Tag Archives: IATEFL

IATEFL Liverpool: Lindsay Warwick’s Flipping the Classroom and Student Attitudes

Lindsay looked at the practical issue of getting unmotivated students to join your flipped classroom community. You know, those students who don’t do their homework and who just show up for class if you’re lucky.

She compared a traditional classroom and a flipped classroom to show how much time can be devoted to practicing language in a flipped classroom—about 45 minutes of an hour lesson. In a traditional lesson, that might only be about 25 minutes of an hour lesson. The rest of the time may be taken up with a warmer, homework review, and then time where the teacher presents the target structures. In a flipped classroom, the presentation part is done at home via video.

She came back to a situation that seemed to resonate with attendees—students who want to learn English, but who don’t want to put in the effort. Or those who think that just coming to class once a week is sufficient.

Like Steven she pointed out the benefits of flipping. Students involved in flipped classroom experiments in the US have said that they really learned how to learn. Research is now starting to come through to support the idea that test scores improved by 67% and student attitudes improved by 80%. The benefits particularly impacted students with learning difficulties or special needs.

Lindsay admitted that her first experiment in flipping failed. The students were unmotivated and didn’t know how to learn for themselves. Reflecting on this, she compared the differences between state schools to adult education when it comes to flipping the classroom and brought up some things to consider.

State schools

  • Weekly objectives
  • Online task/check notes
  • ‘Naughty students’ watch the videos in class
  • Teacher sets individual deadlines for students who still have difficulties. She pointed out that it’s important to let students fail so that they learn to overcome their failure and improve.

Adult education

  • Objectives per lesson rather than weekly objectives
  • Can it be patronizing to check learners’ notes and tasks?
  • Will some students just think watching videos is the easy life?
  • Will learners who don’t watch the videos withdraw from the groups?
  • Will learners feel patronized when the trainer sets individual deadlines for lagging learners?

Lindsay recommended being explicit about the objectives, explaining their relevance to learners’ lives, getting them to think about what they can do to achieve their goals, and informing them of the teacher’s/trainer’s expectations.

In her school, she also allowed students to choose between taking the final exam or finding some way to show that they have understood the lessons thanks to the videos. Offering students a choice can indeed increase their motivation, plus it also accommodates students who may not be good test-takers.

Lindsay also gave some clever tips for making students want to watch the video.

  • Send them something before the lesson, perhaps by email. This could be an email, a screenshot of a video, or a puzzle to solve. The students will find the answer in the video. She used an example in which she sent an email to a student
  • Videos need to be concise—5 to 10 minutes is sufficient.  Students often go back and watch the videos over and over again, so make them watcher-friendly.
  • Videos also need to be simple so that students can understand them. Surprisingly, students learned better when they watched videos that they felt were more confusing. Let me (or Lindsay rather) explain. Students who watched a video of a person simply talking and using correct target structures felt the video was clearer, yet on tests, they retained less. Students who watched a video of a native speaker and a non-native speaker talking (complete with communication breakdowns, corrections, and mini explanations) felt the video was more confusing, yet on tests, they retained more.

In flipping, it is important to spend time showing students how the whole system works. You’ll need to figuratively hold their hand at first and lead them to more flipped autonomy. Don’t just throw them into the system. It also takes practice to train them (and possibly yourself) to work in a flipped classroom. Getting into a good pattern is key to the success and it takes time to build new habits.

One issue is that the videos work better is they are personalized. However, this can mean a lot of extra work for the teacher if they have to create new videos for every class or every learner if your students are in 1-on-1 lessons.

This talk nicely complemented Steven’s. While he showed us the tools to flip, she showed us some things to think about to help us flip effectively. This does indeed sound like something to experiment with!


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IATEFL Liverpool: Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley’s “From Preparation to Preparedness”

“The dark matter of teaching.” That’s how Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley describe the spontaneous interaction, the improvisation, the here-and-now of lessons. It’s not about the planned, the prepared, the unquestioned road map. True to their word, they let us know that they had not planned this talk down to the minute. Practicing what they’re preaching, I suppose.

We watched a video clip of two jazz pianists playing, or rather improvising a duet. The concert wasn’t scripted and they weren’t following sheet music. Then came a video of two people in clown school, team drawing something then acting out a scenario. Neither knew what the other was doing. They had to find out as they went along. It absolutely captivated the audience, so much so that I stopped typing this post to avoid breaking the silence.

