Running away with it…

3 06 2012

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/177990533

Funny that this 5km easy was only a minute slower than my 5km fast on the previous run.  I guess that’s where I’m at at the moment, just trying to get the body used to the kilometres again and trying to find a good running form that will minimise injury risks.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/179098810

First time I’ve run for an hour in the comeback.  Was very pleased to get to 9km and am confident I have ten kilometres in me, although not got any races on the horizon.  Although this did make me wonder for a minute or two if I shouldn’t be running Fiestas Mayas instead of organising #IHTOC50, but only for a minute mind.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/180372201

Just a muscle loosener and a keeping in the rhythm after the long run the other day.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/181425128

No run this weekend.  A week between runs, not the best!  But I still managed an easy five km, although one of the calves was tightening up towards the end – need to be careful and remember the number one goal is not get injured!

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/183989223

My first ten kilometre run of this comeback period.  I’m managing not to overdo things, at least running wise.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/184812980





Weaving the magic of literature circles

1 06 2012

Last Wednesday evening I was standing in for my Director, who has a Post-Proficiency literature class once a week here at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training.

He asked me to do so last Thursday and low and behold on Friday morning I was moderating Ratna Ragunathan from IH Malaysia’s Live Online Workshop ‘Weaving the magic of literature circles’ and I quickly found my standby lesson staring me in the face.

The idea of literature circles is that each learner takes a different angle towards the book / story they are reading and leads a discussion of that angle when the circle meets in class.

The different roles:

DiscussionLeader_IH

Illustrator_IH

RealLifeConnector_IH

Summarizer_IH

StoryConnector_IH

WordWizard_IH

The story we read:

The Story of An Hour – Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin

Since I didn’t know the learners it was difficult for me to assign them roles I thought they would get into, so I asked who would like to be the Illustrators and then gave out the other roles at random.  In the end there were eight students, so I ended up giving out the first four roles to pairs, who then helped each other prepare the role in relation to the story and then the class split up into two circles to discuss the story.

To be honest I was expecting more discussion to come out of the roles, I felt students at this level (post-proficiency) should have been able to mine the text for more ideas and have more interesting responses to it.  Perhaps a combination of things played against my expectations for the activity being fulfilled:

  • the students not knowing me and therefore being a little hesitant as we got to know each other
  • the students not finding the story so inspiring – I’m sure there are many better stories out there that could be used with the literature circle roles
  • it being the end of a long day for most of them and they simply weren’t fully-focused on English
  • my expectations were simply too high in the first place after Ratna’s fantastic workshop

Actually, by the time they had got through the four roles about an hour of the lesson had passed, so the circles had taken a good 30minutes, which is actually an excellent amount of continuous speaking in a normal kind of class – it just didn’t seem that fluent and engaging as they were doing it.

Then I gave out the last two roles and each circle discussed one role in preparation fro swapping over and, in pairs, leading the discussion of their new role with a new pair of partners.  This lead to more good conversation, and as before I had trouble finding anything to give them constructive feedback on language-wise, so I didn’t.

And then finally I gave each of them a part of Kate Chopin’s biography and they had to discuss the story in light of her life, thus sharing with each other more details about the author and the time she lived in.  It would have been good to have more time for this stage of the lesson, since it ended up being the most interesting discussion for them.

So, all in all, a successful first attempt at using literature classes and I will definitely go back and use them again, although perhaps with more concrete texts, particularly at lower levels.





Many more hills ahead

9 05 2012

Hills by mcneilmahon at Garmin Connect – Details.

My first ‘hills’ run since January and a third lot of overdoing it in three runs since the return began.  Another six kilometres with the usual cross the bridge five times, rest for five minutes and cross it five times more before heading homewards.  Except I was enjoying myself so much I decided to up the pace over the last kilometre as well as I headed back around the small lake to the car and I managed to keep the pace up to around 6m/km.  Which meant no time for thinking anything except what I was doing running wise.  

