Textploitation for students has arrived

In 2019, I remember going to a talk by Peter Watkins and one thing he said really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing but it was essentially that what students needed in the early days of (and indeed throughout) the language learning process was lots and lots of comprehensible input. At the time it really struck a chord with me as I was learning Spanish and all I wanted to do was read, read, read. Sadly, the only graded readers I could find were pretty rubbish and much to my chagrin, I just couldn’t understand the news in Spanish. It was very frustrating.

Well, with that in mind we decided to bring Textploitation directly to learners of English with Tiny Texts for Learning English. The plan being to give learners the opportunity to read a little & learn a lot.

If you have students who need to work on their reading, send them our way. They’ll find recipes, diaries, stories, articles, reviews and much more, all at their level. With each text, they get a little task that helps them exploit what they’ve just read. They even have the opportunity to push themselves, produce something related to the text and get feedback from us and our community.

Click here to see more.

Post Lesson Outcome-Mining

Recently I wrote this post on aims and objectives and as always with this topic, there will be those that agree and those that disagree. It really seems to polarise our industry in a way that it doesn’t seem to in K-12 teaching (or at least that I’ve come across). I thought it would be interesting to think about that and consider some of the common arguments against knowing and communicating what you want to achieve and it seems to me to boil down to one main issue. The belief that:

Having aims and objectives locks us in and an English language lesson should be free to go wherever the students need it to go.

Now, there are a lot of things I could pull from that. The two sides of the Great Objective Debate could spend hours arguing back and forth with neither giving any ground, like academic Brexiteers and Remainers. But where would that get any of us.

Instead, I mentioned it to my wife and she mentioned that in her industry (grant-giving/management in the charity sector) they always have clear objectives for a project but afterwards they like to sit down and carry out an activity called outcome mining in which they pull out and discuss all of the unintentional outcomes they achieved throughout the project. And as she said it, I wondered if maybe this was a bridge between the two camps.

I in no way believe that one should teach their aims/objectives blindly without thinking about the students in front of them or dealing with interesting language that comes up as a matter of course. I fully believe that the job of the teacher is to react and manage what happens in front of them, ensuring that what they’re teaching is relevant and accessible for the specific students in front of them. But I also believe they (and their students) should know from the beginning of the lesson what they are trying to achieve.

Maybe the perfect world is:

  • Knowing what you want to achieve
  • Communicating it to your students and discussing how you intend to achieve it
  • Being open to your students wanting to achieve it in a different way
  • Being open to unintended outcomes that arise throughout the lesson
  • Spending time at the end of the lesson reflecting on:
    • the achievement of the objectives
    • the unintended outcomes that were achieved.

Outcome mining…food for thought. Thanks Louise.

For Student-Facing Textploitation, Click Below:

EFL Christmas Grinch

Let me start by saying I love Christmas. Absolute love it, can’t get enough of it. Keep that in mind when I say the following:

MY MOST HATED TIME OF THE WHOLE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING YEAR IS CHRISTMAS!

I can’t stand it. I have always hated teaching at this time of year largely because of my context:

  • Continuous enrollment: this means that half of the class have been in the school for months and are looking forward to some more relaxed lessons over Christmas as they wind down while the other half are only in the school for a few weeks and are keen to make every minute count.
  • Numerous teachers: most likely students studying for 3-4.5 hours every day will have a number of teachers and are likely to have several people trying to do Christmas lessons with them.

For these reasons I made the decision many years ago that no matter the holiday, I was going to teach the same as any other day of the year. Sure, I might use the holiday as a topic but no more than that. This means no questionable gapfills of Jingle Bells or scenes from Love Actually with tenuous objectives, and definitely no bringing in the Winter Wonderland song and trying to make sense of the madness that is “in the meadow we can build a snowman and then pretend he’s Parson Brown”. Who in the name of the wee man is Parson Brown?!

