Tag Archives: Planning

‘How to join communicative pressure and cooperation in a speaking or writing activity’ by Paolo Torresan

This has got to be the most interactive and fun session I attended at TESOL Italy 2015. It was sponsored by Pilgrims and Paolo mentioned that there will be a course on improvisation in EFL run both in July and in August 2016, at Pilgrims, in Canterbury, by Peter Dyer (more info here).

But back to the workshop. There was no ppt. No lecturing or the audience listening with hidden yawns. Instead, there was a lot of practice, and as the title suggests, communication and cooperation in speaking and writing activities.

I came in slightly late, so missed the instructions to the first activity, but the other teacher I was paired up with explained that we had to improvise and pretend we were giving a gift to each other. One person gives the present, without saying what it is. The person receiving it has to accept it, thank for it, and choose what the gift is, i.e. improvise (Paolo is grateful to Peter Dyer, who developed this activity). Then we swapped roles.

Very simple, but very effective at the same time. The whole room seemed very engaged, and I could see it working very well with real students too. It was fun, involved creativity, a bit of acting, and plenty of opportunity for students to practice some functional language.

After the activity, Paolo explained the basic framework that we would also use in the following demos. The underlying pattern looks like this:

  • Yessing, or accepting your partner’s contribution
  • Adding, adding some info in order to let the action/dialogue take place, and go on, for example:
    • Yes and…
  • Paolo pointed out we should avoid contradicting, i.e. patterns such as ‘Yes, but/however’, because it works as a blocking device, and can lead to ‘conversation paralysis’

So the next demo was called ‘One word at a time’ and was adapted from a book by Keith Johnstone, Impro. Improvisation for the Theatre, published in 1981 by Bloomsbury, London. We were put in pairs with a different teacher and had to imagine we were now one person having an internal dialogue. We can only say one word at a time and we can’t contradict our partner. Paolo demoed the activity with a volunteer:

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We were then asked to choose a context, and for one reason or another somebody shouted out ‘desert!’, so we ended up having to construct an internal dialogue while being in the middle of a desert… It went kind of like this:

A: We…

B: …are…

A: …looking…

B: …for…

A: …well…

B: …because…

I can’t remember the rest exactly, but it involved finding a gold fish and eating it for dinner – I know, English teachers can have bizarre ideas sometimes.

Again, everyone was very engaged and active. And as with the previous activity, I can see it work really well with students. Lots of room for individual creativity, but at the same time quite demanding linguistically, to be honest. A possible follow up could be to retell the dialogue to a new partner, or even write it down, or record it at home.

The next activity was dynamic storytelling developed by Peter Dyer. One volunteer had to come to the front to start the story by saying a sentence. Again, it was left purely up to us what the context would be, and if I remember right, it was: Once upon a time there was a wolf. Perhaps not terribly imaginative, but it did the trick: starting the story off. The next volunteer would come to the front and say another sentence. But the sentence could be from anywhere in the story: right after the first one, the middle, or the end. The person would stand in a line either close to the first volunteer, or far away, depending on where in the story their sentence would come. And off we went. Again, it was fun, engaging, with lots of language practice. There was a lot of repetition, as you had to remember your sentence and the ones around you to make sure the story would flow. There was definitely plenty of room for peer correction too. As with the previous ones, the creative aspect had us all very much engaged.

In the second part of the workshop we looked at improvisation and creativity for writing activities. Again, they were surprisingly simple, but at the same time very effective and engaging.

