IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #2

This is part two of a review of some of the sessions that I attended at IATEFL 2017 at the SEC and Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. as well as some online content recorded and hosted by IATEFL Online and the British Council. This post is part of my of my commitment as a registered blogger for the event.  All of this content was watched afterwards as I was too busy taking part in Glasgow, although I was present at some of the sessions.  All the embedded videos should be playable from within this page or you can click on the titles which are links to both the recording and any associated documents (PDFs).

Glasgow 2017 (145)


Marina Kladova

Marina Kladova, who is based in Moscow, presented on the topic of ‘how to become a teacherpreneur?‘  I had not really heard this portmanteau until earlier this year when Patrice Palmer (@eltwisdom) reacted on Twitter to my post in February about going self-employed and subsequently interviewed me.  Kladova actually shared a quote from Palmer early on:

“A teacherpreneur is a creative classroom teacher who is both an educator and an entrepreneur; works a flexible schedule and supplements his/her income by creating and developing teaching and learning products “

It is also “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled” (Eisenmann, T. 2013). Kladova’s own definition is that it is a mindset towards a teacher’s career based on leadership and relentless search for opportunities to make a difference, share the knowledge and expertise and create something innovative and unique which can be both for profit and non-profit.

She shared her experience of how she transitioned from simply being a teacher to teacherpreneur. She spoke about frustration being employed and her ambition to diversify but felt that owning her own language school was unrealistic.  Taught via Skype, via a hobby of windsurfing.  Offer English as part of a windsurfing course. Financially rewarding.  Able to travel more.

She asked the audience what they understood by the term teacherpreneur (or edupreneur).  She quickly delivered some areas of diversifying before asking the audience how to approach this via what they are good at: products (such as online courses, materials writing), education (e.g. webinars, Edutainment trips), consulting  (e.g. external assessment of teachers, proofreading), commission  (e.g. travel agency – selling tours) and several other ideas.

She had clearly put a lot of thought and work into this and had a lot to offer from personal experience.  She finished by talking about action plans and how to find opportunities, such as observing trends.

Link here as embed code not working.

Clare Walsh and Lindsay Warwick Session - Confidence mixed IELTS classes

Clare Walsh and Lindsay Warwick presented a Pearson session on Managing student confidence and expectations in mixed level IELTS classes.   They raised some issues in teaching mixed classes preparing for IELTS and offered some techniques. Clare suggested they were looking at the ‘Boss battle’ band 6, which I know to be an important goal for many, although 6.5 is often the minimum for UK university entrance.  They were not talking about generally building self-esteem, but more improving self-confidence in the students’ abilities to do the tasks along the lines of Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. Managing the level of challenge aids engagement.  Self-confidence can be manipulated by situation, leading to positive effect on learning outcomes.

Lindsay spoke eloquently about IELTS speaking – discussion questions.  The objective could be defined something like this:

By the end of the lesson, students will be (better) able to justify an opinion coherently using complex sentences.

In a mixed ability class this is ideal but not realistic. This appeals to that middle ground – but stronger students might not feel challenged enough while weaker students might lose confidence and withdraw.  One technique offered is to aim for differentiated objectives for students’ abilities.  Be clear and upfront about these objectives to let students decide what is achievable and take responsibility for their own learning. She gave some examples of activities, such as one where some linking words were posted on the wall for the weaker students.  For stronger ones, further prompts on the wall ask them to come up with an alternative answer.     There was a nice observation on how (over-) confident students initially reject the support offered but often require it eventually.  Close monitoring is important, too, to avoid students being lazy.  She demonstrated the wall prompts during an audience activity on a differentiating a writing task, before providing some suggestions, such as modelling and writing frames.

Clare looked at receptive skills – listening with multiple choices and reading – true, false and not given questions.  This tricky task was circumvented by taking away more difficult questions (not givens) and simplifying the task for weaker students.  Also simplifying questions for the Matching headings task, and reducing the number of options as having ten possible headings is often too confusing for students.  Again, there was an element of encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. They neatly summarised their session at the end.Clare Walsh - Differentiated learning

This interesting session gave me some food for thought and reminded me of the importance of differentiation and both challenging stronger students, helping weaker students and not assuming they are as strong or as weak as they perceive.

Rachael Harris Workshop (2)

On Wednesday, Rachel Harris, newsletter editor of the new IP&SEN SIG, spoke about Teaching well-being to teens.  I already knew her on social media as Rachael ‘Fabenglishteacher’ and I met her for the first time before this session. This workshop focused on well-being in one’s self, within a group and also in relation to learning.  Teachers are in a prime position to help with well-being issues.   She feels there is a place for meditation but not everyone agrees. So her activities are designed to help students feel better, without questioning how, why or whether they are enjoying the learning.   Many educators (esp institutional managers) are quite dismissive, I believe, of so-called ‘touchy-feely’ stuff, but there is a place for it.  Learning can be more difficult for students.  As someone who has suffered from poor mental health as a teacher I could relate to this and got something out of it, even though I don’t currently teach teens. But it reinforced my idea for a talk aimed at well-being of teachers.  She talked about BHAGS and babysteps, a hashtag I use myself when talking about the early stages of getting involved in a project or a committee.  During this session I found myself tweeting in sync with Joanna Budden, who also I met for the first time and who gave a presentation during the LTSIG day, which I also attended.  The recording of Rachael’s workshop is below:

Glasgow iPad (110)

Jamie Keddie ‘rocked’ the Clyde auditorium on Wednesday. I say ‘rocked’ because he was on the biggest stage at conference,  ‘Don’t Stop Believin” played before he came on and his front row appeared to be full of female fans ready to throw an article of clothing!  (I’m joking!)  He joked his way through a long lead-in telling a gag about Pina Coladas and the Glaswegian accent, then a story about a hungry old man and a bacon sandwich. He later referred to some feedback where he was warned not to turn his lesson into a ‘Jamie show’.  ‘Misunderstandings’, to continue with the analogy, is probably one of his biggest hits!  He elicits very well, of course, as his new book ‘Videotelling’ encourages teachers to do.  This session on Developing Teacher Talk moved into the area of misunderstandings between teacher and student. It was a practical presentation, in which he argued that teacher talk should be developed not discouraged.  TTT – teacher talk(ing) time – which he says sounds like a daytime TV programme can be overdone but he tried to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ TT.  He believes ‘awareness’ is crucial to avoid bad TT and this takes years to develop.  ‘Keddie’s Half Hour’ included jokes, true, but it made some good points.  He ended with three suggestions including dropping the word ‘time’, embrace storytelling and added a postscript to the warning over TT. There was an online follow-up session one week later, in which he directly addressed the issue of being a ‘performing’ learning-centred teacher.

Jamie Keddie tweet





Not every session was officially recorded for IATEFL online and one of those was the annual, traditional Pecha Kucha. Fortunately, I was there in Lomond to watch it live, while some participants captured sections of it. This event occurred on Thursday evening and was the quick fire 6 min 40 sec 20 slides talk.  It usually includes humour and, boy, did it!  Speakers included Dorothy Zemach and Jamie Keddie. For the first time there was a fantastic Pecha Kucha debate: ‘This house believes teachers should be paid more than bankers’.  The obviously biased proposal clearly won, with the teachers (Sandy Millin, Jo Gakonga) preaching to the converted, though the bowler-hatted ‘bankers’ (Andy Cowle, Caroline Moore) did a great job of trying to convince us otherwise.  My personal PK highlight, however, was Marisa Constantinides’ very irreverent talk on what to do and what not to do as a teacher.  Had I known what was coming I would have recorded it (2nd/3rd conditional?).  Luckily, Tyson Seburn had his ‘camera’ rolling…

There was a 2 hour symposium on Teacher-research for difficult circumstances on Thursday, introduced by my former tutor at the University of Warwick, ReSIG outreach coordinator and curator of the ELT archive, Richard Smith, along with Prem Phyak. It was co-presented by Paula Rebodello (British Council/Mineduc Chile), Michelle Evans (Warwick), Asil Lidice Gokturk Saglam (Ozyegin), Cameroon’s Harry Kuchah (Bath) and Annamaria Pinter (Warwick) and Rama Mathew.  There is a playlist of videos from this. These were recorded by those involved in the symposium, not by British Council or IATEFL online.  Recordings like these supplement the aforementioned coverage.

Richard Smith - Teacher-research Symposium

Some featured Interviews:

IATEFL Online BC 2017 Interviews

As I stated in the previous post, there are 70 interviews available, which were recorded throughout the conference.  I have featured a number here which I found particularly interesting.  There are loads more at IATEFL Online.

Varinder Unlu was asked about the newest Special Interest Group, IP & SEN, which includes my friends, Sharon Noseley and Rachael Harris on the committee.

