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 training courses don’t equip teachers to deal with potentially controversial issues and that they may fear what might emerge in a lesson that broached such a 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.

Made with Padlet


Let’s listen to the learners | IATEFL 2017 session summary

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Brian Tomlinson’s much needed talk was in a sense quite damning about how smug we often are about learner-centricity when we barely ask learners what they want.

He started off with three bits of research he’d been involved in:

  • In a study for a publisher on who selected textbooks, Tomlinson found the following figures across 12 countries: 85% by administrators, 15% by teachers, and 0% by students.
  • In another study, he explored what students and teachers wanted from textbooks. Sales folks who worked with publishers predicted that it would be grammar. In facts, students and teachers wanted interesting texts, particularly stories.
  • In the third study he referenced, he investigated why Headway was so successful. He discovered that it was because teachers felt it gave them everything but that they felt sorry for their students because it was boring.

You can tell a teacher but you can’t tell them much.

Tomlinson asked whether car designers would design cars that no one would want to drive and whether restaurants would cook food that their customers wouldn’t want to eat. And yet, he pointed out, we consistently develop coursebooks that learners don’t want to use.

We don’t listen enough to what:
• they have to say about life
• they have to say about learning a language
• they need
• they want

And yet:
Learners only learn:
• what they want and need to learn;
• when they want and need to learn it.

Tomlinson suggested that there was a lot of research to support this line of thinking, especially from psychological readiness theory. He went on to state that curriculum, syllabus and coursebook sequences were a waste of time and that we don’t know what learners want simply because we don’t consult them. He provided some recommendations for addressing the situation and what I really appreciated was that each strategy was linked to specific piece of classroom research.

By involving them in decisions about: 

  • their curriculum. For example, in Zambia, Tomlinson invited student representatives to sit on a curriculum committee to provide suggestions, Ottley in Iraqi Kurdistan co-designed curriculum with his students to meet their needs.
  • their coursebooks, In Namibia, Tomlinson was involved in writing a national coursebook called On Target, Students were asked by questionnaire what topics they wanted. Teachers predicted fashion, pop music and football. But in fact, students wanted drug abuse, domestic & marital violence and corruption because this is what they talked about in the playground and wanted to discuss htat in class as well. At a Japanese university, Tomlinson was required to use a particular coursebook. He asked students which units they wanted to start with creating their own sequence, subverting the existing one and omitting units which didn’t get votes.
  • their objectives. Some businessmen from Lyon in France enrolled in a course were sick of doing grammar for two years, They wanted communication, so Tomlinson developed a course with them where they shadowed British businessmen and did projects.
  • their class. In an example from Bell College of placement, all the students enrolled in the course were asked to self-select themselves into levels by going to different parts of the room where there were examples of student work and coursebooks, which they used to validate their decision. They then sampled classes over a week before deciding their final level.
  • what they do in class. Some Iraqi diplomats wanted poetry and song instead of ESP which they found familiar and boring.
  • their assessment

From a soon to be published anthology by first time action-researchers:

Thirty “seventh grade students (14 boys and 16 girls) of a government aided school in Karnataka, India” evaluated their coursebook and reported the following:

1. too much grammar

2. wanted activities as opposed to language practice exercises

3. wanted a lot more opportunities for listening and speaking

4. preferred to focus on one skill at a time

Modugala, M. (in press). Listening to children’s perceptions and experiences of English language teaching material. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Papers from the British Council English Language Teaching Research Partnership Award Project. New Delhi: British Council.

Apropos number 4, Tomlinson pointed out that he recommended that we listen but not blindly obey students. He explained that if your decision goes against what the students want, then we have an obligation to explain why and demonstrate the value of doing it differently.

