Final thoughts…

In this final post I am going to discuss the impact the materials module has had on me and my teaching. I would also like to talk about my thoughts in relation to what I have achieved and learnt in the last three months.

In our final session with Paul we talked about materials and digital technologies. One thing that made a great impression on me was the distinction between ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ (Misha, 2015). The former refers to how comfortable younger generations are with new technologies and the latter to teachers who are ‘less comfortable with technology than their students’ (Misha, 2015). I feel that I sit somewhere between the two. I do feel that I’m quite familiar with various new technologies, tools and apps; however, technology is limitless and constantly updating. This module has definitely helped me expand my knowledge on tools and technologies that can be used in the ELT classroom.

Another interesting point mentioned in our last session was that of the ‘Just in time’ approach. This refers to the motivations different students have behind learning a language and how technology has contributed to that. It seems that, nowadays, a lot of people learn languages in order to be able to ‘get things done’ and not because they necessarily like it or want to reach a high level of communication. The reasons behind their learning are mainly transactional and a lot of applications have been created to help learners do that. In this case one could argue that technology might have started taking over; however, the other side of the coin could be that apps do not always provide their users with real-life experience of dealing with situations that might arise while using the language. In other words, what if somebody was using an app to book a holiday or buy clothes in a shop and there was some kind of miscommunication while they were doing so? How can an app deal with cultural misunderstandings, humour and customs and traditions? Not everyone will always want to learn a language to immerse into its culture but real-life communication could be closely connected to it.

The spectrum of static and dynamic materials was also mentioned in our final session. Static materials could be course books and worksheets whereas ‘live texts’ or ‘instant messaging’ could be considered dynamic. Even though I can see what this distinction is about, I do not necessarily agree with it. A course book could be either static or dynamic depending on how the teacher decides to use it. Are we passively accepting and using whatever’s in a book or do we decide to adapt and supplement keeping our students in mind? I believe the latter could transform a potentially static’ course book into a dynamic tool.

The idea of digital technologies brought another thing to mind. In my classes, I usually encourage students to create a Whatsapp group to share homework and answers to it as well as photos of the board so they can all have access to what has been taught in class. Students seem to appreciate the support and help that is being offered to them and they always keep everyone posted on what’s happening in class without me getting involved in it at all. We also use a Facebook group that I’ve created for students to ask any further questions related to our classes. It seems that this might be extra work for me, but I really don’t mind doing it. These two social networks, Whatsapp and Facebook, are very popular around the world, so if that makes communication and learning easier, I’m all up for it. This could also relate to what Kervin and Derewianka mention about technologies used in the classroom. More specifically, they talk about ‘Ning’ (https://www.ning.com), a website which allows the creation ‘of your own customised social networking on which members can post discussion items, blogs, photos and videos’ and they also mention that ‘teachers and students can create their own sites based on the interests of their specific learning community’ (2011). This is something I’ll definitely experiment with in the near future, familiarise myself with it and present it to my students. I could then have a discussion about it with them and decide which way of communication they all prefer to use.

Looking back on the work we’ve all done these past three months, I feel I’ve learnt a lot and have managed to answer a lot of the questions I had when we started this module. I feel I am more aware of the principles behind the evaluation of materials, I have created materials of my own and I now feel I know a lot more about the frameworks and principles for materials writing. My knowledge behind adapting and supplementing materials is broader as well and I can justify my decisions on doing so a lot more confidently than I did before. Reading other people’s blogs has also been valuable. I can see the benefits of discussing and sharing ideas with people of various teaching backgrounds, and I plan to keep my blog running even after the end of this module.

About technology. So many new things and tools that I’ll try to use in the future. From infographics to QR codes, to AR and VR. Applications and websites students can download on their phones, which can also make lessons more interactive and enjoyable. Last but not least, the power of visuals and videos and how we can use them to the benefit of our students.

I think the most important thing I’ve gained from this module is confidence. I feel more confident in justifying my decisions behind adapting and supplementing materials and creating materials of my own. The latter was the thing that scared me the most at the beginning of this module; however, that’s something I would really like to keep working on in the future. The possibility of working in Greece is high for me, and when that happens I’m sure I’ll use all the knowledge I’ve gained to create my own localised materials. As far as technology is concerned, I know I haven’t been able to use all the technological tools we’ve talked about in class yet, but I feel more informed and confident to do so in the future. This has been a great and unforgettable journey!

References

Kervin, L. &. Derewianka, B. (2011). New technologies to support language learning. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 328-351.

Mishan, F. & Timmis, I. (2015). Materials Development for TESOL. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (See chapter 5: Reconceptualising materials for the technical environment. pp.75-98).

https://www.ning.com

Task Design and Evaluation

This week we all brought in our materials to be evaluated by our peers. Emily and I got paired with Sandra and Steph and we reviewed each other’s work. It was extremely useful to get other teachers’ feedback on our material and very interesting to see if and how easily people can go through our worksheet and whether they can use it straight away or not. I really appreciate constructive feedback, and these past two years have shown me that this is probably the most important and helpful part of the Diploma course. There’s always a lot to learn from teachers of various backgrounds, and the idea of getting new insights into different teaching styles and creation of materials could prove vital as it makes us, teachers, more flexible and ready to apply our acquired knowledge to different teaching contexts.

Sandra and Steph had created a worksheet related to famous monuments in London. Listening and reading were included in their material and they used QR codes for the listening. The audios were referring to the monuments and the students would scan them to get the information for their sites. What I  liked about that was that they used new technologies to make the activity more creative and interactive and that each audio was performed by different speakers. When asked, the girls told us that the aim behind that was to get students exposed to different accents. That was a great idea! In our exam contexts students have to listen to different speakers talking about various topics and that would be something I could use in the future if I wanted to create my own materials.

I liked how Sandra and Steph organised their worksheet so that students can practise different skills such as reading, listening and speaking. Their worksheet could be used with groups of students/teenagers who come to study in Brighton, and I could definitely see myself using this worksheet before a trip to London. As I also suggested on the day, this piece of material could also be used in a post-trip lesson to see what the students had consolidated from their trip and if they could guess any of the information included in the worksheet just by memory. They could also get students to create their own recordings, familiarise them with QR code apps and finally create a final worksheet as a class.

