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Category Archives: Random reflections

11 learning tips from 11 terrific teachers at the 2014 IATEFL Hungary conference

Last week I had the honor of attending and presenting at the 24th annual IATEFL Hungary conference in Veszprém. One of the many excellent talks I attended was Mark Andrews’ “The Danube, the Bridges of Budapest, and Making the Familiar Strange.” Mark made some great points about getting students out of the classroom and into the real world to cultivate their curiosity and develop their English. In other words, to create bridges between the world around them and their own inner growth.

With this idea of building bridges in mind, some of my kind colleague-friends offered to share their own advice for learning English with my trainees in the video below.

Although my trainees all live in France and mainly only see me for their English training, I thought this would be a neat opportunity to create a virtual bridge between some wonderful teachers from different countries and my trainees in France.

Feel free to share these tips with your own students and to continue building bridges. And why not share the link back to this blog with your own colleagues, wherever they may be.

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For those of you wondering about sketchnotes at IATEFL 2014…

During the 2014 IATEFL conference last week, a few people noticed me doodling away in a notebook (with real pen and paper!) during talks. Several people were even so kind as to ask to take photos of my notes, compliment them, and share them with our friends on Facebook. I’ll be sharing my notes on this blog as I finish coloring them (yes, like a 5-year old!), but since so many people seemed interested in the process of visual note-taking, here are a few resources and tips if you too want to start doodling rather than typing or writing your notes. It’s done as a sort of FAQs, based on questions I got during the conference.

What are sketchnotes?

Basically a visual form of note-taking that combines drawings, lettering styles, colors, icons, dividers, arrows, and whatever else you want to put into them to make your notes pretty and relevant to the content you want to capture.

Do you have to be a good artist to sketchnote?

Nope. I’m certainly not, unless you count stick figures, cubes, and the cat I learned to draw when I was 8 (and have been drawing that way ever since). That’s not modesty, it’s honesty. When I did do lots of artsy stuff in high school, I did collages. Why? Because you don’t have to draw, you just have to cut and paste. You don’t have to be an artist to create sketchnotes. In fact, the fact that the drawings are just sketches adds a certain graphic appeal. The whole minimalist design thing seems pretty trendy at the moment, so maybe that’s why. But you certainly don’t need to be an artist or even a good drawer to do sketchnotes! Just start doodling and keep at it!

How long does it take to learn how to sketchnote?

That’s like asking “How long does it take to learn English?” The answer depends on what proficiency level you’re aiming for. Before the IATEFL conference, I had done sketchnotes for 2 talks and 3 webinars. Not exactly years of experience then. Which means that it doesn’t take tons of training. You just have to start and keep at it. Of course, the notes you create will probably become more fluid, better organized, and more concentrated in key info as you get more experience, but there’s not better way to get experience than to just practice, practice, practice! (Hint: try sketchnoting the videos of all those IATEFL talks you missed but that are now available online. And there’s no stress of someone watching you create your notes!)

How do you draw and write and listen at the same time?

This does take a bit of practice, and I’m certainly still working on it! In my notebook there are several spots that are just blank and that will be filled after I get the speaker’s slides, read other people’s blog posts about the talk, etc. Presentations often contain some spots of intense info and some spots of down time (or “talk to your neighbor” time). You can use these to complete your notes, add little embellishes, or sketch a quick figure that can be fleshed out in more detail later. This has the added advantage of encouraging you to go back to your notes after the talk because you really want to fill them in, so you make that extra bit of effort. Again, storing things in your short-term memory while writing, drawing, and listening is a skill that improves with practice, but we’re all teachers, so don’t we enjoy a bit of mental work?

Why bother?

Sketchnotes are just prettier than scrawls of text that never get looked at again! But on a deeper level, there seem to be some cognitive benefits:

  • Trying to find images to illustrate the message helps you connect with and process the words.
  • Non-linear note-taking means you can arrange concepts on the page in a way that makes sense to you. You can also easily draw connectors to show relationships between similar or contrasting ideas.
  • You may be more artsy-fartsy than you think. Most people stop drawing because they think they’re not “good at it”. You don’t have to be good at drawing to sketchnote, but it does help to master a few basic shapes and ways of combining them to make simple images.
  • People (especially yourself) will want to read and re-read your notes. This means you review them more often and the stuff sticks better than if it just rotted away in a notebook (or computer file) somewhere.
  • The mind-body connection, or embodied cognition comes into play, since you are physically creating representations of the ideas you are processing. Scott Thornbury wrote a great article on this, published in the TESOL France Teaching Times in 2013.

