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Changing classrooms for the better – the Hornby Scholarship

hornbyscholarVuyokazi Yolanda Makubalo has been involved with the teaching of English as a Second Language (ESL) in South Africa for 20 years. In 2015, she was awarded a scholarship from the Hornby Educational Trust to study for an MA in English Language Teaching at the UK’s University of Warwick. Vuyokazi gives us an insight into her work in South Africa, and how she sees her studies benefiting not only herself but also the teachers and children of her home country.

My career in ESL began in 1995 as an English Second Language teacher at Toise Senior Secondary School, a rural school in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. During the twelve years there, I worked as the Subject Head for English at my school and a Cluster Leader in my circuit. In 2008 I welcomed and embraced a promotion in another district, Grahamstown, as the District English Subject Advisor where I continued to work with 32 English High School teachers.

My job as an English Subject Advisor is to see to the curriculum delivery of the English syllabus. To achieve this, I visit schools to monitor the implementation of the syllabus. It is during these visits that I might take note of a recurring challenge in the teaching of English, for instance, and, based on this, I organise in-service training to remedy the situation for the teachers. When I cannot assist I call upon the Provincial Office. It is at such times that I feel most aware that I really need to develop my mastery of teaching the subject of English.

I am not the only English Subject Advisor from South Africa who has the honour of being granted an A. S. Hornby Scholarship. My colleague, Shaike Francis Sefalane, is taking the same course. He is also the vice-president of the Eastern Cape English Educators’ Association (ECEEA) which I also belong to. The ECEEA allows us to reach out to almost every English teacher in the province to share experiences and knowledge. As English Subject Advisors, we are connected to all the other advisors in the province, leading all English teachers in both the Further Education and Training and General Education and Training bands in the province at large. Our coming to the United Kingdom is part of a Provincial plan to send Subject Advisors to the UK to study for a Masters in English Language Teaching and, most importantly, to go back and share the knowledge with colleagues. The Hornby Scholarship has made this possible for us.

The 2015 cohort of Hornby scholars come from 10 different countries and everyone is so proud of where they come from. We have all come to the United Kingdom to study so we can go back home to share knowledge and make things better. The sharing of diverse experiences from our 10 different contexts, embracing each others’ cultures, and exposure to world languages are some of the things that make this group most interesting. But, best of all is the formation of relationships across the world! Today I know I have a friend in Bangladesh, Sudan and so on. I have even enjoyed some of the most delicious dishes from Bangladesh. It is all exactly what I wanted and wished for!

It  has been a life-long dream that one day I would come to the United Kingdom, the ‘Motherland of English’, where most of all the literature I ever read and taught comes from, and to receive my English Masters here! I feel so blessed and for that I will forever be grateful to the man who made it all possible,  A. S. Hornby. Truly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me as it had afforded me the opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, see the very first edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, walk on William Wordsworth’s Westminster bridge and visit many other places of interest to an English practitioner.

A wonderful and so-true quote from our Nelson Mandela reminds us that, “Education is  the great engine of personal development. It is through education that a daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mine worker can become the head of a mine, that a child of a farm worker can become a president of a country.” Through the Hornby Scholarship we can also change the fortunes of the children in our classrooms for the better. My main focus is the disadvantaged child in our less advantaged schools, the one whose parents cannot afford to give her the opportunity to go to the affluent schools where she can learn ‘better English’  taught by ‘native English teachers’. I see it as one of my duties to ensure that, in every less advantaged and not so well-resourced school, such a child can also receive such quality English teaching that will see her having an equal share in the opportunities that the world offers. We all deserve that much. Our children’s future should not be defined by their backgrounds. Working closely with their teachers, we can ensure that their future is as bright. I want to believe that this is one of the core goals of the Hornby Scholarship that through exposure to well-taught English, the future of every disadvantaged child in the world is brightened.

To hear more about Vuyokazi’s story, watch her video interview on our YouTube channel. You can also hear from other Hornby Scholars Urmila Khaled and Shaike Francis Sefalame.

