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5 things to consider when running a workshop

shutterstock_490695220Martyn Clarke has worked in ELT classrooms as a teacher and trainer for over twenty years and in more than fifteen countries. He has taught English at all levels and in many contexts from one-to-one in financial institutions to rural schools with classes of eighty students.

Running a workshop for teaching colleagues is a very useful form of professional development for the following reasons:

  • It can encourage us to focus on an area of teaching in more detail than we normally would.
  • It gives us the opportunity to consider why we do things as teachers and colleagues.
  • The semi-formal setting allows us to exchange ideas with a wider range of colleagues than usual.
  • The change of dynamic can be motivational in a long teaching year.

Successful workshops usually happen as a result of good planning. Whether you are new to running workshops or have run them on a number of occasions the following 5-point checklist might prove useful.

  1. Purpose

Workshops have different purposes, which will dictate their objectives and the processes. Of course, more than one of the purposes identified below may be involved.

  • An awareness-raising workshop will focus on discussion of classroom issues and sharing of experiences and opinions. Outcomes of these workshops are often guidelines, points to remember, or outlines for future professional learning activities.
  • A materials-analysis workshop will focus on the analysis of learning materials which might be published or teacher-generated. There is usually sharing of ideas on what makes good materials and then some form of evaluation. Adaptation activities are sometimes included.
  • A skills development workshop explores what we do as teachers. It may look at teaching techniques, resource management, or even how we work with each other as colleagues.
  1. Process

Effective workshops have a clear process of learning.  A basic and very adaptable model is Input, Task, Output.

Input:

  • What information will be the focus of the workshop? Will it come from the participants or the trainer?
  • What form will this information take? (video/materials/opinions/demonstration, etc.)
  • What status does this information have? Does it have to be complied with? Is it an example of best practice? Is it a prompt for discussion and can be adopted, changed, or rejected?

Task:

  • What will the participants do with the information? Will they practice it? Analyse it? Evaluate it? Or adapt it?
  • Will all the participants be doing the same thing? All will different groups work on different aspects of the topic? Will the task take place in the workshop, or afterwards in the classrooms?

Output:

  • How will you record the work done during the task? Will you create action plans? Materials? Procedures?  Or discussion points?
  • Will participants record these individually? On posters in groups? Will you record them yourself in plenary?
  • What will you do with the output after the workshop?
  1. Logistics

An effective workshop sits comfortably in its real setting. Making sure the event works on a practical level is a key aspect of preparation.

  • Is the timing appropriate? Will participants be able to focus on the workshop and not be distracted by lessons later that day, marking they may need to finish, or any other external concern?
  • Is the content of the workshop appropriate for its length? In general, things always take longer than we expect.  Teachers like to talk.
  • Is the space of the workshop sufficient for its activities? Have you ensured privacy or will there be other staff/students walking in and out?
  • Do you have all the materials you need?
  • Does everybody know who needs to know?
  1. Follow-up

Effective workshops have strong links to practical professional practice. Teachers are busy people and it’s easy to attend a workshop, find it interesting, but then return to work and carry on doing exactly the same thing that you have always done. Ensuring a workshop has a follow-up activity is a useful way of making it effective.

  • What impact do you want the workshop to have? What changes do you hope will happen as a result of the workshop?
  • What will be the evidence of this? Will teachers record their experiences for a follow-up session? Will they share new materials in staff folders? Will there be peer observations to understand how new skills/resources are being used?
  1. Evaluation

You can evaluate a workshop in different ways. The key is to identify what information you want and to make enough time to collect it effectively.

  • Do you want information about your performance? The activities? The content? The resources? The impact of the workshop?
  • How will you collect the information? Interview? Questionnaire? Observation? Etc.
  • What will you do with the information? Who will you share it with? Will you follow up with the evaluators?


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A way to make demonstrative determiners teachable

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Ken Paterson is grateful for a piece of advice given to him soon after he started teaching English for Academic Purposes many years ago.

