Comment on Damian William’s blog post ‘Solutionism in ELT: magic bullet or malady?’

16 01 2015

Brilliant blog post by Damian Williams inspired me to comment thus:

Thanks for introducing me to Solutionism, Damian!
And just to further your thought, while course books get a lot of flack these days, it’ll be teachers getting a lot of flack tomorrow, while technology ironically takes us back a century. And while I don’t agree that course books are unrivalled (my students get a lot more out of authentic materials, unlike solutionists) I do agree that good teachers are and always will be.

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Day two at #iatefl from a downtown BsAs bus

10 04 2013

Starting this on the bus on the way home from the centre of town,

The 39 bus - from Corrientes to Carranza

The 39 bus – from Corrientes to Carranza

and no doubt won’t finish it til tomorrow morning, but wanted to try out making a post on my phone – after all, this is where our learners are headed, isn’t it?

Sandy has been a big help again today, easily my star of the conference.

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‘We’ ‘saw’ the following talks together:

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym? – Leo Selivan
Bridging the gap by Ceri Jones
From preparation to preparedness – Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley

Does the word “synonym” have a synonym? – Leo Selivan

talk sounds fascinating, I love travelling back through the history of the language as he did at the beginning of his talk and this pie chart of the make up of English I haven’t seen before:

Where does English come from?

Where does English come from?

And for some strange reason I always enjoy telling my students that English is the biggest language in the world (for some other strange reason my Argentine students never believe me and insist Spanish has more words, not a problem I ever had in the Czech Republic).

And of course, the main point Leo makes about synonyms is crucial when it comes to vocab learning (well-timed, since I’m doing our CELTA session on teaching vocab this afternoon – one of my favourites) – synonyms are not the same.  This is something I’m a staunch defender of and always pick up our trainees on when they say ‘they’re the same’ to the students in class (a little demand high CELTA tutoring there, Neil?).  If they were the same then we wouldn’t have two words for something.  The reason we do have two words for something, or three or four, is because there are subtle differences between them (perhaps because the different social or geographic classes saw things differently back when the language was being molded (hang on a minute, language is always being molded (although perhaps nowadays it’s being moulded too?)).  And so they don;t differ in basic meaning, but as Leo points out, they differ in their collocations, register, colligations and semantic prosodies, to name but a few.  And this does need to be pointed out to students, as I will point out to our CELTees this afternoon.

Sandy reports only two practical ideas from Leo, collocation forks, which if I understand correctly go back to Lewis’ ideas in The Lexical Approach, and a website called Just the word, which looks like a useful reference page for teachers and students alike – demand high of yourselves by checking out collocations of words before you teach them (but remember to stay in the context in which you’re teaching).  My example nods to yesterday’s post about Day One at IATEFL:

I do like the visula simplicity of the little green bars, though I’m struggling to see why ‘cabbage at’ is just as used as ‘cabbage with’. Market forces I imagine.

Bridging the gap by Ceri Jones

is getting short shrift because I have some Academic Coordinating to do before pilates class, but seems worth a mention because the course book she is selling in the talk seems to be written on slightly more solid foundations than any others in recent years.  It seems to take into account the changing world and changing language around us and tries to be more relevant to learners by including them more in activities.  I imagine like most talks about course books she focused on the three best activities in the book, but hopefully that’s just me being cynical.  Definitely one to check out when it comes to choosing new books.  One activity she mentions that I am a big fan of is getting the learners to write a text before they read a similar text form the coursebook, they are then immediately comparing their own ideas and writing skills with those of the author, which makes the whole process more cognitive and affective.

From preparation to preparedness – Adrian Underhill and Alan Maley

This was one of the most eagerly awaited (and tweeted sessions) of the day and I picked up on the following:

This just made me want to be at the conference and at the session.  Whether or not the presenters were giving us good ideas, I’d love to have been there to see them try.

And this tweet makes me want to read these articles.  We should all be expecting the unexpected in our lessons – and enjoying it!  One of the things I loved most about our recent Delta Intensive was watching very good teachers (when the lesson went to plan) become even better teachers by changing the plan, adapting the plan and losing the plan depending on their students’ needs.

But unfortunately there weren’t too many practical ideas coming out of the session, except for this list:

Training teachers to improvise

Training teachers to improvise

Improvising teachers

Improvising teachers

Those last two are the ones I’m going to focus on more, since the others are hopefully already ‘just good teaching’, aren’t they?

