IATEFL 2103 Preview: Growing your ELT career with technology

April 5th, 2013
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Like many of you I’m sure, I can’t wait for next week’s IATEFL 2013 conference!

It’s great to see everyone of course, but this year I’m also very much looking forward to delivering my session, because it’s something I feel very strongly about: career development in ELT.

I feel strongly about this topic because I see so many teachers who would like to branch out within ELT into new roles, who have the talent and energy to do so, but aren’t sure exactly how. The result is that the ELT profession as a whole loses out on a tremendous amount of talent and innovation at exactly the moment when, as a profession, we need it most.

Liverpool Online

The great thing is that it’s never been easier for teachers to move into new roles such as materials design, consulting,research, school ownership, authoring and self-publishing. Why? Because the technology that is available to us today opens up opportunities that just were not there 10 years ago.

So my talk is about how to do this. We’ll look at a practical, 6-step framework that you can use for career development in ELT and reach your personal, professional and financial goals. Here’s an overvew:

  1. + The ethos of the new web and what it means for your career
  2. + The essential skill set of our technology environment, and how to use it
  3. + Defining the best career direction
  4. + Building your “platform” as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur
  5. + The essential technology tool kit
  6. + Building your community

We’ll also look at case studies of teachers who have successfully moved into new roles, and see what worked (and what didn’t).

So please consider coming:  Thursday 14:00 (session 3.3, hall 4b).

 

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What’s in your blended learning toolkit?

March 18th, 2012
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“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!”. Technology-supported learning activities need to be driven by the understanding of the unique opportunities the tools provide. My IATEFL workshop will illustrate how the self-authoring tools on English360 can personalise and humanise course design. The workshop will share ways promoting reflection, increasing interaction and offering unique relevant self-paced learning paths. I’ll post ideas on our blog later this week.

If you can’t attend the event in Glasgow, join us online here:
Glasgow Online

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Virtual Meeting recording and slides

February 29th, 2012
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Yesterday during our English360 Community Webinar presented by Mike Hogan we discussed virtual meeting software and enjoyed some tips and tricks shared by Mike.

Here are his slides

View more PowerPoint from Mike Hogan

Here is the link to the WebEx recording for those who were unable to attend or who would like to review the session.

Thanks everyone for coming, it was great to see you all there. Special thanks to Mike for sharing his knowledge and experience with us.
Our next Community Webinar will be at the end of March. We’ll post more details on this blog and Community forum.

Our next Open Tour will be Tuesday 6 March 10.00 – 11.00 Central European time . The Open tour is a weekly virtual walkthrough for newcomers or all educators interested in finding out more about English360..

We will be holding Open Training sessions for all existing English360 school administrators and / or teachers on

  • Friday 2nd March 11.00-12.00 Central European time
  • Thursday 8 March 9.00 – 10.00 Central European time

Send an email to  ”teacher support at english 360 dot com”  to register or get more details.

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Mike Hogan on virtual meetings

February 23rd, 2012
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Are you using English360 in conjunction with real-time tools?

Do you have experience teaching in WebEx, Adobe Connect, or on Skype?

How can these virtual meeting environments be used with learners?

Our next Community webinar will be presented by Mike Hogan.

Mike is  a teacher trainer, author, and ELT consultant. He is experienced in virtual training using a range of synchronous and asynchronous platforms both with corporate clients and in teacher training sessions. He also moderates online workshops as part of the BESIG Online Team. Read more about Mike Hogan here.

Come along to our English360 Open Community Webinar to find out more on delivering lessons in real-time when learners are geographically dispersed or unable to attend face-to-face classroom lessons.

Register now to enjoy Mike Hogan ‘s expertise and experience of using virtual meeting rooms.

Send us an email to Register for the Community Webinar 28th Feb 13.00-14.00 CET

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The Unplugged Conference, Barcelona

May 24th, 2011
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“Were you there for the first one?” people may well ask in years to come, when the Unplugged Conference has become a regular feature on the ELT conference scene, perhaps even the go-to event of the calendar.

Even before I’d touched down in the city where I trained as a teacher and spent the early years of my career, I had a sense that we might be in for something special. Organised by the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) and sponsored and hosted by OxfordTEFL, we would start by observing a lesson using real learners of English from the local community, led by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, authors of the award-winning Teaching Unplugged. It would be a rare chance to see Scott and Luke put their theory into practice. We’d then have the chance to discuss the class with Scott, Luke and the learners themselves before an afternoon of small-group discussion organised around the principles of Open Space Technology. For those unfamiliar with Open Space (I admit that I was), it is an approach to organising events and meetings governed by four guiding principles and one law. The principles are:

1. Whoever comes is [sic] the right people.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time.

3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.