 The Hornby Educational Trust was created in 1961 by A S Hornby, an English-language specialist best known for producing the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press. The Trust’s activities include providing scholarships in the UK for people from developing and transitional countries, funding schools and workshops around the world, and maintaining an alumni network.


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How we think as (language) teachers

shutterstock_159772340Donald Freeman is a professor of education at the University of Michigan, where he works with undergraduate and post‐graduate teacher preparation in all subjects K‐12. Today, he joins us to preview his webinar How we think as (language) teachers which he will present on March 29th and 30th.

I can imagine my title raises questions. Of course people think when they teach, just like they breathe or they use language. It may be surprising, therefore, to learn that studying how teachers think only became a part of second language teaching about 25 years ago.  Before the 1990s, teacher thinking was part of methodology: When you learned a particular way of working in the classroom, the thinking went along with it. Learning how to do specific things in teaching– like how to conduct a substitution drill or set up a listening activity for example—included the reasons for why and how to do these activities.  In this way, theory was part of practice; the activity embedded the reasoning.  However, with the growth of research in the ‘parent disciplines’ of language teaching, second language acquisition and applied linguistics, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, what we called ‘theory’ took on a life of its own. There emerged theories about how people learned languages, and what languages were, that the teacher needed to somehow combine with understanding of pedagogy.

This changed the role of the teacher. Beyond learning teaching methodologies, and how to do things in the classroom, teachers were also expected to know these general ideas about teaching and learning. But these theories lived in ‘academic’ worlds that seemed very far removed from the messy, complicated work that language teachers do with their students in their classrooms on a daily basis. So to counteract this distance, it makes sense that interest in understanding how people actually think as language teachers increased —the kinds of thinking they do, what factors shape the thinking, how the thinking evolves over time through a teaching life, and how that thinking can be ‘taught’ to (or developed in) new teachers.

I was very fortunate to be part of this work in second language teaching. As we started to investigate how people think as language teachers, we drew from similar work on teacher thinking in general educational research. Like any borrowing, this process had positive and negative implications. On the positive, studying language teachers as teachers focused us on what might be true about the work in general. For example, our understanding of how teachers learn in their first five years in the classroom are anchored in research on the development of teaching expertise generally. A negative was that these general understandings of teaching distracted from examining how language works differently from other subjects (like math or science) when it becomes classroom content. The fact that we do not have a clear view of language as classroom content that is based in research in classrooms and documented in how language teachers actually work has presented major challenges. Too often, the profession has relied on proxies and shortcuts, rather than truly examining how language works in teaching.

Let me give two examples. First,  for years, language teaching has used the concept of the ‘native speaker’ as a reference point for teaching qualifications, although the concept itself is not linguistically definable. This geo-political idea has been substituted for various reasons, for a clear definition of the language that teachers need to know for classroom teaching.

This connects to a second example: the principle of teaching English in English, which is directly connected to how we define language as classroom content. Using the target language in teaching makes a lot of sense pedagogically—it can provide students with exposure and input, and perhaps most importantly it makes the target language real.  But how to teach English in  English is complicated. It depends on the students’ language level, the content the teacher is expected to teach, as well as the culture of the school and the wider society.

This webinar will examine how understanding teacher thinking has evolved in ELT. We will review the ‘generations’ of language teaching and use that generational framework to consider how people learn to teach languages. Participants who are teachers will have the opportunity to frame their own development; those who are teacher trainers, supervisors, or educators will be able to apply the framework to their work with teachers.

If you’re interested in attending the full webinar, simply follow the registration button below.

Register for the webinar


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70 years of ELT Journal: continuity and change

Business meeting

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.

There are few things in ELT which are quite as long-standing as ELT Journal. This year marks its 70th anniversary, and, over those 70 years, the Journal has published well over 2,000 articles, over 1,000 books reviews, and countless other feature items (in 1967, for example, we find the announcement of a new venture, the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, now known as IATEFL: issue XXI: 3).

