#ELTwhiteboard is not just for writing 

Well, today is something a bit different. I thought I’d show you a picture of my whiteboard near the start of class. 

The students were answering the question on the main part of the board. We came upon one of the trickiest sets of loanword-versus-usage problems. Also there were a couple of issues with “(a pair of) THINGs” that is really a pluralised single item. 

Luckily I had some really with me. I would have loved to pull the socket of the wall, too. 

I almost always have Print Tack (or くつきむし [kutsukimushi] in Japanese) with me. It’s what I use for reading/picture gallery tasks, too.

Do you use the whiteboard or blackboard for anything a bit different? 

Hyperreality: The failure in the park didn’t happen

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The title of this post harks back to my BA Film & Media Studies days at Sunderland, when we were assigned a reading by Jean Baudrillard about how the media portrays (or just doesn’t report) events has ramifications upon the perception of them.

What the hell are you talking about, Marc?

Bear with me, because hopefully it will be worth it. I organised the ELT freefor(u)m Tokyo on Saturday thinking I might bring about a little bit of knowledge sharing and a little bit of solidarity to language teaching. Of course it was a bit daft to think that some people would turn up to the park on either a day they are working or a day when they are off work with families or friends. It seemed to have a lot of support on Twitter. Elsewhere. Not in Tokyo.

Now, if I had dressed this up as a rampant success, would this have made the next one (and there probably will be another one after I have a really long hard look at myself in the mirror and listen to Denzel Washington’s “it takes a wolf” speech from Training Day or something) be even more successful and less of an outlandish prospect? I don’t know. I do know that Anna’s Reflective Practice group gets more than zero people going to it, but that’s after work. My after work is usually ludicrously late, and my not at work is the start or middle of other English teachers’ days.

Anyway, what I did do was be honest: it was not even a one-man-and-his-dog audience (actually, audience is a misnomer because this was supposed to be a crowd thing, in person, and grassroots and other hippie-centric words). It was the flipside of every cool, loner fantasy. Sitting in a park, with a sign, hoping that people would come. I gave it an hour and then buggered off to get coffee and read without needing to wear a jacket. It was less successful than a freeform jazz odyssey. I licked my wounds and sulked.

So, the point, Marc?

The point is that if you have harebrained ideas that involve people you need to get actual commitment from them, and you know, you could dress it up and not have a failed project in your results when people Google you, or you could try and learn from it even though you get massive bruises on your ego and feel like an arse for wasting your time and energy.

I got loads of feedback from my lovely Twitter network, including some awesome, detailed feedback from TaWSIGgers – and maybe this idea has legs, maybe elsewhere, maybe another day or time. If it doesn’t, well, even though the first Gulf War never happened, everyone is quite aware that the second one did, aren’t they?

So, what’s next?

Keep on with this, I think. I’ve been told not to give up, so I figure, if there’s still absolutely nobody by the third try, it’s not going to be me doing it. I need help; help might even be on the way. So although I deleted the ELT freefor(u)m blog in a tantrum, it’s not quite as moribund as it might seem.

 

 

Positive Steps (Vanguards Wanted) 

I’ve been, and still am, disillusioned with the industrial side (as opposed to the professional side) of English Language Teaching. This includes lack of professional development, overbearing influence of coursebooks and the massive global ELT publishers, deskilling by publishers and large chain schools and precarious working conditions. I’ve always tried to avoid being a naysayer in that when I’ve said ‘nay’, I hope that there’s at least one alternative proposed. Being that I believe action is necessary, I am going to propose action that sympathetic parties may wish to follow up on. 

Work in loose, broad-church, accessible Special Interest Groups (SIGs) 

IATEFL and TESOL International do not have the monopoly on operating SIGs. There is TaWSIG but other than that there are others that are SIGs by nature if not by name. The Dogme in ELT forum was such a thing. TEFL Equity Advocates is another. There is also ELT Advocacy Ireland, the Women in ELT group on FacebookThe C Group, and I suppose what we at #TBLTChat have been trying to do and what TLEAP are doing. 