This, these, that and those

Over the years, I’ve had a complex relationship with the demonstrative determiners.

Before I started teaching English, I can’t remember giving them a moment’s thought.

Then, after a few years of saying to students (with appropriate hand gestures), ‘This is for things that are near to us, and that is for things that are far away’, I started to get interested in ‘text analysis’ and ‘cohesive devices’, and went a bit over-the-top, getting students to highlight determiners, and the words or phrases they referred to, in a complex code of colours and arrows that made their handouts look like early abstract art.

By the time I met my first English for Academic Purposes class, however, I’d calmed down a little.

‘The appropriate use of demonstrative determiners’ was helpfully listed as a ‘teaching outcome’ on our EAP course pro forma and, although I got into the habit of projecting short texts onto the OHP screen in order to discuss the function of a this or that, or reformulating sentences on the whiteboard to include an appropriate determiner, I never seemed to get that satisfying look in students’ eyes that here was something they could easily take away and use themselves.

And then a colleague introduced me to the concept of summary nouns.

This/these + a summary noun

‘Abstract nouns with demonstrative determiners’, she informed me, ‘improve the flow of the text by summarizing old information and introducing it to a new clause or sentence.’ And then she gave me an example or two, such as the following:

An alternative to the guided interview is the focus group, in which respondents are asked to discuss their views collectively. This method, where participants engage with each other, has the advantage of lowering the risk of interviewer bias.

I must have been aware at some level of this feature of academic English, but I hadn’t actually had it explained to me as an entity in itself that was potentially teachable.

‘Oh, there are lots of things you can do with it in the classroom’, she added, such as:

– asking students to identify some of the many typical summary nouns (area, conclusion, development, example, idea, phenomenon, situation, trend etc.) and organizing them into sub-groups (claim, comment, remark etc.);

– gapping texts after the demonstrative determiner and eliciting the most appropriate summary noun;

– applying the feature to disconnected or ‘untidy’ texts;

– inviting students to bring in for discussion their own examples;

– looking at the occasions where a writer has paired that or those, or such instead of this or these with a summary noun.

And what I found in class was not only the sense among students that this was a feature they could take away for immediate use, but also, it seemed to me, a greater awareness of the function of demonstrative determiners in other contexts (on their own or with non-summary nouns), almost as if the ‘graspable’ nature of ‘this/these + a summary noun’ had acted as a kind of bridging device.

So thank you, Sue, wherever you are!

Ken’s talk, ‘Organising academic grammar’, takes place at IATEFL Birmingham on Friday 15th April from 12:30-13.00.


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#IATEFL – The digital classroom: change of medium or change of methodology?

shutterstock_198926996Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, joins us to preview her upcoming talk at IATEFL, ‘The digital classroom: change in medium or change in methodology’, held on Friday 15th April at 3.30pm.

Today’s e-coursebooks and e-readers offer learners a range of tools that can enhance the learning experience, but is using an e-book really different? Does it require a different methodology? Does it have an impact on classroom management?  What are the benefits an e-book can offer?

First let’s think about a fairly standard lesson that uses a coursebook. You probably spend some time with students paying attention to you or to a listening track or video, some time with students working in pairs or groups, some time with them working alone. E-books don’t change that dynamic:

digital1

If we are happy with the scenario in the left column above, why should we bother changing? Why introduce e-books? Firstly, e-books can add flexibility: in the above scenario, teacher could choose to allow students to listen to the audio track on their own with headphones or in pairs.  Secondly, e-books have some features that can be beneficial to students. For example, students could listen to a graded reader and read along. They can speed up or slow down the audio or pause it and rewind to listen to a section again. Some students might even replay a section again and record themselves at the same time in order to compare their intonation or pronunciation of words.

digital2

Another reason for using e-books is that they are on tablets where students can also keep other learning resources: a learner’s dictionary, all their e-readers, and educational apps are a few good examples. Of course, with tablets and a wifi connection, students can use the internet to do webquests for projects that really open up and contextualize learning.

