Tag: CPD

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 

Teacher training | An interview with Meena Sridharan

All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Meena Sridharan is a teacher trainer who works extensively on large scale education projects in India. In this interview, we chatted about her experiences on the field and discussed some advice for developing teacher training skills.

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1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up with a passion for English and history and all my degrees are in English Literature. There was a Linguistics and Phonology component in the course at University which I detested those days. It’s ironic that my work is only to do with English language teaching now.

During my post-graduate years, we had a mandatory social service requirement and I opted to teach English to bus conductors. I enjoyed that a lot, and one day, when I heard a couple of conductors speaking in English on a bus, felt really happy. To my uninformed teenage mind, this seemed to be a matter of course. It never occurred to me then that this was something I could do, and find rewarding, nor did it occur to me that I was actually listening to a demonstration of effective practice.

Many years later, I taught English language and conversation skills in Japan. There again, I just did it for fun, and to make enough money to put me through Japanese language school.

2. How did you get into teacher training? 

It was by accident. I had been teaching for over fifteen years all across the country. After I came back from Japan, I diversified into teaching Japanese concurrently with English at some very reputed management schools. I dabbled in some French language teaching very desultorily as well.

A friend was roping in large numbers of teachers and trainers for an assessment activity and I joined the crowd. That is where I interacted with a huge cross-section of ELT teachers and trainers, and was fascinated by the stories they were exchanging. This led to me thinking about revamping my technique, unlearning my previous teaching style, and taking a language teaching qualification.

The next step was a stint training a small bunch of teachers, and almost immediately after, a training program for the first in a series of large scale education projects. I got thrown in at the deep end, and learnt to swim the hard way.

3. What does teacher training involve and who do you generally train? 

Teacher training is a very broad term and doesn’t reflect the more complex parameters of the job.

If you look at it superficially, it means delivering modules or specific training materials over a specific period to a group of teachers. This could mean skilling them up in various aspects of language, or customising the course to meet their specific, pre-determined needs. The length could vary from two weeks to two years. This is just the top layer. If you peeled away the veneer, you would find that it involves many more levels of skills and empathy.

I train teachers across levels – primary, secondary, tertiary, of all ages. Though the bulk of my work is with the government sector, I am involved with other organisations and schools where I train smaller cohorts of teachers. I like to keep in touch with classroom teaching, so there are instances where I might take on an assignment to just teach children. This comes as a refreshing break from training.

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4. What do you enjoy most about working with government school teachers? 

Their enthusiasm and passion, and their humility. They are not jaded. When you see the conditions in which some of them work, they are truly heroes. They are strong on theories about learner centred teaching and can spout Chomsky and Vygotsky at you, but when they find that some techniques can actually be made to work in the classroom, and succeed, there is a child-like wonder and transparency in their response.

There is no gainsaying the fact that some, I would say about 40% of them, are cynical and are in the job just for the financial security it offers. It can get very discouraging while observing such teachers. Nevertheless, the majority are enthusiastic, and handle their students with passion, and sensitivity. Their reactions and responses can be startlingly acute and quite liberal.

The challenges these people face in their classroom environments may seem almost insurmountable when viewed through the lens of an urban educationist. There is no consistent electricity supply in most states, and not very good Internet connectivity. Sometimes, when introducing digital tools and resources, I can feel the resignation emanating from them as I speak. Their technical skills vary from being very competent to not having even an e-mail ID or access to a computer.

I remember some years ago, before smart phones came to rule our lives, how a group of teachers from the far reaches of a rural district formed a motorbike pool and would take turns every weekend travelling about seventy-five kilometres to the nearest town and a cyber parlour to access the internet. They informed me through their very first e-mail sent from that location!

I have a great regard for the Head Teachers I meet. They are really outstanding but embattled men and mostly women, who are beset with problems of every nature and yet manage to sail through the day with ease. They deftly manage teachers, students, irate parents, authorities, and the constant flow of visitors and observers and keep smiling.

I have learnt a lot from just watching them at work.

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5. What are the challenges of working in this context? 

The challenges are numerous, and as I have said earlier, are outweighed largely by the motivation demonstrated by a majority of the teachers.

The lack of motivation and cynicism displayed by the nay-sayers is a major challenge. One has to keep the energy level up, and get them all involved. There are inherent challenges of mindset and societal norms. We have to work around these with some discernment and not hurt their sensibilities. (Grouping, for example, can be a big hurdle).

Sometimes it takes a couple of days of training to make them even start to rethink their attitudes, beginning with just having to get up off their chairs and stand in a circle for a simple ice-breaking activity. Resistance to change is the greatest roadblock. Convincing them to implement change is the consequent roadblock.

Lack of infrastructure and facilities are a given almost everywhere, but each new situation just adds to the experience and learning. It ceases to be a challenge once you know how to innovate.