Realise it’s a broad church and many people do a range of things with varied experiences and dialogue can help us grow through shared practices, ideas, stories and knowledge. This then creates a culture. What do you care about? What are the itches you’re not getting scratched? Are there people who’ll do this with you? You don’t have to have a lot of people to start with; summoning shared energy shouldn’t be a problem. 

Don’t Like Something? Make Something Else! 

Don’t like textbooks? Try materials light teaching or making your own materials. Tell others. 

Are listening materials rubbish? Could you make your own website? Tell others. 

Do you hate this blog or feel it neglects things things? Make your own. Tell others. 

We can, and I am reluctant to dictate but we should try to make the world how we would like it to be rather than settling for how it is. This change will not come easily but nor will it fall in our laps automatically without any kind of effort being applied. 

We are all polymaths. We all have other skills and interests that can be brought together to build a better environment.


Commit but See Other People

You have your ideas and interests and you are what you are because of them. With other people’s knowledge and skills you can build further and better than you might otherwise do alone. Your loose, broad-church SIG can only benefit from outside knowledge and expertise. 

Some of this, at least initially, may involve working for free

However, the beneficiary of this free work is you and your community, so you aren’t slaving away for someone else. You may even be able to make money from it later because people don’t mind paying for things with value, they just mind being ripped off. You then have a model, with this work, of how things could be. This might take reiteration. Keep looking, even if there are faults. Someone, somewhere might benefit. 

Hopefully this is good for thought for some of us about our place in the world and gives us a more positive idea of where we might go next. 

I’d love comments here, especially if you use the comments to build your own SIGs. 

Needs Analysis for People Who Don’t Know Their Needs

“What do you need to do?” the teacher asks.

“Um, speak English,” the most outgoing student says.

“In what kinds of situations do you use English?”

“Business situations.”

So, not the most illuminating of exchanges to help plan a curriculum. There have been loads of times that this has happened to me, and to others. There’s a lovely post by Laura at Grown Up English about negotiating a task-based syllabus. You might also want a look at #TBLTChat 7 on syllabus design. Here, I’m going a bit hybrid.

With this group of learners I’m going to talk about, I asked their goals and what they usually use English for at work. I got that they want to work on fluency in speaking and listening, on the phone and face to face. There were no concrete situations, though.

Due to this, I get to use my imagination and have a bit of a daydream about other people’s work. Maybe this is due to too much Quantum Leap (“Oh, boy!”) as a boy. Not having the luxury of shadowing the students to find out about a typical day, I can only rely on what they tell me or what I can anticipate.

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This board was based on my guesses what the students in this group might need based on knowledge that they work for a logistics services provider. I had the students in the group, of mixed level, rank the things that I chose according to how important they are.

It was interesting to find that answering complaints was not seen as important. I’ll leave this open for the rest of the course. It was also interesting to find that I don’t need to prioritise simple scheduling very highly. This means I’ll conflate the scheduling and queries lessons, with a bit of wriggle room by adding other things and renegotiating the syllabus again.

I leave one slot at the end for review or covering what crops up and then this is our syllabus for the rest of our 10-hour course. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.

 

All Talk & No Action in ELT?

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Hamstrung by Money

This weekend was the TESOL Summit in Athens, and like many an ill-advised corporate venture, it was hashtagged to encourage (token) engagement from stakeholders to give (the illusion that) teachers have a say.

The problem is, the last time I looked Pearson isn’t a teacher, nor is Cengage: they are materials developers who make money from coursebooks and so have an interest in keeping teachers deskilled so that language-teaching organisations can implement a Fordist-Taylorist employment structure where any worker is immediately replaceable. If you will, it’s taking the skilled craftsperson and putting them at the same level as someone trained to tighten four bolts with a ratchet 75 times a minute. The British Council, a corporate entity masquerading as a quasi-governmental body (or the other way around) is one of the sponsors. The same British Council who implements observations of various language centres across Britain but also competes with other language centres overseas. (I’m not anti-BC teacher, by the way. There are great people work for the organisation. I’m anti-BC corporate operations. Why are they corporate when they are a branch of the British government?)

There’s a lot going for the TESOL organisation: they do come out and try not to sit on the fence about matters that concern teachers. To what extent are they hamstrung by their need to rely on sponsorship to gather large numbers of people together? That’s not for me to judge for you but for me to judge for myself.

