Having recovered from the post-conference blues, I finally got down to write the first post since … Oh my! When was that?! I suppose I do have excuses 🙂 one of which was 2 years old in January.
So the conference… it was a cold February morning when I made my way to Griffith College to attend the 3rd annual ELT Ireland Conference.
The event was the first step to get back into things as I’ve been out of the teaching loop for a while. I had a baby and was also dealing with some health issues. When I landed in the exhibition room, I was a bit overwhelmed by the very fact of being back in the vibrant teaching environment. However, as soon as I spotted Louise, Liam, Tony and then was kinda dragged along for a photograph with Scott Thornbury, I felt totally at ease (despite the awkward photo moment) 🙂 It was also a huge pleasure to see Gill who’s been an inspiration to me over the past few years! I finally felt I was ready for it!
The atmosphere was phenomenal. It was an indescribable pleasure to meet people I haven’t seen for a long time and to notice others experience the same. The exhibition room was filled with laughter and enthusiasm of people sharing the same passion. Loads of hugs and kisses, too.
Most importantly though, the conference has helped me realise how much the ELT industry in Ireland has changed and is still changing. Sure, a few years ago all that was available for teachers were training sessions in the Teachers Club! I don’t mean that there was anything wrong with them (I still remember the effect Hugh Dellar’s talk had on me!) but look at us now:
- ELT Ireland has united us
- the 3rd Annual ELT Ireland conference has just ended
- a lot of teachers have had their first opportunity to present at a conference
- there are frequent ELTed events
- ELT chinwang is still on
- the second ELT Ireland bulletin has been published
- a union has been set up
- the managers have regular meet-ups
- we’ve learnt how to share (and therefore show we care:))
- TEFL is finally considered a career
- teachers care about their CPD!
- more and more schools care about developing their teachers
- there’s an opportunity to conduct research with IRST (Irish Research Scheme for Teaching)
This all proves that it’s not enough to just be a good teacher anymore. There’s so much competition on the market as we’ve stepped up and taken our career into our own hands. It’s insufficient to sit back and let years go by. In order to be successful in the industry, it’s crucial to become involved in activities outside of the institution, set new challenges, develop but also make an effort to share experiences with others.
I’m impressed how much has been achieved over the years! Go teachers go! Exciting times ahead!
I’ve recently completed the Leadership for ELT course run by OxfordTEFL. It was part of the Senior Teacher Development program, which is an initiative of Kaplan International English and aims at preparing Senior Teachers to take on a leadership role when an opportunity arises. I found the course very practical. It provided me with opportunities and guidance in reflecting on my own practice and skills. I got to know several tool which helped me define where I am and where I’d like to be in the future. I would recommend it to anyone either being in or taking up a leadership role.
One of the tasks that I found extremely useful was a visualization in which you imagine your retirement party: venue, music, food, crowd, speeches. Having done the task I’ve realized not only what I’d like to be recognized for (a great teacher, supportive colleague, motivating and empowering leader) but also what I’d love to have achieved by the time I retire. This helped me identify some of my long and short term aims, for instance: starting a blog, giving a talk at a conference, writing an article, publishing materials… So I asked myself why wait?
- Given a little nudge by Louise Guyett, I started the blog and I’m just about to publish my 5th post 🙂
- On April 12th, I gave my first ever talk at an ELT Ireland event. You can read about how it went and watch it by clicking on the link in this blog post.
- Finally, as part of the Leadership course, I’ve written an article about the importance of positive feedback which was published on the Oxford TEFL blog and can be accessed here.
All that made me realize that there are countless opportunities out there and so many ways in which ELT teachers can develop. If you are serious about your career and it’s not only a way to make money to be able to do something else, get out there and try different things.
- experiment with new tools and ideas
- experiment and share
- initiate projects within your institution
- do action research (you’re teaching anyway so why not experiment and record the outcomes, even by writing reflections)
- care about feedback, get it and reflect on it
- create your own materials (I bet you do it anyway) and send them to a publisher or share them on a teaching website
- deliver a teacher training session (your colleagues can definitely learn something from you)
- join a teaching association
- attend a conference (an amazing opportunity to learn from others and network)
- start a blog (it’ll help you reflect on your teaching practice and not only)
- write an article
Set yourself SMART goals and start ticking the boxes!
