Mental Health and ELT #2

Brain_Tree_Roots_Psychology_Mental_Health (Pixabay)

The roots of our mental health (photo credit: Pixabay)

I have just been accepted to give a talk at the IATEFL conference in Brighton next year. It will be my first proper conference talk having joined this organisation in 2012 and watched many others do so.  While being excited by the prospect, I also feel somewhat daunted by it – especially given the topic I want to discuss.  Earlier this year, I gave an interview about my own mental health issues in relation to working in the English Teaching profession and how it had affected my career.  I wasn’t sure if a conversation about mental health in ELT had already begun within this industry or to what extent other teachers had already written about it. I subsequently found that quite a few already have and more teaching professionals have added their voice this year. I have been collating blog posts but now comes the next stage.

I would be very grateful if people who work within English Language Teaching, whatever their role, could complete my survey.  This research will form part of my talk and I will also publish the results in April 2018, around the time of the talk.  I am not looking for statistics – just qualitative responses!  I give all assurances to confidentiality, anonymity and data protection in the survey.  Most of the questions are optional, including all that relate to personal information.  Furthermore, I will follow the British Association for Applied Linguistics’ recommendations on good practice at all stages before following-up and before any publication of the results.

Please see the preview below or click here to access the survey.   Then once you have completed it please share with colleagues, employers and other interested parties. Hopefully, it will generate some great responses on this important topic.

Below is the short link to the survey if you wish to copy and paste into your blog or social media:

Update: I will stop receiving new responses and close the survey on 21 December.

Thank you for visiting.



The Ideal Staffroom

Staffroom (The Big Idea Group)

This is a summary of an #ELTchat which took place on 8 November 2017 on Twitter. It is my 12th such summary – the rest can be found via a link at the top of this page.

@angelos_bollas set up the topic and moderated the hour long discussion, assisted by @Hada_ELT, who took over towards the end.   Although the topic was ‘the ideal staffroom’ many chatters reflected and shared the kinds of staffrooms they currently use or have recently experienced.    Some suggestions were made as to what makes a conducive environment to work in but given that there is often little choice for teachers the chat tended towards discussing things that they have to tolerate and how they create their own personal working space.  It was also the first #ELTchat to take place after the introduction of the new 280 character ‘limit’.

@angelos_bollas pointed out that not every school, or workplace for that matter, has a staffroom.  @MoreMsJackson suggested resources was a good place to start and @angelos_bollas asked what kind of resources are needed. Books were suggested.  For @teacherphili, the books required depends on whether you are teaching a fairly prescribed syllabus or you have to find your own materials. For @11thhourspecial (Marc Jones) an ELT library with some Applied Linguistics books was ideal. Rotate stock, too – otherwise people will just read the same stuff over and over, he added. @fionaljp said that ideally there would be a regular supply of freebie new course books from publishers. @angelos_bollas liked the idea of having photocopiable materials in the staffroom.

Fiona - booksAngelos - books

The whole library is in @Hada_ELT’s current staffroom –  teachers’ shelves as well as resources like a guillotine, paper.  @GlenysHanson had hanging files of worksheets, exercises, etc. Things lots of her colleagues used. These were either copied out of books or made by ourselves and were very useful when rushing into class. @Hada_ELT used to have these also but they were removed because of reasons of space.  @MoreMsJackson thought it depends how many different courses your centre or school has. The only places she has worked with physical files was a manageable centre with only young learners, maybe 15 different levels total and a summer school for teens so only 9 or 10 levels.

Glenys Marisa

@GlenysHanson wondered if we were talking about the interior decoration or people.   Garish colour schemes or anything that could give you a headache were off limits according to @teacherphili.   @fionaljp stated she would like the walls painted with IdeaPaint.  It’s a special paint that makes walls just like whiteboards so you can write all over them and erase!

Fiona Price  Angelos Fiona

Good wifi and reliable IT support was suggested by @fionaljp, and others agreed, although @eltplanning said there was no wifi in his staffroom.  Access to coffee, biscuits and bottles of water also seemed important for many.   @GlenysHanson, for example, stated that they have access to a real coffee machine as well as a microwave. She added that talking to colleagues was the most useful resource she found in the teachers’ room!  @MoreMsJackson agreed, saying that discussing problems with other teachers is an important part of an ideal staffroom, something which chatters returned to later.

