Archive for the ‘CPD’ Category

Back to a topic which is becoming an ‘occasional series’ – What can you do with Prezi and why is it worth using? (see here and here )

This presentation is from a professional development session I led at another local college this week. NB the bit.ly links link to examples on my Moodle courses – you won’t be able to access these; where resources were created for this session, I have made and included screencasts – I haven’t done this for examples of student work for obvious reasons.

The session was about sharing ideas of best practice for using Moodle/VLEs creatively with ESOL learners – I was focussing on what could be done, rather than showing how to do it (there was a hands-on practical session after mine showing people how to do these things for themselves). You can see my session plan here: Moodle for ESOL Session plan and the handout here: Moodle for ESOL Handout

If you have read my other posts on Prezi, you may remember that I think a possible advantage of the application is that you can create a non-linear presentation file which can be accessed outside the session according to the interest of participants. This is the closest that I have managed to get to this idea so far, the presentation is organised as a mind map with no specific beginning and end and more content than I could show in a 90 min session. The idea being that participants could return to it, find a part they were particularly interested in and look at in more depth (see here for more on mindmaps). Part of the reason I’m posting it here is to see if that works, or is worthwhile – let me know what you think in the comments below.

Having said that, I had a linear plan for my session (see the session plan) and used a linear path through the presentation. This meant the session followed my plan – the next thing to try would be to continue to develop the Prezi file and try giving a truly non-linear presentation “OK, what would you like me to show you next…?” (Prezi for Dogme, anyone?) – whether that would be useful or desired by session participants (or learners in class) is another question, of course….

Anyway the topics I planned to look at were the following:

  • ‘Moodle Techniques’ you can use across the VLE:
    • Internal and External Linking
    • Embedding Content
    • Uploading Audio and Video files
    • Adding labels
  • Forums – for :
    • practising specific language points
    • to facilitate interaction with online content.
  • Wikis & Assigments – for tracking, assessing and giving formative feedback to learners.
  • Feedback – to allow learners to reflect on audio or video files that they have created.
  • BDC e-templates (read more here) – interactive exercises

I intend to keep adding to this as I think of more things – but I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas – I’d be really grateful for any comments you could add below.

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Another year of blogging

Autumn Leaves

Autumn again - time for a little reflection

It’s really easy when reading blogs to pay loads of attention to the latest post, but not go back through the older entries. This makes sense for a very news based diary-type blog, but I reckon most education-related blogs are full of still useful content all the way through.

As a result, I thought I’d just pull out some of the posts from this blog that seem to be popular. I admit that this is a lazy post, similar to one I did about 13 months ago, but I thought it might be interesting as a not-quite annual event. I’ve also added a tag cloud to the sidebar, hopefully that should make it easier to found old posts of interest.

Anyway here are the five posts with the most hits last year (Not including those on last year’s list)

  1. Back to Basics: Mini Whiteboards – It’s not all about tech, you know! These are a fantastic resource and there are some ideas here….
  2. Destination Impossible – This game from BBC Skillswise is great for teaching directions… The whole BBC Skillswise site has just be revamped and is well worth a look round – loads of English and Literacy materials for use online and in class.
  3. IATEFL – On Tech – Ok, maybe you do all love the techie stuff (goes with blogs, I guess). This is a summary of the sessions I attended at IATEFL this year on learning technology – there are a number of links and comments there. I’d also really recommend having a look around the IATEFL Brighton Online website, which has loads of videos of the talks from the conference (a number can also be downloaded as podcasts via iTunes).
  4. Authentic Materials – This post is a list of online sources of Authentic Materials for use in class – please feel free to add more in the comments section.
  5. Moodle Forums for ESOL Learners – This is a guide with ideas for how to use online forums (not just in Moodle) with your learners as well as instructions for setting up forums in Moodle.

Away from these, I should also mention my Prezi vs Powerpoint post again, as it is by far the most viewed and commented post on this blog – feel free to join in!

Before I try to think what I’m going to write about next, I’d just like to say thanks for all the comments, retweets, etc – this is the first time I’ve managed to keep a blog alive  – so Grazie Mille to all of you!

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Online CPD – Updated Bloglist

On the desk

Blogging? (eltpics via Flickr)

Having recently updated my Twitter for Educators page, I felt that it was time that I did the same for my page on teaching blogs (Click on the link in the top right box). This is partly because there are a lot of good blogs that I hadn’t got around to adding yet, but also because, as with Twitter, following blogs has issues around signal-noise ratios and the sheer weight of information. As a result I’ve added a couple of sections looking at readers and mobile tools and the like.