4. When it’s over, it’s over.

And the “Law of Two Feet” states: “If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”

(For more on Open Space, get over to Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT for a great post.)

During my CELTA course, Scott came in to do a session on what he was then calling Dogme (Teaching Unplugged seems to be the preferred term now, but I’ve used them interchangeably in this blog post). The session stuck with me for two reasons: firstly because of a seemingly far-fetched anecdote that Scott told at the start of the session (that I’ve never forgotten but also never completely believed) about a teacher in Papua New Guinea who was forced to embrace materials-free teaching when the pack horse carrying all of the text books to the remote village where he was working fell into a ravine (or was it a river? Scott, please feel free to correct the details in my summary there; it’s been a long time since I heard the story!). To my chagrin (I should be more trusting), I’ve since learnt that the story is completely true. Secondly, I used the activity that Scott showed us in that session with many classes afterwards (it was based entirely around the contents of your learners’ pockets, and it never failed).

Looking back on it now, only two weeks into my teacher training and suffering from the input overload, lack of sleep, and adrenaline highs-and-lows of the CELTA, I think I made a critical mistake in my understanding of Dogme, a mistake that perhaps some of us continue to make: that it is all about what the teacher shouldn’t be doing. I came out of Scott’s CELTA session thinking that Dogme was basically just about not using coursebooks in your teaching. And I’ve since heard criticism leveled at unplugged teaching for the (mistaken) belief that it prohibits the use of technology as part of the learning process. But the Teaching Unplugged “guidelines” (for want of a better word) are not a list of what you shouldn’t be doing as a teacher. Rather, they are a set of useful principles based on the belief that the learner should be at the centre of what happens in the classroom: that lessons should be conversation-driven; that teaching should be “materials-light” (not, you’ll notice, “materials-free”); that lessons should focus on emergent language; and, as Luke put it on the day, that we should draw on “learners’ lives and learners’ language”.

When I later became a publisher, I followed the growing popularity of the Teaching Unplugged movement with interest (a lot of publishers do …). You might assume that ELT publishers consider unplugged teaching a threat to their business, but I didn’t see it like that. For me, the principles behind Dogme were a counterweight to my day job, a way of maintaining a balanced perspective. I could never be completely uncritical of Dogme, and I’m still not. But I couldn’t doubt its importance or deny that a lot of what it stands for appealed to me when I was teaching and still appeals to me now.

None of which is to say that I didn’t feel a *tiny* bit of trepidation about attending this conference. I’ve worked in publishing for longer than I taught. For a time I was in charge of a very well-known and successful adult general English course. I’ve written an ESP course book. My business card reads “Publishing Manager”. How would I be received by the other delegates? Would I be persona non grata? Would anyone else from the publishing industry attend so that we would have strength in numbers?

Of course none of the above turned out to be true (apart from the final point: there was no representation from ELT publishers — a shame, I think). The organisers and delegates welcomed me and showed interest in my perspective. And the more I reflected on it, the more I realised that I would have no qualms talking to a group of unplugged teaching advocates about what I do for a living. Apart from the fact that English360 isn’t a publisher (we’re a tool for teachers, a way for them to use and create learning content), I believe that what we do at English360 is very much aligned with certain elements of the unplugged teaching philosophy, especially in our “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” approach to materials development. At the root of what we do at English360 is the belief that learners and teachers know better than we do what they need most at this particular time, in this particular place, with these particular people. We can’t plan for every context that a teacher will end up in, but we can give them a tool to help them be better prepared for it: a platform for dynamic, flexible, personalised and localised course creation, a way of reinventing (dare I say “unplugging”) the coursebook.

But back to the conference. Scott and Luke did their thing, with the class of 16 learners sitting in a semi-circle, and forty-odd teachers watching attentively. To the students’ credit (and Scott and Luke’s), the large audience didn’t seem to affect the class dynamic. I won’t go into detail here about the class itself and the subsequent discussion and plenary (I’m sure great summaries of both will appear on other blogs), but it was electrifying to have the learners present for the post-class discussion, to hear their thoughts on being taught “unplugged”, to listen to them talking about their experience as learners.

A pause for a quick sandwich and a beer and then it was back to OxfordTEFL for the afternoon sessions. In the spirit of Open Space, it was up to us as delegates to decide what we’d like to spend the rest of the day discussing. We limited ourselves to six questions, each of which we would attempt to answer in a ten-minute presentation at the end of the day. I chose (unsurprisingly) to join a group discussing the question of whether the use of published materials could be compatible with an unplugged approach.

