Monthly Archives: December 2016

Hornby scholarship: a learning experience

IMG-20161227-WA0022It was one of those familiar and cold wintery December mornings in 2014 when I stumbled upon a British Council Facebook post inviting applications for an A.S. Hornby Educational Trust scholarship to study for Masters in ELT at the University of Warwick in the UK. I knew that learning to teach was my true love, but having taught ELT for nearly a decade, I had convinced myself that there was nothing left to be learnt. So it didn’t really make any sense at that time to apply for the scholarship. However, many of the Hornby Scholars who I had known for many a year were able to persuade me that the scholarship was life-changing. So more out of curiosity than anything else I sent in my scholarship application and quite fortunately won it.

Fast forward to October 2015 and I was at the University of Warwick. A new world of ELT had unfolded before me. My only reaction to the course was that of utter fascination. The people at the university were experts who taught brilliantly and like the kind of teachers I would one day want to become. ‘This is how a course should be taught,’ I told myself. It also didn’t take too long for me to have these uncomfortable and hard-to-deal-with moments of realisation of my limited awareness of the world of ELT. Back in India, I was used to feeling competent, knowledgeable and accomplished. I wasn’t used to feeling as if I’d been living in the dark ages. With each passing day, I saw my limited understanding of ELT break into smaller and smaller pieces.

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Front row, second person on the right: Martin Lamb, Professor, University of Leeds with the 2015-16 Hornby scholars

Talk about a paradigm shift: the scholarship has reignited the endeavour in me to never cease to learn and it has filled the knowledge gap that I never knew existed. Although applying for the Hornby Scholarship or studying an MA course in the UK seemed like an insignificant event on that seemingly ordinary cold December morning in 2014, in retrospect, it has been one of the most transformative moments in my life as a teacher. I look at the year spent at Warwick as an incredibly humbling experience filled with exciting opportunities to learn. The course has helped me take a hard look at my own teaching practices. It has rekindled the fire in me to constantly look for better ways to reinvent my teaching. The course has given me skills I will always be able to use both personally and professionally and for that I am forever indebted to the A S Hornby Educational Trust for their scholarship.

Written by Allwyn D’Costa, a 2015-16 Hornby scholar.

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David Leddy writing workshops in India

Being a writer is wonderful in many ways and frustrating in many ways. Words are very literal things. As Bjork says “words are useless, especially sentences.”  You can stretch language and manipulate it, that’s what I love to do. But it falls off a cliff pretty quick. The more obtuse your writing becomes the more it turns into linguistic soup. I often feel rather envious of visual artists for the freedom and ambiguity that the non-textual affords. It’s so much easier to be elliptical, indirect, atmospheric.

In November 2016 I came to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata to lead workshops for writers and to have a series of meetings with artists who I might collaborate with in the future. The British Council asked me to write a blogpost about it.

So, bearing in mind what I’ve described above, I decided that I would give you a visual essay, a series of atmospheres that sums up my trip in an indirect way. I hope you enjoy it.

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

 

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

© David Leddy

Welcome home biscuits © David Leddy

 

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#ELTHeroes Interview: Phil Dexter

This time in our #ELTHeroes series, we are talking to Phil Dexter. Phil is the English Language Teacher Development Adviser for the British Council.  Phil is currently responsible for development of the workshop modules for the British Council Teaching for Success CPD framework approach and, in particular, on special educational needs and inclusive learning. Phil has a Master’s Degree in English language studies from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and a Diploma in Special Educational Needs. Phil is passionate about ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to show their ‘special talents’ in aspiring and achieving to the highest standards.

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

Before joining the world of ELT I worked in a huge ‘pensions factory’ in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. This was the kind of work you either stay in for your working life or you go for the ‘great escape’. ELT was my route out of a safe but less than interesting job. I completed my usual CELTA type initial training course and then, ‘unusually’ went straight into a Masters in English language studies. This was a correct route for me as it gave me time to think what I wanted to do and more importantly understanding of ELT.