6. How would you rate training vis-à-vis teaching?

This could be a topic for a thesis. Anyway, just to talk through the bare bones of the comparison:

  • Well, they both require the same basic qualities of energy, passion, motivation and stamina, and of course intensive preparation. However, many trainers tend to blur the lines between training and teaching. They tend to deviate into teaching, while trying to exemplify concepts.
  • I think we need to remember, as trainers, that we are teaching adults who come with a set of fossilised practices which you are going to be enhancing, changing or challenging. Their schemata will have to be consolidated by practice in the training room.
  • A teacher clarifies content and concepts to the student. She doesn’t need to explain the principles behind her technique, as they are implicit.
  • A trainer has to deal with teachers who come with a bank of knowledge and experience. Hence the trainer needs to respect that knowledge, but at the same time consciously articulate the principles of the technique or concepts. The trainer’s task is therefore far more demanding. You become an agent of change and that sets you at a disadvantage to begin with.

7. What professional development advice would you offer to Indian education professionals who aspire to facilitate teacher training in state or institutional contexts? 

  • Read up on national and state level education policies and the curricula of various states.
  • Be familiar with their academic patterns.
  • Be prepared to feel frustrated and helpless.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be prepared to relearn your so-painstakingly acquired academic knowledge and adapt to totally different contexts.
  • All the theories will start making sense only after some gruelling days out in the sticks.

Be excited about what you do always and never lose sight of the ultimate outcome. Motivation is contagious. If you have it, you infect your learners.

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One of the little perks of doing teacher training on government projects is that you get to see unexplored parts of the country like these 2500 year old Jain Caves in the Samanar Hills, a stone’s throw from a venue that I trained at.

If you have questions for Meena, please put them into the comments section and I’ll pass them on to her. 

A task-based approach to reading | Module 3 Reflections

This is the third in a series of posts I’m writing to review and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This week’s materials analysed the application of insights from task-based learning to reading.

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(Intensive reading is) the type of reading that happens in class, directed by the teacher using a text that learners would be unlikely to read successfully without assistance.  Macalister (2014)

The course suggests that we do too much intensive reading and often unsuccessfully, solely focusing on the linguistic aspect. And that by doing so, we imply to the learners that we read to mine for language i.e., the sole purpose of reading is learning a language, ignoring the fact that reading could potentially be an enriching and engaging activity from a non-linguistic perspective.

Building on concepts in module 2,  5 principles were introduced for effective reading.

1. Reading is a communicative act

2. Reading must be fluent and fast

3. We need to reach some sort of authenticity of task

4. Different learning objectives require different tasks (reading to learn a language,        learning to read, reading to learn content)

5. We must take into account the reading that learners already do

It was suggested that these result in a set of implications for how we ought to plan and teach reading lessons. We need to

1. Choose interesting texts

2. Make learners want to read a text

3. Focus on meaning

4. Focus on reactions

5. Offer choices to the learners

6. Provide narrow reading

7. Use electronic sources

8. Present text and activities that learners can cope with

At first glance, these implications make sense – who’d disagree right? But, I continue to see a paradox (see my post from last week) in what the course is discussing from a pedagogical and theoretical perspective and what it’s recommending in terms of practical classroom approaches. Last week was all about agency and letting learners bring in their own texts but implication one seems to do away with that. Take a look at this:

So we really need to make sure that at least at the beginning of a course, or the beginning of a year, we choose texts that are interesting and relevant to our learners. From there, we can move to texts that we think our learners should be reading and which are about topics that have values in themselves

… so we can move to texts that *we think* our learners ought to be reading!? Wherefore art thou, agency?

While I feel this is somewhat incongruent with what they’ve been preaching, the others seem reasonable and perhaps even pedagogically sound. For instance, the rationale for number four is that we often wait until after long drawn and inane comprehension questions to ask learners to react to text, and only when we’re not running behind time when we subject the reaction stage to the old skiperoo. The course recommends that we focus on reactions immediately after learners read a text.

Apropos principle 5, I recently ran reading circles at a teacher training program where participants were offered a choice from a bank of curated articles and they had to develop consensus among themselves for which text they wanted to explore. I thought this was very empowering. These democratic reading circles were with a group of teachers; I’m not sure how well it would work with learners.

I found the idea of narrow reading, implication 6, quite interesting. In narrow reading, learners read a series of texts on the same topic. As they go from text 1 to 2 to 3, they spend less trying to understand its content (because they’ve already done that in text 1) and can do a more nuanced reading and focus on how they might feel towards it. The course rationalised this by stating:

Outside the classroom we do this all the time by choosing what we read or following a news story over a few days. Or we have our own interests and we often read about a particular topic.

It was also suggested that narrow reading facilitates the learning of language because the learners don’t need to focus so much on meaning so there’s allegedly more incidental learning of grammar and vocabulary. Implication 8 is critical because apparently a reader requires knowledge of between 95-98% of the words in a text to achieve comprehension (not sure where they got these stats from) and that we ought to rein in our tendency to include or replace words to bring in our target language because it can be very frustrating for learners.

Intriguingly the course presented research that urged greater authenticity in task design but also suggested cases for avoiding it because some inauthentic tasks such as reading aloud, and re-reading multiple times have been found to be effective.