How can I learn more about sketchnotes and how to do them?

There are lots of resources out there!

The first resource I’d recommend is the book The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. There’s a Kindle version, but I personally prefer the paper version. It’s just nice flipping through the pages!

Sketchnoting has also carved out some cyberspace for itself. Here are a few resources you’ll likely find useful:

Not sure what’s with all violent metaphors, but it makes me think of this endless Soviet-style army marching forth wielding a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other!

Hope that answers some of the questions that you may have had about sketchnoting as a way to record your conference experience! If not, feel free to add other questions in the comments below! And keep your eyes out for the posts of the sketchnotes that I made–they’ll be posted here as I finish them!

 

 

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So, is that your real job?

It’s happened so often that it just doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I’ve come to find it amusing, in a bittersweet sort of way. You know, when you start off with a new client or group, you’re doing the first-lesson introductions and after you say “My name’s so-and-so and I teach business English to adults in companies,” you get one learner who asks innocently “Is that your real job?”

Now, surely they do not mean it as an insult and it’s doubtful that they’re implying that teaching English in companies isn’t in fact “a real job” (whatever that means). In fact, if they’re asking, it’s probably because they’ve likely had teachers/trainers in their past lessons for whom teaching English wasn’t their “real job.” After all, no one asks their doctor “Is this your real job?” simply because they’ve never come across a doctor who was just doing that job because they needed to do something to earn some money. Not the case for some English teachers.

Again, the learners aren’t to blame. It’s an innocent question that reflects their experience. The teachers aren’t to blame either. After all, when you land in a foreign country you may or may not speak the language. You may or may not have qualifications recognized by the system. You may or may not have training and experience in other fields that can be practiced in your new homeland. These problems apply to foreigners (native and non-native English speakers alike) teaching English in a country that is not their own. Unfortunately, in the companies I’ve worked for in France, I’ve never come across a French person who teaches English to other French people, so I don’t know if they too get asked “Is this your real job?” Wait, there was this one French guy I remember way back when I started teaching, in 2004 when I was a student looking for a job a bit better than flipping crêpes . He was French, teaching English to other French people. And he always told clients he was Canadian. But the whole native-speaker requirement to teach is a different question entirely, that I’ve ranted about in another post.

So where does the problem come from? Why is it that respectful, professional adults see nothing wrong with asking their professional trainer (who has been hired by their company to help them learn a skill that will make them more efficient in their job) if the job they are doing is their real job? Probably because English language teaching is a field with very low–even non-existant–entry-level qualifications. After all, I got my first job because I was American. That was the only credential I had going for me, but for the place that hired me, it was sufficient. In fact, for the next six years of my working life, the fact that I was a native speaker got me two other jobs in different places. Then I decided that if this was to be my “real job” I should probably get some training and qualifications.

And so, yes, teaching English to professionals is my “real job.” It’s my career. I know that and my colleague-friends in the ELT world know that, . But without going into the the details of one’s projects, qualifications, past experience and future ELT projects, there’s no way for a client to know if the trainer in front of them is a career ELTer or a “I couldn’t do anything other than teach English” ELTer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking new trainers who are still finding their way into the ELT world. I’m not saying all ELT trainers should dash to get a DELTA, a Trinity DipTESOL, or an MA in TESOL before knowing that the investment is worth it. I’m not knocking employers who give fresh-off-the-pre-service-program trainers their chance to develop themselves. I’m not even knocking those clients who ask “Is this your real job?”. Forgive them for they know not what they do, let’s say.

What I’ve got a problem with is the fact that a trainer with no experience and no qualifications (like me when I started in 2004) gets the same wage as a teacher with years of experience, proper training, and continuous investment in one’s professional development (where I was when I left my last company to go freelance, in 2012). The hourly wage was basically exactly the same.

Fortunately there are some companies out there that recognize quality trainers and are willing to pay salaries that reflect the investment the trainers have made in their career and the quality of the training they provide. I wish there were more companies like that. On the flip side of the coin, there are companies who offer the same salary (give or take a little) to all their trainers. If you want more money, you can look elsewhere, because there will always be some fresh face ready to take your place. Maybe the problem is there. Maybe that’s why clients feel it’s normal to ask “So, is that your real job?”

