Saturday, 26 September 2015

Back in the classroom with Outcomes

After a long busy summer it's all change for the autumn term. I've decided to begin a part-time Masters course in Linguistics, which starts in October, and I'm really excited about. This has also resulted in me stepping down from the ADoS position, to instead focus just on teaching. So the new term began this week with me back in the classroom.

I have a lovely Intermediate class, with 7 different nationalities, and we've been asked to use the Outcomes coursebook. Looking back through previous teaching materials I found that I've previously taught the same level with this same book. That was around 3 years ago, so it's going to be interesting to see how my teaching style has changed.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Materials writing advice from coursebook insiders

Despite the popularity of materials-light teaching, coursebooks still feature predominantly in my school. There are a few teachers who are happier using their own tried-and tested lessons, some who like to dip in and out of various books, and some who will use the given coursebook and adapt/supplement. When I was teaching, I fitted into the final category and it’s probably still where I feel most comfortable. Having a coursebook made me feel more secure: I liked having the overall structure for the term, the familiarity for the class, and the idea of building-up skills and recycling language over time. Personally, I also enjoy(ed) trying out all the different series and their suggested methodologies too. Perhaps it says something about my critical skills or my relatively short time working in ELT, but there honestly hasn’t been any series that I have either really disliked or feel overly attached to. Generally I’m ok with coursebooks. But as my experience grows, so do my questions about the materials I use…

So at IATEFL I went along to Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton’s session: 'Uncovering Expertise in Coursebook Writing' to hear more about the behind-the-scenes world. The two presenters have lots of experience and knowledge, and were presenting the results of their recent research project. The research used questionnaires to ask both writers and editors about the challenges that they face when writing a unit of a coursebook. The session was unfortunately really short, and they had lots to get through, so I hope my scribbled notes are not going to misrepresent them!

The research findings highlighted five challenges for coursebook writers: 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Who trains the trainers who train the trainers who...

One of the things I found most rewarding about IATEFL was seeing presentations from people working in different contexts to me. I fall so easily into the trap of seeing ELT as existing only in my own language school. I’ve not had the opportunity (yet!) to work anywhere other than London or Brighton – so my direct experience is shaped entirely by working with multi-lingual adult classes in the UK. Of course the web is a great source of information, but there is always the danger of existing in your own little bubble without really realising it. So conferences give me the chance to hear from lots of different people, and open my eyes to wider issues and conversations going on in the ELT world.

This presentation (The Flipped Model of Teacher Training by Fakhra Al-Mamary) was by an Educational Researcher who works in Oman and specialises in teaching phonics. She explained how there was a push to introduce phonics learning to all schools, and therefore a need to train teachers in new methods. Her talk focused on the challenges faced in rolling-out this training, and the solutions that seem to be working best.

Initially, the training had two strands: face to face sessions (to establish existing knowledge, introduce the benefits of the new method, and teach it) followed by observation/feedback on classroom application. This seemed the most time and cost effective way to cascade training to teachers, however it led to a high dilution rate and was not as successful as was hoped for. This method is based on the familiar idea of knowledge transfer. The trainer has the information, and this is passed on to the trainees, who are then expected to act on it. It’s generally how we undertake a lot of training courses – the responsibility is on the trainer: they have the golden knowledge and we are there to bask and soak up the glow of their wisdom, then sent off to be mini-reflectors of what we’ve been given. But, perhaps what is more important and useful is ongoing support based on the (re)construction and/or extension of individuals’ existing knowledge…