Subsequently there was a discussion about how the stages of a reading lesson (pre, while and post) seem to deceptively mirror a task-based learning sequence. However, there is usually no real life task, and if there is one there may still be multiple issues. The comprehension questions may focus on meaning but in a decontextualised way. There may be no communicative problem to solve and there is rarely a non-linguistic outcome.

Nevertheless, the course proposes that it;s possible to adapt a conventional reading sequence for TBL, illustrating this through an example from Reading Links by Marion Geddes and Gill Sturtridge.

The ultimate task which the learners have is to design a flag for an imaginary new nation … The initial groups receive different texts with different information about this new nation, its history, its geography, its people, and customs … Once they have read and reached an understanding of their text, new groups are formed with one person from each of the original groups. And the task is now to design a flag that will represent this new nation, based on the information from the different groups.

It’s a task/problem I suppose and a seemingly engaging one but how authentic is it? I dunno.

This week’s assignment involved constructing a jigsaw reading task where learners works in groups of three to read three different tasks on the same topic. I cheated a wee bit because I couldn’t find three texts on the same topic at a similar language level so I conveniently retrofitted my target learners to the text. A lot of the assignments I peer assessed stuck to largely conventional reading approaches and I questioned the authenticity of the task that their activities culminated in.

I am still waiting for a shift in focus from the status quo in terms how we deal with reading to a more thorough examination of how reading would work as a task-based strategy. Hope to see that in next week’s materials.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 2 Reflections

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This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing to consolidate and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This module’s content explored reading as a cognitive, communicative and strategic activity as well as looking into areas such as background knowledge and promoting reading fluency. The lead-in was an interesting online activity which asked course participants to post a picture of something we had read on that day or the day before in L1 or L2, on a Padlet wall. See if you can spot mine – it’s towards the bottom.

Reading as a cognitive activity

My own definition of reading was the ability to parse letters as words, phrases and sentences and interpret meaning from them. The course defined the core meaning of reading as “the activity by which we interpret language messages in written or printed form.” It was suggested that readers need to able to decode words and comprehend the connection between them and that the relationship between decoding and comprehension was not additive but dependent, i.e., strong decoding skills can’t compensate for weak comprehension skills or vice versa.

We read text through a sequence of eye movements that involve fixations and sacchades. The eye is still in a fixation and information is extracted. During a sacchade, the eyes move to the next point of fixation.

We can only extract information from the page while the eye is fixated. And we can only identify with certainty and clarity about seven to nine characters. This is because of the way in which the eye is structured and the structure of the retina, the part of the eye that receives this visual information … The average fixation time varies from reader to reader and from text to text. Some researchers suggest that it is about 200 to 270 milliseconds, although more recent estimates suggest that it is maybe 300 to 330 milliseconds … This means that we read at the rate of about 180 to 240 words per minute. So reading is a rapid process and it also needs to be an efficient process. During these very short fixations, there is a lot of work that our brain needs to accomplish.
Consequently, reading in L2 can be challenging because the nature of reading requires the process to be fast and fluent, with some automaticity in decoding text, “to leave cognitive capacity for comprehension.”
This point is conceptually explained here and here.

Reading as a communicative activity

While I focused on how reading provides the input for communication, in hindsight I realized that my thinking was constrained by the classroom. The course was more interested in how reading operates, to use the popular social media short form, IRL.

They suggest that reading as a process within and outside the classroom are very different. In the real world, the reader determines what he or she reads for the most part. They also get to decide the purpose for reading. We may also process the text in a very non-linear way, skipping, stopping and/or revisiting sections. Post-reading, there may or may not be a follow-up. We may frequently decide to do nothing after reading a text. If we do decide to respond, this response is usually in a spoken format and we often have conversations with people who may not have read the text, in which case we may present a short summary. For example, you read a news article and comment on it to your partner who hasn’t read the article. The follow-up may also be an action such as instructions for taking medicine, following a recipe, or responding to an email or text message.

The situation is completely inverted in the language classroom. While reading in real life is marked by a strong sense of agency on the part of the reader, reading in the language classroom is characterised by a loss of it. While students may be expected to do an initial reading to get a sense of the text, the principal objective is to “dissect it linguistically.” This is referred to by Tim Johns and Flo Davies as the text as a linguistic object (TALO).

The process of reading in the classroom is also highly linear. Students are required to read the entire text. They are not allowed to stop or skip. Skimming and scanning almost always prepare the way for a more detailed reading. We have been indoctrinated to believe that the extension task that follows is sacrosanct because we must the skill into production. Where follow-up is mandatory in the classroom, things are not so rigid in the real world.

Reading as a strategic activity

The strategies I teach are really the usual suspects: pre-reading, skimming, scanning, intensive reading, and critical reading, mostly in a highly stylised sequence which I haven’t actively questioned.

Reading skills are “information processing techniques that are automatic, whether at the level of recognizing grapheme-phoneme correspondence or summarizing a story.”

Reading strategies are “actions selected deliberately to achieve particular goals.”

 Paris, Wasik & Turner (1991)

The course suggested that skimming, scanning and guessing words from context were the most common strategies used by course books but that they present an incomplete picture of reading. Unlike some ELT colleagues who are skeptical about the value of skimming and scanning, the course doesn’t downplay their importance but proposes their utility is in very specific contexts.
They also implied that guessing meaning from words is treated too simplistically in the language classroom, suggesting that it’s a far more complex process dependent on multiple factors. They evidenced this using research from Margot Haines who found that readers were able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words more accurately “if the clues for the meaning were local, near the unknown words.” Research by Paul Nation proposed that the frequency of the unfamiliar word in the text, the proximity of the occurrences to each other, the number of clues, the density of other unknown words, familiarity of content, among other factors all contributed to the ability of the reader to guess meaning from context.
Grabe’s 14 strategies were introduced as a richer range of processing techniques with the caveat that they may not be as specific or well-defined as the ones we are familiar with in terms of classroom procedure.
Strategies used by engaged readers

1. Reading selectively according to goals

2. Reading carefully in key places

3. Re-reading as appropriate

4. Monitoring reading continuously, being aware of whether or not they are comprehending the text.

5. Identifying important information

6. Trying to fill in the gaps in the text (through inference & prior knowledge)

7. Making guesses about unknown words

8. Using text structure information to guide understanding

9. Making inferences about the author, key information, and main ideas

10. Attempting to integrate ideas from different parts of the text

11. Building interpretations of the text as they read

12. Building main-idea summaries

13. Evaluating the text and the author and as a result forming feelings about the text

14. Attempting to resolve difficulties

Grabe (2009)

This section was concluded with the disclaimer that effective readers don’t use strategies in isolation, as they are often encouraged to do in the classroom. “Instead, they use multiple strategies in a flexible manner, choosing from their repertoire of strategies to make sense of the text according to the purpose of their reading.”

The role of background knowledge

A lot of the approaches discussed so far have been bottom-up but we have to acknowledge the role of compensatory processes as well. If you have some degree of familiarity with the topic, you may be able to compensate for a lack of linguistic knowledge
In this respect, schema are claimed to help readers in the comprehension, retention and inferencing of texts. Schema are

Previously acquired knowledge structures. Carrell and Eisterhold (1988)

Related sets of knowledge linked together in an established frame.  Grabe (2009)

Background knowledge could take the form of:

  • general knowledge of the world
  • topical knowledge
  • cultural knowledge
  • specialist expertise knowledge

However, background knowledge can also cause interference. This was attested to referencing a study where American and Indian test subjects were asked to read two letters, one about an American wedding and an Indian wedding. The readers misunderstood, mis-remembered or forgot facts and details from the wedding whose cultural context they were unfamiliar with.

Background knowledge interacts with other areas such as language proficiency, motivation and purpose to enable the reader to process texts more effectively. However, the significance of background knowledge is currently underplayed among researchers but the course seemed to suggest that we ought to be paying it more attention. In easing learners into a text, we often focus on linguistic scaffolding through the pre-teaching of vocabulary. However, preparing learners to face unfamiliar topics is done minimally through brief pre-reading discussions.

Automaticity and word recognition

The module started off by suggesting that automaticity is critical for effective reading and concluded by focusing on some research in this area. Akamatsu (2008) conducted a study in which she presented participants with word strings, each containing 5 words with no spaces:

sunbendgivebearpen

shallsattheeatclaimhome

snakepastwellshiftnone

In each training session, participants were exposed to 150 words or 30 strings and they had 90 seconds to recognize individual words. There were seven sessions over seven weeks with one session a week and students were able to improve their word recognition ability significantly.

Greta Gorsuch and Etsuo Taguchi focused on the effectiveness of repeated reading in their research. Participants were asked to read a section of a short story while timing themselves. They then reread the same section two more times while listening it to be read aloud. They then read the section silently two more times, once again timing themselves. Lastly, they wrote a brief report on the text they’d read.

This week’s assignment sought four specific actions for improving reading at your institution based on this week’s material. Here’s my submission:

————————————-
A lot of the concerns with reading as it is currently taught and conducted, are issues that I am familiar with and have discussed and debated with peers. While I acknowledge the problems with the linear, stylised way in which we treat reading activities, I continue to use the often seemingly mindless sequence of prediction, gist reading, specific reading and extension task. Why? I’m not really sure but I suppose it’s all boils down to what’s practical. Of course, I want my learners to read things that they select for themselves. But that sort of Dogme-style approach doesn’t always work out IRL! Only 4 out of 10 will bring in a text and of the four at least one might be inappropriate for whatever reason. And what about the fact that not all learners want to bring in texts. Providing choice in how learners to process a text sounds great conceptually but in practice may lead to readers who lose attention and might not get the maximum value from the lesson.


Paradoxically, the assignments that I peer-assessed prescribed actions from the standard ELT guide to reading … from now on, at my school, I will do a prediction exercise, then make my students skim the text, then scan … You see this where this is going. It felt like we were on different courses. I suspect this might be because a plurality of language teachers use an even more traditional approach to reading such as the one that’s prevalent in Indian schools: one student reads aloud while others follow along with their finger (the finger is very important). Then, students work individually to answer comprehension questions. If this constitutes a reading lesson, a more conventional ELT approach is perhaps quite innovative. However, the course seems to be suggesting something completely radical. It remains to be seen if this theoretical direction will be translated into realistic task types in the upcoming modules.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 1 Reflections

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It’s the beginning of the second week on this Coursera MOOC offered by the University of London and I’m already slightly embarrassed at the gaps in my knowledge. Here are some latent assumptions I discovered I’d been carrying around. I …

  • associated TBA with group work
  • used TBA primarily for speaking or writing-based outcomes
  • referred to activities and tasks interchangeably as if they were the same thing.

I do know the distinction between tasks and activities and was able to identify it accurately in one of the reflection exercise (before they displayed the answer, I swear!) When I introspected, I realized that it might have something to do with the connotations of the words – activity & task- and how I presuppose my clients perceive them. I suspect they see activity as a filler, something frivolous and fun, that provides relief from learning rather than facilitating it. Task seems to have so much more gravitas.

Technically tasks are a type of activity that facilitate learning linked to core outcomes. So, what exactly makes a second language activity a pedagogic task?

Traditional classroom activities often involve decontexualized language use and often focus on a particular aspect of language such as grammar or vocabulary (Skehan, 1996)

In contrast, pedagogic tasks are characterised by four features.

  • meaning is primary
  • there is some communicative problem to solve
  • there is some sort of relationship with real-world activities
  • the assessment of task is in terms of a task outcome

With pedagogic tasks, our primary focus is on whether the communicative purpose has been achieved, not the quality of the language. For example, describing an illness to a doctor, telling a story based on pictures, listening to an academic lecturer, or writing a cover letter for a job application. The course facilitators suggest that we often incorrectly believe that tasks can only be used for oral outcomes and that in reality, tasks can cover all four skills.

Many typical classroom activities can be somewhat deceptive because they seem communicative and task-like on the surface. For example, a ‘you say, your partner says’ type template for having a conversation is not a task according to Rod Ellis because learners are only required to identify appropriate language to convey meaning which is already provided in the exercise. This activity doesn’t lead to a non-linguistic outcome and the focus is on grammar instead of meaning. There is also no communicative problem to solve.

However, exercises with purely linguistic outcomes could be adapted to incorporate the affordances of pedagogic tasks. The course illustrated this through the example of a restaurant role play using a menu. The existing activity gets Ss to use a structured dialogue to order some food. The only choice they have in the activity is the food they order. If there was no task input by way of dialogue and learners had to work with some constraints such as a limited budget or allergies, we may have the frame for a task where the emphasis is on meaning and problem solving. The language used during the task may then mirror an authentic conversation.  Another example of tweaking a communicative activity to make it more akin to a task is to ask Ss to prepare a summary of findings after a ‘find someone who’ activity in the form of a graph or a report. The course facilitator suggested that although this activity is partly focused on meaning, in execution, Ss tend to focus on the form – past perfect or question forms instead of engaging in real conversation.

Types of tasks 

I could only recall three types of tasks that I generally use: guided discovery tasks, structured sharing tasks, and application tasks – and I’m not even sure if the first two are technically tasks. The course, however, presented many, many more. They come in pairs and I’ve summarised them in this table:

Target tasks are those that people do in the real world e.g., writing an executive summary if you’re a business professional. Pedagogic tasks are graded versions of target tasks that language learners work on in a lesson e.g., filling out only the personal details section of a job application form (complete a target task with pedagogic objective).
One way tasks are those where one participant has all the information to be conveyed.

This individual does most of the talking or writing, e.g.,, one S talks to the other S where to place some items on a floor plan, as if instructing someone from a moving company

Two-way tasks require all the participants to participate equally for the communicative problem to be solved e.g., a spot the difference task.
Open tasks have no predetermined outcome that the Ss need to achieve e.g., Ss take random pictures and form a story sequence. Closed tasks require Ss need to reach a predetermined solution which is often the correct answer e.g., an objective ranking exercise.
Convergent tasks get Ss to to reach consensus about the task outcome e.g., how to allocate funding to community projects. Divergent tasks don’t require Ss to agree about the task solution e.g., learners discuss pros and cons of issues such as ways of tacking pollution.
Unfocused tasks do not have a predetermined language focus. Focused tasks are constructed to induce the use of particular linguistic constructions e.g., in a spot the difference exercises, Ss ask each other questions.
Input-based tasks do not require production. Learners are expected to primarily engage in listening and reading during task work e.g., listening to an airport announcement and reading for a project. Output based tasks require Ss to produce language, that is, to engage in either speaking or writing.

