#ELTHeroes interview – Atanu

Our next ELT hero is Atanu Bhattacharya – a professor of English with 16 years of teaching experience and a special interest in the use of technology in teaching. Atanu has been looking at mobile literacy practices in language education and is currently working on a book project focusing on ICT and Language Teaching. He currently works with the Centre for English Studies, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.

 Atanu_1

1. Tell us a little about your career in English language teaching (ELT).

I started my ELT career at H M Patel Institute of English in Anand accidentally in 1988. I had taught before that in Delhi and in Arunachal Pradesh. However, the earlier forays were mostly in literature. It was at H M Patel Institute that I encountered ELT in full force for the first time. Over the years, I picked up the basic principles and methods and started teaching courses that dealt with ELT, though right from the beginning, I was interested in technology and how it could be channelled for ELT pedagogy. In 2005-06, I visited the University of Warwick as a Hornby scholar and did a course in ELT and Multimedia. That set the course for my interest in technology and ELT. During these 16 odd years, I have thus been variously engaged in material production, testing and evaluation, and garnering the resources of web-based platforms/tools in English language teaching.

2. What are the main things to consider when a teacher is planning to use ICT for the first time in his or her lessons?

I think four things are essential and they can be put into four simple wh- forms:

What: Which part of the curriculum am I going to use ICT in (if it is curriculum based)? Or, which part of the curriculum am I going to supplement with ICT? In my experience, within the Indian testing and evaluation pattern, it is always good to keep the curriculum in mind while designing ICT-based activities. In other words, carefully thinking about what ICT activities I am going to integrate within the ambit of the curriculum is important.

How: How am I going to integrate it? Will this be a part of my evaluation? Will this be blended (face to face classroom interaction along with ICT-enabled activities) or is it going to be ‘standalone’ (for example, language lab based where students are engaged in self-study)? These are questions that are essential to ask when planning to use ICT.

When: At what point of time do I need to integrate ICT? This is crucial in some contexts especially in low resource / large, heterogeneous classrooms. For instance, if I need to test domain knowledge of the students, I can quickly set up a quiz on Hot Potatoes or Flubaroo which the students can access and use. If I am thinking of a longer intervention, I may have to think of other strategies.

Why: This is the most crucial aspect. I need to have a rationale for the use of ICT. For instance, I do not need to use ICT if the same goals may be achieved in a face-to-face classroom or without the use of technology. As a teacher, therefore, I need to make a conscious decision about the gaps that may be filled through ICT. Or, for that matter, how ICT can extend the goals of my teaching and the learning potential of my learners.

3. Does using ICT actually help improve learning in the classroom? How do you know?

The evidence on this is still trickling in and the answer may not be categorically ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A lot of research claims that this does so, while large-scale studies across various contexts have shown that there may not be a direct correlation between ICT-use and learning. However, there seems to be a consensus, more or less, across most studies in this area: ICT seems to have extended the learning capabilities of the students.

My own experience of ICT with my students has been extremely positive, though, as I have said in the Indian context, the use of ICT needs to be mapped with testing and evaluation since that seems to be a controlling factor in most schools and colleges. I would also suggest that small baby steps are more helpful. Large scale changes in the curricular framework with the introduction of ICT may not be very productive as compared to slow but steady introduction in institutions.

4. How can we convince head teachers, parents and officials on the benefits of using technology in the classroom?

Possibly by demonstrating the use of ICT. As I have said before, starting a small experiment in the institution (ideally in a collaborative framework between teachers), integrating ICT with the ‘regular’ classroom teaching, could be a great starting point. For example, starting a WebQuest with students across, let’s say science, English and social science, on a given topic may be a great way to start off ICT use. It would even be better if the teachers develop it within a small research framework and write up a report/paper that could be published on a blog/e-journal/school/college magazine. That would not only show that ICT is ‘doable’ but also ‘researchable’.

5. What are the benefits of using technology in the classroom?

Firstly, it extends learning beyond the classroom. There are many mobile-based platforms and social networking sites which can do this.

Secondly, technology is all around us. In all probability, our students would have access to some sort of technology either at home or at school. ICT use in the classroom thus reduces the distance between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ bringing in the world within the classroom.

Thirdly, I think it is sometimes wrongly assumed that ICT use would always mean using a gadget or some cutting-edge device in the classroom. One of the features of today’s ICT is what is known as, ‘information overload’. Thus, bringing ICT in the classroom does not always mean ‘using’ ICT but how to critically deal with it. This definitely helps in critical thinking skills. No one can deny the fact that this can be best used in a world of internet information with more than one million sites available for every word that you type in!

