Managing Covid19 lockdown: Teacher well-being

In Uruguay classes were suspended on Saturday 14th March. Ever since we have been caught up in what is now called emergency remote teaching. It is not the regular remote teaching situation where we have ample time for planning and developing skills but first and foremost where we teachers choose. This current situation is completely different and certainly a situation where we feel we have no choice at all. We have to teach remotely, students have to learn remotely. This is the only way to keep education going. And we accept that.

What no-one told us is the toll that this emergency remote teaching would have on our well-being. Endless hours of planning, marking and teaching online have limited the off-time teachers have. And teachers are resilient people, we are accustomed to marathon marking and planning weekends and endless hours of teaching but somehow this is different. To begin with, there are two awkward feelings that accompany our daily work. For most, this situation is far from their comfort zone. And this not just implies the lack of or limited technological skills. Teachers have an array of tools that are based on face-to-face work and now have to find a way to translate those to this remote mode (it certainly feels being back at teacher training days where the sense of awkwardness accompanied our every move!). The second awkward feeling comes to the sense of uncertainty. We don’t know when this lockdown will end or how. Our work is based on different levels of planning according to a certain calendar which is fixed and the same every year. We are navigating uncharted waters with no end in sight.

A dear colleague recently published on her facebook account some thoughts she had on the matter and said “This quarantine has reminded parents how much teachers do but it’s also reminded teachers how much we truly care about our students. We may be physically apart but we worry about them day and night.” And I’ll add we managers worry about our teachers day and night. Teachers are over-worked, over-whelmed and many are showing signs of anxiety and depression. Some are parents as well and have to teach and assist their kids with their learning at the same time without the help of any other family member because of lockdown. Houses can be very chaotic and still need to look composed for their online sessions.

Here managers have a key role. These are a number of things I try to follow with my team to contribute my bit to help them:

  • Connect and communicate: Keep in touch with your team not just for work-related stuff. I always start my coordination meetings with a catch-up chat on their personal situation. Hear them out. Reach out.
  • Try to instill a work routine: Try to adjust the routine you had as a team in your institution. I have a weekly general coordination meeting with all staff and also a one-to-one meeting with each teacher. We do this over zoom. Try help your team to develop a work routine that gives them time to relax and connect with others. (and do it yourself as well!)
  • Respect work time and free time: Certainly our work hours as managers have been stretched out. But try not to communicate with your team after office hours so as to give them some time for themselves.
  • Sharing: Most of our teachers have developed incredible new skills and discovered new ways of doing things. Give them a chance and a space to share it with the rest of the team. This can be in the form of a coordination session where all teachers get to share something they have learnt to do in a different way, in a team blog, on a shared virtual space. Feeling that you can contribute and help others can ease the burden teachers feel.
  • Use humour: One of the things that surprises me the most is the creativity people show in situations like this. There are amazing versions of traditional songs, memes, cartoons and many more showing the daily struggle of teachers doing this remote education with humour. Share this, have a laugh together. Humour does a great deal in easing our stress.
  • Back to basics: Less in more in remote education. It has the enormous power of going deeper into things. Adjust your expectations to this new reality. Adjust syllabi and coverages to match each teachers’ strengths. Above all, be flexible.
  • Be present, reach out: Make yourself available for your team as you are in their daily work at school. If you feel a teacher is being more withdrawn as usual, drop a quick line to check out how she/he is doing.

I guess there are many more ways you are all implementing to boost your teachers’ well-being. I invite readers to post a comment below on the ways you’re finding to do so. Reaching out and sharing, developing a sense of community is the best way to feel we’re not alone in this.

Managing covid lockdown: from face-to-face to remote in one week

To say that this week has been the most challenging week in my professional life is an understatement. In Uruguay, the government closed schools for two weeks over a weekend. Urgent board meetings on Sunday to make sense of the situation was the starting point for many of us here.

I’d like to share with my colleagues the way my team and I managed it. It was the way we found to cope with it. I think sharing our experiences can help us cope with the situation and help others that might need to face a similar situation.

As a team manager, one of my main concerns was to deal with the emotional toll isolation brings. For this reason during this first week frequent short synchronous meetings became a powerful tool. One of the greatest challenges for teachers and learners when going remote in such a sudden and unexpected way is to handle the negative emotional and psychological effects. Synchronous meetings help cater for this and this is the plan my team and I worked with, we used zoom (basic account) throughout and recorded most sessions.