Among several that we saw, I will describe the first one, which was group picture activity. It starts with an empty white board. The first volunteer draws the first picture. It can be anything. I think in our case it was a palm tree. The next person adds another picture or element to it, and so on (this activity comes from Sion C., 2000, Creating Conversation in Class, Delta, Peaslake). Once there are quite a few things drawn, Paolo explained that there are several ways in which the pictures could be used as a springboard for writing activities. For example:

  • Write the names of the objects
  • Create a dialogue between the people in the pictures
  • Create an sms (or perhaps in our modern times Whatsapp or FB) chat
  • Write a story connecting the pictures
  • Fill in the empty parts of the board with a story

I imagine this would lend itself nicely to a speaking activity too, either before or instead of the writing phase. I’d imagine the students being quite engaged in the writing, because it’s their story, rather than one imposed by the teacher. A scaffold is developed by the students and for the students, and there is plenty of room for individual creativity.

I would have certainly enjoyed doing these activities in a language class.

My other summaries from TESOL Italy 2015 sessions can be found here:

  1. ELF and TESOL: a change of subject? plenary by Henry Widdowson
  2. Learning to teach listening: students’ and teachers’ perceptions. by Chiara Bruzzano

Meu instantâneo 15 [3677412]Paolo Torresan obtained his PhD in Linguistics and Romance Philology at Ca’ Foscari University, in Venice. He has carried out research at Complutense University, Autonoma University, in Madrid, and at Lancaster University. He has taught at Rio de Janeiro State University and Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, CA. He is Editor-in-chief for the following journals: Officina.it and Bollettino Itals. Among his books we mention: The Multiple Intelligence Theory and Language Teaching (Perugia 2010). He’s also studied improvisation at the Groundlings school, in LA. You can get in touch with Paolo through his profile on academia.edu here.

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“Learning to teach listening: students’ and teachers’ perceptions” summary of Chiara Bruzzano’s talk

This is the second summary from the TESOL Italy 2016 talks that I saw. The first one was Henry Widdowson’s plenary ‘ELF and TESOL: a change of subject?’, and you can read it here.

Chiara’s talk starts off with a short video. Two people are having breakfast and chatting away. A third one arrives and joins the chat.

The language sounds vaguely familiar, but doesn’t seem to be making much sense. In fact, Chiara tells us after we’ve watched it that it’s made up of different lines from different song lyrics jumbled together.

And this is exactly how English might sound to our students’ ears. Difficult to understand. Confusing. The likely outcome is that they’ll feel frustrated. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why teaching listening is important. But not the only one, of course. Some other that Chiara lists are:

  • Low English proficiency of students in Italy
  • English is becoming more and more important in everyday life
  • It’s the Cinderella skill
  • Students’ perceptions need to be taken into account for curriculum development
  • Most of the time listening is tested rather than taught in class

The two most common theories which inform how we teach listening are bottom-up and top-down processing. However, rather than choosing between one or the other, it is important we adopt a more integrated approach; that is, helping our learners develop and use both top-down and bottom-up skills.

The rest of the talk is informed by a research Chiara carried out. The sample was made up of 121 Italian students of English aged 16 to 19 and 5 Italian English teachers. To gather data she used questionnaires, interviews with teachers and classroom observations.

The research focused on the appreciation of students for listening activities, the materials and sources used in the classroom, the importance of the skill and the students’ difficulties.

The two main findings that Chiara drew on to provide her practical suggestions were a general good level of appreciation of the students for listening skills and the problems that they highlighted. Most of them referred to perception and parsing problems as being prominent, and their teachers seemed to show a good level of awareness regarding this.

So, it seems that in this particular study students are motivated, enjoy listening and see it as important. The question is then, how can we capitalise on these positive perceptions to improve students’ listening?

First, we should stop just testing listening, and focus on teaching it. I wrote more about this in this post.

As far as bottom-up skills go, we can for example focus on connected speech, weak forms or variations in pronunciation of individual sounds.

IMG_20151113_102926

Some ways in which we can attempt to help students improve top down skills are:

  • Inferring missing information
  • Continue listening despite difficulties
  • Predicting unfinished utterances.
  • Taking notes of content words.
  • Paying attention to discourse markers, visuals, body language.

In the next part of the talk we were provided with a very useful list of listening Dos and Don’ts.

