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Online Teaching Part 1: Getting Started | Shaun Wilden

Online teaching in practice - a teacher and students connecting online As an unprecedented virus makes its way around the world playing havoc with teachers’ schedules, educators are looking into how to use technology as a way of filling the gap left by the closure of many schools. If you’re one of them then the first question you need to ask yourself is do you want to fill that gap in a synchronous or asynchronous way.  Or in other words, do you want to use online teaching to get the class together at the same time in a virtual classroom (synchronous) or are will you be sending out work to the students to do in their own time and report back (asynchronous).  In this post, I’ll give you some advice about getting started synchronously.

Choosing a platform to communicate with your students

The first question is probably what software are you going to use. There are many platforms to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and going over each would make for a very long post. Given that you probably need to move quickly don’t have much time for training, I imagine you need something relatively simple. You could, for example, simply use Skype; it allows for video, text chat, screen sharing, and recording. Additional features like ‘meet now’ would allow you to put all your students in one group. The downside though is that not everyone uses Skype and it can lead to the sharing of contact details.

If your school uses Google Classroom then you can use Google Hangouts which you will find as part of that.  Zoom, a platform many schools I’ve been working with have turned to this week, is free to use for 40 minutes but for large classes, a school will need paid accounts.  One advantage of it is that people simply click on a link to join, and it has a feature called breakout rooms to use for pair and group work, plus you can make different ‘rooms’ useful for different classes.  What I like about Zoom is that it has so much support online that it is easy to get started. I am not endorsing any of these platforms, in particular, just pointing out that they’re free.  There are many more but whichever you choose, first and foremost in your mind will be “what best fits the needs of my students?”

Additional technology you’ll need

Aside from an online teaching platform, what else do you need?  Well, a good internet connection helps. These days we are all used to WiFi and this will usually do, but if you can attach your computer to a cabled network this will make for much better stability.  Bear in mind also that, depending on your countries situation, the internet is getting heavily used. If everyone is confined to their homes then naturally they’re all online and this can cause a bit of slow down here and there.

Your computer probably already has a built-in camera and you’ll need that as students will want to see you.  Will you want to see them? If so, then they will need cameras too. However, bear in mind it is the camera that takes up a lot of the bandwidth in a connection so too many cameras could lead to issues.  As well as seeing you, students will need to hear you and you hear them. While computers have built-in mics, I strongly recommend you use a headset. The one you got with your mobile phone will do the trick.   The advantages of headsets are two-fold; the mic is closer to your mouth and more importantly everyone wearing headphones will limit the amount of feedback that can be caused by everyone having a mic on.

Getting set up to teach your first online teaching lesson

My final tip for getting started is to consider where you are going to teach from.  As many of you are possibly being confined to homes, think about where you are going to sit. You need to be away from distractions such as pets or kids. Being on camera you also need to make sure that what’s behind you doesn’t give away anything private about you. Finally, you need to make sure that your chosen location has a good light source.

Once you’re set up and ready to go, take some time to have a play around your platform. Push some buttons, see what things do. Don’t be afraid, it’s pretty hard to break an online classroom.  You can also use your platform to meet up with your colleagues. Not only will this give you an idea of what’s it like to have a class but working together lets you share advice.  You can set each other quizzes to test how well you can do things, i.e. ‘how do you turn on the mic’, ‘can you show how to use the whiteboard’ and so on. My one extra tip here is don’t try and learn everything in one go. Keep the first lessons as simple as you can.

From this not only will you feel more confident but you’ll also be to help students when they first come to the platform. Additionally, if you write down some of the answers you can turn them into a ‘getting started’ information sheet that you can send to students.  It can also help you come up with some classroom rules. For example, when you’re not speaking turn off your mic or, if you want to speak, put up your hand first.

Get practical tips for planning your online language lessons in part 2 of my online teaching guide here!

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

Learn at Home

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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Blended Learning: From Theory to Practice

blended learning

I have long been interested in ‘Blended Learning’ (BL). It remains a ‘buzz’ term in language teaching, although it means different things to different people. This blog post explores some key aspects of BL.