Sandra and Steph gave us constructive feedback on our tasks and exercises as well, and Emily and I thought that we could tweak our worksheet in the future to see how it’s going to play out in our classes. Before I move on to the girls’ feedback I’d like to use Ellis’s (2003) distinction between tasks and exercises. Tasks are defined as ‘activities that call for primarily meaning-focused language use’ and exercises as ‘activities that call for primarily form-focused language use’ (Ellis, cited in Motteram, 2011). Our worksheet includes both tasks and exercises. The main question the students have to discuss in pairs is the task related to speaking part 3 of the CAE exam and the gap-fill we created for the third listen of our audio is an example of an exercise.

Sandra and Steph’s feedback:

  1. They mentioned that the questions for the warmer were easy to answer and the aim of introducing the topic was met. Our classmates paid attention to the visual at the top of our worksheet only when we asked them some questions in relation to the reason why they thought it was placed there. To be completely fair, we explained the reason for using the visual in the teacher’s notes, but Sandra and Steph were focusing on our final worksheet at that moment. However, while they were giving us feedback, we elicited the idea of negotiating by asking them questions about our visual. I think that was an interesting observation as something similar could happen in the classroom. In case we use visuals to stimulate interest or to elicit the topic of a whole task and students seem to fail to notice, CCQs and a class discussion could help to move smoothly through various stages of a task.
  2. Another comment on our worksheet was: “Nice that different language points are allocated to different students when they have to listen”. Their suggestion was that students could check answers in groups instead of checking as a class. I think this was a useful piece of advice and that would also make the activity more student-centred.
  3. Before the third listen: Sandra and Steph suggested asking students to fill in the gaps by memory and then listen to check their answers. That would be a good idea; however, if we wanted to do that we should probably check the answers as a class in the previous stage, as students could have got the answers completely wrong. This doesn’t mean teachers being hands-on all the time, but I think that in order for a lesson to get to the final outcome, students might need some guidance during different stages. If the teacher believes that checking as a class first would be more helpful for the students, maybe they should do so. I think that this probably varies depending on the students, the context, the level of difficulty of the task as well as teaching styles. We always need to remember, however, that, ultimately, whatever takes place in class should revolve more around the learners’ needs than anything else.
  4. The girls’ next question was what the rationale was behind checking the language after the gap-fill activity. I think there needs to be some reassurance in terms of whether the learners have done the exercise accurately, and students tend to rely on the teacher to give them answers sometimes. We decided to hand in the table to students to promote student autonomy and because we thought that this way students could probably take better notice of the target lexis. What is more, the table displays what phrases to use for each function clearly and this could also help students do the activity in stage five more easily.
  5. Sandra and Steph thought that the ‘progressive deletion’ and the ‘active listening’ activities included in stages six and seven would be very useful and interesting. Both activities are elements of Task-based learning and I used them in my third observation with my pre-intermediate class. In fact, I’ve now integrated ‘active listening’ in all my classes and have been using it ever since I read Willis’s (1996) book on Task-based Learning. In the book she mentions that teachers ‘should be very clear about the purpose of the report’ stage in a TBL lesson and that students should know ‘what kind of information they are going to look or listen for in each other’s reports and what they will do with the information’ (Willis, 1996:56). I think ‘active listening’ is a very useful activity when doing speaking in class to make sure that students are paying attention to each other and are not distracted. In my FCE classes we do mock speaking tests and I always ask students to listen to their partners and write notes about things which they think are good or things they would change. They know that apart from fluency, they will be marked on accuracy too, so ‘active listening’ seems to help in this case. It also seems that students highly appreciate this activity and they do not feel competitive or embarrassed to give peer feedback either. As for that, I think it’s the responsibility of a teacher to create the necessary positive atmosphere for positive feedback to take place. I always tell my students that the purpose of ‘active listening’ is not to be judgemental towards each other but to help each other. At the end of the day, they will all be taking the same exam and most of the time they face similar challenges when speaking.

                    

All in all, I found peer reviewing each other’s materials very useful for our future professional development. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s always something to get from another teacher’s feedback, perspective, experience or teaching background. This was an invaluable experience!

References

Motteram, G. (2011). Developing language-learning materials with technology. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 303-327.

Willis, J. (1996). A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Harlow: Longman.

 

Being Creative: Teacher-Created materials

Our seventh session was about creating our own materials. Theresa’s presentation started with a very relevant question: ‘Why make your own materials?’, to which the answer is related to previous sessions and the reading we had to do for this week. As Jolly and Bolitho (2011) claim ‘The process of materials writing raises almost every issue which is important in learning to teach: the selection and grading of language, awareness of language, knowledge of learning theories, socio-cultural appropriacy – the list could be extended’. What I also find relevant to this question is the argument that ‘it is not until teachers have attempted to produce their own materials that they finally begin to develop a set of criteria to evaluate materials produced by others’. (Jolly and Bolitho, 2011). I find the latter quotation extremely important as this is part of the reason why we created our own materials. How can someone evaluate someone else’s work if they haven’t gone through the whole process themselves, following specific principles and frameworks? Some teachers might also move onto creating their own materials in the future, so in order for them to do so and for others to be able to evaluate these materials, the part of creating something yourself seems crucial.

Emily and I decided to create a worksheet together. We both work at the same school and our contexts are similar. Emily teaches the CAE class and I teach FCE. Exam contexts are very important to us both as our students are very serious about achieving their goals and getting a certificate in English. Some of the tasks in both exams are similar as well, and that’s what we decided to focus on. We thought it’d be good to create a worksheet for speaking part 3 of the CAE exam. The task is exactly the same for FCE students; however, the CEFR criteria of evaluating the students’ performance are different. CAE students are expected to do the task using more advanced vocabulary, and speaking fluency should be of a higher level. As some of my students took the FCE exam recently and have now moved on to CAE, Emily and I thought that it would be a good idea to create a vocabulary and speaking worksheet to help bridge the gap between B2 and CAE students’ vocabulary and speaking competency.