From there my journey began…..Seven years in Bulgaria working at an English language medium school and then managing the programme for three years, two years in the Czech republic and pre-service initial teacher training at a pedagogical faculty where I developed lots of understanding and skills about observation and mentoring followed by four years in Slovakia supporting in-service teacher training. From there, though staying in ELT, I changed track working on what was called the British Council Peacekeeping English Project in Croatia and Libya which was interesting – to say the least – working with militaries and especially the military in Libya!  In between Croatia and Libya I worked on an interesting vocational training project in Saudi Arabia. In almost all these projects and countries there was a theme I developed around approaches to independent learning and set up self-access centres.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to return to the UK with responsibility as Global Teacher Development Adviser (my current role) mainly in developing courses and resources for primary and secondary and advising our countries globally on professional development. I actually travel more now than I did when I worked outside the UK and have done lots of work across the world. This then takes me on my journey into special educational needs and inclusive learning. I suppose I’ve always felt that teaching and learning needs to be differentiated to different ways that we all need to learn and also the importance of recognising the rights of every learner to achieve at the best of potential as an equality and quality issue. I have retrained and qualified in special educational needs and am pleased that I can make contribution to this field.

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

Using inclusive practices is about good teaching and learning and understanding your learners. The first thing I would say is look at what you and other teachers are doing already. I am certain that there are lots of ‘inclusive practices’ in what you are doing. Look at what you think is working well and do more of that, especially ways that you are engaging with your learners as that shows understanding of your learners and is likely to make the biggest impact on their learning.

Secondly, inclusive practices is less about what models of teaching and learning we have in schools and much more about what teachers and learners do.   My work is very much connected with special educational needs (SEN) and my strong advice for teachers is not to be engaged with a medical approach and diagnosis of SEN. This type of support is for professionals to do – whether it’s a diagnosis of someone identified as being on the autism spectrum or having dyslexia, social and emotional challenges, attention deficit hyperactive needs or needs associated with mental health. Of course, a diagnosis may be helpful for everyone – parents, learners, teachers, schools and can help understanding of where learning challenges come from. However, as teachers the focus is on learning needs. This is what we teachers are trained to do. These needs might be expressed through different things that we can notice as a teacher. Is it connected to certain ways learners go on, take part in or complete tasks? Is it connected to ways our learners interact with others? Is it about following instructions connected with memory? What can we notice about behaviour?

A colleague of mine, Marie Delaney, gave some advice recently on a useful way of approaching understanding our learners’ needs, which includes asking questions such as:

  • What do I notice about what my learners are doing?
  • What is interesting about what I notice?
  • How can I change what I do to improve my teaching and to support their learning?

Asking and answering these questions will take us into all the skills and knowledge we need in developing inclusive practices.

Thirdly, good CPD practice is very much about ‘try and learn’. This is equally applicable to using inclusive practices. Try out what you learn on courses in your classrooms keeping in mind what will be meaningful for your classes and individual learners. Adapt for your learners needs, try things in different ways and share ideas with colleagues. Something that works one day may not work the next day so be patient but persistent. Very few learners, if any, do not want to learn – it’s about find the right route(s) for everyone. Above all have high aspirations for everyone.

3. In what ways can teachers find out whether or not their classrooms are inclusive?

Asking and answering the questions on what teachers can notice will begin to answer the question. One of the main issues we all face is that classroom learning itself is often one of the barriers to inclusiveness. Usually our curriculum, our textbooks and too often our methodology is one where, though we talk about our learners being different, our practice has learners doing the same or similar activities. For some learners, classrooms are a good place to learn but for others they are suffering in silence, are just not connected with what is happening in the classroom or just bored. Part of the reason for this – and this is not to blame teachers who are doing the best they can – is that much of classroom learning is abstract and we need to make our lessons and classroom more concrete and meaningful where understanding, and therefore, meaningful learning can happen. Rather than an over focus on whether our classrooms are not inclusive I would concentrate on the positive – how to make then more inclusive.

How can we do this? As with everything in learning there are no ‘magic dust’ answers – but there are solutions.