A good place to start unpacking the various definitions of BL is the ELTJ article ‘Key concepts in ELT: Blended Learning’ (2010). Common definitions include:

  • combining traditional teaching with e-learning
  • combining different methodologies
  • combining different technologies

Despite the range of definitions, it is generally understood that the term refers to a course which combines face-to-face (f2f) classroom teaching with web-based learning. This is the definition I will use in my webinar: Blended Learning: from theory to practice.

Flexibility

BL is fascinating because the concept is based on being responsive to individual contexts. There is no single ‘solution’, but rather many ways to blend classroom teaching and online learning.

Flux

The term is constantly changing. The term ‘virtual blend’ has recently been applied to 100% online courses which use ‘face-to-face online’ teaching in ‘live’ webinars. New, somewhat exotic incarnations of BL have evolved, such as f2f + Virtual Reality (VR). Students away from the class use a headset to do further language practice which complements their lessons.

Why blend?

There are many reasons for transitioning to BL. One common reason is to combine the well-known positives of classroom teaching with the advantages of online learning, considered to be studying at your own pace, at a place of your choice; and ‘differentiation’ – using the online platform as a way of delivering personalized, individual learning.

‘Time’ is another frequently cited reason. There is simply not enough time for language learners to cover everything within the constraints of the class timetable. Indeed, some language areas are best suited to self-study, such as extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes.

Can BL save money? There is huge disagreement on this point. Many commercial organizations cite ‘cost-saving’ as a major argument for blending; however, schools who have moved part of the curriculum online often report additional and unexpected costs including remuneration for online moderation.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges in setting up a BL course is that the course fails to satisfy anyone’s learning preference. The students who enjoy the class may not contribute to the knowledge building occurring in the online environment, while those who enjoy working online may dislike the time restrictions imposed by the timetable. Learners may not see the link between their lessons and online work. They sometimes perceive the online components to be of lesser value and fail to do the online work. Technical problems can prove de-motivating.

Which LMS?

In recent workshops, I have asked the question: “Which platform do you use?” The range of answers shows the immense diversity of what happens in classrooms around the world. Common is an ‘open-source’ platform like Moodle which is essentially empty unless you create and upload your own materials. Some private language schools have created their own LMS. If you use a coursebook, a sound entry point is the publisher platform, such as Oxford Online.

Comparing LMSs rarely compares ‘like for like’. The platform you know and love may well be disliked or unknown to a colleague. Much depends on your own preferences, familiarity and of course, your school.

The power of data

This summer, I taught with a publisher-produced platform linked to a coursebook. It included tracking tools which allowed me to see data on student performance, such as their scores for each exercise. It was quite a revelation for me, a classroom teacher, to see just what students do on the platform. I’m keen to share my insights in the webinar.

Success with BL

There are four critical factors in working towards a successful BL course appropriacy, complementarity, attitude and training:

  • Appropriacy

Successful BL teachers plan activities which are appropriate to each mode: classroom and online.

Imagine working on a controversial topic. It is appropriate to develop oral fluency in the classroom, through real-time discussion. It is appropriate to work on ‘critical thinking’ through an online forum, giving students more time to reflect, draft and re-compose their written arguments.

  • Complementarity

This refers to the genuine integration of the ‘in-class’ and ‘online’ elements. Sending students individual messages via the platform is a great way to personalise a printed activity in the student coursebook.

  • Attitude

“Apparently, we now have to use this learning platform, so here is your password!”

 This overheard comment evinces a disconnect between a teachers’ beliefs and their practice. The success of a BL course may well ultimately depend on both teachers and students holding positive beliefs about BL itself.

  • Teacher training

Both teachers and students need time to become familiar with online materials and procedures. Teacher training represents an investment in time and money, yet it is an essential factor in making BL work.

Do you run BL courses? If so, which platform do you use? What is your experience? 

The concept of BL is rich and multi-layered. As technology changes, so does BL. Nevertheless, no matter how fast the technology changes, it is principled pedagogy which lies at the heart of a good language course and underlies BL. I’m very much looking forward to exploring this fascinating, key concept in ELT and sharing ideas with teachers around the world.

Register to join me for my webinar!

Please note – this article was written prior to the more widespread impact of the Coronavirus on schools and is therefore focused on blending online and classroom teaching.

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.


Pete Sharma is a Director of Pete Sharma Associates Ltd, a consultancy and training organisation: www.psa.eu.com  He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete has co-written many books on educational technology in ELT. Click here to visit Pete’s blog.


