The way I store the information on teaching

This is another short (a-couple-of-paragraphs) blogging post. This time I want to raise the topic of organising information, links and resources so that to find easily everything you read zillion years ago.

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First Moscow ELT meet up. What it was like and why it should become a good tradition.

This is what I guess a lot of teachers dream about. This is what you need for professional development, inspiration and ideas. I’m speaking about a local community where you can meet with like-minded teachers and spend great time together with really useful outcomes of various sorts.

This is what happened here in Moscow due to the zeal and efforts of Masha Andrievich. There happened to gather a group of so versatile teachers, positive, open and ready to ask and share. We are so different: some with a lot of experience, some with little; some have qualifications and train teachers, some just plan to dive in certificates waters; those interested in CLIL and those who are professionals in academic stuff… The endlessly wonderful thing is that we all are seeking for inspiration from each other and are ready to learn something new in order to develop and teach better lessons.

The first (and we all agreed that it wasn’t the last) meet up of Moscow teachers contributed not only into our contact lists as now we know a lot of interesting people with whom we can work on innovative projects together. What’s more, we had some useful but short sessions. Unfortunately, we couldn’t listen to what Anna Loseva had to say about blogging due to technical reasons. Nevertheless, she posted a piece of information on the blogs worth reading with the ones I personally like so much. Thank you for mentioning mine as well, I got really proud and pleased!

Zhenya Bakin approached very consistently the topic of teaching writing. I keep wondering how he managed to communicate a lot of information in such an interactive and smooth way.

Olga Borodkina told us about existing teaching qualifications and her experience getting them that caused an animated discussion. Personally, I renewed my wish to move further in terms of collecting certificates. Can’t help it – I love this stuff)

In the end Masha Andrievich demonstrated her magic box and some life-saving tricks when you deal with kids. I must say it would help you to survive a lesson with kids without any prep)))

“Speed-dating” discussion crowned the meet up and if the time had allowed we would have been talking to each other for ages.

I guess, the aims of the meeting were achieved completely since we got to know really good people and colleagues, I believe, we all have got inspired by each other and learned something new. We all are looking forward to the next meeting and maybe there will be more people joining our great community. It is terrific to see your colleagues who never stop learning and developing their skills regardless the amount of experience and qualifications acquired.

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Why I shouldn’t feel guilty for not reading your blogs

There is an idea that instead of writing a usual some-pages-post considering an issue from different angles, it is worthwhile to write a paragraph. One of my students, who happens to be an artist, told me once that an unfinished picture is not dead.
The idea of this very paragraph came from Anna Loseva, who is now sitting opposite me in a cafe. So, it’s phonelivebloggingparty!

As you might have noticed I haven’t been very active for about a month or two. In fact, not active it all. It began when I found myself teaching only one group twice a week. In a nutshell, I ended up enjoying a lot of other things except teaching and got extremely overwhelmed by them. I am having 6 dance classes a week and the rest of my free time is devoted to drawing and studying arts. Why shouldn’t I feel guilty for that? I definitely felt so, but gradually, with the help of different people, Anna among them, I’m coming to accepting the fact that one shouldn’t be stuck in a single sphere of their life. I’m actually doing good for my many-sided personality developing myself harmoniously by paying due attention to each of the sides. I’m sure when I compensate for neglecting my hobbies for so long I’ll come back to my teaching social media.

Wish you harmony and work-life balance.

Yours,
Kate

This is phonelivebloggingparty in process

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This is an example of what I’m busy with daily)
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Coursebooklessness

During a talk with Anna Loseva she told me about the way she organizes education process without course books. I have heard so many times about the idea but dreaded imagining myself being lost without knowing which of the numerous directions to take or how not to miss out a significant part of syllabus. But listening to Anna I got so gripped by the kind of structure she used that I calmed down enough to try it out.
After a couple of months on the low course book diet there emerged some questions that disturb me the most. I would like to answer them myself first and if you have any experience in teaching coursebooklessly or have some information about it let’s spread the information exchange.