DOs

dos

DON’Ts

donts

Then, we had to put them into practice to assess the listening activity you can see below. What do you think is wrong with it and how could it be improved?

Untitled

Some things that were wrong with it can be seen on this slide:

wrong

Finally, there are several ways in which we can try to make our listening lessons more interesting, and more focused on teaching rather than testing listening, which Chiara called listening with a twist:

  • Use a wordcloud as a prelistening: www.worditout.com
  • Students watch part of a TV series as an extensive listening and imagine how they would have acted in the situations shown
  • Instead of questions, students can be given a drawing, a map or a table to fill
  • Play chunks of language and ask students to identify how many words they can hear, and then which words
  • Let the students choose their favourite songs or video clips to listen to in class

You can find more tips for teaching listening in some of the previous posts from this blog as well as in the listening section here:

  1. Let’s bring back the TAPES
  2. Teaching listening: tweaking the CELTA approach
  3. Planning a listening lesson: 15 tips
  4. Teaching listening: example lesson plan and reflection
  5. The real deal – authentic materials or authentic tasks?

256331_3965102298242_285721285_o (1) [1661836]Chiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts.

Observations in ELT: a quality control tool

LOGO FINALIn this podcast we talk about being observed. In our own experience observations have mostly been used for quality control purposes and as teachers we have benefited little from many of them. As a result, we suggest how we think observations could be made more useful for teachers in terms of professional development.

All The TEFL Show podcasts can be found in this playlist on Soundcloud and in the iTunes Store here. You can subscribe to the show there, download the podcasts to listen to later and share them on social media. And if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please rate it on iTunes and do comment below. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

Lesson plans – keeping the discussion going: Breltchat summary

A note from TEFL Reflections: I must say I’m amazed that my last post ‘Lesson Plans – a waste of time?’ has cause such a stir. I honestly didn’t expect it, but I’m glad it did. Perhaps the discussion was long overdue.

So I’m delighted to keep it going. Here’s a summary written by Juliana of Breltchat, a regular chat on anything ELT held by #BRELT here, mostly in Portuguese, but sometimes in English too. Please note that while the chat mostly addressed planning in general, my previous post concerned detailed lesson plans written for formal observations or teacher training courses (e.g. CELTA, DELTA).

Briefly, the most important points raised by the participants during the discussion were:

  • The importance of planning.
    Almost all of the participants highlighted the need and importance of planning in order to guide the classroom practices, even if the planning is not done formally.
  • The importance of having an objective in mind.
    Most participants agreed that having an objective in mind to guide the procedures in class is fundamental to start the planning, be it a subject to be worked on, tasks to be performed or topics to be discussed in class.
  • Use of digital tools to help planning.
    Using tools, such as Power Point, Evernote and Lino in place of the traditional paper planning, was also suggested by the participants.
  • Planning might change from one institution to the other (e.g: regular schools versus language courses).
    There are differences between planning in a regular school and in a language course. These differences should be taken into consideration while planning, because the target audience and the approach are different.
  • Keeping in mind the personalization of the planning.
    Despite the fact that some schools do not allow modifications in their lesson planning, whenever possible, the teacher should personalize the planning according to the group and their needs, thus exercising teacher autonomy.
  • Do not keep a single linear plan from the beginning to the end.Taking into consideration that the class is neither the same every day nor in its own occurrence, teachers should bear in mind that the plan cannot always be the same for all classes and all students. In addition, it should not be carried out item by item in an automatic way, because what works for one class might not work for another.
  • Attention to problem identification.Participants also pointed to the need for an ongoing reflection pre- and post-class in order to smooth out the problems and build up new strategies and solutions.