Before talking about the process of creating our own worksheet, I would like to mention a few things about speaking part 3 task of the FCE and CAE exams. In this part of the exam, the students are given a central question and five prompts related to the question to discuss. ‘They are expected to discuss some or all of the prompts in relation to a question, expressing and justifying opinions, evaluating and speculating. They are then asked another question which will engage them in negotiating towards a decision related to the written prompts that they have previously discussed’. Taken from: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/181566-cambridge-english-advanced-cae-from-2015-speaking-part-3.pdf

Following Jolly and Bolitho’s process of writing materials (2011) I will now explain the path of creating our piece of material and how we ended up to its final form.

Identification: What both Emily and I realised before we started creating our worksheet was that even though our students have quite a lot of ideas and can express opinions, most of the time they struggle with speculating as well as using advanced vocabulary to negotiate with their partners. The main question and aim behind our decision was how we could help students get from B2 to C1 so they can respond to the task appropriately.

Exploration: according to Jolly and Bolitho (2011), this refers to ‘what language, what meanings, what functions, what skills, etc.’ we would focus on, and this is described in our rationale:

Rationale

This part of the Cambridge exam is exactly the same format at B2 (First) and C1 (Advanced) level. Therefore, there is a need to challenge students and push them to use a level of language which is worthy of a C1 level. This lesson will include functional language for negotiating; giving opinions, asking for opinions, agreeing, disagreeing and reaching a conclusion. Here are the differences between B2 and C1 in terms of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages):

“C1) Can select a suitable phrase from a readily available range of discourse functions to preface his remarks in order to get or to keep the floor and to relate his/her own contributions skilfully to those of other speakers. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes.

B2) Can initiate discourse, take his/her turn when appropriate and end conversation when he / she needs to, though he /she may not always do this elegantly.  Can help the discussion along on familiar ground confirming comprehension, inviting others in, etc. Can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining his/her views.”

The key difference between the two levels is being able to choose a suitable phrase to relate his/her own contributions skillfully to those of other speakers. Whereas, in B2 they can take turns appropriately but not always elegantly. In addition to this B2 can discuss familiar topics whereas C1 can discuss not only familiar topics.

Ideas adapted from: http://ebcl.eu.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/CEFR-all-scales-and-all-skills.pdf

See teacher’s notes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1waPAyJXi5t9h1rIr7qj2-HDtVe87Ix-jH2QiWYcnXeE/edit?usp=sharing

Contextual Realisation: As our main aim was to bridge the gap between B2 and C1 related to students’ vocabulary and speaking competency, we decided to focus on discourse markers and ‘advanced’ phrases and expressions to complete the task. To do so, we used some expressions taken from Tim’s free English lesson plans. (https://fr eeenglishlessonplans.com/2016/03/10/cae-speaking-part-34-phrase-worksheet/ ). As the list was long, we then adapted that list and kept only the phrases we considered more ‘authentic’. ‘Authentic’ in this case means expressions that students would use to complete the task as well as ones that sound more ‘natural’ and students can use and listen to in real life.

CAE Speaking Phrases

Agreeing

I’d go along with that.

Absolutely!

I couldn’t agree more.

You have a point there.

I entirely agree with you.

I totally agree.

Good point.

Disagreeing

I take your point but…

I tend to disagree with you there.

Starting to make a conclusion

The bottom line is we have to choose one…

It’s a tough one, I’m torn between … and ….

Shall we go with ….?

Asking for opinion

What’s your take on….?

Where do you stand on….?

In my opinion…., would you go along with that?

What are your thoughts on this?

You wouldn’t disagree with that, would you?

Giving Opinion

Another point I’d like to add about…is…

It’s also worth bearing in mind that…

I’d also like to point out that…

Pedagogical Realisation: Our activities and exercises were based on a ‘scaffolded’ way of presenting and doing the task. More specifically, we created an audio of ourselves performing the task and we produced different activities and exercises for the first, second and third listen before students actually perform the final task. Timings for the audios were also kept; the first audio which answers the first question of the task is two minutes long and the second lasts one minute as it’s the conclusion of the discussion. According to Cambridge this whole task should last approximately four minutes. One minute for the examiner to set up the task, two for the students to answer the question and one final minute for the candidates to get to a conclusion.

Audios: 

 

Physical Production: To get to the final product we met about 3-4 times and we constantly added and changed things. We had to think of the size of the worksheet which should be two pages long and we struggled with it a bit as we had a lot of information to include. We also included a visual right at the top of our worksheet which we would use as a warmer and to activate schemata. What helped a lot with the fact that we wanted to include more information in less space was that we could also have a ‘Teacher’s notes’ sheet. We thought this would be helpful for both experienced and novice teachers as it would work as a ‘guide’ through activities.

Find the final worksheet here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EHeJfaUzBiU-2m9RhBVbBp-rXT12PbJHebku2xteD7k/edit

Our next step was to use our evaluation criteria from week 2 to examine whether we were following them and to what extent. We didn’t check the ‘flick-through’ test at the time as we didn’t think it was particularly relevant, and didn’t give a final score for each category; however, we made sure that the criteria we had come up with were met. I am going to provide a more detailed evaluation for each category in this post.

 

Likert Scale:

1

2 3 4 5
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neither Agree nor Disagree Agree Strongly Agree

 

First impressions

The first impressions are a ‘flick test,’ where the teacher quickly flicks through the materials and forms an instant impression.

