We have noted with satisfaction the large number of teachers from your school who have attended at least one conference for English teachers during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that encourages continued professional development among your staff members for the benefit of the students entrusted to your care.
Since it is well-known that these conferences / mini-conferences take place in the afternoons and during school vacations, such a commitment to professional development among your staff members is particularly commendable.
We are encouraging other principals in our district to follow your example.
The regional inspectors / local school board
Possible replacement options for the first paragraph:
Dear Principal ____________,
We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have presented at one conference for English teachers or more during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but encourages them to share their knowledge with others.
Dear Principal ____________,
We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have attended / presented at an international conference for English teachers abroad during the school year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. While you, obviously, have no say in the matter of the teacher’s pay being docked for the few work days they missed, your assistance in getting the paperwork necessary for such an endeavor approved is greatly appreciated. * Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but recognizes the value of foreign language teachers keeping abreast of worldwide trends in this field.
Principals love it when their school is honorably mentioned.
Teachers who attend conferences and invest in continued professional development do it whether or not the principal or management cares.
But being noticed means a lot to teachers too…
Two notes which haven’t found a place in the letters:
Some teachers are only able to come to a part of a conference due to reasons such as family commitments, which means they don’t get any recognition for in-service training points (aka “Gmul). They deserve to be noticed too!
Presenting at an international conference or publishing in a recognized academic journal officially awards a teacher one complete in-service training point (aka an entire “Gmul”) instead of the usual fraction. De facto it is only worth a quarter point in your salary (30 hours)…
Warning – Excessive note-taking at an awesome ELT conference may lead to undesirable side effects, ranging in severity and scope. The following “treatment” may be taken prior to the conference , as “preventive medicine”, or after the first conference day of several in order to alleviate existing symptoms.
Possible side effects of untreated excessive note-taking
Excessive note-taking may seriously impair a teacher’s ability to digest new information. The act of keeping the eyes glued to the notebook /screen during an entire lecture can result in:
missing the fine points of nuance, which are expressed in mimicry and body language
inability to properly take in visual materials, viewed at a brief glance.
constant tension – hyper-state of alertness due to trying to keep up with every word the speaker says.
inability to focus on the main idea to be implemented, not on the specific details (which cannot be relevant for every class).
feelings of irritability.
LOSS OF ABILITY TO ENJOY THE CONFERENCE!
The BUDDY METHOD of Treatment
Stage one – Find “a conference buddy”
If you haven’t arrived at the conference with one prepared in advance, simply introduce yourself (with a smile!) to the teachers sitting near you before the first session begins. The attendees are not a group of random people – these are ELT teachers who made the effort to attend the conference because they want to benefit from it, just like you. Having several “conference buddies” works too.
Stage two – Talk Sessions
Arrange to meet with your “conference buddy” over lunch, on the commute home (if relevant) or perhaps skip a certain session slot. When you know you will be soon be briefly discussing what you just heard, you will find that jotting down key ideas, phrases, links will be enough. This matters because after you discuss what you heard, you “digest” it better and your brain can begin utilizing the information in order to make connections with your classroom reality.
Or in other words, you will probably never find (or bother to look at) all your conference notes three months from now. But if you discuss what you heard with someone it will leave a helpful “residue” in your brain.
Stage Three – Division of Labor
If coming home from a conference with a file (handwritten or digital) of notes is important to you, divide the sessions with your “conference buddy”. In each session one of you slows down, focuses on listening, looking (and feeling!) while the other takes notes. The “listener” can gently nudge the “note-taker” when there is a good visual stimulus he/she really must stop and look at. When you talk about the sessions afterwards, the one who was the note-taker can add information the listener took in and the note taker missed.
The “listener” is also in charge of prying the pen out of his/her buddy’s hand when the speaker has just given the link to where the entire talk can be viewed at any time.
Stage Four – Let Your “Conference Buddy” Drag You to a Session You Didn’t plan on attending.
Obviously, you won’t want to take notes during a session which is, theoretically, not relevant for you (perhaps it focuses on teaching younger learners than those you teach or is more suitable for private lessons while you teach classes). Focus on watching the speaker – what he/she said might not be particularly useful to you. However, how the material was presented to a roomful of adults and how the speaker drew the listeners into the topic might just spark some amazing ideas in your head as how to present something to your own students.
All of that can happen in your head without writing down a single thing.
IMPORTANT DOSAGE NOTES:
The “BUDDY METHOD” of treatment can be used repeatedly at multiple conferences without any negative side effects. It is free and available for ELT teachers around the world at all times. Frequent users of the method often exhibit tendencies to share the method, though the frequency of this phenomenon has not been documented.