An alternative to the talking shop?

So what can we do apart from have big groups like IATEFL and TESOL pretend to advocate for us teachers but actually advocate for people working for corporate interests that sponsor their grand events?

  • Direct action, as much as you can muster. I’m not saying drive a manure truck into the lobby of Pearson but there is a lot that can be done on a teacher-to-teacher level.
  • Subvert the notion of top-down training by organising your own CPD sessions. This can be meetings carried out the next time you have a free lesson, it could be a meeting over a coffee or beer. I’d go for the taking down time at work – it might be the only paid CPD you have the chance for. Pool skills. What are you good at and what are your colleagues good at? What do you need to help yourself as opposed to helping your bosses (not that bosses are always bad but their interests are not always the same).
  • Ask uncomfortable questions about the rationale of the materials that Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan, Pearson, Cengage and other reps try to sell you in your own workplace. Can they talk about the psycholinguistic benefits of the way the lesson is designed to flow? Can you show that you have greater knowledge of the principles behind their products? Can they give any rationale at all? Can it be backed up by theory? Has the salesperson ever taught? Just because someone works for a company that is seen as an arbiter of what English is, doesn’t mean they talk sense. Question them as much as you would question me or any other ranting voice on the internet.
  • Talk about wages. Talk about how crap wages are and how they are being driven to the floor. Talk about your wage and your colleagues wages. Talk about how qualifications don’t always result in higher wages. Talk about how the grass is greener elsewhere. If you can find something better, go and tell your colleagues to accept better. Demand High of institutions, as it were.
  • When bullshitted to, don’t take it. If you need to like it or lump it, perhaps you grit your teeth and work to rule. Maybe you look for things you can do yourself or with a group of like-minded colleagues. It’s often a last resort but do you want to teach how you want to teach or teach how somebody in an office 300 miles away who did a degree in business studies and looks at footfall by metro stations as the primary factor in their operations wants you to teach?

Talk is cheap. Talking among teachers, is cheap. If we all talk to each other we can make the grassroots louder than the astroturfing of corporate ELT. Don’t let corporate interests treat you as a replaceable part. You and I, we are not cogs. I’m pledging to not just talk but to make simple actions to help reduce the bollocks in ELT. Who’s in? (And if you are, there’s also TaWSIG).

The Line Between Hare-Brained and Useful

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I’ve had this post going on in my head for a while and probably the catalyst for getting it out of my head and into pixels is Sandy Millin’s Incomplete Thoughts post.

I was having a chat with a colleague yesterday and he said, “I don’t know where you get the time for all your ideas.”

“It’s a massive pain in the arse,” I replied, “because I can’t concentrate on other things when something pops up.”

I don’t know if this leads to a condition of not following things through properly, or even just dilettantism but a few things that have got me going all over the internet are:

Open Badges for Accreditation of Some Kind

This blog being about development (ostensibly, though probably more my own), actually having evidence-based accreditation for continuing professional development (CPD) would be a good thing in a landscape of expensive qualifications, cheap qualifications that mean nothing (20-hour internet TEFL courses) and absolutely nothing at all. ITDi provides this, with certificates available and whatnot, too. However, something that can also contribute to teacher-centred, teacher-led teacher development has bugged me for too long. Open Badges seem to sort if fill a gap in that people sit in webinars for certificates but there’s no real proof that they didn’t just leave the laptop on and play games on their phone. How about an open-peer-reviewed bit of writing that helps contribute to the community? Keep your eyes open at #TBLTChat.

Modular Materials

Again, with my Task-Based hat on (which is a beautiful purple crushed-velvet and Kevlar deerstalker), and my ‘I hate coursebooks‘ T-shirt on, how better to address a gap in materials availability than to actually get cracking and make some through refining them. Think less of a Minimum Viable Product than a ‘actually see if students react positively’ approach.

A Co-Op (ad)Venture

I am still investigating the possibility of sorting out a Tokyo/Kawasaki/Yokohama-based co-op of language teachers. Yes, inspired by Serveis Linguistics Barcelona. Viability? Time, Marc? It’s more the client liason that’s a problem but still something I’m looking into. Sometime in 2047.