To finish, a bit of good reading on the same or similar topics from around the web:

TEFLing at 35: A life gone right by Ptefldactyl

ELT Community forum: Is ELT a real profession?

Sandy has a real job, thank you very much!: An interview between Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto and Sandy Millin

Teachers Tread Water in eikaiwa limbo

The European Profiling Grid project website

And a disclaimer: This post is not meant as a mere rant about ELT conditions in various places around the world. I love my job, I’ve got good work, and a variety of interesting projects going on. Plus, I’ve gotten to the point where I know it’s my real job and I’m happy to invest time and energy to make it so. This post is meant to point out yet another absurdity of our profession that we as teachers can take steps to rectify by being proud of who we are and what we do. We are ELTers and yes, it is our real job!

 
 

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Qualification required: Native English speaker

Join our team of friendly gynecologists! If you’re female, we’re looking for people like you! A degree in medicine is preferred, but not required. Apply today and begin a new rewarding career!

Let’s hope we will never see job ads like that in the medical field. No one in their right mind would think that just being female will make you a good gynecologist.  So why do so many TEFL job ad writers think being a native speaker makes you a good teacher? Seriously. In the above announcement replace “gynecologists”, “female”, and “medicine” with “teachers”, “native speaker”, and “teaching English” and you’ve got the meat of far too many ELT job announcements.

This is a serious issue in our field, generally not among the teachers themselves (thankfully!) but among the people recruiting the teachers (and hence paying the salaries). For some reason recruiters, especially in private language-training centers, have come to confuse teaching qualifications and birth certificates. This is one of the biggest shames in our field if you ask me because being a native speaker is NOT a sign of one’s ability to teach the language well. It is not even a guarantee that the (native) English taught will correspond to the English that will be encountered outside of the classroom. I, for example, am American but the vast majority of my trainees don’t do business with Americans. They use English with Chinese, German, Indian, Scottish, and Brazilian suppliers and colleagues. My American-ness is not of any added value here. I don’t know much about those countries’ business cultures, I don’t speak with any accent other than my own American accent and my native English certainly differs from that of a Scot or an Indian. So why is it fair that I would likely be preferred over a Polish or Hungarian EFL teacher with similar qualifications? It isn’t fair. Period.

Nowadays, native speakers no longer are the majority users of English. So why do recruiters specifically seek out native speakers over non-natives with equal qualifications? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a way for recruiters’ to hide their own lack of knowledge of the field’s teaching qualifications. Between the CELTA, DELTA, Trinity DipTESOL, M.A.s in TESOL, and the whole gamut of sketchy “TEFL certifications” out there it’s no wonder that it’s just easier to slap “seeking qualified native speaker” on a job ad and leave it at that. The lack of clear professional qualifications within our field has led to an ersatz discriminatory qualification of “native speaker.”

I just ran a quick search for “TEFL job ads” and clicked on a few random ones that were posted on a few popular ELT sites. Here are some of the requirements I found (get ready to cringe):

  • Native-level intonation, accent, and pronunciation  (Which native accent?)
  • Requirements: teaching experience, degree in any field, British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Irish, South African or South American Passport holders (what a clever way of avoiding saying “native speaker”. At least it technically leaves the door open to dual citizens!)
  • We are looking for CELTA / TEFL qualified native English teachers to join our team
  • We are looking for native speakers of English to join our friendly teams
  • Qualifications required: Native English Speaker, some knowledge of Spanish

Of course some of the ads from which these examples are taken also mentioned teaching experience and/or teaching diplomas so at least they’re not stopping at “native speaker” as the only qualification. It’s the fact that “native speaker” is included as a qualification that irks me. Sure, arguments can be made that native speakers bring their cultural background and that they have intimate knowledge of their home culture. Sure but so do non-native speakers and if the learner is a French guy who is going to work mostly with Chinese businesspeople, what use–culturally speaking–is a teacher from England?

And I’m not claiming that ONLY teachers with recognized certifications or diplomas make good teachers. There are plenty of good teachers who got to where they are through experience, reflective practice, and participating in continuous professional development opportunities such as conferences, workshops, and webinars. It’s a damn shame that these people may automatically have their CV sent to the bin (or is that “have their resumé sent to the trash can”?) because they weren’t born in the right country.

