My New Post on Teachers as Workers Blog

Alright. In my curmudgeonly state (usual state), I wrote a post for the lovely Teachers as Workers website. You should join because we should look out for one another in this profession. 

Here’s a post on Teacher Education/Training: You don’t need a CELTA, you need a pulse

New Post Elsewhere 

So, in spite of feeling sick as a bleeding parrot today, I have good news and good stuff for you to read. 

So, over at the ITDi blog, there is a new issue up on Error Correction 2.0, with posts by Chris Mares, John Pfordresher and me. Chris and John talk about meaningful things , making correction nice meaningful, setting  goals and such. I get on my high horse about the lack of focus on form regarding pronunciation, pragmatics and discourse awareness/analysis. 

Real Alternatives Need Alacrity

It’s that old Corporate ELT is killing me slowly trope. Hang on to your hats, comrades, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, the coursebooks palaver came up again on Geoff Jordan’s blog. I have written on this before. The main change in my ideas is that instead of Dogme or Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) being the utopia we should all aim for, what is needed to get teachers to go with something better than a textbook is an alternative.

In the aforementioned post, Steve Brown said that what is needed is not any other kind of alternative but for teachers to take agency: choose what the materials are, or choose to choose with the learners, or whatnot. He is right, but I think there needs to be a bit of handholding to get there.

I’ve seen comments saying that it takes bloody ages to plan a TBLT lesson, and it does when you first start. Similarly CELTA-type lessons take bloody ages when you first start. No qualifications? Think to your first week on the job. Lesson plans took forever. Anything takes ages when you first start.You need to think about whether the initial time investment will pay off or not. You are reading a blog about teacher development, so ostensibly you are open to this seeing as you are reading this instead of playing video games or trolling Trump supporters.

So, let the handholding begin. Or the push to start.

What can I use instead of a coursebook?

Have a think (always a good idea) about what your learners need. Asking them is often a good idea, though teenagers might tell you they need about 3 hours in bed and that they need to do gap-fills of A1 vocab. They don’t. Assess. What can they do? What can’t they do? What aren’t you sure they can do? The answers to this should rarely be “They can’t do the past tense with regular verbs” or something. Maybe “They can’t answer questions about the weekend” is better. Cool. That is something we can chuck into the syllabus, if we think that our learners need this. If they don’t, don’t put it in. But why did you bother assessing it otherwise?

With all this information, you can create a syllabus/course. Sequencing it is a bit of a bugger because you want to think about complexity, what is likely needed toward the start and middle to get to the end, recycling language and such. However, you and your learners have control. This is not the kind of thing to put on a granite tablet. If it seems to need a bit of something else, do that.

But what do I do?

Teach the skills you need to teach. Potentially this is all four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking. There are books about ways to teach these. You might want to browse Wayzgoose press. Also The Round minis range has some very interesting stuff, as does 52. If you get a copy of Teaching Unplugged, I find it useful.

You and your learners can then source texts from the internet (which a lot of textbooks do anyway so you are cutting out the middleman), edit for length (nice authentic language) or elaborate and spend longer with (that is, put in a gloss at the side or add clauses explaining the language). You can create your own, too, which sounds time consuming but might not be the pain in the arse you think it is. You can also put in some stuff that is rarely covered in textbooks like pronunciation and how to build listening skills, microlistening, and more (a bugbear of mine).

There are also lots of lesson plans on blogs (including here). If you have some good lessons that have worked for you, they might work for others, who can then adapt them. With a book, there are sunk costs and learners will want to plough through the lot if they have bought it. If you have a lesson plan to manipulate, without having sunken money into it bar some printer paper, you and your learners get more control and hopefully smething more suited to them than something chosen by an anonymous somebody in London or New York.

If I’m going to use texts, I might as well use a textbook!