In both videos, the duos are simply there, in the moment. The clowns don’t know where exactly their improvised wordless story begins, but something gradually emerges and they run with what the other is doing, reacting and building on it—the excitement of the unknown.

With the musicians, they know some things—it’s a 12-bar blues, played as a duo, but that’s it. They react to each other’s music, flowing together. It’s risky. They could make mistakes but at the same time, mistakes are part of the process. Mistakes can be picked up on and worked with.

The clowns are practicing improvisation and spontaneity in clown school. The musicians are thrilling the audience because they’ve developed this skill through practice. See the metaphor for teacher training into spontaneity?

Rather than risk and fear, we should rejoice in the unknown. We should get excited about it. Alan and Adrian offered a few ideas about what spontaneity is:

  • interplay with what is happening now
  • risking the unknown rather than making it like last time
  • drawing ourselves into a different world of existence because we co-author the existence
  • playfulness
  • free flow rather than a hard effort.

So how can we develop our teaching dark matter?

Adrian suggested breaking rules–reflecting on your teaching and the rules that you follow, the things you always or never do. These are your rules. Take one and break it. Try something that goes against your grain and go with it. In doing so, you’ll have to improvise in some way and confront the dark matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean the new thing will be better, but it will help you avoid routine and think about what could be better.

And this can be a very small thing—teach at the back rather than the front. Move your students around in a different set up. Teach with a board instead of powerpoint or vice versa. Think about something small you could change in your teaching this week. Try it out and enjoy the excitement of change. If you make mistakes, learn from them. Trust me, learners make for better teachers.

How can we regain the joy of the unplanned, especially in teaching?

Experiment! Try new things, think creatively how you might teach a unit of a coursebook for example. We are constantly making decisions in class—do I correct that mistake? How long do I let the activity run? Who do I call on? Think about what determines how you make the decision and make it differently.

In teacher training, we need to prepare trainees to  manage  the unprepared, not simply teach them how to write lesson scripts. Adrian and Alan  gave  7 suggestions for developing “being prepared-ness” in teacher trainees:

  1. Theatre games
  2. Presentation skills
  3. Reflecting on methodologies that eschew pre-planning, such as Dogme and Community Language Learning
  4. Have them provoke unpredictability by doing the opposite of what they would normally do
  5. Include spontaneity and improvisation in post-lesson discussions of lesson observations
  6. Encourage them to see teaching as an act of inquiry rather than in the hope of being right
  7. Discuss ways to spend less time trying to control people and more time trying to connect them with each other and with what they’re doing

For us as teachers, we can also prepare ourselves for spontaneity:

  1. Bother less about trying to control. Encourage connectivity instead
  2. Work with what is happening, rather than with what you wish was happening
  3. Start conversations about whatever matters to whoever is there
  4. Give up trying to be interesting and reach out and connect
  5. Make plans but don’t expect them to happen
  6. Increase intuition—follow hunches, be vulnerable, risk fear, leave gaps, be messy, hang loose and welcome student spontaneity
  7. See your school as an adventure park for YOUR learning not just a place to work

To finish, they particularly recommended several books to help teachers experiment with creativity, spontaneity, and the joy of the dark matter:

-Casenave, Christine P. and Miguel Sosa. (2007). Respite for Teachers. University of Michigan Press.

-Fanselow, John. (1987). Breaking Rules. London/New York: Longman.

-Lutzker, Peter. (2007). The Art of Foreign Language Teaching. Tubingen und Basel: Francke Verlag.

-Maley, Alan. (2000). The Language Teacher’s Voice. Oxford: Heinemann/Macmillan.

-Pugliese, Chaz. (2010). Being Creative. London: Delta Publications.

-Thornbury, Scott, and Luke Meddings. (2009). Teaching Unplugged. London: Delta Publications.

They ended by pointing out that we are perhaps seeing a trend in ELT where this spontaneity and reactivity have a place in teacher training alongside lesson planning skills. Of course it may be a long time before spontaneity as approach becomes mainstream, but it is no longer a dark art, despite dealing with the dark matter of teaching.


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IATEFL Liverpool: Steven Bukin’s The Flipped Classroom – From Theory to Practice

 Steven started off with references to a few resources to back up flipping the classroom: Jonathan Bergman’s Flip Your Classroom and the success of educator Salman Khan, who began by simply making educational videos for his nephew and has since gone on to speak around the world the Khan Academy that he created based on his success.