Finally, one of the key things in today’s world is ‘learning to learn’. ICT definitely helps students (and teachers) to connect with the digital world outside the classroom. The key in the 21st century, I think, is to learn how to learn. I believe that ICT can help us do that.

6. How can we make sure that learners stay focused during lessons with technology and don’t play with the technology?

‘Playfulness’ is a part of technology. I think, as teachers, we must remember that none of the platforms/applications that our students might be using were originally meant for teaching-learning purposes (except for a few that were specifically designed for educational purposes). They were meant to communicate, network, share, and play with. If, as teachers, we can keep this in mind while designing ICT-enabled tasks for the classroom, then it would go a long way in re-designing our tasks. The question over here is not whether the students would play around with technology. The question, I think, should be whether we can build in this ‘playfulness’ (which was originally the part of technology) within the specific task that I am designing. If my ICT-based task is an exact replica of what I do in a face-to-face situation in the classroom, I am afraid, it may not work too well in ICT. We often see that students are ‘hooked to’ certain sites or networks. The challenge is whether we can build in that ‘hook’ within our tasks.

7. How can teachers with only limited access to technology use ICT in their lessons (e.g. with only one laptop/mobile)?

I will, with due apologies, move into anecdotal biography here. One of my earliest forays into technology was with a desktop computer (with a slow internet connection) in a class of 40. I was teaching them writing skills and wanted to integrate technology within the classroom. This was the year 2001 and Wikipedia had just been launched. Since Wikipedia had an editing function, one of the things that I started doing was downloading articles from Wikipedia and bringing them to the class for editing. The students would then edit the article (adding, deleting or correcting information) in the class, in groups, and then I would show them how to upload it on the respective page (this was really time-consuming in those days). The students definitely felt empowered after a few sessions. Later, I realised that this sense of achievement was not because of the editing that they had done. The editing could have been done in the classroom anyway. The sense of achievement instead came from their work being published on the web, especially when they had never ‘published’ anything before this.

To cut a long story short, technology does not necessarily mean ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘speed’. It largely depends on the wh-s that I have mentioned before and, of course, going the extra mile to integrate it. A word of caution – ICT use does mean devoting extra time since setting up a task can be time consuming. However, one of the flip sides of that is that once it is set up, with minor changes and tweaking, it can be used, over an extended period of time.

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How did I ace my course? Successful time management strategies for myEnglish

Why do some students do better than the others on online courses? Most adult language learners lead a very busy life. It’s a struggle to find a work-life balance. Add to that the workload of an English course and you may suddenly feel overwhelmed! We spoke to three highly successful myEnglish students, who gave us tips on tackling online study.

Ishrat Ishrat Pirani is a student in Mumbai and myEnglish was her first experience of online learning.

Sayed

 

 

Sayed Faiz is an IT professional. He’s an online learning pro, having done multiple myEnglish courses.

 

1Pranav

 

 

Pranav Ingle works in the education sector. He learnt about the myEnglish course from his boss, who recommended it to him.

 

  1. Keep your goals in mind. Remind yourself why you’ve enrolled for the course. Your improvement and investment in the course can be your key motivators. This helps keep you focused.
  2. Do a little, but often. Don’t try to do all your coursework at one go. Log in whenever you have a few minutes to spare. This will make the workload more manageable.
  3. Keep the task in mind. myEnglish discussion forums and assignments give you the chance to use the language you’ve learnt each week while communicating with others. So try to make sure you’re using the target language. Look carefully at the task assigned to you and focus on answering the question closely.
  4. Organize. Keep notes of your coursework. You can use a word processing program like MS Word to organise any new language learnt. This will make writing revision less time consuming.
  5. Do make use of teacher feedback on your forum posts. You can ask your teacher any language question on the Language Help forum. Keep a list of questions you’d like to ask and post them once or twice a week. Remember to read your teacher’s response to each post. Take note of this feedback and as the weeks go by, you will find it easier to participate in discussions and make fewer errors.
  6. Improve your speaking skills by attending every Virtual Online Class (VOC). This is a wonderful platform to practice speaking and the language you have learnt on the course. Your teacher will also help you correct your mistakes. Regular and active participation in online classes will boost your confidence in speaking English.
  7. Enjoy learning.  Remember to have fun while learning. myEnglish allows you to participate in plenty of interesting discussions about real life topics and situations. Focus on topics that interest you. And remember to give yourself an occasional reward, like taking a short break from coursework or having a chocolate after completing an assignment. This will keep you motivated and the course will not feel like a chore.
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From erasing negativity to giving her positive energy – Jayanthi’s learning journey – #HumansOfBritishCouncil

jayanthiFrom erasing negativity to giving her positive energy – Jayanthi’s learning journey.