Most people advise keeping bloglists short and well pruned – I can see the merit of that, but I’m wilfully ignoring it; the list is massive! However rather than just giving a page full of links, I do try to add some information about the content of the blogs I link to so people can have an idea of what they contain, and I don’t add anything that I think is of no worth. I’ve also had a think about the categories I sort them into and added a contents section with HTML anchors – if anyone know a more elegant way of doing this on a wordpress.com blog I’d love to hear it (my HTML skills are pretty basic).

Blogs are a great way of doing online CPD – following relevant blogs is a great way to stay in touch with different ideas and opinions around any area of interest – especially where there is a good level of discussion to participate in. I’d love to hear about any that I haven’t added to the list. Of course they are just one form of online CPD myself and Mike Harrison gave a presentation about online professional development last Autumn with a couple of other options, which you can see here*:

The three blogs that we chose to highlight were the following:

http://e-blahblah.com by Sandra Pires which has simple to follow guides to e-learning approaches (and was probably the inspiration for this blog)
http://mistermikelcc.blogspot.com by Mike Richmond-Coggin which is a great blog looking at many of the issues involved in teaching ESOL.
http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com by Scott Thornbury – this is probably the best blog around for informed debate about English language teaching, I really like the fact that Scott always engages with the debate. Scott has now recorded a video saying what he uses his blog for:

I would recommend visiting the blog page to see the comments and replies, which are always fascinating on Scott’s blog.

We also talked about the ESOL-RESEARCH mailing list which is essential reading for anyone interested in the ESOL sector in the UK – it links professionals across the sector and can also be a great forum for debate or source of advice. The British Council’s Teaching English website has been slightly revamped since that presentation, but is a great source of resources for teaching and CPD (disclaimer – I have been working for the British Council, but I do genuinely like the site…)

*Also well worth watching Amanda Wilson and Callie Wilkinson’s contribution from the same event – http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/seminars/exploring-uk-esolefl-divide

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Seeing as it had been up there for over a year and been overtaken by events , I thought that my Twitter for Educators guide needed a bit of a revamp – so I’ve updated it and you can see it here: Twitter for Educators. (or through the link in the top right box on this page)

Next up – the blog list

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Action for ESOL

Action for ESOL became a theme of the conference.

Last weekend saw the NATECLA conference at Warwick University, I was lucky enough to be able to attend this through my involvement in the British Council’s ESOL Nexus project (more on that at a later date) as they are the main sponsor of the event. I went along with Mike Harrison and Amanda Wilson to give a presentation (a video of which will be available on the British Council’s website). NATECLA is the association representing teachers of ESOL and community languages in the UK and is an associate of IATEFL; you can find more information from their website, their Facebook page or by following them on Twitter. The event provided a mixture of workshops and discussions on pedagogy and policy, with the recent cuts to ESOL provision casting a shadow over the event; a number of the presentations from the event are available on the event’s webpage.

Language and superdiversity: Ideologies & Practices – Adrian Blackledge

The conference was opened by Professor Adrian Blackledge from the MOSAIC Centre for multilingualism at the University of Birmingham

The main point of the talk was about the multilingual reality that exists in Britain today, this was contrasted with the political narrative that all people in Britain should speak (only?) English.

The first point was that the changing nature of migration to Britain, along with the diversity of media and communication available through the Internet has lead to an increasingly complex and rich multilingualism. This was illustrated by showing and playing extracts from a number of conversations recorded as part of a project looking at multilingual speakers in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Eindhoven & Birmingham as well as a project looking at complementary schools in Leicester, Birmingham, London & Manchester ; there is a vodcast describing the latter project on the Birmingham university website. The most striking point was the ease with which people in these communities effortless switch between languages and accents in a highly fluid way – Blackledge described this as ‘translanguaging’. This video is a brilliant illustration of translanguaging in today’s multilingual Britain.

The second key part of the keynote was the political narrative that holds English use as the key to solving all problems of integration in the UK. Blackledge demonstrated how politicians in recent lives have equated the use (note: use, not proficiency in) of the English language as a guarantee of pretty much every ‘democratic value’ while offering little explanation of how this will happen. The conclusion was how this narrative fails to acknowledge the previously described multilingualism that exists in many parts of the country; a multilingualism that almost appears to be a threat.