The one thought I did have was that I felt much better after my last run and that my legs seemed to have recovered much quicker – was this a result of having a pilates class on Monday?  Did the pilates help the legs to recover better?  I have a class tomorrow too, so if I don;t feel leggy come Friday it must have something to do with it, because normally after a run like today I would be feeling it til the weekend.  Looking forward to the next run already, but going to keep it to twice a week for at least my first month back – that’s the only way I can stop myself from not completely overdoing it! After all, I have many more hills ahead of me to climb…





Easy doesn’t it

6 05 2012

Easy by mcneilmahon at Garmin Connect – Details.

The second run of my latest comeback and having chastised myself all week for doing too much last Tuesday, I ended up doing the same distance but quicker today – when am I ever going to learn? 

The problem was today there was perfect weather for running when I went out, 20 degrees and sunshine but with a cooling light breeze.  In T-shirt and shorts I was neither too hot nor too cold and so I could run easy without getting too hot and enjoy the crowds out enjoying the Palermo lakes and the weather like me. 

Thoughts were split between two things today – finding form and keeping the body as balanced as possible (i.e. not very) as always, and also the organisation of IH TOC50, since I’ve spent the rest of the day trying to out the schedule together and am about to email all of the lovely speakers with the latest details.  Schedule seems to have come together quite smoothly – a wide variety of sessions spread throughout the day from early morning to late night GMT – will we survive the 15mins breaks between sessions?  We had 30mins last time out, but I reckon with separate rooms and hopefully different moderators each time we should be fine.  

I’ve also had a fun idea about my own session at the conference on helping NQTs settle in to the job and survive their first year of teaching.  But I think I’ll keep that under wraps for now so I have a little surprise in store on the big day.  





An overlong return

2 05 2012

Long by mcneilmahon at Garmin Connect – Details.

It’s been much too long since I last ran – 18th January in fact, which is well over three months, and to mark my return to the roads obviously I overdid it, running six kilometres after having had a handful of pilates classes and a couple of quick gym visits since that last run last January.  

Fitness-wise, things have been bad recently.  I’ve put on at least three kilos since new year, I’ve had problems with the knees, the feet and most recently the back, and I’ve done next to no physical activity.  So spending the Mayday holiday running six kilometres was a big step forward, even if I did celebrate it with a big barbecue right afterwards. 

And there were no thoughts at all, I’m afraid.  Simply focusing 100% on what my body was doing.  I’m now so concious that I’m such a bad runner, that I’m always overcompensating for some injury or other and so therefore am always running unbalanced and favouring something, that I simply focused the whole time on trying to run as upright as possible, trying to bend the knees to provide some bounce and save them from some swelling, and to keep my stomach in and my back straight.  Although stiff today, I’m pleased that I managed not to hurt myself with all this overdoing it and can already think about my next, more staid session.  It should be tomorrow but won;t be, because we’re off to the book fair, but hopefully the weekend will bring more kilometres, more balanced form and maybe even a thought or two.  





A Short Guide to Guided Discovery

26 04 2012

The other week I was reading Adam Beale’s fab blog ‘Five against one‘ rather than doing what I was supposed to be doing and yet again I found myself chastising myself for not going to #eltchat anymore (it’s actually the fault of doing CELTA at the times that the chat is held rather than of my own choosing), since Adam had blogged a summary of the latest chat, that just happened to be on one of my pet topics and favourite ways of teaching – guided discovery.

And so I was rather surprised with Adam’s concluding paragraph and this post is my own humble attempt at helping Adam address the balance.  Here’s what he had to say:

ELTchat may not have answered my question or provided me with the plethora of examples I was hoping for, but it certainly highlighted the need for some further hands on research and investigation. Now, I may be looking in the wrong places or typing the wrong words into my search engine. So please tell me if you know of any great resources. I know that there must be research papers out there, but for teachers what we really need is examples and people writing or talking about their experiences with it. So if you do use Guided Discovery and have some ideas get them out there, blog them or put it out on twitter. 

And so my response is to share my latest foray into Guided Discovery world on Wednesday morning.  I was teaching the CELTA TP students and being watched by my CELTA candidates – having to put my money where my mouth was since we’d had a session on conditionals the afternoon before where I had espoused Guided Discovery worksheets – time to show them the power of student-centred text-based step-by-step language clarification (i.e. Guided Discovery).