Time to coordinate, so I’ll leave you with a few random thoughts on a few random tweets I favourited throughout the day:

Completely agree with this one, Mike.  I always try and set my self a new development goal each year (and normally manage many more along the way).  This year’s include blogging IATEFL :), writing a Delta Module One Live Online course and celebrating IH World’s 60th anniversary (hope you enjoy the free gifts, since many of them are from me).

This tweet too sounds like the kind of session I enjoy – practical activities that really work in the classroom.  How many were there?  What were they?  Do they really promote further fluency?  How can I find out?

I include this tweet because I don’t really get it.  Apart from people actually paying less attention to the speaker during conversations because they are distracted by their phones (although at conferences we probably concentrate more when we are tweeting / blogging during the talks?), speech itself isn’t changing, so how does the speaker envisage speaking activities reflect the more digital communication that there is?  Anyone who was there care to enlighten me?

This link sounded good so I’m sharing it with you.  Obviously I was intrigued by the Dogme / Demand High mix (’twas only a matter of time) so let’s see what it’s all about shall we? Not much D&D (un)fortunately, so little in fact I had to comment on it:

Hi Tom,
Very common sense if your students have the technology – sounds just like my kind of lesson and similar to one I shared yesterday in its use of whatever tech is ‘handy’.
Am interested in hearing how you made it Demand High though, since that doesn’t come out of your post and those dominoes don’t sound very Dogme (not that that’s a criticism).
But I hope your title and tags brought you a few new readers like myself anyhow ;) .

I’m a big fan of Wily’s and would love to have been at his talk – he really is an authentic teacher and always makes you think.  If I have time I’ll try and get more of a taste of his and Katy Davies’ talks to comment on tomorrow, because they sound like to of the talks of the day.

Work beckons.  What do you reckon?





Hits and misses from the IATEFL Day One ‘pool

9 04 2013

Image

So as promised, here’s what I got out of Day One at IATEFL. To be honest it feels like not very much, since I haven’t had much time to dedicate to it at all – just a few visits to twitter and a quick read through a few emails. I was hoping to watch the plenary session by David Crystal when I got home but then I got distracted by an irrational urge to make Delia’s braised red cabbage to go with the left overs from last night’s beef. Sorry, David, I promise I’ll watch it very soon (I have it on in the background as I write this). Here it is if you’d like to join me…

Congratulations too, David, on your new website launched today as well: http://www.davidcrystal.com something else to bookmark and come back to. Although I was all ready to explore The Memors until I read the description and came across the combination techno-fantasy and tweenagers – not for me then.

Anyway, back to IATEFL and the things that made my day…

iatefl-liverpool-banner-240x80

The biggest hit of the day for me, popping in and out of the conference asynchronously from the other side of the world, was easily Sandy Millin and her various blog posts on the talks she attended. No idea how she managed to collect so much info about so many things into such short concise blog posts, although I imagine it had a lot to do with blending her tweets together skilfully. Wonderful stuff, Sandy, and most of my impression of day one comes from your posts, so looking forward to more over the next few days.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of Sandy today was that she went to a few talks that I wouldn’t have wanted to go to, mainly because they seem more targeted towards ESL rather than EFL, which is my context. However, I was really interested in reading what she had to say about the following talks:

Penny Ur – Technology in ELT

Penny's conclusions - a means, not an end

Penny’s conclusions – a means, not an end

Seems from her conclusions Penny was talking a lot of sense and resonating with my own soundbite when it comes to technology – it’s not what you use or even how you use it but why you use it that counts. Penny’s ‘cautiously, critically, selectively’ mantra seems to reflect that. Though of course it’s also true of every activity we do in the classroom, not just ones using hi-tec specs.

I like this list that Penny shares of the things that technology offers us – word processing, editing tools, the internet, digital dictionaries, improved self-access, more and more engaging written interaction, more easily accessible audiovisual material, distance learning possibilities, and even interactive whiteboards (I’m still sceptical, but then I’ve never actually used one). All these things can help students learn – if we use them purposefully and they therefore give us something that other means don’t. So good common sense there then, but nothing new.

The downside and dangers she discussed aren’t new either, so let’s move on to the activities she offers. Nope, nothing new there either. Although I did come up with a new idea for a mobile lesson myself today, that may well have been discussed in Penny’s talk. I’ve just realised the power of having students with smartphones and the ease with which they can do quiet reading and research in the classroom.

This idea came out of a tweet I saw that wasn’t actually IATEFL linked, but very much linked to why I didn’t post yesterday:

Sean Banville Tweet

Yes, Thatcher died, and Sean has made a thirty activity lesson out of the news – incredibly impressive (not that I’ve had time to get beyond the quantity yet, but, yet again, I hope to have a look at some point), although it did make me think of a lesson about Thatcher I would do if I had a class at the moment (I’m CELTA training, though subbing Thursday night so I might try this out then), which wouldn’t involve any materials:

Lead-in – get the students to discuss the current news stories and see what they come up with (floods here in Argentina are much bigger news than the Iron Lady’s demise).

Steer conversation around to Thatcher and get the learners to discuss what they know about her and feel about the news of her death.

Lead the conversation towards the whole ‘she’s a saint’ / ‘dance on her grave’ debate and ask them for initial impressions.

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

Get the learners to research the topic. Tell them they have ten minutes to read up on the topic (this is where you need wifi and enough smartphones to at least be able to share in pairs / a computer room) and make notes in preparation for a debate.

Divide the class into two groups, one researches the positive side of Maggie, the other the negative side. It’s a good idea to elicit where they will go to get their stories (Facebook and TWitter are the obvious answers, along with the BBC and British newspapers).

After ten minutes research put each group together (or sub groups in a big class) and get them to share their research with each other.

After an initial comparison and exchange of info, introduce them to the idea of the debate, in which they’ll argue about the merits of Margaret. Quickly outline the debate schedule (I don’t have time to outline this here I’m afraid, wife will be home soon). And then off they go, debating Maggie (my debate format takes at least 45 minutes) to their hearts’ content – As v Bs.

It’s such a simple lesson (if you have the tech) and involves a range of skills – speaking, reading, negotiating, debating, note-taking, listening etc. And minimal preparation time. And of course you can use it again and again whenever you have a controversial news story. I hope Penny would approve of this lesson, since it’s a very simple and small use of technology that really helps the learners prepare for the main speaking task (and they can always go back for more if needs be).

So there you go, my free activity of the day – much more overt than the one in my intro IATEFL post (which only three of you found – have another look). Sorry, got to go and stir the cabbage:

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 9.21.46 PM

And so on to:

Victoria Boobyer – Implementing Handheld Learning

Seems the talk was much more about the practicalities of setting up the use of ipads rather than how to actually use them – there’s some good advice in there and many things I wouldn’t have thought of before taking a box of ipads into class (as if I’ll ever get the chance…) and a couple of fun activities are showcased at the end – picture poems and comic stories. Been getting students to write their own stories to comics for years, but it does waste a lot of Tippex, so this is definitely an area where technology helps.

Swiftly on to

Jim Scrivener – How to Demand High

which I’m very interested in cos I’m doing a talk on Demand High in Montevideo, Uruguay in May, so I wanted to see if Jim had added anything to his talk at the IH World DoS conference in January.

Judging by Sandy’s take, he has. I like the idea of getting the audience to think of ways to demand more of their students using one exercise (exactly what I’d planned to do next month) and then compare to his own.

Unfortunately from the photos I can’t see too much of Jim’s ideas on his handout – can anyone help?

I can only make out the following:

Checking answers without rubber stamping

Getting behind the answer

Listening

Feelings

Various pronunciation exercises

Practice, memory, mistakes and being playful…

I imagine most of these are already in a few teachers repertoires and there’s a lot of benfit in encouraging more people to take them on board – less is definitely more and we need to take the time to spend quality time with and on language – I hope there’s some nice ways to do that here.

Which reminds me, I also came across this while trawling through twitter today:

Phil Keegan MLT

which sounds like a very helpful article for my talk next month. Roll on MET.

Missus is on way and cabbage needs turning again, here are a few more tweets I enjoyed today from IATEFL before I go:

Fluency/accuracy dichotomy too simplistic: also need fast/but form focused activities or focus on meaning/but slow – Jason Anderson#iatefl

Echos what we’ve just been talking about

“Seeing others notes before a debate makes you more willing to take part” – great session from Jason Anderson on fluency & accuracy #iatefl

Nice idea for debate preparation to combine into my Maggie lesson

Colin MacKenzie: thinking of creative professions primes us for creative thinking #tdsig #IATEFL

A little touchy feely for me but might just work, will give it a try. But we definitely need ways of promoting creative thinking (as well as critical thinking of course).