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  • Attention to the students’ and group’s objectives so students’ and teachers’ planning do not clash.
    Attention to the students’ objectives helps the lesson achieve success because the teacher’s objective is not always the same as the class’s and vice versa. In doing so, the teacher promotes motivation and interest in the class. It is always important to have the students’ needs in mind.
  • Despite being important in the beginning of the career, try not relying exclusively on Teacher’s Guide.
    To the novices, the Teacher’s Guide is a valuable guide. However, after some years of experience, following it literally might be risky, because it might make the lesson feel standardized and predictable since it will be lacking in teacher’s identity and students’ interests.
  • Whenever possible, having a plan B (or C).
    Having a plan B (or C) helps when the initial plan has not been so successful or it doesn’t suit students’ objectives. In order not to let the class sink or fail, an alternative plan is always handy. There are no recipes for classes and assuming that your initial plan is always going to work is really risky.
  • UbD

One participant drew attention to UbD (Understanding by Design) as a means of organizing your lesson. Called “Backward design”, UbD focuses on desired outcomes as a guide for planning.

  • Multiple Intelligences and learning styles

Something else that was mentioned was the need to cater for multiple intelligences and learning styles in the plan. However, that topic was controversial.

Shared links:

Juliana Alves Mota is originally from São Paulo, the HeadShotlargest city in Brazil, but moved to the countryside in 2012. A former speech therapist and audiologist who discovered her love for teaching in 2010, she holds a CAE certificate and is currently working towards a degree in English and Portuguese from the University of São Paulo State – UNESP Araraquara. Dedicated to continuous professional development, she always attends online and face-to-face courses, as well as webinars, and has been a BrELT participant since 2014.

Lesson plans – a waste of time?

I realise I haven’t written anything for this blog for quite some time, so I’m really glad that a recent conversation on Twitter about observations and lesson plans with @ashowski and @getgreatenglish, who following our chat wrote a post too, motivated me to write a new post. The conversation was prompted by a blog post by @ashowski which you can read here. In a nutshell, Anthony argues that from the point of view of the observer a thorough lesson plan is essential as comparing it with the decisions made by the teacher during the lesson can “reveal the most interesting features of the teacher’s pedagogic abilities”. Without this it would be impossible “to determine the extent of the teacher’s teaching abilities”. What?!

You know a great planner when you read their lesson plan, but you know a great teacher when you see them. While the lesson plan might reveal some interesting things about the decisions taken by the teacher, I don’t think it is necessary “to determine the extent of the teacher’s teaching abilities”, because the only thing it does determine is the extent of teachers planning abilities. And is just one of many skills of effective English teachers. What I definitely object to, though, are the incredibly detailed lesson plans we are obliged to write for formal observations.

First, they do not reflect how we plan on a day-to-day basis. Let’s be honest, any good teacher will prepare and plan for their classes in one way or  the other, but when was the last time you wrote a CELTA/DELTA like lesson plan? Probably for your last observation, and only because you were obliged to. On a day-to-day basis we might write down the main aims on post-it notes, draw a flow-chart with main stages on a piece of paper, or make notes in the teacher’s or student’s book (for an overview of various approaches to planning read this post by Adam Simpson) . Personally, I will often visualise the different stages, interaction patterns, lesson aims and go over the various options I could use in the class without writing too much down. The best decisions often come to me on the spot. They depend on students, on their mood, on what happens in the class, and on countless other unpredictable factors.

6-11. The butterfly effect

Which brings me to my second objection: you can’t plan for the unpredictable. And what happens in class is to a lesser or greater extent unpredictable. While thinking about the lesson, its aims, possible interaction patterns, predicting setbacks and devising solutions to them are all part and parcel of preparing for a successful lesson, I can’t see how writing them down in the form of an ever more complex and detailed lesson plan will help you effectively respond to what happens in the classroom. As Steve Brown wrote here, “Teaching is not about managing the delivery of a lesson plan”. Unfortunately, though, both teacher training courses, as well as in-house observations place great importance on thorough lesson planning.