K had taken the students above-standardly through the text (Global Intermediate Page 95), so I simply started with the worksheet, which you can download here:

Unreal Past Conditions Guided Discovery Worksheet

The students anwered the questions about meaning alone, checked them with a partner and then we fed back on them.  The main sticking point was the question ‘Is this staement real or unreal’, since they mostly saw it as real.  I think I need to rephrase this question to something like ‘Is the speaker describing a situation in the real world or imagining an unreal situation in their head?’, although that seems too wordy to me.

A little bit of elicitation and refining the context by asking this question helped me convince them the statement was unreal.  And this elicitation of the fact that we’re talking about the past and we¡re talking about an unreal situation made eliciting the name of the structure to the top of the handout easy peasy – Unreal Past Conditions.

Then we drilled the statement aplenty.  First lots of choral drilling of each clause, backchaining the phrases ‘If he hadn’t noticed’ and ‘this wouldn’t have been’, and they had quite a bit of trouble at first reproducing /w@d@n@bIn/ (the @ are supposed to be schwas but I can’t get them to come out) but they got there after lots of laughs and backchains:

/bIn/

/n@bIn/

/d@n@bIn/

/w@d@n@bIn/

Then they completed the pronunciation section by themselves, in pairs and we fed back to the whiteboard.

Unreal past conditions pronunciation

Unreal Past Result Pronunciation

I did a bit more drilling to consolidate it with the written phonemes, which seemed to help them a bit and then they headed on to completing the form section by themselves which they found pretty straightforward.

Unreal Past Condition Form

Unreal Past Result Form

What really pleased me is they were able to come up with different possible modals for the result clause, they weren’t limited by the ‘third conditional’ misnomer to would, they quickly proferred could and might and may and must and should as well, although lots of credit must also go to K here who had brought out this point when guided discovering Unreal Present conditions on Monday.

So they had been guided and they had discovered.  Time to practice.  Turn over the worksheet and consider the other inventions mentioned in the global text and discovered by accident.  What would have happened if their accidents hadn’t happened.  Off the students went to try and complete their own conditional sentences.  It was a very challenging exercise since they had to go back to the text to remind themselves of the accidents that had led to the discoveries.  But they were able to have a good go at it, although there were plenty of forms errors in their work.  Have was being missed out regularly, one or two weren’t using past participles and one was using the past simple and so talking about the present.  But with a few points back at my boardwork and the odd return to my CCQs – are we in the past? – they were able to self correct or at least peer correct when they got together to confirm answers.  By the time they got to the group feedback they had the correct structures between them and I elicited them to the board (after some more focused drilling) to consolidate the structure for these very visual learners.

Unreal Past Conditions Controlled Practice

Unreal Past Results Controlled Practice

Unfortunately the 40minute lesson was drawing to a close, so there was just time for a quick discussion of the inventions in Practice 2 and how things would have changed if they hadn’t been invented.  Not surprisingly, some of them had unreal present results rather than past ones, but this was a good thing as they were able to form them correctly on the back of K’s Monday lesson and they were all happy to accept these as correct answers.  No time for discussing the difference or for personalisation, but the practice activities will live to fight another day.

If I’d had more time, I’d’ve done more personalisation. 

We’d’ve discussed real and unreal results of unreal past conditions, if the lesson had been longer.  

They’d’ve practised more freely and probably have made even more mistakes if we’d gone any further. 

But they wouldn’t have felt such a sense of achievement if they hadn’t discovered the rules for themselves. 

There was no accident about their discoveries.

Hope that helps Adam and any other Guided Discovery newbies out there.  Let us know how you get on if you try using the worksheet yourself or adapting it to another piece of language.  Go discover!





A Sporting Chance – The sticky wicket of sports-inspired idioms

23 03 2012

A Sporting Chance is a workshop I’m presenting on Sunday 25th March 2012 at the ABS conference ‘Challenge Your English’ – a conference for non-native teachers of English to boost the level of their own English.

Handout A Sporting Chance

ABS Challenge Your English

ABS Challenge Your English

Slides A Sporting Chance

The workshop focuses on English idioms from the world of sports, starting with sailing, then baseball, cricket, cards and finally a free-for-all called guess the sport.

As they are introduced to the idioms, the teachers play sports themselves which can be used in the classroom.