 According to Steven and his resources, flipping the classroom can help struggling students with poor outcomes as well as those whose schedules are so cram-packed with assignments from all of their other teachers.

He advanced the controversial idea that much of what we do in class leads only to superficial learning. By flipping the classroom, we can help deeper learning take place within our students. I suppose that if flipped learning gives learners the chance to access our classes multiple times (rather than in a single session) and via a medium that they call their own, he’s not entirely wrong.

‘Flipped classrooms’ are one of those trendy terms at this year’s talk. I didn’t know exactly what a flipped classroom was, I must admit, but found out at the talk. You can find out (better than I could describe it) here.

Did you know that the most common model for classrooms today—a teacher working on the same thing at the same time with a big group of students–dates to the 19th century industrial revolution, when society needed similarly-trained workers? Flipping speaks the language of today’s students, and even today’s teachers (Russell Stannard’s anyone?) Steven also reassured us that flipping is rather easy to do given the right tools and a bit of training.

Benefits of flipping

  • Continuous enrolment greatly benefits from flipping. New students can catch up on what’s been done without the teacher having to repeat the same lessons.
  • Flipping supports differentiation as students can go through the lesson as much as they need.
  • Flipping allows teachers to better support students in person in class rather than doing all the teaching and support in the class time slot.
  • Flipping provides ready-made review and consolidation as well as being student-centered because the students take responsibility for their learning.

Some tools for flipping your classroom

Paid tools

Steven’s talk was one of the short 30-minute sessions, as it was paired with Lindsay Warwick’s talk which looked at flipped classrooms and their impact on motivation. This meant that Steven had to flip through the slides on various resources available for flipping the classroom, but here’s the list that is a good starting point for further exploration.

Paid tools

 Knowing that teachers always prefer freebies, we didn’t spend much time on these two.

Free tools

• Jing: free, web-based screen-capture , 5 min. per video, no webcam

Screencastomatic: free, web-based, with a webcam

Brainshark: free, web-based, 100mb limit, easy to use, upload many document types, no webcam 15-minute limit, 3 free videos per month, upload a power point to go with the webcam presentation

Apps for flipping

Educreations: This free app is like the modern version of the etch-a-sketch. It’s multi-platform, meaning it is usable on a computer or on an iPad, for example. You can record the audio and write at the same time, then save the files and share them with students.

 Explain everything: an incredibly powerful iPad app for creating visually interesting and animated lessons. You can cut and paste pics, manipulate and move them around for a fun lesson. Steven also suggested getting students to create lessons to share with their classmates.

He ended by saying that the video itself is not the important thing. What’s important is the time you free up for real interaction and connectivized (which I just invented—it’s as in connectivism– to avoid “connected” and its tech connotations) learning inside the classroom.

Steven also pointed out that a flipped classroom does seem to lead to better retention. The student can watch the video the night before the lesson, which gives more time to mull over the lesson and reflect on it. By slowing down the learning, it helps to speed up the acquisition.

Yes, it will take a time investment on the part of the teacher, but the return on investment looks promising.



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IATEFL Liverpool: Frank Erik Pointer’s How to Listen with a Native Ear

Pronunciation and phonetics are obviously popular subjects (and perhaps deserve more attention in coursebooks, but that’s just me…)—this talk was packed beyond capacity.  To begin, Frank reminded us of the common belief that for non-native speakers to improve their accent, it suffices to go live in a target-language country. Of course we all know how much truth there is to that!

To improve one’s accent, one must hear the difference between one’s own output and a native model. Often, this difference is simply not heard.  Eric got into some deep phonology with an English consonant chart to show learners the manner and place of sound production, as in bilabial plosives (p,d) and alveolar fricatives (s, z). However, this chart lacks an indication for aspiration—imagine the how a French pronunciation of “Paris” differs from an American’s “Paris” in terms of how the P is aspirated.

A very practical way to practice this is to put a small bit of paper on the back of your hand and practice pronouncing aspirated consonants.  Hold your hand in front of your mouth and pronounce the target word. If the paper is blown off, the learner is aspirating!

Eric also pointed out that the “voiced” and “unvoiced” separation is not subtle enough. He took the example of the German “gut” and the English “good,” which are both voiced, but to different degrees. Many non-native speakers don’t feel comfortable voicing as much as native speakers generally do.

To help grow their voicing, he suggested starting with a nasal sound. Something like “n-book” or “n-good” to add voice to these consonant sounds. Gradually, you reduced the nasal sound but keep the voiced sound of the consonant. Eric cleverly called this “switching on their vocal cords” before they have to pronounce the voiced sound in question.

To help with rounding, (not over-emphasizing the –ch in “much” for example) he suggested asking learners to hold back the corners of their mouth when practicing the pronunciation. This way they are forced to say “much” and not something like “mutsche.”

Then we moved on to vowels and a comparison of the French (and most romantic languages) vowel inventory. They simply don’t have the same sounds as English and other Germanic languages. Eric reminded us that this is why many German composers once preferred Italian to German for operas. German vowel sounds simply weren’t singable the way Italian vowels were!

This also explains why Romance language speakers often substitute cardinal vowels (the ones at the extremeties of vowel placement charts) for the schwa sound in English. We can advise learners to keep their lips and tongue round or even, for French learners, to try speaking with a sort of Molière-age pronunciation—“je parle” as “je parl-uh.” A schwa-like sound existed in these languages, but many times, even learners aren’t aware of this! Using old French as a means to English pronunciation—who would have ever thought?

On the other hand, learners should practice not rounding their lips when pronouncing words like “turn,” “nurse,” and “heard.” NNS will again often substitute a cardinal vowel for the proper English sound, giving something like “NuRHse” rather than “nurse.”

Eric then went on to short vs. long vowels, which is a legendary problem for many speakers—shit vs sheet, bitch vs beach. You can see where this could lead to problems! He suggested approaching this through the schwa sound. For example, suggest learners use a schwa instead of the cardinal vowel, which will help shorten the vowel sound. From here, you can show learners how to move their tongue accordingly, for example from a schwa-sound “bit” move your tongue up and a bit forward and thus more towards a more natural-sounding “bit.”

To sum up, Eric reminded us that students often pronounce the way they hear. When they say “beet” instead of “bit” it’s because they really are hearing a cardinal vowel rather than a short vowel. So they can live in a native-English country as long as they like, but if they aren’t hearing the difference, they’ll never replicate the sounds. But as teachers, we can help them to hear the differences and in turn begin to improve their pronunciation.


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Liverpool calling: Report from Associate’s Day at the 2013 IATEFL conference


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Associations need to associate. That was the underlying message from today’s Associate’s Day event at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool . As the representative of TESOL France, I attended the all-day session with two other TESOL France representatives: president Debbie West and vice-president Jane Ryder.

Throughout the day, attendees got tips and inspirational stories on how to look beyond the borders of their own teaching association (TA) to join forces with neighboring TAs. Kati Tama of IATEFL Hungary showed us how they use to create an intranet site for their TA to better curate information and announcements relevant to their members. She  also presented a virtual conference model to really bring virtual conferences to life for attendees at the online satellite events. For example, this week, members of IATEFL Hungary will enjoy pre-conference events, streamed videos from Liverpool, and a post-conference party complete with a sing-along of Beatles songs. This type of online viewing event can really help create the energy of being there in person for motivated teachers who for some reason or another can’t attend events in person.

Representatives from TAs in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka shared stories of how they worked together to coordinate Peer Support Reviews, which was described as “looking critically at what our TA friends are doing to encourage best practice.” The TESOL France delegation (and many other attendees, I’m sure) were beyond impressed with how much these awesome TAs had achieved despite obvious challenges they must deal with in these countries. It really hit home when the Pakistani delegate told us “Once, we did only have four people come to our event because of bombings in the city.” The teachers in these countries, especially their TA members, deserve a huge amount of respect. Suddenly problems common to classrooms typical of classrooms in the developed world—late students, technology failure, noise next door—seemed extremely trite.

One important session of the day was devoted to brainstorming on ways to improve IATEFL’s Wider Membership Scheme (WMS) and Wider Membership Individual Scheme (WMIS). These programs give teachers in under-funded countries the opportunity to join IATEFL and attend the conference at subsidised rates. Challenges obviously exist in such programs, as there always seems to be more demand than money, but that’s why the Associates dedicated part of the day to collecting ideas on how to make the program as efficient as possible.

Attendees in Liverpool can do their part to reach out to their fellow teachers in countries where funds are all too rare by purchasing a WMIS badge at the registration counter with a £2 donation (of course larger donations are also accepted!)


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