By giving them opportunities to:

  • choose their own texts: An Indonesian teacher asked students if they liked the texts their coursebook and found that they didn’t. She divided students into 10 groups charged each group with bringing in English texts each week. In the second term, she asked students if they wanted to go back to the coursebook. They didn’t want to so she supported groups in developing their own lesson plans for texts they’d selected and guided them to teach these lessons to their peers. The other example Tomlinson referred to involved providing generic activities but for texts that students had selected themselves. Essentially, the teacher provides the activity (in this case focusing on the language of editorials) and the students provide the texts from the web. In a British Council project that covered 12 Sub-Saharan countries aimed at society leaders with different language levels, students were given a choice of graded texts in an activity. In each unit, there were three versions of the text, authentic, slightly modified, and much reduced, and students chose which version they wanted to work with.
  • adapt their materials
  • choose their own activities. Tomlinson’s example, drawn from his own teaching, involved getting learners to listen to a poem about an old lady sourced from The Happy Haven by John D’Arch and provide students with a selection of activities based on this text as stick-ups on the wall. Students then decide which one they want to do. Here are the activity ideas he shared:
  1. Learn to recite the poem in the voice of the old lady.
  2. Paint a picture of the poem.
  3. You are the old lady, your son lives in Australia, write a letter to your son.
  4. Everyday the old lady goes to a park and there’s an old man sitting on the bench where she normally sits. Write the conversation between them.
  5. You are the lady’s family, You are worried about her. You are having a meeting to decide how to help her.
  6. Plain vanilla comprehension questions (He explained that students never ever choose this option).
  • devise their own activities. For instance, in Singapore, Tomlinson used an affective text titled I’m a bully sourced from Brenda Tan’s Come into my world: 31 stories of autism in Singapore. The text is about a mother who bullies her autistic son. Students devise their own activities to process and respond to the text.
  • write their own texts. In Vanuatu, Tomlinson got his students to chuck their coursebooks and instead write a novel. He asked them think of their village and picture someone who was interesting in their village and see what they were doing. He told them that this was the first page of their novel. This is what they did in their lessons through the term. At the end of the term, they had written and illustrated their own novel. He tied this to the work of Erasmus+Project PALM (Promoting Authentic Language Acquisition in Multilingual Contexts) where children and teenagers develop authentic materials for other learners.

By encouraging them to 

  • express themselves. An example from India where learners were encouraged to maintain diaries.
  • personal response questions. Tomlinson often uses children’s books (such as Bumblebear, Not Now Bernard) with adults to do this.

By this time, he’d run out of time so the following strategies, unfortunately, weren’t support with examples but they’re mostly self-explanatory.

By encouraging them to:

  • communicate information (e.g. presentations)
  • be creative (e.g. stories, poems, novels)

By providing ways of giving feedback:

  • talking to learners about how they learn
  • inviting feedback on trial materials
  • task talk-aloud protocols
  • weekly forums
  • e-mails to the teacher
  • Research
  • Learner conferences (e.g. MATSDA)

I’m really intrigued by the MATSDA conference that he briefly spoke about. He explained that at this conference, all the speakers would be learners describing their needs and experiences to educators.

What a brilliant talk! Filled with insights from research, experiences from the classroom, practical strategies and the unsaid implication of the extent to which teachers like you and me are inadvertently letting the status-quo go unchallenged.


Integrating plurilingual practices in ELT in a superdiverse world | IATEFL 2017 session summary

Angelica Galente

Angelica Galante opened her talk with a question that I’m all too familiar with, “Where are you from?” Said with a particular intonation, one tends to ponder over its intention. Students want to adopt the behaviours and language of the host culture, particularly in the tertiary setting when they are away from their home countries for prolonged periods of time. Galente was interested in whether plurilingual identities could be promoted instead of a focus on acquiring an ‘English’ identity.

The rationale for plurilingualism is that bringing the diverisity of the real world into the classroom prepares the learners for that real world. Plurilingualism considers all the language and cultural experiences people have had in their lives. Galente suggested that people’s lives were not like a pre-fabricated puzzle that you live with one language or one culture so even when you may think you are monolingual, you may in fact have a plurilingual identity.

Some of the benefits of plurlilingualism include the following:

Enhances metacognitive skills (Bono & Stratilaki, 2009; Psalter-Joyce & Kantaridou, 2009; Vorstman et al., 2009)

Has positive effects on motivation and self-esteem (Bernaus, Moore & Azevedo, 2007; Corcoll, 2003)

Awareness of individual plurilingualism is seen as an asset for communication (Marshall & Moore, 2013; Prasad, 2014)

Mediates the process of additional language learning (Payant, 2015)

Learners who speak 3 or more languages are more open-minded, have more cultural empathy (Dewaele & von Oudenhoven, 2009), and

Plurilingual posture towards language learning (Jeoffrion et al., 2014)

In ELT, practices such as an English-only classroom have hampered plurilingualism. Some of the other barriers include:

