Teaching English in large classes: a sociocultural approach | Webinar summary

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Many of the teachers I work with have classes of between 40 and 80 students so I reckoned this would be a useful webinar to document. Jason Alexander has worked extensively with African teachers who are frequently required to manage large classes.  I did, however, envision something more prescriptive. After having watched the webinar recording, I see Alexander’s rationale for not presenting attendees with prêt-à-porter type strategies, as well as his interesting subtext – a sociocultural approach.

Alexander suggested that the challenge was not just teaching large classes but using an imported methodology conceived for small class contexts. He went on to expand these challenges with areas sourced from Shamim & Kucha:

1. Classroom management e.g. giving instructions, maintaining control and
discipline, organising groupwork)

2. Whole class teaching (e.g. explaining new concepts, question and answer
strategies, using the chalkboard)

3. Working with mixed abilities (e.g. differentiation, getting learners to help
each other, mixed-ability groupwork)

4. Conducting summative assessment (e.g. end of term exams)

5. Limited resources (e.g. coursebooks, posters, easy readers)

6. Providing opportunities for practice (e.g. speaking
practice, using audio equipment, library for reading practice, etc.)

7. Providing feedback/formative assessment (e.g. marking written work,
correcting spoken errors, giving individual help, etc.)

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Teaching English in Large Classes: A Sociocultural approach. Jason Alexander (2016)

Alexander’s recommendation is to seek answers from other teachers within the institution particularly from non-language teachers as well as the larger community. He suggested that the most viable solutions might come out of the social and cultural context that the classroom sits within, rather than ostensibly expert advice from elsewhere.

He went on to outline an approach, a strategy and an activity that have worked in some contexts but pointed out that he wasn’t suggesting that these would be best practices for everyone’s classrooms.

An approach: Activity based learning

This approach was conceived in the Rishi Valley in India (I did not know that) and involves each student moving at her own speed through the curriculum, completing activities and learning completion tasks. ABL is really popular in some Indian states such as Tamil Nadu where children work autonomously using special activity cards. The teacher’s role is to monitor and support learning, rather than present content.

A strategy: think pair share

This strategy comes from non-language subjects. The teacher asks a question but doesn’t immediately accept answers. Learners think silently for a few seconds and tell their partner. The teacher then nominates learners to share their answers.

An activity: Back translation

This activity is inspired by studies into translation (I think Philip Kerr covered it in his insightful talk  – the return of translation) and is potentially useful for writing classes.

  • Learners study a model text in L2.
  • Learners translate the text into L1.
  • The model text is hidden and learners translate their L1 text back into English. If the text is on the board, ask learners to turn around so they’re no longer facing the front of the class.
  • Learners compare their English text with the original model text, noting differences, self-correcting errors and assessing work.

Resources

Two free booklets on the topic. Both seem really rich and interesting:

The webinar presentation  is available online and you can have a dekko at the presentation’s references.

Finally, here’s Alexander’s article for the British Council’s Voices magazine: What to consider when teaching English in large classes

Image attribution: Classroom by GioRetti | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Reviewing metalanguage using a Jeopardy-style quiz

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Love it or hate it, it’s difficult to get away from metalanguage and terminology in teacher training. I find metalanguage especially empowering for experienced instructors who’ve had very little formal training but that’s a topic for another post. It’s a good idea though to review terminology continually using interesting activities to reduce the cognitive load.

Sarah Priestly’s tweet from the TESOL Italy event jogged my memory about jeopardy which I’ve used frequently to review declarative and conceptual knowledge.

Have you ever seen Jeopardy? It’s a slightly addictive American TV quiz show where contestants select dollar amounts & categories from a board usually by saying something like “World capitals for 300”. Players are then presented with questions worded as statements which they must answer using the trademark formulaic phrase “What is _________”


Objective

  • Review conceptual information in a game show like format.

Materials 

  • Flippity quiz show board with your questions & answers
  • Laptop & LCD projector
  • Internet connectivity

Preparation 

  • Flippity works through Google spreadsheets so you’ll need to have logged into your Google account.
  • Access this template. It’ll prompt you to make a copy – the template will get automatically saved in your Google Drive before it opens.
  • You will see a 6*5 table with existing questions and answers.
  • Change the categories (row 2) to your own.
  • Replace the questions and answers with your own. Ideally, a question at 600 should be more challenging than one at 100.
  • You can’t have more than 30 questions (6*5) but you can have fewer. Place an X in the category column or question cell you don’t want to use.
  • You can add media to the questions:
    • For images, get the image link and insert it into this format: Ask your question?[[Image:http://blahblahblah.jpg%5D%5D
    • For Youtube videos, get the link from the share section below the video. Don’t use the link in the address bar: Ask your question?[[https://youtu.be/pFhSKPOF_lI]]
    • For Vocaroo audio clips, record your audio and insert the URL using this format. Ask your question?[[http://vocaroo.com/i/s1OEopSqfxQn]]
  • When your quiz board is ready:
    • Go to File and select Publish to the Web. Copy the URL
    • Scroll down and access the second worksheet ‘Get the URL here’
    • Paste the URL into the green cell
    • The Flippity link quiz will magically appear.

