Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Conveying meaning

When teaching any language whether it is a word, a phrase or a verb form, at some point it will be essential to convey and check that your students have understood the meaning.

In most classrooms this is most commonly done through translation by the teacher or students, but is this really the best way? In this article I'd like to share some alternative methods which I have used in my teaching.
  • Problems with translation
  • Moving away from translation
  • Possible problems
  • Conclusion

Problems with translation
All though it is quick and simple, there are many possible problems with relying on translation.
  • The word you want to translate to doesn't always cover the same range of meaning and connotation of the target word.
  • Some structures or verb forms that exist in English either don't exist in other languages or the parallel form carries either additional or less meaning.
  • Using translation can make students very teacher / dictionary dependent. By relying on translation, students don't develop the 'real world' strategies, which could help them to negotiate meaning and communicate when they need to make themselves understood or to understand someone who doesn't share their language.

Moving away from translation
Here are some methods I have used in attempting to move away from dependence on translation.

Mime. This includes noises or gestures. Some words particularly actions, are easy and quick to mime.
  • This can actually make lessons much more enjoyable too, especially if you get the students used to miming words.

Pictures. This includes photos and drawings. These are very useful for when the words you are trying to teach are objects. Doing a quick drawing on the board can very simply convey the meaning of words that come up unexpectedly in class.
  • Again, if you get students to do the drawing too, then this can make the class more memorable and can be made a regular revision feature of your lessons. Time lines are also a great way of conveying the meaning of different verb tenses.

Clines. These are graphs showing degree and they can be really useful for sets of words like, love, hate, don't mind, fond of, detest, enjoy or things like adverbs of frequency. They rely on students' existing knowledge and extend that knowledge.
  • If you know that your students understand love and hate then you can place these at extremes on the graph and get your students to decide where the other words in the set should be in relation to those.

Realia or the real thing. This relies on the words you are teaching being objects and you being able to bring that object into class, but it can be really effective for students who are tactile learners and who need to touch.
  • This can be particularly effective for teaching words like fluffy, rough, smooth, furry, hairy, which have very subtle differences which would be hard to explain.

Dictionary. A monolingual dictionary can be really useful in helping to build up your learners' independence.
  • Using a monolingual dictionary well is a skill and one that you may well need to work on in order to help your students get the best out of it.

Explanation. Being able to explain what a word means in the target language can be a really useful skill for students.
  • By giving students concise and accurate explanations of words we can help them to develop the ability to explain words that they want to know.

Synonyms / Antonyms. Giving opposite words or similar words can be a very quick way of conveying meaning, but you will need to be careful.
  • Using thin as a synonym for skinny can be quite effective, but there is still a difference in connotation and you'll need to consider whether and how you deal with these slight differences in meaning.

Word formation or to be accurate breaking down complex words to their root parts. This method can also help students to understand how some of the suffixes and morphemes of the language work.
  • The word 'misunderstanding' can be divided into three parts; the root (understand), its prefix (mis) and the 'ing' at the end. By breaking words down in this way students learn more about the language than the word itself and can start to apply this knowledge to other words they want to use.

Context. This could be within a written text, audio, video or even a play and is by far one of the most useful and powerful ways to convey meaning.
  • If students are able to deduce the meaning of a word or phrase through the context in which they see or hear it, then they are well on the road to becoming independent learners.

Possible problems
Of course using the techniques above takes time and planning and there are always likely to be words that 'come up' unexpectedly in class when it will be just more economical to use translation. There is also the fact that you may have to battle against your students' expectations.
  • If they are used to having the teacher give them translations of every new word or phrase they learn, then they might not readily take to having to do some of the thinking work for themselves. If this is the case, you might want to start introducing these methods gradually by using them as part of revision games.
  • If, as is the case with many learners, they are really uncomfortable with not having a translation to match their new language points against, you could try telling them that you will give them translations for new words at the end of the class which will also act as a good way to revise any new language which has come up in the class.

Although many of these ways of conveying meaning may be more time consuming and require more planning than translating words, I believe by using them we are in the long term making better learners of our students. We are not only teaching them words and phrases, but the ability to convey and understand new meaning within the framework of the language they want to learn. This will make them more independent learners and better able to cope when the time comes for them to actually use the language in the 'real world'.