Abstract:

Do you find yourself behind the eight ball when idioms come out of left field?  Are you out of your depth when idiom-loving friends call the shots? Give yourself a sporting chance to cover all the bases as we dive headfirst into the world of sport-inspired idioms, exploring their meaning and background to give ourselves the inside track in the idiom race, allowing us to paddle our own idiom canoes and put a new vocabulary arrow in our language quivers.





No Man’s Land – Finding the Middle Ground in the Dogme Debate

16 02 2012

No Man’s Land - Slides from Montevideo 29/2/12

Macmillan Montevideo

On Wednesday 29/2/12 I had another go at No Man’s Land at the Macmillan Montevideo Conference 2011 held at the Anglo.  It was interesting to see how the talk changed as a result of  having a different dialogue with a different audience – Montevideo was much less impressed with Dogme than Buenos Aires was and quite a few members of the audience were brave enough to call themselves Textbook Traditionalists at the beginning of the talk, although we all ended up as Dog-maurauders at the end.  The talk was also shorter, so I focused more on the ten key principles and had also summarised 10 key Dogme-rauder principles which the audience were happy to accept and take away to consider.  Let us know how you get on!

Many thanks to Nicolas from Macmillan for organising the day, my impressive fellow speakers Aldo Rodriguez, Phil Hanham and Gustavo Gonzalez and, of course, the anglo for hosting the event – although it was the great audience that made the day such a success.

Pro-T Buenos Aires

Here are the slides from the talk at Pro-T 2012 on Thursday 16th February 2012.

No Man’s Land

Many thanks to everyone who came to the talk on Thursday and to @lcamio and the Pro-T team for inviting me and organising everything so smoothly.  I really enjoyed the talk and discovering much more about the principles of Dogme ELT through the process of researching, planning and writing the talk and sharing it with you on Thursday.  It was exciting (and empowering) to put the decision about whether or not to ‘convert’ myself into a Dogme-gician in your hands, and participating in that Dialogic Co-construction of knowledge to see what emerged was an enlightening process.  I hope the talk has helped some of you to look at your classrooms from a slightly different angle and gives you some ideas about how to ensure our students are at the centre of everything we do.

If you feel you are a Dogme-gician, it would be great to hear how you have managed to incorporate your Dogme teaching style into the confines of the educational context where you work.

Dogme-gician's believe in all the magic of Dogme.

If you’re a Dogme-rauder, it would be great to hear which principles of Dogme you have particularly pillaged and which ‘emergent’ tasks and activities you have used successfully or are going to try out.

Dogme-rauders have a soft spot for the 10 key Dogme principles, but prefer to loot and pillage the best of all methods

And if you’re a Textbook Traditionalist, then it would be great to hear the reasons why.

Textbook traditionalists start their planning from the next page of the course book and feed their students grammar mcnuggets

The ones that came up during the talk were pressure from above (Principals getting in the way of principles?) and the necessity to prepare students for exams.

The first problem is going to take time and persistence in order to convince principals, parents and even ministries of education, that the syllabus can be covered and students can learn English and prepare themselves for exams without having to faithfully follow a course book step by step.

And exam classes can easily prepare through a less materials dominated approach.  Students choose the texts they want to work with (be they authentic, course book, test book or whatever).  Students can construct test activities for each other from these texts, empowering them to discover much more about the tests and the strategies needed to complete them successfully.   Students can decide which tasks to work on when, depending on mood, trending current affairs topics, previous classes, perceived weaknesses.   Students can design the course syllabus, selecting the test materials to use, the balance of test types to focus on, writing proposals at the beginning of the course, progress summaries during the course, reviews of the course as it progresses and reports on their progress towards the end of the course.  Obviously, the students will choose to use Practice Test materials during the course (I imagine), but this is all part of being a good Dogme-rauder – letting students choose, allowing the syllabus (as well as the langauge) emerge through a dialogue involving the whole class.

Al, Vicky and Susan enjoying the talk – laughing in the face of Dogme?

I seem to have burst into song – lyrics a-merging!

Looking forward to hearing where you stand and I was relieved to find out I can continue to be a Dogme-rauder at the end of the talk!