But I digress…

So yes, that’s right, I am saying that I am the EFL Christmas Grinch, stealing relaxed Christmas lessons from my students and colleagues.

But worry not, I am not completely without heart. As I said, I do embrace the holiday as a topic in my lessons so here are 2 for you if you decide to go down the EFL Christmas Grinch route.

For whom do aims and objective toll if not for thee

I LOVE clear aims and objectives in a lesson. When I see a group of students and a teacher who know what they’re learning and why they’re learning it, I go all warm and fuzzy inside. But I hate useless admin, admin for the sake of it. I can’t stand the statement “we’ve always done it this way” it makes me the opposite of warm and fuzzy inside…chilly and smooth?

Recently I had a conversation with a teacher that made me go a bit chilly and smooth but I do not think this is an isolated occurrence. In fact I remember feeling this very way in my early years as a teacher. We were discussing aims and objectives and he said:

“I don’t know if anyone else feels this way but I always write my aims and objectives because I know I have to but I don’t know who they are for? Are they for me, are they for my students or are they for the British Council?”

And there it is…I’m chilly and smooth. The one statement worse than “we’ve always done it this way” is “we do it for accreditation” or in the UK, “we do it for the British Council” [shudders]. Because yes of course there are things that we do in a school that when our accreditation bodies arrive, we will display proudly. And there are things that accreditation bodies will look for in a school. And one of those things will be aims and objectives…but not so they can tick a box, not so we can tick a box, but because behind every accreditation criterium lies a very good reason, a justification for its existence.

Aims and objectives for aims and objectives sake are not a good thing…but a learner who knows what they are learning and how it will help them in their real life is most definitely a good thing. Aims and objectives are one way of achieving this.

So to answer this teacher’s question (and I should add here that this was an incredible teacher who was just trying to figure out how best to use aims&objectives in their lesson) I said:

“Aims and objectives are for your students first and foremost and should never be a tick box. They should be a talking point.”

From Tick Box to Talking Point

First of all a few tips on writing effective aims and objectives:

  • Write them in student friendly language. Remember who they are for.
  • Begin with your objective (what you want them to be better at by the end of the lesson)
  • Work backwards to write your aims (what do they need to learn to be better at this objective by the end of the lesson)
  • Make your objective real-life and relevant for your learners (“be able to use the present perfect & past simple” is not real life but “be able to describe your career” is)
  • Focus on function over form: Consider the difference between “learn to use the present perfect” and “learn to describe ongoing situations in my career using the present perfect”
  • Follow a pattern: Don’t change up how you write your aims & objectives every lesson. Follow a recognisable pattern and display them in the same place each lesson. This reduces the amount that learners need to process. They can focus on the key message.

If you follow the above, you should find yourself with effective aims and objectives but if you don’t do anything with them, then they are little more than a tick box. We need to move them to a talking point. They should be the basis of a discussion with your students. Consider the following:

At the beginning of your lesson:

Use the some or all of the questions below to open up a discussion:

  1. How will this objective help you in your real life?
  2. Which of these aims will be most challenging for you?
  3. Which of these aims are you already confident in?
  4. How confident are you?
  5. Is there anything else you think you’ll need to achieve this objective?

During your lesson:

Keep the conversation going. Learners will always focus on what’s in front of them. Just because you know why something is relevant, doesn’t mean it is immediately apparent for the students.

  1. Why do you think we learnt this?
  2. How will this help you achieve the objective?

At the end of the lesson:

The ideal situation is a learner who can take what they’ve learnt in the lesson and bring it into their real lives but too often the lesson ends at the door. Keep it going:

  1. How well do you feel you achieved the objective?
  2. How will you practise this in your real life?
  3. How will you apply what you learnt to your real life?
  4. Is there anything you need more practice on?
  5. How will you practise it?

Using the word “will” can be more powerful than “can” or “could”. It’s not about what is possible, it’s about them making a promise, a commitment to try this outside the classroom…and then it’s on you to follow up with them.

So if you’ve ever felt like you were writing aims and objectives for the British Council, try out some of the ideas above and remember who we should be writing them for.

The Virtual Challenge

Here’s the thing…pretty much everyone in the modern world has years of experience of learning successfully in a classroom. Even if I think back to my worst teachers (and there were numerous):

  • Tommy “the dog”, my Leaving Certificate Maths teacher who decided we didn’t need to cover the entire curriculum before our life-changing exam date.
  • Miss Kennedy, my French teacher whose approach to teaching could be summed up by the sentence “there’s a page, do it!”
  • Mr Highland, poor Mr Highland, who carried on teaching us business studies while we bounced a tennis ball off the blackboard

But again, here’s the thing, even in those classes, I learnt. I was successful. I passed those exams because at the end of the day, learners for the most part are gonna learn if they want to. It’s hard to actually stop them.

So when it comes to choosing an English language course many prospective students arrive at their decision safe in the knowledge that they can learn in a classroom as they have previously done so. In general, they didn’t really investigate online learning options and so learning English online (outside of 1:1 lessons and gamified learning apps like DuoLingo) never really took off. That was until April 2020 when the old world ended and a brave new technological age of learning began.

With the arrival of COVID, students and teachers all over the world were forced to move online almost over night and experienced teachers had to learn entirely new skills. The internet was awash with blogs, training sessions and videos on the importance of keeping cameras on, which platform to choose, what online whiteboard apps were the best. Suddenly words like synchronous and asynchronous became part of our everyday vernacular. I watched in our schools as students and teachers grew in confidence in online platforms but also in their own ability to learn and teach online.

So what now? Well, now a whole new world has been opened up for both teachers and students. Many of the major English language schools like mine now offer online lessons as a product in its own right. It’s not a stopgap until the world rights itself, it’s a viable English language product. It is now entirely possible to learn online and thanks to COVID (not a sentence I often say, I promise you), thousands of students have first-hand evidence of learning successfully in an online classroom. When it comes time for them to choose their next English language course, it might not be in a physical classroom, it might very well be a flatscreen school they choose.

But where does that leave Virtual Reality?

Well, the challenge here is that not as many people have any real experience of learning successfully in Virtual Reality and so are more likely to avoid it. They don’t currently have that prior knowledge that makes VR a viable option for them. But will that always be the case? Will online and face-to-face lessons remain the only options for our students?

For me, the answer is a firm no. Apps like Immerse, Engage and Remio are already quite advanced, providing teachers with a range of classroom management tools that mirror and in some cases expand on the classroom experience. There has already been a lot of research carried out into how VR can lower the affective filter and provide a more immersive classroom. There is a lot more research being done into retention on VR versus flatscreen and in the classroom. 2021 has seen a rise in the sales of Oculus headsets and everywhere we turn we hear about Meta and the future. Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company, recently purchased 60,000 Oculus headsets to help train their employees. It feels like this might be the beginning of a move to VR and with a number of English language schools already flirting with the technology, including EC launching an entirely VR course in January 2022, we may soon have more and more students with first-hand evidence of learning successfully in a truly virtual classroom…let’s hope so.

Overt Teaching

Overt Teaching is something we have spoken about many times but never really written about…overtly. It is a part of our lessons, our procedures, our approach to teaching English but we’ve never really made the case for it on our blog…which seems odd.

No time like the present to sort that out.

What do we mean by Overt Teaching?

In our industry there has often been a tendency to hide what we are doing from our students. We sneak grammar in under the cover of darkness like spies crossing from East to West Berlin, afraid that our eagle-eyed students will notice the present perfect and completely disengage from the lesson. Or, we work towards the big reveal, the “ahhhhhh” moment when our students realise what we’ve been working towards this whole time.

The flaw with the above is that if our students don’t know what they’re doing and how it applies to their life, they’re much more likely to be disengaged. Equally, if we tell our learners we’re doing the present perfect, they are likely to disengage if they don’t see how it applies to their real lives.

Teaching overtly suggests that we involve our learners in the learning discussion throughout the lesson. Below are some key stages of the lesson when this can be easily applied.

Starting off on the right foot:

The beginning of your lesson is arguably the most important aspect as this is where we get all of our buy-in from our students. If we look in the average coursebook, considerable time and page space is (quite rightly) taken up with engaging our learners in the topic of the lesson. As an industry we recognise the importance of this but the actual aims and the objectives of the lesson are not given the same pride of place.

They are very often squashed into a tiny box in the top-left corner of the page. As teachers we very often display them on the wall or on a board or as part of our lesson plan that nobody looks at but why do we do this? Is it because our institution demands it? Is it so we can tick an accreditation box? Or, is it because we recognise that a clear understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is crucial to student engagement? If it is the latter, then we should be bringing it into our lesson, not as a monologue from the teacher but as a dialogue with our students.

Tip 1:

Have a clear distinction between your objective (the final outcome you are working towards) and your aim (the things you will cover in the class to help them achieve the objective successfully). Careful and consistent wording can help with this. Consider:

Today we are going to:

  • aim
  • aim
  • aim

So that you can:

  • Objective

Tip 2:

Make it a discussion and increase student engagement through simple questions:

  1. How will this objective help you in your real life?
  2. Which of these aims will be challenging for you?
  3. Which is most important for you?
  4. Which do you feel will be revision for you?

By involving our learners in this discussion, we put some of the learning responsibility on them. They have decided which aims they will need to focus on more; they have related the objective with their lives and decided how it will benefit them.

Setting up an activity:

Aims and objectives at the beginning of the lesson are crucial but it doesn’t stop there. Sadly, minutes after we’ve finished with the above discussion, our learners have probably forgotten what we’re working towards and are focusing on the interesting reading or listening exercise. Maybe they’re entirely focused on the grammar because they’re finding it challenging. Continued discussion throughout the lesson is key. We need to help our learners see that everything in our lesson is building towards the final objective; it’s not busy work, it’s not just stuff we’re doing, it’s building towards something greater.

Tip1:

Before or after an activity consider asking your students why it was important. For example, why did we just learn 6 new collocations to do with work? Because we’re going to need them later when we introduce our jobs. And will all of these collocations be useful for all of you? No, these 3 are useful for me but the others aren’t as useful because I don’t work in an office.

Or

Why did we just listen to that conversation? Because it was a model for the conversation we’re going to have later on.

These quick interactions help keep our students (and us) on track and moving towards our objective. Don’t expect them to have the above answers the first time you ask them though. As with anything, you will need to elicit and support your learners in coming to these realisations. Gradually, you can train them to understand why as opposed to just what they are doing.

Ending up on the right foot:

The beginning of the lesson is crucial to engagement but if you don’t actually reach the objective, you’ll lose your students’ trust the next time around. We’ve all been derailed mid-lesson and changed our plan because something more important has come up but how often do we communicate this to our students? It’s so important that we explain our decision-making process to them. We laid out our objectives and why they were important; if we veer from them, we owe it to our learners to explain why.

But lets assume we don’t get derailed. We reach our final production stage. We’ve spent 2 hours teaching vocabulary, grammar and skills that we now want our students to use in this final conversation. We set up the task and…none of them use the language! We’ve all been there but the question is what do we do about it?

Tip 1: Success Criteria

Very often our learners just forget what is expected of them. They’re keen to communicate so they fall back on what’s easy and use the language they had at their disposal at the beginning of the lesson. Clearly setting our your expectation before the activity is key. Ask your learners what a successful conversation looks like for them. Elicit that in order to be successful, they’ll have to use the language and skills from the lesson. The beauty of this is that everyone goes into the activity clear in their minds what success looks like but this can vary from one student to another. Success for a new student to the group might just be using the grammar correctly but for a stronger student, it might be combining the grammar and the new vocabulary. By opening it up to students and making it a dialogue, you move the responsibility for success back onto them. They’ve decided their own level of success and now they have to try to achieve it.

Tip 2: Repetition

Accept that you will have to do the final activity two or more times and plan this into your lesson. The first time students have the conversation, they are usually considering the content. They’re just trying to communicate and asking them to add in new language and skills is quite the load.

Let them have the conversation, then refocus them on the success criteria. Ask them to discuss whether or not they used the language from the lesson and then set the task up again. The second and third time round, content is not an issue anymore and they can focus on upgrading their language and skills.

Conclusion:

Overt Teaching doesn’t require you to change how you teach drastically, it just suggests you ask a little more of your learners. We all say we want more autonomous students…perhaps this is a first step. Throw back the curtain on your teaching & planning, let them in.

12 Angry Men – Persuasive Language Listening Lesson

Using clips of films has long been a favoured method of mine in classes. Sometimes as a model for pronunciation as with this lesson: https://textploitationtefl.com/2015/02/18/video-lesson-catch-it-if-you-can-connected-speech/

This lesson instead looks at persuasive language as well as offering students the chance to practise listening and giving natural responses.

Why 12 Angry Men? I have wanted to write a lesson using this clip for about 3 years and with the current political climate, this seems like a good moment to look at a clip which demonstrates prejudice. I find this clip optimistic in that most of the jurors move away from the speaker. Anyway, I digress. We were both impressed by a session given by Angelos Bollas (Dublin: 2018) on using materials that are emotionally engaging and hope some of that has filtered into this.

  • Time: 2hr
  • Level: Intermediate (B1) and above
  • Aim: to look at persuasive language and structuring a response
  • Sub-aim: to generate discussion in class

For more lessons like this, check out our book: https://www.bebc.co.uk/textploitation

Materials:

Procedure:

Getting the Gist

Pre-Listening:

  1. Show the clip with the sound off and ask the students what they think is happening? What makes the men stand up one by one and walk away from the table? This is to generate interest and pique their curiousity.

Listening:

2. This task relates back to question in pre-listening – giving a reason to watch and a chance for those who are stronger to identify the issues with what the speaker is saying.

In terms of answers you might want to let them know that it is the jury in a trial

3. This is more detailed and is looking for the following answers or similar. (However, if you think other answers work, go with it.)

  • Who has been accused and of what? – a kid (probably can infer murder)
  • What is the speaker’s attitude towards the case? clearly prejudiced against the kid and ‘others like him’
  • What do the rest of the juror’s think about what he is saying? again you can infer they disagree by walking away in peaceful protest
  • How does the speaker react when he is told to stop talking? Bemusement – defeat 

Natural Response:

This section is meant to promote discussion in a lest gist orientated fashion. Allowing the students to analyse the text discuss it.

  1. Is there any language here which is used to generalise a group of people? phrases like “you know how these people lie” “it’s born in them” “They don’t know what the truth is” “they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone either” “they get drunk”
  2. Why might that be a problem in a trial? Clearly this speaker isn’t impartial
  3. Do you think the speaker is racist? clearly this is contentious, but acting like this could definitely be considered as ‘Cultural racism’

Persuasive Language:

  1. This is just a simple matching task

1 = H  2 = F  3 = D  4 = B  5 = I  6 = G  7 = E  8 = A  9 = C

Adapted from BBC Bitesize Literary techniques: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zx7cmnb/revision/2

2. The following techiques were used in the speech

Techniques: 1 2 3 4 7 9

Responding and debating: the rebuttal

The point of this is to give the students some chance to respond to the speech used in the clip by recording their own version. You could hold class discussions on suitable topics to include. The main aim is to get them to record a response that you can check and to use the check list.

The two methods of beginning are by no means the only options, but should give the students some help in starting. If you have others you prefer, please use them.

  1. What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of both?

Concession – advantages deflames situation / disadvantage could be that it implies a degree of agreement

Refutation – opposite to above.

Your response:

Give students time to plan. Let them think of arguments (claim and evidence) to help them in their short response.

Setting Success Criteria: When you mark these, tell the students in advance exactly what you will be checking for. If you are looking for structure, do not only correct them on their grammar or pronunciation. The checklist is here to help with structure, but depending on the needs of your class you could negotiate others with them. Or, in mixed ability classes even for each student.

Extension activities:

  • After feedback, students rerecord their response focusing on one or two points highlighted.
  • You could ask your students to read this review and again look for persuasive devices featured in the lesson or any of the myriad of ideas for reviews you would normally use

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-12-angry-men-1957

  • Alternatively, you could ask your students to look for any examples of cultural racism and the generalising of different nationalities into negative traits.

English UK Webinar August 2020: tech for returning to the classroom

Last week (11th August) we led a webinar for English UK on the topic of Socially Distant Classrooms. It was based to some degree on a previous blog post we wrote (which can be found here).

In the webinar, we examined some of the key features of our teaching toolbox that we stand to lose in a socially distant classroom and how we can replace them. We suggested using technology to replace some of these activities and techniques that we will be losing for a number of reasons:

  1. We need our students to be ready to go back online at short notice if there is another lockdown / outbreak.
  2. We’ve learnt a lot about teaching effectively online and with technology in the past few months; it seems a shame to throw it all away.
  3. It mirrors the real world in which people use technology to communicate all the time.
  4. It helps us to reduce the amount of paper we are bringing into the classroom.

 

There are many different options when it comes to using technology and countless blog posts have been written about the various platforms and which is the best. Below, we have included a list of the platforms we mentioned in our webinar and some of the pros / cons of these platforms but before looking at the list, please remember:

It isn’t just about the platform. It is about knowing why. In a socially distant classroom, we stand to lose a lot of what makes us communicative language teachers.

Know what you are losing, know what you want to replace and then choose how best to do that.

Train your teachers and your students in its use and make it consistent in your schools…otherwise it is another piece of technology that won’t be used and we’ll all end up lecturing from the top of our classes.

Different platform options:

  • Microsoft Teams

Teams does it all. Your students’ data is protected and you don’t need their phone numbers. It’s one of the most effective tools for in / out-of class communication and has high levels of transparency for teachers and management. But it costs and individual profiles need to be set up for each student.

  • WhatsApp

In my experience, if schools don’t provide an option, many teachers will revert to using WhatsApp for communication and sharing materials. It’s handy, most people have it and it’s easy to use…and it’s free. But obviously you have data issues so for many of us it’s not an option. Remember though, if teachers aren’t provided with an alternative, they may resort to WhatsApp out of necessity.

  • Zoom

We’re all a lot more familiar with Zoom than we were a few months ago and it’s been great but it’s primarily for conference calling and not for sharing material or messaging in class. You can get around this by setting up calls and just messaging, but it’s a bit more awkward than Teams. 

  • Edmodo

Actually a really effective tool that is designed entirely for the classroom. We haven’t tried it out on a school-scale before but if you are planning to do so, remember that both teachers and students need training on it for it to be effective. 

  • BackChannel Chat

This is very low maintenance as you don’t need any info from students. You just set up a chatroom as a teacher and give the code to your students and they can access from their phones. Downsides are that it’s a bit difficult to manage if you have multiple rooms at once and I’ve had issues with students being unable to log in or it crashing on them. But it’s free…

Other websites we mentioned:

  • Mentimeter: Free and easy to use. Great website for gathering anonymous info from your students. Very useful for Needs Analysis and also for encouraging shy students to participate. Can be used for things like single sentence answers too.

 

  • Kahoot: Fun and engaging way of injecting energy into the room. This is great for ‘gamifying’ tasks. Your students need a shot of life. Cahoot awards more points for fast response, so where in a class you could do a running dictation, in kahoot you can set quizzes.