I’ve been invited to speak at an international conference!
IV-th International Congress on Social Inclusion Implementations-versions and controversies, April 6-7 2017., at the Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland
I know I’m not being very modest about it but there is a great deal to be excited about:
It’s a conference about “Inclusion and Special Education”, and there will be a specific section on TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE TO DEAF STUDENTS! A golden opportunity for me to finally meet teachers from other countries who actually face the same challenges I do every day!
I’ve been invitedto the conference and will be giving a plenary talk and a regular session. My heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Beata Gulati, a wonderful teacher and an organizer, for her dedication to connecting the teachers who teach EFL to Deaf students and making this happen.
The conference is on vacation time – I do NOT have to ask for anyone’s permission to attend the conference and miss school. As you can see, I’ve not gotten over the traumatic experience of doing that in order to speak at IATEFL Liverpool a few years ago…
I will be speaking about the use of videos to promote reading comprehension skills and am also writing a paper on this topic for the post conference publication. This is where I need your help:
Judging by the large number of times my video lessons* (which I call “Reading Videos” ) have been downloaded, it seems that teachers who don’t teach Deaf students also find them useful. Strategies that are good for students with special needs and everyone else as well are particularly beneficial in settings of inclusion. It would be extremely helpful if you could take a moment and answer a very short survey regarding your use of these video lessons.
Reminder: You can find the video lessons by clicking on the title of the category on the left sidebar of the Home Page. Here’s the direct link to the category:
One of the people who have had a huge impact on my teaching (though I’ve never met him) is Richard Lavoie. When watching his videos I have always felt that he has the gift of phrasing things in a manner which is both very simple to grasp and very powerful.
In one memorable segment (Lavoie compares self-esteem to poker chips. He talks about how the special needs child “loses” poker chips all day long through negative encounters. He emphasizes how everyone who cares about the child should invest in keeping the number of chips the child has high, so that the everyday losses will not have the power to crush the child. That has been a strong influence in my developing and searching for Eureka Moment strategies, which allow struggling learners to experience success.
We teachers need to work on keeping those chips high too.
I can’t wait for the administrators to realize that “If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students!“ and start being more supportive of the teachers. I can’t expect the students to stop venting their frustration at me regarding what they can’t achieve (the fact that they now know more than they did when they begun is scant comfort to the high-school students who can’t take the final national exams with their peers). And I certainly can’t seem to learn to hang clothes on the clothesline any faster than my turtle’s pace…
I lose chips all day too. But, unlike the children, I take responsibility for replenishing my own chips. So when I decide to attend the International ETAI Conference during my own summer vacation, or even simply decide to ignore the laundry to write on my blog (like I am doing now!), I’m doing something good for me.
That word alone is enough to spark heated debates in any gathering of EFL teachers. The issue of how much grammar to teach, what is the best way to teach it, what will happen if lexis is emphasized over grammar – are all “hot” topics indeed.
Hugh Dellar, the experienced teacher, teacher-trainer and author will take up such “burning” issues in his plenary talk at the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) . In this interview he shares some of his insights and his own personal journey.
Q: The title for your plenary talk is “Making the LEAP from Grammar to Lexis”. Based on your extensive experience, what constraints do teachers have to overcome?
A: Well, obviously, to a large degree, the constraints depend on the context teachers find themselves working in. There may well be external exams that teachers need to prepare students for, and these exams may be very grammar-heavy; there may also be internal school or larger national curriculum pressures that lead teachers to believe a certain way of approaching grammar in class is required; this may also be exacerbated by perceptions teachers have about what students, parents, colleagues, etc. want from them. Ultimately, though, the biggest constraints are internal, and these are often the result of our training. So much of the way we are trained to see language and thus to think about what’s important when trying to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. stems from our training, and it’s there that the biggest breakthroughs can be made in terms ofhelping teachers overcome or at least tackle outdated ways of thinking about language.
In my plenary, I’ll be acknowledging some of the reasons why PPP (Present-Practise-Produce) has become so entrenched as the dominant way of tackling grammar, before going into more detail about why it really is time for it to be at least partially replaced with an approach that addresses some of the many limitations inherent in PPP.
Q: How did you become a teacher and what attracted you about the field of lexis?