Angelos Bollas was interviewed by guest host, Scott Thornbury, about the issue of ‘hetereonormality’ in ELT and LGBT representation in coursebook and other materials. This exchange between two gay men provided an excellent exploration which delved deep into the issue and has been widely shared.  I was glad to finally meet Angelos at this conference, go for a meal and watch him co-present the Pecha Kucha.  I was not able to attend his talk as I forgot to add it to my agenda in the conference app and didn’t realise it had taken place until later.  Fortunately, Marisa Constantinides, also of CELT ATHENS and #ELTchat, was this time on the other end of the camera and recorded it on Livestream – her recording is here. There are also some photos from the TDSIG day c/o Michael Harrison.  Interview below:

Here is an interview with Nick Bilbrough, Shereen Irziquat and Salam Affouni.  Nick talks his session on Drama with a small ‘d’ with low-level learners. He linked to children in Gaza as part of the Hands Up! project.  Nick and Salam talk about their experience as British Council trainers in Gaza and Shereen gives her perspective as a trainee working with Palestinian teachers in UNRWA schools.

[Viddler ID=8eaf62d7]    or link here (as embed code doesn’t seem to be working)

Glasgow 2017 (16)

I had the pleasure of meeting roving reporter Sagun Shrestha from Nepal at the LTSIG TDSIG PCE.  He spoke to me at lunch and afterwards about what he is doing with his local association (NELTA) and at Warwick. He is one of the current cohort of A.S.Hornby Educational Trust Scholars.  These twelve scholars presented at IATEFL in Forth on the topic of ‘Factors influencing English language teacher motivation‘.  The recording can be seen below:

Tyson Seburn who was asked about the Teacher Development SIG carnival, a day for professional development supported through social media.  I have just rejoined this SIG and hope to take part next January.

Here is an interview with another friend, Über tweeter (no not the taxi company) and serial blogger, Sandy Millin, about writing for the new IATEFL blog > blog.iatefl.org.

And finally… Richard Smith (again) and Shelagh Rixon have produced a publication called ‘A History of iatefl’, to coincide with the (I)ATEFL’s 50th birthday. The book had a long gestation period.  They gave a presentation on its release in the auditorium on Wednesday evening.  I was otherwise engaged in a social event but thankfully there was an interview with the authors. Richard kindly read and left a comment on my previous post. His book was posted (by snail mail) on the day of the talk and was waiting for me (as well as every other current IATEFL member/delegate) when I got home from Glasgow and will also be made available online for free. A nice surprise!  It looks like a very informative account of the association which I joined in 2012 (when it was 45!) and have been a member since.

History of iatefl book


IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #1

IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #1

This is part one of a review of some of the sessions that I attended at IATEFL 2017 at the SEC and Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. as well as the online content recorded and hosted by IATEFL Online and the British Council. There are 39 recorded and published sessions in total, including all five plenaries, and around 70 interviews on the website. The full conference programme is still available here.  This post is part of my of my commitment as a registered blogger for the event.  All of this content was watched afterwards as I was too busy taking part in Glasgow, although I was present at some of the sessions.  All the embedded videos should be playable from within this page or you can click on the titles which are links to both the recording and any associated documents (PDFs). I review two of the five plenaries in detail here, before briefly talking about a third.  In addition, there is a review of the ‘Outside In – Technology’ session. A second post will review some more of the sessions and highlight some interviews

Tuesday 4 April

Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I had the pleasure of meeting Uruguayan Diaz Maggioli at the joint LTSIG / TDSIG PCE the day before his plenary, where he give a presentation on design thinking and online professional development.  He was losing his voice, but fortunately made a recovery, despite a few coughs and swigs of water during his talk.     His slides for his plenary included illustrations by Lucía Pascal.  It was a great kick off for the conference proper on a widely discussed topic.

He took us back to a reality check from 2002:

“…while particular ‘lighthouse’ schools and school systems are the exception, my sense is that professional development as it is experienced by most teachers and principals is pretty much like it has always been—unfocused, insufficient, and irrelevant to the day-to-day problems faced by front line educators. Put another way, a great deal more is known today about good staff development than is regularly practiced in schools.” Dennis Sparks, 2002

15 years later, he looked at research on PD (professional development) from 2002-17 and found that we are still oscillating between two forms of radically different PD experiences, such as fragmented, piecemeal improvements vs strategically designed, system vs school focused, teacher as adult learner vs student needs.  Most PD was done away from the school but nowadays there is a realisation that it has to be job embedded.

At the core of the literature was the view that a lot of PD are advancing through top-down reforms rather than teacher-led. The view is that teachers need to be ‘fixed’.  But ‘learning communities’ are better, although he uses this term with caution. These communities are individuals who come together because of mutual interest and can be short term.  This tug-of-war between two strategies exists, offering two kinds of visions of what PD should be. Diaz Maggioli argues the teacher should be a ‘transformative intellectual’  who knows how to constantly question from evidence with his/her involvement with students rather than being a ‘technician’, implementing policies from above.

Diaz Maggioli proposed in 2012 that effective PD involves several features:

Draws down targeted, specialist expertise. • Gives and receives structured peer support • Professional dialog rooted in evidence from trying new things. • Focus on why things work/don’t work and not on how. • Reflection as a way of practicing theory and theorizing practice. • Enquiry-oriented learning sustained over time. • Learning to learn from observing the practices of others. • The use of tools and protocols to help create coherence, sustain learning, ensure depth and make evidence collection and analysis manageable and useful. • Done with teachers, and not to teachers.

He spoke about a recent survey which he carried out and shared the results.  He wondered whether respondents belonged to a professional association.  9% belonged to international organisations while 71% belonged to local ones. What PD activities did they engage in?  Free webinars and general web surfing ranked high.  The number 1 activity to surf the web to find ideas to use in class. Much of it is done in their own free time, with their own funding and outside of their job.

He mentioned the LTSIG / TDSIG PCE where some participants revealed that they or colleagues still don’t know how to use a cellphone effectively, as well as the new IP & SEN SIG which developed from an interest in addressing this lack of PD for teachers working with students with special educational needs or ‘alternative learning styles’.

Criticisms of PD from the survey:

Disconnected from the reality of the classroom. • Too short. • No follow up. • Too much talking, very little doing. • Outdated. • Too low a level. • Cannot apply it. • No time to talk to colleagues. • No support implementing it.

Just 10% participants were involved in PD. Where are the 90%? asked Diaz Maggioli. He concluded that 15 years after Sparks’ book, PD is still traditional and untimely and is never tailored to individual needs. It is standardized in institutions. One size fits ‘most’ not all, he stated. It is also prescriptive, decontextualized and superficial.

His conclusions on what teachers need for develop professionally were 3 basic things: Time, affordability, support and follow up.  PD is futile and useless without these.  It is a ‘Utopia’ out there on a horizon which is never reached. Real life PD is “timely, job embedded, personalized and collegial.”  He offered the long standing ‘teacher’s choice framework’ (2004) which requires honesty from the participants. This places PD on an ‘updated / outdated’ + ‘aware / unaware’ quadrant.

He went on to describe working in communities, outlining various kinds of coaching, study groups, critical friends’ teams, mentoring, learning circles, collaborative action research and exploratory action research.

He concluded by offering what we can do about PD:

Explore one of these strategies in depth and share it with colleagues. • Help administrators find resources to start a pilot program (small scale). • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace. • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.

He asked us to get involved, not just in IATEFL or TESOL, but in one of the Special Interest Groups, of which there are now 16.

I am a member of TDSIG.  My impression was that professional development is now in a better state than 2002 and was portrayed at the beginning of this talk. But clearly there is still a long way to go and there are many barriers and too much top-down decision making to make it effective.  But there are lots of options as he outlined towards the end.

What about freelancers?  What do they do?  Well I recently went self-employed so have taken full responsibility for my own PD, but attending a conference such as this is high on that list, but it costs a lot of money top get there and attend (best part of £1000 for the whole week) and there are no discounts for the self-employed, those who don’t have a publisher or a scholarship.  I have to develop my own affordable strategies, too.  But there are plenty of online options these days, not least the huge number of IATEFL or related webinars.  Being part of a wide range of Facebook groups, such as ‘Blog posts for teachers’ and ‘Webinars for English Teachers’ can also aid PD.  There is also #ELTchat, of course, which meets on Twitter once a week.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Also on Tuesday 4 April was the Cambridge English sponsored Outside in:  bringing new Technology perspectives to ELT hour long session / panel discussion in Forth.  It was presented and chaired by Michael Carrier and featured four experts in using technology.  Here’s the abstract of the session:

Outside in Session

Outside In

and the recording is here:

As a member of the LTSIG, I was very interested to hear what the distinguished panel brought to this session.  It was actually a last minute decision not to attend the British Council signature event on refugees which took place at the same time in the Clyde auditorium.

