified or experienced you are, we are more alike than different. Think about it: have you ever had a worry, feelings of self-doubt, anxiety about what the right thing to do is – then you find that someone has gone through, or is going through, the same thing as you? It is such a blessed, wonderful relief to know that you are not alone, even if you still don’t have all the answers.

And this sense of relief is what we all felt during the fest. The relief was expressed through having a bit of fun (Caroline Moore‘s punctual cow bell and Ken’s witty introductions), and through the presenters’ ability to show their vulnerability.

What struck me about each of these engaging storytellers (Ken Wilson, Bethany Cagnol, Chia Suan Chong, Andy Cowle, Herbert Puchta, Jeremy Harmer, Rakesh Bhanot, Valeria Franca, Willy Cardoso) was the fact that they were all able to laugh at their failures. However, among the laughter, each presenter also expressed a sense of discomfort that came along with the initial moment of failure — or as Kathryn Schulz described during her TED Talk, On Being Wrong, how it feels to realize that moment of failure. Jeremy Harmer embarrassingly admitted that the first thing he had ever taught a student was to describe his “big, red, bushy beard.” Chia Suan Chong talked about how she cried after the miscommunication with a German bus driver. Valeria Franca described the dread of seeing little Luciana come up to her after her revamped English lesson on clothing. Bethany Cagnol shared the devastation she felt after being fired for having fun with her students.

“embracing our fallibility”

For many of us, the laughter doesn’t usually come immediately after these moments. It may come years after and for some people it may never come. There is something safe about hiding in the belief that we shouldn’t make mistakes:

“We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” – Brené Brown

I think one of my biggest failures has been holding on to this idea of perfection. I used to work late hours planning the “perfect” lesson, and on a few occasions I even broke down crying after class, realizing I had answered a question “wrong”. “I’m a trainer dammit! I *should know these things!” Although I may not be in a space where I can laugh at this failure, I feel a great sense of lightness at being able to admit it. And I know I am able to express this thanks the Failure Fest and also thanks to what teachers have been writing about failure over the past few weeks (Kevin Stein, As many flavors of failure…; Chris Wilson, Failing at Modal verbs).

The Journey of Failure

An old post of mine, The Teacher as the Archetypal Student, came to my attention the night of the Failure Fest when a new reader left a comment. I hadn’t read this post in years (written on September 11, 2010). Although my post doesn’t directly express my concern about failing, this reader saw it clearly:

I think it is the responsibility of the teacher to show her students that it is okay to make mistakes. Students can learn more from a teacher who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of her students, rather than an obviously flawed person who pretends to be perfect. Students will respect a teacher who openly admits her faults or knowledge gaps. When a teacher does this, learning can become a journey that the teacher and student go on together.

And so I thank Ken Wilson and Caroline Moore for providing a space to the world of ELT to embark on this journey of seeing the light between the cracks of failure. I also have great gratitude for all the presenters for sharing their light.

Willy Cardoso left us a wonderful quote to keep us pondering along this journey of embracing failure:

It is this great struggle, to choose between having a lot of freedom and having a lot of stability that makes us people. (…) And when you believe you can achieve both, it’s probably the beginning of a failure story…which is inevitable. You have to choose one when you know you won’t have much of the other. (…) I’m not likely to go about cycling on busy roads ever again because I don’t want to run the risk of falling, although I know it would give me a great sense of freedom. So in this regard I choose stability over freedom. In love, on the other hand, I will always be willing to fall.

In teaching and in learning, what is this love you are willing to fall for?