Article written by Nik Peachey, British Council
Taken from: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/conveying-meaning?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=bc-teachingenglish

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Teacher stress, well-being and stress management - Taking care of yourself

‘Our teacher is always stressed. All he does is shout, shout, shout. He needs to calm down, stop taking it out on us’
I often hear this comment from children who are having problems with school. Pupils in school are very aware of the mental and physical state of their teachers. They seem to recognise the importance of well-being and stress management in learning. Do we?
Schools and teachers are usually very good at thinking about the well-being of their pupils. We consider ourselves to have a duty of care to our pupils. We do not usually think about our own well-being – until it is too late and we are sick. People who take on caring roles are often not good at looking after themselves.
It is vital that we manage our own well-being, as we cannot manage pupils and learning if we cannot manage ourselves. Children come in every day to school and more or less do the same thing, sometimes having slightly better or worse days. What makes the difference is the reaction of the adults around them. Taking time to manage your stress is essential in order to teach effectively and to help students with their stress around learning.
Teachers’ feelings are important
Take a moment and think about all the feelings you had yesterday, from the time you got up in the morning, to the time you went to bed. What do you notice? Probably a roller-coaster of powerful, overwhelming feelings which can change dramatically in a second. You can be in the depths of despair one minute and then elated the next. Why is this? You were probably dealing with students all day who were experiencing wildly fluctuating emotions and trying to help everyone. Teaching is about managing relationships in an intense, public arena all day. Some emotions will be overwhelming and difficult to manage. They will not be helpful for teaching and learning.
What are the triggers for the unhelpful feelings?
What were the triggers for those feelings which impeded teaching and learning? Some of the common causes are :
  1. We try to be perfect. Teachers tell their students that mistakes are good, we learn from them. And yet, I meet many teachers who strive for perfection in their own work and their own life. They get frustrated when a lesson plan does not work perfectly, when pupils do not understand enough. It is good for us to have high standards, but we must remember that the pursuit of perfection is dangerous. It does not model what we know about learning, that learning takes place when we are make mistakes.
  2. We always want to try harder. Teachers are often very hard workers, always trying to do things better. If our students do not understand, we spend longer planning our lessons. If we cannot finish our to-do list, we stay up longer to get through it. Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying harder in the wrong direction. We find things which blatantly do not work, such as staying up late into the night to plan a lesson, which we are then too tired to teach properly, and then we do more of what does not work.
  3. We always want to stay strong. Teachers hate to let people down, which often means we go into work when we are sick, we don’t admit we are struggling with a class, we push our personal and family problems to the back of our mind. Again, this can be useful, we need to be reliable. However, when we insist on always being strong, we ignore our needs and the pressures build up inside us. That is why so many teachers get sick in the holidays. We need to know when to stop.
So, how about if
  • Instead of trying to be perfect, we acknowledge that mistakes can to be good.
  • Instead of trying harder, we try something different.
  • Instead of trying to be strong, we decide to be human.

Developing our strategies to manage the stress
When we are stressed and tired out, we are not thinking or teaching at our best. We need practical strategies for acknowledging and managing our own well-being.
Some practical strategies
  • Focus on what is in your control
We like to be in control of our day, we spend a lot of time planning to ensure that our classes go smoothly. However, we cannot control everything as schools are full of people and unexpected events. We often get stressed about the things which are outside our control.
Take a moment and make a list of those things which are causing your stress.
Now divide these things into two lists, things which are within your control at the moment and things which are not in your control at the moment. Decide to focus on the things which are in your control and do something about them. Put the others aside. We tend to obsess about those things which are outside our control.
  • Be your own best friend
Positive self talk is vital. What would you say to your best friend if they were having a bad day? Would you tell them they were a useless, outdated teacher who couldn’t cope? Probably not. And yet we often say these things to ourselves. Decide to talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend.
  • Write down 6 highlights of the day
Our minds tend to dwell on the negatives of the day - the classes we had problems with, the colleagues who do not agree with us.
Decide to train yourself to see the positives. At the end of each day, write down 6 highlights of the day. A highlight can be quite a small thing. Get into the habit of noticing what is working and do more of that.
  • Off load in a safe way
Supportive friends and colleagues are very important. Sometimes we just need to talk to someone. Be careful that you choose someone who is a good listener and make it clear what you need from this person. If we just want to rant and someone tries to give advice, it can be counter-productive. We are left feeling more stressed!
  • Notice energizers and drainers
We all know people who drain our energy. We feel worse after being with them. We also know people who energise and inspire us. We have activities which energise and activities which drain us. We need to more spend time with the people and on the tasks which energise us and less time with the people and tasks which drain our energy.
  • Learn to say no
Teachers are often very bad at saying ‘no’ to jobs and tasks. It is of course very important to be co-operative and helpful, but if you are always overloaded, think about how this is contributing to your stress. If you are taking on too much, learn to say ‘no’ – politely of course!
And finally….
We all remember an inspiring, positive teacher and we all remember those teachers who were stressed and not enjoying their teaching. Keep yourself motivated if you want to keep your pupils motivated!