Because, as we’re told, there’s a direct correlation between a good lesson plan and a lesson success. Really? When preparing for my last observation I spent several hours writing the plan and preparing materials. According to the feedback I received, the lesson went well, but I didn’t feel the hours of prep paid off. I didn’t feel it was a particularly outstanding lesson. And I’m pretty sure I would have taught a similarly effective lesson with 10% of the time put into planning. And would have been much less stressed about having to stick to the lesson stages. So might have responded to students’ immediate queries and needs better too.

So why are we told by trainers and observers to prepare detailed lesson plans? Perhaps because “they [the lesson plans] provide comfort to the novice and to the person required to certify the novice’s ability” (the Secret DoS in this post). Perhaps because “it is part of what most teachers are expected (and paid) to do” (ibid). Perhaps because the observers/trainees actually believe that how the plan looks reflects in a way how the lesson is going to pan out. It shows that the trainee is diligent and has carefully thought about the lesson. This belief, though, is underpinned by “the misconception that [through planning] teachers can control what students learn” (Steve Brown in this post).

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But the paramount importance that is placed on producing neat, organised, detailed and long lesson plans is misguided, because it doesn’t really prepare the trainee for the daily teaching and planning routine. It teaches us a skill that we never use. It dupes trainees into thinking that they can anticipate every problem that might come up in the lesson. It also seems to suggest that only by following a pre-planned sequence of activities can we teach a successful lesson. And it takes teacher’s attention away from what really matters: the students and what is happening at a given moment in class.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel that planning IS important. It is essential. But not in the form of hours spent stressing over a detailed CELTA-like lesson plan, which most likely will end up accumulating layers of dust somewhere on a forgotten shelf in the DoS office. Such planning leads to little meaningful PD.

Stack of Paper 050

It is stressful, time-consuming and not environmentally friendly. It also emphasises the lesson plan as a measure of teacher’s abilities. Yet, we all agree that successful teaching is much more than a well-written lesson plan. So what I would like to see is s shift towards that “much more”, towards the actual teaching. I would like to see the observer and teacher discuss teacher’s PD needs and focus the observation aims accordingly. I would like the observer to see the real, everyday teacher, not the artificial machine conditioned by the one-off 10 page lesson plan.

This, however, would require a change in what the observations are used for, which at the moment is quality control and assessment. There’s little pre and post-observation reflection, let alone a meaningful and personalised PD action plan whose aims would stem from the observation. Surely, though, this is how observations should be used. For example:

  1. Pre-observation meeting where teacher and observer discuss teachers strengths, weaknesses and PD needs
  2. Observation
  3. Post-observation meeting where teacher and observer reflect on the lesson and agree on PD goals
  4. Teacher develops an action plan with the help of the observer and agree on the time frame, goals, action research tools, etc.
  5. Teacher carries out the action plan with support from the observer
  6. Observer and teacher meet to discuss the results of the action plan (possibly preceeded by an observation)
  7. Teacher continues working on all (or some of) the same developmental goals OR go back to point 1 to start a new cycle

So, no, I don’t think that a lesson plan reveals pedagogical abilities, nor that it determines the extent of teacher’s abilities. What it does do is reveal a profound detachment from how real planning is done. It overemphasizes a skill that we never use on a daily basis; a skill whose correlation with a successful lesson is yet to be proven. Long lesson plans are a fruitless, artificial, stressful and time-consuming exercise which rarely result in meaningful PD.

Our attitude to lesson plans is full of hypocrisy too. On the one hand, as teachers we produce long lesson plan each time we’re observed, because we are required to by the observer, even though we doubt whether they help us develop professionally, or deliver a more effective lesson. On the other hand, as observers, we expect adherence to one and only true attitude to planning, even though we know that it’s neither the only one, nor the best, nor the most practical or realistic one.

While the ability to plan is important and needs to be cultivated, we mustn’t forget about the countless other skills which a successful teacher needs. And to help the teacher develop them, we don’t need to see an agonizingly long lesson plan every time we observe a class.

Further reading: