Tag: reflections

Empowering teachers through CPD | IATEFL 2017 Plenary summary

Maggioli IATEFL

The full title of this talk is ‘Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises’. The speaker, Gabriel Diaz Maggioli is from Uruguay and delivered this year’s opening plenary. 

Maggioli kicked off his talk with a quote from Dennis Sparks about professional development lacking focus/effectiveness which I suspect comes from Designing Powerful Professional Development for Teachers and Principals. He stated that he wanted to probe what had been going on in CPD in the last 20 years. He felt professional development was oscillating between individual development and the institutional development which is more about advancing the community. He perceived the former as piecemeal and the latter as more systemic. He went on to suggest that top down reforms usually don’t involve the teachers who need to be ‘fixed’ (he used this odd word often, perhaps on purpose) and as a result are not successful and that a better way to think about development and change is a learning community which is a group of individuals who come together because they have some mutual interests.

Maggioli described two diametrically different roles for teachers within professional development programmes: the teacher as a technician who just implements policy and the teacher as a transformative intellectual who propels the development of learning communities. He argued that professional development that was effective drew on targeted professional expertise (based on teacher needs), adopted structured peer support, and provided opportunities for reflecting on why something worked or didn’t work. For these reasons, professional development, he suggested, ought to be done in-house.

Professional development is inquiry oriented learning sustained over time. It requires the the use of tools and protocols that help create coherence, sustain learning and make evidence collection manageable. My favourite quotable quote was when Maggioli suggested that professional development should be done WITH teachers not TO teachers. In his own research, he discovered that teachers listed surfing the web to find ideas and free webinars as their top two professional development channels.  From the institutional perspective, there was only mandated INSETT in the list of responses but these weren’t focused on teacher needs and were often disconnected from the reality of the classroom. Respondents described INSETT as having the following faults: no follow up, too much talking very little doing, too short, a low level, and a lack of access to resources to apply this learning.

Maggioli portrayed traditional professional development as untimely and not tailored to the career stages of teachers because teachers are seen as having to perform a function which explains the manufacturing-style one size fits all approach. He spoke about he doesn’t perceive career stages as a continuum but a loop and that every time we move into a new role or context, we kick-start the loop again. He suggested that teachers need time, resources and support and that any kind of CPD in the absence of these three things was futile.

He then shared some approaches to CPD.

  • Mirror coaching – Teacher-initiated; a peer takes notes during your lesson. You are accessing your own behaviour from someone else’s eyes. Maggioli stated that this wasn’t the same as watching a recording.
  • Co-teaching: You and your co-teacher model behaviours and learn from each other. expert coach – not from  deficit perspective (easier said than done).
  • Expert coaching: The teacher is coached by someone who is acknowledged as an expert in the area that they’re getting feedback on.
  • Study group: A teacher shares something she did in class with her peers. They then ask her questions which records. The group then goes on a coffee break during which time the teacher prepares to answer questions which is what happens when everyone comes back from the break.
  • Collaborative action research: groups of teachers who plan and implement interventions.
  • Exploratory action research
  • Lesson study: This technique apparently comes from Japan.
  • Learning circles: Ad hoc professional development meetings that follow a structured process.

Learning cirlces

  • Mentoring
  • Professional portfolio

These activities sit within a simple but interesting framework for raising teacher awareness and also identifying those within the learning community who can share, coach and/or mentor:

Maggioli finally ended by exhorting the audience to commit to some actions:

While I don’t think there was anything new or revolutionary in what Maggioli was suggesting, it is I suppose food for thought given how often we talk about CPD, extol CPD frameworks and construct CPD plans. To what extent are these frameworks and activities effective and do they adopt a deficit approach to development?

Dennis Sparks’ book is available as a free download for educators from this link.


Go wide & then narrow | Reflections on life, career & the future

Go wide and then narrow.jpg

Go wide and then narrow. 

I know I’ve been a wee bit quiet for a while.  Mark Armstrong was perhaps a little hasty in suggesting I was hyper-prolific.  I’ve had so very much on my plate since the beginning of the year. I came back from a holiday in Cambodia to an insane amount of work. Because I work across so many contexts, projects, and organisations, I was spread very thin; to the point of losing my sanity. I suddenly realised how stupid I’d been. I wasted years at university studying economics instead of linguistics because I’d thought I would need a career that would get me job. And here I was doing a rinse and repeat. I was delivering corporate training that I didn’t enjoy. I suddenly found myself teaching things that made no sense to me (some faff called team dynamics and some other crud about leadership). I was being bullied by the organisations I worked with. And yes it all paid really well but money as you well know isn’t everything.

The breadth of activities was useful in giving me insight into the bigger picture and making my approach more multi-disciplinary. However, ELT is where I want to be. It may seem narrow but this is the field I find most fulfilling.

Go shallow and then deep 

Regardless of what folks might say about ELT practices not being backed by adequate research, this is, in my opinion, perhaps the only field in the wide spectrum of learning-related disciplines that actually attempts to base its practices on research and tries to (truly) consider the learner experience. If you’re cynical about ELT, you ought to see the crud that passes for learning in corporate contexts. I can barely hide my sneer when I see the words ‘centre of excellence’ on a business card. An overwhelming majority of what’s on offer is thoroughly underwhelming: the latest digital learning (crappy presentations converted into elearning), on-the-go mobile learning (same crappy presentations in a mobile format), and engaging instructor-led training (crappy presentations being talked through by a Charlie who ought to have his lips sown).

Although I have worked across different ELT contexts (General English, Business English, ESP, EAP and teacher training), I feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface. I haven’t done any formal study since my DELTA three years ago. Teacher training and materials writing are areas I want to explore more deeply.  Young learners and refugees are contexts I want to work in. I’d also like to get more involved with professional associations and other ELT collectives and churn out some papers and maybe even an ebook or two. In other words, I gotta dig deeper.

I’ve recently been approved to train CELTA courses as an Assistant Tutor, a move that will help me consolidate my portfolio of activities and facilitate the depth that I’m looking for.

Go fast and then slow

This past year has been frantic. I’ve been spread so thin that I’ve hardly had any time for myself, let alone for people I enjoy spending time with. I didn’t go the theatre, barely got any exercise, didn’t go trekking during the monsoon, didn’t participate in eclectic workshops, didn’t read as much, didn’t learn any new languages, didn’t meet new people … and the list goes on. I even spent my birthday writing training materials, albeit at a beautiful beach side hotel in Goa.

When I quit a full time job, I thought I’d have more time, not less, to do the things I love. It turns out that freelancing, especially when you have niche skills in a market full of people with generic offerings, is just a volley of clients and institutions putting pressure on you to over-commit. As a result, you end up in the perpetual fast lane and half the time you don’t know if you’re coming or going.

I just have a couple more contractual obligations to complete and then I’m taking the first exit. I’m really looking forward to 2017-18 which is going to be filled with meaningful projects, and at least half as much time with family, friends and doing things other than work.

Whereabouts are you now? Are you going wide, shallow and fast? What will it take for you to go narrow, deep and slow?

Image attribution: Dive! | Robbie Sproule | Flickr | CC by 2.0

My very first plenary presentation | Reflections


Last week I co-presented a talk with a colleague at the Learning for a Sustainable Future – Teacher Conference in Delhi. It was my very first plenary presentation and there were hundreds of attendees. We were presenting our initial findings from piloting a new assessment approach (with behaviour libraries within a smartphone app) in a project we are working on in the south of India.

Here are some quick reflections with presenting to a large audience in this format for the first time.

WWW (What went well)

  • We went after someone who did a fairly high-level talk on the assessment approach  we were piloting. This really helped our presentation because many of the attendees came to me later and said that it wasn’t till they heard our experiences from the field that it all made sense to them.
  • We incorporated a task for the teachers to try their hand at crafting their own criteria, which helped make the session a bit more engaging.
  • We’d done a shorter version of the same presentation for a group of policymakers the previous day which helped us anticipate questions.
  • We constructed our presentation in a way that was of value to both teachers who are familiar with approaches to assessing non-academic skills as well as those who were completely new to the topic.

EBI (Even better if) 

  • We made it less impersonal. I reckon we kept it a bit business-like. We could have throw in some humour and perhaps taken advantage of the fact there were two of us on stage and engaged in a more natural dialogue rather than “you take this slide, I’ll take this one.”
  • We expanded on our experiences and shared more anecdotes because the audience seemed to respond to stories far more than factual information.
  • We made it even more relevant to the audience who were mostly K12 teachers. This was a bit challenging because we were merely reporting from our project which looks at assessment from the perspective of project outcomes rather than tracking progress of individual learners (which is of course what teachers are interested in). It may have been worth exploring how the teachers could have used the same assessment approach with their own learners.

During a subsequent talk, I noticed that the erudite looking woman sitting in front of me had dropped her notepad. When I was passing it back to her, she suddenly realized that I looked familiar and she said “great presentation” and then added “I shouldn’t say this, I’m a teacher after all, but you have a sexy voice.” Nonetheless, I’m dreading the prospect of watching myself (uggggghhhh) whenever the video gets uploaded to YouTube.

A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica)


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

Pronunciation as protest | A thought experiment


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.

My evolving relationship with coursebooks


Everyone seems to be debating coursebooks again or perhaps it’s an issue that never in fact left the spotlight. There seems to be somewhat of a consensus among bloggers that course books are evil and ought to be eschewed. If that’s the case, I’ve succumbed to the dark side.

I left a full time job in early 2014 and started working independently in July 2014 when I’d completed the DELTA. Since 2014, I have been required to use course books mandatorily twice; during the DELTA with New Headway and last year when I taught a semester at a university with New English File. Except for these two occasions, I’ve had autonomy in making decisions about which materials to use on my courses. Have a look at the number of course books I’ve used between 2014 and 2016. Do you see a pattern?


There is no doubt that bespoke materials drawn from the learner’s context are more effective. This holds good in general contexts and is particularly true of business contexts. So why am I increasingly relying on coursebooks? Unfortunately, most of my clients refuse to pay for the time spent on designing customised materials. They tell me to use what I already have. In the early days, I accommodated this objection and invested unpaid time and effort in producing bespoke materials, naively telling myself that enhanced learner experiences and outcomes justified this small sacrifice I had to make. Small, however, was an understatement. To design a two day workshop, I’d have to spend approximately five days developing the materials. This is actually well below learning & development industry averages which estimate four to six hours of development for each hour of instructor led training (I’m not sure what the parallel ELT figures are).  So, I’d end up spending seven days on this project (which probably doesn’t even take into account the time spent on need analysis and client meetings) but only get paid for two.

I refuse to be enslaved by a cycle of unpaid drudgery. Therefore, until I find a better solution … long live the course book.

Post-script: Funnily enough, what’s stopped me from embracing coursebooks with more fervor is their lack of availability. Adult ELT coursebooks are rarely used in India. The big publishers mostly cater to the K12 segment and I frequently run into situations where the distributor doesn’t have enough copies or has had to sift through warehouses across the country to put an order together.

Image attribution: I think I do by eltpics | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

A task-based approach to reading | Module 6 reflections

Task-based reading.jpg

This is the last in a series of posts I’ve been writing to review and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This module focused on selecting suitable texts and constructing appropriate tasks.

  • Narrow reading newspaper article tasks: Learners read two or three newspaper articles on the same topic, discussing their reactions after each one. They then compare the texts to notice differences and make inferences about the reporter’s stance. Alternatively, ask them to create a table where they add to incrementally as new information emerges from each text. This task will only work well if there’s an adequate gap between the texts to allow learners to deliberate over the veracity of the information.
  • Tasks structured around texts that present different opinions: First ask learners to identify the different perspectives and summarise each viewpoint. They then present these opinions in an oral role play such as an interview.
  • Texts with conflicting perspectives: Ask learners to debate who they agree with.

Some suggestions for adapting dry textual exercises from coursebooks:

  • Don’t go immediately to the comprehension questions. Instead, construct a small task that allows learners to explore their reactions to the text.
  • Extend discuss questions to make them more productive. For example, a question that asks learners what could be changed could be modified into an action plan that they need to produce. The action plan could be conceptualised as a poster or a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Instead of answering opinion questions individually, ask students to mingle and discover the perspectives of their peers. They can report the findings in a graph or a presentation.
  • If a text is prefaced by survey findings (as they often are), ask learners to conduct the survey with their peers before comparing it with the results in their coursebook.
  • Pre-reading vocabulary exercises can be made interesting using pictures or word search puzzles.
  • Introduce texts using video or picture-based tasks which allow learners to brainstorm ideas and produce target vocabulary.
  • Copy-paste the text into a word cloud and ask learners make predictions.
  • Subvert tasks or texts that are contrived by asking learners to make them more authentic (great idea from Prof. Pauline Foster)

The final assignment was on creating a task-based reading activity that met the course’s criteria for designing a task. Here’s mine:

My overall experience with the course

I believe this is an excellent course for training teachers on teaching reading skills more effectively. It goes beyond the knee-jerk skimming and scanning (or scheming and scamming as some of my learners refer to them) and offers teachers lots of interesting techniques couched within insights drawn from research. However, in terms of task-based teaching and learning, the course is weak. It attempts to reconcile conventional ELT reading approaches with task-based sequences and does so unsuccessfully. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive – for my assignments including this last one I was able to construct some approximation of a task-based reading lesson, but most of the assignments I peer reviewed weren’t able to achieve this.

I think the primary reason behind this shortcoming is the course’s inability to suggest real world tasks where meaning is indeed primary. It was almost as if they were scraping the bottom of the barrel for task creation – designing book covers as an example of an authentic post-reading task – honestly?!  The three course facilitators, Dr Amos Paran, Dr Andrea Révész and Dr Myrrh Domingo who I assume also designed the materials, were very focused on younger learners, particularly teenagers and I can see how it might be challenging to construct authentic tasks when the context for language learning is very general. This is reflected in the relative strength of each module, the weakest of which was ironically this week’s module on designing reading tasks.

On the other hand, some of the guest speakers were able to suggest relatively more authentic tasks because many of them were looking at adult-learning contexts, often with specialised needs where it becomes easier to design tasks that genuinely reflect the activities that learners carry out regularly in their personal and professional lives.

This limitation notwithstanding, this is a great course and I highly recommend it to both new and experienced ELT professionals. My experience in this regard has been fairly similar to Sandy Millin who’d originally recommended this course on her blog. I thought I knew quite a bit about teaching reading skills but I discovered a lot of new insights.

This is also the first Coursera MOOC I’ve actually (and diligently) completed since 2014 when I’d been on a MOOC binge. I’ve been finding it really difficult to stay focused and complete MOOCs. What helped with this one was that I paid for a verified certificate which helped me stay honest and on track.

Recommended reading 

Here are the additional reading lists from each module of the course.


Made with Padlet

Image attribution: Nancy Avery’s class by EarthFix | Flickr | (CC BY-NC 2.0)