References

Sharma, P. (2010). Key Concepts in ELT: Blended learning. ELTJ, 64(4), 456-458

Sharma, P. and Barrett, B. (2018) Best Practices for Blended Learning (2018) Hove: Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd

Whittaker, C., and Tomlinson, B. (Eds.). (2013). Blended learning in English language teaching: Course Design and Implementation London, UK: British Council.


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Teacher Wellbeing: A SMART Approach | Sarah Mercer

teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing is an essential ingredient for effective, creative, and motivating teaching. Yet, so many teachers neglect their own self-care, focusing their time and energy on other aspects of their professional practice. In this blog, I outline how we can all become a little ‘smarter’ about our wellbeing.  A ‘SMART’ teacher attends to their Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and use of Time, in order to teach to the best of their abilities so that they can truly flourish as professionals. Let’s look at each facet of a ‘SMART’ approach to teacher wellbeing.

Self

SMART teachers understand the value of self-care, self-compassion, and placing the self in the centre of their agenda. Many educators are naturally orientated towards caring for others as is the nature of the profession. However, this focus outwards often means that their own ‘self’ needs can be overlooked and neglected. Yet, the saying, ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’, serves as a warning of the perils of not attending to the self. If teachers want to teach to the best of their abilities, they need to ensure they are looking after themselves too so that they have energy and resources to draw on in their professional roles. Self-care is not an indulgent luxury; rather it is the foundation of good practice.

Motivation

SMART teachers are aware of their own motivation. Everybody’s motivation experiences peaks and troughs. The key is to recognise the dips and know what you need to do to help you regain your drive. Humans also have a natural tendency towards a negativity bias meaning we tend to focus on the negatives and sometimes lose sight of the positives. Our wellbeing and motivation can benefit when we deliberately take stock of the positives in our jobs on a daily basis.

At the end of the day, make a note of things you enjoyed, found rewarding, or are grateful for about your job. Looking at the positives is not about denying the negatives which you may still need to address; it is about maintaining a balanced focus. It can be motivating to remind ourselves of what we love about our jobs and perhaps, for some, reconnect with our original motivations for choosing this profession.

Active

SMART teachers appreciate the tight connections between physical and mental wellbeing and the benefits of being active in this regard. Our physical wellbeing centres around what is known as the ‘health triangle’, which involves sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Attending to these aspects of self is a prerequisite for being able to flourish at work. Everyone’s needs and capacities in this regard vary, and each person needs to find their own balance. However, the key is to consciously attend to our health triangle ensuring that quality sleep, healthy nutrition, and time for exercise are not pushed off our agendas by other seemingly more pressing demands. Nothing is more important than your health and recognising this is a critical first step. Human bodies are incredible machines but they also need good maintenance – make sure you look after your body as well as you look after your car, plants, or pets!

Relationships

SMART teachers know just how important relationships are for wellbeing. John Donne famously said, ‘no man is an island’. We are all embedded in a web of social relationships. In the workplace, our wellbeing is boosted through positive relationships with colleagues as well as with our learners. Among colleagues, a special friend at work to connect with and share work ideas with is particularly valuable. In our personal lives, family and friends represent a key source of strength and support. Investing in our social relationships means setting quality time aside to meet, and then savouring the time together without distractions. Making ‘date nights’ with partners and friends remains a great strategy to keep relationships healthy.

Time

SMART teachers have strategies for managing their time effectively. Good time management is not about being efficient so you work even more and even harder! Good time management is about finding ways to work effectively, so you can create more time in your schedule to engage in self-care, do exercise, be with family and friends, and spend time on hobbies and other aspects of life which refresh and motivate you. Being able to manage your time means knowing what needs to be done, keeping an overview of deadlines (long- and short-term), and understanding when you work best on what kinds of tasks. Check your priorities and organise your time accordingly – that includes making yourself and your relationships a priority fixed in your schedule like any other important appointment.

Teaching is a wonderful profession, which can be extremely rewarding and meaningful. However, the passion and dedication that many teachers exhibit often means that they neglect their own wellbeing. ‘SMART’ teachers know that making their wellbeing a priority is not selfish or something to feel guilty about. Instead, it is a recognition of personal worth and the fact that everyone – teachers and learners – benefit if teachers look after themselves and are wellbeing-SMART: Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and Time.