It seemed as if most of these distinctions were sourced from Rod Ellis. Although I wasn’t familiar with the nomenclature, I use all of these tasks types regularly except open and one-way tasks which I use very rarely. The focus of this MOOC is, as the name suggests, on input-based tasks.

I did find the repeated references to spot the difference and story sequencing activities odd. I don’t see how they mirror real world tasks or indeed fulfill the four part criteria that was shared early on in this module.

What role do tasks play in your teaching?

Tasks play a significant role in my curriculum design. I tend to build my lessons around tasks rather than content items. My approach is influenced by an elearning design methodology called Action Mapping by Cathy Moore which essentially involves visualizing the tasks (although Moore refers to them as activities) that would enable the learner to accomplish the course’s objectives. I then think about how I might want to scaffold the experience which I might attempt by designing and incorporating relevant activities.

The course suggests two approaches to how tasks could influence curriculum design.

In task-based syllabi, the basis of this syllabus is not linguistic constructions … it’s predominantly pedagogic tasks that drive syllabus design. In traditional language teaching, course content is usually specified in terms of linguistic items such as grammar, vocabulary, and functions. A grammatical syllabus for example, might be defined in terms of constructions, such as the present simple, present progressive, and so on.(In task-supported syllabi), tasks play a key role but are not the primary basis for organization. The syllabus may be guided by other elements such as grammar, functions, or lexis. The assessment is not or not entirely defined in terms of tasks.

How do you typically structure a task-based sequence?

I usually have some kind of exercise that activates topic schemata along with a model for how the task could potentially be carried out either in the form of a written or listening text or a video or a demonstration. Learners then carry out the task in a pairs and groups and report back through whole class feedback. Language work or skill-based feedback happens as a post-task stage.

The course in turn presents a fairly conventional Ellisian approach to a task-based sequence:

  • Pre-task stage: activities that enable the Ss to focus on both language and content. This could included language focused activities that introduce new language or recycle exisiting linguistic resource. They could also be content-focused activities which engage learners with the topic of the task. They could do this by rehearsing the same or similar task or observing the performance of a parallel task. The T might allow for planning time and might frame the task by explaining procedure, outcome or by providing background knowledge. The T could also introduce or mobilize task share event language (a fancy term for pre-teaching useful vocabulary).
  • During-task phase: Ss perform the task. The T could adopt a passive or active role.
  • Post-task phase: Ss repeat the task before their peers which might compel them to use a more formal register and more complex structures. Ss could also also be asked to report back to the class about their task outcome. The T may also choose to engage Ss in explicit language focus activities which are referred to as ‘focus on form’ activities by Michael Long. These could potentially target linguistic features that Ss found challenging.

Interestingly, Peter Skehan and Pauline Foster’s research suggests that informing students of such a post-task requirement prior to the performance of the task could induce more attention to form in the during-task phase.

The assignment from this week was to produce an information sheet on tasks and their benefits. Here’s mine:

Lastly, I’m really to happy to see that the course is presented (and perhaps also moderated) by NNESTs and quite impressed with the course overall. Thank you Sandy Millin for recommending it!

The course recommends the following sources for additional reading:

  • Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language teaching and learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Long, M. (2015). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Samuda, V., & Bygate, M. (2008). Tasks in second language learning. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., & Norris, J. M. (Eds.) (2009). Task-based language teaching: A reader.Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Post-CELTA Development (PCD) | A primer for Indian ELT professionals

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When I do demo lessons at my local CELTA in Bombay, I frequently get questions from the trainee teachers about what they should be doing next. I usually tell them to wait for the last session on CPD where they might be given a handout with the deliciously cruel subtitle ‘glutton for punishment’ like I was. Nevertheless, some reach out to me later with more questions about what they ought be doing next. I suspect some of the confusion and anxiety is down to what’s perceived to be a lack of options for formal professional development in India beyond more traditional modes such as doing a Masters in Education or English.

I know how cost conscious my peers are in India. Those prices sure are scary when you convert them into rupees. I have a legend (₹₹₹₹₹) next to each category to give you a really rough idea of how much your aspirations might set you back by.

1. Trinity Cert IBET  ₹₹₹₹₹

Let’s face it, you basically have two choices in India: join a school, or work at a corporate. If you are interested in teaching Business English or ESP and have zero corporate experience, you might want to explore the Certificate in International Business English training. The good news is that it’s offered online and so you can complete it from the comfort of your cozy Indian home. The Consultants-E offer a bonifide online version. International House offer their own version of the Certificate in Teaching Business English (also online) which is cheaper but not endorsed by Trinity (but is moderated by Cambridge Language Assessment- ahh the lovely simple world of ELT qualifications). Pearson have a First Certificate for Teachers of Business English but there isn’t much information available on their site. Oxford TEFL also have a more reasonably priced online version but it isn’t accredited by any body.