Personally I do think that knowing English is empowering for people in the UK, what is more disturbing is how  the idea that today’s multilingual Britain is some kind of threat. The portrayal of the English language as some kind of cure-all just appears to be lazy politics, refusing to address the real problems in society. I won’t even mention the hypocrisy of making all these statements while presiding over the deepest cuts to English language provision that this country has seen for a long time (more of that later).

Visual Literacy – Dot Powell

The session started by considering the generic and ‘obvious’ ladies and gents signs used to distinguish toilets for men and women. However a few pictures from around the world soon showed that there was nothing universal about the pictograms that we recognise.

The implications of this are that we should try to develop visual literacy in our learners, whether this is because it is a new concept to them or just that elements of it can be culture-specific (as with the toilet signs).

The session considered a number of features of visual literacy that we would usually understand in our culture – this could be as simple as an up arrow meaning straight ahead, rather than straight up or the idea that different styles of bubble represent speech and thought in comics (and English teaching materials). These could be thought of as visual metaphors as they are not literal representations of what they purport to show. Dot also introduces the idea of visual grammar – an example of this being how speech bubbles in a cartoon usually start at the top left and then alternate sides downwards.

The final stage of the session was considering how the (in)famous Skills for Life ESOL teaching materials could create problems by assuming a certain level of visual literacy through the use of different logographic symbols, different typography, images etc. They can also be inconsistent in their use of these features, which can be confusing for learners. While these materials are often scape-goated, Dot pointed out that the reality is that this is the case to a greater or lesser degree with most English teaching materials.

We finished by investigating some of these teaching materials and pointing out the issues. As can be seen in the picture below, we managed to find a few…

Visual literacy in SfL materials

This session was really thought-provoking, I’ve been interested by the idea of multimodality and semiotics, since I saw a great lecture by Gunther Kress at SOAS in 2009 (see the videos at the bottom of the linked page). This session gave a bit more depth to my knowledge and pointed out how important it is to consider visual conventions and literacies when developing resources for the classroom. When I did my Masters in translation we looked at digital publishing skills – and that was when I first realised that design is a key part of the effectiveness/functionality of a text – it’s not just mere aesthetics. There is also a cultural dimension in this – there has been a number of papers written where Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of culture are used to explain the differences in web design between different cultures. I had studied this in the context of Internet localisation, but hadn’t realised the implications in terms of developing learner’s visual literacy.

Action for ESOL

The issue hanging over the whole conference was that of the change of eligibility for fee remission for the most vulnerable ESOL learners. While that sounds very technical, what it means is that the majority of learners currently following ESOL courses in the UK will find them unaffordable. The government’s equality impact assessment is likely to show that this  affects women and those from minority ethnic communities disproportionately and hence is delaying the publication of this report until the summer recess when it cannot be debated in parliament.

The funding implications were set out in great detail by Nick Linford of Lsect, his PowerPoint here goes into this in great detail. There were also other sessions where student involvement in protests was considered. Some colleges have been concerned about the political content of lessons, however, it was pointed out that if we are teaching citizenship getting learners to write a real letter about a real issue that genuinely concerns learners is far better than basing everything on hypothetical textbook type texts.

The involvement of learners has given them a chance to express themselves and to explore a number of areas of language and literacy related to the issue. Watch these learners at Greenwich Community College:

Jennie Turner told us of her learner who two years ago couldn’t speak English and now appeared speaking on national radio. Also, learners at LSBU/LLU+ produced their own film, documenting the Action for ESOL day of action – consider the language skills developed in the productions of this:

This blog is probably not the best place to go into the campaign in detail, but I would urge people to get more information from the Action for ESOL website and also to sign the online petition (which has already collected over 20,000 signatures).

Including Dyslexic learners – Anne Margaret Smith

Click here for presentation

I had seen a bit about Dyslexia in ESOL learners when I did my ESOL specialism and CertEd, but the consensus seemed to be that it was just very difficult to assess Dyslexia in bilingual learners, especially at Entry level. As a result, I hadn’t looked that much further into it. That general uncertainty about Dyslexia and ESOL is what made me interested in this session.