A: That’s a tricky question. I guess the short answer would be that I did English Literature at university and was always interested in literature, words, and language. I was also in a semi-professional band that split up soon after I graduated, leaving me at a bit of a loose end, and initially at least just drifted into ELT – as so many native speakers do – as a way of getting out and seeing a bit of the world. In terms of what drew me to a more lexical view of language, it was partly my own experience of learning Indonesian when I was living in Jakarta in the 90s, as I very quickly realised that the memorization of countless single words from bilingual word lists coupled with the study of grammar forms and meanings wasn’t helping me produce anything particularly resembling Indonesian as it was really spoken; there was also a growing frustration with the language coursebooks they were giving me to teach, little of which bore much resemblance to English as I spoke it. What then helped crystallise these vague feelings of dissatisfaction into something more focused and coherent was reading The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis in 1995, when I did my DELTA. It provided me with a way of looking at language that very much tallied with my own experiences thus far and which then forced me to reassess my own classroom practices and – ultimately – to get into writing materials too.
Q : You are a teacher, a teacher-trainer, and an author of ELT books – do you enjoy doing any of them more than the other?
A: This is the easiest question I’ve been asked for a long time! If I had to give up everything else and only keep one of the areas I’m involved in, it would without a doubt me classroom teaching. This was my first love, and the thing that’s made everything else I’ve done possible, and I still love the immediacy and excitement and satisfaction of teaching.
Q: You work with teachers all over the world. Do you find any differences between their approaches to the issue of lexis?
A: Yes, there are quite noticeable differences. One hates to generalise, but in certain countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, for instance, teachers generally speak remarkably good English and are very receptive to the kind of ideas I’ve been banging on about for years. They don’t seem afraid of the hard graft aspect of language learning, and generally have high expectations of their learners and how much language they can shoulder. Other markets – Italy and Japan spring to mind – are still very very rooted in what’s essentially little more than Grammar Translation, and the teaching reflects this.
Q: What do enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
A: Recently I’ve been so busy working – writing, setting up our new school (www.londonlanguagelab.com), teaching, training, travelling, etc. – that I honestly haven’t had much free time, but as and when I do get some I still play in a rock’n’roll band; I collect old 60s vinyl 45s; I watch Arsenal Football Club; I read; I cook; I have been known to frequent a pub on occasion; I go to the cinema . . . all the usual stuff, to be honest.
50 workshops and talks 13 research papers 12 keynote speakers of international renown 11 members of the ETAI board and volunteers who are working hard to make it happen 9 sessions aimed specifically at teacher educators including a SIG Day, organised by our TT&D SIG: http://www.etai.org.il/ttd 6 Short N’Sweet presentations 5 symposia – organised by Macmillan Education, the British Council,
Google Teachers Academy (GTA) graduates as well as two research
symposia 4 international plenary speakers 4 UNworkshops 3 Forums on various topics 3 Special / evening activities: Quiz night, Pecha Kucha, Energizing Debate 2 presidents in attendance – presidents of both TESOL and IATEFL –
international associations (ETAI is an affiliate/associate of both) 1 organization that makes it all possible: ETAI
You can’t possibly attend all sessions, workshops and events. So how do YOU choose which ones to go to?
Do you choose to attend sessions according to the identity of the speaker (someone you know of, someone you have heard before)?
Are you “topic oriented”, basing your decisions on the topic, regardless of whether you’ve heard of the speaker before?
Do you employ a “potluck approach”? Do you randomly attend sessions according to where you happen to be instead of traipsing around the venue?
Do you do what I personally do, which is employ “the eclectic approach”?
I make it a point at every conference to…
*try and attend sessions given by speakers I know from previous experience and speakers abroad (seize the opportunity!),
*attend some sessions chosen according to topics that are directly relevant to my life as a classroom teacher, such as vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension strategies and more.
*randomly pick talks given by teachers whom I never heard of (especially first time presenters), partly based on their proximity to the location I happen to be in when my tired feet start protesting. When I was a young teacher I never would have entered a session on listening comprehension activities or integrating songs in the classroom – I teach Deaf and hard of hearing students! Yet I’m so glad I began including “potluck” choices. Such sessions have sparked many an unexpected idea for things I could do in my own class!
So how do YOU choose which session to attend?
Oh! Don’t forget to leave time to chat with other teachers – that’s an important part of the awesome conference experience!
These are the words that make up the logo for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) . These are also the words best used when introducing our next plenary speaker, Professor Penny Ur. Over the years she has been engaging with teachers in various capacities: teaching courses, writing books, giving talks at conferences, both at ETAI and abroad. We all know that teachers leave such encounters with enhancedprofessionalskills and the energy to get up and go back into the classroom, motivated to reach new heights.
