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Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush | Q&A

Development meeting
It was great to see so many of you in the webinars. Once again, I think its evidence that so many teachers are incredibly committed to what they do, and want to learn more about themselves and how they can help their students learn.

The webinar was a whistle stop tour of short, simple and shareable development activities, from which rose some interesting questions. I hope I can answer them here in a helpful way.

 

A number of you wanted to know more about professional development in a context where you work alone – perhaps as an online teacher.

“It would be useful to have some hints and tips for individual teachers who perhaps work on freelance basis and don’t have interaction with colleagues.”

“Can you possibly share with us your view on individual teachers’ development, please? I’m mostly working from home, so I’m the only worker in my little, yet cosy company. I also learn best on my own, the same goes for my professional reflections. Is it always about interacting with colleagues?”

 Although it’s true that working alongside teaching colleagues offers a deep reservoir of easily accessible professional ideas and support, it’s perfectly possible to engage in developmental activities on our own. We looked at a number of activities which provide a framework of descriptive experiences, followed by exploratory questions designed to support reflection. These can all provide the basis for an individual to examine their own practice too. Whether in dialogue with another or on our own, a key step is the actual articulation of our thoughts. In a conversation, we do this through speaking. If we are on our own then writing down our recollections, questions and ideas become the most normal way of recording. This articulation stage is important as it forces us to codify, categorise, and order our sometimes muddled thoughts. It makes inconsistencies more visible. Patterns become more identifiable. This is especially the case if we write down our responses to the reflection questions on a regular basis over a set period. Then, by returning to them and reading them together, this can often reveal things about our understandings that we simply don’t see in the normal daily rush.

Writing in this way – to ourselves – can feel odd at first. I’ve found the best way to do this is to use a computer, just type without looking at the screen or bothering about syntax, punctuation or spelling. Just a stream of consciousness. Then I come back the next day and read it through. It’s often quite surprising what I discover. By the way, one possible side effect of this is stress relief. If I’m worried about a lesson I’ve done, or an issue at work, then writing about it in this way can sometimes clear it from my mind. I can ‘get it off my chest’.

A useful writer on this topic is Jenny Moon. Her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning’ is straightforward, accessible, and packed full of ideas and activities to help.

As for the classroom-based activities, why not observe yourself? If you work online, simply record the lesson (with the permission of your student) using screen capture software and then watch again using the observation activities we explored in the webinar. This is powerful. I can personally testify to the usefulness of this, as I will be watching the recording of this webinar to identify all the times I go ‘off script’ in an attempt to get better control of my timings.

Finally, there is the point that it’s actually hard to be alone these days. There are many professional online communities – especially in education. I belong to the Oxford Teachers’ Club which is open to everyone who has attended an Oxford Teachers’ Academy course. There are over 250 members who chat away on the Facebook site. Other universal sites, such as LinkedIn have discussion groups with very active participants. IATEFL has a variety of special interest groups who tweet and chat online – perhaps the Teacher Development SIG might be of interest (https://tdsig.org).

What if you have colleagues who observe just to criticize?

This is unfortunately something I have encountered a great deal. Perhaps the first question is why does this happen? Perhaps they’re simply repeating their experiences of being observed. Perhaps they feel that they are being helpful, and helping us to learn from our mistakes. In my experience this is the most common approach that observers take. The ‘I will point out what you can do better’ method. It has its place, of course, but if this is the only use of an observation it can become very negative.

One way of engaging with this is to use focused observations, rather than a general one. Have specific questions, and therefore data that you ask your colleague to record, and then in the post-observation discussion have some questions ready to guide the conversation. This changes the role of the observer to recorder – and away from judge.

I know one teacher who asked if she could record the post-observation conversations, and then analysed the amount of critical comments and shared her findings with the colleagues. This was highly effective in showing them the impact of their approaches.

Observation and the subsequent discussion is a competence that needs to be learned. I can be a great classroom teacher, but not have very developed observation skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to criticise. It might be that that I don’t know any other way. This brings me on to the last question.

Are there any useful books that you would recommend for conducting observations?

Yes. ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ by Ruth Wajnryb is an excellent resource. It looks at seven different aspects of the classroom experience and has five focused observation activities for each, along with exploratory frameworks for reflection afterwards. If you do a different one each week, you’ll have a full academic year of observation tasks without repeating yourself. Then do it again the following year and see what’s changed.

Why not buy a copy for your critical colleague as a birthday present?

