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EFL Teaching Standards – Self-regulated or Imposed?

Malta harbourJean Sciberras, Academic Manager at the Federation of English Teaching Organisations – Malta (FELTOM), has been pondering the linked questions of teacher standards, peak summer demand and the benefits or otherwise of official regulation.

Like many centres for English language teaching across the globe, Malta has a massive influx of students in the summer months, many are youngsters wanting to combine learning in a relaxed atmosphere with some fun. In our case, the numbers can be quite challenging.  More than 70,000 students come to the island and almost half of these are juniors.

Of course, at peak times we need lots of extra teachers to meet this demand.

Our schools advertise vacancies in the usual way and we get applicants from far and wide, but many of our summer EFL teachers are local university students or state school teachers on their summer breaks.  As the Academic Manager at the Federation of English Teaching Organisations – Malta (FELTOM), responsible for quality assurance amongst other things, I am keen to make sure that standards are maintained, so I’ve been doing some investigation work.

I wanted to find out how the schools make sure that the part-time summer teachers were good enough, and how they supported them.  The most frequent responses to my questionnaire survey and phone calls were:

  • Minimum qualification level – TEFL plus English ‘A’ level, or CELTA
  • In-house induction and training sessions
  • Observation, feedback and mentoring arrangements

I also quizzed them about their recruitment and induction processes during the rest of the year and again, most of the schools followed a similar path, which I’ve summarised here:

All this got me thinking about whether we’re doing enough, or are we being too restrictive?  I know in some countries the authorities insist on a degree in linguistics before issuing a visa, while in other places even teenage students taking their ‘A’ levels or equivalent can be in charge of classes.  What’s been your experience?

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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 1

Young people giving a presentationJon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. In the first of three posts, he offers advice for helping students to overcome challenges in presenting in English.

Many schools and universities require students to give presentations. It is difficult enough to present successfully in one’s own language, let alone a foreign language. A shy and timid learner in his or her own language will not miraculously become a fantastic presenter in English!

This article will examine how we can help students become better presenters by developing their confidence and improving their preparation. Good presenters say something interesting, which they communicate in a lively and memorable way – it is a true performance art. Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that good presenters are made, not born, and that even those learners who lack self-confidence can be transformed into acceptably confident, albeit not brilliant presenters.

Download my helpful hints on Presentations – Expressions and introductory phrases (PDF).

Confidence building

Use sub-groups

The stress presenters feel tends to grow with the size of the audience they address. In most cases, during the training process, the audience will be other class members.  Recently, I have taught larger groups of up to thirty, so breaking them up into sub-groups can be useful.  Speaking in front of six people is usually less intimidating than speaking in front of thirty. Arranging the classroom into different zones means three or four students can present simultaneously. Not only is this a more efficient use of classroom time, but it shifts the focus away from a sole individual. I generally play background music to reduce distraction between groups.
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Designing Good Tests: Principles Into Practice

Keith Morrow is the editor of ELT Journal and has worked in language testing for many years. He was involved in developing some of the first ‘communicative’ language tests, and is currently working as a consultant to testing projects in Austria and Luxembourg. Keith hosted a Global Webinar ‘Designing Good Tests: Principles Into Practice’ on January 12th and will be repeating it on January 31st. You can find out more information and register to attend here.

Testing goes on in almost every educational institution in the world, and is familiar to both teachers and students. “On Thursday we’ll have a vocabulary test”.  “I want to get good marks in the end-of-year exams”.

Despite this, teacher training programmes often pay very little attention to the role, purpose, and nature of testing in the classroom. As a result many teachers feel insecure about the principles and practice of testing, and so they put together tests based on what they have always done – or just use tests from published sources.

Do you see a little bit of yourself in this description? Would like to find out more about some background ideas in testing?

For example, what is testing? Is it the same as assessment)? Why do we test? To help the students or to frighten them? Is it a carrot or a stick? How is a test made? What are the different forms a test might take? What are the different focuses a language test might have? And most importantly, of course, how can we design better tests in our own context and for our own purposes?

These are some of the areas we will be looking at in my webinar on 31st January. Please come and join me, to meet colleagues from all over the world online, and to have a chance to share ideas and insights about testing.

After the webinar on this topic that I gave earlier this month, there were a lot of questions that I didn’t have time to answer online. So here are some quick thoughts on some of them.

Can the selected response task test both elements of language and communicative skills?

A multiple-choice test can be a good way of finding out what students know. But finding out what students can do is rather more difficult. If you are thinking of communicative skills in terms of production (speaking and writing), I think you have to see how well they can actually speak or write. And you can’t do that with multiple choice.

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A Letter to My Younger Self

Young woman thinking as she writesMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this piece she writes a letter to herself about things she wished she knew when she first started teaching.

Dear Younger Self,

As you have probably realised by now, teaching is hard work. On top of a full teaching load you have to deal with homework, exams, misbehaving students, staff meetings and (gasp!) students’ parents. You are experiencing a lot of uncertainty and ups and downs, sometimes even on an hourly basis. You may feel that you don’t have enough time to plan the spectacular lessons you dreamt of when you were training to become a teacher. I remember what it feels like to be a new teacher, so I would like to offer you some simple advice that can help you deal with some of the challenges you are currently facing.

Choice: First of all, don’t be afraid to give your students choices about their learning. As a teacher, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of being the decision-maker, judge and jury in the classroom, but allowing choice is an important part of helping students become autonomous learners. By having your students make some decisions in the classroom, you can also increase their involvement and enjoyment of your lessons. Start with something simple, such as allowing students to choose which questions from an exercise that they would like to answer. You might also consider asking them how they would like to carry out an activity – individually, in pairs or in groups? Homework and projects are other areas where choice is a possibility. If you want them to get more practice with past simple at home, give them some options and take a whole class vote, for example:

  1. Write a short composition about your last holiday.
  2. Record yourself talking about what you did last weekend.
  3. Prepare a ‘past simple’ quiz for your classmates.

This allows you to cater to different learning styles while encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. For learners who are not accustomed to being given choice in the classroom, this new responsibility may come as a shock to them and they may struggle to come up with ideas or even try to ‘cheat’ the system. But with a bit of persistence and optimism on your part, you will be amazed at the wonderful ideas your students can come up with.

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10 Commandments for motivating language learners: #9 Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom

Blonde woman smiling in college classContinuing the 10 Commandments for motivating language learners series, Tim Ward, a freelance teacher trainer in Bulgaria, takes a closer look at number nine of the 10 Commandments: Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

This is the latest of the blogs dealing with the vexed matter of motivation. A recap: I’ve been musing on the 10 Commandments of Motivation as categorised by two top Hungarians, Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer, and wondering what their practical ramifications might be. In some senses, I’ve left the most interesting two till last. One is the imperative to create a pleasant relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. This is about the physical properties of the classroom, by the way, and not so much about the human relationships inside it – though one way of looking at it is to think about how the classroom atmosphere can facilitate good relationships and an atmosphere conducive to learning.

I’m loath to provide any recipes here as so much depends on the context you’re working in and, for example, the physical condition of a classroom in a state university in my part of post-communist Europe is very different from the state-of-the-art hi-tech private schools students might be in. But atmospheres can always be better and there is a framework to think about them provided by the senses. Why? Well, we know enough from research to have, to say the least, strong suspicions that brains do not thrive in environments with a narrow range of stimuli. In plainer English, poorly kept classrooms inhibit learning. I should say here I’m relying on one of my favourite books on this area – it’s Using Brainpower in the Classroom: 5 Steps to Accelerate Learning by Steve Garnett, and it says some hugely useful things about the classroom environment.

One place to start is with the display. I’m a great believer in displaying students’ work, even that of adults (as long as of course that it’s not kept on the wall too long). It’s not just about self-esteem, though seeing your work displayed is likely to increase that. There are also important learning points here. Writing should always be for an audience, and displaying writing gives any bit of work a wider audience than just the teacher. The posters that come with English File can be enormously useful too. If they are legible from anywhere in the room and positioned at eye-level, long term recall of their learning points can be as high as 75%. If we replace these learning displays frequently, then obviously more knowledge can be learnt, almost passively, in this way.

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