On April 12th, 2014, I gave the first ever talk about effective out of classroom activities at an ELT Ireland event, which was also filmed and can be watched here. I’ve always been scared of public speaking which might sound peculiar to some as at the end of the day I am a teacher. Public speaking to pears and teaching are two very different things. In the classroom you are in a way an expert, you know more about the language than your students. When addressing a group of peers you’re talking to people who might have way more experience than you and could potentially find your talk uninteresting. This makes me incredibly self-conscious but at the same time I believe that conferences and other teacher development events are there to provide us with opportunities to share and learn from each other. The key is to choose the topic you’re really interested in and that you feel confident about.
When I was preparing for my first ever talk I shared my fears with a colleague. In response she asked me three questions: did you enjoy your project? Did your students enjoy it? Did it work? Three yeses meant I was on the right track. Thanks for boosting my confidence Christine Mullaney 🙂 A few days before the event we were asked to send in visuals that we wanted to use so I spent about 2 hours putting together a power point presentation full of inspirational pictures, main points and links, which I then decided to scrap simply to avoid distraction. Copying from Sandy Millin, whose talk I went to at the IATEFL Conference in April, I put together a few cards with notes and practiced.
When I got to the venue on the morning of April, 12th and was given a speaker badge I felt ready but my turn wasn’t until later, I was the 5th speaker, the first one after the break. As the time was closing on me, I started feeling dizzy from stress. I can’t possibly describe how I felt when it was finally the time to stand up there and deliver the talk. It was an incredible mixture of excitement and panic, one that makes you shake and break into tiny little pieces inside and you’re not sure how the hell you’re still talking 🙂 I got through it, faced my demons and felt incredibly proud and fulfilled. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my beloved Kaplan family who stood by me so a massive thanks guys.
I’d like to thank ELT Ireland for that opportunity and congratulate them on establishing such a vibrant association. You really got the ball rolling guys! I look forward to the upcoming events. All the eight talks by the courageous teachers can be accessed on the ELT Ireland YouTube channel.
Last week I started teaching a class of beginners, initially for two weeks, covering for their beloved teacher Mihaela (quite tough to fill in her boots!). I have to admit that I was quite worried how I’d get on as I hadn’t taught beginners for ages . It turned out to be a challenge indeed but how rewarding and absorbing!
A little bit about the class:
- there are 10 students
- ages vary from 22 to 66
- there are 7 Arabic and 3 Spanish speakers in class
- 2 of the Arabic speakers are complete beginners, who struggle with the alphabet
- one of the Arabic speakers has been in the class since February and still isn’t ready to move up
- 2 of the weakest students keep missing classes
- 2 Spanish speakers are very strong (they might have been misplaced)
- they work very well together, offer each other a lot of support
- they’re eager to learn and take risks
There you go, such a good example of a mixed abilitiy class and therefore teaching them is quite a challenge.
I have tried a few techniques so far:
- I tried to vary groupings so that for some activities I group them with the same level students and for some stronger work with the weaker, I found this very effective
- I often divided them into 2 groups in which I’d have at least 2 stronger students and 1 or 2 weaker ones (depending on how many show up); this works well as they get a chance to work as a team, they take turns supporting the weaker students but also get a chance to interact with the stronger ones
- I allow L1 use for support (not chatting!)
- I always have extra activities for early finishers – crucial
I found that I usually overplan and that they take more time to complete activities than expected. The weaker students also need more time for note-taking. Sometimes I feel that I should perhaps put a bit more time pressure on them but at the same time I don’t want to deprive them of the time they need to finish.
Techniques I would like to try out:
- I though about having two workstations with activities for the early finishers: one with a set of vocabulary activities and the other with some conversation prompts; I’ve decided on two to allow them to make choices for themselves
- I’d like to try same L1 groups and see how that would work (why not make use of their L1)
- I’ve set up a group on edmodo.com for them to encourage extra practice outside of class (haven’t set them up yet as I’m out sick today)
Check this blog post out for more tips on teaching mixed ability classes.