Anne Margaret Smith runs many workshops on Dyslexia in ESOL though her company ELTwell. She took us through a little bit of background of what Dyslexia is and its legal status under the equality act. The interesting point, and what makes it difficult to assess dyslexia in bilingual learners is that the difficulties that L1 speakers with dyslexia are very similar to those encountered by L2 speakers as they are learning a language.

While this can make it difficult to assess, what it does also mean is that a lot of the strategies used by ESOL teachers are suitable for teaching learners with dyslexia. Learners with dyslexia may have problems with memory and concentration, but then this is also true of anyone trying to learn a language. For example, I have written about a session I saw where Phillida Schellekens  emphasised the importance of repetition to ensure that new vocabulary is learned. This is also the case with learners with dyslexia.

The list of strategies that we were given was reassuringly similar to what is best practice for any ESOL teaching: Learning should be in manageable chunks, instructions should be clear, activities should be multi-sensory and build up learners’ confidence.

An interesting point was that Anne felt that learners with dyslexia benefit from more explicit grammar and phonics instruction, as they find it harder to work this out independently. This would suggest that a deductive method may be better than inductive when teaching learners with a specific learning difference.

This workshop was very interesting as it gave us participants a re-assuring feel that we were doing the ‘right thing’, I would like to learn more at Anne’s workshops in the Autumn,

Tweeting Up

As always, the conference was also a great opportunity to talk to other people working in the sector. It is often difficult to discuss what is happening in different colleges and different  parts of the country, apart from on Twitter that is, but it was nice to meet up with Sam Shepherd, Molly Drake, Sarah Kinsella, Alex Stephenson, Jennie Turner, Mike Richmond-Coggin, Sarah Masters, and Russell Stannard. Twitter has its pros and cons but it’s certainly great for initiating and continuing contacts made and discussions had at events like this. This may be a relatively small event, but I reckon it is one of the most passionate and tightly-knit events – there’s a real feeling that everyone is in it for their learners and to try and make a difference. The weekend provided a nice mix of content around policy in the sector and the challenges that it is now facing, along with some sessions focussed on professional development. Next year’s event will be somewhere in the North West, and I hope to be able to go back.


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IATEFL – On Tech



I’ve just got back from the IATEFL conference, a huge sprawling monster of a conference. The best way that I can think of to reflect on what I’ve seen is to blog about it. The good thing is that loads of the conference is available online – where this is the case I’ll link to it. As it is so sprawling, I’ve had to spread my reflections across a few posts. I’ve tried to organised the post thematically, but the line between them is slightly arbitrary, bear with me on this.
I’ve posted on the IATEFL sessions that related to Methodology and those with practical ideas for the classroom,  this post is a summary of those sessions which focussed on ideas for using technology in education. As there is a lot of content it seemed to make more sense to split these between those that were more theoretical and those which concentrated on sites and tools that you can use in class As before I’m a little bit concerned around the ethics of blogging conferences – see post from Jeremy Harmer here. Should you wish me to change/remove parts – just let me know.

1)The Theory:

Sue Palmer – Toxic Childhood (Plenary)

This session wasn’t really about technology, but it did set the tone for a lot of what followed, I’d really recommend watching the video as whether you agree with it or not, Palmer is an engaging and thought-provoking speaker. There were a number of strains to her talk, but one of the biggest was that children are subjected to far too much screen-based interaction at a young age, which impedes the development of human interaction skills. This could be computer-based or TV-based. This was seen as a particular problem in the UK as where other countries limited young children’s screen interactions in childcare settings, the UK EYFS actually set IT targets from 22 months. The other point raised was that advertising is channelled through these media and that this creates a huge pressure on parents. In terms of technology in education, it is not necessarily negative about its use, but the too key messages are that it should not start before children have a chance to develop their human interaction skills  and that it should not contain advertising. It was a very thought-provoking talk and had some impact on the debate around the sessions which followed.

Gavin Dudeney – Location, location, location

Gavin’s Blog: That’s SLife

On Sunday, Gavin Dudeney from the Consultants-e gave a talk on mobile learning. The first part of the talk acknowledged that there are issues around the levels of technology that people have access to and also that what is possible in some parts of world is not always practical in others, though an interesting stat that Gavin mentioned was that 50% of all tweets sent in November came from either Brazil or Indonesia.