HadaAngelos Hada

@Hada_ELT ideally wants a place to unwind, but her current staffroom is packed with desks and shelves and there is no room to stretch your legs.   She also asked how chatters felt about loud conversations between colleagues – who sometimes just need to unwind – while you’re trying to meet a deadline?  @Marisa_C stated that they have a library which is our quiet space when things get too noisy – thinking of a nice comfy couch for that room actually!!  Headphones are an essential staffroom item for @MoreMsJackson and @ITLegge, who works in a ‘crazy noisy open-plan’ office@seburnt added he just puts in earphones or goes somewhere quiet.  @GlenysHanson stated that when she needed a quiet place, she went to the ‘mediacentre’.  This feature is found in universities rather than language schools.  It was generally agreed that in universities there more options and quieter places to work.


Jackson HadaKate

One aspect of @teacherphili‘s summer university job was the amount of space… if the staffroom got too noisy he could go off to a quieter room or the library and still access all the material by signing in to whatever PC was there. But he admitted being guilty of having loud conversations, as has @eltplanning@KateLloyd05 thought she might have to steal the ‘inner voice’ request, which was mentioned, for her situation:

Phil Peter Pun

A solid, reliable photocopier was raised by many.  @fionaljp needs one that never breaks down.  @MoreMsJackson stated that she had worked in quite a few places with (access to) more than one photocopier.  It’s handy to be able to run to another when one is jammed/broken and you’re in a rush. @KateLloyd05  said that having two in their staffroom was excellent, they even have names.  @teacherphili lamented last minute photocopying and the lack of toner, toner, toner – or reducing TTT as @Hada_ELT joked. @naomishema asked if we photocopied tests on our own. @KateLloyd05‘s tests are sent to the university printing service and prepared for teachers.

Naomi Phil Hada Phil

@naomishema also asked if chatters can freely discuss problems with students or classes in the staffroom and get support.  Discussing problems with other teachers is an important part of an ideal staffroom replied @MoreMsJackson.   Absolutely vital necessity added @fionaljp.  However @naomishema recently experienced poor support:

Naomi FionaKate Marisa

Ideally a space away from students was key for many including @Hada_ELT@teacherphili asked if a staffroom should be a place where only the teachers can go, a space that is out of bounds to students?  Ideally, answered @angelos_bollas, although in some situations the students are allowed in.   @Hada_ELT agreed with having the privacy and being able to remove oneself from the teaching area.  . When @teacherphili started out in Korea little kids would be running around his desk … no separation between class and staffroom.  @Hada_ELT said that when she was a school teacher, she used to let the kids into the staffroom, but they knew to be on their best behaviour – which was OK.

@teacherphili‘s summer pre-sessional staffroom was an important place where he could plan, mark and generally not have students around… It had a huge number of PCs (2 per teacher if needed).  It was, however, ‘room 101’.  He didn’t like the staffroom assigned to full-time employees as it involved ‘hot-desking.’  Another pre-sessional tutor @ShannonThwaites didn’t have a staff room in the summer. They took over a computer room but other staff and students still used it.

Towards the end, @Hada_ELT asked participants to describe their ideal staffroom in less than 10 words, which continued into the ‘slowburn’..

Hada - 10 words tweetElisabeth JacksonAlphabet PublishingNaomi

Fionaljp2KamilaLinkovaHelen LeggeMalachy Scullion  Hada Glenys  Marc Jones

Peter Pun 2

This was a friendly, lively chat with not many disagreements or controversies.   While many teachers have their own particular requirements of a staffroom, many seemed to make the most of what they had, even if some wished for more nespresso, space, working photocopiers and general peace away from the students.  Chatters spoke of what they had rather than what would ideally like although Hada’s final question – to summarise in less than 10 words – was a useful way to end.

Furthermore, in respect of ‘words limits’ – this was also the very first ELTchat which was able to take advantage of the new 280 character ‘limit’ on Twitter.  The general snapshot verdict was that this helped rather hindered the chat.   I had posted a poll (see below) on this issue on Twitter and also raised it on the #ELTchat Facebook group the previous month. Opinion was broadly split.  Some felt it would take too long to read participants’ comments.  In practice, however, chatters seemed to have more freedom to express themselves without having to use acronyms, abbreviations or editing a overlong draft.  It didn’t seem to slow things down. Having the option for longer tweets doesn’t mean that everyone will do so, of course, but the choice is there.  It certainly made writing the summary easier as I was able to understand what people wrote rather than trying to work out meaning from an abbreviated or short-hand tweet.  I like the change!

Phil - 280

My EAP Summer in Norwich

2017-06-20 17.13.55

A ziggurat at the UEA

I have just completed the 12-week presessional EAP course at INTO University of East Anglia, Norwich.  It has been one of the best teaching roles I have ever had.  After an lengthy but necessary induction, followed by a couple of weeks where I was generally excited just to be there and living on campus, I settled down to teaching a fairly prescriptive syllabus.  I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My only previous presessional experience came at De Montfort University in 2013, which came to abrupt end due to my suffering from an acute illness.  The University of Sheffield hired me the following year for their summer presessional but I got ‘cold feet’ and pulled out with one week before the induction, citing personal reasons.

Roll on to 2017 and I have completed the 12 weeks, with no obvious signs of panic or anxiety.  I also have nothing but good things to say about my experience this summer. The organisation and structure of the course at INTO, University of East Anglia, has been superb.  I was already familiar with the university but not with INTO as an organisation. I’m impressed.  I was fortunate to be offered two Humanities and Science classes, rather than Business or Law students. I was also given the later (11am-5pm) shift rather than the earlier (9am-3pm) one.  I lived on campus with several other teachers, although spent the first four nights in the INTO building, before the arrival of the majority of the 433 students on the 12 week course.  We pretty much bonded from the first week, actually week 13. I have met and made friends with a fantastic bunch of teachers, some who are employed full-time at INTO, others who teach just on the summer programmes – there are also 8, 6 and 4 week courses.

I taught Humanities I & J (shown below), which mostly consisting of students from mainland China.  There were four Turkish students, one from Japan and one from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The only photos I am sharing here are the end of course class photos and the envelopes of 18 personalised cards which I received on the final day.  Also shown is my teaching partner, Joe, who taught for the last seven weeks or so of the course, although I had a number of partners over the 12 weeks.   I taught Academic Writing and Research Skills with my tutorial group, while I taught Integrated (Reading, Listening, Speaking) skills to Humanities J, which extended to preparations for group and individual presentations.  I was involved in conducting both formative and summative assessments.  The former was carried out with my two groups, while the end of course exams meant watching presentations of both the Law class and a different Humanities group.  I also helped to invigilate the summative assessments of three Business classes, which led to being hired as an IELTS invigilator.  All 36 of my students passed the course and will progress to their full MAs, many in Education, Media or Film. There was one exception, an undergraduate who changed to a BSc Economics programme, which has a slightly lower entry point, so passed regardless.

UEA INTO cards

Thank You Cards from Humanities I

UEA INTO (209)

Humanities I

UEA INTO (211)

Humanities J

Living on campus meant that I had convenient access to the staffroom, classrooms and the UEA library.  The INTO building was equally near.  I was able to attend gigs (such as the Flaming Lips on 26 June) and UB40 (27 Aug), Come Yew In and the Lord Mayor’s Procession (both on 8 July) and go back home at weekends when necessary, such as attending Wells Carnival (5 Aug).

I used the Learning and Teaching Hub in the Arts1 building to conduct tutorials.  I used WeChat to disseminate information and provide feedback, Kahoot! to carry out a class quiz review, Camtasia + a camcorder to record group presentations and organised a treasure trail in Norwich Lanes in the final week, which would make for a great future ice-breaker.  I also attended a Humanities J Barbecue on the eve of the final assignment deadline and the end of presessional meal on our final day.

I was glad to meet up over the summer with Jeremy Harmer, Gavin Dudeney, Russell Stannard and Jamie Keddie, all NILE associate trainers, who stayed on campus.

There are so many people to thank for the experience this summer and they know who they are, but special shouts go to fellow newbies, Marie and Luqman, and returner, Meriol.  We shared a lot about ourselves and helped each other through the course, often on the ‘Bunnyside’ of our summer residence, Colman House. We also had a lot of laughs and good times with the other teachers on the 12 week course, including many dances with Jeanne. Near the end, several of us watched the final performance of Swallows and Amazons at the Maddermarket Theatre, featuring our colleague, Andy.

I have every intention, all being well, of teaching on this programme again next year. Meanwhile, next stop – a couple of days at NILE, four days in Malta, volunteering once more for New Routes and probably back to private tutoring.


addendum (posted 8 Jan 2018)

UEA INTO (224)

Classroom spaces – inside and out

This is a summary of the #ELTchat which took place on Wed 28 June 2017.  It is a chat which I took part in, at the end of my first teaching day with a new bunch of students in Norwich and this is my 11th summary overall, although it is partly written with the chat DJ, Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  It was basically written a few days after but is only now being published.

Matthew had set up the chat with the premise of discussing the physical space where teachers had taught in the past – be it inside or outside the normal confines of a classroom ‘box’. In addition he began the chat began with the following prompts:


It started slowly, but gradually chatters began to appear from out of their respective classroom woodwork and wallflower lurking.

@SueAnnan said “it looks like we are discussing classroom features which make it a good place to work … what makes an effective work space for you?”

@tesolmatthew wanted to hear about the positive and negative aspects of different teaching spaces.  @Kamilaofprague immediately suggested this was “a pretty standard idea but that the topic could be extended by [discussing] what we trade our lessons for: other lessons, goods, services and nothing”

@teacherphili wondered if by ‘classroom’ we meant 4 walls, desks, chairs and so on.  @sueannan thought 4 walls were important to be considered as one. @digteap felt if 4 walls is the defining feature then she had only ever taught in a classroom.

The idea of alternative class spaces, different and alternative payment practices was an idea that cropped up.  @digteap asked “so where have you all taught that’s not a classroom?”  This generated a large response from chatters with contributions, with some sharing photographic evidence, throughout the remainder of the chat and into the slowburn.

@sueannan said she likes spaces which are flexible. She taught in a room in Malta where the table was the size of the room, which was impossible to monitor. @digteap replied that she had experienced that – I guess we have 2 modify the way we teach depending on the environment. Nice to be able to move though.  Sue’s rooms have small tables which fit together and can be separated.  @Glenyshanson replied that is just perfect for her style. Too much furniture or desks that can’t be moved are awful. Students and teachers all need to be able to move.  @digteap stated that she actually quite like those old fashioned chairs that have little tables attached.  But @sueannan said she hates them –  students can’t spread out to work.  They can so easily be rearranged in groups, however, especially modern ones with wheels (see below) offered @digteap:

maria digteap tweet (2)

@Glenyshanson said that she had several portable whiteboards, which were very light and about the same size as my SW charts. Also carried pictures to get teens talking. That’s the benefit of using iPads, added @sueannan. They are brilliant for illustrating things. @MConca16 said she had taught outdoors in a London park on summer camps. @fionaljp stated that her first job was at a summer camp on a Turkish beach teaching children for 6 weeks. She has also taught taught doctors in a Spanish hospital at 8am in the morning.  @teacherphili stated that his first (voluntary) job was teaching under a mango tree in an orphanage, in Tanzania,  with hardly any resources – that was outside! He provided this accompanying image, too:

teacherphili tweet and tesolmatthew reply

@teacherphili: In Tanzania we had no board rubbers so we used our hands & cleaned them on the kids’ hair to get rid of the chalk.  @tesolmatthew wondered if anyone could top that for low-resource environment, before sharing his own photos. He taught in a battered classroom in Sri Lanka – very very low resource. Chalk, one bench, even cattle roaming through because it was in a big open shed. He wrote: “That was my very first classroom. So it was only up from there!” and “ It allowed me to REALLY appreciate the basics of a modern space”. @EdLaur responded by saying ”Wow! I will never complain about not having a IWB again”.  Later, after the tsunami in Sri Lanka, @tesolmatthew did private lessons on board a beached dredger ship – another atypical classroom for sure! – his pics are shared below:


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@sueannan says she has done the odd 1-2-1 class in a hotel space.   She had a recent request to teach from a student who wanted lessons in her own dining room.  She has taught, however, in other people’s kitchens.  Similarly, @teacherphili had recently been doing just that.  Both used iPads as their alternative whiteboard. Additionally, both Sue and Phil were given great coffee by their students during class.  

Tyson Tweet
At first, @seburnt thought a coffee shop was the only non-classroom place he had taught, but then revealed that he did turn his bedroom into a quasi 1-2-1 classroom for a while. A ‘bit inapproprié’ thought @digteap, while @teacherphili replied that he “would draw a big fat line at teaching IN my bedroom. Maybe online FROM my bedroom, at a push.” @seburnt said he didn’t have another appropriate space to do it.

@teacherphili said he was currently teaching at a university where everything – the walls, concrete buildings & even the inside of the lifts are grey, which sounded depressing, according to @Sueannan, adding that she had one room with a purple wall.  @glenyshanson stated that she taught in a French uni with walls dripping with filth. Ss only complained when course went badly.  @Sueannan replied that she finds students often don’t notice. Hers only complain if something goes wrong with the toilets.   Another room had several pillars, added @glenyshanson.  She had to peer round them to see the students.  Mostly it was just ordinary classrooms. Square rooms are better than long, narrow ones for being able to see students and vice versa.  

@teacherphili mentioned that he’d been “teaching in other people’s dining rooms recently.  Kind of a classroom. I bring a portable whiteboard & markers + ipad” and @SueAnnan said “It’s great to put tables away when your class is small. Makes the room feel friendlier”. @glenyshanson said that she “had several portable whiteboards. Very light & about the same size as my SW charts. Also carried pictures to get teens talking”.

As usual, the 60-minute live #ELTchat was followed by 24 hours worth of ‘slowburn’. It wasn’t a particularly busy slowburn. Here are a few highlights:

@compellingtalks asked: “Can we also lobby for more schools to adopt best practices & modern furniture? Card tables & chairs w/wheels make students easier!”

@tesolmatthew shared another picture, writing: Aha! I found my pic of the ULTIMATE out-of-classroom scene. Raymond Murphy grammar study in a waterfall:


Rob Sheppard, who tweets at @robshpprd, said “For years I’ve dreamt of a classroom with yoga balls and modular tables on wheels”. To which @tesolmatthew responded: “Didn’t they do that in the 1970s with Bach on?”

robshpprd tweet and tesolmatthew reply

Soon afterwards, @tesolmatthew remembered another non-classroom teaching experience: “More non-classroom experience: worked mostly in the editing room but occasionally on set of a TV show”. And again he shared a picture:

tesolmatthew tweet
In the slowburn,  @lexicojules posted this:

lexicojules tweet

while @teacherphili added this: 
Teacherphili classroom spaces tweet

..and the conversation continued in response, blending into the ongoing dialogues taking place that week on twitter and elsewhere.  

If you have your own interesting classroom experiences then why not share them in the comments box.

Participants:  @tesolmatthew (moderator); @SueAnnan (moderator); @Kamilaofprague; @getgreatenglish; @Ven_VVE; @GemmaELT; @ITLegge; @ThisIsMattStott; @Fionaljp; @Teacherphili; @digteap; @seburnt; @MConca16; @RogersHistory; @harrisonmike; @GlenysHanson; @compellingtalks; @robshpprd; @FizzicsEd; @ElleninEdmonton; @CorineMerrill32; @LeoWill11; @TeresaBestwick; @lexicojules; @ELTdanbuller, @Marisa_C and myself, @teacherphili.




Do we forget to teach learning strategies? – An #ELTchat summary

Learning Strategies - pexels-photo-212286 (smaller)

The #ELTchat which took place on 17 May 2017 was on a subject proposed by Twitter newcomer,   (All_things_TEFL), and selected from the suggestion rack by DJ moderator .  The topic question asked whether teachers forget to teach learning strategies to students, concentrating instead on just teaching the language?”  This topic had been specifically dealt with only once before, in October 2011 – see this summary – although has probably featured in a number of other chats.

has been working as a DOS at a TEFL training centre in Madrid for the last four years. After using an imagery activity to help trainees to remember the different tenses, it made her wonder whether trainees leave such courses realising the importance of learning strategies. That same week she heard a conversation in a cafe that made her ponder our actions as teachers, so proposed this topic.  She wrote about this balance between teaching English and the learning of English recently – here.

Topic 17 May 2017

Learning strategies refer to the processes and actions that are consciously deployed by language learners to help them to learn or use a language more effectively. They have also been defined as:

“thoughts and actions, consciously chosen and operationalized by language learners, to assist them in carrying out a multiplicity of tasks from the very outset of learning to the most advanced levels of target language performance.”   (1)

Language learner strategies can be taught by teachers and/or acquired by the learners, but the question posed was whether we, as teachers, forget to (explicitly) teach them.

Time Management was one issue, offered . Students can get overwhelmed actually by the amount of homework they have and need to show what to prioritise and try to allocate anticipated timings.

 said that maybe various strategies could be highlighted or exposed to students so that they can choose what works for them.   mentioned many strategies, such as ‘dual coding’ – relating concepts to words – and visuals (flashcards, mindmapping), which all came up later in the chat.

ElizabethElizabeth (2) edit

 said one of her learning strategies is to get students to discover alternatives for homework.  She asked her young learners to find five ways they could find definitions of a new word.  As they initially suggested using the unreliable Google translate she asked them to find alternatives.

IELTS is often more about teaching explicit strategies – especially for reading and listening – rather than language related, stated .  @teacherphili agreed that focus is often about improving band score, while  often applies IELTS reading strategies to improve reading efficiency.  Objectives for exam and general English class would impact on strategies for learning and test-taking added .   believed that, as teachers, we spend much more time on teaching learning strategies for exam takers than with anything else.   drums strategies into his learners for exam preperation, but can’t force them to apply it.

 wondered how much crossover there is between learning strategies and (test-taking) strategies taught in exam prep courses?  Also if it varies by skill. Getting a higher speaking band differs from general conversation skills, but reading might flex more.  Motivation plays a part with conversation skills, said  who added that he teaches more strategies for speaking in general English courses.

 reminded everyone that learning strategies need to be consciously used to be called strategies. felt this is an important point. In the previous #eltchat on this topic someone did ask if they can be called ‘strategies’ if they’re unconscious.

suggested that beyond brainstorming, the teacher could get the students to explore different strategies, but get them to model.  However,  felt teachers should do the modeling using ‘Think-Alouds’. This is more of a demonstration and is different from brainstorming, which is eliciting ideas from the students. He uses the technique with his very young learners to understand blending and segmenting.   does this with his exam prep students. He talks them through the thinking process when,  for example, he has to do a multiple choice reading activity.


For listening,   often asks her learners to tell the class what strategies they used while doing the listening and we have a talk whose strategy is better.  always teaches how to improve listening, then set task for when out and about.

 said that she encourages learners to be aware of errors, especially in writing with an error correction sheet. Hopefully they refer back to it next time.  thought that teaching a correction code at the beginning of courses can help learners more independently seek out mistakes and correct.   As a TEFL trainer,  encourages trainees to use an error correction code when addressing writing to encourage self-correction strategies.


 uses students as a resource, to peer share ideas for ways to take vocabulary notes such as pictures, definitions in English.  Photo scavenger hunts are so much fun! added .

 remarked that she is amazed that some of her students have no idea how to study, making long lists of new vocabulary, then doing nothing.   remarked that while unfashionable, rote memorisation is a pretty good method for learning vocab, it works.  has always encouraged her students to connect vocabulary to images and stories to create mental links and aid retention.    added that mnemonics can be really helpful for retaining some of the words. She recommended this technique and uses it herself.  She also gives them texts for reading and asks them to pick out some vocabulary or grammar points they find useful, then explain these on the forum or in class.   asks her students to find out about the vocabulary they learn, such as active or passive need, register, collocations and put a few in sentences, otherwise they have whole lists of stuff they will never use again.

Elena (2) said his 1-2-1 students have to use English every day so are fairly autonomous but don’t have any particular strategies for learning vocabulary.   agreed that in Spain the teacher is still generally seen as ‘giver of all information.’ More autonomous learning is needed.  Many Spaniards have resigned themselves to the fact that they will ‘never get there’ after so many years of learning.  said it’s the same thing in France. They just don’t know how to work alone.    felt it was similar in Greece.

Laura 2

One of ‘s students had a little box of cards he used for revision, which he moved to the back each week as he understood them.   hoped the box wasn’t too big or he will begin to forget the ‘old’ words.  said her students use Quizlet for the same purpose.  thought it was more suitable than Memrise, while  said it is a good way to check their learning, interactive and fun.  added that Quizlet is great (for motivation).  If you can get students hooked on the games they can compete and see themselves on a leaderboard.   said that she has a class for each client and add sets myself.  But she spoils her students so ‘can charge higher’.

 wondered if our initial sessions with new classes should look at techniques first before language.   took this opportunity to remind chatters of Rebecca Oxford’s definition:

“specific actions, behaviours, steps or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills.  These strategies can facilitate the internalisation, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language.  Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvemenet necessary for developing communicative ability.” (2)

 welcomed this reminder, before commenting that good use of learning strategies leads to more successful autonomous learning during and after a course. Skills and strategies are often confused, too. A process oriented/focused teacher has learning strategies on the menu every day, she stressed.

 said that doing so at the start of a course may also help to set learning strategies as an expectation for the duration of that course.   felt it is a bit idealistic to spend at least one week’s worth of classes at the top of the course training students how to learn.  You have to consider context – my learners might not see the value in such learner training.   Students usually intensely interested in self and how their self learns best in her experience. The teachers’ job is to stage manage this. disagreed, however.  In his context, students are less willing to analyse their own learning experiences. It is unfair to force emphasis on teacher in that situation.  He did admit that ‘s statement that process orientation is not a choice – the level of explicitness of how you do it is – was very true and asked for tips. Here is one that was offered.


 mentioned one technique – screencasting.  As he is reading through students’ writing, he gives oral feedback as he goes, talking through questions about their writing.   uses Snagit for screencasts. It makes the marking more personal and clears up any misunderstanding.  But using it depends on how many students email you their homework.   shows her choice of the best example of scanned writing on the screen and ask students to explain why.

Another way for  is to show ones with particular problem areas and have them walk through with each other about what confuses them. He tries to get students to do it to each other’s writing, too.  He increasingly demonstrates how he grades things and what he expects from a lesson.  Not just a checklist, but a walk through of rationale. Why we are doing something often equates to buy-in, he stated.

 offered vocabulary mindmapping as one technique her students like, which reminded  of one way of prescribing note taking during reading or listening. Good to show a variety and have them choose.  This is something that   also did, when she teaches academic writing, along with list making. Students choose. She added that she likes to use some materials that focus on learning methods, for reading & listening.

For speaking,  encourages them to ask questions as part of critical thinking. Newcomer, ,  found that gesturing develops fluency. She has been implementing it for three years already and that is part of her daily practice.  added one thing she does is keep a soft ball handy. When one student ends their speaking with ‘finished’, she starts throwing. NA convo style: pass!

 asked what we thought about setting targets to encourage different learning strategies.  Students can set their own goals too and the teacher just does occasional appraisals, replied .

 stated that not enough time gets spent on failure and why it happens.  replied that there are many inspirational videos available related to failure and how to overcome the fear of failure such as this!   agreed – in relation to wrong use of strategies, for example, memorising a long bilingual list may or may not be a good strategy.   One alternative offered by  was that of ‘dual coding’ – relating meaning to visual cues?  Instead of rote repetition to get those words to stick around, students can keep a journal, jot down the new words and write marker sentences.   chipped in with a late reply to the concept of failure.  Modern Foreign Languages seem to focus on little else, while there tends to be a focus on the negative in Computer mediated communication.  

concluded that students need to know more about the nature of language learning to appreciate strategies, training, for example,  how do people read and how should we go about it?   couldn’t agree more. They also need to compare and contrast the different strategies that they have used.  commented that each student will learn differently, so finding out what works for them is often the key.

There wasn’t much in the slow-burn this time, with just  adding her comments.  Nonetheless, this was a lively discussion, with many contributions from 21 different people.  It built upon the chat from October 2011 and provided some up to date opinions.

#ELTchat will meet again on Wednesday at 7pm BST.

Chatters who made an appearance:

(DJ/moderator) , , (moderator) ,

,  ,


(moderator) ,  ,

,  and ,

Blog post by Laura Brunwin about  ‘The balance between teaching English and teaching the learning of English’ that she wrote before this chat took place.


(1) Cohen, Andrew (2011). Strategies in learning and using a second language (2nd ed.). Longman.

(2) Oxford, Rebecca (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. NY: Newbury House Publisher.

The brief article on ‘Think Alouds’ shared by @TheodoreLalos:

Cover image: – – CCO licence

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 >

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.