By Marie Delaney
Taken from: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/teacher-stress-well-being-stress-management-taking-care-yourself-so-you-can-take-care-your?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=%20bc-teachingenglish

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An Easy-to-Use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes 

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is filled with easy-to-understand rules,real-world examples, dozens of reproducible exercises, and pre- and post-tests. This handy workbook is ideal for teachers, students in middle school through college, ESL students, homeschoolers, and professionals. Valuable for anyone who takes tests or writes reports, letters, Web pages, e-mails, or blogs, The Blue Book offers instant answers to everyday English usage questions.

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Successful Writing - Proficiency Books

Successful Writing - Proficiency
— Virginia Evans
Student's Book: http://on.fb.me/1r1zCRM
Teacher's book: http://on.fb.me/1r1B1HS

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can Continuing Professional Development change lives?

This is the third article in our series which presents extracts from the British Council publication, ‘Innovations in the continuing professional development of English language teachers’. Here the author, Ann Wiseman, revisits teachers from a CPD programme that took place 12 years before, to discover if CPD changes lives.

Extract from the editor’s overview (p14)

In Wiseman's chapter we are able to see in particular the long-term impact on the people involved. Impact came not just in the intended outcomes - improved skills as trainers, for example - but also in the unintended outcomes. These were both personal and professional. Yet again, the notion of a community of practice comes to the fore.

The participants in the original project have a lifelong bond, built on shared experiences and shared understandings of practice, as one said: 'The thing is that I say something, just two or three words, with Elena and she understands. With other people, even university people who haven't been part of this group, I have to explain myself.' Beyond the professional, the personal impact was often transformative too, creating a new sense of possibilities for project participants ('I learnt to swim at 40, I learnt to drive and now I am learning Turkish') and those around them.... Of course, change may not be without tensions, an 'inside struggle', reinforcing the lesson that one cannot underestimate the time needed for significant shifts in practice to be assimilated into an individual's professional frame of reference; and, as the narratives in this chapter show, for impact of an innovation to be felt in other parts of the education system.

Extract from Chapter 13 ‘'My life changed when I saw that notice': an analysis of the long-term impact of a continuing professional development programme in Bulgaria’

Personal development and 'life-changing' events

Part of my rationale to conduct this research was to explore what lay behind the comment which I had heard from time to time that the project had changed people's lives. Interestingly, this view was articulated unprompted in a number of interviews, for example:

I underestimated myself in many ways. I wasn't ambitious to make a career. But [through the project] I realised that relationships helped you. (Sara)

Yola talks about how, because of the project, she became inspired to learn new things, and continues to do so even now:

I learned to swim at 40, I learned to drive and now I am learning Turkish.

This inspiration to continue learning even spread to her family:

This [project] changed my life. So when my husband, for example, got involved in new things, it was thanks again to the fact that I encouraged him to do this. So at some point he combined computers with language teaching and now he has a better job than me.

Gail also feels that joining the cohort of trainers changed her life:

Actually, I think a single event which happened in the university changed my life significantly. And this event is when I saw a notice on the noticeboard saying that British Council Sofia is organising a kind of teacher-training course and anybody can apply.

Career progression and professional development

As mentioned in the preceding section, many of the participants were not aware of the exact nature of the trainer training and how it might impact on their lives and professional development. These reflective comments indicate that:

I somehow didn't foresee at that time the impact ... because I just thought I was going to some kind of seminar or something, it wasn't quite clear that it would be such a big thing that would develop. (Yola)

I had really no idea about what was going to happen, and whether I would stay there, I really did it quite accidentally. It was just somebody mentioning the project and encouraging us to try. We'll see whether there's something for us there. (Sara)

For some trainers the change to what was, to all intents and purposes, a new way of thinking and behaving, was quite shocking, although the team became very supportive towards each other.