The chair first invited the audience to answer two ongoing questions via Glisser.   One of these questions asked ‘How much would you welcome the impact of the outside digital world inside ELT?’  “Digital learning is here to stay and that resistance is futile”, Carrier stated in his introduction. So one of the answers,  which referred to it being unavoidable,  made this a somewhat leading question, although I would argue he was asking whether it should be used inside ELT.   Speech enabled technology, augmented reality and the internet of things were some of the areas flagged up in the introduction.  He also questioned whether institutions drove many decision on purchasing technology for use by teachers and whether Interactive Whiteboards deserved a place in the classroom.

Donald Clark spoke only about Artificial Intelligence.  Technology is always ahead of the culture and sociology, while pedagogy is a poor third, he stated.  Most language learning occurs outside of the classroom.  For English, Clark regularly finds that English is learnt via YouTube, music and movies – often by using illegal torrent downloads.  AI is the new UI.  We already use it. Social media and using Google is AI, he stressed.   It is already tackling some of serious issues of  teaching and learning of languages.  Chatbots (e.g. Cortana, Siri and alexa), are becoming commonplace.   I am personally skeptical because they are not something I like using. It’s all very well speaking your search term question into Google but I don’t particularly want to be reliant on it.  I don’t use Siri (on my iPhone) or Cortana (on Windows 10). But the Croatian Maths homework app (photomaths) looked cool as all the steps (the teaching) are included.  The unbiased and quick Georgia Techbot was nominated for an award.  He gave a few more examples before reiterating that ‘Resistance is futile’, folks!

Yvonne Rogers stated that we don’t want is digital bubbles in their own worlds. Collaborative learning is much better. Life sentences is one such open-sourced tool, which is loved by students.  Learning is inadvertent so could be used for more tricky grammar. Pokemon Go opened the way for augmented reality and motivated play in the real world.  Learning in context will increase.  Microsoft’s HoloLens doesn’t make the user feel sick like a lot of augmented reality does.  Interactive wearables were shown. One example showed an LED light that shows food going into the stomach.  As well as Alexa, an advert for Google Home showed how a resident can get everything done they want to just from instructing the device. Again, I have personal reservations about this – asking the device to play room in your son’s bedroom to get him up is all well and good but what’s wrong with asking his sibling to give him an imperative?  Roam.I made its debut at the London 2012 Olympics. Clunky robots have been around for ages, but can commercial ones out help in the classroom?  I know that in Japan and South Korea they are already being used.  Her take-away message included the view that new technologies should be   allow for playful, engaging and creative language learning in situ. Collaboration using the same device, not individual device use is important, so sharing of school owned devices is one way forward. This has already been tried in many settings.

I first met Paul Driver in Barcelona, where he gave a fascinating talk at the first Image conference.  He has produced a Cambridge book called Language Learning with Digital Video with Ben Goldstein. He was also the only panel member who (still) works inside ELT.   He disagreed slightly with Donald’s assessment over huge pedagogic change. The way that technology is used isn’t, he argues, particularly pedagogically innovative.  Driver is a great example of a teachers who has lead the way with geo-location GPS games.  In Portugal, he devised the game ‘Invader’ using map reading and I’ve also seen his incredibly innovative ‘Spywalk’ in that Barcelona talk. 3D Printing is another possibility for Task-based learning.  He mentioned ‘greenscreening’ (which was later demonstrated to great effect by Joe Dale in the LTSIG day) as very accessible now.   Removing (Krashen’s) ‘affective filter’ occurs regularly with certain kinds of technologies.  Like another big game-based learning advocate, David Dodgson, he dislikes ‘gamification’ as a motivational tool, which he describes a ‘low hanging fruit’.   Intrinsic motivation is quite powerful with GBL. He has used VR on CELTA courses for teacher training, which most people would never have even considered as a possibility, including the session host.  But I would argue that Driver is in the top %1 of teachers currently using technology in innovative ways.

Geoff Stead gave a brief overview of his personal experience – prisons, vocational colleges, military medics. No teachers.  But at the other extreme, running a team of mobile developers in huge American tech company, which built over 100 apps. At Cambridge he has realised edtech is about seeking that perfect fir to particular contexts. He spoke about a couple of exploratory projects.   Cambridge English have developed both ‘Quiz your English’ and Write & Improve.  Using machine learning to practice before submission.   He also discussed Google Cardboard as an effective way of reducing anxiety, through what I understand to be ‘exposure therapy’.  Their 360 degree pilots on speaking tests uses a desensitising approach to learning.  Research is ongoing, with students already saying they feel much happier using this.  CE don’t know which technologies are going to work yet.  In this respect they have launched a BETA version of ‘the Digital Teacher’, a new website which was demonstrated to delegates at the LTSIG/TDSIG PCE the day before, which Stead made a reference to at the end.  Twenty minutes of questions and discussion followed.

Outside In (2) questions

Wednesday 5 April: Connecting minds: lanrguage learner and teacher psychologies Sarah Mercer.

Language learning is a deeply social and emotional undertaking for both teachers and learners. Mercer reflected on the fundamental role played by psychology in the learning and teaching of foreign languages. She showed how crucial an understanding of psychology is, given that people and their relationships lie at the heart of the teaching/learning interaction.

Mercer began with a ‘inspiring’ video of Barry White greeting his students with unique greetings. It was clearly about generating rapport and, possibly, trust, to make the point that we still need teachers.

Language learning is more than just about motivation, cognition or an abstracted, internal mind, she stated.  “Psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to their learners” (Duckworth, 2016).  They do 3 essential things, which she covered. They:

(1) develop positive relationships

(2) focus on positivity and growth

(3) nurture their own professional well-being.

(1)  She goes into each of these in detail on the video, showing the educator, Rita Pearson, talking about the power of relationships.  She states that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  A lot of rapport is about getting students to ‘like’ you, however, as well as creating trust.  But I’m not sure this is always necessary.  I certainly felt it when I started my career but it’s not essential in my view.

Language teaching, she argued, needs social and emotional intelligence, as well as socio-cultural competence.  The teaching profession attracts people like this already, but wanted to remind us how important this is.  Sarah asked the audience what qualities or relationships were important to us.  I mentioned trust and honesty to the person next to me.  They offered (mutual) respect.  These three qualities appeared at the top of a list (Roffey, 2011).  There was also reciprocity and feeling comfortable and enjoying being together.

Her own research looked at developing positive relationships (Gkonou & Mercer, 2017) and how to make ‘deposits’, based on the idea of an ’emotional bank account’ (Covey, 2004).  She looked at how teachers, who scored highly on emotional/social intelligence made these deposits:

1. Work on mutual trust & respect  – this is earned. Reliability. Consistency. Promoting Autonomy.  Self-disclosure. The last one is something I do. I personalise the lesson by sharing appropriate information about myself as well as that of the student.

2. Be empathetic.  Trying to imagine and understand what it is like from their point of view.  Non verbal signals are also key here.

3. Be responsive to learner individuality.   I agree that knowing student names, as early as possible, is crucial.   I try these, even my class is full of Chinese students who have adopted ‘English’ names, which I’m not a fan of.

Mercer highlighted this quote about the nature of relationships:

“An extensive body of research suggests the importance of close, caring teacher-student relationships and high quality peer relationships for students’ academic self-perceptions, school engagement, motivation, learning, and performance” (Furrer, Skinner & Pitzer, 2014, p.102)

Learners are more frightened of talking in front of their peers than their teachers according to other research, she stated, and we need to develop positive relationships between learners in our classroom.  Knowing each other’s names is key, too.

(2) Mercer used the same reference as Tony Price in his talk on ‘activities that can change attitudes’.   What we believe about our abilities – our ‘mindsets’ or implicit theories (Dweck, 2006) are so deeply rooted that we are not aware of them.  The ‘Fixed’ mindset is believing our abilities or intelligence are given (to us) and can’t be changed.  The ‘growth’ mindset says our these attributes are more malleable and can be developed.  Mindsets are the foundation for what happens afterwards, according to Mercer.  If you don’t believe you can change, why even try.   She outlined attitudes of people with both ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets.  These are very prevalent in language learning.  Now I’ve often believed that I am not very good at learning languages myself, but this is probably not true and is based on having a fixed mindset.  It was something Tony Price also personalised when he made the same reference.  Mindsets are domain specific which means a distinction can be made between different language (macro) skills – speaking or pronunciation, for example.   Teachers have mindsets, too.  Mercer’s research  on teaching competencies highlighted the belief amongst many teachers that they couldn’t develop their interpersonal skills.  Again, if a teacher does not believe that they can improve their abilities, why bother.  A teacher can be a role model in promoting a growth mindset in their learners.  But this is not enough.  Strategic planning is also very important, she believes.

