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Maximising local

This post popped up on my Facebook timeline yesterday from fellow teacher and teacher trainer, Mark Andrews. Mark lives with his family in Hungary, but as I type this he is running a summer course in Devon. Doesn’t it sound great…?

“Barry the manager at the Watergate, (Weatherspoons) told us about they changing state of the English pub, Mark told us about fish in North Devon, the only real shop in North Devon which sells fresh local fish. Simon told us about sixties surfing at the surf museum, the only one in Europe, and Lyndon told us about his surf school and several of us will be having a lesson on Saturday and Lyn told us about the national trust and the national trust car park. When we weren’t listening to local people and chatting them we were interviewing them ourselves while on the beach or paddling in the sea. 

Pubs, cafes, the beach and buses were our classrooms. 

Convinced that focussing on the local in ELT whether in a predominantly English speaking country or not is a way of developing both English skills and more general educational understandings. 

Tintagel tomorrow. Greetings from Devon Unplugged at SOL – Sharing One Language

Amid the often self-promotional shouting within social media, I seem to find Mark’s reflections tremendously encouraging. No, inspiring. No, calming. All of these. I feel that I’ve educated myself to some degree in the ways of the unplugged teacher. But it’s getting a bit noisy out there. Less talky, more do-y, more sharey about the do-y. This is how we’re really affecting each other, isn’t it?

Having a pub manager share his experience; bringing in experts on fish, surfing, The National Trust. It’s brilliantly simple. It’s relevant, interesting and unusual. I think these are sort of golden ingredients for teaching and learning.

Now, onward to how I can bring local into my classrooms. I can’t do it this as extensively as Mark in his shorter course, because my courses are a year-long, but I see definite scope for a greater and more imaginative integration of it in my courses.

My “local” is also Slough, so not nearly as picturesque as Devon’s beautiful countryside. But it’s “our local” and we can make the most of it. I will think further and get back to you.

How could you maximise your local and your local contacts?

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Course Planning: “Chop up the coursebook”…eek. Really?

©Showtime Networks Inc.

Dexter – ©Showtime Networks Inc.

I recently heard that some teachers, when planning their courses, like to chop up their coursebooks and arrange the units in plastic folders so they can easily supplement the book with other material.

I like the sound of this, but I think I respect books too much to be physically able to cut them up. I love crafting and have read many posts about doing origami or making gifts from old books.  The very thought sends shivers through me, and not in a good way.

So what’s the alternative to literally dissecting the coursebook? I’ve got piles of papers, clippings, and lots of material that I have put together, sitting on my hard drive. My fellow teachers may have just given me a workable solution.

QR Codes! For those who may not know, a QR code is like a bar code that can be read with your mobile phone or tablet (if they have a camera). They are two-dimensional and can store a vast range of alphanumeric data. You’ll need a scanning app on your mobile but the best ones are free and take seconds to install.

I know of teachers and trainers who for example, link to their handouts with QR codes on-screen. Or QR codes on business cards that mean you can simply scan the code and have the information entered straight into your contacts. Give it a try and open this website on your phone:

QR code to book upcycling crafts

So how might this help with our course planning when coursebook topics often inform much of our material selection? Well instead of hacking up the coursebook, why not attach QR codes to the pages, on Post-It Notes for example, which link to possible additional resources. That website or video you think would be good or a link to your own materials on Google Docs. The QR codes could even be added to schemes of work at the planning stage.

It saves bits of paper all over the place. Learners could scan the links themselves too with their devices and watch the video for homework (just show the QR code on-screen at the end of the lesson). Link to your VLE, your contact details at the start of the course…I could go on.

QR Codes aren’t new, but my recent discussion with Mike Harrison and Victoria Boobyer, gave me a new slant on using them to satisfy my organised self, and make my planning more effective. Victoria clearly knows me and suggested colour-coding the QR codes depending on what you want to use them for. There are many possibilities here.

I’ll report back on how this pans out in reality and whether it works for me. I hope it does, because I don’t want to have to stab you, New Total English. I hope we can get along.

If you like the sound of it, give it a go and let me know here via a comment, how you get on. Maybe you already do this and this is old news. Let me know what you do. Nothing ventured, and all that.

 

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‘Other people’s classes’ and ‘you are good enough’

Preparation for new courses, new schemes of work and activities, new students – they have caused me to open one of my favourite books on course planning, Tessa Woodward’s Planning Lessons and Courses. For me, this is such a relevant quote for considering the new academic year. I just had to note it down and think about it.

“We have perhaps too a view of other people’s classes, small ones or big ones or homogeneous ones, as being ‘normal’ and our own as being exceptional or inferior in some way. We might hear laughter through a classroom wall or watch a teacher preparing bits of paper for an interesting activity and we may feel, “Gosh! I wish I could do that!”. We may assume that “good” lies outside our own work, outside ourselves.

If we have the definition above, of a “good” lesson or course being one that other people experience or that goes exactly to plan or one that is exactly what we’ve been told is good or one that’s only achievable if we have hours of planning time available, then we are setting ourselves up for failure every time a class is bigger or smaller or worse resourced that it’s “supposed” to be, every time students act like real people and do something unpredictable.”

Woodward, T. 2010. Planning lessons and courses. 12th ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-2.

Last year two of my evening classes were in a classroom next door to a teacher whose lessons always sounded so interesting through the wall. (You know who you are Laura ;)). There was always music and videos coming through and I’d look at my students through squinty eyes to see if any of them were wishing themselves in the other class.

