Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC

Becoming a better teacher

I am one of the educators on the upcoming Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Futurelearn.  Many of my colleagues have contributed to this MOOC and there are a lot of insightful perspectives from practitioners on reflection and CPD.

So, what’s the course about: 

Keeping up with professional development as a teacher can be hard to fit into a busy timetable. It doesn’t need to be. This online course, broken into simple steps, will help you develop your reflective skills and improve your practice in the classroom.

And who is it for? 

This course has been especially designed for the needs of teachers in India, particularly those teaching in English or who teach English as a subject. However, it is also relevant for teachers around the world including those from other low-resource contexts.

The MOOC is free and will run for six weeks starting April 24. Hope to see you on the course!

Queering ELT: LGBT sessions at IATEFL 2017 | Some thoughts

LGBT in ELT.jpg

I was happy to see that there wasn’t just one, but two sessions at IATEFL 2017 that dealt with LGBT issues. Sadly, neither were recorded so this post is based on interviews with their presenters, Thorsten Merse and Angelos Bollas.

Thorston Merse (here’s the video) spoke about integrating LGBT issues into lessons through a focus on global issues. Coursebooks have no visible LGBT content but Merse explained that there are some coursebooks developed for Germany which have a few LGBT themes but that it’s really up to teachers to include LBGT-themed lessons.

Nik Peachey, the interviewer, mentioned that the coursebook industry is very conservative. In response, Thorsten suggested that even bad coursebooks could be rescued or subverted by teachers. He said awareness could be built through conferences although these cater to a privileged few. Teachers can also turn to publications and there is apparently a lot of literature on LGBT issues in ELT.  He recommended that open minded ELT teachers establish a global community for exploring practical ideas for ‘queering ELT’. I like the sound of ‘queering ELT’ but I’m afraid it seems a lot more radical than the halfhearted token gestures its going to translate into.

Nik then asked Thorsten about changes in Germany. As a policy, German state governments require gender and sexual diversity across the curriculum, not just for ELT. In practice, the implementation has been uneven with some states taking the lead. The process has been top-down but many teachers have also taken individual decisions about making their lesson content more inclusive thus enabling a bottom-up process to meet a top-down one.

I agree with Thorsten that we can’t wait for publishers to take ownership for inclusion. They’re always going to play a ‘blame the market game’ but at the same time most teachers simply don’t know how to introduce LGBT topics into their lessons. It would have been useful to discuss how these can be curated and made available as open-source materials (not sure if this was discussed in the actual session).

The second session by Angelos Bollas explored whether a lack of diversity in ELT materials has an impact on learning (titled ‘De-idealising the Heteronormative Self in the ELT Classroom’). Once again, there’s no video recording of the session but there is a recording of his interview with Scott Thornbury (here’s the video). His presentation was based on some research he’d done on whether the invisibility of LGBT identities in materials would adversely affect motivation and ultimately language learning. He apparently found that ELT materials, which are designed in a heteronormative way, do negatively impact the learning of students who identify as LGBT.

Thornbury questioned the relevance of the research given that the coursebooks Angelos had researched weren’t the latest editions. Angelos suggested that these editions were still in use. Thornbury also made a point about materials in the US being more inclusive because of the ESOL/ESL context and that this might be more challenging in an EFL context, where coursebooks are designed for the global market. Angelos’ initially explained that EFL students may come into contact with cultures like the US or the UK where sensitivity to LGBT issues may be important. This wasn’t a very convincing line of reasoning but he quickly expanded it to touch on the idea of social change within the students’ own cultures.

The discussion then moved on to what ought to be changed. Angelos seemed to think that it wasn’t necessary to introduce anything new in the coursebook but instead work with what was already there. Thornbury wanted to know whether this would translate into a greater and more equitable visual representation of LGBT individuals as has been the case with women in non-traditional roles, the disabled and women in headscarves. Angelos was against the compartmentalization of LGBT issues into a specific unit and instead spoke for representation within existing units such as for example a unit on family which portrays different kinds of families including an LGBT one.

Angelos rightly pointed out that pre-service doesn’t equip teachers to deal with potentially controversial issues and that they may fear what might emerge in a lesson that broached such as topic and how they’d handle for example homophobic comments. However, he suggested that in his context, teaching is driven by coursebooks and so everything goes back to the coursebook. In response, Thornbury referenced a study from Japan where it was found that teachers were being overtly cautious whereas students were in fact more open and curious about LGBT issues.

Taking a page out of Thorsten’s book, I think it’s pointless to wait for publishers to take the lead on this. Thornbury used the phrase ‘banging on about this’ – in fact he wrote an article way back in 1999 titled Window-dressing vs. Cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture. I quite like the idea of subverting coursebooks and we could potentially design a playbook for taking existing material and making it more inclusive. Now that’s something teachers can be trained on.

I believe English has a role to play in social change, whether through connections with people across the world or through exposure to new ideas. I know this is an area that folks particularly from the West, tread cautiously, lest they’re accused of trying to impose alien cultural norms in a renewed colonial endeavour. But as both Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki Moon asserted a couple of years ago, “LGBT rights are human rights” and no culture has the right to deny that.

Image attribution: Rainbow Flag by torbakhopper | Flickr | CC by NC 2.0

Context analysis practice: the hidden paradigm in contemporary ELT | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Jason Alexander.jpg

It’s a real pity Jason Alexander’s session at IATEFL 2017 wasn’t recorded. I’m grateful to Silvana Richardson whose tweets gave me a bit of a window into what he presented. His Context Analysis Practice (CAP) model truly validates what teacher trainers, particularly on the CELTA, have been using as a basic framework for lesson planning. During my CELTA tutor-in-training program, one of the trainees, asked me what she should write under approach on her top sheet. I was genuinely puzzled because the lesson shape wasn’t really PPP, nor was it text-based and I now have a label for it.

It also makes sense to explicitly call attention to context especially within the CELTA given the primacy of establishing a meaningful communicative context within the assessment criteria.

I’m not sure what Anderson’s take on the dominance of extensive text contexts was but I reckon the texts are far too long. It really throws new teachers off track.  Texts are but one way to explore language in context and when used, they really ought to be quite short.

And I agree that consciously or unconsciously, we have been endorsing this model on teacher training courses

Anderson seemed to have suggested an optional additional stage ‘evaluation’ but apparently went on to state that four stage models tend not to catch on.

It’s worth exploring whether CAP is truly effective. Do we recommend it to trainees because it makes sense from a language teaching and learning perspective or because it’s relatively easier to plan and teach?

Interesting to note the variations with the CAP model: Context Practice Analysis (CPA), Context Analysis Task (CAT), Checking, Analysis Practice (ChAP). It seems like Anderson has identified how we’ve been deluding ourselves into thinking that we are teaching lessons using TBL or test-teach-test, when really it’s much closer to what he’s described here.

I once worked with a new teacher who suggested that all the fancy names for lesson shapes I was teaching her were redundant because in practice they seemed to reflect a similar type of lesson. I started to defend the theory when I suddenly realised that she sort of right.

I wonder to what extent CAP will fly on pre-service courses. Given that it essentially describes the current situation, there ought not to be too much resistance to incorporating it but the wheels of teacher training tend to turn slowly.

Although Anderson’s presentation isn’t available, he’s got a handout on his site from an earlier session which summarises the same content. 

IATEFL 2017 LTSIG Day | Some resources & thoughts


This is a pre-conference event I would have loved to have watched or attended, particularly because the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group collaborated with the Teacher Development Special Interest Group and both are areas I’m really interested in.

Here’s some stuff I found on the event. The first one is a short video by Will Leung – a nice overview of the day’s flow and topics that were explored.

And here’s Marisa’s Storify. I found this very useful because it had specific references to the tools that were being presented.

Here are my two bits on these tools:

      • Articulate Storyline: It’s a fantastic course authoring tool but it’s time consuming and really, really expensive. In fact, Articulate have recently published their new all-inclusive version Articulate 360 and I haven’t even bothered looking at the trial because given the price tag, there really is no point (unless you’re an institution that has money to burn).
      • Office Mix: I’ve had this PowerPoint add-in for the last six months and I haven’t yet used it. In fact I’ve been trying to get rid of it because it hogs my Webcam and blocks other applications (Camtasia, Document projectors) from using it. I’m going to revisit it based on David Read’s recommendation and see if it has any utility. In any case, I’m just not able to rid myself of the darn thing!
      • Edpuzzle: I’ve explored this tool but I just haven’t been able to use it for an actual lesson. I’m going to give it another go.
    • H5P: I hadn’t heard of this one before. It’s a web-based tool for creating HTML5 content and has a rang e of interaction types for learning. Seems free.
You can download David Read’s presentation and see examples of content created with each of these tools using this nifty interaction David has created in Storyline.
Joe Dale delivered a presentation on using the green screen in the language classroom. I’m really quite intrigued. Joe has shared some details in this Google doc and in this presentation but I’m not really sure about the specifics of how the green screen is being used. I don’t see anything on his blog either although a search throw up a couple of links. Might shoot him a mail.

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