David Crystal at GISIG #iatefl: The two forces that drive language forward: identity and intelligibility.

I favourited a few of Jim’s tweets from David’s talk (although from what’s going on in the background on my computer I think the best bits must be at the end) but this is the most interesting. Lots of food for thought there in those 10 words. Speaking of which it’s dinner time.
20130410-145927.jpg

My dinner is on the table

So I’ve tried to give you a flavour of my IATEFL day and I hope it’s been of some use for those of you like me who are far, far away from the magic on the Mersey. I haven’t seen the plenary, I haven’t explored the facebook page and my app has been hapless today, but I still got lots to think about and play with from the day and I hope you did too. Night!

 





I’ve never been to IATEFL…

6 04 2013

My 16-year-and-counting career has had its ups (I’ve just finished a fabulous intensive DELTA course and am about to write a synchronous online Delta Module One course) and downs (at the last count I’ve made about 26 trainees / students cry on my courses / in my classes) , highs (I’ve got the longest title in ELT – International House World Organisation Academic Coordinator for Resources and Director of Studies Support)and lows (I’m responsible for co-ordinating IHWO’s Live Online Workshops), ins (I’m a member of the Delta-and-Lancelot-qualified-and-working–in-South-America group of one) and outs (I’ve never slept with a fellow IH teacher)2, but in 15 years of EFLing I’ve never been to IATEFL.

iatefl-liverpool-banner-240x80

This year’s conference kicks off tomorrow of course and I’m not going.  But, since various moons are colliding…

…I have a ‘slow’ week at work

I haven’t blogged much yet this year and need to get started up again

International House is 60 years young this year and we’re celebrating the fact at IATEFL

IH Buenos Aires has been doing CELTAs for five years now and I’d like to celebrate that fact with a bit of a social media push during my ‘slow week’ and therefore can persuade my boss that me spending my work day keeping up to date with IATEFL is good for business

…and…

I have a new smartphone…

My new phone

My new phone

I feel like I might be able to take an active part in the conference even though I’m 7000 miles away and four hours behind conference time.  How do I intend to do this?  Well I’ve downloaded the conference app to my phone, I’ve checked out the online support pages and forums and I’ve scanned the schedule and tried to fit it in with my own.  I’ve availed myself of the conference hashtag (#IATEFL), the conference Facebook page, cast an eye over the IATEFL registered blogs, signed myself up as one of them  and now I’m ready to roll.

The idea is to post a blog a day summarising my thoughts on my IATEFL interaction.  In order to do this I need to interact.  The plan is to…

…follow #IATEFL on twitter and retweet any interesting tweets with my own take on them (if space allows)

Following #IATEFL on tweetdeck

Following #IATEFL on tweetdeck

do much the same on the Facebook page

choose a different forum each day to read and post in

IATEFL Forums

IATEFL Forums

and then summarise this activity in a ‘what did I get out of / give to IATEFL today?’ type post.

IATEFL on A Muse Amuses

IATEFL on A Muse Amuses

Why don’t you do the same?  We can be in this together! Come and visit me each day and share your take on events.  Let’s catch up on twitter and Facebook and the conference forums and share ourselves.  We can’t go to the ball and the talks and have a coffee between them or a beer afterwards, but we can engage online and share and share and share alike.

And who knows?  Maybe as a result of our sharing, something wonderful might happen…

…a new idea for a lesson activity

The Game's Up!

The Game’s Up!

a further understanding of how our students learn English

One of my classes in IH Buenos Aires Recoleta ten years ago - has much changed?

One of my classes in IH Buenos Aires Recoleta ten years ago – has much changed?

a new friend in ELT world is made

ELT friends in Montevideo

ELT friends in Montevideo

old CELTA trainees get back in contact

Some of our lovely CELTA trainees at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training

Some of our lovely CELTA trainees at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training

new sources of information and knowledge are discovered

OTTI - best online resource I've ever discovered...

