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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Fighting problems of mini-groups. Kate’s had enough)

I’ve been having some problems with diversifying interaction patterns in mini-groups for the dominant part of my work experience. Eventually, I’ve decided to tackle the problem – the time has come!

So, we have 2 or 3 students in a classroom. How to vary the ways they interact with each other? Obviously, there are only two ways – they either talk to each other or to the teacher in turns. Thus, I see no trace of variety here. Still I’ve just had a thought that it’s the roles of students not interaction patterns that we should think about. Here is a list I’ve got, feel free to both add your ideas and criticize mine)

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One lesson before and after CELTA

I was recently covering another teacher and the lesson I was doing reminded me that I did the same one almost a year ago, before CELTA and some training sessions. I was happy to find this year-old plan and I think it’s interesting to compare these two lesson plans. Unfortunately, the integrity of the comparison is doubtful since at that time I knew something about teaching and I had the teacher’s book (winning strategy, right?). Moreover, the situations are different. One year ago I taught a group of about 6 students while a week ago it was an individual student via skype. But still there are some noticeable differences.

I decided to name the stages as they are in the book to keep it short. And I confess it’s not a really good lesson Idid a week ago, I just followed the book because I was too tired and, yes, lazy to do my  best (covering another teacher, you know – I’m not usually like that, believe me) and it’s what I regret doing now.

Before

After

Lead-in

Done because it’s in the book. Open class discussion. Real questions not asked Done because I know what the aim of this stage is. Real questions asked, discussion emerged, but timing was good.

Vocabulary

I handed out cards, cut in halves for matching in pairs, checked in open class feedback, discussed the meaning with translation. Used the exercise from the book. Discussed the meaning using CCQs and asked real questions personalizing sentences.

Checked how the student remembers the words with the book closed.

Listening

Done as it was described in the book: gist task, matching halves of sentences and checking by listening again. There were difficulties with understanding the text (to my surprise because speaking has been very good so far – it was the first time I worked with this student) so we listened twice for gist and second task we did without listening for the second time.

Grammar (Past Simple)

Explained the rules and formulas on the board. Students did exercises individually and then checked together. I used the listening exercise to get examples, elicited rules and formulas asking CCQs. We did the exercises with Demand High ELT method applied and a great deal of personalization. Much more time but better results.

Pronunciation

Did as it is suggested by the authors of the book. Skipped this stage because of lack of time (timing is my biggest problem I guess)

Speaking

Students tell each other about themselves answering questions from the book. The student answered the questions from the book and my own real questions.

Extra tasks

Discussing films about the topic (using pictures in the book) none

 

Then I thought what I would do if I had to teach a group now.

  • In Lead-in there would be pair work and open class feedback with real questions
  • Vocab – the same but personalization task would be done in pairs
  • Listening – I’d rather listen once and check the second task by listening again. There would be pair work before checking as a whole class
  • Just more pair work with grammar
  • I’d do pronunciation differently from the exercise in the book as it is too complicated there. I’d give the students 3 examples of verbs with the –ed ending and asked them to match them to transcription and then elicit the rule in open class. After that I would make a categorizing dictation followed by checking in pairs and discussing all together.
  • Speaking would also be based on pair work like one year ago, but I would ask students to come up with follow-up questions. Another option might be to transform it into a mingling task depending on the number of students.

What is significantly different?

1. I realize that the aim of each stage is important to know in order to reach it. The same for the lesson aim. So, I plan consciously.

2. I get more out of tasks and try to make them more like natural conversation.

3. Elicitation appeared instead of teacher’s speech in front of the board.

4. I’d say the whole explaining stage is different.

5. There is often some kind of linking between stages.

Personal feelings

1. I now have a kind of sense of direction while planning. If I don’t like any tasks from a course book I don’t hesitate to change them, but also I don’t try to invent something incredibly outstanding as well as very complicated spending all my free time to see it fail at the lesson.

2. I spend less time planning though I always complain that I don’t enough time for that.

3. It’s really difficult to remember how I approached planning before CELTA)

4. I believe that without the teacher’s book I would do much worse one year ago.

 

Now my question is:

Am I obsessed with pair work beyond measure or it’s bearable still?

But seriously, do you remember your teaching and planning before substantial training? What are the most visible differences?

 

What is encouraging in ELT!

I received great comments on my previous post about what discourages me in teaching after passing CELTA which was a kind of emotional outpouring. The comments made me think about how many wonderful things there are in our profession. Here is my top three.

Firstly and most importantly, it’s you. People who come, read, respond, care, contribute, suggest, advise, support, like, dislike, argue, convince, write, answer… Since I started my blog I’ve got to know so many people who have made my professional life different. And I think it’s difficult to overvalue your impact on my development.

In case I have a bad day and hate the idea of making my brains work I can always get inspired by you. Today I got up really early and by the middle of the day I felt worn out but after reading wonderful and inspiring Hana Ticha’s post not only have I done half of my ‘to do’ list but also I’m writing this post, though I usually have time for writing only at weekends. What’s interesting, Hana might also be tired and unwilling to do anything (it happens to everybody I guess) at the same time as me, but still I found some encouragement in what she does.

Secondly and also very important, there is endless room and means for improvement. Right, the amount of information is sometimes a bit intimidating, but bearing in mind the fact that perfection has no limits I reconcile with my unsatisfied perfectionism and embrace the idea of life-long learning.

Thirdly and as important as your support, I am over the moon when my lessons go well and I see that my students have achieved something, I get the results I have been expecting for a long time, students overcome their difficulties and fight their fossilized mistakes, they reach a tiny bit higher level, they exit a classroom with a smile on their faces satisfied with what they have just done. There is no need to continue the list as you all know it well.

So, I’m just writing to say that I have a good day and I’m satisfied with my morning lesson and I’m happy to be in this huge worldwide teaching community.

P.S. People of other professions must have gone greet out of envy after reading this post.