 


 

Do you want to discover more great strategies for nurturing and promoting your wellbeing? Read Teacher Wellbeing, by Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen – a practical guide for language teachers!

 


 

Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. She is co-author, with Tammy Gregersen, of Teacher Wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area. She is currently vice-president of the International Association for the Psychology of Language Learning (IAPLL) and serves as a consultant on several international projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP).


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The Jungle Book becomes our 100th Domino! | Alex Raynham

Jungle Book graded reader among other copies of the Jungle BookTo mark the publication of the 100th Dominoes graded reader − The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling − the author Alex Raynham talks about the challenges of adapting such a classic title and gives some advice about classroom use.

When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Books (originally plural) in the mid-1890s, he was the most popular author in the English-speaking world, and his stories became an instant classic. The Jungle Books have stood the test of time, appealing to successive generations of readers and appearing in many print, movie, and theatrical adaptations. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the villainous tiger have become part of popular culture. No wonder then that Oxford University Press has produced so many different versions over the years!

How do you adapt a classic story?

The biggest challenge was how to adapt and simplify a story that has become such a well-known classic, whilst keeping it fresh and entertaining. The original Jungle Books are a diverse collection of stories over 300 pages long. In contrast, a Level 1 Dominoes cartoon-style reader has only 27 pages of story text and is about 3,000 words − so careful text selection was required. We decided to focus on the stories in The Jungle Books, which concern the adventures of Mowgli and his friends and exclude any stories unrelated to them. We then tried to focus on key events that moved the stories forward and contributed to our understanding of the main characters.

After that we made a detailed plan of each page of the story, deciding what artwork and text to include in each ‘frame’ on those pages. Each piece of text needed to be short enough to leave plenty of space for artwork, so the wording needed to be precise. Every sentence had to contribute to the overall story. In addition, each chapter needed to end with some kind of cliffhanger, motivating learners to read on and find out what happens next.

Staying true to Kipling’s vision

The original Jungle Books are witty, captivating and descriptively rich. Kipling sets the scene and paints the characters beautifully. So one big issue with the adaptation was how to stay true to the spirit of the original story when a Level 1 Dominoes reader only has A1 grammatical structures and a wordlist of just 400 headwords. One way to do this was to preserve Kipling’s ‘voice’ as much as possible. Using plenty of direct speech helps with this, and we’ve also kept some of Kipling’s original phrases: for example, ‘man cub’ − the way that Mowgli’s wolf family describe him as a child.

Why a comic strip?

A comic strip is ideal for many readers at A1 level − particularly titles which contain rich settings and many different characters, such as The Jungle Book. It helps to introduce new vocabulary, and descriptions of the characters and settings can be supported by the pictures, making them easier to visualise at this level. A comic strip also helps the teacher to use each chapter in a variety of ways in class. For example:

  • Illustrations help the teacher to pre-teach vocabulary or reinforce it after reading.
  • All or part of some speech bubbles can be blanked out, and learners can be asked to reconstruct or predict the dialogue.
  • The teacher can photocopy a page of the story and cut up the pictures, then rearrange and scan them, asking learners to put them in order. This can be done on the IWB as a pre-reading prediction activity, or as a post-reading story review.

Supporting learners’ reading without breaking the flow

It’s probably true to say that the less we intervene, the more learners get out of extended reading. We need to motivate learners by giving them a sense of achievement through being able to read and understand an extended narrative pretty much on their own. But we also want to make sure that learners are actually understanding the story and getting the most out of it. So we’re playing the role of facilitator– encouraging students and giving them space, but also directing them to the resources contained in the books.

The meaning of above-level vocabulary is given on the page in Dominoes titles, allowing the learner to read on without getting stuck. For example, in The Jungle Book, we gloss the word ‘cub’ so that learners can understand ‘man cub’. It’s important to direct them to these Glossary words when needed without interrupting their reading by focussing too much on them.

Using activities to support learning

The Activities after every chapter can be used to facilitate class discussion about the story and recycle new vocabulary, but we should avoid the temptation to check that learners remember every detail. Using the ‘Guess What’ predictive activities in these sections is a good way to get learners thinking about the plot and what might happen next without the pressure to get any answers right.

End-of-book Grammar Check activities are designed to support learners when reading each particular title. For example, in The Jungle Book, one focus is irregular plurals nouns like ‘deer’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘teeth’! Using the Projects at the back will also help learners to relate what they’ve read to their experiences and the wider world. For example, in The Jungle Book, they’re asked to write a profile of one of four animals in the story, based on a model: Bengal tiger, wolf, black panther or brown bear.

It’s easy for students to get to the end of a graded reader, then forget about it. But in L1, we talk about good books that we’ve read with friends and think about them long after we’ve turned the last page. So it’s vital to try and reflect this both inside and outside the classroom.

 

Looking for something new to support your learners’ reading skills? Try these ready-to-use activities from our brand new graded reader!

Download your sample of The Jungle Book

Download the Activity Pack

 


Alex Raynham grew up in New Zealand and the UK before graduating from Oxford University. He was an ELT teacher in Italy and Turkey and later became an editor with Oxford University Press. Today he is a freelance author, editor and ELT teacher trainer based in Turkey. He has written over 20 ELT titles, including more than ten graded readers for Oxford University Press, and spoken at conferences throughout Turkey and abroad.


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Thinking Thoughtfully: Tips for YOUR Wellbeing | Tammy Gregerson

wellbeingHow many different hats do you wear? As a language teacher, you certainly have your professional headgear as well as your personal headgear. But if you are like many of us, you stack them on your head, forgetting to hang one in the closet before smooshing another on top of the one already there! Wouldn’t it be great if we could take one off before putting on the other?

As teaching professionals, we blur the lines between school and home, work and play. My very dear friend, Sarah Mercer and I have been on a campaign to help alleviate the stress that teachers feel because of this work/life imbalance and we’ve actually written a book about it!

On March 25th, I will be hosting a webinar, and I would like to invite each and every language teacher who finds self-care a challenge!

In the webinar, I will hit on five major points:

  1. Aligning our multiple selves. Let’s discuss how language teachers might make the various roles we play more complimentary, reducing the tensions between our personal and professional lives.
  2. Assessing our mindsets. These are our individual beliefs about the extent to which challenges and problems are within our control. Do we have a fixed mindset (“there’s nothing I can do about it”) or a “growth” mindset (“hmmm, there’s some room for growth here”)? Growth mindsets are essential for maintaining a positive attitude when confronting challenges. In the webinar, we’ll look at some hands-on ideas to help us nurture growth mindsets and soften up some of our cut-in-stone beliefs.
  3. Reflecting on attributions and optimism. Here, we will work through several activities that target our attitudes towards things that happen to us and our expectations for the future. Do we attribute our success and failures to internal or external factors? Do we look at life’s events with positivity or negativity?
  4. Measuring our attention. While some people emphasize the importance of multi-tasking, research suggests that we stress ourselves out and actually waste time and energy by focusing on more than one task. Instead, we should focus our attention on one thing at a time. At this point, you might be saying, “really, are you serious? With everything I have to do?”  Yes, that is what I’m proposing! I will follow this up with some fascinating ways to get things done more efficiently. Tips on time management are forthcoming!
  5. Finding mental space. Here, I will advocate giving ourselves mental space and allowing our subconscious to work harder for us. I would be willing to bet that many of us have come up with some of our best ideas in the shower or while sleeping. I’d like to help you discover how to do this more effectively, and how to optimise this precious commodity of ‘productivity at peace’.

So, goodnight for now, and I hope to see you at my webinar!

Do you want to discover great strategies for nurturing and promoting your wellbeing? Register for the webinar!

———————————————————–

Tammy Gregersen, a professor of TESOL at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, received her MA in Education and PhD in Linguistics in Chile, where she began her academic career. She is co-author with Sarah Mercer of Teacher wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Together with Peter MacIntyre, she wrote the books, Capitalizing on Language Learner Individuality and Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Communication in the Language Classroom.  She is also a co-editor with Peter and Sarah Mercer of Positive Psychology in SLA and Innovations in Language Teacher Education. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and contributed several chapters in applied linguistics anthologies on individual differences, teacher education, language teaching methodology and nonverbal communication in language classrooms.