One of Gavin’s main points was that in many places mobile learning has struggled to evolve from a ‘word of the day’ text/SMS based approach, while at the same time mobile/handheld technology has come on in leaps and bounds. One theme was also that tablets would be the future of mobile learning; while at the moment iPads are what people think of when tablets are mentioned, Gavin mentioned that 78 tablets were launched last year and prices are starting to fall. The fact that tablets have much bigger screens that smartphones means that there is a lot of potential for more creative  and collaborative uses of the technology, we were shown a number of clips from the consultants-e YouTube channel showing how handheld learning tools are used.

This was contrasted with the ELT sector’s purpose made apps, which could be described as solid but dull. The big message here was to embrace the potential of different apps for creativity rather than just rely on what has been provided. Gavin cited a comment by Nik Peachey about how while the technology sector has a ferocious Market which ensures that only the best and most useful devices survive, this doesn’t seem to work when it comes to education, which can be seen with these apps.

Gavin also highlighted a number of low resource projects such as Janala, Project ABC, SoloIngles and M4Lit that were being carried out around the world. I’d heard of Janala, but the others were new to me – there is a lot of potential for the use of mobile technology in the developing world as it has such penetration. I have read about mobile banking projects as well as crowdsourcing translation projects which allow people to earn small amounts of money using their mobile phone. This is definitely an area to keep an eye on – perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about the 50% of Tweets stat from above – combined Brazil and Indonesia have got a population of around 400m people, and a lot of them could access Twitter via SMS.

M-learning is an area I’ve been intrigued by for a while, I haven’t quite been able to take the plunge into it, as there are still issues that concern me (Incompatibility of systems: iOS vs Blackberry etc; Do learners have the ‘right’ device). I can see how this may start to change. In the classroom, like Gavin, I suspect that the tablet revolution is likely to happen – these are much nicer and more flexible devices to work with than smartphones. As they become cheaper, it may be almost as economical to have a class set of these, rather than traditional it lab. Mobile phones can then be used to take things out of the classroom (Russell Stannard spoke on the idea of the ‘connected classroom’), as it becomes more established cross-platform solutions may start to appear.

It was interesting to see the number of people brandishing iPads, (trying to get on the shaky wifi connection) – they are a more portable alternative to laptops, and probably easier to use than netbooks. The only gripe that I would have is that I still much prefer typing with a real keyboard. I think this is something that we will see more and more of.

Liz Fleet – Teacher Perception of IWBs with Adult Learners

Monday morning saw Liz Fleet present research on the use of interactive whiteboards at the British Council in Jordan; this was for an MA dissertation at the University of Manchester. The findings were generally positive in terms of engaging and motivating learners. Most people surveyed were in favour of their use. There were concerns around having time for training and the feeling was that training programmed supplied by the manufacturers were not good enough. Consequently some of those surveyed felt that they were unable to exploit the full potential of the equipment.

However, there was a feeling that they impeded learner-centred teaching, there was seen to be a danger that IWBs can lead to the teacher doing everything. Consequently they were seen to be negative for kinaesthetic learners, although they were positive for learners with a preference for visual and auditory learning styles. The other concern was that using IWBs may be good for superficial learning, but it was harder to use them for deeper learning. Teachers also found that the monitoring of learners had not improved as they were spending more time using the computer in the lesson.

This session highlighted a number of the questions around IWBs and made me question my own practice. I have been a champion of IWBs where I work and have posted a number of resources and guides here, now I need to reflect on whether I have been including the whole class. I have used activities where the whole class is at the board trying to work through something as a group, this is probably something I need to do more. Liz touched on what could happen if IWBs could be combined with handheld devices – I feel that this could be a powerful combination, we just need to wait for tablets to get a bit cheaper. In the meantime, the key is probably high quality training – looking from a pedagogical viewpoint – has anyone developed an IWB pedagogy yet?

Carla Arena – Online collaboration


On the final morning of the conference Carla Arena from Brasilia told us all about a collaborative project that she had set up for teachers in her institution (Casa Thomas Jefferson), scattered around Brasilia, to share resources and ideas. The concept behind it was the idea of ‘swarming’ where if many people focus on one goal, the combined force is much stronger than the sum of the individuals.

The project used a wiki where content could be shared and easily added by different teachers. A key factor that helped the resource develop was that a clear framework was set up for each course, so it was easy to see where the different resources would fit. File naming conventions were established to make the process smoother. Carla also considered how best to motivate people into contributing: it was not made obligatory, but every opportunity was taken to celebrate the contributions every month. It created a ‘digital café’ where people could discuss activities and the best ways to approach particular lessons. The Edtech team set goals for how much content could be shared and provided training on areas such as design to make sure that the materials contributed looked their best.