So what continuities can we see between the first issue and ELT Journal in 2016, and what has changed over time to stay relevant to teachers today? One constant is the overall aim of the Journal. In the language of the times, the opening editorial in 1946 stated that ‘our new periodical, it is hoped … will enable the teacher in the classroom to know what has been done and is being done to help him in his task and to exchange with fellow workers his own experiences and findings’ (issue 1/1). And today, the Journal ‘aims to provide a medium for informed discussion of the principles and practice which determine the ways in which English is taught and learnt around the world’ (ELT Journal’s aims are outlined in more detail on its website). That first issue also created the template for all subsequent editions – an editorial (although now, in the interests of space and readers’ patience, not in every issue!); a range of articles; book reviews; and a feature item.

Of course, there are also differences between ‘then and now’. As well as providing the editorial, the then editor A.S. Hornby also wrote two of the articles; this reflected the relatively small number of people involved or interested in ELT at that time, in comparison to today’s global profession. And the papers and reviews themselves – with their focus on Britain and British culture (by British authors), on the work of de Saussure, and on ‘Books you should know’ – strike a different tone to those in today’s ELT Journal; they aimed to chart a course and establish a field, perhaps, whereas today we hope to share knowledge and draw on common understandings, albeit as we engage in our professional discussions, debates and disputes.

From 1946, let us fast-forward 35 years, to 1981. A key event in ELT Journal’s development was its reconfiguration that year, to reflect the growth of our field and the increasing range of insights from relatively new academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, sociology and psychology. In his editorial (issue 36/1), incoming editor Richard Rossner, reflected upon the increasing diversity of the profession and the range of contexts in which English was taught, and emphasised that it is not ‘good for the profession if individuals see themselves as mainly concerned with ‘theory’ or only involved in ‘practice’ ’. The Journal aimed, overtly, to bridge the ‘theory-practice’ gap; similarly, today, ELT Journal ‘links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines’.

And what of the content of ELT Journal 35 years ago, half way through its 70 year span? In issue 36/1, both the topics and titles of articles and of books reviewed are perhaps more familiar – debates surrounding the role of teaching materials, student autonomy and authenticity appear; language skills as well as language structures or systems are discussed; different learner age groups are recognised. And authorship throughout the publication is more international and no longer solely the preserve of men. We can see these trends maintained and developed further in the Journal today.

So in fact, this year marks two notable points in ELT Journal’s development – its founding 70 years ago, and its re-launch 35 years ago in 1981, when it became even more recognisably the journal we see today. To celebrate this, both the first issue of English Language Teaching (1/1; 1946) and the first re-launched ELT Journal (36/1; 1981) are freely available on ELT Journal’s website throughout 2016, and, if you have the opportunity to read them, you can track the developments I have briefly summarised here. You can also compare these past issues of the Journal with papers from the present day, through the online ‘Editor’s Choice’ feature, in which an article from each recent issue of the Journal is made freely available online, in many cases alongside short videos in which their authors discuss their paper and the ideas behind it.

Join us at IATEFL, Birmingham for the annual ELTJ Debate, taking place Thursday 14th April. The motion of this year’s debate is: This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time. Proposing: Peter Grundy / Apposing: Penny Ur.


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#TeachingChangesLives – Winning a scholarship at Oxford

Worcester College QuadThis year we are giving English Language teachers across the globe the chance to win a two-week all-expenses paid scholarship to attend the Oxford English Language Teachers’ Academy Summer School, held at Worcester College, Oxford. Simply create a short presentation or video to show how your English language teaching has changed lives for the better, and you could be joining us in Oxford in July 2016! Find out more here.

What would it be like to win the scholarship? Two teachers who attended the Summer School last year share their experiences with you here.

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Giovanna at her end of course awards ceremony

Giovanna Gullì – Secondary teacher in Reggio Di Calabria, Italy

I stayed two weeks at Worcester College where The Department for Continuing Education holds its teacher training courses. There’s so many things to tell you about the beauty of this College where in its wonderful gardens you get rid of  worries and stroll , with squirrels , birds, swans and ducks as friendly companions and blow off steam.