Comment on @harrisonmike ‘s blog post ‘Mine, Mine, Mine’

29 01 2012

http://www.mikejharrison.com/2012/01/mine-mine-mine/#comment-7442

Hi Mike,

Yes, less is more should definitely be the message and is one we stress again and again on our Luke-less Delta course here in Buenos Aires.

Another extension to your dialogue ideas is the ‘half a dialogue’, which can be used as revision of a certain dialogue or as a way into a new one. The idea is that if you have a dialogue between A and B (hopefully written by the students) one group gets the A lines and the other the B lines. What they have to do is write the other speaker’s lines of the dialogue (As write B lines and vice versa) on a separate piece of paper, leaving lines free between the lines they write. Then the groups swap papers and have to complete the half dialogues written by the other group, creating a new dialogue completely written by the class. this can then be compared to the original dialogue and any interesting differences (i.e. students using simpler language than the original) can be noted, or they can just be mined, mined, mined in their own right.





Turning CELTA candidates into Dogme-gicians

15 01 2012

Commenting on my post  ‘Who Needs Dogme‘, @alastairjamesgrant, IH’s very own Dogme-gician, asks me:

Be it Trinity, CELTA or whatever, we have all learnt our initial teacher training tools through the use of course books. Are they therefore essential? 

My reply got too long and took too long to write (when I should have been doing other things today) to leave as a comment, so it’s become a blog post.  Here it be: 

No we haven’t, Al. We’ve learnt our initial teaching techniques (which is what I presume you meant to say?) by teaching and getting feedback on our classes from our peers and our tutors. Course books are most often involved in this process, but the continued insistence of a lot of Dogme-gicians such as yourself to lump all the blame for ‘bad teaching’ on course books is the lazy argument that makes my Dogme-friendliness dwindle.

CELTA courses are about so much more than course books and there’s plenty of room for even a pure (i.e. all ten commandments) Dogme lesson within the CELTA framework if candidates want to teach that way. On our course at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training we show candidates different lesson frameworks: a receptive skills lesson, a test-teach-test lesson, a text-based guided discovery lesson and sometimes a situational presentation, as well as showing videos of a TBL lesson and a functions dialogue build.  Two of these six involve course book texts, but there’s no need for them to and I’ll change them for authentic texts my past students have brought to class if you like.

The candidates are given a coursebook to work with and supporting notes from us about how to adapt the course book to these lesson frameworks and make them more communicative and student-centred at the same time.  We see this support as essential for candidates to be able to focus on certain aspects of their teaching at a time (I hope even the most Dogmatic Dogme-gician would agree doing a Dogme-esque lesson in week one of a CELTA without being able to give clear instructions, monitor or give useful feedback is a recipe for disaster).  By week three they are encouraged to become more independent and react to the course book materials with their students in mind, adapting or supplementing or rejecting them as they see fit (with tutor guidance where required) and in week four the candidates are choosing what to teach and how to teach it all by themselves.  If we added a loop input Dogme style session in to complement the other lesson-types and changed those two course book texts for more authentic ones then we’d have a very Dogme friendly CELTA course – and I’m working on it.

Why do CELTA courses get so much blame?  There is no criteria on a CELTA course that says you need to show good techniques with course books.  If you look at the CELTA syllabus, course books aren’t mentioned once and only three points even come close:

4.4 The selection, adaptation and evaluation of materials and resources in planning (including computer and other technology based resources)
4.5 Knowledge of commercially produced resources and non-published materials and classroom resources for teaching English to adult learners
5.4 The use of teaching materials and resources

That’s three points out of a total of 45 (if we include the skills breakdown points).  And the point that comes closest to mentioning course books (4.5) also discusses ‘classroom resources’, which may well mean a CD player or IWB if you’re (un)lucky enough, but aren’t classroom resources also what Dogme-gicians are meant to be using instead of course books?

CELTA is all about giving candidates the tools and techniques to teach in the classroom.  All Dogme-gicians use these tools, so please stop criticising the CELTA.  Criticise CELTA courses or CELTA trainers who put the course book before the student in their teaching practice if you want, but it’s simply not CELTA’s fault.  It’s not even course books fault that some teachers don’t put their learners at the centre of their classes, but I’ll save that for another day as I have work to do.








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