Looking forward to seeing you all again on a webinar soon!


Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP.


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Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush

Development activities

Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP! In this article, he examines the everyday development opportunities that teachers could be missing out on. 

When I work with groups of teachers, we often build a concept map of what has influenced us in our development as teachers. What do you think are the most influential factors? Our pre-service courses? INSET? Methodology books? OUP webinars?

 

Well, it’s none of those. Whether in Djibouti, the Ukraine, Vietnam, or anywhere in between, the two most influential factors are consistently:

  1. Our own experience of teaching;
  2. Our colleagues.

Surprised? Probably not. In fact, given the amount of time we spend in the classroom and with our colleagues in comparison to how much time we spend on training courses and reading methodology books, it’s quite obvious that this should be the case.

If this is true, we should be learning all the time. We teach all day. We talk to colleagues in-between lessons. We have all we need to develop just by doing the job, don’t we?

I’m not sure we do. You see, experience just isn’t enough.

This is because we only tend to notice certain experiences. Simply, we don’t see things as ‘they are’; we see things as ‘we are’ (Anais Nin). We have a tendency to interpret information so that it fits into our existing frameworks of understanding. So, if I think my students are generally unmotivated, I will tend to notice behaviour which I believe proves this. I might miss things that show otherwise.

I see what I expect to see. I experience what I expect to experience. And then I get tremendous satisfaction when I can say ‘I told you so’ or ‘I knew’ that would happen’.

It’s a little like living in a box. Clearly you can’t go far if you stay in a box! But to be successful, I’m in no way suggesting that you must leave the box.

Boxes are comfortable places to be. They’re safe. You can focus on what you’re happy with; you can enjoy yourself and increase your confidence. It’s great to be able to do what you do, do it well, and then celebrate that certainty. I know I’ve had many happy ‘box periods’ in my career where I focused on the enjoyment of honing my existing skills. And when our professional lives are busy, and we teach and work in a constant rush, it’s sometimes good to have that security.

Yet we can’t escape the fact that we’re teachers. We believe in learning. And if we believe in learning, we believe in change. So, there are times when we should use development activities to open the box and look at the world around us with different eyes. Even in the rush.

I’ll be showing you how to do this in my upcoming webinar on the 15th-16th November. Some of the practical learning activities for teachers can done alone, some can be done with colleagues. And none take more than 30 minutes.

Here’s one development activity you can do on your own:


Why it Worked

Reflection often starts with problems or areas of difficulty, but this activity focuses on the learning’s we can gain from our successes, and possible applications to other areas of our practice.

Suggested Activity Procedure

  1. Set aside 30 minutes.
  2. Use the Recalling Prompts to guide your exploration.
  3. Use the Reflective Questions to guide your analysis of the data and record your conclusions and future actions.

Recalling Prompts

Identify something you are involved in that was successful this week.

  • Where did this happen and who was involved?
  • How do you know you were successful?
  • Have you tried the activity before with different results?
  • What effect did the success have on the people involved?

Reflection Questions

  • How do you measure the success?
  • Does everybody involved share your evaluation? If not, why?
  • How replicable is this success – can you repeat the activity with the same results?
  • If you’ve tried this before with different results, how do you account for the change?
  • What aspects of the activity (in planning or in delivery) could you use with other activities?

Action

  • Write down one action you will take as a result of this reflection.

Here’s one development activity you can do with colleagues:


Me time

Find two other colleagues.

One of you has ‘Me Time’ on a specific afternoon for 30 minutes after school each week.

What this means is that the other two colleagues focus completely on you. You may have a problem with a student, or with a language point, or with a task you have to do, or with how you are feeling, or with ANYTHING you want to talk about – as long as it’s something to do with your job.

Because you are the focus, they have to spend at least 15 minutes just listening to you and can only ask questions.

After the first 15 minutes, they can describe possible alternative actions that you could take, but they can’t say what they think is right or wrong.

You control the conversation completely, and if you want to talk you just raise your hand and the other speaker stops.

Then – wherever you are in the conversation you ALWAYS stop at 30 minutes – and the next week it’s someone else’s turn for Me Time.


The ideas are simple, but good ideas often are! In the webinar, we’ll be exploring 12 more teacher-focused learning activities that you can use for your own professional development.  

Click here to register your place on the webinar.

Hope to see you there!