What about classroom management? Of all the fears that teachers say they have regarding introducing technology into the classroom, classroom management ranks highly.  However, managing a class with e-books need not be any different from managing a class with more familiar tools. The same management principles apply.

At my workshop at IATEFL, I’ll be asking teachers to think about some of the things they do in their class now before looking at some of the functionality of e-coursebooks and e-readers on Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We will talk about classroom management and think about how a class might look using an e-book. I hope you can join me!


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#IATEFL – What are reading skills? –They’re not (only) what you think

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Rachael Roberts will be joining our line-up of authors speaking at this year’s IATEFL with Caroline Krantz for their talk, ‘Cracking the code of English’. Today she joins us to preview that talk, focusing on decoding skills most useful for reading English as a language learner.

When we talk about reading skills, what usually comes to mind? Prediction, reading for gist, reading for specific information and skimming and scanning?

If you’ll forgive the clickbait style title of this post (I couldn’t resist), the fact is that there’s a lot more to the skill of reading than this.

Let’s start by looking at these commonly referred to skills, and then look at what else we could (and should) be teaching our students.

Prediction

Students are very often encouraged to use the title of the text, or any accompanying pictures to make predictions about the content. There are good reasons for teaching students to do this; the idea is to activate whatever students may already know about the topic and help them to start creating a context. Without context, comprehension is much harder. Think about those moments when you turn on the radio and have no idea for a few moments what is being discussed. It only starts to make sense once you realise what the basic topic is.

Reading for gist

This doesn’t mean telling the students , ‘read the text to get a general idea of what it’s about’. That is never a very helpful task because it doesn’t give the students any reason to read, or any orientation to the topic or context. A gist question should mean that the students have to read the whole text, though not necessarily very thoroughly, in order to answer the question. For example, students might choose which title or picture most closely matches the content of the text. The idea is for students to get an overview of the text, which can help them when they return to the text to find more detailed information.

Reading for specific information

In contrast, reading for specific information means setting questions or a task which require the students to read the text much more carefully. This isn’t really a skill so much as a way of testing comprehension.

Skimming and scanning

These two words sound nice together, and make a memorable pair, but most people are a little vague about what they actually mean. Skimming has some crossover with reading for gist, because they are both about getting an overview. However, I would suggest that skimming and scanning are more properly called strategies rather than skills. They were originally both methods of speed reading. Skimming strategies are often taught as part of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) because these students have to read a great deal of content in English. So students may be taught, for example, to read just the first line of every paragraph, as this is often the topic sentence, which contains the main idea of the paragraph.

Scanning is a way of reading text quickly by only looking for specific bits of information, and not reading everything. For example, looking at the index or contents page of a book to find a specific topic you’re interested in, or picking out the figures in a text to see what the results of a piece of research were.  Again, this strategy can be particularly useful in academic contexts.

Understanding that we read different texts in different ways, using different strategies, is very important for learners. The way we read a novel on the beach is very different from the way we read a legal contract. We probably read the novel much faster, with more of a skimming/gist approach, whereas we are likely to read the contract carefully and slowly, checking that we understand the details. Students reading in a second language often fail to transfer these different ways of reading across from their first language.

Teaching reading skills

However, while looking at different ways of reading, and different reasons for reading,  is important, to what extent are these traditional reading activities actually helping students to read more effectively or fluently? Aren’t we mostly just giving them practice and/or checking their comprehension?

A reading lesson usually goes something like this:

  1. Set the scene/pre-teach vocab/elicit predictions.
  2. Read for gist (hopefully by setting a suitable gist question)
  3. Read again to answer for detailed comprehension questions.
  4. Discuss the content/focus on language in the text.

By encouraging students to predict and to read for gist first, we are perhaps helping them to develop their top-down skills- using context and their previous knowledge to make sense of what they are reading. However, there is a lot more to the reading skill than this.