Reviving reflective practice – an indispensable part of our work

Having looked into theory I found the meaningful definition which in my view reflects all the key issues of Action Research in the book ‘Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching’ by Anne Burns. Action Research is described as a reflective process done by a teacher aiming to identify and solve a problem or bring improvement through ‘taking a self-reflective, critical, and systematic approach to exploring your own teaching contexts’ [Burns, 2]. The author emphasises that Action Research is based on information collected systematically and it does not follow ‘a fixed pattern to solve a straightforward technical problem’ [Burns, 6]. Action Research usually represents a cycle which may be repeated as many times as necessary to solve a problem.

I have already done something close to Action Research trying to improve setting up tasks (you can find a succession of reflective practices here – then here – after that here – and finally here). I went through the following experiential learning cycle: description – analysis – generalization – action points. Eventually, it was very effective because I saw my major mistakes and action points helped me to concentrate on important issues not to repeat my mistakes. Describing this experience on my blog I benefited from other teachers commenting and suggesting ideas. As a result, my teaching has improved a tiny bit and I will definitely continue doing it, but next time I will use the cycle by Kemmis and McTaggart which is represented in the book by Anne Burns.

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Mindfulness

Being interested in heathy eating and the like I came across the word “mindfulness” related to the way we eat. It is believed that when you eat it is better not to watch tv or read a book or do anything else not related to the process of chewing and swallowing food. They say you should concentrate on each piece you consume. Doing so you seem to get satiated more quickly and feel better since you don’t over consume food. It is even claimed that it affects your digestion positively.

As you may well have guessed, I’m leading to mindfulness in teaching. Why?

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Error Diary Vol 3 Q&A

This is the third post on error diaries. The general idea is outlined in the first post while the second one answers a set of questions. Here is the next part of questions to be dealt with.

The next comment I would like to respond to was made by Hana Tícha. Thank you, Hana, for expressing your concerns and ideas (they are in bold here). Responding to them, I’ll try to scrutinise how to improve error diary to make it more acceptable and beneficial for students.

Error Correction: keeping an ‘Error Diary’

What did my tutors at the CELTA course tell me about correcting mistakes?

Think about the type of task the students are doing – they said – if it’s controlled practice, use this array of techniques to correct them. Otherwise, resort to delayed error correction which usually comprises collecting and writing on the board sentences with mistakes and those with examples of successful use of target language. Students are aspired to discuss the sentences and ponder their own use of structures/grammar/whatever is being learned.

What usually happens after error correction is that the information on students’ mistakes vanishes completely from their minds as quickly as from the board and they pretty often make them again (yes, a bit of exaggeration to paint the picture brightly). They appear to be relieved of these errors after making them several times more. And it’s true for me as a learner as well. The fact that I understand my mistake doesn’t mean I won’t make it again. I may well forget that this is my weakness and ignore the idea of stopping myself to think how to say correctly what I’m going to say. Even if I know rules I neglect them unintentionally because while uttering an idea I concentrate on meaning more than on form, as I guess most people do.

I questioned myself what should be done to extend the work on errors so that the way from ‘I always make mistakes with this’ to ‘oh, I just say it as I’m used to saying and it’s almost always (let’s be realists) correct’ as quick and short as possible.

After questioning myself I questioned my DoS and here is a couple of her suggestions tailored and moulded to serve my aims and fit my style.

First of all, I change the process of conducting delayed error correction. We don’t just say what is correct, what is not and why. If a sentence is not correct students briefly explain why (they are able to do it by this stage of a lesson) and, having done that, they make their own examples of the very same structure personalizing the sentence. Let me provide you with a slightly simplified example.

‘He have been to London’ is the sentence on the board.

  • Is this sentence correct?
  • Why?
  • Because he – has.
  • Does everyone agree?
  • Yeeeees
  • Now each of you makes a sentence with this structure about students in our group.
  • Mary has been to Egypt.
  • Peter has been to Paris.
  • Karin has been to America.

I wholeheartedly believe that thus students link the rule to something more tangible, which is also strengthened by mechanical repetition and creates a correct language wont.