In this interview, Professor Ur shares what keeps her motivated to tirelessly promote teacher development, what manages to annoy her, and what engages her in her free time.
Q: You have been committed to promoting the skills of EFL teachers for years – what keeps you going?
A: What I enjoy most is the awareness that I am actually succeeding in teaching something: that the teachers are getting some value out of my sessions or books that they can take into the classroom. When I get responses like: ‘Ah yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that’, or ‘I tried what you said in the classroom and it worked’, or ‘Thanks for reassuring me about something I’ve been doing but wasn’t sure it was a good idea’, or ‘Your book really helped me when I was starting out’ – it makes my day! Sometimes the response is only in body language or facial expression – the responses from an audience as I speak or as a discussion develops. A message is coming across: we are hearing you and understanding and learning….It’s still great: gives me a ‘buzz’! Makes it all worthwhile.
Q: You always seem so patient when you meet with teachers. Is there anything that annoys you?
A: What annoys me most I suppose is the unexamined assumptions that are at the basis of a lot of things teachers are told ‘never’ to do or ‘always’ to do, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they are in fact good practice, and may be actually counter-productive. For example: teachers bend over backwards to explain a new word in English, when it could be clarified in less than a second by using L1… because they’ve been told not to use L1 in the classroom. Or they insist on learners trying to guess the word’s meaning from context, when there is actually solid empirical evidence that most words are in fact unguessable from natural contexts, and therefore the learners usually get the answer wrong … because they’ve been told to get students to infer meanings rather than be told. It’s very difficult to uproot such assumptions, however silly they are, andhowever much empirical research contradicts them, and teachers often find it very difficult to abandon them, because they are so deeply entrenched in conventional thinking. I could bore you with this one for hours with lots more examples, but let’s move on…
Q: You could never bore me! What is your latest book about?
A: It’s a very lightweight (both literally and metaphorically!) book called Penny Ur’s 100 teaching tips. It grew out of something I heard David Berliner say years ago: that doctors pass on their experience-based wisdom to younger doctors through ward rounds in hospitals: but teachers’ secrets go with them to the grave! So I swore that my secrets would not go with me to the grave. I’d write a book with all sorts of tips I’d learnt through my own teaching experience, and thus share them with the next generation of practitioners. Not that all of them are necessarily relevant or ‘right’ for all other teachers: but at least they’re available!
Q: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
A: I suppose Grammar Practice Activities. All my books grew out of a sort of excitement: ‘wow, I’ve found out something important about teaching, and it really works, I need to tell people about this’… but this one filled a particularly urgent need. Most textbooks to this day provide mainly accuracy-focused grammar exercises like gap-fills or matching exercises, and rarely give students opportunities to practice the grammar to ‘say their own thing’ in meaningful, fun activities. Such practice is really needed to help students integrate their knowledge of the grammar into their own production (as well as, not instead of, the conventional exercises). So it’s the book that I perhaps found most useful for my own teaching.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: My main preoccupations outside the profession are family-linked. We have four children and nine grandchildren, all of whom are (thankfully!) in Israel, and three of the four families within an hour’s drive away … so you can imagine, a lot of time spent babysitting, frequent birthdays and other family gatherings. I quite like cooking and baking, though not brilliant at it, and spend hours, even days, on that when the family is coming for a meal or festival or a weekend. My husband is a botanist, and ex-tour guide, so we take time to go walking when he has rare plants to find in different parts of the country. And occasional trips abroad, to visit family in the UK or US, or just to tour new places.
What else? Occasional movies and theatre, and, of course, reading (addicted to my Kindle!)
This is the second interview of the series “Meet our Plenary Speakers” for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6). IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg readily agreed to go along with the spirit of this blog (called VISUALISING ideas, remember?) and to participate in a “visual interview”. It isn’t surprising given her keen interest in different learning styles and her ongoing photography contributions to the ELTpics(photos by teachers / for teachers) project. However, one very important fact about Marjorie relates to auditory aspects rather than visual ones – read on to find out how a passion for music and the opera tie in with teaching English as a foreign language!
One of the exciting things about attending an international conference is meeting people whose belief in the power of teaching and teachers has had global impact. The upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) brings us inspiring educators from around the globe. I’m honored to post an interview with TESOL President Andy Curtis, a plenary speaker at the conference, who talked to me about becoming a teacher in the face of adversity and how teachers on the global level have more in common than we tend to think. Many thanks to President Curtis for this interview!
NE: What profession did you dream of when you were a child?