2. Certificate in eModerating ₹₹₹

Perhaps you love that cozy home of yours so much so that you never want to leave, even for teaching lessons. If that’s the case, you might want to acquire skills that help you teach online through asynchronous platforms like Moodle and synchronous virtual ones like Adobe Connect. The Consultants-E offer a four week course and International House has a five week version. The Consultants-E also offer a course which focuses solely on virtual synchronous training called Teaching Live Online. The British Council offer a version as well which I’ve incidentally completed (you’ll find my reflections here).

3. Certificate in teaching young learners (YLs) ₹₹₹

International House offer an online version. Cambridge used to offer a two week long YL extension to the CELTA but I believe it’s no longer available. NILE also offer an online version. Trinity offer their own f2f version at a range of accredited centres in the following locations: China, Czech Republic, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Uruguay, United Kingdom, Vietnam. Oxford TEFL offer an online version.

4. Certificate in ICT ₹₹₹₹₹

Don’t know what ICT is?! Well, you’d better enroll for this nine week long online course offered by the Consultants-E, endorsed by Trinity.

5. Certificate in Advanced Methodology ₹₹₹₹

You sought Friereian pedagogy at the CELTA but instead got ‘find someone who’. Perhaps these ostensibly ‘advanced’ courses (Advanced Methodology & Advanced Methodology for Teachers of Modern Language) are up your alley. Both are online and uniformly expensive.

6. Certificate in teaching one to one ₹₹₹₹

You gotta hand it to International house – they have a course for everything including what in India is sometimes unfortunately called personal tuitions. 

7. Certificate in Teacher Training ₹₹₹₹

Were you one of those Celtees, who during your breaks, between mouthfuls of samosas and cup fulls of masala chai proclaimed how much better you were than one of the course tutors or at least thought it. Consider pursuing your delusions with International House’s Teacher Training certificate. NILE also offer a course in trainer development.

8. Cambridge DELTA  ₹₹₹₹₹₹

The DELTA isn’t offered in India yet (at least not all of it) although there are unconfirmed rumours that this might change in the near future. The DELTA is modular (module 1 is an exam, 2 involves teaching practice and 3 is an extended assignment). You can take them in any order, full time or part-time. Here are your options if you’re in India:

  1. You can do Module 1 through the British Council India. It’s not listed on the site but you can write them a message here. Bear in mind that the fee you’ll pay will only get you a proctored exam and nothing else. You’ll have to do the prep yourself. Alternatively you could purchase support online with the Module 1 prep course from International House.
  2. The Distance Delta (between 9 and 15 months in duration) is offered by International House London and the British Council. You can do module 1, 3 and apparently a part of 2 remotely but the actual teaching practice will need to take place at International House London or one of their other centres. I recall seeing Kuala Lumpur at one stage but I don’t see any locations listed now.
  3. Travel abroad to do the intensive Delta (roughly two months). You could go to one of the International House centres in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Hungary, or Turkey  (all places Indian ELT professionals have trekked to in quest of PCD). You could also explore CELT Athens which is managed by Marisa Constantinides (a real live energizer bunny) – a colleague recently did a 6 month distance version with module 2 in Athens and found it a fruitful experience (see comments for more details).

9. Trinity DipTESOL ₹₹₹₹₹₹

Trinity’s answer to the Cambridge DELTA isn’t very well known. It’s a four unit course that’s offered as an f2f or blended program at accredited centres. Oxford TEFL offer a blended version with the f2f component taking place in Prague, Kerala, Cadiz and Barcelona for the 2017 intake. Since they do offer an Indian location, the DipTESOL may be worth exploring. You may want to read this article from Pete about perceptions of this poorly understood qualification and listen to this podcast from the TEFL Show. Trinity also offer a  Fellowship Diploma in TESOL Education Studies.

10. NILE online courses ₹₹₹₹

The Norwich Institute of Language Education offers a whole host of 8 week long online courses on specific topics like Academic English.

11. International Teacher Development Institute ₹₹

These guys are brilliant and they offer month long courses almost every other month. The courses are facilitated by thought leaders in our profession.

12. Coursera free or ₹

Check this MOOC platform’s list of language learning and teaching courses regularly. You might find some gems. The courses are all free but you can pay a nominal fee and get a certificate from the university or institution that’s teaching the course. You could also check out FutureLearn and Canvas (lots of advanced stuff for teaching professionals) which work on a similar principle of paying for a certificate.

13. Teach Now program

I’m not too familiar with this nine month online course but it appears to be an international program offered through a local provider – The Teacher Foundation – as an alternative to a B.Ed to help candidate prepare to teach in the K12 environment. You’ll apparently be able to give tests in India that’ll qualify you for American teaching licenses.

14. British Council teacher training courses ₹₹

The British Council India offer five online moderated courses and two face to face workshops. I’m not entirely sure if individuals can nominate themselves for these courses because it says your school or institution all over the registration from. You’ll find information on the Certificate in Primary English Language Teaching (CiPELT), Certificate in Secondary English Language Teaching (CiSELT), Content & Language Integrated Learning Essentials (CLIL), Learning Technologies, Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) Essentials, and workshop on resources here. The British Council Teaching Centre in Chennai offers a three day Business English Teacher Training workshop with a focus on the Cambridge BEC.