Appearance and Design

  1. The overall appearance is visually engaging.
    1          2          3                  5
  2. The layout is clearly structured.
    1          2          3          4         

Content and Context

  1. The content is relevant to my learners’ interests.
    1          2          3          4          5
    This is a topic that appeals a lot to my students and they always engage in conversations related to jobs. One of the reasons why they want to obtain a certificate in English in the first place is that it’ll help them in their professional lives in the future.
  2. The content is relevant to my learners’ needs.
  3. 1          2          3                  5
    Even though my students are sitting the FCE exam, they have to do a similar task as this one and a lot of them have expressed their interest in joining the CAE class in the future.
  4. The topics are culturally sensitive.
    1          2          3          4          5
  5. Topics can be localised.
    1          2                   4          5
  6. There are examples of authentic language in use.
    1          2          3                  5
  7. The teacher’s book supports novice teachers.
    1          2          3          4          5
  8. There is supplementary material
    1          2          3                   5
    We have provided additional questions for students to perform the task.
  9. Tasks are adaptable.
    1          2          3          4          5
    The worksheet and the order of activities could be easily adaptable depending on the specific area the teacher would like to focus on.

Practice

  1. Tasks involve practising a mix of language skills (reading, listening, etc.)
    1          2          3          4          5
  2. There are opportunities to review from previous units.
    1          2          3          4          5
    Not necessarily units, as a book is not applicable here, however students have done speaking part 3 before and this could facilitate a review.
  3. There are opportunities to recycle language within the unit.
    1          2          3          4          5
    There are opportunities to review language within the task.
  4. Tasks promote communication between students.
    1          2          3          4          5
  5. Tasks promote peer collaboration.
  6. 1          2          3          4          5
  7. Tasks allow for personalised practice from the student.
    1                   3          4          5
    We haven’t included much personalisation in this lesson but this could be part of the students’ homework; create new questions, bring them to class, discuss and perform the task again with new questions.

Methodology

  1. A clear methodology informs task design.
    1          2                   4          5
    Parts of the lesson were based on Task Based Learning.
  2. The methodology is appropriate to the teaching context.
    1          2                   4          5
  3.  Tasks encourage noticing of specific language features.
    1          2          3          4          5
    Yes, it encourages noticing discourse markers.
  4. The tasks promote student autonomy.
    1          2                   4          5
    There’s a lot of peer work and students need to notice language while listening to an audio and then use it to perform the task. Towards the end, we have included an active listening activity which could promote student autonomy.

Students’ use of materials and evaluation: I haven’t used our worksheet yet as I teach FCE at the moment and it’s aimed for CAE students; however, Emily will be using it for her last assessed observation and a lot of my students who passed the FCE exam recently attend Emily’s CAE class at the moment. I’ll definitely have a conversation with Emily after her observation to see how my previous students performed the task. Additionally, I would like to adapt our worksheet in the future so that it fits the B2 CEFR criteria and my students’ needs.

On the whole, creating our own materials was an enjoyable and useful experience. We had the opportunity to put everything we had worked on into practice and see how principles for materials writing work in reality. I enjoyed working with a partner as I think it’s always helpful to discuss and evaluate ideas with another teacher. Team teaching, sharing classes and teaching ideas are also part of my everyday practice, and, in reality, if we ever decide to be materials writers, we’ll probably have to co-operate with other people and be team players. That’s definitely a moment I’ll never forget!

References

Jolly, D. & Bolitho, R. (2011) A framework for materials writing. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed.) Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd edn) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 107- 134.

The use of Videos in the ELT classroom

Week six was all about videos and their use in the ELT classroom. Considering I feel I am more of a visual learner, I found what we did in class these two past weeks very interesting. I have been using videos in my classes ever since I finished my CELTA and have found that students usually enjoy lessons based on videos. What I also found important during this session and after doing the reading for the week was how we actually use videos in class and what we do or could do with them.

While reading Ben Goldstein’s article ‘A history of video in ELT’, I identified myself with a lot of what he says about video use in the ELT classroom. Firstly, the ‘before’, ‘while’ and ‘after’ video activities; as Goldstein mentions, the ‘before’ stage ‘activates schema’, the ‘while’ stage ‘focuses the learner on comprehension or language-based tasks’ and the ‘after’ stage’ is when students ‘respond affectively to the material, reflecting on it or discussing it in some way’ (2017). I can think of many times I’ve used videos like that in my classes and I do agree that the ‘after stage’ leaves space for a more ‘creative response’ from students (Goldstein, 2017). Another thing mentioned in his article was the use of documentaries and news in class as ‘authentic’ materials, which are sometimes tweaked to facilitate students’ needs, and then they become ‘semi-authentic’. This in particular rings a bell as a book I’ve been using in my upper-intermediate classes, which also includes BBC talks and footage taken from documentaries, is ‘Speak Out’. I really like how activities around the video are structured for the students to practise various skills; however, I think it’s the job of teacher to exploit videos accordingly, depending on their students’ needs.

Moving onto more current trends, Goldstein talks about using videos to encourage ‘a more critical response’ from students. I thought this argument was particularly interesting as I do believe in the idea of critical thinking and moving away from just doing language tasks based on videos. Language can also emerge and be taught by asking students to dig deeper and think of what they ‘ve watched in a more critical way. A useful idea mentioned in Goldstein’s article is that of using ‘YouTube’ videos to ‘evaluate online comments’ and ‘develop a more critical interpretation’ of what the students see (2017).

Finally, I really liked Goldstein’s argument about the exploitation of video materials in the future. He claims it ‘should become less mechanical and more creative’ and that it is expected that videos ‘will be put into the hands of learners, thus giving them responsibility for their own learning’ (Goldstein, 2017). This idea of student autonomy has been a major realisation for me during the course and the materials module. Whatever we do in our classes should be a lot more than just using materials to teach a class. Materials, should be a tool we use or something we create to lead our learners to autonomy and thinking  more critically. Lyricstraining.com, for example, is a tool where students get the chance to type the lyrics of a song while watching its video. I’ve been using ‘Lyricstraining’ in my classes and my experience has shown me that students do enjoy activities like this. However, if we want to talk about more creative and less mechanical tasks, a great idea would be to set gap-filling exercises as homework and ask students to ‘evaluate the video and discuss how they would remake it and why’ in class as an ‘after’ stage activity (Goldstein, 2017).

Some recent personal experiences of using videos in class involve a task-based lesson I planned for my third assessed observation. I created a video with a colleague  where we pretended to be a travel agent and a customer. We performed a model dialogue and I used this video with the sound off to activate schemata at first and later on for students to see what a model dialogue looked like and re-perform the task. My students’ feedback at the end of the class was that the use of video had helped them perform the task better, pick up language mentioned in our dialogue, which they then used to recreate their own dialogue. This whole lesson and our session on videos generated another teaching idea; students could choose a topic of their interest and create their own videos accompanied by a dialogue. As Motteram (2011) points out, ‘this can progress quite quickly into developing significant digital skills for the learners, as well as making use of language to carry out the activities’. Adding to this, I’d say that teachers can also develop their digital skills with the help and knowledge of their students. It’s quite common for students to be familiar with so many different technologies nowadays, and we can definitely learn a lot from them. In fact, being open, giving learners the space and time to show what they know might motivate them more and boost their confidence, which could eventually lead to them being more active contributors in class.

TED talks have also proved useful in my lessons and my students usually have creative discussions about the topics they watch. I can remember using videos taken from TED talks which then generated a debate, which also led to vocabulary lessons on expressing opinion, agreeing/disagreeing, negotiating and persuading. Additionally, after reading Goldstein’s article, the idea of students evaluating comments, answering them or adding their own could definitely move the whole class to a more creative spectrum where learners respond critically to what they ‘ve watched.

Last but not least, Virtual Reality and ‘Aurasma’ were mentioned in our sixth session. One of my classmates demonstrated a listening task he’d created and used in one of his classes. It was really fascinating to see how we, teachers, can exploit new technologies and make a task/activity more interesting and creative. As a matter of fact, technology has been advancing and will continue to do so in the future. I think it’s paramount to familiarise ourselves and our students with innovative ways of doing things in class, especially in a world where young generations grow up using technology from an early age.

I definitely took a lot from this session and the reading I did for this week. It was really helpful to have all these conversations with people who work at different schools as well. Every school provides different facilities, but even when advanced technology facilities are not provided, it’s important to share ideas about how we could teach our students just by using a smartphone and an application on our devices. ‘Aurasma’ or ‘HP Reveal’, as it’s now called, is one of them and I’ll definitely try and make use of it in my future classes.

References

Goldstein, B. (2017) A history of video in ELT. In: Donaghy, K. & Xerri, D. (eds). The Image in English Language Teaching. Floriana, Malta: ELT Council. pp. 23-32.

Motteram, G. (2011). Developing language-learning materials with technology. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 303-327.

The power of visuals

Week five was one of the most interesting ones. The session was about visuals and I feel I can relate a lot to this. I believe myself to be more of a visual learner, and I still remember our SLA session with Simon last year, when we did a quiz to find out what kind if learners we are. You can imagine what my result was! Even though we concluded that no one is just one type or learner, I still find visuals stimulating and that they can generate long discussions and interesting lessons.

Our session started with Paul showing us different pictures and asking us to talk about how we interpreted what we saw. It is amazing how people perceive things they see so differently from one another and how each one of us responds to different pictures. It is obvious that when someone creates a picture, they have got a particular idea in the back of their minds, but it is even more fascinating to see how other people interpret them or what some people see that others may have failed to notice. That made me realise how many things we could do with a simple visual in our classes. How many conversations and class discussions we could have with our students, along with vocabulary that could be taught, which could then lead to a reading or writing exercise!

What we can do with visuals also made me think of the reading I did before getting to class. I read Hill’s ‘The Visual Elements in EFL Coursebooks’ and I agree with a lot of the points he makes. Talking about how visuals are used in course books, and after conducting a research, Hill concludes that ‘…the ELT publishers, editors and authors think that it is more or as important to provide attractive space-filling accompanying illustrations in their course books than it is to provide pictures with related activities’. (Hill, 2013). I totally agree with this observation as I have used many books in the past where activities were accompanied by visuals only to make them look more appealing instead of relating to the activity directly.

Another point mentioned in Hill’s book that caught my attention was that of Pit Corder’s distinction between ‘talking about’ a picture and ‘talking with’ a picture (Pit Corder, 1966). I found this part of the reading very interesting as this is a skill I actually try to teach my FCE students. In part 2 of their speaking exam they have to compare and contrast pictures and move away from merely describing what they see. They have to relate what they see to what they know and, therefore, ‘bring their own reality to the lesson’ (Hill, 2013). An example I usually give them to help them develop this particular skill is that of visiting an art gallery with a friend, looking at famous paintings together and then having a conversation about ‘what’ they saw and ‘how’ they would interpret what they saw. People’s descriptions of what is shown in a picture might be similar but the feelings and thoughts a picture can generate may differ from person to person. Therefore, pictures and visuals in ELT materials could be used to stimulate students’ critical thinking rather than simply make a book look more attractive.

Another interesting part of this session was when Paul asked us to describe how we would teach the ‘Present Perfect’ aspect and how we would make it visually engaging. The first thing that came to mind was the use of timelines and retrospective eyes. By simply drawing an eye on the board we could refer to the present and past and many different uses of the present perfect could be elicited and taught. How fascinating! Just by drawing a simple eye on the board!

Personally, I love using visuals in class. Every time I get the chance to do so, I ask my students to refer to photos: sometimes to get the main idea of a text, to generate discussions about various topics and to make grammar more fun. Another thing I’ve learnt through teaching is that you don’t have to be great at drawing to use visuals in class. You can always ask your students to do the work! One of my favourite lessons to teach, for example, is reported speech because I get to to see my students create their own comic stories. I love that! It’s their time to be creative and I take advantage of it to take a step back and just monitor their work. Below are some pictures I took last summer when we did reported speech with my upper-intermediate class. After discussing how to report other people’s words, the students were given a text in reported speech and they had to change it into direct speech by following the story events and creating their own visual version of it.

Reported speech, as my students’ feedback has shown so far, is quite a ‘difficult’ and ‘demanding’ grammatical point. Students need to memorise rules related to changes from direct into indirect speech as well as a number of reporting verbs which follow various structures, so every time reported speech appears in a text book my first thought is that I don’t want to bore my students with endless lists of rules.  Why not draw then and learn while having fun? Most of the time my students’ first reaction when I mention drawing goes like that: ‘Oh no! My drawing is terrible!’, to which I reply: ‘It can’t be worse than mine!’. The last time I used this activity in class the initial reactions were exactly the same until the students got down to it. While monitoring, I noticed giggles, students trying their best to create nice drawings, co-operation and people advising each other as well as a positive attitude towards a grammatical topic they usually frown upon. A close look at the pictures below and one can see that their response to the task was actually impressive. The changes from indirect to direct speech were grammatically correct and, at the same time, the students seemed to enjoy the activity. Killing two birds with one stone, I’d definitely say yes to that!

Reflecting on what I did in class one year ago and having had a session on visuals on the Diploma course I can now see how I could take this whole lesson a bit further. Comics could generate story writing; students could delete the speech bubbles, look at the drawings or create new ones, exchange them with their partners’ drawings and write a story using narrative tenses based on the pictures they see. Another idea would be to use the dialogues in a comic story to do some role-playing which would mean speaking practice, and which could then lead to pronunciation, sentence stress or intonation. Finally, this could also be an interesting class for students who struggle with spelling and punctuation. The use of enjoyable and interactive activities such as comics could help students make small steps towards better literacy skills. Not to mention the amount of vocabulary related to feelings that could be taught simply by looking at facial expressions within a comic story. I can’t believe how many things I can see now that I couldn’t see before!

 

       

Don’t we all love visuals! 🙂

 

References

Hill, D. A. (2013). ‘The Visual Elements in EFL Coursebooks’ in Brian Tomlinson Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Pit Corder, S. (1966). The Visual Element in Language Teaching. London: Longman.

 

Adapting and Supplementing Materials

Week four was about adapting and supplementing materials. The session started with the definition of the word ‘metaphor’ and moved on to metaphors related to coursebooks. I had never thought of a metaphor to describe a coursebook before, but if I had to choose one, I’d probably say that coursebooks are like traffic lights. To me, a green light is the moment when a teacher finds exactly what they’d been looking for in a book, and so they use pieces of material straight away without any adaptation. A red light is the exact opposite. It could signify moments when teachers feel that specific materials might not be very effective for their learners and, therefore, adaptation/supplementation takes place. The yellow light lies somewhere in between. As I see it, novice and experienced teachers would react differently to a yellow light. Novice ones would probably stop to think and plan of what and how they would adapt/supplement whereas experienced teachers would probably act on top of their heads. They would adapt/supplement quite fast based on their experience. This last idea reflects on what McGrath claims about more experienced teachers being more ‘flexible’ when adapting. More specifically, he states that ‘this flexibility may derive from the possession of a wider repertoire of options or the confidence that comes with experience – knowing how to deal with a problem one has encountered before’ (McGrath, 2013).

Later on during the session we got into groups with students who had read the same articles and then into groups with people who had read different ones. Our task was to design a ‘seminar’ to present these ideas of adapting and supplementing to novice teachers. I found this part of the class quite exciting as I would like to move on to teacher training in the future and I strongly believe in exchanging experiences with other teachers. My group decided to focus on the following questions:

    1. Why do teachers adapt/supplement materials?

    2. How do they do it?

    3. What do they adapt/supplement?

    4. When and how often do they adapt/supplement materials?

As for the whys we thought that teachers adapt or supplement materials due to learner differences, to show professionalism, to show how responsibly they can respond to their students’ needs, how motivated they are, to increase their learners’ motivation as well as due to the fact that they are sometimes expected to do so. In terms of the hows, we all agreed on the ‘omit’, ‘select’ and add’ process as well as the fact that adapting or supplementing could be teacher driven but students could also be involved. Personally, I like involving and asking my students’ opinion on materials, especially for my exam classes. They all have an ultimate goal when it comes to their studies, and at the end of the day it’s all about achieving these goals together, as a team. Finally, we agreed that adapting/supplementing could also mean changing materials completely when they do not seem to ‘work’ for our students.

We then talked about what to adapt or supplement and we came up with: texts, tasks and activities, the structure of what we want to teach, the content or context as well as the syllabus. A sound grasp of one’s class can help identify what we should be adapting/supplementing to help our students. As for when teachers adapt or supplement materials, we thought teachers usually follow the ‘pre-while-post’ process of doing so. ‘Pre’ in this case means planning before adapting and it could be connected to less experienced teachers, ‘while’ is usually spontaneous and is related to more experienced teachers, and ‘post’ would be more of being a reflective practitioner, and in this case would be related to being ‘evaluative’. The latter appeals a lot to me, especially after doing this course. I think that getting feedback from students as well as reflecting on how we teach, the materials we use and they way we use them should be part of our everyday practice to facilitate our students’ needs as well as our own professional development.

Last but not least, the idea of ‘how often’ we adapt or supplement stemmed from my own personal experience and my workplace. At our school we have a policy of using the book 60% of the time. The rest 40% of it is when we can adapt/supplement. Therefore, professional demands could affect how often we supplement as could the level of our students and the teacher’s ability and time.

                                               

A recent example was during my second assessed observation, which was a reading lesson in my FCE class. Knowing my students’ strengths and weaknesses, I specifically chose a type of reading they all found difficult and always moan about. However, I chose to tweak it slightly to meet my teaching aims which were to increase their confidence in this particular type of reading exercise. The exercise was a gapped text, one where sentences are taken out of a text and students need to place them in the correct gap within the text. An extra sentence which does not need to be used is also provided.

Referring back to our class presentation on adapting and supplementing materials I can say that my decision to ‘tweak’ this reading exercise relates to a lot of things mentioned in the picture of our mind map above. As for the reason why I decided to adapt this piece of material, it definitely had to do with increasing my students’ motivation. I’d done this exercise with my students quite a few times before my observation and most of the time they looked confused and demotivated. The fact that they became aware of specific reading strategies and discourse devices made it easier for them to notice them in the text, and therefore their results were almost perfect. I also remember one of my students saying at the end of the class: ‘I now feel that I’m getting better and better at this type of exercise’. That was the moment which made me feel that adapting had probably been the right decision.

As for ‘how’ I adapted the material: I found two different sources talking about the same topic (the history of Valentine’s Day), I selected the parts that were similar to each other and more relevant to the topic itself, and then added some linkers hoping that my students would notice them and choose the correct answer. Providing some extra discourse devices, seemed to help with ‘noticing’ the language and students were able to see how using particular reading strategies can help when answering comprehension questions.

As far as ‘when to adapt’ is concerned, I decided to do so after I’d realised my students’ need for it. It was an observation rather than a spontaneous decision. The next step was to plan how I could adapt the material to facilitate my students’ needs, and at the end of the class I asked them to provide feedback on the level of difficulty of the text as well as whether the reading strategies we’d discussed had helped. They all reported that it was neither the easiest nor the most difficult reading exercise they’d done and that the strategies were helpful. Finally, my tutor’s feedback was that the level of difficulty was appropriate for a B2 reading exercise and that the ‘explicit attention to the use of cohesive devices benefitted the whole class in their success in this practice’.

In a nutshell, I’d say I really enjoy adapting and supplementing materials and this example has taught me that we should adapt or supplement as a response to our students’ needs, not merely for the sake of it.

 

References

McGrath, I. (2013) Teaching Materials and the Roles of EFL/ESL Teachers: Practice and Theory. London: Bloomsbury.

Face2Face evaluation and an interesting interview

For this week’s session we had to work in groups and evaluate a course book, face to face for Advanced by Cambridge University Press. Following last week’s session it was interesting to see how all of us, individually and as a group, evaluate materials and how we determined the criteria for evaluation. I worked with Constantine, Emily, and Oscar.

We had a long discussion about what we had read and our personal views on the evaluation criteria for materials before we actually ended up with our final questionnaire. This could be partly because of our different teaching backgrounds. We based our evaluation on the following: impressions (flick test’), the publisher’s mission statements, CEFR C1 criteria, and our own evaluation. The actual questionnaire constitutes of two sections; the first one is the ‘flick’ test to which we gave a total score and the second one was the analysis of a unit. For the analysis of a unit we evaluated four different features of it such as: appearance and design, content and context, practice, and methodology. Each one of these four features was given a mean score and we used the ‘Likert scale’ (1-5, 1: strongly disagree, 5: strongly agree) for both sections of the questionnaire. At the end of the questionnaire we had an ‘additional comments’ section which we all used to write our final comments and evaluations on the book.

Here’s a copy of the questionnaire:

Our evaluation

And here’s a copy of my results:

Our evaluation (Eleni)

One thing my group and I picked up on was the presentation of grammar in the book. More specifically, we thought that the book’s grammar boxes included a lot of meta-language, explicit presentations and not real-life practice of the grammatical phenomena presented. We thought that this could be problematic for both students and teachers, especially novice ones and therefore not very familiar with meta-language. Additionally, we thought that the way grammar was presented did not allow for much adaptation from the teacher.

Finally, we created a PowerPoint presentation with our criteria and our results. What was interesting, was that even though our teaching backgrounds differ, our results were very similar.

Here’s the presentation:

face2face-Evaluation-presentation

A discussion with Theresa Clementson

Later on, we had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of the authors of the book, Theresa Clementson. Everything she said about the writing of face to face and ELT writing was really interesting. I think getting insights into materials writing from a person who has actually done it several times is particularly useful for our future development.

My main concern and our question as a group was about face to face being very densely-written. I personally find this a little off-putting, speaking from both the perspective of a teacher and an L2 student, which I have been in the past. I think that having too much going on on a page can be a little scary at times. Theresa’s reply to that was that different audiences have different expectations from a course book. Some respond negatively but others found this particular feature of the book extremely valuable. My impression is that students and teachers from different teaching contexts value aspects of books differently and that’s quite interesting on its own.

All in all, this session was really beneficial. Not only did we come up with our own evaluation criteria but we were also given the opportunity to discuss our concerns with one of its writers. I think I’m definitely going to be using these criteria when I create my own materials on the course and after the end of it. I think it would also be useful to share this list of criteria with colleagues and management at our school so we can then choose books which have the potential to maximise students’ learning.

 

References

Cunningham, G., Bell, J. & Clementson, T. with Redston, C. (2014) Advanced face2face, (2nd ed.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Unit 7.

McGrath, I. (2013) Teaching Materials and the Roles of EFL/ESL Teachers: Practice and Theory. London: Bloomsbury. (See section 3 Materials selection of chapter 3 The Professional Literature pp.52-59, and chapter 5 How teachers evaluate coursebooks.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of criteria…

‘What is the set of criteria that will determine how we evaluate materials? And most importantly, what are the criteria we need to make use of if we want to create our own materials?’. This is how I ended my previous post after our first session with Paul. In our second session these questions were brought up again and we had to work in groups to decide on the set of our own criteria in terms of materials and how we evaluate them. I instantly thought: ‘That’s great! Time for some answers!’.

We first had to write down our own views on what materials should/shouldn’t/must/mustn’t be. I thought this was a difficult thing to do, but at the same time it made me reflect and connect everything to my teaching practice. What do I want to achieve with the materials I use? Why am I using various materials instead of others? Then I thought that as teachers, we all make numerous decisions every day and these decisions have a direct impact on our learners and their needs, so, my next thought was: ‘They’d better be good ones!’

One thing that has influenced what I do in class and what materials I use is student autonomy. Especially after our methodology module, my reflective essay, and my first observation this is something that has really triggered my interest and made me realise that the ultimate goal of teaching is probably the idea of helping learners to become more independent. How about materials who help teachers reach this aim then?

Another thing that came to mind almost straight away was the idea of real-life communication. Bearing my learning background in mind as well as how I was taught English, I can probably say that the materials I used as a learner didn’t necessarily promote real-life communication. What they definitely did was make me more aware of the formalities of the language; Here comes another list of vocabulary and a lot of grammar tables! What I appreciate now, as a teacher of English, is that I have the power to change that, I can choose to guide my students towards the direction of effective communication and the materials I use should do so as well.