 

  • WordWall: as above. You have to pay for it but you can get some of the site for free.

 

The Post-Covid Classroom & Our Empty Teacher Toolbox

So, the mad rush to get online has subsided. The barrage of webinars on how to set up breakout rooms on Zoom have ended and the conversation is turning once again. It’s crazy to think all of this only started a few short months ago. It feels like days ago that our teaching context was turned upside down and we scrambled to bring our courses online and now, with restrictions being lifted in various countries around the world, it looks like it’s all about to be turned on its head again.

The question on my mind is:

what does the post-covid classroom look like?

Now, I’m not talking about 2022 when all this is done and dusted (fingers-crossed, touch wood and all that lark) and we can go back to the way things were before. I mean the classroom between now and then.

Many schools will take a blended approach, carrying out some lessons in a physical classroom and some online. Undoubtedly, we will have smaller class sizes. Schools will consider staggering start times and closing public areas. Hand sanitiser will, of course, feature heavily in any reopening. Depending on government advice, masks might be a pre-requisite or they might be discouraged. Depending on your country, your borders might be open to new students and there may / may not be a quarantine period.

But let’s assume that all the above has been taken care of by school management and the government. Where does that leave you, the teacher, when it comes to your face to face lessons in a physical classroom? Is it business as usual but with fewer students?

I don’t think so.

Let’s take a close look at our teaching toolbox, our tried and tested techniques, the bread & butter of teaching in a communicative classroom. What happens to them in a socially distant classroom?

  1. Pairwork: sadly, this is probably done and dusted for a while. We won’t be casually leaning over and checking answers.
  2. Group discussions: Unless it’s a whole-class discussion, which has its limitations, we won’t really be able to conduct group chats with a metre between each person.
  3. Hand-outs: You won’t be moving around the classroom giving your students a beautiful photocopy. Depending on school guidelines, you might not be able to give any material that the student didn’t bring with them.
  4. Monitoring: while it won’t be impossible to monitor, sneakily looming over a student’s shoulder and offering advice & encouragement is going to be frowned upon.

 

Unfortunately, a socially distant classroom is going to leave us without our go-to teaching techniques but all is not lost. If we’ve learnt anything over the past few months, it is how quick our industry is to adapt to the situation and adopt new techniques that better suit the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Adapt and adopt, we shall.

When deciding how to adapt, we must consider what we are losing and how we can try to replace it.

Mentimeter:

One of the main reasons, I use pairwork in class is to give students thinking time, to allow them to learn from each other and help each other to formalise their opinions before they bring them to the class as a whole. Often, having a moment to share an answer with a partner will give a student the social reassurance they need to then share it with the whole class. This is the beauty of pairwork and something we really don’t want to lose.

One way to give students the thinking time, to give them confidence in their answers without having to share them with the whole class is by using poll / survey websites like Mentimeter. It allows students time to think and to answer anonymously; they can very easily see how the rest of the class feels or is answering and then stand by or alter their answer before bringing it to the whole class. It encourages the quieter student to get involved and gives them an easy communication avenue.

Text Discussions:

Much of how I communicate is via text messages or social media. There are people I speak to regularly that I haven’t talked to in person for years. This is the same for many of our students yet in a communicative classroom we tend to focus on speaking. Most schools will by this time have chosen an online platform to deliver their lessons be it Teams, Zoom or something else. For Zoom, students could simple start a meeting, turn the cameras & audio off and use the chat box.

By using these same tools or even WhatsApp, students can still carry out discussions in a meaningful way before sharing the outcome of their discussions with the rest of the class in whole-class feedback.

The nice little by-product of these types of discussions is a written record. The chat box can easily be screenshot and shared. Students can reflect on what they actually said/wrote and analyse how well they used the target language. And you have a concrete source to reference for feedback.

Displaying:

If handouts are behind us, that’s no bad thing. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but the environment won’t thank us for all of the dead handouts that ended up in bins around the EFL world. In the socially distant classroom, we will be forced to abandon them and use the tools we have. So what do we have?