15. Post-Graduate Diploma in Teaching English ₹₹

This course is offered by the English & Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad. It’s a distance course and doesn’t look all that exciting, sadly like many teaching qualifications offered by Indian institutions. I’m including it in my list as the token Indian rep.

If you reckon this is all child’s play, stay tuned for my post on affordable distance and online Masters programs.

Do leave a comment if there any other courses which are either online or face to face but easily accessible and affordable for Indian ELT professionals that I can add to my list.

And finally, some sound advice from Amy Lightfoot.

Courses and formal qualifications are just the tip of the iceberg. Informal development activities can sometimes be even more productive and enriching than the ones listed in this post.

Reading skills for the selfie generation | Webinar summary

This OUP webinar was facilitated by Thomas Healy. He suggests that the reading skills required by the selfie generation are different than what we traditionally identify as important attributes.  He envisions this dichotomy in this way:

20th century learners  >>>> Selfie generation

Text >>>> Picture, sound, video

Single task >>>> Multi-tasking

Independent &  individual >>>> Interactive, networked

The physical world >>>> The digital world

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It’s not just millenials who are selfie-obsessed. Here are some of my enthusiastic participants from a recent teacher training program. I quite dislike selfies and am grateful this one has come out a bit blurry.

Healy asserts that this presents a double challenge for our teaching because Ss are required to read both traditional print and digital text. Some of the other challenges he identified include skimming, scanning and all the other traditional skills in a digital environment, dealing with proximity issues (scrolling to find information as opposed to having it within frames in print), dealing with ‘rabbit hole’ issues (getting distracted by hyperlinks and wandering away from the text), and dealing with cognitive load.

He proposes interactive PDFs as a solution. Have you ever filled a PDF form before?  PDF forms are a type of interactive PDF. An interactive PDF allows users to do more than just read information; there might be hyperlinks, embedded audio or video clips, and text boxes to type information. When I was with Deloitte, there was a top down imperative to reduce the number of handouts used for courses and since all the employees had laptops, we created interactive PDFs. The rationale was to save paper rather than address the needs and affordances of millenials. Although there was WiFi everywhere, my colleagues and I were a little skeptical of creating activities that would have the Ss wander away from the PDF … they certainly didn’t need encouragement to multitask.

Digital reading activities 

Here are some of the ideas Healy shared for creating an engaging interactive PDF:

  • Hyperlink pictures within the text to existing YouTube videos and ask Ss to watch the video and answer questions.
  • Hyperlink to a private Facebook group and ask Ss to do a discussion activity there, for example, share some ideas about a topic. Ss are then required to report back in the interactive PDF by answering a question such as “Which of your classmates’ ideas do you agree with? Write them in the box below.”
  • Include text boxes within the PDF. Ss don’t have to write in their notebooks or in MS Word. Their responses are captured in a single PDF document which they could save and share with you.
  • Use screen capture tools like Camtasia to annotate text. Record yourself visually demonstrating to Ss the process of reading a text. Use different colours to highlight the different pieces of information a reader would typically look for and find. Upload the  instructional video to Youtube and create a link in the interactive handout. Ss watch the instruction video before they attempt the same process for the text in the PDF. I thought this was a particularly interesting idea – ties in with the popularity of ‘how to’ and encourages learner autonomy
  • Highlight structural or lexical elements in the text which could help Ss identify information such as using conjunctive adverbs or conjunctions – in contrast – to recognize contrast. This could be done through an instructional video using a screen capture tool or more simply, using an annotated image of the text.
  • Annotate to demonstrate scanning; for example, show Ss how they can quickly look for proper nouns, dates, and italics.
  • Give Ss a number of sources (URLs) on Facebook as a sort of webquest activity and ask them identify the source that would be appropriate for academic research. Ss must also explain why.
  • Share signposts such as words like ‘however’, ‘yet’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘whereas’ and punctuation marks like ‘?’ and ask Ss to use the search tool within the PDF to find information these signposts might be connected to. I thought this was a very relevant technique which genuinely considers the affordances of the digital medium.

Digital tools

Healy recommends Adobe Acrobat Pro for creating interactive PDFs and Camtasia Camtasia for making instructional videos. They’re both paid software but you can try out them for the first month for free.

Here are some free tools for creating interactive PDFs:

Copyright issues

As I was watching the webinar recording, I kept thinking about copyright issues which Healy addressed just before he concluded. Obviously, a lot of his suggestions for working with digital texts and media can only be executed if you own the copyright or if the text is in the public domain or you’ve got permission from the copyright holder.

Embedding video 

While Healy suggested adding YouTube links, I would recommend embedding the video within the PDF in order to limit reliance on external links. This shouldn’t be a problem if it’s an instructional video that you created – it’s quite easy to embed the video using Adobe Pro. The file size bloat a bit but then there are so many ways to share files these days so I don’t see that being a problem.

Have you used these or similar ideas for enhancing digital reading skills? Do you create interactive PDFs? What’s been the learner experience?