It was Maria, if you remember her [...] while we stayed at the centre she supported and helped me. And later on I appreciated the fact that I had the courage to stay on. At some point I was on the verge of giving it up because I thought it was very difficult, I couldn't understand. (Yola)

As the training progressed it was clear that not only did we need to train more trainers in terms of the methodology of training, but time also needed to be spent on other areas of professional development such as materials design, syllabus development and issues around testing. Although not initially part of the intended outcome of the project, this broad foundation proved invaluable later on for some of the trainers who moved to different areas of training. For example, Vera found that when she moved to teaching in a medical university she was able to use her previous experience to help design a new syllabus and create materials, as she explains:

This teacher-training period helped me a lot in materials design and programme design and syllabus design. When we were about to train teachers, we had to design our own materials and somehow the fact that I always was used to sitting down in front of a white sheet of paper and writing down the plan of the seminar or the plan of the course, it helped me a lot, planning the syllabus for nurses, for midwives for pharmacy students as well.

Over a period of time the new trainers became respected and were asked more and more to deliver teacher-training programmes, as Syria said:

At some point I realised that quite a few people in quite a few places all over Bulgaria, had heard about me, I was known, I became known to many people. And I felt great about it.

Others took part in research projects, while many took up lectureship and professor posts in Bulgarian universities. In some cases the enthusiasm with which some of the trainers devoted themselves to the teacher-training programme and other associated professional development programmes meant that they neglected their own academic careers. In one or two cases some very expert trainers and methodologists did not get promotion because they had not devoted their time working towards a doctorate, which was required in the system. However, all the trainers in that position felt that instead they had developed professionally, as these comments demonstrate:

I would separate professional development and career development, because in terms of promotion, getting higher in the hierarchy, there's not much, not really, very minor; in terms of professional development and development as a person who deals with other professionals - a lot. The career development is perhaps personal. Because we had the option not to become PhDs we didn't, because it was not a university where you were required to grow in the hierarchy and have a PhD almost from the start. We were encouraged to do research work and develop like that but it was not so forceful. So we focused on teaching and good professional teaching. (Syria)

I don't think I would have gone this way without the British Council, definitely. I would probably have gone on teaching probably. Think of our colleagues who did not do any teacher training when we joined the university, some of them never did any teacher training, some of them just continued lecturing. They didn't become involved in many projects. Others wrote PhD projects. I didn't. This is a very sensitive subject ... I mean academically there is probably something more to be done. (Sveti)

The immediate result from the trainer-training programme and CPD programme, when funding was gradually withdrawn, was for the trainers to take it upon themselves to continue with their own professional development. Some did this via research, others through developing new courses at universities and colleges, others via writing, following up initial contacts and getting involved in new projects, as we see here:

And actually it was this event [undertaking the trainer training] which triggered off a chain of events. After that, the first thing I did, I established some contacts, and then I applied on an individual TEMPUS project, the same place in two year's time. Again, the University of Leeds, and again ESP area. It was a very successful one. I also established some contacts there with people at the university and I managed to publish my first article on Suggestopedia. (Gail)

Yola also commented that the project enabled her to learn a new way of doing things:

First of all I learnt things from you - how to write an article, for example. Nobody before that had ever told me how to approach a piece of writing, so these things are all things that I later on used in my job. All the seminars that we had in this project were very useful because they had practical aspects so this gave me the literacy for teaching in general.

Extract from ‘Innovations in the continuing professional development of English language teachers’ (A Wiseman, p309 - 312)

Click here to download the complete publication.

Using the Internet for Professional Development

The World is Your Staffroom: Using the Internet for Professional Development Part 1 - Seminars and Webinars

If you work at a large institution, you have access to experienced teachers, in-house workshops, seminars and (possibly) travel assistance for presenting at, or possibly, attending conferences. Additionally, your line manager has probably assigned you a mentor who can answer the day-to-day questions like "What happens if I need a new CD?" as well as fill you in on the "culture of the school" or the "unwritten rules."

Yep, if you work at a school with a growth mindset, you will always be reminded that a teacher is a learner first and foremost and, therefore, will always be challenged to improve not only their content knowledge but also their pedagogy. In this type of school, in-house professional development workshops will be mandatory and there will be competition to see who can generate the highest turn-out for workshops.

Do you do things because that is how they have always been done?
But what if you don't work in "that" school? What if you work in a school that has a fixed mindset, one that believes that if you have a BA/BS in anything and a CELTA or TESOL Cert then you know "enough?" What if you are THE English teacher at your school? Well, in that case, you can either:

choose to be the valedictorian of summer school (aka "the biggest fish in a small pond") or
embrace the web and create your own personal learning network (PLN). Since you're reading this post, you're in group 2. The problem with the web isn't the lack of information, it is actually the opposite: known as The Paradox of Choice, the number of options is so overwhelming that instead of doing something, people feel overwhelmed, don't know where to begin and ultimately do nothing. The goal of these posts is, if you're a new teacher, to point you in the direction of some resources that could REALLY help your teaching. If you're a more experienced teacher, maybe you'll come across some sites that will help you fill in some of the holes in your game or get you to rethink something you've been doing. Additionally, please feel free to post your favorite sites in the comments section below but beware, I have final say on what gets posted. Translation: if it's off topic, or off color, it gets deleted. Without further ado, lets begin.

Seminars and Webinars
So you can't make it to a conference or a teacher training seminar because it's too far away. Fair enough. Thankfully, organizers of conferences are starting to realize that the vast majority of teachers can't attend conferences for financial and family reasons (not to mention time and distance) and are starting to put their conferences on the web. Therefore, if you have a decent internet connection, then you have access to a number of world class seminars and webcasts for free.

So what distinguishes a seminar from a webinar? In a word, interaction. When you watch a seminar, you are doing just that: watching; however, if you are taking part in a webinar, you have the opportunity to ask questions, take part in polls and help shape the discussion in real time! While you will have to download some software to participate, rest assured that it is free and easy to operate but please be sure to download and install the software at least 30 minutes before the start of the webcast.

And what happens if you miss a webcast? Luckily, the hosts archive the recorded webcasts (does that make them seminars/webinars?). Best of all, they are now on demand; I can't count the number of times I've watched them during my lunch break. Where can you find them? Well here are a few of my favorites:

TeachingEnglish: British Council and BBC

Image via BC English Agenda

The professional development carried out by the BC is second to none. Luckily for those of us who don't work for them, they video tape some of their seminars and post them to the internet.

Two of my favorites seminars are:
20 Steps to Teaching Unplugged by @LukeMeddings
This seminar was my introduction to Dogme.

Teaching IELTS: Skills and Techniques to Link English Speaking and Writing by Sam McCarter
Need some ideas on how to prep your students for the IELTS exam? Check out all four of McCarter's seminars on IELTS plus his seminar onPutting EAP into Focus.

Additionally, the BC also conducts webinars. To keep up to date about upcoming webinars, be sure to follow them on Twitter @TeachingEnglish. To view past ones, click here.

Finally, here is one I wholeheartedly recommend is Learner Autonomy by @LizziePinard. Everyone likes to say "I don't teach content, I teach learning" but how do you actually teach people how to learn? This webinars tackles that question and provides some ideas on how to shift rhetoric to reality.


Image via TurnItIn

TurnItIn designs and sells plagiarism prevention/detection software. Even if you're school doesn't have a subscription, you can still take advantage of their professional development resources. All you have to do is create a free account and then start streaming their recorded webcasts and downloading their white papers.

Here are a couple to get you started:

Stopping Plagiarism at the Source: Why Assignments Matter by Barry Gilmore and Jason Chu
It may sound obvious but if you want students to write something original, give them something original to do.

The Accidental Plagiarist: The Myths, the Truths, and What it All Means for Teaching & Learning by Dr. Tricia Bertram Gallant and Jason Chu
There is a massive difference between copying a paper wholesale and forgetting to add a citation and this webcast delves into how to distinguish and respond to plagiarism.

Oxford University Press - English Language Teaching

Image via OUP ELT

OUP is one of the major publishers in the field. As such, they have webinars on every aspect of language teaching which you will have access to after you create a free account. One that I highly recommend is Oxford Big Read - An introduction to setting up a class library and using Readers by Verissimo Toste. This webinar is fantastic because it gets into the details of what you need to do to create and cultivate a classroom of readers.

Additionally, be sure to check out Patsy Lightbown's webinar on Content Based Teaching which focuses on how to strike the right balance between teaching content while still providing language instruction.

Macmillan English

Image via Macmillan English

And finally, from the people who bring you onestopenglish, there is Macmillan English. On their site you can search their archives since 2010 to uncover gems such as The Sound Foundations Phonemic Chart by Adrian Underhill.

In Conclusion, know that there are more, way more, places to look on the internet for webinars. Doing a simple Google Search for "TEFL Webinar" returns over 30,000 results. As I said at the outset, this post is by no means exhaustive; it is, however, meant to provide you with a starting point on where to look to improve your teaching. In my next post, I'll be looking at how you can use YouTube to teach yourself any number of technologies and teaching techniques. Until then, happy teaching!

by Evan Simpson
taken from: http://evansimpson.blogspot.mx/

Macmillan Education Online Conference Videos!

Recordings of all the talks from last week's Online Conference are now online! http://ow.ly/EFyrv ‪#‎MEOC2014‬