You could, but think of all the pages of nonsense you have to skip. Think of the time spent with learners focussing on pointless vocabulary like ‘sextant’ (thanks Total English pre-intermediate). You have an idea. You know your learners, or at least the context. There is also a ton of stuff on the internet. May I point you to the Google Drive folder at the top of this blog. All the stuff in there is Creative Commons Licensed so you can change it if it isn’t perfect, copy it for your learners, and because I already made it and was going to anyway, it’s free. There is also Paul Walsh’s brill Decentralised Teaching and Learning. There are also ideas to use from Flashmob ELT.

So

You have these ideas to use, modify, whatever and put into timeslots. You can move them around. You have the means, now, if you decide it’s worth a go, stick with it for a few weeks at least, so you can get into the swing of it. If you like it, leave a comment. If you hate it and I’ve ruined your life (and be warned that not all supervisors, managers and even learners are open to this at first. Check, or at least be aware of this. If your learners say they want a book they might just mean they want materials provided and a plan from week to week) leave a comment.

If you think I’m talking nonsense, I’d seriously love you to leave a comment. Tell me why.

If you want help with this, I’m thinking of using Slack for a free (yes, really, at least initially) course type thing, say an experimental three weeks, where I help you sort out how to go about things (together; top-down isn’t how I do things), help with any teething troubles and so on. If you’re interested, contact me.

Well, Sunday night, eleven o’clock and 1000 words. I’m going to bed. Let’s sleep on it.

Taking Control of your Development

This post is basically an extended comment on Clare Fielder’s interesting post, Taking Control of your Teaching Career with the European Profiling Grid.

There is a lot to like about it in that it is systematic – sort of like the CEFR. It also tends to assume that you are intending to spend time near classrooms if not remaining in teaching; DoS-type progression is in it but so is the path of expert practitioner.

There are some flaws in it: it doesn’t really apply exactly to small department contexts. It also stops fairly abruptly; not blowing my own trumpet (well, maybe a bit) but if you’re at the far end already, where do you go next? I don’t intend to leave the classroom to be a Big ELT manager or materials designer for a big publisher, so then what?

These are fairly minor criticisms though, seeing as a lot of TEFLers have a shelf life of about 3-5 years. It would still be an interesting read for anybody who has a few years under their belt but if you’ve worked across contexts, what else is there to do without changing countries or companies for the sake of change?

#11things challenge, an unlikely feat

Anybody who knows me really, really well or looks at my social media knows that I am sociopathic/misanthropic. So, when Joanna Malefaki nominated me in this blog challenge, she probably didn’t realise most people would have thought twice about nominating me. However, my friend James, who often knows me better than I know myself says I am a contrarian. I love wrongfooting people and do so just for the sake of it, sometimes. He thinks. I think that just doing the same old thing is boring, therefore, I am going to jump into this blog challenge like a sausage jumping from frying pan to fire.

So, eleven things about me, followed by eleven questions from the nominating blogger, then I nominate 11 people and then ask 11 new questions.

11 things about me

1. I live in Kawasaki, a suburb of Tokyo or of Yokohama.

2. I am a member of Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group and you can be too.

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3. I teach across more contexts than most people I know. I do Business English (which I’d argue is just English for the workplace in most cases), ESP (orthodontists who need to talk to patients and their guardians), English as a Foreign Language Communication as a school subject, university general EFL, English for standardised tests like IELTS and young learners.

4. I used to play guitar.

5. I used to write fiction but haven’t had time because…

6. I am studying an MA TESOL and Applied Linguistics at University of Portsmouth via Distance Learning.

7. I also have stopped running due to this. I regularly notched up over 200 km a month at my peak.

8. My favourite novel is Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland. People who are fond of lists would do well to read it.

9. I love Dogme and Task-Based Learning and use bits from  lexical approaches and The Silent Way sometimes.

10. I sometimes shout in anger when I read.

11. I love Truffaut’s film Shoot the Piano Player. You should watch it too.

Joanna’s 11 questions

1. How do you spend your free time?

With my son, my wife and son or with a book. I don’t get much so savour it.

2. What’s your favourite song?

That’s like naming your favourite student. At the minute I would say it’s Stonemilker by Björk.

3. What’s your favourite food?

Chocolate.

4. My guilty pleasure is…….. (fill in the sentence).

Chocolate.