TESOL France recently issued a message to employers who send announcements out on their Jobs List discouraging them from using “native speaker” in their announcements, explaining that trained, professional non-native teachers can be just as effective (if not more so) than native speaker teachers. This measure was unanimously applauded by the ELT teaching community on Facebook (which is rich in both native and non-native speakers 🙂 I hope other organizations who provide job ad services also practice this, even if they don’t yet have a formal statement on the issue. We as teachers can also be stewards for fair recruitment policies by addressing the issue with our hiring managers, by encouraging our schools/companies to seek out high-quality teachers who can show proof of their training and/or development, and by explaining why this is more important than the hollow requirement that one be a native speaker to teach a language.

I do have an idea as to why “native speaker” has wrongfully come to be seen as a qualification. It follows in the footsteps of why use of learners’ L1 became a taboo for much of the 20th century. But that, my friends, is for the next blog post!

P.S. There was a great post written recently on this same subject by Marek Kiczkowiak on his blog teflreflections.blogspot.nl. I see that it has been removed because it’s awaiting publication in the TESOL newsletter and in the Winter 2015 edition of the TESOL France magazine “Teaching Times”, which is fantastic. He says a link to the article will be published on his blog at a later date, but in the meantime, you can still read the many comments on the original post.

 
 

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7 reasons to use Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom

I love Cuisenaires

 

As you may have noticed from a few previous posts (The Big Picture: Teaching Grammar Holistically and VisuallyHolistic Grammar with Cuisinaire Rods, and Teaching Past Simple vs. Present Perfect with Cuisenaire Rods), I’m a bit of a fan of finding fun ways of using Cuisenaire rods in ELT. Of course they’re amusing, colorful, and surprising for learners using them for the first time, but that’s just scratching the surface. They also have valid pedagogical qualities such being able to help learners notice patterns, bring the additional senses of touch and sight into language learning, and add an element of play to an otherwise cognitively taxing process (translation: they’re fun).

 

Here’s a short list of reasons why Cuisenaire rods can make an interesting addition to any teacher’s toolbox:

  • They give learners hands-on ways of manipulating grammatical structures and vocabulary (great for showing the differences between interrogative & declarative forms, for example)
  • Learners have something tangible on which to focus, generally increasing concentration and engagement in the task at hand
  • They offer visual and memorable ways of explaining word and syllable stress (good for non-auditory learners, for example)
  • They can be used to represent things for other activities (bar graphs, a room or city layout, quantities, an abstract work of art, etc.)
  • They can make prettier timelines and process stages than simple drawn lines
  • They’re so versatile—the teacher’s (or learners’) imagination is the limit!
  • This one’s obvious, but they can be used to teach colors and comparisons (“the blue rod is longer than the red rod”)
  • They’re not incredibly expensive—I’ve seen sets for around 20-30€ and they’re durable. With lots of ideas on how to use them (coming in a future post J ), a set of Cuisenaire rods can be a worthy investment! You can even find them on amazon.

Please add your own reasons below! I’ve only touched on some of the qualities of these versatile little tools.

Further reading

Interested in the theory behind using Cuisineaire rods in the language classroom? Here are a few resources for further reading if you like to know the rationale underpinning the activities!

Akarcay, S. (2012). Cuisenaire Rods: Pedagogical and Relational Instruments for Language Learning. AYMAT Individual Thesis/SMAT IPP. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1522&context=ipp_collection

Callahan, J. J., & Jacobson, R. S. (1967). An experiment with retarded children and Cuisenaire rods. The Arithmetic Teacher14(1), 10-13.

Mullen, J. (1996). Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom. Les Cahiers de l’APLIUT16(2), 69-82. Retrieved from http://www.calebgattegno.org/read-the-gattegno-effect/316-john-mullen-cuisenaire-rods-in-the-language-classroom.html

More detailed ideas on things to do with Cuisenaire rods coming soon–keep an eye out (or just sign up for email notifications if you want to be sure to get them!)

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Random reflections

 

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“What do you get out of it?”

As we were driving back home from the Lyon airport, my husband asked me “What do you get out of it? Why do you do all this?” He was talking about conferences: spending hours researching and rehearsing a 45-minute talk, sacrificing entire days to traveling for a 3-day conference in a faraway country, and forking out hundreds of my own euros to do so. It’s a legitimate question. Why does one do such a thing? Madness, some may argue…

And I thought about it. My first reaction was “It’s just part of the job.” But no. It’s not. Think about all the teachers you know in your school, in your city, in your area. How many others do it? Teaching is part of the job. Doing a bit of admin is part of the job.  Professional development should be part of the job, but sadly it’s a bit like going to the gym. You really mean to, but somehow time always runs short. So it gets pushed into the endless string of tomorrows.