After we all had some ideas on paper, we got into groups and had to narrow them down to fifteen. That was a bit hard but it was also interesting to see what other teachers thought and how our beliefs were aligned with each other or not. I’m glad that we all seemed to be on the same wavelength and agreed on most of our ideas! One thing someone wrote that caught my attention was that ‘materials should not have mistakes in them’. How true! How many times I’ve come across teacher’s books or even student’s books with inaccurate explanations/instructions. When we create our own materials, this is something I will definitely not forget!

After this stage Paul handed out new statements about materials based on books and bibliography on materials. We had to add these to ours and decide which twenty-one we wanted to keep. A lot of our ideas were similar to the ones in the bibliography, so I guess that’s good thing! I completely agree with the statement that ‘materials should provide the learners with opportunities to use the target language to achieve communicative purpose’ and the one about materials taking ‘into account that learners differ in learning styles.’ (Tomlinson, 2011). I would also like to add something to the latter statement: materials should also take into account students’ different needs. Student-senteredness and autonomy were present in our final selection as well and I was delighted to see that other colleagues value independent learning as much as I do. We then went around the room and had a look at what other people had picked. Everyone seemed to have great ideas most of which will stay with me throughout my teaching journey.

                 

                                             

All in all, I think this was an interesting session most importantly because I had the opportunity to see what other teachers from different backgrounds thought about materials. Especially in a world where some of us will go on to create our own materials, I think this is something to always keep in mind.

References

Tomlinson, B. (2011) Introduction: principles and procedures of materials development. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.1-31. (Principles drawn from second language acquisition research.)

 

So many things to expect from this module!

Right before the second year of the TESOL Diploma had kicked in, I remember myself trying to find some information about the modules I’d attend this year. Around the end of October 2017, I came across the description of the ‘Materials’ module. My first reaction to it had two different dimensions: I felt excited about all the things I would learn, the idea of having my own portfolio and materials, but at the same time I felt scared: ‘How am I going to do this?’, ‘How am I going to have a presentation on materials? And even more so, my own materials?!’. Then, I thought to myself: ‘Well, that’s probably why you ‘re on this course’.

As a teacher, I’ve always liked adapting materials. I’ve never been an avid fan of just using the course book and going from exercise to exercise and then another. I even wonder why I sometimes like to make things more ‘complicated’ or ‘difficult’ when I could just use a ready-made exercise. I’ve now realised that this probably stems from the time when I was a non-native learner of English myself. Back in Greece, about 20 years ago, we all learnt the language from a course book and long lists of vocabulary that we had to memorise. The idea of games and communicative activities was completely unknown to almost everyone. Even to this day, a lot of students learn the language by just doing exercises or memorising words without engaging into real-life conversations.

One thing I kept from our first seminar with Paul, and one that will definitely follow me to the end of this module, is, indeed, the idea of adapting materials. To my mind, this is what makes teachers and students stand out. What we should be able to do is help each and every individual in our classes to make the most of their learning experience and evaluate which tasks and activities work for different students of various nationalities and cultures. Unfortunately, not all course books have managed to do this so far. I also want my students to stand out. I want them to be able to communicate effectively, not just by sticking to the formality of course books. That’s what adapting materials means to me: Being able to take a worksheet or a page from a book and choose what I’m going to do with it and how I’m going to use it so as to create the maximum positive effect for my students.

While I was reading Tomlinson’s article for our first seminar, one of the points he made about CLT and PPP made me think: ‘This is so right!’. The idea of Communicative Language Teaching and the PPP method were mentioned as well as to what extent course books promote the one or the other. What course books have undoubtedly tried to do is base their content on the CLT approach. What I think, however, is that some of them are far from being communicative, and this is probably the reason why adapting materials is so important, a point which was also mentioned by our group when we presented our poster of what we expect from this module. Lastly, I ‘d like to think the idea of adapting materials as the missing piece of a puzzle which, once found and used, can make everything else fall into place!

                                                                   

What is even more interesting and was mentioned by the majority of the students in our seminar was the idea of creating our own materials. I personally find this part of this module both scary and fascinating. At the moment, I have no idea how I could possibly get there but I’m sure everything will have fallen into place by the end of the course. Creating something that is entirely yours, something you ‘ve put a lot of effort into -always keeping learners and their needs in mind- that’s what fascinates me. This also correlates with something Paul mentioned which, at the time, made me feel a bit worried: the fact that technology is highly praised to the extent that some companies/corporations believe it will completely replace the role of the teacher. I do not want to think that this will ever happen. I want to think that teachers who love what they do are the ones who will turn our profession into one that means more than merely doing exercises or completing worksheets. Teachers are far from being just that. They are facilitators, educators, and, in my opinion, they play a major role in helping learners achieve their goals by constantly motivating them and leading them to autonomy. No machine can do that. These teachers are ‘excellent teachers’, as Paul mentioned, and, I believe, they are the ones who also create their own materials and show that they care for what they do more than technological advancements ever will.

Last but not least, two questions that I hope to have found the answers to by the end of the module: ‘What is the set of criteria that will determine how we evaluate materials? And most importantly, what are the criteria we need to make use of if we want to create our own materials?’. These two questions are stuck in my head, and I think they could also be a great reason for further research.

One thing I can say without doubt: I’m ready for this journey into the world of ELT materials. Let’s see where it’ll take me and all of us on this course!

 

References

Tomlinson, B. (2012). ‘Materials development for language learning and teaching’. 45/2: pp.143-179.

 

Hello world!

Welcome to your brand new blog at University of Brighton Blog Network.

To get started, simply log in, edit or delete this post and check out all the other options available to you.

For assistance, visit our comprehensive support site and check out our Edublogs User Guide guide.

You can also subscribe to our brilliant free publication, The Edublogger, which is jammed with helpful tips, ideas and more.