Despite being a small group (Principle 1: “Whoever comes is the right people”), the conversation ran and ran. We all agreed that the use of published materials was not at odds with Teaching Unplugged as such (in fact, it was, for many people, a reality of it): it just required an understanding that in teaching, as in all things, everything must be in moderation, meaning moderation in the use of published materials but also in the application of Dogme principles. When we presented our ideas to the rest of the delegates, we argued for this moderate, “non-dogmatic” approach to Dogme, and for a kind of eclecticism in our choice of materials and approaches. There are good published materials and bad published materials, just as there are good unplugged lessons and bad unplugged lessons. The key for the teacher is to know what will work best in this this context, with these learners.

Despite Principle 4 (“When it’s over, it’s over”), the day was over at exactly the time it was supposed to be, thanks to the organisational skills of Duncan Foord and his team at OxfordTEFL and the TDSIG. There’s an all-too-rare feeling you get as a group when you know that you’ve been part of something special, a kind of collective glow that sadly fades in the subsequent days. It reminded me of my CELTA, in fact. As the post-conference meal turned into post-conference drinks, we said our goodbyes and promised to come back next year and repeat the experience. (As an aside, Lindsay Clandfield made the excellent suggestion of using the “observed-lesson-followed-by-Open-Space-workshops” format as the basis for a “plugged conference” which would examine the use of coursebooks and technology in the same critical way.)

For me this was a benchmark conference, for its format, its content, and its participants. I left feeling energised and keen to deepen my understanding of Dogme, as a teacher, a teacher trainer and (whisper it!) even as a publisher.

Don’t miss it next year!

Some photos of the event courtesy of Graham Stanley.

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And the winner is….

April 17th, 2011
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Brighton Online
Thanks everyone for coming to the IATEFL workshop and for taking part in the raffle.
The workshop slides can be found here:

The winner of the top-prize (a six-month subscription to English360 for a teacher and their 6 students which  includes all 12 Grammar in Practice and Vocabulary in Practice titles from Cambridge University Press available in digital format on the English360 platform) is Femke Kitslaare.

Second prize goes to Giedre Budienne

Second prize goes to Giedre Budienne

Second prize (six Grammar in Practice titles) went to Giedre Budienne and third prize (the six Vocabulary in Practice titles) was picked up by John Arnold.

If you haven’t picked up your prize yet, please feel free to drop by stand 15 in the exhibition hall.

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Brain candy: universal grammar, teacher credentials challenged

July 18th, 2008
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The New Yorker magazine is in the news this week because of its controversial cover.

But, there are two resources inside that are extremely interesting for language teachers.

The first is an article on the linguistic professor Dan Everett and his work with the Amazonian tribe the Paraha. Their language has a zen-like focus on the present, and…get this…no recursion. Since Chomskians hold that recursion is the essence of humans’ unique cognitive/linguistic capabilities, Everett’s claim is, as Stephen Pinker terms it, ““a bomb thrown into the party.” Fascinating article.

Second is a video of a presentation by Malcolm Gladwell that discusses teacher credentials and how they have zero correlation to teacher quality. It’s about 15 minutes and much of it involves discussion of US sports, but it’s all very much to the point and highly recommended.

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Teacher training vids

March 17th, 2008
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Via the always-useful blog by Nik Peachey, here’s a link to a site with an extensive collection of teacher training videos, many about using web 2.0 tools.

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Current teacher training is not working

July 30th, 2006
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Via elearnspace, a spot-on article by the Provost of The King’s College in New York City, Peter Wood, in MercatorNet. Money quote:

Generally schools of education recruit weak students. The average SAT scores for would-be teachers for decades have scraped along among the lowest of all enrolled college students. The schools of education then proceed to endow these well-meaning but dull folks with strangely mistaken ideas about how children learn. The wisdom on how to teach accumulated over several thousand years of civilisation is summarily set aside in favour of what some recent educational theorists have conjectured. The conjectures are typically backed by a form of social science “research” several notches less rigorous than the reader surveys in supermarket magazines.

Wood believes that we’re moving away from the current model and “we will move to a system in which a degree in education will mark a potential teacher as under-educated and mis-trained. Instead teachers will be recruited from the ranks of the liberally educated and will learn, as good teachers have always learned, by devotion to the task itself.”

Certainly “devotion to the task itself” is a great way to learn, but I think it may be a necessary but not sufficient condition. Individual teachers shouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel – they should be able to learn from what other have thought and have done. It would be better to embed teachers in a lifelong self-directed learning process, based on mentoring, collaboration and action research. The web application we’re working on has a simple (but kinda neat) action research functionality, one that I hope will help teachers connect theory and concept to empirical performance, and then share that experience.

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