Plurilinguals are unaware of their full plurilingual potential (Oliveira & Ançã, 2008)

Plurilingual ESL teachers have more positive attitudes towards their students’ language learning process and plurilingual strategies compared to monolingual teachers (Ellis, 2013)

Lack of teacher education in plurilingual pedagogy (Ellis, 2013); teachers who are unaware of learners’ linguistic repertoire see their plurilingualism as an annoyance (Pauwels, 2014)

Gap between policy that promote plurilingualism and classroom practice (Göbel & Vieluf, 2014; Pickel & Helót, 2014; Pinho & Andrade, 2009)

English-only policies create barriers for classroom plurilingual practices (Abiria et al., 2013)

Galente recommended strategies such as translanguaging, code-switching and crosscultural awareness to build language & cultural awareness, validating identity, agency and inclusiveness. She described several tasks to achieve this.

Task types

  • My plurilingual identity: Students draw their own body placing languages and cultures they have learnt on different parts of their body. Students can also include their future languages or cultures which intend to learn or experience. Students then explain their rationale.

Angelica Galente.png

  • Code-switching: Students work in groups of three and come up with a situation where they code-switch. They prepare a one minute skit.  Their peers try to identify the type of code-switching (from one sentence to another or mid-sentence), the languages/dialects used, the reasons why they code-switched.
  • Idioms in different languages: Students try to figure out the meaning of an idiom and then identify an equivalent idiom in their first language or dialect.

Angelica galente 2.png

  • High and low communication styles: Students are presented with different scenarios and they decide if they would prefer to use a direct or indirect utterance. Students develop an awareness of the characteristics of the two styles and reflect on how people in their own lives communicate and how they could adapt to a style that’s different from their own. They then discuss situations where they had issues communicating with people with different styles and they get peer feedback on how they could deal with this.

Angelica galente 3.pnghigh and low communication styles.png

Galente studied the impact of tasks that promote plurlilingualism in a university context and found that the results were positive both from a student as well as an instructor perspective. She believes that students have started to shift from trying to camouflage their identity to accepting their pluri-identities.

More information on this project is available at Galente’s site.

Living as I do in a super-diverse country where plurilingualism is the norm, I’ve always wnated to try out code-switching with my learners but have never been able to identify an appropriate and manageable way of introducing it. These are some interesting task types but there’s only one that explicitly requires students to use L1. Galente mentioned ten tasks types in her research – I’m going to write to her and see if she can share any others.


Easier said than done: using mobile phones for a test | IATEFL 2017 session summary

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This talk had a lot of promise but unfortunately didn’t live up to it. I suspect partly because the presentation lacked specificity (perhaps for proprietary reasons) and partly because in actual implementation, the idea of taking a test on a mobile device isn’t revolutionary at all, it just replicates test formats from a computer with some adjustments for mobile UI.

The speaker, Adrian RapRaper and Sean McDonald from ClarityEnglish and TELC explained that this pilot was in response to the challenge of providing a placement test to 2000 students at Asia University in Taiwan. They had to work with a smaller screen size, and move away from true or false and MCQs but ensure reliability and validity.  They suggested that new devices enabled new types of interactions and new items which you can’t do on paper including cross-skills testing. They were quite vague about these new test types and only explained one in detail: moving a word into a right place in a sentence, which is a fairly conventional digital activity and not all that uncommon in assessments. They described a reading test where candidates can look at the text and questions by flicking between the two but again this was described quite superficially.

Much of the presentation dealt with the security issues that come with using mobile devices such as the fact that candidates could go into Google if they’re using their own device. They suggested that the two ways of dealing with this is through a time limit and through question type. They claimed that the item type that involves moving a word into the right place in the sentence is fairly cheat proof. I really doubt that – Google can show you sentence patterns with a general search.

The way it works is that the candidates download the assessment app before they come to the test centre. At the centre, they are given a code to access the test. In case of poor connectivity, the app puts answers into a queue similar to how Whatsapp operates but the upload sizes are only about 23kb which is really tiny. The other issues they touched on were more interesting such whether the type of device has any impact on performance, the latest iPhone vs. an older smartphone. They are are collecting data about this in their pilot. They don’t currently offer gap fills or writing item types because of the problems associated with typing: auto-correct and the default language on the device which might not be English.