 


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25 steps to publishing a textbook

Ever wondered where those books you’re using come from? The journey those published works take from being an idea, to the finished article is a long one, sometimes taking four years or more! They start that journey in the hands of the authors, then they pass through the hands of designers, publishers, and printers, before finally landing in yours.

This infographic gives you a unique insight into the process our books undergo before they reach you.

 

 


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Everything is better with music

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. She has an M.A. in English Language Teaching specializing in very young learners and young learners. Vanessa is co-author of the OUP Resource Books, Very Young Learners and Writing with children. She is also the author of the many OUP course books for pre-primary and primary. She is currently working on her PhD. In 2014, Vanessa trained as an official Zumba teacher and teaches Zumba Kids to Spanish children in English!

Music in the ELT classroom

Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.  Plato

Plato’s words epitomise what music means to many, although we may not express ourselves quite so poetically!

Music has always been very important in my life. I have music playing around the house, in the car and I usually have one song or another going around in my head.  Those who know me well consider me to be a happy, optimistic person and I think that having music in my life has a lot to do with it.  Is music important in your life?

 

Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.  Plato

I agree with Plato again here. We are actually surrounded by music in our everyday lives, in shops, adverts on TV, soundtracks to films and the radio. Boyd Brewer (1995) however asks, “How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off?” Luckily, in ELT, we tend not to turn music off. In fact, all those years ago when I started teaching English to primary children, I soon discovered that music and songs were also my closest allies in the classroom.

As well as teaching the children new language with a song, I used music for classroom management, having a Hello/Goodbye song, songs to mark transitions like the start of story time or circle time, music to play in the background to settle the children to a desk-based activity, or a stirring tune if I wanted them to be more active.  At one point, colleagues would ask me if I actually did any work in my classes as the children just seemed to be “all singing all dancing”, to which I would reply, “Do the children leave your class singing the maths curriculum?  They could do! If you need any songs, just ask.”   If a song is memorable enough, children will take the English song out of your classroom, into the playground, and all the way home the English will be in their heads. Murphy (1992) refers to S-S-I-T-H-P, Song Stuck in the Head Phenomenon, when a song is catchy and you just cannot get it out of you head.  You know the feeling, that song you hear first thing on the radio in the morning which is still in your head at break time, lunchtime and sometimes on the way home. It’s the same with the children in your class and luckily for us, most children’s songs are catchy by nature.

Some years later, when I reflected on how much music means in my classes, I realised that it is one of, if not the most important element in my lesson planning for children. This was a serious issue when choosing a course book for my English classes. I always made listening to the accompanying CD paramount and I encourage teachers on my training courses to never choose a course book without having listened carefully to the songs first, as you could be living with them for years!

Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. Beethoven

There are many advantages to using music, songs and rhymes in a language class.

Why use songs and music with primary age children?

  • Most children like songs, music and movement;
  • For classroom management – starting, ending, marking transitions, stirring or settling the children. Songs can cut back on teacher talk time and help save your voice as children can join in with the classroom management instructions. You can often start the “Everybody tidy up” song and never have to finish it as the children take over and sing everything back to its place!
  • A well-chosen song can provide children with the language we have to teach. If the song includes a lot of repetition and can also incorporate movement and actions, these two elements enhance the learning process and help to make the language even more memorable. As long as we expose the children to a song with the right language, they can leave our class and spend the rest of the day singing our curriculum!
  • Songs are motivational for children at this early stage in their language-learning career as songs permit them to sing whole sentences at a reasonably fast pace, something many children consider to be a sign of being able to speak a language.
  • When a song contains chunks of language, teachers can refer back to these in order to help children remember and use the language more confidently.
  • Music can lift the mood in a class and make learning more fun. Cameron (2001) found that ‘… a new word needs to be met at least five or six times… before it has any chance of being learnt.’ Having to repeat a word so many times could become tedious, however, a carefully chosen song can provide this necessary practice and be fun at the same time.  A song where the target language is repeated the “magic” 3 times, means that on just one listening, we are making language learning more accessible. However, we tend to listen and sing a song many times and this brings us closer to our goal.
  • Murphy, (1992) said “With young children, language divorced from action seems to be mostly forgotten.” Songs with TPR provide instant clarification of meaning but also help children channel their natural energy into the learning process. Well-chosen actions can be used to instantly refresh a child’s memory and elicit language. As children get the hang of TPR and actions, I work with the class to encourage them to choose the actions.  We talk about the important language we want to learn and think of and select the best actions to help the children remember.  Actions can mean a lot more to children when they have chosen them.