So I thought some more. “Because I like it.” I also like devouring plate-fulls of good tiramisu, but that doesn’t mean I do it regularly. Sure, there is a fun element to conferences—you get to hang out with colleague-friends (other than on Facebook), see a bit of the local landscape, and maybe even pull an all-nighter at a club somewhere. The perks of the profession, perhaps.

“What do you get out of it?” After scratching the proverbial surface, here’s how I answered that question.

I do it because conferences offer the chance to join a big international family who love what they do in life. We are all for sharing ideas. We help each other grow professionally in the classroom and on the conference stage. We come away feeling like we’re on a journey to becoming better teachers and, yes, better people.

Then there are the opportunities to grow your career, more like a tree than like a ladder. Teaching can branch out to (course)book writing, article writing, publishing work, teacher training, speaking gigs, creating your own company, and whatever you want to connect it to as long as you find a way. This in turn feeds back into your teaching practice, each activity fueling the other for fresh ideas, engagement, and interest.  I realized a few years back that I could either stay on the hamster wheel at my last company or add variety and excitement to my career. Let’s just say I never really cared for hamsters…

Also, I thought back to the people I’ve met since I started “conferencing,” just a few years ago. I know that if I need help, have a question, or just want to strike up a good debate these people are there. I have found my Personal Learning Network, my PLN. Ela Wassel, in her talk (which I unfortunately missed, but heard LOTS of people rave about) at the 2013 IATEFL Poland conference demonstrated the strength of a PLN:

Holding up a single pencil, she started to bend it. The pencil represented the teacher; the force she exerted, the pressures of teaching life. The pencil snapped and splinters flew into the air. Then, she held up a bundle of pencils. “This is you and your PLN. Just try to break this!” And tears were shed in the audience.

And if you’re looking to grow your own PLN, Ela’s blog has some great resources: http://elawassell.wordpress.com/

So what do I get out of it? All of the above and so much more.

And you. What do you get out of it? Why do you do all this?

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Random reflections

 

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Where have all the non-native (and even native) authentic recordings gone?

old coursebook by Gabriela Sellart

Photo by Gabriela Sellart

If you’re my friend on Facebook (or in real life) and/or you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably already seen this message, my cry for help in putting together a collection of semi-authentic audio resources that include lots of non-native English speakers as well as natives talking the way they really do about a given topic.

Here’s the reason for the SOS: Recently, lots of business learners have been making specific requests for listening work with non-native accents. Some have even specifically requested to work on a specific accent in as many lessons as possible over the course of their program. For example, I recently worked with one group on presenting your company. They then asked to work on understanding people presenting their companies. Let me be more specific. They asked to work on understanding Greek, Slovenian, Chinese, and Indian people presenting their companies because this is part of their job.

So the greater part of my afternoon was spent trawling YouTube and course books for this elusive listening grail. And I’m still looking.

In fact, it seems very few of my learners have much contact at all with NS (native speakers). While it’s easy to fire away with “Coursebooks just don’t include NNS (non-native speakers)!” that’s not so true anymore. Although I couldn’t find evidence of exactly which course book first included NNS, just flip through some of the more recent copies in your staff room. International Express has’em. Market Leader has’em. Regrettably, they’ve often been made a bit sterile–scripted and scrubbed clean of many of the fascinating features of natural speech.

Fortunately, some truly enjoyable coursebooks like Lindsay Clandfield’s Global series and Ian Badger’s English for Business Listening have raised the bar mighty high in terms of authentic (or at least semi-authentic) discourse and variety of accents in our English-as-a-Lingua-Franca world. And of course the internet puts the world’s accents at our fingertips. If you can find what you’re looking for that is.

And so here’s what I’m thinking–would it be possible to create a bank of authentic and semi-authentic recordings of speakers with all sorts of accents? Could we categorize them by accent and function? And why not get voluntary learners involved? Wouldn’t this boost their confidence, knowing that other learners will be listening to them to learn English?

And in the end, wouldn’t we be doing our learners a great service by helping them practice the kind of Englishes they work with in the real world?

Any takers?

 
7 Comments

Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Random reflections

 

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