Monday

First online meeting: whole team meeting. We first discussed how the sudden lockdown caught us, and how we were coping with it. I then presented an action plan for the week that we discussed and fine-tuned. The session included a very brief introduction to the basics of remote teaching and how the use of asynchronous and synchronous tools cater for different learning objectives. We then analyzed the needs of the team to face this challenge.

Second online meetings: Our school teaches English to students ranging from 2 year-olds to 18 year-olds. We held separate online meetings to address the needs of the different age groups and worked on how to adapt the action plan to each age group.

Needless to say, last Monday was hectic, nerve-racking, never-ending rollercoaster ride! We worked endless hours but the fact that we were working together, discussing options, offering alternatives helped us cope. The team was as strong as always supporting each other and supporting me.

Tuesday

Online training sessions: We were very lucky in the sense that our school had been working with google classroom for some time now so our starting point was somewhat ahead of other schools that had to go out and search for tools. Most of my teachers were already using it so that meant that most could handle the basic tools and all of them had institutional accounts to access the whole Gsuite. Training was carried out by members of the staff that were proficient in the use of tools and myself. We recorded all sessions and trimmed the videos into shorter tutorials which were uploaded into our own collaborative classroom. Using zoom basic accounts allows you to hold 40-minute sessions which help keep the focus on the task at hand and make full use of its interactive features.

Wednesday

All groups were active in google classroom. One of the hardest things for us was to determine how much work to cover. To set a baseline, we tried to adapt the already planned lessons to the remote format. This allowed us to see what activities in our regular repertoire of work could be transferred or not and how our lesson sequences needed to be adjusted. Another important aspect we agreed on was to activate content on the days we would have our face-to-face lessons and to be active on classroom at the time of our lessons.

Thursday

Live sessions preparations: As a team, and understanding the importance of the sudden cut in the socio-affective side of learning, we set out the ambitious goal of holding 30-minute synchronous sessions by Friday for all primary and secondary. We were daring, not everyone at our school agreed with the plan but they all trusted that if we were doing it, it was because we felt prepared to do so. The English team agreed on some key objectives for these meetings:

  1. Allow students to reconnect with each other and their teachers in a synchronous way
  2. Share the ways in which we were all coping with lockdown
  3. Share experiences and ideas on how to go about it
  4. Trouble-shoot problems students might have on classroom
  5. Establish a basic routine for live sessions

One key aspect of each session would be that two teachers would be involved. The regular classroom teacher hosting the online class and a second teacher (and/or myself) offering technical support via chat, watching over the shared classroom space or whatsapp to children and families that had trouble connecting. This is the way we usually did online sessions with my colleagues at British Council Uruguay so for me it made perfect sense to do so. (specially considering that was the first time teaching online for most teachers). I cannot stress enough the importance this has for a successful online session.

Friday

Live sessions: 30-minute sessions were held for all primary and secondary using zoom accounts. The greatest gift of all was to see the smiling faces of children, teachers and parents that dropped by to say hi! We were once again a connected educational community. Of course, the sessions were not perfect. Of our five aims, all were fulfilled in most sessions. But the most important aspect was the sense of continuity that these sessions provided. Needless to say, children asked to have online sessions every day!

This has been possible because we have a very strong and committed team. This post is my tribute to their hard work and team spirit. My hat off to you ladies!

 

 

What does it mean to be a teacher of English?

Great summary of J Richard´s plenary at #IATEFL2016, what does it mean to be a teacher of English?

Clare's ELT Compendium

This is a summary of a talk held by Jack C. Richards at IATEFL 2016 on Friday 15th April 2016. I’m afraid I’m not as hot-off-the-press as people who seem to the spend the entire conference tweeting and typing… but for those who couldn’t attend, here are the main tenet’s of the talk. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below!

So what does it take to be a teacher of English?

1. Expert language proficiency

Language competence needs to be strong, the must have the ability to produce accurate English spontaneously and improvise in the classroom. The teacher also needs to have a command of the specialised vocabulary of teaching, as well as being able to modify their language production for teaching purposes.

2. Content knowledge

This essential knowledge falls into two categories – disciplinary core knowledge, for example in linguistics, second language acquisition, etc., and also pedagogical knowledge to support teaching and learning…

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Thoughts on “Beyond loop input”at #IATEFL

ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

I had the great pleasure of meeting Gabriel Diaz Maggioli at The KOTESOL International Conference in 2013 and I thoroughly enjoyed his session on “Teacher education at the crossroads: The role of theory and practice. At the  KOTESOL IC in 2014 I unfortunately did not have a chance to see him present because we were presenting at (around) the same time in different strands/rooms at the pre-conference workshops. So when I was deciding which session(s) from IATEFL 2016 to blog about my choice was clear. His talk, “Beyond loop input: teacher training and development outside the box” jumped out at me. You can see the whole talk here. It was an interesting and enjoyable talk and I recommend it. I will not do it justice but I will intersperse some of my own ideas.

I think one reason (aside from the presenter) I was interested in this talk is because of…

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Robert O’Neill’s critique of the Communicative Approach

A well-thought of criticism of CLT

The Cambridge Delta Blog

I found this article written by Robert O’Neill on a website maintained by Ted Powers and have long shared it with Delta trainees. Recently, I realised that Ted Powers’ excellent website is down. In anticipation of a new, perhaps, website, I am reposting it here and would be happy to link the first few lines back the Mr Powers’ new website if he has any issue with it being here.  

I hope it is of use to those who are studying the different approaches and methods and are beginning to doubt the value of adopting any one approach wholesale. It is a fully thought through argument well worth reading – am looking for the original publication as we speak. 

 Please follow this link to learn more about Robert O’Neill’s life and work. The OUP website has paid him a fitting tribute. 

Just some of the covers of his books Just some of the covers of Robert O’Neill’s  books

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Teaching tools to help sts with SEN in the English classroom

teaching-english-to-childrenLanguage teachers at all levels nowadays need to be equipped with flexible tools to suit the needs of learners of different profiles. Fortunately, sts with Special educational needs (SEN) are being included in regular mainstream classes and not separated from the rest of the peers. This implies that teachers need to make some adjustments to truly include these learners in the class. In the presentation I made yesterday at  Dickens Institute´s summer teacher conference, we discussed a series of tools in the areas of vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing. You can find the slides and the handout in the links below. I hope you find them useful!

Presentation slides

Handout

WORD GAMES

Great simple and practical games to practise different language areas!

ELT-CATION

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Ammon Shea, a 37-year-old former furniture remover in New York, spent 12 months conquering what he describes as the Everest of dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), by ploughing through 20 volumes, 21,730 pages and 59 million words (read more here). We can only guess how much of what he read has stayed between his ears, which is, at times, quite a challenge for our students. Luckily for the latter, though, their word lists are much shorter.

We can use some magic formulae for helping words stick in the head trying to come up with clever associations, getting students to use definitions, determining a rate at which words should be learnt without falling out of their heads, creating some “brain surprises” (see more here), or resort to some oldies but goldies – word games.

These are some pen and paper games that require next to no time to prepare and might…

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Metalinguistic feedback: Grammar competence in writing

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There is no doubt the teaching of grammar is of inherent value for language learners. Broadly speaking, grammar is an integral part of the language so flexible grammar knowledge will assist communication in all forms. As Batstone (1994: IIX) said “effective communication in a language would be seriously impaired without an ability to put grammar to use in a variety of situations.”

Grammar is at the service of communicating intended meaning. Lexis and grammar have an indivisible bond. It is a feature of discourse. If we intend to prepare successful candidates, we need as teachers to focus on these key aspects when it comes to developing the necessary grammatical competence.

I would like to analyse one of the tools I use in order to help students develop grammatical competence in writing as described above: Corrective feedback. After marking written work, I select the most recurrent mistakes made by students and prepare a hand-out with them along with guiding questions to help students spot the mistakes and correct them. The mistakes selected vary according to the type of task, time of the year and recurrence of that type of mistakes.

Generally speaking, I try to choose the ones that represent each of the aspects mentioned above, that is mistakes in common collocations, wrong word choice, word order, register and style appropriacy. Using the questions as guide, students are to spot the mistakes and formulate the sentence appropriately.

This type of corrective feedback is usually referred to as metalinguistic feedback. Lyster and Ranta (1997: 47) defined it as a task that “contains either comments, information or questions related to the well-formedness of the student’s utterance, without explicitly providing the correct form”.  It aims at pointing out “the nature of the error but attempt to elicit the information from the student” (ibid: 47). Lyster and Ranta found in their study of students of French in immersion courses that this type of feedback led to learner uptake in 86% of the cases studied and this along with elicitation and clarification of requests led to student-generated repair (Lyster and Ranta, 1997).

Personally, I was very much impressed by Truscott’s criticism of the effectiveness of corrective feedback, especially of written corrective feedback as the one I am describing here. He claimed that there is no hard evidence to support the case for corrective feedback being a useful tool to promote acquisition. Not only did he state this, but he went further by saying it has harmful effects on acquisition (Truscott, 1996).

It was my experience as a learner that systematic written corrective feedback helped me to focus on specific aspects of the language and provided me with tools to edit and self-correct my work. In other words, it helped me develop my internal monitor. Therefore as a teacher I used this tool to assist my learners in this aspect. It is my understanding that by engaging in such metalinguistic task, students need to draw on their pre-existing language knowledge (given-to-new principle) and compare that with the sentence given and, by activating their internal monitor, find discrepancies and be able to adjust the form to match the intended meaning. The guiding questions aim at drawing students’ attention to the aspect that needs correction without giving it away. This type of activity tries to reflect on what Batstone and Ellis (2009) define as the awareness principle.

This type of corrective feedback seems to be particularly helpful to two distinctive groups of students. On the one hand, students who score top grades seem to be able to derive uptake from it, developing repair strategies and are then able to then self-correct while performing follow-up tasks. Their scores in writing in terms of grammar increase systematically. On the other hand, students who are considered weaker language learners due to language difficulties or other reason also seem to benefit from this type of systematic work. Their scores also improve but at a slower rate.

In contrast, there is a group of more average students that seem to be stuck in their grammar acquisition process; this is clearly proved by the persistent number of errors in their written production. When prompted to self-correct they are rarely able to do so and keep on making the same type of mistakes.

Ellis et al (2008: 356) state that this kind of feedback aids the process of language acquisition by “the increase in control of a linguistic form that has already been partially internalised”. Evidently, this tool alone is not solely responsible for students´ grammatical development but as I mentioned above, metalinguistic feedback has been proved to be a highly effective way to promote uptake.

This is just one of the tools I use to achieve one of my main pedagogic purposes that is the development of autonomy in my learners. Autonomy, I believe, is the necessary condition we need to develop in our learners since I hold the conviction that my job is to prepare learners for a life-long process of learning. As Brown (2007: 70) puts it “successful mastery of a foreign language will depend to a great extent on learners´ autonomous ability both to take the initiative in the classroom and to continue their journey to success beyond the classroom and the teacher”.

SAMPLE HANDOUT

Bibliography

Batstone, R. (1994) Grammar. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

Batstone, R. and Ellis, R. (2009) Principled grammar teaching in System 37. Pp.194-204

Brown, D. (2007) Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. New York, USA: Pearson Education

Ellis, R. et al (2008) The effects of focused and unfocused written corrective feedback in an English as a foreign language context in System 36. Pp 353-371

Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (1990) Focus-on-form and corrective feedback in the communicative classroom in Studies in Second Language Acquisition 12. Pp 37-66

Lyster, R. & Ranta, L. (1997) Corrective feedback and learner uptake in Studies in Second Language Acquisition 20. Pp. 429-448

Truscott, J. (1996) The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes in Language Learning 46:2. Pp 327-369

IATEFL 2015 – Opening Plenary – Donald Freeman

Excellent summary of Freeman’s opening plenary: Are we frozen in our ideas?

Lizzie Pinard

Frozen in thought? How we think about what we do in ELT

How we use ideas to explain and justify, make sense out of what we do as teachers.

Reasoning has two sides to it. We can reason about something – reason as a verb – and we can give reasons for something – reason as a noun. To reason about something focuses internally, you making sense of something, whereas giving reasons addresses other people. So reasoning has both internal and external dimensions.

Reasons can be seen as ‘myths’ –  they connect us and help us justify what we do. The ‘myths’ we use are anchored in experience. They aren’t right or wrong. They have a grain of truth in them, there are elements of usefulness but also those that are misleading.

In this talk, Donald will look at a set of myths that organise our work.

  • The myth of…

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Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

The Cambridge Delta Blog

Helping Intermediate Learners Better Understand Cohesion

caroline                            Caroline teaching one of her previous LSA’s

by Caroline Leaming 2012

Introduction

Cohesion is regarded by Halliday as ‘the crucial criterion to distinguish text from ‘non-text’ (Y. Liu & K.L. O’Halloran, 2009, p.368). Along with coherence, cohesion plays an important role of creating texture in a text (Halliday and Hasan 2003, p.17). However, based on my experience of teaching Japanese and Saudi students, cohesion appears to cause trouble to learners of all levels of English. These observations were also noted in studies concerning the use of cohesion with EFL students. Crane (2000, p.142) remarks that while Japanese students have a firm grasp on the theoretical structure of the English language, they ‘seem to lack the ability to coordinate functional usage of this knowledge with semantic patterning.’ Research also reveals that even…

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