Next trick is actually the essence of this post. After doing this super controlled correction-practice exercise, instead of simply erasing everything from the board my students and I write the sentences with mistakes in special ‘Error Diary’.

Why do I need it?

It’s pretty obvious – I keep a record of all students’ mistakes to:

  • See the most frequent mistakes
  • See the flaws in my teaching as some mistakes indicate what I haven’t explained something properly or what I have forgotten to draw students’ attention to
  • Use the sentences for further tests and revision games and exercises
  • Monitor which mistakes have fielded as a history and which are being strong and resistant requiring more work and attention
  • Have a good source of language to analyse for a particular group in case I happen to see some interesting particularities in terms of language acquisition (unfortunately, I have never seen any so far)

Why do my students need it?

  • They have a record of their own mistakes with their own weaknesses underlined and analysed by themselves
  • They can always refer to this diary like to a rule because it’s even more useful than a rule since it represents personalized and analysed use of language which once was difficult for them (or more than once)
  • They have an opportunity to see how I work with their mistakes later on. I don’t invent vague sentences which sometimes lack context and have no connection with my students. I use their own sentences, about themselves and the students see it and, as I was said, they feel my personal involvement and attention to their learning process.
  • Students use their notes to make test-type tasks for each other as a means of revision of material. I believe this is a way of processing and understanding the language that can’t be overestimated.

Now it’s high time I told you about the results I have noticed after using ‘Error Diaries’.

  • When we have collected a set of sentences (let’s say 20) and all work with errors is done (discussion, using in my exercises, students’ tests) I make a final speaking revision task intentionally to check the same mistakes. If mistakes aren’t made this time, I cross them out. Having done so with 4 sets of mistakes I have all of them crossed out with exception of one or two after each revision.
  • Students hardly ever make them again in free speaking activities.
  • Students feel more responsible for their own learning and appear to be more conscious.
  • Students say they feel learning process and their progress better.

I would like to underline and assure you that it doesn’t take as much time as it may seem. If it’s in a form of a game, it’s used as a warmer at the beginning of a lesson or at the end when we have a spare minute. If it’s an exercise they have devised themselves, I usually check it and hand out to a different person as a home task. The final revision activity is usually combined with another speaking activity so that it follows logically.

I want to encourage you to try this extended means of error correction if you have never done it and reap the results. Let me know your opinion on this idea anyway.

Critical thinking irritation

Let’s think critically about critical thinking. 

I have always thought that the purpose of my work is to teach communicating in English with people from other countries as freely as possible. I’m not saying that such issues as critical thinking or unconformity don’t matter at all, but there seems to be a huge buzz around them. I love asking thought-provoking questions and discuss burning issues but I’m really reluctant to make it my major concern. If it’s such a crucial matter, why don’t they implement it as an independent subject in a school syllabus? I want to underline that I’m not against fostering critical thinking, actually, I’m quite in favour of it, but I’m starting to feel that too much importance is placed on this matter, so that it may well get you side-tracked. 

Teaching critical thinking is often opposed to ‘doing’ tests. But yes, some students really need tests for entering universities or just understanding where they are on the scale, whether they have moved a step forward. But to pass a test they don’t only need to know English well, but also to know how to approach one test or another and what is tested in each task. This also should be taught to facilitate the procedure and save time during a test. Unfamiliarity with a test format may lead to nervousness, time-consuming approaches to tasks and eventually to failing a test or doing it with a worse result than expected. Subsequently, it brings the feeling of disappointment and frustration which may be followed by discouragement to continue learning and improving.  Therefore I want to urge you to teach speaking and understanding English, to teach understanding the culture and mentality, to teach how to approach tests and to let critical thinking emerge in discussions created for practicing English.    

That’s all. Thank you. 

P.S. And, yes, I know that critical thinking is a 21st century skill and all that jazz. 

P.P.S. The picture portrays my view on cramming huge ideas into a framework of another huge idea that leads to a weird and eclectic phenomenon which doesn’t make sense.

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