I attended “Raising the Bar: challenging & inspiring” course the first week  and  “Engaging teenage learners beyond the classroom”  for  the second  week. We were introduced to topics such as creative writing, the flipped classroom, and achieving success with teenager learners, through a variety of activities that put into practice the best techniques for teaching English as a second language.

We always worked in groups, used visuals and photos on walls, we did all the activities to use in class with our students, all in a very natural and pleasant way. The atmosphere   was magic, very informative, collaborative, stress-free but at the same time involving and thought-provoking; the workshops were very well presented plus enjoyable, I have learned so much from the training.

I have already started to use some of the strategies and tools the tutors suggested with my  students and they are working remarkably well. I so much appreciated the passion and care the tutors and all people involved at the Oxford Teacher’s Academy demonstrated to us.

Felipe de Jesús Canul Schwietrs  – teacher in Mexico City, Mexico

During the welcome speech we were told: “These are going to be the two most wonderful weeks of your entire life” – and guess what, it was true. Every detail was extraordinarily taken care of. I was really impressed with the professionalism and warmth of every member of the staff.

And what to say about the courses: excellent teachers, amazing curricula and most of all a very practical approach which of course helps teachers refresh knowledge and acquire useful new ideas.

Time flew, before we knew it two weeks had gone by. But the friendship of all the companions from so many different countries sharing common problems enriched the courses and the activities planned outside the courses were great. I’m forgetting the meals, superb! And the country specially Oxford stunning and divine; stunning for all the history behind each of their buildings and places to visit, stunning for the kindness of its people. If I could, without a doubt, I’d do it again.

This could be you next year! Enter the #TeachingChangesLives competition for your chance to win an all-expenses paid scholarship to attend the Oxford English Language Teacher’s Academy Summer School in July 2016.


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Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction

TabletsWith over 30 years of experience as a teacher and teacher trainer, Veríssimo Toste looks at how the role of a teacher is changing, ahead of his webinar on using Messages, Discussions and Chats to increase student interaction.

Today’s students are not limited to learning English in the classroom only. Through the use of technology, learning English has become 24/7 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this environment, what is the teacher’s role in helping their students learn? More importantly, how can technology help teachers to help their students learn better? Using messages, discussions, and chats as an integral part of their classes, is one way. Through the use of these simple features, teachers can address questions of mixed ability, customised learning and teaching, personalisation, as well as simply being able to increase contact time with the language, beyond the classroom.

Using “Messages” provides teachers with a simple means to contact their students, as well as for students to be in contact with their teacher. In this way, teachers can follow up in individual needs, without taking up valuable class time. Students can ask questions or raise doubts without the pressure of time and classmates that can be a part of the lesson. In using “Messages” teachers and students can more easily focus on their communication, as these appear within the learning management system (LMS) and so are not confused with general, personal e-mails.

“Discussions” gives teachers and students a forum in which they can continue discussing a specific topic raised in class. Students can exchange their opinions with each other over a period of time. They can participate when it is more convenient to them. They have time to consider their responses. Discussions can range from topics raised in class, to language points based on specific grammar or vocabulary, or how to prepare for a test. The options are limitless. The key is that through the use of discussions online, students can increase their contact time with English.

Whereas discussions can take place over a specific period of time, with students participating at their convenience, chats are an opportunity for the teacher to get everyone together at the same time, although not necessarily in the same place. Seeing that the class had difficulty with a specific topic or language point, the teacher can set up a chat in which the students participate online. Students have an opportunity to follow up on the topic on their own, thus preparing before the actual chat takes place.

By basing the use of messages, discussions, and chats on work done in the classroom, the teacher can provide students with a platform to expand their learning. To find out more about practical classroom activities to achieve this, join me on the 6th or 8th of October 2015 for my webinar, “Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction”.

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