According to Grabe and Stoller (2011:23) in each and every two seconds of reading fluent readers:

‘1) focus on and access 8-10 word meanings

2) parse a clause for information and form a meaning unit

3) figure out how to connect a new meaning unit into the growing text model

4) check interpretation of the information according to their purposes, feelings, attitudes and background expectations as needed

5) monitor their comprehension, make appropriate inferences, shift strategies and repair misunderstanding, as needed.

6) resolve ambiguities, address difficulties and critique text information, as needed.’

Fluent reading means that readers must be able to carry out all of these reading comprehension processes simultaneously and very quickly.  Just like driving a car, some of the processes taking place simultaneously must be automatized. If the reader is struggling to decode the words, or understand how the words fit into the sentence, or how the sentence fits into the discourse as a whole, their working memory will become overloaded, and they won’t be able to hold onto the overall meaning of the text.

So helping students to develop their reading skills must, I believe, include specific and conscious work on bottom up or decoding skills as well as top down skills, such as predicting.

Decoding skills

Whereas top down skills start from the reader and what the reader already knows or understands, bottom up or decoding skills start from the text. At the lowest level, students need to recognise alphabetic letters and then the words formed from these letters. Clearly, recognising and understanding written words is a key part of reading, even though we would usually deal with it under the heading of vocabulary. According to Paul Nation, in order to understand a written text without any assistance, students need to comprehend 98% of the words. So, if we want to work on developing reading skills (rather than using the text as a way of introducing new language) it is important that students aren’t getting stuck on too many unknown words.

Assuming that students recognise and understand enough of the vocabulary, the next layer of difficulty comes in putting those words together, understanding sentences, how those sentences fit together, and how what we are reading links with what we’ve already read. This is an area where there is huge potential to help students, and yet, outside academic reading courses, it is rarely a focus.

This is why I was so excited to work on Oxford University Press’s new series, Navigate. In this series, there is a clear syllabus and focus on these kinds of decoding skills. At lower levels, this might be understanding conjunctions or pronoun reference. At higher levels, we also focus on understanding complex sentences, ellipsis, paraphrasing and so on.

If we don’t focus on these kinds of skills, we are only teaching students part of what they need to know in order to improve their reading skills, and most of our focus is on testing comprehension rather than teaching.

This post was originally published on Rachael’s blog, elt-resourceful. Don’t miss Rachael and Caroline’s talk at 4.25pm on Thursday 14th April at IATEFL Birmingham.


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#IATEFL – English Medium Instruction as an unstoppable train: How do we keep it on the rails?

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Ernesto Macaro is Professor of Applied Linguistics (Second Language Acquisition) in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, as well as Director of EMI Oxford. He joins us on the blog today to preview his IATEFL talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ 

English Medium Instruction (EMI) is a general term which refers to the teaching of academic subjects (e.g. science and engineering) through the medium of English in countries where the majority population is not Anglophone. In European Higher Education it is sometimes synonymous with the term ‘CLIL’.

EMI is increasing at an astonishing rate in universities around the non-Anglophone world, a phenomenon largely driven by the desire to ‘internationalise’ higher education institutions by attracting overseas students and staff. EMI is a deeply contentious phenomenon!

We will propose the following:

  • Academic subject teachers are often ill prepared linguistically to teach through English and the level of support from the institution is often lacking.
  • Students may come from a variety of backgrounds with varying degrees of English language competence and experience of EMI.
  • The role of the English tutor or EAP teacher in universities where EMI is being introduced may be changing and this brings with it a number of organisational challenges, and may even pose a threat to the employment of such tutors.
  • Subject Teachers may not be aware of the changes in their pedagogy necessitated by a transition to EMI.

We will provide some general background to this global expansion of EMI and then offer a possible way forward.  We will present the findings of a collaborative project, in Turkey, involving both the English tutor and the academic subject teacher. Our findings suggest they both have a lot to learn in this rapidly changing world!

Ernesto Macaro joins Julie Dearden at IATEFL Birmingham for their talk ‘Can English teachers and English Medium Instruction (EMI) lecturers cooperate?’ on Wednesday 13th April, from 2.30-3 pm in Hall 8B.