‘Strength spotting’ (Linley, 2008) is not just about focusing on our weaknesses.  People often have a negative bias which she claimed is human nature – where we obsess, for example, about the one negative piece of feedback over several positive pieces. This is something I have to develop myself.  I try to ignore the voice inside my head that focuses on the negative and, instead, focus on the things that have gone well. Mercer invited delegates to share something positive about themselves.  Are we conditioned to stress what we are not good at, though?  Maybe it’s part of how we wish to be perceived.  For CVs and job interviews, for examples, we only dwell on positive things, so this isn’t necessarily true, I feel.

She talked about positive emotions and the Broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 2001, 2012).  This resonates with Krashen’s ‘Affective Filter’ theory.  She mentioned the ‘flight or fight’ response for negative emotions, which I know to be associated with panic attacks. Reducing anxiety is important but when we engage with positive emotions, we are more creative and experimental. These build resources and create new competencies.

(3)   T is the most important letter in IATEFL as it refers to teachers, she stated.

“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. {They] are the lifeblood of the success of schools.” (Ken Robinson)

Mercer’s final section dealt with teachers who nurture their own professional well-being. You can’t pour from an empty cup and teachers need to care of themselves first. Our psychology is closely related to that of our learners.  Reciprocity is ‘neuro’ mirroring, it’s catching!    She talked about happiness at work.  The judgement error is that being successful at work will make us happy when, in fact, it’s the reverse of this.

Her final points really struck a chord with me.  Teaching is inherently stressful. Stress management is highly important.   Teachers who suffer from perfectionism bring a motivational force but can hinder our performance when things don’t go as planned. She showed a slide (below) and drew on  Self-compassion is about not being hard on yourself.  We have to make sure that we are not overstretching ourselves, that we learn to say no and set boundaries for the sake of our physical and mental well-being.

Teacher professional wellbeing is not an indulgence, it is a necessity for good teaching (Roffey, 2011, p. 133)

This is inspiring, I feel and of huge, personal relevance to me having made the decision recently to go self-employed and take charge of when and where I work.   My own mental health is paramount when I consider taking on a new role.  That role needs to be suitable for me. Mercer’s plenary was my favourite this week.

Stress Management For Teachers (Mercer)

Sarah Mercer

Thursday 6 AprilELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos – JJ Wilson

I was keen to hear JJ Wilson’s talk having written an #ELTchat summary last November about ‘Teaching diversity, inclusion and social justice issues’, in which this plenary at IATEFL was flagged up.

I was suffering a little bit on Thursday morning, watched it online and didn’t really take it in at the time.  I’ve since watched it back and have come to this very short review having read (some of) a very critical opinion about it “turning radical pedagogy into dross”.

I know JJ Wilson’s name, having seen it an old coursebook, the (totally tropical) ‘Total English’, that somebody gave me recently when I started teaching privately.  In addition, I bought a Flexi version of ‘Speak Out’ during the conference. But I have never heard of Paulo Freire or his book, ‘The pedagogy of the oppressed’, which Wilson made reference to.  I’m not in a position, therefore, to comment at great length about his plenary.  But to a certain extent, I agree with the view that this was slickly produced stuff. From the moment he said that he came from ‘a place of privilege’, I was immediately put off.  It was more an ‘inspiring’ TED talk on steroids with all the earnestness of Bono (from U2).   He also said he came from a community of struggle and his battle with racism but I didn’t get the impression that he had.  It appeared to be more of an ego trip, such as encouraging the delegates to reassure him that he [is] still a young man!  He bragged about reading of the whole of Freire’s book, not just the Amazon reviews. He sung a lyric by Bob Marley without stating that it was called ‘Redemption Song’.  It was an over-confident, disappointing plenary and didn’t convince me.  Almost as far from critical pedagogy as you could get.  Maybe the fact it was a plenary softened the message through rose-coloured spectacles.  Anyway, I don’t wish to dwell on this, however, as he appears to be a well-respected writer and speaker.  I can see why this particular plenary was lauded by some, but very empty and paying lip-service to social justice for others.  Watch it and decide for yourself.


IATEFL Conference 2017 – My week in Glasgow

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Clyde Auditorium and SEC, Glasgow

This is the first of three posts about the IATEFL conference held in Glasgow, 3-7 April 2017. It is my personal, reflective experience of the week. It is not a review of the sessions I attended or watched online.  That will be in my other two posts, which is part of my requirement of being one of the registered bloggers for the event.

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Sunday 2 April 

I travelled to the conference by train on Sunday 2 April, listening to my own Spotify playlist of Glasgow related artists.  The only conference delegate I met on Sunday, purposefully, was Diana Eastment scholarship winner, David Dodgson, at the Weatherspoons on Argyll Street. I stayed at a fellow Deacon Blue fan’s flat in Anderston. The last time I was in Glasgow was in December to see the band play at the iconic Barrowlands. The band retweeted my reference to one of their songs as I travelled back to the city on Sunday. My friend, who is wheelchair bound, mostly wanted to talk about her work at Kilmarnock Railway station – a local community project for disadvantaged people, many of whom have diagnosed mental health difficulties or are on the autistic spectrum.  My father has both a connection with Kilmarnock and the Barras as he used to ‘preach’ there in the 1960s.  He studied theology at the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow.   My first IATEFL conference was also here, in 2012.

Monday 3 April

On Monday, I attended the joint Learning Technologies / Teacher Development Special Interest Groups PCE. Stylised as ‘unLimiTeD professional development with technology’. I have been a member of the LTSIG since I joined IATEFL in 2012 and recently rejoined the TDSIG, having been a member for one year.

There were several talks and workshops.  There was an opening plenary on  ‘Applying startup thinking to teacher development’ by Nick Robinson and Jo Sayers of ELTjam and tech-related talks on the following:
● Teaching Old Dog New Tricks: Collaborative Inquiry (Patricia Reynolds)
● Design Thinking and Online Professional Development (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)
● Click Like for Language Development (Teresa Carvalho)
● Teaching Teachers – How to Support Teachers Navigating the World of
Technology in Teaching (Katherine Anderton)
● Crowdsourcing the #MFLTwitterati, hashtags, Twitter lists, Padlet and
Storify for teacher development and classroom impact (Joe Dale)
● Integrating digital games: engaging young language learners and teacher
trainees in innovative learning environments. (Maria Diakou & Stella Kourieos)

In the afternoon there was an opportunity to meet each of the speakers and an open space where groups, who had been allocated a Digital Teacher postcard, circulated the room and discussed the topics raised by each of the table hosts.  In addition, there was a ‘moustache’ table about The Digital Teacher, which was led by Andrew Nye and Anna Lloyd of Cambridge English Language Assessment.  This new website is currently in the BETA stage, so is still being developed.  It was ‘live’ for the duration of the day so that participants could access it. In their workshop, Andrew and Anna displayed the resources available on the site via posters and asked for feedback from participants.  In my group was current Hornby scholar from Nepal, Sagun Shrestha. I had lunch with him and Tilly Harrison, from the University of Warwick.

Things were wrapped up at the end by Nicola Meldrum, who guided the participants on reflecting on the day’s innovations and invited them to share their experiences.  Michael Harrison took some photos of the PCE on behalf of TDSIG and can be viewed here.   Also present was LTSIG scholarship winner, Leung Wai Tung, who acted as a roving reporter and put together a fine video report of the day.  There are also some collected moments from the event hashtag #LTTD here.

After the event I attended a debrief session with the LTSIG committee members, during which I was formally welcomed as a sub-committee volunteer. I have been co-opted with an undefined role at this stage, but it might initially involve collecting and proof reading articles for the LTSIG blog and working with Sylvia Guinan, the website editor. I can’t be more involved in the committee at this stage as I would have to be elected.

On Monday evening, I attended the civic reception, during which outgoing IATEFL president, Marjorie Rosenberg, welcomed delegates. I caught up with a few more familiar faces, Jo Gakonga (also University of Warwick), Sue Annan (BESIG PCE) and Sandy Millin (MaWSIG PCE), before going for a meal with them alongside IATEFL committee member, Pecha Kucha 2017 host and current ELTchat moderator, Angelos Bollas.   I later had the pleasure of meeting psychology and mind mapping fan, Ron Morrain, for the first time.

Tuesday 4 April

On Tuesday, after Gabriel Diaz Maggioli’s opening plenary on ‘Empowering teachers through continued professional development’, I attended Johanna Stirling CUP talk on activities for low-level literacy in EAP.  This session was recorded by Cambridge University Press and I was briefly involved in creating some words using the prefix ‘-un’ as Johanna briefly demonstrated some simple spelling points.

