Tag: reflections

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)

Gender inequity in ELT | Reflections

Gender in ELT.jpg

A couple of days ago Nicola Prentis tweeted a link to her article in the EL Gazette on the skewed gender scene in ELT events.

I’d read through a more detailed post on her blog so the data she was using to drive her conclusion wasn’t new to me. It was only when I got to the very end of the article that I got a bit of a jolt.

In fact, when Leicester University’s Russ Mayne and I surveyed 520 people and asked them to think of ‘big names’ in ELT, only three of the top twenty were women

I faintly remember taking this survey and the names I supplied were all the usual suspects: Scott Thornbury,  Adrian Underhill, Jim Scrivener, Jeremy Harmer, Nik Peachey … some other male names and Penny Ur. I may or may not have added Nicky Hockly.

I am, of course, familiar with ELT thought leaders who are women. I can see them on the spines of the books I own. I know them from webinars I’ve attended. I’ve read their work. But I’m embarrassed to admit I couldn’t think any one other than Penny Ur in response to that survey question. I’ve been reflecting on whether this was just a momentary lapse or whether it reveals something more.

I may need to step back from the conversation around gender and consider why I think someone might be a ‘guru’. Tessa Woodward has contributed enormously to our profession and her ideas on teacher training have been very influential. But, she’s not a name I associate with the term ‘big name’. Why? I’m not completely sure but I suspect I might subconsciously perceive these ‘gurus’ as highly visible (almost celebrity like) because most of the ones I’d listed are indeed very visible, promoting themselves and their ideas. The exception is perhaps Penny Ur. Is there a pattern here? Do male thought leaders engage in a lot more self-promotion relative to their female peers? Is that affecting how I receive their ideas because if it is, I’m not evaluating ideas on their own merit.

Prentis suggests that some of this might be down to the names (generally male) that get reinforced on teacher training courses. But that doesn’t excuse me from a pressing need to reflect on my biases.

Image attribution: Gender Neutral by  A.L. Hu | Creative Commons | Nounproject 

A task-based approach to reading | Module 5 reflections

This is the second-last in a series of posts I’m writing to review and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This week’s material was on extensive reading. Extensive reading is …

Task based reading.jpg

a supplementary class library scheme attached to an English course. In which pupils are given time, encouragement and materials to read pleasurably at their own level as many books as they can without the pressure of testing or marks.  Colin Davis (1995)

The course suggests that the best way to improve reading skills is to read and that extensive reading is the obvious manifestation of this principle, facilitating fluency in readers. Despite this, teachers apparently don’t take advantage of extensive reading as much as they ought to.

Day & Bamford, in this paper, propose 10 principles for extensive reading and the course presenter introduces them by underscoring the importance of the quantity of reading and that the reading is pleasurable.


Principle 1: The reading materials need to be easy. The greatest benefit seems to come from easy texts which have a correlation with reading that we find pleasurable.

Principle 2: Learners should have access to a range of  reading materials on a variety of topics. Everyone doesn’t want to read the same thing.

Principle 3: Learners choose what they want to read (the ideal situation is that there’s a big library that learners can choose from). Choosing a book is also a  task. It is meaning focused and has an outcome.

Principle 4: Learners read as much as possible. This could mean reading a book a week or 10-15 min a day.

Principle 5: The purpose of reading is usually related to pleasure, information, and general understanding.

Principle 6: Reading is its own reward (not reading for a test or assignment).

Principle 7: Reading speed is faster than other types of reading.

Principle 8: Reading is individual and silent because silent reading is faster.

Principle 9: Teachers need to orient and guide their learners because extensive reading is different than other types of reading.

Principle 10: The teacher is also a role model of a reader. The teacher also sits down to read for pleasure, is seen holding books, and talking about books.

Principle 10 is noteworthy in that it’s instruction by example which is probably very powerful especially for younger learners. Paul Nation suggests that extensive reading should take up at least 20% of total class time and there’s some interesting research around how to to approach this. I have summarized key insights in a presentation which happens to be this week’s rather dull assignment.


The module ended with a discussion about using reading circles in an adult learning context to promote extensive reading. This weeks’s been interesting from the perspective of insights on reading but we’ve really veered off topic from task-based approaches. There was a cursory look at tasks in the penultimate video which I’ve summarized in the presentation. I’m not convincing that designing a book cover amounts to an authentic task that has a real life corollary. They really had to stretch the explanation to make reading circles and groups seem task-like. The only task that they suggest which seems real life in any way is writing a book review for an online portal and the course only hints at this preferring to focus on reviews written for the classroom.

The paper from Belgar and Hunt (2014) titled Pleasure reading and reading rate gains is worth a dekko.

Image attribution: Reading by Paul Bence | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0