A key issue is that all learners are working towards the same learning outcomes – whether this is working on learning some item of grammar, vocabulary in context, some topic, a story or whatever. We all have learning preferences (this is not about learning styles) and preferred ways of working. We need to think about how we can maximise these preferences in supporting learning.

i. Focus on what learners can do rather than what they can’t do. Do more of that as this will build confidence and promote positive learning. Nothing succeeds like success!

ii. Scaffold and differentiate learning – scaffolding puts ideas in context and structure to support learning. Start from what learners know already and build on that – this is a form of scaffolding. Differentiation is about presenting, practising, production and assessing learning in a variety of ways – through text, visual, auditory, kinaesthetic. Again this is not about locking learners onto specific learning styles but presenting teaching in a variety of ways. We all use our senses in life and let’s use them in learning.

iii. Take this a stage further – give options on how learners might present their ideas – through text, a visual presentation such as a mind map, more oral than in writing, using technology, through building a 3D model and/or explaining through a medium of the learner’s choice. This is called differentiation by response and learners are basically doing the differentiation.

iv. Group learners not according to ‘ability’ that may prejudge outcomes but in different ways – gender, colour or style of hair, items of clothing, special interests, combination of different preferences in same group etc.

v. Take the same approach with assessment. We want to test knowledge, understanding and skills – how they demonstrate that can be optional.

4. What can teachers facing challenges such as large classes and syllabus constraints do to make their classrooms more inclusive? 

Of course, all the above is easier said than done – especially in large busy classrooms but through ideas like the above, you will be able to see how learners are involved. It’s important to realise and understand what you can change and impact on and what you can’t. Work on what you can change.

i. In a large class you may not be able to move desks or other furniture that is fixed, but you can usually move people even if this means just turning round to work with someone.  Can you change where you seat people or how they do an activity on different days?

ii. The syllabus may be fixed but can you use these variety of options mentioned above (and others) in how learners work and respond?

iii. In a very large class you cannot get everyone presenting in whole group/class all the time, but can you use group work much more and choose a few groups each lesson/day to feedback to the whole group?

iv. Can the learners assess each other from time to time – this requires practice and understanding criteria but can be very powerful. This is called an assessment for learning approach.

v.  A learner’s behaviour can be challenging and difficult for all sorts of reasons. Remember you may not be able to change a learner’s behaviour but you can change your attitude to their behaviour and help with your own wellbeing.

5. How can teachers move beyond the notion of inclusion that is only associated with learners with special needs?

This is a really important question. Special Needs in itself is not only about ‘weak learners’. There are many learners who are identified as ‘gifted and talented’ but are under performing due to be under challenged and underwhelmed situations in a class. These are the learners who may finish quickly and then are bored. They require what is called curriculum enrichment. This could be achieved through more or very challenging activities, high interest content, ways of working such as seeking out more information through various media, inviting subject specialist guest speakers or arranging visits to businesses or universities where lots can be learnt.

Moving on from SEN the answer is also about understanding access and engagement. Access is about getting the learners into the class and school. This could be about ensuring that girls can be in school. It may be children from marginalised groups who don’t see the benefit of education or it may be ensuring there isn’t a high dropout rate from school. Engagement is about what learners actually do in class and school. Teachers can ensure that the lesson is engaging, stimulating and participatory and leads to good outcomes. In some respects forget all about SEN and ensure that the focus is on learning needs. We have high aspirations for all our learners and in that sense we treat everyone as special. If we feel included then we are included.

6. What tips do you have for teachers to help them cater to the needs of a mixed-ability classroom?

I would try and move away from the concept of mixed ability and towards one of multi-level. All learners have a mixed profile of strengths and areas less developed. A few learners have a very strong profile in all skills but some are more likely to achieve in some more than others.

Without repeating the ideas above ensure you group learners in different ways so that a mix of strengths and areas to develop are present in groups where everyone can share their skills. Do activities that are multilevel. One example is to ask the class (not everyone, of course, in a large class) to draw some items on the board – a house, a river, trees, people working/playing, animals. You can then work with the drawings, for example, use the vocabulary, create a story, work on prepositions, ask when the scene takes place – last week, now, next week – etc. Ask simple what, where and more why questions linked to critical thinking skills. In this way everyone works with the same text but can be doing different activities at different levels of complexity. Learners have actually decided the text, which helps to increase motivation as it ‘is theirs’. And by the way, you don’t need to spend hours preparing the resources – just good valuable thinking time on how to use the visual/drawing text. That’s an example of inclusion for both teachers and learners.

As I say above – it’s all about trying and seeing what works with your learners and with other teachers. Have fun experimenting. There is no perfect solution on inclusion other than the contexts that you and your learners create themselves. All of this will help us meet the objectives of our curriculum, syllabus and lesson plans that we all need to meet. In the UK we use the term that teachers work with ‘best endeavours’.

Good luck and make time for yourself in your busy teacher’s life.

Find out more about using inclusive practices and creating an inclusive learning experience for English language learners with specific needs.

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#FameLabIndia – South India Winner, Prabahan Chakraborty’s experience

Somehow, the crowd seemed familiar.

A group of nerds who practice science had assembled from all over south India at this lovely little building inside the state university of ‘God’s own country’, one fine morning in late November. Things started like it always does – a shy laugh here, a brief hello there, exchanging names and stories about how the flight was caught at the very last minute. It all fit the formula – the equations of the first meeting – with potential friendship looming in the air.

And all of this, because we, the gathered folks, love communicating science.

Pause for a moment if you need to. Go ahead if you want ask me, ‘I have heard of learning science, but communicating science? Is it even a thing?’

It is, yes, a much bigger thing than you think it to be. Something so big and ingrained in our mental image of a scientist that if I ask you to imagine one, more often than not you would immediately think of this wiry man in shabby clothes who solves intricate problems by scribbling in air as he walks, lost in his own thoughts – someone who would start spouting Euclidean algorithms if you ask him how much is 70 divided by 7. The first part isn’t mostly true. The last bit is bang on.

It is an inconvenient truth that most of us who do science at any level often find it hard to explain our work to someone outside our field. As the cycle of research lives and thrives mostly between jargon-heavy grants and heavily jargoned scientific papers, we often end up getting a degree in science with zero degrees of comfort in explaining what we do to, say, our grandmother. We stumble, fumble and mumble something that is either remotely scientific or remotely comprehensible.

Which is why when I first got to know about ‘FameLab’, the largest science communication competition in the world, I took a step back and looked at it hard and strong. On one hand, it was a platform for exploring one of the biggest challenges you have as a student of science. On the other hand, you know for sure that tackling it is not going to be an easy job. And it was an easy job by no means! Thirty of the best budding science communicators (selected from out of 150 applicants) had assembled for a three-day workshop on scientific communication organised by British Council, India. It was to be followed by the FameLab South India finals. Workshop sessions by the no-other-title-would-have-been-suitable-enough ‘Rock-star of Science Communication’ Prof. Iain Stewart were both the cake and the cherry on it. Iain, an incredibly nice person who’s been the face of science programs on BBC for more than a decade now, laid out the road-map to talking science simply as well as how to battle the roadblocks that you might face while doing so. A session on writing grants by Dr. Satish Khurana was an added bonus for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. To top it all off, Subhra Priyadarshini, the editor of Nature India, conducted an amazing hands-on session that gave us a brilliant insight into the lucrative career option of science journalism. Plus incredible hospitality by the British Council team made sure the event reached stupendous proportions.

Three days passed and the D-day arrived – the heats and finals of FameLab south zone. Amidst cheers and support from all of us, we took the stage one by one, and gave it our best shot.

And by then, the crowd was completely familiar.

We dispersed after a day, vowing to keep in touch, adding hugs to people and people to Whatsapp groups, sticking to newly found nicknames, cherishing memories, and we all took back with us polished, shiny pieces of the same dream that set us on this path.

A dream that promises a new breed of science communicators about to be born soon.

Dear Reader, watch out for us!

Submitted by Prabahan Chakraborty

Winner Prabahan

Winners with Mei-kwei

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#ELTHeroes interview – Tessa Woodward

Next in our #ELTHeroes series, we’re talking to Tessa Woodward – Tessa was a teacher, teacher trainer, and the Professional Development Co-ordinator at Hilderstone College, Broadstairs, Kent, UK until August 2016. She edits The Teacher Trainerjournal for Pilgrims, Canterbury, UK. She is a Past President and International Ambassador of IATEFL and founded the IATEFL Special Interest Group for Teacher Trainers (now the SIG T Ed/TT). She is the author of many books and articles for language teachers and for teacher trainers. Her latest book, with Seth Lindstromberg, ‘Something to Say’, (2014, Helbling Languages) was short-listed for an English Speaking Union prize. Tessa is also the founder of The Fair List.

Tessa photo May 2014

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

I did a lot of other things before ELT. I did not always think, ’Oh I want to be a teacher!’ I didn’t like school very much until the last two years!  So, as I set off learning and earning, I did some restaurant and hotel work, some farm help, worked in the National Union of Students, in the Martin Luther King Foundation. Then, loving English and the idea of meeting people from different countries, I retrained as an EFL teacher for adult learners. Adults because I wanted to work with people who had chosen to be in the classroom and who could leave it at any moment if they didn’t like what was going on!

I then got a grounding for two years in a language school in London with wonderful colleagues. I wanted to feel I knew roughly what I was doing before venturing off to try to be of use to language learners in other countries. At that stage, I imagined I would be a teacher for just a few years!

Many years later, I had taught in Japan and Switzerland. I had got the chance to be an in-service teacher trainer at a company in Japan and had, very deliberately, stayed language teaching at the same time. Then I worked on Certificate and Diploma courses. I started to do workshops, conference presentations and modules on university MA courses. I had had no idea, when I started that such things would become possible!   I branched out into writing and editing, while still always keeping my feet firmly in the language and teacher training classrooms.

I now find, much to my surprise, that, some decades later, I seem to have had a career in ELT!  I have been editing The Teacher Trainer Journal for thirty years and teaching and training for much longer than that! So, in retrospect, I can see I have had a career in TEFL. I certainly didn’t expect to have one!

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

I like the advice that Manisha Dak gave in the video for this week on the British Council Teach English in India Facebook page – ’Look inside, look outside and then look inside again!’ Very neat!

I also totally agree with all the things that Silvana Richardson said in her interview  about working on the English language. This is just as important for those who have English as a first language as for first language speakers of other languages!

It was nice to read Debbie Candy’s interview too . Her thoughts on experimenting with different resources are great!

So, to avoid repetition of points made by Manisha, Silvana and Debbie, I will look at another aspect!

We may well be in the classroom for a long time, for years! Possibly, when we turn around and realise it, for decades! So, we need to take responsibility for keeping our own strength and stamina up, retaining a sense of humour, and thinking how we are going to keep interested in our work over time.

The basics are that we need to eat and sleep well and get some exercise. Taking care of ourselves, including our voices, is important. It gives us a solid basis from which to spend our energy with our learners. If we are not strong we cannot be useful to our colleagues and learners.

Having interests outside school can be very helpful too. Without doubt, whatever these interests are…whether singing, making things, watching films and/or doing sports. They will feed into our work somehow and also keep our spirits up during the hard times. For example, being in a choir strengthens our breathing and voice muscles, enjoying motor racing gives us a feel for fast pace and zip, enjoying films and literature makes us aware of story arcs for texts.

We also need to remember that we can’t learn everything immediately. We can’t be good at everything or can’t be the right teacher for absolutely every one of our students. Some parts of our work may come naturally to us but other parts take effort over time before they improve. We cannot be perfect any more than our students can. This kind of compassion for ourselves, and for our students who are struggling to learn English, is important in my view.

3. What simple things can teachers do in their day-to-day routine to help them with their professional development?

I think it is useful to break down our day-to-day work into separate tasks such as: attracting students’ attention, calling the register, presenting new words, checking comprehension, setting a task, grouping students, monitoring pair work, correcting homework and so on. You will think of a million other tasks to list, tasks we do every day.

Next, we can call to mind how many ways we know of doing a task. We can then set ourselves the task of learning one new way to do that task every few months. For example, let’s say that we usually attract our students’ attention by clapping our hands and saying loudly, ‘Listen everybody!’ Fine! (Although with big classes that could strain the voice a bit and drain the energy!) But it’s fine. We can however do it a different way for a while. We can raise our hand and teach students to stop talking and raise their hands too as soon as they see our or a class mate’s hand go up. When there is a forest of hands up usually most ‘late-noticers’ will eventually stop talking too. Once we and the students have learned this method, we can mix it up with our first method and then add a third, say tapping on the board with a board pen or ringing a little pleasant sounding hand bell. Gradually we work on picking up new ways of doing each of our many day-to-day tasks. We can pick up these new ways by asking colleagues what they do, by peer observation, from teacher resource books and web sites, from watching teachers in classes where we are the learners and so on.

By adding little new ways of carrying out our tasks, we don’t get bored. We gather a full repertoire of options to use. We have both routine and change and development. And our students get some variety too as we gain more ways of working. Once we have a good set of options for our many tasks, it will draw us into thinking about why this or that way of working seems to work better in this or that situation. Hey Presto! We have become thoughtful methodologists!

4. What three top things should teachers keep in mind while making a professional development plan for themselves?

I would suggest we could all consider the following:

  • Be realistic. ….about the time, energy and resources we have available. Don’t commit, in a moment of wild enthusiasm, to a rash, complete change of all manner of aspects of our work. Better to start small and simple and see how it goes. We can always scale up later if things are working well.
  • Be creative. What do we love about life? Music? Dance? Fun? Poetry? Jokes? Watching films? Horse racing? Being outside? What job would you like to be doing if you weren’t a teacher? An artist? A vet? An accountant? What aspect of any of those likes and loves can we sneak into our work as a teacher?
  • Share our plans. Talk things over with sympathetic colleagues, family, friends and mentors. We can let people know we are on the move in term of our professional interests. that we are up for change and development.  At the very least we will have interesting conversations as a result. But we might get some new ideas or even some people to try out new things with. As Debby suggested, collaborating is good!
  • Don’t forget the learners. Sorry…I have four things! Don’t forget that although we are concentrating on ourselves, quite rightly, for a while as we plan our PD, the other half of the same coin is always, always, always to understand our colleagues and learners and help them in their efforts to achieve.

5. What useful resources/links would you suggest that teachers can read/access to help them understand how to go about their own professional development?

If you are an online type of person, I honestly think the British Council website is great!

If you are more of a paper person, then try Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s book ‘Teacher’. This book rekindles the fire of experimentation and the vibrant desire to find ways to help learners. That fire is a key to a PD motivation. Perhaps the British Council could get permission to use extracts on their site for reading and discussion? 

And if I might mention it, I am currently co-writing a book to support teacher development over time too but it hasn’t been edited yet so I daren’t say more than ‘Watch this space!!’

6. If you had to choose one CPD activity that you found most useful for your own CPD, what would it be and why?

I really like the activity that I call ‘The Professional Development Graph’

You take a nice big piece of paper and turn it horizontally or landscape. Then you sketch a professional life line from left to right across the paper. Perhaps the line starts low down, if you feel you didn’t know too much when you started. It might go up, like a side of a mountain, if you had a high point, and down into a dip when you had a low point. You can also show a plateau with a flat line and muddled sections of your career with spirals and doodles.

Then you add words or labels to explain the different points. For example, you might write ‘Horrible boss!’ next to a low point or ‘Class all passed exam’ next to a high point. You can decide how to subdivide the timeline for yourself: maybe bracket some years together with a light line, maybe show different teaching contexts in different colours, or mark focal concerns with stars or asterisks…whatever you fancy!

You end up with a sort of line graph, annotated with words and symbols. Towards the right-hand side of the page your line approaches your present. Does your line start to lift upwards as you feel positive about the future in the job? Or does it plateau or even drop as you feel a bit stuck or depressed in your work?

Turn the paper over and draw the future line as you would like to see it and note down what you think you will have to do to ensure that the line eventually represents what you want it to.

If you are a starter teacher or just in your first few years of teaching, then your professional graph may only take up part of a page. It is still useful to consider how the work has gone so far. How are you doing your best teacher learning? From watching colleagues at work? Reading (like Silvana)? Making and trying out new resources (like Debbie)? Going to conferences? Taking courses? Keeping a diary of critical incidents in your lessons and then looking back at the diary after a while to see if you can spot any patterns?

Whichever way you choose to use this Professional Development Graph idea, it is good fun to do this with a colleague or friend, to share your professional line graphs and to realise how far you have come, and how far you could go in this wonderful profession! Who knows, when you get to my age, you might turn around and realise that you have had a long career in ELT!

I hope you enjoy your work!

All good wishes

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#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 Live Online Class. 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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