Category Archives: Reflections

Assessment for learning

Recent talks with colleagues working in the public education sector in the UK about SATs (Suite of Assessments), and my own experiences tutoring on pre-sessional courses, have given me a first-hand insight into the exhaustive measures some institutions employ to ‘promote’ learning through continuous formative assessment. The term they have coined is ‘assessment for learning’. Experience has demonstrated to me that the learning gains are limited compared with the time taken to prepare for the testing, the testing process, and of course the marking and feedback sessions.

A typical writing test could include learners being given several extracts from source texts to read and make notes on a week prior to the actual test. On test day, these notes are not permitted into the classroom and a new set of notes is given with a question to analyse. In my humble opinion, while learners will have read the texts and have a deeper understanding than seeing them for the first time, the test is in fact an evaluation of memory where they are desperately digging deep in their brains to retrieve the information about the points they deemed worthy of remembering. The question is analysed in groups, a draft plan is drawn up individually, and finally a 90-minute test is undertaken. Learners are notably exhausted after a testing process, which has essentially been drawn out over an entire week.

As an experiment, I tried an alternative approach where I gave learners 4 short extracts. In pairs each learner read 2 different texts and made notes. The notes were swapped with their partners who used them as a springboard to understand the 2 texts they did not read. Each learner proceeded to read the texts to accompany their partners’ notes to discover if they had identified all the key themes. A group discussion was held, a question was given, and learners wrote a short piece of discourse with a 40-minute time limit, to answer the question referring to the key themes identified previously, and citing as necessary. When the writing was completed, learners exchanged their scripts with a peer, and it was reviewed for content, accuracy of answering the question given, coherence, cohesion, stance, and argumentation. Another group discussion was held, and at this point I also participated with language support and academic guidance. This ‘think tank’ approach appeared to be effective and the feedback I received from the class this was tested with was positive. Including comments such as ”I learnt from my friends so it helped me feel confident to write”, “she was able to notice some additional points I didn’t see”

To tech, or not to tech? That is the question!

To tech, or not to tech? That is the question!

At seminars, conferences, and workshops recently, my attention has once again been drawn to the technology debate. I was asked why I blog and how often, if I feel it is important to have an online presence, and how exactly I harness technology for teaching, training and learning purposes.

To coin Bax’s ‘Normalisation’ term, for me personally, technology is so embedded into my day-to-day, that I use it automatically without giving it a second thought, just as I do a pair of glasses.

The bottom line, is that I like tech, so I have an inherent curiosity to explore what it can do for me, if it can facilitate my teaching practice, and more specifically, how. This is greatly reflected in my teaching and training, and furthermore, I endeavour to transmit this at talks, in the classroom, and in online teaching and training context. I understand that digital tools will not appeal to everyone, but if fear is present, then the watershed between being a technophobe and a tech user will become more ingrained. That is not to say that digital tools can provide all the answers to our pedagogical goals and challenges, but my message here is that if we don’t even give them an opportunity and experiment, then we will never discover what tech could do for us, and more importantly our learners, whether they themselves are millennials, screenagers, digital natives or non-tech users.

So, in answer to the questions above, I blog when I have time and when I have ideas and/or reflections I would like to share. I feel an online presence supports who I am and what I do. It enables people to gain a sense of the development ideas I am interested in and I feel I am contributing to the online community that so many of us take for granted when curating resources and ideas. As I have previously said, I like to experiment with technology, so I share any new ideas I discover or learn from others in my teaching and training contexts as and where appropriate.

To tech, or not to tech? The answer is up to you!

Reflections of giving a plenary at Innovate ELT

As a teacher I don’t give standing in front of a class a second thought, it’s what I do. The students “want” to learn English or study skills so I do what I can to help them. Giving a talk at a conference is slightly different, while the people that attend your talk want to listen to what you have to say, they have based their decision on a very short description of what you will say which is often only 60 words long. The attendees are a mixture of professionals in the filed; teachers, materials writers, ELT consultants, editors, academic directors and the list goes on. You deliver your talk, hope your message has reached some of the people in the room and they will take something away, you check the conference programme for the next talk you’d like to attend, and off you go!

On Friday 6th May I was given the opportunity to give my first plenary at the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. Needless to say, the difference between talking to a smaller group of people that have chosen to listen to your talk, and the entire crowd of conference attendees is quite different.

The chance to put my neck on the line in front of the entire conference was made possible due to its format which allowed speakers the opportunity to apply to give a plenary, quite unusual for a conference but a prospect I jumped at, so I applied, and I got accepted.

Despite being very nervous prior to standing on the edge of a 2-metre wall in front of a sea of people, I chose to put myself in this position because I believe it’s good to put ourselves out of our comfort zone every now and again, and challenge ourselves. I attended some great talks at Innovate ELT that gave me plenty of new ideas to consider, but along with making new friends and catching up with others, giving a plenary was probably the highlight for me on a personal level because it was exciting and pushed me to do something I had never done before. My only regret is not having a recording so I can look back, reflect and learn from my experience. Next time!

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Video – Teaching, learning and reflective practice in ELT

Here is a clip from the talk I gave at Oxford Tefl in Barcelona in February about using mobile phones for teaching and learning. I really enjoyed sharing my ideas with the attendees and all the feedback and interaction which helped me for giving further talks on the subject, and presenting my ideas in general.

Seeing myself on film has been been invaluable for learning how I come across when presenting.  I have watched the footage repeatedly for reflective practice and to observe my presentation style, and as a corrective tool to consider any changes or improvements that could be made to my presentations.

I will be sharing my ideas about the use of video for teaching learning at the Innovate ELT conference on the 9th May.

Reading on line: Differentiating the construction of meaning between exposure to online texts afforded by Web 2.0 technologies and printed texts

Do learners use a bottom-up learning process which shifts from implicit to explicit knowledge, or top-down, learning which goes from explicit to implicit?

Online reading has become a major source in the field of ELT. It is easy to access, up to date and diverse, but it relies on self-regulated reading strategies to construct meaning.

As teachers, we need to help learners cognitively respond to online texts and attempt to reduce the many distractions that reading on the internet can offer. Does it really matter if they are reading anyway? Well, yes, it has been argued, (Barbules 1998), that the linear nature of printed texts makes them selective and exclusive, whereas there is no limit to the distractions online texts can provide; voice threads, further links, moving images, audio, pop ups… which means that different strategies need to be employed to filter the information and ensure that input, storage and retrieval are as effective as they would be with exposure to a static printed text.

The future of the textbook…

I often wonder about the juxtaposition between learners enrolling on language courses and proudly picking up their shiny new textbooks, and the use of technology for language learning. I mean, if you don’t have a kindle yourself, you definitely know somebody who does, and I am sure we all have some form of digitised printed matter on our computers. So, then, what does this mean for the future of the textbook? Will the integration of technology result in the obsolescence of printed matter? Can synchronous language learning become fully digitized? What do you think?

Technology – Enabling or disabling

Can the affordances of technology provide enough opportunities for the net generation to successfully learn a language or have they become limited by its complexity, glitches in hardware and software, and feeling isolated in the sea of cyberspace? Does the flood of VLE’s inhibit learning because they serve as CMS’s that confuse learners as they attempt to navigate their way around them? Has faculty become dazzled by the opportunities to integrate technology into language learning without considering real learner needs and the realities of its integration from a learner and a teacher perspective?

Just a thought