Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Praise of silence... some musing on pair work.

An ex-colleague and I used to disagree over whether it was better to put students into pairs immediately, or let them look at something on their own first, and then pair them up. He used to ask students to work alone first but I was of the opinion that getting them into pairs asap was always good; they could check they’d understood the task, work collaboratively, help each other; it’s a learning process not a test I would say. But I’ve been thinking about this again. Maybe students think at different speeds. Maybe they need some time to work out what is going on, to gather their thoughts. Maybe the quiet ones have just not had enough time to think. Maybe STT should stand for student thinking time. Maybe I was scared of the silence that thinking time would bring. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

How much is too much?

Professional development and experimentation are all very well but my students are fee-paying customers; they’re investing in their futures, they have certain expectations. My students aren’t paying good money to attend my classes to indulge my whims and my attempts to follow the latest fads; they’re not guinea pigs to be experimented on. I’m sure my students want me to improve my teaching, but not at the expense of their learning. Don't get me wrong, I know I need to develop, to try out new things, to challenge myself and my beliefs; some tinkering is no doubt essential. But is it possible that a teacher who experiments too much is as bad as a teacher who takes no interest in professional development at all?  Could they even be putting their students’ progress at greater risk? 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pet hates and bugbears.

What phrase do you hate the most? Mine is ‘at the end of the day’. Okay it may not be as phatic as ‘you know’, the meaning might not have been quite as warped ‘literally’ but for me it’s the one that grates the most. What is my problem with it? Maybe it’s because it’s not used literally; people are not talking about midnight, they are highlighting what they think is the most important fact. Or maybe it’s because there are better ways of saying it; ultimately, all things considered, importantly, the fact is, pertinently all do the same job. Maybe it’s the constant, unnecessary use. Whatever the reason it’s the one that gets me grinding my teeth more than others and is one I never use. Let me know if you have a similar bugbear.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Guest Post by Michael Griffin: A Mini Rant on Globish and International English

This is Exciting my first ever guest blogger. 
I challenged Michael Griffin @michaelegriffin  to condense his rant on Globish into 140 words. 
He took me up and here it is. Feel free to leave a comment. 

"Is Globish and 'International English" or Standard English the answer? What variety should we teach?" reads a proposed topic for #ELTchat. I have two main issues with this question (with all due respect to those involved). Firstly, Globish and International English are not the same thing! Globish (according to Wikipedia at least) is some form of a made-up language or a systematic simplification of English. International English is different. It’s a real thing that's happening all around us when people communicate in English regardless if they are “native speakers” or not. My second issue is with the word “teach.” Does this question imply teachers will be at the front introducing and drilling simplified English? Isn’t just realizing not everyone wants/needs to sound like so-called native speakers enough? Can’t teachers focus on communication while respecting different varieties?  

Monday, May 7, 2012

In Praise of .... the humble timeline

Simple things are often the best. Timelines were one of the first things I learnt on my initial teacher-training course and they are still one of my favourite tools to use in the language classroom. Timelines are usually seen as ways to teach grammar and good timeline can say more than 1000 words. It helps to create meaning is a student’s mind and can be used either as a visual aid to an explanation or as a way of helping students to work things out for themselves, (guided discovery). But enough of me writing about them here are two examples of how to use timelines in the classroom. 


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Politics of Twitter part 2 - To follow or not to follow.

I asked twitter today who I should follow to take my tally to 500. @MrChrisJWilson suggested that I might be following too many. I am a ‘follow-backer’. I follow back like-minded people. I’m on twitter to learn, so for me following is more important than being followed. Obviously I follow some ‘people’ to get information, e.g, the Guardian not expecting to be followed back, but if we’re trying to build a PLN shouldn't follows be reciprocal? If I’m asking teachers to follow me, (which I do as a trainer) then if I don’t follow them back am I implying I believe my opinion’s more important than theirs? There are many  ‘experts’ on twitter but how do we know if someone’s an expert until we have heard their voice? Or should I be using hashtags? I’m interested to know your strategies.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It doesn’t all have to be whistles and bells. In praise of ... The IWB

I love my interactive whiteboard but I don't believe in whistles and bells.  You don't have to make words spin and pictures dance to use the board effectively. I just use my IWB like I did my old board but I take advantage of the benefits; clear pictures and words, save-ability revisit-ability multiple screens, everything in one place etc. I love not having to rub out something because there is no room. I love being able to easily do something again.
I know they have their limitations, for example they make the class more frontal and possible less interactive. I know only one or two students can use it at one time.
In a perfect world I’d love both an IWB and a whiteboard in my class but this is reality and I’m glad I have my IWB.

Do you need to be a good language learner to be a good language teacher?

I'll be honest I am a terrible language learner. Laziness, lack of motivation, frustration with lack of progress, etc. all add up to a real struggle, (by the way did I mention laziness?) Someone said to me recently I should try to learn Czech again so I can feel what it is like to learn a language, so I can relate to my students. Well, I think I can relate to my students, I know what it is like to learn a language, I know it is maddening, frustrating, time consuming, and not very rewarding. I know that the puddles of satisfaction are quickly swallowed by lakes of frustration. I can empathise with those who can't, not those that can.

Is it better to try and fail than never to try at all?

About ten years ago I learnt how to Salsa dance. It wasn’t easy, it was akin to turning one of my left feet into a right one. After 15 lessons my teacher said, 'at first I thought never, now… maybe.' About 2 years later, while dancing, a stranger asked me if I was from Cuba!!!!
My teacher had stuck with me, encouraged me, set me achievable goals, helped me. I didn’t shoot for the stars but in the end I reached the moon.
Yet I hear teachers say that they shouldn’t demand too much of their students because they are setting them up for failure. In my opinion if we set realistic targets and give encouragement then our students can succeed. Some things blossom when you least expect them to, but if you don’t water them they never will.