Flippity quiz how to.gif

Here’s my quiz on ELT terminology. The questions and answers in this quiz are sourced from Thornbury, S. (2006). An A to Z of ELT. Macmillan.

Procedure

  • Divide your participants into groups. Flippity lets you keep score within the app and allows flexibility in terms of number of groups.
  • Project the link so everyone can see it.
  • Groups choose a category and corresponding point denomination. Bring up the question – instead of getting just one group to answer, you could get all the groups to write down their answer before displaying it on the screen.
  • Award points to groups who got the answers right (the app will automatically increase the score by the denomination of the question)

Variations

  • While the display isn’t perfect on mobile devices, it’s manageable. You could have participants play against each other individually in small groups. All you’d need is one connected device per group and some way of sharing the URL (a shortened URL using goo.gl or a QR Code).

Coming back to Sarah’s tweet, I haven’t tried out Jeopardy Labs yet but it looks fairly straightforward and easy to use but I don’t think it allows for offline usage which would have given it a leg up over Flippity.

A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica)

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I read this article on how stereotyped ethnic names can sadly be a barrier to workplace entry and was reminded of a course I designed earlier this year. It was for a client who was going to purchase the materials from me. When they reviewed the workbook, they asked me to change all the names to ones that were familiar to people in the Philippines because they were planning on running the program in Manila. So I changed the names to the names of people I worked with on a short stint in the Philippines.

When I resubmitted the materials to my client, they got back to me with a concern that the names would sound too foreign to learners in India because they planned to run the module in both countries. I suggested having two versions. They made noises about standardisation and asked me to incorporate ‘globally acceptable’ names. I tried to put up a fight but I had to finally give in. The final straw was when they told me that they were also planning to launch the program in the US and that the names would need to be globally acceptable to Indians, Americans, Filipinos and anyone else who’d happen to be around.

I changed the names in the text to ones that I kinda thought would be culture and country agnostic (although that’s a fairly erroneous line of thinking in a multicultural, globalised world)

Male names 

  • Omar
  • Jay
  • Ray

Female names

  • Alisha
  • Anita
  • Mira
  • Melita
  • Monica
  • Tanya
  • Teena
  • Tara

I couldn’t come up with any others. I ended up using Jay in four different texts. I was wondering if anyone else has faced a similar situation. Also what names would you add to this ‘globally acceptable’ list?

Image attribution: O inmost wind of living ecstasy… by haRee | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

Top ten tips for writing excellent materials

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I was just going over the presentation used for the MAWSIG & ELTTeacher2Writer session on writing excellent ELT materials at BESIG annual conference in Munich and found some useful advice for materials writers, sourced from the modules/ebooks published by ELTTeacher2Writer. Note that I’ve listed these suggestions in the order that they appeared in the presentation.

  1. Use project management techniques such as Gantt charts to plan and present course design to clients (Evan Frendo: How to write corporate training materials)
  2. Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback (Rachael Roberts: How to write writing activities).
  3. Scaffold instruction by providing verbal cues and prompts to help learners (Rachel Roberts: How to write writing activities)
  4. Divide handouts into sections with clearly labelled sub-headings such as discussion, keywords, information sharing, expressions, comprehension check etc. (Karen: Richardson: How to write worksheets)
  5. Ensure instructions for activities aren’t more complex than the target language  (Philip Kerr: How to write vocabulary presentations and practice)
  6. Separate activity instructions from information for setting up the activity and discussion questions (Sarah Cunningham: How to write speaking activities)
  7. Write options for multiple choice questions that are consistent in length and style, plausible, not too obviously right or wrong and not repeat or contradict one another (Sue Kay)
  8. Test for opinions and intention, not just specific information in multiple choice questions (Sue Kay)
  9. Get to know the digital activity types that are available in the platform you’re using: multiple choice, multiple answer, matrix sorting, select in the blank etc. (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)
  10. Be careful about screen size issues – computer screens vs. mobile phones (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)

Olya Sergeeva has a couple of summaries from this event: How to write writing activities & Writing corporate training materials 

I’ll be posting a review of Evan Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials soon.

Upcoming MOOCs for educators | Nov 2016 to Jan 2017

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Here are some upcoming MOOCs that educators might find interesting. Although the courses have a fixed start and end date, you can join at any time before it formally concludes. All the courses are free.  I’ve got my eye on the course on filmmaking and animation in the classroom as well as Art of the MOOC: Public Art and Pedagogy which sounds intriguing.