This was a great presentation on another area that I’ve tried to work with. I think the key is that it is easy to use; I tried to set up a moodle database for sharing resources – but it was so big and needed so much input, that even I couldn’t get more than about a unit’s worth of content into it – needless to say, no one else followed suit. I was a bit more successful when I set up a framework, using a hierarchy of folders on a shared drive – this was relatively easy to contribute to and so was more successful; this sessions got me thinking how I could develop this. I liked Carla’s take on the psychological aspect – you really need to get people to support a project like this in order for it to work. You can read more about the project here: http://brazilbridges.pbworks.com/w/page/11613093/FrontPage

Sue Lyons-Jones – Teaching with Technology Plan B


The first part of Sue’s session was a discussion around why teachers have a fear of using technology in their classes, the main reasons were issues around the hardware, a fear of breaking something and perhaps more crucially, a lack of training. There was the comment that many teacher training courses don’t really deal with technology in any meaningful way. However, Sue pointed out that no-one chooses not to use a photocopier for these reasons.

We then moved on to the solutions, the first one being make sure you check the equipment 30 minutes before your class – it’s also a good idea to get to know your tech support people as they can come in handy, thought you may also find that your learners are a good resource for helping you out (IT Dogme – see what language emerges from that). For times where you have no internet, Sue recommended having a 3G dongle as backup or using phone tethering. Also you should have some backup activities to fill the time where technology is delaying you – ‘faff fillers’ was Sue’s term for this.

A good solution for when the browser that you want to use doesn’t have the right plug-ins is to use ‘Portable Apps‘, which runs Firefox from a memory stick, Video Download Helper allows you to download videos before the lesson, which you can play using FLV player. A site called Jog the Web can be used to access sites that are otherwise blocked which may get past institutional filters.

Sue then presented a few offline tools that could be used – Thingamablog and Tiddlywiki for offline blogging and erm, wiki-ing (?).

The key messages from this session were: Assume nothing and make sure that you can stay cool when things do go wrong.

2) The Tools:

As there were a number of sessions that presented different tech tools, I thought that I would merge them into one section. These are the ones that I am thinking about most at the moment. All the links can be found on Brighton Online under the following sessions:

Exploiting images:

There seemed to be loads of tools presented which leveraged images from Flickr – Nik and Russell both highlighted tools from PimPamPum: Phrasr, which flashes up images to represent the words in a phrase or sentence is a nice vocabulary tool; Flickrpoet is really addictive – you just type in a story a poem, or a collection of words and it throws up images to match – once I started trying, I couldn’t stop. Bubblr and Bookr use Flickr to source images which can be used to create photo stories or photo books; I can see these tools being really useful for developing writing as they allow learners to use visual stimuli. Russell also presented Storybird which is a site containing pictures from professional artists that can be used to make picture books with stories.

For Writing

Both Nik and Amanda & Susan’s sessions presented collaborative writing tools, which appear to have risen from the ashes of Etherpad. Amanda and Susan showed Type with Me, which they use in their IELTS preparation classes, while Nik showed Sync.in. They both look very similar, the basic idea is that they provide a space for a number of people to type into, in order to create a document collaboratively. I was really surprised when Etherpad disappeared as it seemed to be one of these simple tools with loads of different applications both inside and outside class.

Another tool that cropped up a lot, was Jing – for screencasting. Amanda and Susan mentioned it in their talk, but pointed out that Russell Stannard was the ‘King of Jing‘. Russell didn’t show anything new with Jing, but had used it to pre-record all the links in his own presentation so as not to have internet issues. The use highlighted by Amanda and Susan is that you can use Jing to give audio and visual feedback to learners on their written work. There is often a lot more that you can say about the piece of writing and learners often value this considerably more than comments on a piece of paper.

Russell showed a great tool called Word Magnets which you can download and install on your desktop. It basically breaks a text up into words which can be dragged around, coloured and manipulated in a number of different ways. This again is a simple looking tool that has loads of different applications for work on writing, grammar or vocabulary. More wordplay fun could be had by using transla8it, which transliterates English text into SMS abbreviations and vice-versa. There is potential for working on spelling and pronunciation here.