After this, I attended Theresa Clementson and Gary Hicks talk on ‘International students: can bridge the academic and cultural gap?’   As someone who has just been accepted to teach on a presessional course this summer, I was keen to attend a few EAP talks.  This one focused on designing effective courses and feedback from students at Brighton.

In the afternoon, I attended Tony Prince’s excellent workshop of ‘Activities that affect attitudes’.  I have previously met Tony at the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE) where he is Academic Director.  For many years he ran the INTO_UEA presessional course. He drew upon his own personal experience of learning French and the common assumptions that are made about language learners.  He referenced the fixed and growth mindset (Carol Dweck) and Anders Ericsson.  He invited the participants to structure feedback based on failure and success, finishing with some myths (and reality) about attitudes.

I attended John Hughes’ presentation on ‘The Selfie Classroom Observation’, during which he shared his survey of 121 teachers, which I took part in last month.   I took extensive notes and photographs from this session and shared these via Evernote – here.

Later on, I cancelled my planned attendance of the British Council signature of refugees ‘Language for Resilience’ – knowing it was going to be recorded – in order to attend Outside In.  This very interesting Cambridge English panel discussion brought together four technology experts Geoff Stead, Donald Clark, Paul Driver and Yvonne Rogers.  They brought their experiences from outside the ELT world, talked about the technology we already use often without realising, the gap between what we do and what we could use in teaching. They looked at artificial intelligence, chatbots and machine translation, amongst many other things.  There is a recording of it here.  I will write a review about this in my follow-up post.

Outisde In - Panel DiscussionOutside In Panel Discussion Questions

Later in the evening, I attended the Meet The SIGs event in the Crowne Plaza. I initially felt overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people crammed into the room.  I don’t really ‘do’ claustrophobia.  But I got into it once I realised that all the SIG committee members were wearing a committee badge and had to be asked simple questions – 16 in all, one for each SIG.  It took a while, but I eventually got round to meeting someone from every SIG, which included the brand new IP & SEN SIG – the committee were giving out flyers (see below).   Two Facebook friends, Sharon Noseley and Rachel Harris are involved in this.  As well as briefly reconnecting with Lienhard Legenhausen (LASIG) and Rachael Roberts (MaWSIG) I also met, for the first time, representatives of LITSIG, Daniel Xerri (ReSIG), Dave Allan (TEASIG / NILE) and the incoming IATEFL president, Margit Szesztay (former GISIG coordinator) – who had been interviewed by IATEFL online earlier in the day.

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Wednesday 5 April

I took it easy on Wednesday, taking lots of breaks and selecting the occasional session. The day was bookended by two talks which had well-being at the centre. These were Sarah Mercer’s excellent plenary ‘Connecting minds: language learners and teacher psychologies’ and Rachel ‘fabenglishteacher’ Harris’ talk on well-being of teens.

There were two EAP related talks placed together in Ness. Susan Esnawy’s talk was about how to avoid plagiarism using journalists questions, while Barbara Howarth looked at paraphrasing with note taking.    After this, I bumped into and chatted to Nik Peachey just before he conducted an online interview with IATEFL patron, David Crystal.

I particularly enjoyed Laura Patsko’s Cambridge session on giving feedback on learner’s pronunciation.  She is very clear, as you would expect for the deputy journal editor of the Pronunciation SIG and specialist in English as a Lingua Franca.  She spent a lot of the session simply analysing ways to teach the word ‘cello’ and the question ‘What are you studying?’ Along with Johanna, she provided us with one of the glossiest handouts I received all week.  There is a recording here.

I spent a lot of this day going round the exhibition hall and talking to people, publishers and choosing a coursebook for two of my current students.  In the end, I chose to purchase Speak Out – Intermediate (2nd ed).  I spoke to English Teaching Professional editor in chief, Helena Gomm about a possible article, and caught up with Chia Suan Chong – who tweets for the publication.  I also held the fort and a cupcake for 5 minutes. Whilst I was there, I managed to snap this photo opportunity with the ETPedia authors..

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ETPedia Tweet

In the afternoon, Jamie Keddie ‘rocked’ the Clyde auditorium with his comical take on developing teacher talk, flanked by a ‘zombified’ cartoon image.  The recording is here.  I had earlier met Jamie in the exhibition hall as he signed his new book ‘Videotelling’.

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Feeling more chilled, I had a couple of drinks at the SEC bar before heading to Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, a specialist fish restaurant that happened to be located next door to my friend’s flat in Anderston.  Great company and great food, albeit quite pricey.  It was my one extravagance of the week. Otherwise I remained mostly sober all week 😀

Thursday 6 April

Thursday was the most active day of all, which I somehow negotiated with a hangover. I dragged myself to Chia Suan Chong’s early bird guidance on how to be a freelancer, before breakfast!  Following JJ Wilson’s disappointing plenary on ‘ELT and social justice: Opportunities in a Time of Chaos’, I took in several talks on a learning technologies theme. This was the LTSIG day, with presentations by David Read on ‘creating interactive EAP content’, Diana Conheeney & Maria Guiney on using student created videos for assessment and, before lunch, David Dodgson on ‘connected development and teacher reflection’. Immediately after this talk, I watched Sophia Mavridi being interviewed by Spanish vlogger, Amadeu Marin.   I make a brief appearance. That recording is here.

Joanna Budden presented on teenagers thriving in the digital world. There was Joe Dale’s quick fire green screening  app smash with included lots of funny moments, Nicky Hockley on myths and monsters and, finally, Gavin Dudeney’s teacher technology toolbox guide, which rounded off the day in a light-hearted way. Half way through was the LTSIG Open forum, where I was introduced by joint coordinator, Shaun Wilden, as a sub committee member.  I will write more about this whole day in a separate post for the LTSIG blog, once I have access to the recordings.  Meanwhile, there is a small slideshow of some of my photos below.  There is also a Storify of tweets and images from the day put together by Marisa Constantinides here.

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In addition to this, there was the annual Pecha Kucha (20 slides, 6min 40secs).  This was probably the funniest thing I saw or heard all week, aside from Marisa Constantinides coming up with the concept of the ‘flopped classroom’. Her very irreverent Pecha Kucha had the audience in hysterics. Although this event wasn’t streamed or recorded, Tyson Seburn manage to capture it – see here.  For the first time ever, so our presenters informed us, there was a PK debate where the ‘house’ proposed the motion that teachers should be paid more than bankers. Jo Gakonga and Sandy Millin were involved in winning the somewhat biased argument.  There is a recording somewhere..

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The evening was rounded off at a karaoke bar in Drury Street.  I wore my Deacon Blue ‘#Raintown’ T-Shirt but wasn’t brave enough to sing the song in front of a crowd of rowdy Glaswegians.  Those conference delegates that were present shall remain nameless, as they were relaxing after a hectic week.  But I enjoyed it and got to meet some more folk I had otherwise not spoken to up til that point.

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Friday 7 April

I didn’t stick around on Friday as I had to catch my train from Queens Street station in the morning and head back to Norfolk.  There wasn’t really time to pop back to the venue to say goodbyes. People would have been in sessions or busy anyway, so I decided to take my leave of this great city.  I failed to find all the places in the Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail but I’ve since heard that ‘the Budgie’ is a rough place, anyway!  The only people from the conference I saw were Adrian Underhill and Amadeu Marin at the hotel.   There are so many other things I would have liked to have seen or planned to see but never managed to get to.  Given that I am now involved in a refugee integration project in Norwich, I regret not seeing the presentations and discussions on refugees, especially Nick Bilborough talking about The Hands Up Project, which I have supported, and the British Council Signature Event – Language for Resilience.  The latter is, however, available online – here.  I regret missing Angelos Bollas original session on ‘De-idealising the hetereonormative self in the ELT classroom’ but there is an excellent Scott Thornbury hosted interview with Angelos here which I also tweeted about.  I also missed my former tutor at Warwick, Richard Smith, give a presentation on the history of IATEFL – but gladly received his and Shelagh Rixon’s book in the post once I arrived home.  Here it is pictured with the ELT METRO t-towel, which I bought off Tyson.

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It was definitely the best conference I have ever attended and that includes Glasgow 2012.   I compare that experience with how I approached the Glastonbury music festival for the first time. I was running around like a headless chicken trying to catch everything. When I returned in 2004 I was more measured and selective in what I saw, taking more breaks.  This applies to Glasgow 2012 and 2017.  This time around I felt able to pick and chose a little more, take lots of breaks and speak to people in the exhibition hall and other locations, rather than going to talk after talk.  Only on Monday and Thursday did I feel I needed to be part of the whole day, and even then I didn’t try to do too much.  I wanted to enjoy the conference as a delegate, not with any particular responsibility. In next year’s event in Brighton I hope to have more responsibilities and may do my first workshop.