In this practical webinar we will look at using music in a manner of ways to make our job easier, and make the language learning process more memorable for children.

Please think of your favourite children’s song so you can share it with the group.  Mine still has to be “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.”  I have a favourite version of this song though.  If you don’t know the Learning Station, check them out on YouTube.  I think you’ll love this version! It may get stuck in your head again though!

You’ll be singing “Neck, elbows, hips and feet” for the rest of the day!

Boyd Brewer, C, (1995).  “Integrating Music in the Classroom.” http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/arts/brewer.htm

Cameron, L, (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners, CUP

Murphy, T, (1992), Music and song, Oxford University Press


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Teaching: The good, the bad and the balance

Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria and co-author of ‘Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers’. In this post she reflects on the importance of teachers’ well-being and offers some practical suggestions to help them find their own work-life balance.

Let me get this straight from the start – I absolutely love teaching. I can’t think of any other job I would like to do more. When I read the post-its from IATEFL and Andrew Diliger’s recent blog post and saw all the positivity, I felt grateful to be part of this wonderful community. Many teachers are passionate about what they do and they also get a lot energy, motivation, and inspiration from their learners and day-to-day classroom encounters. But let’s not diminish just how demanding a profession it is. Teaching requires great skill in having competence in our subjects, interpersonal skills, pedagogical knowledge, intercultural sensitivity, creativity, technological skills, and organisational skills – to name but a few. It is a profession with a long history, which we should be proud to be part of and which necessitates specialist expertise for it to function well – That’s where we come in. In fact, we are probably the most valuable resource in educational institutions and yet very often the importance of what we do goes unappreciated and undervalued – sometimes by others but also occasionally by ourselves.

Teaching can be extremely rewarding but can also be emotionally and physically draining. Like seasonal workers, during term time, many of us work evenings and weekends. It is extremely stressful on a day-to-day basis and as administration and assessment procedures mushroom, it grows ever more exhausting having to work on tasks that are a lot less rewarding than the time spent in class. The to-do list is never-ending and there is always more we could be doing. Add to this that as teachers, we tend to be other-oriented and very often we have tendencies towards perfectionism. As a result, this can lead us to keep giving to others and doing ever more not knowing when to stop and recharge our own batteries. It is easy to see the risks and why many early career stage teachers end up leaving the profession and why teaching reports such high levels of burnout.

So, how do we reconcile these two sides of teaching? The side where we love and are energised by what we do, along with the incredibly demanding, exhausting and stressful reality of a busy teaching life. Well, part of the clue lies in the fact that so many positive comments were found at an event like IATEFL. Firstly, we know that we can benefit enormously from professional development that is meaningful, relevant and worthwhile. We can enjoy spending time focusing on things that are professionally, intellectually and personally engaging. We might do this by attending conferences, workshops, webinars or by reading blogs or books of interest. However, we must take care not to fall into the trap of believing everyone is doing more than us and start to feel guilty for all the other things we ‘could’ be doing. Instead, we should find professional development opportunities to energise us and inspire us, whilst remaining realistic about what we can manage without trying to do it all. It is important for us to celebrate who we are as individuals taking time to focus on our strengths and the things we are already doing really well. We also have to remember that we are more than just our teacher selves. Having other interests and hobbies outside of education is important to keep us balanced and strengthen our overall well-being. This means we need to plan in time in our busy schedules for the other dimensions of our lives to draw energy and inspiration from them too.

The second dimension from IATEFL that gives us another clue for our positive well-being is how important it is to connect with colleagues and share stories, experiences, and ideas from the classroom and life beyond. This kind of support network and the ability to talk with people who know and understand your situation is vital. Indeed, other teachers are often the best people to share your humour about teaching life with – Indeed, laughter is one of the best coping strategies for reducing stress. However, more important than our collegial relationships are our family ties and personal friendships. These deserve our full quality attention and time. They serve as a primary source of support, happiness, and well-being and are a vital buffer against stress. No matter how packed our schedule, we must set aside time to protect and nurture these relationships.

Being a teacher is a joy and privilege. But it is also hard work and stressful. To ensure that the positive aspects of our work predominate, we need to do things that are rewarding and give us energy as well as invest in our personal and professional relationships. Once we understand that our happiness and well-being are key determinants of how well we teach and how much our learners enjoy our classes, then it becomes a lot easier to feel less selfish and guilty about putting ourselves first for a change.

Featured image credit: ‘Finding Balance’. Public Domain via Flickr