OTTI – best online resource I’ve ever discovered…

I get double figure visitors to my blog page

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 9.38.28 AM

someone invites us to talk at next year’s conference…

Macmillan Uruguay Conference 2012

Macmillan Uruguay Conference 2012

Whatever does happen, let’s hope I can at the very least keep to the blogpost a day pledge and that you enjoy the journey.  I’m going to IATEFL!

Footnotes
1 Just like to point out this is the author’s own opinion, not an academically researched fact. 
2 As I was writing this I actually honestly believed it was true.  While there was SPOILER 1 (fond memories), she wasn’t a teacher.  And then there was SPOILER 2 (further fond memories), but she wasn’t IH.  But then I was about three quarters of the way through writing the rest of the post when I did actually fabulously fondly remember SPOILER 3, and she was a teacher at IH, and so in the end this statement is not strictly speaking (or in any other manner of speaking) true.  But it amuses me so I’ll leave it in anyway and hopefully this footnote saves me from having actually knowledgeably lied on my blog for the first time. 




Comment on Scott Thornbury’s ‘S is for Student-centredness’

17 02 2013

http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/s-is-for-student-centredness/#comment-8978

mcneilmahon (18:42:13) :

For me, student-centredness is an attitude – an attitude to planning and teaching. A teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my lessons’ is not demonstrating as ‘student-centred’ an attitude as a teacher who says ‘I’ve got to plan my students’ lessons’. It might seem a tad facetious, but the simple switch in language use highlights the importance of having the students in the forefront (or should that be centre) of your mind when planning your / their lessons. And some may go even further and say ‘I’ve got to plan how my students are going to plan their lessons’.

The same goes for in the lesson too – are you making decisions as the lesson progresses based on their lesson and how its panning out, or your lesson? This student-centred attitude can ensure that even the most teacher-fronted stage of a lesson can be completely student-centred (exactly what these students need at this point, eliciting from them, them making notes, etc. everyone completely involved in what’s being discussed) and a completely student-fronted stage (all sitting in a circle discussing something, teacher on the sidelines monitoring) can involve very little student-centredness (only one or two students involved, teacher chosen topic, teacher led discussion, only teacher knows the aim of the stage).

Looking at student-centredness as an attitude therefore means you can have very student-centred lessons within Tyson’s context because the teacher has chosen topics they know the students need preparation in (even when the students themselves don’t) and as Carol highlights this is true across a whole range of approaches.





Comment on Vicky Loras’ blogpost on CPD

13 01 2013

http://vickyloras.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/professional-development-for-now-and-the-future-inspired-by-michaelegriffin/#comment-3497

mcneilmahon says: January 6, 2013 at 15:15

Yes, great idea Adam. This post, Vicky, reminds me of a talk I did a couple of years ago in Mexico and Buenos Aires on this topic and there are even more ideas for us to choose from – the slides are available here: https://amuseamuses.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/professionally-developing.

This is a great time of year for us to be thinking of what we can add to our CPD (are teachers the only people who still make New Year’s resolutions? ). I definitely recommend making sure you guys get observed more – definitely the best way to develop for me. I’m being observed tomorrow, so will choose Join conferences as my ‘new’ one for this year. I need to make sure I go to LABCI  even if I have to walk there!

Vicky Loras says: January 6, 2013 at 16:11

Hi Neil, Many thanks for your comment and links. Have fun at LABCI!





Comment on Sandy Millin’s blog about Guided Discovery Language Clarification

13 01 2013

http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/clarifying-language/#comment-2881

Hi Sandy,
It’s not completely clear from your post if you have embraced guided discovery worksheets or not? If not, then I definitely recommend them as a way of getting the students to work alone and then in pairs / groups to discover the language for themselves. The worksheet will have your CCQs on it for the students to answer and then they can finish off a guided form themselves as well. You might even get them trying to drill each other before you provide models to make it even more student-centred, though that can lead to problems and does need learner training.

Using Dale’s SS WBs can be a big part of feeding back on this stage (I just use laminated blank A4 paper – can you actually buy them, Dale?), or you could get groups to create their own posters of the grammar point as they understand it. Or if you’ve monitored everything to your and the students’ satisfaction and they seem to be going good you could just praise their work so far and head straight into using the language to see if they can cope with it.

For examples of what I mean with conditions and results see:http://wp.me/p15rqq-bX (though this does include a whiteboard-based feedback session :) ).