All photos in this post are mine, except for ‘unnatural’ (Tyson Seburn), the still from the PCE Periscope stream (Shaun WIlden), the stills from the Outside In panel discussion, from the IATEFL online recording and Michael Harrison’s quiet image of the SEC below. Tyson also designed the logo for the joint PCE.

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Going Self-employed


New Social Media Cover Photo

A few weeks ago, I came to a personal decision.  I had a successful interview in my home to teach individual students with a Norwich-based Homestay company.  If this happens later this year, which seems likely, I will need to be technically self-employed. It got me thinking.. why don’t I simply register myself as self-employed with HMRC and, therefore, be responsible for paying my own tax and NI contributions in future. After a series of job applications, at the end of last year, in which I didn’t hear anything back, I got a bit despondent.  So I thought if no-one else is going to hire me, then I should ‘hire’ myself.  I’ve always been ’employed’, never ‘self-employed’. There are advantages in this change of employment status for me personally.

It is a state of mind.  My own health and well-being has often been adversely affected by being in full-time work with one employer, the pressures of intensive teaching and living away from home.  It is exactly four years to the day that I found myself in a secure unit in King’s Lynn, with little hope and bleak prospects.  It is just over three years since I previously pressed the ‘reset’ button and started volunteering as a teacher for Norwich Mind, the mental health charity. I wrote about my future intentions in November 2013 in a post here.

Variety is the spice of life, so they say.  By taking on 3 or 4 different roles, I can mix up my working life.  Rather than teach regular classes, I will focus on tutoring 1-2-1, mostly in Norwich.  Today, I launch my Facebook page advertising my services.  I believe that I have to start small, build up a reputation once more and work on promoting myself. I will be extrinsically motivated to get involved in different things and to make it sustainable.  I have just started volunteering as an ESOL teacher and mentor with a refugee charity. I also hope to be doing some IT and social media work soon for Mind.  This still leaves me free to teach online and to do some promotional work for the Teacher Training Videos website.

By going self-employed I am regaining control of when and where I work. I can mitigate some of the pressures that caused me to start jobs and not stay in them for long.  I am feeling fairly positive now, buoyed by my decision, but it will take some effort to ‘rebuild’ myself. Especially over the next few weeks as I recover from an unexpected road traffic accident on 4 February, which I walked away from with just a minor fracture of a metacarpal in my left wrist and a badly bruised rib cage.

If you are reading this and live in the Norwich area and would like to have lessons with me or know someone that might be interested, please do not hesitate to get in contact.  My first lesson (meeting) is free and further lessons can be negotiated.  More information can be found on my ‘About’ page on here.  Even if you are not an English student but am interested by my change in employment status, I would really appreciate your support and advice. Especially if you have made this move yourself.

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Birds over Norwich market


Mind mapping Tools


Classroom Management Mind Map: Brainstorming ideas for a job interview

This post is about some tools that are available for creating mind maps. These are used widely in education, not exclusively in English language teaching.   I have created tutorial videos for each of the tools.  It also follows on directly from an excellent Business English SIG webinar (see below) given by Ron Morrain, on using mind maps in the classroom, which I attended yesterday.

Mind mapping techniques are used in business for problem solving and decision making. They are used for strategic thinking, giving presentations and used for coaching others. They can help a prospective employee in getting prepared for a job interview, as in my own real example above. For the student, a mind map can be a very useful ‘aide memoire’ to review notes taken in a lecture or for exam revision.  Brainstorming is often done individually or in groups and many mind mapping web tools allow for this to happen collaboratively.  There are some sound reasons for using mind mapping and tools should only really be used if there is some pedagogical benefits.

“The combination of technology, mind mapping, and L2 skills acquisition (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), make for a high energy and very interactive L2 learning experience.” (Ron Morrain interviewed by Phil Wade – here)

This is not one of those posts entitled ’50 mind map tools you must use in class tomorrow’. That kind of list is counter-productive. There are plenty of freely available tools out there, which you can find for yourself, as well as some premium ones.  I’m only going to focus on and compare three in this post.  Each one has its own appeal and I will offer some advantages and disadvantages for each one.

Some available software is highly technical and recommended more for the professional, such as web developers, who need to map out program decision making. FreeMind, for example, is free, premier  mind-mapping software written in Java.   The landing page itself will be enough to put off most people. Similarly, you can expect the inventor of mind mapping, Tony Buzan, to have has his own patented software called iMind Map, currently in its 9th edition. He charges a mere £2495 per person, by the way, to attend one of his courses.


Free Mind



Some considerations when choosing your mind mapping tool:

  • Can it be used offline as well as online?  Is there an app version or a browser plug-in?
  • Is it free or do you need to pay for the full features?
  • How does it look?  The aesthetic appeal is important if you are to export the maps or to use them in presentations.  Beautiful looking mind maps can draw the eye.
  • What templates can you integrate into your design?  These can be useful for saving time and presenting your work in a more visually appealing way.
  • How accessible are they?  Is there an ease of use? Do they improve on using a pen and paper?  Are they quicker?  Do they produce better results?  These matter a lot in rapid brainstorming.
  • Can you collaborate easily?  Another critical feature if you need to work together away from the workplace or classroom.
  • Can you create a flowchart?  Not all of them do this as they don’t allow for directional arrows.
  • Can you cross link information in one part of a mind map to another related part?
  • Are you able to save and share the maps easily?  Is it secure or is there a risk with the particular tool?  This is important as you wouldn’t want to be restricted to downloading your creations in one format.  You may have the option to export a .jpeg or .png image.  An export format like PDF is a good additional option. You may want to integrate your creations into Word, PowerPoint or other software.

I took a closer look at three mind mapping tools out there, which all offer something different from each other. There are links to tutorial videos for each one.


Text2MindMap is great for creating quick mind maps from a text list.  Each text line becomes a node in the mind map. A new branch of nodes can be created with an indentation. It is a very simple piece of software, which does not appear to be maintained by its creators.  Indeed, when I used it the security certificate for it had just lapsed.  You can bypass the security warning which comes up in Firefox and Chrome by clicking ‘advanced’ provided you are not entering any personal or sensitive information.

It is a web-based, browser-based tool.  It acts like a spider diagram or a tree, with a ‘root’ being the central topic and ‘branches’ coming off this.  Subsequent branches can be created by adding new levels by indenting text in the window on the left-hand side.

  • Advantages:
  • It’s free.  You don’t need to sign up or pay anything.  There is a pay-for option but I can’t see this makes any difference to the features.
  • It’s simple, quick and easy to use.
  • It converts linear text which can be copied and pasted in from another source, if already indented.
  • You can drag individual text boxes or the whole mind map around the screen.
  • You can edit the colour, text size and general appearance of each ‘branch’ (box) and can do this by branch or level.
  • You can write directly on the connecting ‘nodes’ (lines) – although this doesn’t work that effectively.
  • You can save the mind map or get a URL link for accessing later.
  • Disadvantages:  
  • There is no app version for tablet or desktop.
  • You can’t collaborate with others.
  • It currently has an invalid security certificate, which I address in the videos, so don’t part with any money!
  • The connecting ‘nodes’ are simple lines. You cannot create flowcharts with directional arrows.
  • You can’t add images or shapes.


A full set of tutorial videos for using Popplet 


Popplet is a great-looking tool which has been around since 2010.  It has a large community of users worldwide who share their finished ‘Popplet’ boards in a public area. It is fairly versatile, intuitive and has a very clear and clean design.  It can be used by any age group and there are lots of options to share and work on boards collaboratively.  What I like about this most is the way the mind maps appear.  You can edit individual ‘popples’ (boxes) by colour and have nametags associated with each one – great if students are collaborating.  You can upload or copy images into popples and even add links to Vimeo or YouTube.  In addition, there is a fantastic blog called ‘Poppletrocks!’ which has lots of suggestions for how to use the tool.

There is a version for iPad or tablet which costs £3.99 or a free version called Popplet Lite.