As mentioned in my last post, I decided to get some feedback from my beginners. I though the best way would be to get them to fill out a quick questionnaire and therefore I put together some statements (see below) which students had to award one/ two happy or one/ two sad faces.
- My teacher is friendly.
- I understand my teacher.
- My teacher helps me improve my English.
- I can ask my teacher questions.
- I learn something new every day.
- My teacher helps me speak and listen in English.
- Classes are interesting.
- I like grammar activities.
- I like speaking activities.
- I like listening activities.
- I like reading activities.
- I like writing activities.
- I like walking around the classroom.
- i like talking to different students in class.
Despite the fact that all the faces I got were smiley (most of them x2) I feel slightly disappointed as the comments sections were left blank, probably because students didn’t know how to express themselves in English. It got me thinking about alternative ways and then suddenly the penny dropped! Next week I’m going put them in the same L1 groups and use the Three Againt One activity that I’ve described before (see my previous blog post). Why on earth shouldn’t I make use of their mother tongues and appoint the strongest students as scribes! There we go, that’s the power of reflection!
Having been away for a week at the IATEFL conference, I came back to teach my beloved intermediate class and found a bunch of new faces. All my outspoken students have moved up and I was left with a fresh bunch of newbies who (I presume) were used to a completely different way of teaching and simply didn’t want to communicate. I started to wonder: is it me? Are the tasks not engaging enough? Materials not challenging? Are they bored? A week had passed and I wasn’t sure whether I was doing the right thing by them, felt slightly demotivated and disappointed in my abilities to engage the students. On Friday I said enough is enough and decided to do a feedback activity to get an insight into what was happening. I decided to use Duncan’s tool from the developing teacher as it encourages interaction and discussion. The results were quite surprising – students were happy with the classes, they thought they were learning and wanted more. It really helped me to regain my confidence and motivated me to continue trying to engage them, open them up and talk to each other. This is how powerful feedback can be!
- to reassure yourself – when you start doubting your teaching
- to deal with issues – when something seems to be going wrong, for instance, students are not engaging, not responding well to activities, seem bored, not challenged
- to cater for your students needs – we have to remember that we’re dealing with groups of individuals and each of them has different experiences and expectations; feedback is a great way of finding out what the students are looking for, what they enjoy and what they don’t
- to make lessons better – at the end of the day it is as important for us to enjoy the lessons as it is for our students
- to develop – there’s so much we can learn about our own practice from our students
I found a few things important for getting feedback effectively:
- make your students aware of why you need their feedback
- make them feel they can help you become better teachers
- tell them that you care about them and that you want their lessons to be enjoyable
- keep the feedback positive – ask them what they liked; rather than asking them what they dislike, ask them for suggestions
- give them thinking time, if possible, let them know that you’re going to get them to reflect on their lessons at the start of the week so that they pay attention to their favorite and least favorite activities
- after feedback, comment on their responses and tell them how they helped you
- a quick form with three simple prompts: stop, start, continue
- an anonymous questionnaire, either on paper or online – I found Socrative very effective as it allows you to create a variety of question types and generates very clear reports
- an interactive activity from ‘The Developing Teacher’ called ‘Three Against One’ – it’s great as it encourages interaction and idea sharing; in this activity, students are encouraged to write down three things they liked and one suggestion for the teacher, then they chat to other students (changing partners several times every 1 min), finally, they add one more like and one more suggestion that they got from other students
- a student’s diary or a blog in which they reflect on their classes (pitfalls: quite time-consuming for students to write and for us to read)
- a letter to the teacher- get students to write one but provide them with prompts e.g. describe your favorite lesson/ activity, say what you’d like to do/learn the following week
There are so many ways to gather feedback and it can get really addictive. Once you give it a go and see its value, you won’t want to stop!
My challenge this week will be getting feedback from my new class of beginners!
So… here it is – my first post.
I’ve been thinking of starting a blog for a while. I’d been out of the teaching loop for a bit while covering the DoS role, straight after completing the Trinity Diploma in TESOL, which meant I couldn’t really use the skills I had developed. Now I am rediscovering my passion for teaching and often find myself wonder how I can best share my experiences. This blog is just being born from my need for space for reflection. Isn’t it what it’s all about? Reflective teaching? So there you go. Now let me start picking your brains about things!