Amanda and Susan showed the Google Wonder Wheel which returns search results that are conceptually linked, as a mind map. They then showed a tool called LinoIt where students could share their ideas as sticky labels on an imaginary noticeboard (Wallwisher is a similar tool).

Nik showed a couple of tools that helped with searching – one of them being Twurdy, which classifies search results according to their readability – this could be great for learners. PhraseUp searches for collocations in phrases – this could be great for translators as well as teachers.

Sound and Video

I think all three presentations managed to mention Vocaroo, Russell pointed out that the beauty was its simplicity. The site has just got one button to start recording, then provides you with a link that you can email people so that they can hear your recording. There are a number of ways that you could use this, but I really liked Amanda and Susan’s approach of providing detailed feedback on pronunciation for the learners to work on. Russell an Nik both suggested Audioboo as an alternative, which was a bit more complex, but offered the option of publishing recordings to iTunes as podcasts.

For video, intervue and vYou were both given as examples where learners could record videos to practice spoken language. These are websites where you can record video messages and post answers – they look like a great tool – I just wonder what the safeguarding people at college would have to say about them… hmm.. In the same vein, both Russell and Nik recommended Mail.Vu which allows you to send video messages.

These sessions were great as they have given me loads of things to look up and try out, for more information I would really recommend checking out Russell’s website http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/ where he has video tutorials to a whole range of Web2.0 tools. Nik has a great blog which also introduces loads of these tech tools and gives advice. Now I just need to start trying them all out!

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B-side C-side

B-side C-side

I’ve just got back from the IATEFL conference, a huge sprawling monster of a conference. The best way that I can think of to reflect on what I’ve seen is to blog about it. The good thing is that loads of the conference is available online – where this is the case I’ll link to it. As it is so sprawling, I’ve had to spread my reflections across a few posts. I’ve tried to organised the post thematically, but the line between them is slightly arbitrary, bear with me on this.
I’ve posted on the IATEFL sessions that related to Methodology, this post is a summary of those sessions which focussed more on practical classroom ideas. As before I’m a little bit concerned around the ethics of blogging conferences – see post from Jeremy Harmer here. Should you wish me to change/remove parts – just let me know.


In the ESOL Pre Conference Event, Janet Golding from Trinity College London talked about reasons why learners often under perform in speaking and listening exams. There can be many things that learners do:

  • they might not quite understand tasks
  • They revert to using their first language
  • They might not work well as a pair/group

Janet explored a number of topics around this; learners might be very dominant or passive in conversation and they might not be accustomed to Western conversation conventions in terms of turn-taking etc. Learners often have a fear of making mistakes. We then considered where exams were different from everyday life – this obviously depends on the examination itself, but considering Skills for Life ESOL exams try to replicate real tasks most of the differences centred around the power context where the introduction of an examiner and a increase in the stakes surrounding the situation – this is where nerves come in. Classes are thus more cosy than exams. An interesting point here was that this often puts learners off asking for clarification of things, feeling that they will be penalised for this – this is a misconception (in these exams).

The key to dealing with this is to develop the ‘Art of Communication’. Learners need to have the confidence to take risks. Suggested activities to do this were: Role-plays using board games, breathing techniques for relaxation, Chinese whispers, using video to develop body language and also that in all activities groupings and pairings should be constantly mixed around, so learners don’t become dependent on speaking just to people that they know well. The key thing is that in this case, the skills required for the exam should be those which are genuinely useful for everyday life.

Trinity were then followed by their arch-rivals Cambridge ESOL, represented by James McGoldrick who also works at City and Islington College (I’m guessing, but CANDI is probably the biggest ESOL provider in London). His focus was on developing literacy skills in ESOL learners who lack them. Hi talk drew on research from LLU+ and the critical guide to ESOL from Melanie Cooke and James Simpson. The key to his talk was that there was a lack of collaborative writing development activities in ESOL classes, and he made a number of suggestions for how this could be improved. The use of a group language experience approach, where learners talk and write about a shared experience was seen as a great collaborative way to develop writing. Likewise, dictagloss could be used to get learners talking, collaborating and writing together. Self-study was also seen as key in learners developing their skills. This could be done through collecting texts and then bringing them in to class to work on.