  • Advantages:
  • It’s free to use, but you need to pay for additional features and options, which I would recommended if you are in an educational setting where the institution can pay.
  • It’s intuitive and fun to play around with.
  • Navigation of your board is straight forward with zooming in/out and dragging options.
  • Collaboration is not only supported but actively encouraged.
  • Boards can be set to private or public or shared in a number of ways.
  • There are formatting options, such as grid layout, which you don’t get in many mind mapping tools.
  • Comments can be added to individual ‘popples’.  This could be a teacher’s opinion or can be used to show image references.
  • You can present your board in one of two ways.
  • Adding content is relatively easy, although you might need to download an image first before uploading into the board.
  • You can export to .jpeg or .png or .pdf.  Or directly to a Pinterest board.
  • There is well-maintained blog with useful tips, ideas and a support team (powered by GetSatisfaction) with many existing queries already answered.  They also get back to you very quickly!
  • Disadvantages:  
  • The connecting lines are non editable. You cannot create flowcharts as, like the above tool, there are currently no directional arrows.  You can’t add lines off other lines, either, making family trees difficult – I tried in vain.
  • Adding videos is great but playing them currently brings a minor technical issue about how the video is displayed on the screen, which I address in the tutorials.
  • Adding an image directly from a URL link doesn’t always work.  It depends on the size of the original.  The dialogue box (screenshot below) doesn’t always appear, although I’m told it’s not needed if you copy and paste the link directly into the ‘popple’.adding-an-image-via-url-dialogue-box

There is an introduction (part 1) by Russell Stannard showing you what you can do with Popplet, followed some more detailed videos (part 2) by me here.



Sketchboard  has an .io domain name, suggesting the name was chosen with ‘input/output’ or a binary system of 1s and 0s, in mind.  It is a very sophisticated piece of software, designed by a Finish computer coder, Saiki Tanabe.  Sketchboard is more of a collaborative whiteboard rather than a dedicated mind mapping program.  It was designed for colleagues to work from remote locations.  It came from his own frustration with software development.  Teams can co-create their visual thoughts using structural sketching. Workspaces are vital for collaboraite brainstorming paired with a good chat app.  You can create boards with endless drawing space by dragging the canvas area. It allows for freehand drawing, ready-made templates and numerous shapes, which can be edited to the user’s specific needs. Like the majority of mind mapping tools, Sketchboard.io also comes with a choice of free and paid plans. The free plan is for 5 users. There is a fantastic Sketchboard user gallery for showing off some fine examples.

The main advantage I found with Sketchboard over the two other two tools is the ability to create flowcharts, because not only are a range of directional arrows allowed, but you can attach these arrows to shapes and drag them around the board effortlessly.  Only single lines or ‘nodes’ are available in Text2MindMap and Popplet.

  • Advantages:
  • It’s free to use to use for public boards.  To have numerous private boards you need to sign up to one of the pricing options.
  • You can add shapes from the on screen ‘toolbox’ plus there is a huge library of existing templates.
  • You can create flowcharts, because there are a range of directional and connecting arrows.
  • It is great for more technical projects as was designed with software or coding in mind.
  • The freehand drawing tool gives you the option to replicate hand-drawn maps.
  • You can create teams for collaborative work and assign admin rights.
  • Boards can be annotated and commented on by team members.
  • Boards can be presented in a visually focused way.
  • Boards can be exported as SVG, PNG and PDF.  Apparently these include a watermark, on a free plan, but I didn’t find this happened.
  • You can also integrate Sketchboard with team tools like Slack, Google Drive, HipChat, GitHub, and FlowDock.
  • Disadvantages:  
  • It might be a little tricky for low level users.
  • You need to have a paid account to embed images from your hard drive.
  • It’s a bit more expensive to have full features compared to other tools, but there are many pricing options.
  • It looks a big messy on mobile:


Introduction to using Sketchboard

Using the Library

Presentation Mode


Each of the three tools I looked at offer something different.  I liked Popplet’s design and functionality. It is the most appealing, in my opinion, for use in the classroom. However, I really recommend Sketchboard. It is great and you can potentially do more with it, such as creating a family tree or more intricate maps.  It is better, however, for more technically-minded folk, while still not being intended for web developers or professionals, like FreeMind, for example.  The people at Sketchboard have already liked my tutorials, commented on them and have shared links on social media (see below). Text2MindMap is unfortunately let down by the lack of support and its expired certificate.  But it does a decent, basic job, especially if you already have a list of the notes you want to convert.


This is a longer version of a post that was originally written for the Teacher Training Videos website.

For some beautiful hand drawn designs see Mind Map Art: http://www.mindmapart.com


I looked at these two online articles in researching this topic:

Basu, S. 2015.  ‘8 Free Mind Map Tools & How To Best Use Them’ – http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/8-free-mind-map-tools-best-use/ November 27, 2015

Mind Tools, 2016:  https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm

Mental Health and ELT

I am starting a conversation about mental health in English Language Teaching.  I am not sure if this has ever been discussed or debated widely within the industry.  In doing so, I am sharing some personal information about my experience of suffering from poor mental health at work. I do this in the hope that other teachers will open up, too, leading to more understanding and support for teachers as workers.  I have never known professional development or training within ELT deal with these kinds of issues. For many, a stigma still exists.  There is still a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance.  It is an ongoing challenge.

In the past, I have volunteered for the mental health charity, Norwich Mind, and am hoping to do something for them again in the near future. I was and still am intrinsically motivated. I also follow the Time To Change campaign which is foremost about ending discrimination, mostly in the workplace, against people who suffer with mental health issues.

I’ve always considered my own issues to be a personal thing, not one of institutional discrimination or workers’ rights. Nonetheless, to coincide with the national Time To Talk day, I’ve been interviewed by Paul Walsh for the Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group (TaWSIG). You can read the interview here.

The image on the right shows a censored version of my diary note (written on 10 October 2016) listing the 11 times since 2006 that poor mental health has impacted on my teaching career, including 2 trips to the IATEFL conference in Liverpool (2013) and Harrogate (2014).  I have redacted the details to protect myself and colleagues who worked with me or were my line managers at the time.

If the post proves to be popular then I might consider the possibility of speaking about it at a conference at a later date.  I’ve never seen this particular topic presented within our profession but am curious to know if it has been.

Please feel free to comment here or on the TaWSIG  site. I promise to personally respond to each and every one that leaves a message.

*update 6 Feb:  The interview post received hundreds of views in a few days. In the week following its publication, it was shared many times on social media. It inspired at least two other bloggers, Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield to write their own personal responses to coincide with Time to Talk day, including lots of links and resources on this topic.  I was thrilled by the response and hope to follow this up at a later date.  In the meantime, I am planning on approaching Mind once more to see if they have any work for me.

1-2-1 Teaching Tips – an #ELTchat summary

Startup Stock Photos

This is the summary of an #ELTchat which took place on 18 January 2017.  The full topic wording was ‘1-2-1 teaching tips – advice and best practice’.  It was moderated by @Marisa_C and @SueAnnan with @tesolmatthew taking over for the 24 hour slow-burn. Lots of great links and resources were shared during the chat and these are listed at the end of the summary.  A similarly themed topic was previously discussed on 16 February 2011 – see here.  A good introduction to 1-2-1 teaching can be found here.

I was personally interested in this topic because I have taught 1-2-1 before (both paid and as language exchange) and have just started doing so again.  It is very common for English language teachers to tutor students one at a time at some point in their career. Support and resources for doing it are less so.  For many it is a fundamental aspect of their teaching.  It requires a development of strategy, approach and material creation.

Needs Analysis

@SueAnnan kicked things off by stating the importance of doing a Needs Analysis.  You might be surprised by the number of Ts who don’t do it. You also need to revisit it from time to time.  Tailoring and finding the right material is important. @thebestticher stated that she tends to ask 1-2-1 students what topics and language they want as there is more opportunity to personalise.  @fionaljp thought this was vital.  @MConca16 said she always starts with a (structured) conversation class as a diagnostic.

@Marisa_C felt that doing a pretest and/or Needs Analysis was obvious to those participating, so asked who [currently] teaches 1-2-1 and wanted to hear some ideas.

Who teaches 1-2-1?

Most of @SueAnnan’s Business English students are 1-2-1 – both oral and written. They have super interesting jobs. She thinks all levels are interesting and learns as much as her students sometimes.

@MConca16 said she did 1-2-1 as well as 2-2-1 exam preparation. @fionaljp said she wasn’t but needed to give advice to those who may. @TeresaBestwick didn’t have any either, while @teacherphili said he was about to start again soon, but had previously focused on exam preparation as well as one young Chinese learner who mostly played games and did pronunciation practice.

@David_Boughton stated that he likes the two ends of the spectrum, basic or very advanced.  He finds the classic intermediates work so much better in group classes. Most of the activities out there are for them.  @Marisa_C felt any age is suitable but activities are very different with young learners – mostly play.

@fionaljp said she asked them to bring in texts of interest for discussion, to summarise and explain interest.  Local newspapers provide material suggested @SueAnnan.