  • IWB: many of us will have an IWB. Apps like Microsoft Lens allow us to scan in resources; the snipping tool allows us to chop them up and deliver them to our students one piece at a time…as the writer no doubt intended.
  • Phones: our students don’t need to have a piece of paper they never look at again, they have cameras. Cameras that save photos in clouds according to their dates. Photos that they can access forevermore without having to sift through crumpled, wrinkled, ragged remnants of lessons long-forgotten.

If we don’t have IWBs, we have phones, which means we can send photos / documents via online platforms, WhatsApp, email, etc. Our learners can zoom in, they can edit, they can engage with it however we see fit.

Support over Presence:

Something that I’ve really found in online teaching is that support is more important than presence. In the past we have relied upon the fact that we can monitor closely and be on hand to answer every little question. In breakout rooms, this became impossible and in a socially distant classroom it becomes trickier.

All this means is that we need to spend more time setting up an activity. Learners need to know what exactly they should be doing, why they are doing it and what success looks like. Instructions are more important than ever and checking instructions is crucial. With students potentially working more individually or on their phones and you unable to loom over their shoulder, checking they are on task becomes more challenging. The answer may be to spend more time on giving and checking your instructions and getting buy-in for the activity from the students.

 

Above are just a few of the issues we may face in the socially distant classroom. No doubt there will be others that we haven’t even considered yet. Some of the above ideas for coping with these issues may turn out to be unworkable depending on your teaching context but we have proven our ability to adapt and adapt we will. I am excited to see how we tackle these issues and to hear your ideas.

Send them along!

Help I’m in a breakout room! Using success criteria to enable peer to peer feedback

For the foreseeable future it seems we’ll be teaching online and apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are going to be our classrooms. But is this just a stopgap while we wait for our schools to reopen? Maybe…but I personally think that online teaching is here to stay. That’s not to say it was never here before but by the end of Covid, I would say online English language teaching will have carved out its own space and will sit side by side with full immersion.

Assuming that’s the case, it’s not about weathering the online storm, it has to be about doing it as best we can. It can’t be just replicating what we did in the classroom and making it work, we have to adapt to this new environment.

One of the first issues I came up against was pairwork. How do we make it work? Well, the answer came quickly: we use breakout rooms of course. Fantastic, problem solved. Or was it?

Feedback from teachers:

Breakout rooms are great but you can’t monitor effectively. The students are chatting away, or not chatting at all and you have no idea because you’re in another room.

Feedback from students:

We just chat but we don’t get feedback. I don’t know what I am saying wrong.

Both valid issues but both issues we had in physical classrooms, but now in the harsh glow of the computer screen it is much more glaringly obvious.

So what can we do? Students have to practise. We don’t want to be the conduit for all communication in the classroom.

The students must become the masters!

We have to accept the situation and adapt. We cannot be in every room at once listening and giving feedback so we have to ensure someone is

But our students aren’t equipped to give feedback! And they don’t want to hear it from another student

Well then let’s equip them.

Success criteria:

By giving clear success criteria for a speaking task, learners can give each other meaningful feedback and, it’s not as subjective because it’s been laid out clearly beforehand.

But what are success criteria and where do we find them?

Essentially it is what you have taught your students that day. If you want them to discuss their careers and you’ve taught them:

  • To use the present perfect to describe their current situation
  • To use past simple to describe past jobs
  • X,Y,Z vocabulary related to careers
  • The natural pronunciation of present perfect

Then successfully discussing your career means doing the things above.

Some tips:

  1. Negotiate the criteria with your students to increase engagement
  2. Ensure they have a written record of them during the task
  3. Allow students to choose which of the criteria they will focus on and therefore which they want feedback on
  4. Repeat the activity again, giving them the chance to upgrade.

Our learners can take a more active part in the learning process…we just need to give them the tools to do so.