Hi, I am Jayanthi and I am 27 years old. My father is a farmer from Thiruvannamalai and I have been working as a staff nurse at a private hospital in Chennai since 7 years.

Before I joined the Impact course at the British Council, I was not able to communicate with others in English. I could not express what was in my mind, not even a single sentence. I used to hesitate while speaking to anyone in English. I used to think that grammar is difficult to learn but the way my teacher teaches in class with activities, group discussions, public speaking skills and extempore, it is very easy for me to understand. Nothing feels difficult.

After this course I felt very happy and proud of myself. This course is not only for learning language; it also developed my knowledge and erased my negative thoughts. Now I have positive energy to do anything.

British Council has taught me a lot and also helped me make new friends from different places. Through my course I got to know that I can learn English by watching English movies, reading books, watching podcasts and the various online learning resources by British Council.

I had heard about the British Council one year ago and planned to join a course. I worked hard and waited to join this course. Before I joined the course, the teachers spoke to me and suggested which course will be good for me. I finally joined the Impact pre-intermediate course and now I feel my dream has come true.

I wish to continue studying here and improve my language level more and more. I thank British Council for giving me a platform to introduce myself and tell the world who I am.

- Jayanthi, English Language student, Chennai

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Choose suitable resources, be honest and work hard – Ramchandra’s story of success – #HumansOfBritishCouncil

RamaChoose suitable resources, be honest and work hard – Ramchandra’s story of success

Being an engineer, I was under the impression that I could use English very well; at least better than the others! But this proved to be false when I interacted with some people who were really good at English. Additionally, the thing that I had to search for appropriate vocabulary and sentence patterns to use English other than technical one rang the bell for me to wake up.

At this point, I started to find out ways to learn ‘real English’. Prof. Ulhas Bapat from Pune suggested me with a few exams from Cambridge University. Meanwhile, I also came across an advertisement of ‘myEnglish course’ in the British Library, Pune. With Prof. Bapat’s consent and because of the authoritative brand name – British Council, I joined the course without any hesitation.

Starting the course at the intermediate level, I went on to complete one at upper Intermediate level as well. The course is a nice combination of traditional and modern methods of teaching. Apart from language learning, it develops unknowingly the skills of interaction, presentation and study with ethics. I am glad to say that at least I know the language used by the elite class.

My view of learning English really changed after completing the course in the sense of using collocations, subject specific vocabulary, sentence structures and technology to upload the assignments. My trainers Avinash, Anupama and Iti helped and encouraged me a lot to study even beyond the syllabus. I am very grateful to them. Moreover, I started looking at ‘English’ in a different perspective.

I would like to advise the one who wants to learn something new that choose suitable resources, be honest to the trainer and work hard. It definitely leads to success.

- Ramchandra Kulkarni, myEnglish student, Pune

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From being put on the spot to being in the spotlight – Kamaraj Mani’s Journey – #HumansOfBritishCouncil

KamarajFrom being put on the spot to being in the spotlight – Kamaraj Mani’s Journey.

Imagine a situation like this. You were in a business meeting with the top officials of your organisation and it was your turn to express your views. When you started presenting your views, you had noticed that everyone’s eyes were on you. Upon seeing them, your body was shaking uncontrollably and your tongue was rolling unnecessarily. Despite your preparation, your mind was keen on searching words. There was no proper mind and mouth coordination. Even in an air conditioned ambience, the fear had made you to sweat immensely. Have you ever experienced this?I, Kamaraj Mani Natarajan, work as a product manager for an IT firm that serves various technology solutions to the Indian healthcare industry. Being a product manager, I am responsible for providing innovative business solutions and IT product ideas for various customer needs. The situation that I have described above had occurred in most of the critical meetings. Every time, the spotlight of mine was stolen by somebody else. I hadn’t realised that I was being pushed to the back seats. While I was exploring the root cause, one of my friends who had also faced similar situations emphasized me that it was only because of lack of language and presentation skills. He was the one who introduced me to the British Council and its courses.When I approached the British Council, the highly qualified language trainers properly assessed my weaknesses and offered me the appropriate courses. The systematic design of the courses and the way in which it was taught really facilitated me to eradicate most of my weaknesses. They taught the best way to initiate any conversation to express my views in a structured way. Now I can proudly say that I can handle any business meeting. All the credits go to the teachers of the British Council.

Apart from language learning, the British Council helped me to build a good network with like minded business people and professionals, who had attended the courses along with me. Many of them are still doing courses with me. All of us meet every weekend and exchange the new things that we learned over the weekdays. My view on learning a language has completely changed after my time at the British Council.

I have found one thing that learning language is neither a single time nor a single course activity. To show your excellence in it, one should learn continuously and practice immensely.
My advice for those who are looking to learn something new is systematic approach and appropriate practice will make you to achieve your goals.

- Kamaraj Mani, English Language Student, Chennai

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Saba Moosa’s inspiring story and e-learning journey- #HumansOfBritishCouncil

#HOBC-1
Language is my centred and focused attention. My primary interest is in the English Language since I’ve graduated in English and I’ve also done a post graduate degree in English Literature. It’s where I developed interest in it. Literature is all about knowing fiction and stories. I understand there is a lot beyond stories and beyond poems; that is how you communicate. Therefore I developed an interest in learning language.

After I completed my post graduate degree, I joined the British Council course which gave me another brilliant opportunity to develop my language skills and learn a lot about communication, writing and varied styles of language. It helped me in terms of improving my vocabulary, speaking patterns and everything else.

Once I was done with literature, I tried my hands in doing some other things. I tried to explore myself, but what kept me intrigued is that the mode of reaching someone is just communication. That’s where I realised that you need to know your language perfectly; you need to have proper language skills and that is where I started searching for courses that could help me.

Obviously, the first and the best option was British Council and that’s the moment when I realised and it was really a good boon. In fact I can say that wherever I apply for interviews nowadays, like for content writing, as a subject matter expert, or content editing the interviewer sees my CV and the first question would be about “Oh! Have you done the British Council course?” So, it adds a lot of weightage to my Bio-data.

How I started:
Initially I would like to share that I was very hesitant to join the course when I came to know that it’s online learning. We are from a Literature background and we’re not much acquainted with technology, computers and stuff like that. Obviously, the whole fun is about taking up challenges, rather than just quitting and sitting back. I talked to many people from British Council and they were like “it’s easy, you can do it”. There was a lot of support and back up.

I took up this course and it was a different learning experience overall. Firstly, I got handy with the tools and technology. That is one of the major things which is very much needed in whatever areas you want to apply them, in terms of your job or maybe even in your everyday life.

What really attracted me were the different types of units, different types of topics and knowledge taught to us via the language. I learned a bit about Crime and Law, Health, Sports, and Media. This was something unique. Obviously when you learn a language there could have been simple topics that they could have given us to learn. But here everything was under one umbrella; the topics are unique, the way it was taught was unique.

The best thing was the ‘Coffee Shop’ area where you can discuss with your teammates. Without any WhatsApp, or any other way you’re still in contact with your teammates, with your tutor. So that was really an amazing and a different level experience altogether.

Before joining the course I was very scared. I had no ideas, really very clueless! I never thought that this course and the topics they will be teaching would comprise of various things. So, I got into the course. Then I learned about e-learning.

What I learnt:
We had these Thursday classes, Virtual Online classes, they were the most fun thing to do ever!

You know in this world, where there’s too much of WhatsApp talk, and there’s this Snapchat and Instagram. I discovered that there is communication beyond this. There is informal communication beyond this. You can build a kind of a friendly relationship where there is exchange of knowledge, infused with lot of fun. So virtual online classes helped me a lot.

There was a guideline given to us. How we should behave, or follow a structure when you have an online class. Mannerisms also came into it with language, which is definitely a thing a person can associate with learning a language. We could have discussions. The whole format of this Virtual Online Class was one of the best things that happened in the online classroom. You learn to take turns, talk, have a discussion. I never knew how to hold a discussion, how to start a conversation, or how to give your view points when there’s a topic given.

We used to have a breakout time; in Virtual Online classes for 5- 10 minutes and that was very helpful. Now, wherever I go for interviews, maybe I’m sitting in a team, discussing anything in a cafeteria, or in a coffee shop. So it helps me with the pattern that should be followed. This is not just about formal conversations; it is also about informal chats and everything else.

There is a lot of structure. The crux of a British Council course is the structure; the structure that they build; the platform that they give us to develop and imbibe those things. Perhaps, I can say that before this, my conversation had lot of gaps, but after the British Council course, the gaps are almost filled, and it helped me in all aspects of my life.

What changed after the course:
Now, if I go for an interview, I’m quite confident. Firstly there’s a CV which states a British Council course, so one part of that is sorted; that I’m approved in terms of knowing good language, Secondly I can have a good conversation which is all thanks to British Council. Thirdly, it gave me knowledge about various things. We had to write assignments on Sports, there were varied assignments like formal letters, and everything else. So in a way, apart from speaking, writing has improved a lot.

All of that I never came across before. It was a complete unique experience overall!