But it’s swings and roundabouts. Our lessons are different. I am not the teacher next door. I am me and you are you, and we must stay that way. We can learn from each other, but there’s no need to compete to be as “good” – whatever we perceive “good” to be.

I would like to learn to let go of Tessa’s “unpredictable” next year. I find this easy in a one to one setting. Not in a class of eighteen however. It’s these moments of unpredictability which (through the Dogme lens of language learning) will often give rise to golden moments of teaching and learning. I will try and have more faith in myself to go with it.

My classes are going to be “good” next year, just because I’m teaching them (that’s being positive, not big-headed) and because I’ve put love, care and thought into their preparation and I care for the students who have entrusted their English learning to me.

Good doesn’t “lie outside our own work”.

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More from the bottle tops

Last week saw the end of our Pre-Entry Summer School class. In my last lesson with the group, we needed to work on language to express likes and dislikes, as well as hobbies and activities.

The introduction of “doesn’t” in the lesson before however, had confused them. He doesn’t likes cricket. seemed perfectly appropriate given that I had shown how he/she has an -s on the end of the verb.

Out came the bottle tops in order to try and clear it up:

image
Rationale: My aim with this activity was to:

a) visualise the position of doesn’t within a simple sentence

b) to reinforce the verb pattern with the various personal pronouns

c) to show how we don’t need the third person -s when we use doesn’t. I’m not in the habit of correcting third person -s until I’m blue in the face, but this was the learners’ first ever introduction to it.

d) to allow learners some time to freely practise their “He/she likes/doesn’t like + -ing” sentences in pairs, with these visual prompts.

Reflection: Learners responded to the activity on all four of the levels above. However, I had accidentally omitted don’t from the choice of words, which meant they were unable to create any negative sentences for I/you (doh!). Maybe this kept it simple in the end, but it was unintentional.

Later in the lesson I noticed learners were self-correcting (“ahh – no, not “doesn’t hates” because we have the -s here (pointing at the -s in “doesn’t”“). There was no further confusion either regarding the position of doesn’t in the sentences.

I think next time I would prepare a batch of blue tops with some -ing activity verbs from the previous lesson (vocabulary reinforcement) so that the learners were only needing to focus on one element of language, rather than also having to consider the ends of their sentences.

I do love my bottle tops :). I think that for beginners, they can be a tactile and visual way to practice language.

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DTLLS: Reflective Learning Journal

So I’ve just started the two-year Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector and one of the modules which really floats my boat is the Reflective Learning Journal.

fisherman tay ho (West Lake, Hanoi) by @VictoriaB52

fisherman tay ho (West Lake, Hanoi) by @VictoriaB52

We’ve been advised to include anything we consider pertinent to teaching and learning. That quote from a book; thoughts about a lesson we taught or observed; something new we are going to try in our lessons. Anything.

Following the examples of some of my fellow teaching friends who have taken the DELTA and used their blogs for reflection, I shall be jotting down my Learning Journal here online. Take a look at Sandy Millin’s blog where she uses her site to reflect on some of the DELTA elements she did – in fact, as she was doing them. She’s my pretty yardstick :)

I’d like my Learning Journal to have the opportunity to be more collaborative than it would be in pure paper form. Comments from others help solidify, reconsider, spark new ideas or just reaffirm that actually what we’re doing is about right, or not quite. So I invite your comments, your thoughts and your help. Please, jump in.

It’s going to be an interesting journey.

I hope to share, discuss and reflect with you along the way. It’s more fun together.

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#weeklywordbook Week 3: “What word comes to mind when you think of school?”

One problem experienced by language learners is expanding vocabulary when you feel comfortable with what you know. In our classes we often ban the word “nice” or “good” to encourage space for a wider, and more interesting vocabulary. With this in mind, each Friday I will ask my friends on Facebook and Twitter to suggest some English words I can share with my classes.

So, choose three words from the suggestions that you don’t use or know and learn them this week.

This week I asked, “What word comes to mind when you think of school?”. Here are the words:

20130528-224145.jpg

If there are any words, you don’t know, you can translate them into your language (you can even post the translations in the comments to help other learners).

Write a comment saying which words you like!

Enjoy :)

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#weeklywordbook Week 2: “How has your week been?”

One problem experienced by language learners is expanding vocabulary when you feel comfortable with what you know. In our classes we often ban the word “nice” or “good” to encourage space for a wider, and more interesting vocabulary. With this in mind, each Friday I will ask my friends on Facebook and Twitter to suggest some English words I can share with my classes.

So, choose  three words from the suggestions that you don’t use or know and learn them this week.

This week I asked “How has your week been?”

Copy of How was your week 2 How was your week 1

If there are any words, you don’t know, translate them into your language (you can even post the translations in the comments to help other learners).

Write in the comments section below, which words you are choosing.

Enjoy!

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#weeklywordbook Week 1: “What is the weather like today where you live?”

One problem experienced by language learners is expanding vocabulary when you feel comfortable with what you know. In our classes we often ban the word “nice” or “good” to encourage space for a wider, and more interesting vocabulary. With this in mind, each Friday I will ask my friends on Facebook and Twitter to suggest some English words I can share with my classes.

So, choose  three words from the suggestions that you don’t use or know and learn them for our next lesson.

This week I asked “What is the weather like today where you live?”

If there are any words, you don’t know, translate them into your language (you can even post the translations in the comments to help other learners).

Write in the comments section below, which words you are choosing.

Enjoy!

Facebook comments weather today

“What is the weather like where you are today?”