There was general consensus that you can’t switch off in 1-2-1.  It can be more tiring. You can’t set pair work. @fwalkerbcn said that you have to be on the ball, and be prepared to change the lesson plan on the spot. @thebestticher said she often tends to ask 1-2-1 students what they want – both topics and language – as there is more opportunity to personalise…@joannacre agreed, saying she often changes her lesson plan based on what her learner wants. It’s easier to do this with 1-2-1.

@SueAnan said that if students bring work with them, they can become the teacher as they explain it, which is good for presentation practice. @thebestticher found that 1-2-1 young learners like to ‘be the teacher’ otherwise interaction is intense. It is a good idea to walk away or do another task  while the student is working to make it less so.  Or give them a research or listening task, added @Marisa_C. @fwalkerbcn felt this was difficult if you were in their living room, but you can always do something else to break it up, said Marisa_C . @fwalkerbcn hadn’t really found this as her classes were not long anyway. @MConca said that time is money …  she doesn’t ‘waste’ time for quiet individual work or written feedback.


@Marisa_C said they give them lists of extra listening and reading to do as self access and asked if anyone else tried this. @MConca16 replied ‘self-access practice for general English 1-2-1. [For] exam prep, she does a few with them for exam strategy then switch[es] to self-access.’

A popular blog post on eflrecipes (Jonny Ingham) was highlighted by @fionaljp.  In this the author says that the less structured approach can benefit from is “a good amount of overt feedback and error correction. One approach is for the teacher to take notes throughout the lesson on new language and areas of difficulty.”

Teacher Talking Time


Teacher Talking Time was a concern for @David_Boughton.  He asked how it can be kept down in 1-2-1.  Did we care as much as a group class?  @teacherphili said good planning. Silence & processing time is important, too.  @David_broughton liked that. We probably are more likely to cut the processing time shorter in 1-2-1. It’s just natural, he replied. @Marisa_C said it was difficult because the teacher is the only interlocutor. It’s very easy to get carried away with TTT.  @joannacre said she makes her students do most of the reading, text and theories etc then comment on stuff.

@SueAnnan asked if  the participants do roleplays or simulations when you have to play a part? @David_Boughton replied ‘All the time. My favourite thing to do in 1-2-1. You have more control, so they often go much better.’  Role-plays are essential, according to @MConca16, especially when you’ve taught a student for years and need new stuff.


@Marisa_C asked the chatters if they blended their 1-2-1 classes at all? even f-2-f classes do u flip or assign online work? She said Russell Stannard presented on her Delta course how to use Edmodo and it’s great.  She wasn’t previously aware of all its functions. @fionaljp said she was going to use it next week. @fwalkerbcn said her students watched TED Talks before class.  She also uses Edmodo for online quizzes, etc and asked if anyone else uses it for 1-2-1?  @Marisa_C said not but they did use wikis, often dedicated to one student. @MConca16 used emails for writing tasks and marking/feedback. She added that reasons for 1-2-1 students to ask for individual courses is to have a real person to practise language orally with & get feedback. @SueAnnan felt they don’t want much tech. @David_Boughton agreed, saying that tech can take away from what they signed up for, namely access to a teacher.

off2class-tweet@thebestticher mentioned Off2Class, which offers an online placement test and games which she is planning to start investigating. @fwalkerbcn said Off2Class is fantastic. She uses it a lot with my 1-2-1 classes and is great for online use. It’s well worth exploring. They’re always updating- if you need a topic, they do their best to create a class for it, she added.


@Marisa_C asked what tools were used to engage your 1-2-1 adult vs 1-2-1 young learners. Listening are perhaps issues for Ts.  Audioboom and Vocaroo were mentioned by @fionaljp, who also offered two recording tools – Audioboom, Vocaroo – which still exist, unlike Voxopop which appears to have finished.

@SueAnnan used podcasts. There are some great podcasts available from BBC world service.  @joannacre pointed out that Harvard review org has some good free podcasts for adult learners. Later on, @rapple18 said Harvard has GREAT stuff inc. both reading, text and audio. @tesolmatthew added later that an ongoing podcast would be great.

MConca16 said that @tablets & mobiles phone for teens work as motivators. @fwalkerbcn stated that linguahouse  and OneStopEnglish have great lesson plans for adults.

@Marisa_C offered several more tools during the chat, including @educreations, Voice Thread (for connecting more than one student), Schoology, Voxi, Explain Everything and Show Me. She mentioned in-browser apps such as Google docs or Primary Pad for collaborative writing and gave a shout out for the prolific Sean Banville (who was given a mention in the previous weeks’ chat).

@SueAnnan said she liked working with English Central, which students can do at home and improve pronunciation, but the latter feature could be improved according to @Marisa_C.  @fwalkercbn said she never really got on with it.  @SueAnnan added that it works well when they do it as blended stuff. @tesolmatthew was impressed with the way the tool works.  The principle of isolating and highlighting phrases is one that appealed to @Marisa_C.

@David_Boughton said he had used English360 for a few years with a school he worked for. Although a lot of the resources are not useful. You only pay for the student – but there are LOADS of resources available, added Marisa_C. @David_Boughton added that he built out about 6 levels worth of courses. It must have been 100s of hours. @Marisa_C said it was an opportunity [for] long turn speaking activities, like storyboard karaoke and board games.

Slow burn

In the slow burn, @rapple18 added her thoughts. Her list includes must-haves: a phone (=diary, map, aud/vid recorder), A3, coloured pens, today’s newspaper, relevant article, rods.  She always try to add 3rd dimension to break the teacher-student eye-contact line, eg postits, cards, A3, ie lots hands-on activities. Student has goal e.g. a conference presentation. On a recent 12wk course: videoed a presentation at work. 1st. Input: personal’d+focused. Motivation high.  If 1-2-1 ESP (re motivating the T!) use as opportunity to learn about student’s area of speciality. Can be bizarre but rewarding and fun!  She also linked to material she wrote for OUP.

@tesolmatthew said that his most involved ‘1-2-1 teaching happened +/-8 months, 2014. Met a Thai eye doctor in residence @ Boston hospital 2ce/wk for 2rs. Something we did was we wrote into the same notebook, sat very close, both wrote in, so prez+notes = same.’ Examples here.  He also believed that it can be EASIER to keep TTT down in the 1-2-1 context, using prompt-listen-respond-prompt sequence etc.

During the slow-burn @joannacre posted her 200th blog post about ‘websites, videos & random stuff I use in class’ which has some relevance.


This was a great chat with lots of ideas and resources shared.  It is one that I will come back to, along with the previous #ELTchat on this topic, as I do more 1-2-1 teaching myself.  There were lots of tools and resources – links listed below.  I have consistently used the phrase ‘1-2-1’ to mean ‘one to one’ although for brevity some participants used ‘1-1’ in the chat.  If you have any more ideas or thoughts please add a comment below.

Participants who were present and/or tweeted during the chat, alongside the moderators:

David__Boughton@fionaljp, @thebestticher, @fwalkerbcn@teachingright, @TeresaBestwick, @MConca16, @joannacre, @teacherphili, @bar_zie, @aahk888, @amauryrez, @SerraRoseli  and @rapple18.

Links and tools shared during the chat:

Appleby, R, Bradley, J. Brennan, B, Hudson J, Leeke, N and Scrivener, J. Business one:one Intermediate Plus. Oxford University Press. http://bit.ly/2jNe8ym

BBC Learning English  http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/

Educreations – https://www.educreations.com/

English 360 – http://english360.com/

English Central – https://www.englishcentral.com/videos#/anonymous-player

English File (Oxford University Press) – http://bit.ly/1wHPqR5

Explain Everything – http://appcrawlr.com/ipad/explain-everything

Harvard Review Org (podcasts for adult learners) e.g. ‘Productivity Secrets of a Very Busy Man Harvard Business Review’. 7 Apr 2011.  http://bit.ly/2kgHDcB  and http://bit.ly/2j1c01S

Ingham, J. 3 May 2015. Recipes for the EFL classroom: ‘My one-to-one students just wants to chat’. https://eflrecipes.com/2015/05/03/one-to-one/

Kaye, P. 18 July 2007. British Council ‘Teaching one to one’.   https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/teaching-one-one

Linguahouse – http://www.linguahouse.com/

Off2Class – The ESL Teacher Toolkit https://www.off2class.com/

One Stop English – http://bit.ly/1rrXu7e

PechaFlickr – http://pechaflickr.net/

Primary Pad – http://primarypad.com/

Sean Banville‘s many websites including Breaking News English http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/index.html

Show Me – http://www.showme.com/

VoiceThread – http://voicethread.com/

Voki (for young learners) – http://www.voki.com/

cover image: ‘one to one teaching’ from startupstockphotos.com – reproduced under a CCO licence.
– 22 January 2017