Jamie Keddie – The Authenticity Trap


On the first day of the main conference, Jamie Keddie presented the way that he likes to exploit authentic materials and to avoid the traps caused by material that is not specifically designed for language learners. Jamie made the point that many authentic materials are underpinned by cultural knowledge that many learners won’t have. Jamie felt that we should approach this by looking at the questions that learners would have and use them to pre-teach the cultural concepts around authentic clips and texts. Then present this through asking the students questions while providing loads of visual context. I really liked the way that this kept the pre-teaching feeling dynamic rather than a dry teacher delivered explanation, questions are a great teaching tool and can be used well. The next issue was how to drawn out and focus language that emerges from authentic materials Jamie’s trick for this is to give learners to grammatical form that you are focussing on and ask them to predict what it is likely to be – this allows you to elicit a number of examples from the learners and focus them in on whatever authentic materials you are using. The last point was that you can adapt authentic multimedia resources – which Jamie demonstrated by turning a poem into a drilling exercise, simplifying some of the content. Another great tip that I took away from this session, is that while people often suggest exercises using key word in context searches from corpora, little of the context is provided, so it can be difficult for learners to relate to it; why not use Amazon as a corpus? The contexts are certainly much clearer.

I’ve always been interested in using authentic materials and Jamie’s session gave me a few ideas of how to stretch this further; I really like his trick for taking the language points out of video clips – Jamie is also a fantastic presenter and knows how to keep his audience interested. For more video materials to look at, check out Jamie’s site: http://lessonstream.org

Paul Braddock – Keeping them interested – Motivating Strategies with Teenagers

@bcnPaul 1

The next session with classroom ideas was all about Motivating Teenagers by Paul Braddock (aka @bcnPaul1). Paul showed us how he had used a dogme-esque approach, described as barefoot teaching, leaving the coursebook behind and negotiating a syllabus with learners. Paul surveyed the interests of his learners and used this to plan the sessions that he taught. As well as negotiation, the other key aspect of this approach was that learners could be motivated through creativity. Paul used a number of online tools, both for negotiating lessons with his learners (through online votes) and for harnessing creativity. These seem to have been two themes that have resonated through the conference, make sure that learners have ownership of the curriculum and use creativity as a motivating force. I’m going to write another post on the tech tools that I saw demonstrated, but Paul (among others) recommended Popplet, for creating mind maps, blogs and wikis for writing practice and using Jing for video feedback.

I’ve mentioned a few other sessions that looked at negotiating content with learners, this session showed how powerful it can be – I’ll go back to my own efforts to do the same with a bit more confidence now.

Lindsay Clandfield – Critical Thinking in ELT


Sunday was rounded off by Lindsay Clandfield talking about the use of critical thinking activities in class to deepen learning. One of his key messages was that critical thinking does not have to be about the ‘grand affairs of state’ but can be applied to many different linguistic items – however mundane they may seem. He also introduced the concept of critical literacy. The key is that we should be able to get learners to be able to examine different perspectives on texts and their surrounding contexts. The role of participants in texts can be examined, a great idea that I am now itching to try out is presenting learners with a set of ‘facts’ and asking them to identify possible sources (judging from their perspective). Critical thinking can also be done with images, examine the points of view of characters pictured, considering how something happened. These to me are great ideas and the session just spoke to me. Lindsay is the author of the Global series of coursebooks, which are inspired by these principles, I intend to see how I can use this with some of my classes as I think that these critical thinking skills could be a way of better engaging learners with the language that they are presented with, memorisation was a bit of a theme of a few sessions here and I think that encouraging learners to be critical can help this.

Beth Cagnol – Ruling the Unruly


Monday started with Ruling the Unruly from Beth Cagnol; this session was all about behaviour management, particularly with adult students, where it is often a neglected issue. The key points emphasised by Beth were that there are factors that the teacher has no control over as well as others where the teacher is in control. Communication is the main key – understand your learners’ situation and the issues that this may lead to, but if there are issues, communicate this straight away. Beth recommends emailing students straight after the class, pointing out why this behaviour is unacceptable and the effect that it has on other learners. However it is also crucial that the teacher listens to any feedback that they get from learners – maybe you need to consider if your lessons are enjoyable enough…. Or too enjoyable. Beth also pointed out that sometimes we push leaners too far – the foie gras English approach. This session couldn’t help but remind me of the ideas of negotiated curriculum that seemed to run through so many sessions. This idea of communication and negotiation seems to be so key in classroom management, and it is an area that I feel I could improve on.

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