Happy MOOCing.

Teaching (General) 

Teaching (ELT)

Materials writing & instructional design 

Teacher training 

Pedagogy 

Planning & time management 

Edtech 

Languages 

Education policy 

Literature

Learning

Writing

Miscellaneous 

Jigsaw caselet | A QR code activity

qr-code

My learners often get bored with traditional text-based case studies. Presenting it as a jigsaw task explored using QR codes is one way of making it more engaging.


Objectives

  • Transform staid case studies into active, jigsaw tasks

Materials

  • Printed QR codes which you can stick around your classroom using Blu-tac or similar
  • Focus questions
  • Learners will need to have downloaded a QR code reader on their smartphones

Prep

  • Select a case study that you can condense into a caselet narrated preferably from different perspectives. For example, if the caselet involves a manager and her team member, chunk it so you have 4 bits of information from the manager’s side and four from her team members. Eight is a good number in terms of chunks for this exercise.
  • Copy-paste each chunk into a QR generator (I like using QRstuff). Select plain text from the panel on the left and paste the text into field. Download the QR code that’s generated.
  • Print the QR codes. I prefer to use coloured paper so they’re easier for learners to find.
  • Prepare some focus questions that learners will answer incrementally at they uncover the text in the QR codes.
  • Stick the QR codes randomly around the classroom.

Procedure

  • Signpost your focus questions and tell learners that the answers are hidden within the QR codes posted around the room.
  • Learners work in pairs to scan the QR codes and analyse bits of the caselet.
  • They need to answer a question after scanning and reading an odd number of QR codes (for example after the first QR code, the third one, the fifth one, and the seventh one). Make sure they write their answers down.

Debrief

  • Ask learners to share their reaction to the caselet. How did their perception of the issue change as they uncovered the perspectives of the people involved and got a fuller picture?
  • How do the different ‘agents’ feel?
  • How might this relate to their own work?
  • Get learners to discuss other context-specific questions based on the caselet.

Example

The caselet I’ve used is adapted from Bob Dignen’s session on Leading International Projects at the recent BESIG Annual Conference in Munich.

Focus questions

  • After scanning one QR code: What do you think is happening?
  • After scanning three QR codes: Who is at fault? Why?
  • After scanning five QR codes: What should be done to resolve the issue?
  • After scanning seven QR codes: How could this situation have been avoided?

Image attribution: QR_Code_in_HandCropped by @GwynethJones -The Daring Librarian!  | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pronunciation as protest | A thought experiment

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I was intrigued by this recent NY Times article about two newly elected members of the Hong Kong legislature and their anti-China protests during their swearing-in ceremony. What’s particularly fascinating is how both of them pronounced China as /ˈtʃiː.nə/ , and how it instantly infuriated Beijing (this despite all sorts of other apparently anti-Beijing activities happening at this oath-taking event). Sixtus, the young man in this video, later blamed it on his poor English accent, and did so in perfectly fluent English. The Chinese government, it seems, perceives  the aberrant pronunciation as a slur from the time of the Japanese occupation.

 

This is the first time I’m hearing of pronunciation being used to mark protest. I am , however, familiar with the sentiment, because I’ve been doing something similar subconsciously for a while. A lot of Indian place names have been officially renamed over the last two decades to make them sound (allegedly) more Indian. Like a lot of people, I use the old Anglicised pronunciation out of habit, but never with any kind of consistency. I have met language chauvinists who’ve corrected me subtly reformulating my pronunciation or explicitly pointing out my dirty elitist, colonial ways.

I now use the Anglicised pronunciation intentionally, even with people who I reckon it’ll provoke. I think it’s great that place names are pronounced in ways that reflect the culture that shaped it in the first place. But what I take issue with is the empty populism of politicians who fritter away public money that could have been spent on more pressing needs like health, education, sanitation, and hunger – yes hunger – on meaningless name changes and all the associated costs that entails.

So if you live in India, here’s a thought experiment for you. Over the course of a fortnight, keep a record of which of the following you use and in what situations.

Bombay or Mumbai

Madras or Chennai

Poona or Pune

Calcutta or Kolkata

Bangalore or Bengaluru

Cochin or Kochi

At the end of the fortnight, analyse the results. Do you for example use Bombay consistently with your friends but Mumbai at work? Do you (like a lot of people I know) use Bangalore and Cochin all the time but can’t bring yourself to say Madras?  Is it because Chennai is a totally new name and not just a different pronunciation? If you haven’t made a clean break from the old names to the new ones, what’s your reason for favouring some from the old lot and others from the new one? Or are you, like me, using pronunciation as a form of low-level protest?

If you’re not from India, I’m curious about whether you have any parallels in your own culture or region where you feel pressured to pronounce a word in a certain way and the impetus to rebel.