- Saba Moosa, myEnglish Student

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#ELTHeroes interview: Geetha Durairajan

This time in our #ELTHeroes series we’re talking to Geetha Durairajan. Geetha has been working as a Professor at the School of English Language Education, EFL University for more than 25 years. She is well known for her book titled ‘Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource’. Her research interests include pedagogic evaluation and teaching English in grassroots multilingual contexts.

Geetha_2

1.Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.

Well, what do I say?  From a where and how long perspective, all my teaching has been at CIEFL/EFLU, starting as a lecturer in 1988, moving to a readership in 2004 and a professorship in 2010, all in the same department, (testing and evaluation).  So, I have more than 25 years of experience in teaching a range of courses in ELT. I teach courses at the post graduate and research level. However, I would rather describe my career as an experiential learning curve.  From a teacher who was strict and scared, who only wanted to finish teaching what she had planned to do, I have become someone who has understood that lesson plans have to be made, only to be dropped whenever needed. I have also come to realise that although we may teach the same thing to the whole class, what each student (or teacher in my case) takes away will be very different.

My big ‘moment’ was becoming the editor of a new series of teacher education books for SAARC country teachers titled All About Language Teaching, with Cambridge University Press. I have written the first book in the series. It is called: Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Assessing learning’?

 This would be: 

  • Listen to your students. Listen to not just what they are saying, but metaphorically speaking, to their mental processes, to their struggles in trying to communicate. So how can one listen to students’ thoughts and processes? More often than not, we assess our students when they speak to us in class.  Whenever we do this, instead of just listening to what they are saying, if we pay a little attention to their body language, their facial expressions etc. we will know a lot about who is struggling to make meaning, and who finds it very easy.
  • We do need to read a wee bit and educate ourselves about assessing learning.
  • Evaluate and assess your students from their perspectives.  Ask yourself: Where are they now? How can we help them reach where they need to go?
  • Evaluate and assess with responsibility, like a caregiver or parent, and not as a tester and examiner with power.

3. What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways teachers can provide feedback on assessment to their learners?

I think feedback has to be given using a range of ways.

  • Most importantly, feedback begins with a smile when your students have attempted something difficult.  We often fail to encourage our students and value the attempts made.
  • If assessment refers to evaluating students’ responses (whether tests, or assignments) then feedback could be oral or written.  But we have to make the time to provide systematic and constructive feedback.  We may not have the time to write individual feedback comments on all responses when we have large classes, but we can always take down notes on common problems for our reference and do a feedback class after any test or examination.
  • During teaching and even after homework, if we take down notes and share feedback in class the next day, this informed discussion will go a long way, for it will be focused and pinpointed.

4. What three top tips do you have for teachers that can help them implement continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) of learners successfully in their classrooms?

 The three top tips would be:

  • trust yourself and your judgement of your students.
  • observe them and make notes, whenever you can, of what the learners are good at and what they need more help with.
  • keep the checklists to help you focus on the aspects you need to assess,. Also try and go beyond the checklists. Every day, close your eyes for two minutes, think of your students and ask yourself: Who learnt best today? Who needed most help? Make a note of your answers based on your intuitive feeling. Use these notes to inform your future teaching.

5. If you had a choice to transform one existing practice of assessing learners in Indian school system, what would it be and why?

I would remove the ‘timed one shot writing’ of closed book examinations that make them nothing more than a memory based reproduction or rather vomiting of pre-processed knowledge.  I would make ALL examinations open book so that the shift is from mere reproduction to problem solving.  We can then begin testing and assessing higher order skills.

6. What are some of the challenges that teachers might face while assessing learners in a mixed-ability classroom? How can they overcome these challenges?

The same criteria for assessment may not be applicable to all.  We might find that the same task itself may not be applicable to all.  If this is a teacher-made test, I would advise having a variety of questions with a mix of easy and difficult, but with suggestions to students about who should attempt what.  If it’s a public examination we do not have such a choice. Similarly, when evaluating, if I know my students, I comfortably evaluate using different criteria for different students.  I will not accept basic errors in accuracy from a student who is quite good, but if some student is struggling to write, I might ignore these errors and value the attempt made.

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#ELTHeroes interview: Debbie Candy

Next in our #ELTHeroes series, we’re talking to Debbie Candy – Debbie is a freelance consultant teacher trainer, materials writer and editor based in the UK. She has been writing materials for more than ten years and has been involved in writing most of the British Council’s global teacher training courses.

Debbie Candy

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in English language teaching (ELT).
Believe it or not, 30 years ago I was a pharmaceutical research chemist who wanted to travel the world. That meant doing something that would help me to travel. Teaching seemed the obvious option. I got a job as a science teacher in an international school in Cairo. Teaching science was easy, understanding what the learners were trying to say in English was much more of a challenge. So I took the CertTEFLA and got an evening job at International House teaching children. I loved it and soon did more English teaching than science. On coming back to the UK I became a Director of Studies for Pilgrims language courses working directly with some of the great teacher trainers like Mario Rinvolucri, Bonnie Tsai and Tessa Woodward; all prolific authors. It wasn’t long before I was training teachers and writing materials.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Managing resources’?
I’ve just reread the details on the professional practice Managing resources. It is very comprehensive and every element is useful.

My advice would be to try out as many ideas in as many ways as possible. Always reflect on the effectiveness of the resource. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did it help the learners to achieve the learning outcomes?
  • Was the effort put in worth it?
  • Was the way I used the resource the best or should I adapt my methodology?
  • Can I use it again, as it is, or slightly adapted?

Make sure that you make notes on the resource for next time. It might be a while before you use it again.

3. Given that teachers already have plenty to do, what top tips would you give teachers to help them to manage/create resources easily?
When we are new to teaching, I think we feel the pressure to have lots of resources for which we then spend too much time preparing. I remember those days of cutting and pasting pieces of paper well into the wee hours of the night. I do not have any of those resources now. However, all the basic ideas are in my head and I can draw on them to help me in the classroom at a moment’s notice.

My main tips would be:

  • start small and work your way up
  • reflect on everything you do, then keep the materials and use them again in a  different way
  • do not spend more time making the resource than you will use it in class.

Also … don’t reinvent the wheel! If you have something then adapt it rather than make a new one.

4. What suggestions do you have for teachers working in challenging situations where there are few or no resources?
Make full use of your most important resource: your learners. They can become the resource makers or the resource collectors in your classroom. The king of using learners to produce resources is Jon Taylor. He wrote a book called The Minimax Teacher published by Delta Publishing. Minimax stands for ‘Minimum preparation for maximum learning.’

Ask your learners to:

  • bring items in that you can build lessons around; a family photo, a treasured object or a common household item. These can all be used as the basis for stories, poems and presentations.
  • collect newspapers, magazines, recyclable materials and put them in a big box in your classroom. You can make puppets, masks, big books and other crafts that will generate an infinite amount of stories and dialogues.
  • draw or write something ready to use in the next lesson.

5. In what ways can teachers use the same resources for mixed-ability classes rather than creating resources for each level within the class?
This depends on the age of learners and what you mean by the ‘same’ resources. I believe in grading the task not always the material to a large degree but then this has some limitations. Have you heard of tiered activities? These are activities that allow a range of abilities within one group to be successful with the same text. So, for example, maybe you have a text in the course book which you need your learners to write but you think it is too difficult for many of the learners. Prepare two versions of the text. One which is a gapped text and one where some words are multiple choice. Read the text to the learners. The top third of the class will write every word, the next third will complete the gapped text and the lower third will circle the multiple choice answer. Everyone uses the same text but in a way that they are capable of achieving. You can then repeat the activity with the lowest third doing the gap fill, the middle group writing every word and the highest group doing the checking.

Another way is to use a dictogloss technique. Read the text to everyone two or three times. Every learner writes down as much as they can. Put three or four learners together and let them reconstruct the text. Each learner will have written a different part of the text and they can help each other reconstruct it, everyone contributing what they can.

6. What steps and guidelines would you suggest teachers should follow when they are writing/adapting materials for their own classrooms?

  • Be clear about the learning outcomes.
  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to make a new resource?’
  • Think what you can use that will be minimum effort for maximum effective learning.
  • Remind yourself of the learning outcomes again.
  • Ask yourself what style of resource would best suit the given situation – a worksheet, a craft, a collaborative activity or maybe a role play?
  • Design the resource. Be minimalist, motivational and inclusive.
  • Try it out and ask the learners what they think.
  • Modify your resource, if needed, and share it.

7. What are some of the challenges teachers might face when they are writing/adapting materials? How can they overcome these challenges?
I think that you, the teacher, are usually the right person to adapt materials for your class. You are the person who knows the class best. However, you are not always the most skilled person at adapting or writing materials. The biggest challenge for many is where to start and what to adapt.

The question to ask always is – ‘Will this enable my learners to achieve their learning outcomes?’ If not, then adapt. Think about the simplest way to help them to achieve the learning outcomes. It may be that you don’t need a resource at all. If you do need a resource, keep it simple and think about what will motivate your learners to learn.

I also think that collaboration and sharing with other teachers and your learners is the key to great resources. We don’t do enough of it. Why would we want to spend time developing resources to then put them in a cupboard to rot? Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it far too many times. Share your efforts with others and encourage them to share their resources with you especially if you are using the same course books. Include your learners in the choice and design of resources. Be honest and tell them you are trying things out. Ask them what they thought about the resource or task.

I think that we, as teachers, sometimes see issues that are not always real. I often hear comments such as ‘my learners will not do that’ or ‘I can’t expect my learners to…’ These are barriers that teachers put in their own way. All I can say is that you’ll never know until you try.

Good luck with your materials writing. Collaboration and practice is the key.

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Empowering girls to change their world

Reducing gender disparities in economic life, in leadership and decision making, in education and in health improves the lives of men and boys as well as women and girls. Evidence shows that more gender-inclusive societies experience reduced levels of conflict, [1] increased competitiveness and economic growth [2] and more representative governance. [3] As recent research has shown, including the Global Education Monitoring report, girls and women in South Asian countries have less access to education than boys and men, including opportunities to develop the digital skills increasingly required for employment and communication. This gender-based digital divide can lead to future skills imbalance and unequal life chances for women. [4]

EDGE learners using the LearnEnglish for Schools self-access resource

EDGE learners using the LearnEnglish for Schools self-access resource

Building gender equality

Access to English and digital skills development
In an effort to contribute to bridging the gender digital divide, the British Council is implementing the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) programme in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Delivered in partnership with local development organisations, EDGE uses non-formal, community-based, peer-led clubs to provide opportunities for girls to improve their English and digital skills and raise awareness of relevant social issues. The overarching goal is that adolescent girls from marginalised communities can make more informed and independent life choices, in order to contribute more fully to their family, society and the economy.

In addition, EDGE aims to improve the leadership skills of a smaller group of Peer Group Leaders (PGLs) drawn from the same communities as the club participants. The importance of developing young leaders to promote gender equality through non-formal education has been emphasised in the gender review of the 2016 Global Education Monitoring report by UNESCO which states that ‘non-formal education can offer young people opportunities to develop the leadership skills to promote gender equality in their peer groups and communities and throughout their lives’ (pg.41).

To date, 759 PGLs have been trained across the three countries, running sessions in 356 clubs and reaching 9018 participating adolescent girls. Advocacy work among community leaders and parents is also a feature of the programme, to build trust and understanding of the project objectives and awareness of ways these groups can actively promote more equitable opportunities for girls and women.

Promoting gender equality within school systems
The Pudumai Palli Project in Chennai (P3DISC), funded by the MacArthur Foundation aims to improve the livelihood prospects of students, particularly girls, in socio-economically marginalised urban communities by enhancing their 21st century skills, including English, ICT, enterprise and leadership skills. P3DISC is delivered in partnership with the Corporation of Chennai and is embedded into the secondary school system, with 70 participating schools. After school clubs offer opportunities for girls to develop their skills as club leaders, working with boys and girls on focused projects and activities.

A series of training modules around gender issues have also been developed for the school’s Head Teachers and teachers, highlighting common ways in which gender biases can be perpetuated in the school environment and strategies for how these can be addressed.

At the British Council, we see issues of equality and diversity as a crucial part of our work in cultural relations. For further information on the British Council’s approach to promoting gender quality: www.britishcouncil.in/sites/default/files/women_and_girls_the_british_council_approach.pdf

For more information on the EDGE project: https://www.britishcouncil.in/english-and-digital-girls-education-india
For more information on the P3DISC project: https://www.britishcouncil.in/p3disc

References:
[1] Hudson, V et al. (2012) Sex and World Peace. Colombia University Press
[2] www.weforum.org/docs/GGGR14/GGGR_CompleteReport_2014.pdf
[3] World Bank (2012) Gender and Development
[4] www.un.org, 2015

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#ELTHeroes interview: Silvana Richardson

Silvana Richardson is Head of Teacher Development at Bell and has worked in English language teaching for over 25 years. She holds an MA in Teacher Education, is PGCE and Delta qualified and has trained teachers all over the world. Silvana is a regular guest speaker at events such as IATEFL and a regular author for Cambridge English Teacher. Silvana is the Head of Programme Quality for the Bell Foundation , the charity that works with British schools and teacher trainers to change lives through language education.

Silvana

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
I started teaching almost 30 years ago, when I was only 18. This was because I’d known I wanted to be a teacher since I was eight years old! I started my teaching career in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I taught young learners, teenagers and adults in private language schools and in a state secondary school. I also taught Business English and ESP, and started working as a teacher educator in one of the local teacher training colleges during my time there. I then moved to the UK, where I have been living for the last 15 years, and have taught General English, ESOL to refugees and asylum seekers, and exam preparation classes. But what I like doing best is teaching teachers and teachers of teachers, so I’ve also worked as a teacher educator in initial teacher education courses, in-service programmes, diploma programmes, and an MA programme. I was Director of the Bell Delta Online and Bell Teacher Campus. I am now Head of Teacher Development at Bell, and Head of Programme Quality at the Bell Foundation, a UK-based charity that creates opportunities through language education for excluded individuals and communities. I’m also a speaker at international conferences, a quality assurance inspector and write online materials for teachers.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘knowing the subject’?
I think ‘knowing the subject’ is a very important aspect of being a professional teacher of English. Therefore, I would encourage teachers to work hard to develop a competent knowledge about the English language and to become proficient users of English so that they can be suitable and inspirational models for their learners.  I know from experience that improvement only comes about when we work hard.  I don’t think simply being ‘one step ahead’ of the learners in terms of knowledge of the language and language proficiency is sufficient for a professional teacher who is a subject specialist. I also believe that from knowledge comes confidence. If you want to be a confident teacher, having a good knowledge base will certainly help.

My advice would be to:

  • immerse yourself in English as much as you possibly can to different genres, registers and accents – from spontaneous dialogues, to podcasts or videos that appeal to your interests, to presentations (e.g. TED talks), advertisements, the news headlines on the radio, interviews with people whose work you like  (e.g. your favourite authors, singers, actors, campaigners, politicians, etc. on YouTube), blog posts, research articles, tweets, Facebook posts etc.  With the current developments in technology it’s never been easier to access and use such a broad range of texts in English, or cheaper!
  • never stop noticing what and how language is used in both spoken and written texts. Make sure you notice unfamiliar uses of familiar lexis, collocations – i.e. what other words tend to occur frequently with a given word and idiomatic expressionscolligation – i.e. the grammatical company that words keep. Texts don’t have to be long to include hidden language ‘gems’– sometimes you can learn new language and challenge what you know from a 140-character tweet, or a headline. Uncover frequent patterns, make hypotheses, and test them. Also, check them with appropriate sources.
  • memorise, and practise memorising. This is because Skehan has found that having a good memory is a key component of language aptitude, and Bilbrough that language learning places huge demands on memory. It therefore makes sense to train your memory well, by making sure you memorise new lexis in chunks, review new lexis frequently, test yourself, and repeat in manageable chunks.

3. In an era of information explosion and lots of online resources easily available to learners, how do you perceive the role of a teacher?
First of all, a teacher is a creator of the right conditions for learning to take place. This is still as true today as it was 1,000 years ago. Students learn when they feel safe to take risks and make mistakes, and the teacher is instrumental in developing an environment that is conducive to learning with confidence. Another fundamental task of the teacher is to challenge supportively – to give each student the right level of challenge and to have high expectations while at the same time providing (or gradually removing, as and when appropriate) the support that learners need to succeed. Equally importantly, the role of the teacher is to give students feedback on where they are in their learning, where they need to be, and how to get there. This is in-depth, personalised feedback that grading and marking software cannot currently give as far as I’m aware.

4. What three top tips do you have for non-native teachers to become successful teachers of English?

  • Don’t let an accident of birth define who you are, or how brilliant you can be. Being an outstanding teacher has nothing to do with nativeness. Just remember that if you experience self-doubt or rejection.
  • Make good use of the strengths that you have as someone who has learnt English – rather than acquired it naturally, for example: your knowledge about language; your empathy (because you’ve been a learner and you know exactly what it feels like and how hard it can be to learn a language); your capacity to predict your students’ difficulties; the fact that you are a bilingual or multilingual resource for your learners; the fact that you are a positive and possible role-model.
  • There’s a lot of accessible literature about the so-called ‘non-native English Speaking teachers’ available online. Make sure you read it. You will be surprised by how much of what is said about NESTs and NNESTs is based on ideology, prejudice and vested interests, and how research into students’ preferences tells a different story. This will hopefully boost your self-efficacy, and will also give you ideas about how to fight against discrimination in the workplace to help you play a part in creating a more equitable and fairer profession.

5.  If you had to choose one CPD activity that you found most useful for your own CPD, what would it be and why?
I’m a bit of a bookworm, so I learn a lot from reading and thinking deeply about what I read – particularly thinking about how I can apply what I read to my own context. What I like about reading is that it is a very personalised and self-directing activity – I choose what I want to read about, where and when, I set the pace, I re-read if I want to, I interact with the text by making notes, etc. I also love experimenting; putting what I have learnt by reading into practice, which is the next natural step, and then again, thinking critically about whether that experiment has worked or not, why, and how I can improve my experiment, and try again. I am slightly concerned that many teachers are too busy to read in depth, or to read the experts rather than ‘soundbites’. And while it may sound a bit old-fashioned, there really is no substitute for reading in depth to develop one’s knowledge and deepen one’s way of thinking and acting.

 

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