AC: My parents came to England in the 1950s, as poor immigrants ‘imported’ from the British Empire in Guyana, South America, as cheap labour for the ‘Glorious Motherland’. Added to that, there was great deal of racial violence on the streets of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently, we did not have much of a childhood, and our main goals revolved around making it to adulthood intact. For a while, I harboured hopes of being a writer of fiction. But like many immigrant parents, trying so hard to protect their children from the prejudices they experienced as adults, the creativity was knocked out of us, and we were duly funnelled into ‘vocationally appropriate’ directions. For me, that meant the health sciences, and a medical scholarship, which I eventually gave up, tomy parents unending disappointment, to become a language teacher, which for my Dad, just added insult to injury.
NE: What caused you to leave the field of medicine for teaching? What was your first teaching position?
AC: In my original professional incarnation, I was a Medical Science Officer in the UK National Health Service, with a specialism in Clinical Biochemistry. I very much enjoyed being on the hospital wards, working with patients and doctors, helping to align diagnosis with treatment. But after some years, I began to be disheartened by the singularly ‘curative’ approach to healthcare, in which we waited for someone to get ill, then tried to cure them, usually with hit-and-miss approaches that sometimes worked, eventually, but which, as often as not, made the person more ill. In those days, if you weren’t sick when you went into the hospital, you sure as hell would be by the time you got out. On top of that, people were reduced to a set of compartmentalized symptoms, stripped of their clothes, and of their dignity. My first teaching position was as student teacher in a secondary school in a poor part of the Northeast of England. After 25 years, I believe I have helped to save far more lives than I would’ve done as a medic.
NE: How/when did you first become involved with TESOL? Do you still remember the first conference you attended?
AC: After completing my MA in Applied Linguistics and my PhD in International Education, both at the University of York, in England, I was keen to go overseas, so I applied for and was offered a job at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. That was in the mid-1990s, and as me and my siblings were very much products of the British Empire, in India, I was curious to see what another, far-flung, country, but also part of the Empire – and a symbol of its demise – was like. One of the best things that happened to me during those first five years in Hong Kong (1995-2000, and I went back again, from 2007 to 2011) was that TESOL Past President Kathi Bailey, was a one-year Visiting Professor at our university (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, aka CUHK). Kathi encouraged all of us in the ELT Unit atCUHK to become members of the TESOL International Association. I attended my first TESOL Convention in 1995, when it was held in Long Beach, California.
NE: What do you enjoy about being President of the TESOL International Association?
AC: It’s been a gruelling but great two years in TESOL’s presidential line, with one more to go. As it turns out, being the President during the Association’s 50th anniversary year, and presiding over its 50th anniversary convention, has made it an especially intense couple of years. But the two hundred thousand miles that I travelled, between 2015 and 2016, gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of members of the Association in dozens of countries. Some of our friends, in our home base, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who do not travel much, say to me: “You must love to travel”. I try not to sound ungrateful or to be grumpy, but the truth is that, as the result of ever-increasingly global conflict, any kind of travel, especially international travel by air, is an increasingly unpleasant experience.But the being there makes up for the pains of the getting there and getting back. To have teachers, from all over the world, tell you their personal-professional stories has been a humbling and moving experience.
NE: You have worked in several different countries. Did you find significant differences in the teaching methodology or attitudes towards the profession in different countries?
AC: It’s interesting that I’m often asked about the differences, while what I usually see are the similarities. For example, the fad-fashion/claim that we are “post methods” does not appear to be true anywhere. Hearing teachers tell me about what they do in their ELT classes, and sitting in their classrooms, I can hear and see that they are all using methods of one kind or another, even if they do not use the labels assigned by applied linguists, such as CLT, TBLT, etc. But we are now beginning to fully acknowledge what I refer to in my work as ‘the centrality of context’, in which where we do what we do is at least as important – and maybe even more important – than who does what to whom, in the language classroom. Certainly, the Technological Divide, in terms of the haves and the have-nots, canmake a big difference, but the qualities and characteristics of a ‘good learner’ and a ‘good teacher’ appear to be much the same wherever I have been.
NE: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
AC: I joke that – but like all such jokes, there is a grain of truth in it – my family’s motto is: “Why be merely interested, when you can be completely obsessed”. So, when I signed on to be in TESOL’s presidential line for three years, I chose to give up a well-paid, full-time academic position to this work for three years, with no salary. As a result, although this is not a healthy, balanced or sustainable approach, I have had little or no spare time in the last couple of years. But my list of things that I will go back to doing, next year, such as Tai Chi, Curling and Fishing, is growing longer by the day…
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students