5. Share a picture. What is it of (inspired by Clare)?


It’s banana bread I made. When I get days off work I sometimes bake.

6. If you could go anywhere in the world to teach, where would you go and why?

Berlin, Rotterdam or Antwerp. I love techno. But really I know here is good no matter where else the grass is green.

7. What’s your top tip for new teachers?

Start listening for what your learners need. It’s more important than textbook pacing.

8. What’s your top tip for teachers who feel burnt out?

Talk to someone and take paid holidays if you have any. From burnout it’s just a short step to destructive behaviour like drinking too much or even just being really negative about yourself.

9. If I wasn’t an English teacher , I would be a/ an…….

unemployed? Working in PC World? I have no idea.

10. What’s the funniest thing that has happened during a lesson?

I have no idea. I’m more of a deadpan curmudgeon than a slapstick guy.

11. Describe a typical work day.

Get up early coffee train teach coffee train coffee teach coffee train go to bed.

Nominations

This by no means should make you feel obliged to do this. There are only 24 hours in a day and many work-related hoops through which to jump. However, I’d be interested in the answers to the upcoming questions from these bloggers:

Rose Bard

Jamie Clayton

Michael Griffin

Ljiljana Havran

Anne Hendler

Ann Loseva

Mura Nava

Matthew Noble

Hana Ticha

Vedrana Vojkovic

Paul Walsh

11 Questions

1. Why did you become a teacher?

2. Why are you still a teacher?

3. You have a magic wand. What would you change about the English language teaching profession?

4. No magic wands. What is one step that people could easily take to change the thing above?

5. Who was your first mentor when you started teaching? Tell us about your relationship and what you learned.

6. Who are your mentors now?

7. What’s overrated is an excuse for a gripe, and I’ve given two above already. What’s underrated in ELT?

8. What do you wish you had known about ELT when you started?

9. Loads of people see career progression as routes to ELT writing or teacher training. What else is there and what are you hoping to do in the future?

10. How many hours a week do you work outside your paid hours?

11. Who or what is the biggest influence on your teaching outside teaching?

Non-Language Teaching Sites for Language Teachers

Happy New Orbit cycle Earthlets. I had a zarjaz time reading 2000AD comics over the holiday. This post is nothing to do with that but is a collection of random resources that language teachers might find useful (and myself, for reference).

Diigo is great for collecting bookmarks to link to later and tag. It’s like del.icio.us used to be before it got swamped with spam. You can follow users and share links.

Pocket is a marvellous app for saving stuff to like Diigo, with offline reading and text-to-speech functionality so you can recommend it to your students and it can help them with checking pronunciation of a text. It works on Android, iOS and in the browser on a computer.

Stack Exchange is useful for anybody doing stuff with analysis of language and spreadsheets or computing, etc. It started as a computing Q&A forum but now there are communities about a lot of different stuff. It can also be a good resource for ESP teachers. You never know, you might even get inspired to write a webapp or set up a website!

 

Resources for Teaching Children

There are a large number of freelance teachers who won’t teach children at all because it can be more trouble than it’s worth: behaviour problems, parental disengagement, poor institutional support, dreadful training (or rather the lack of it). However, for those of us who are fortunate to find settings in which teaching children is not a painful experience, there is a lot to enjoy: witnessing the development, often at a more rapid pace than adults; engaging questions; and, lest we forget, a source of entertainment.

Here are some resources that may be useful for teachers of children/young learners.

Primary Resources

Twinkl

British Council Young Learners

Don’t forget that it is totally possible to go Dogme/materials light with kids as well, if you have paper, pens and imagination. If the class want to play games, it’s OK – provided they teach you the rules. Giving them ownership can be a bumpy ride – not a lot of kids are used to it so you might need to prime them by having little bits of control increasing incrementally. By the time they get to be responsible for choosing what they learn, it is more interesting (though it can be more challenging to teach).

Higher-ability kids can handle CLIL or project-based learning. Computer programming, geology and probability in games are all fun and useful.

Also, some cool people who teach young learners are:

Rose Bard

Anne Hendler

Tim Hampson