Monthly Archives: January 2017

#ELTHeroes interview: Dr Neena Jha

Dr. Neena Jha is an educationist who has traversed both rural and urban landscapes as part of her work with various schools, universities and NGOs. She has mentored children from rural backgrounds, conducted various capacity building programmes and teacher-training workshops and recently worked in developing public libraries into digitally inclusive spaces. Switching from teaching Commerce in Delhi University, she moved to teaching English and communication skills formally as well as non-formally. Currently she is an independent consultant engaging with the education and development sectors. Find out more about Neena’s journey here.

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
Growing up in multiple cities of India gave me ample insights into English being spoken in all its regional senses and savours. It fascinated me to absorb various intonations and mother tongue influences on this globally unifying language.
While pursuing my doctorate in public finance, I taught commerce to undergraduates in Delhi University in 1989. The ELT journey began after my relocation to Champaran, Bihar post marriage in 1991.The kids here were good at Maths and Sciences but struggled with English. They felt alienated from the language despite studying in English medium instruction schools. That set me to shift gears to ELT. I started to impart English lessons and later joined a missionary school as a teacher of English. Apart from textbook lessons, I encouraged children to interact in English in everyday situations, making a conscious effort not to negate learnings from their mother tongues. I used their home language/s as a resource for cross-linguistic linkages. Thereafter in Patna, I conducted English communication classes for students, professionals and government functionaries who had had their education in Hindi or other regional languages. My assignment with the World Bank on the Bihar Teacher Education project recently, reinforced the conviction that enhancing teacher effectiveness adds to improving student learning outcomes resulting in robust education systems.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Understanding educational policies and practice’?
It goes without saying that our own education has to be ongoing. Both proficiency and professional awareness are important. To keep abreast of the developments in policies relating to educational practices in India, I would recommend that teachers visit the NCERT portal. Teachers may also visit the websites of other non- government organisations like British Council, BBC, CSF EdMonitor and Pratham to raise their awareness about recent trends in education and access resources. Being aware of the updates in educational policies and practices can be valuable pegs for ELT professionals to hinge their classes on and keep them attuned to the national educational goals. As outlined in British Council CPD Framework for teachers, teachers should be able to locate relevant information about educational policies and practice at multiple levels. However this is still a challenge despite such phenomenal growth in online content and resources.
We, then, should adopt such professional and pedagogical practices that go hand in hand with the policies relating to various aspects of our profile ranging from goals of education to access to education. We have to remember to customise them in tandem with local learner needs and aspirations. We also need to consider the changed circumstances in which English language is learned and used in this era of globalisation to make it accepted and acceptable.

3. What educational policies do you think teachers need to be aware of to develop their understanding of classroom practices? How can teachers find out more about these policies?
The teacher in the classroom is responsible for aligning the vision of the stated policies with ground situation of learners. The goals of education have to converge with a child’s holistic development- physical, mental, moral, emotional, social and spiritual. NCF 2005 is a key document that teachers need to be thoroughly familiar with in order to enhance their understanding of the key principles that should guide their classroom practice. Also reading of online resources come in handy. For instance, the CREATE- collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency, empowerment approach to ELT policies and practices makes a lot of sense to ELT facilitators. The recent insights from linguistics, psychology, and associated disciplines have also provided a principled foundation to revitalise curricular practices for teachers.  They all point to a more empirically grounded approach to ELT that would assist to supplement our content for curriculum and pedagogic purposes. In ELT roles, let us strive to create multi-linguals who can enrich more languages than one. This methodology, I feel, would address growing apprehensions of regional language and culture getting endangered with the adoption of a new language. In addition, the pedagogic code of moving from the known to the unknown shall come into play in this way.

4. What key points from these policies would you like to highlight for teachers of English?
For teachers taking language classes, I think it is important that they are aware of the language policy governing their respective region and state. Moreover they must be in sync with ICT and integrate them in their classrooms to strengthen learning processes. Since language has a direct bearing on literacy, that is another relevant area for the teacher to keep in mind. Teachers are in a position to achieve national literacy goals as also usher in equality and inclusion in the communities they work with. Another focal point would be to sensitise students about the importance of implications of language and vocabulary. Yet another key thing would be to empower the learner by equipping them with better communication skills that would augment their confidence and competence in other disciplines too. Teachers of English can foster peace skills in children by avoiding use of aggressive or violent language, thereby contributing to mitigate the flaring gap between purpose and processes of education. Instilling gender sensitivity in their classrooms is another lifelong skill that would help towards realising a goal as fundamental as equality. The young students would grow up to respect and celebrate diversity, practise tolerance and value peace. Education would thus serve the ultimate purpose of harmonising and humanising its stakeholders.

5. How do teachers use their learning from these policies to help them in their classroom practice?
A nuanced understanding of these policies enables teachers to achieve much beyond defined course objectives. The NCERT position paper on English gives a simple yet effective suggestion about having print-rich environments, especially to enable pre-literacy learning. Putting up charts, blurbs, signboards, and even graffiti in the classroom helps familiarize the elementary learner with the school environment, and sows seeds of early education. Moreover making smaller groups in the classroom and organising activities like role plays and radio shows not just makes learning fun for students but also facilitates the teacher in knowing and assessing individual and team skills better. Another important takeaway from policy documents like the NCF 2005 would be establishing co-curricular and cross-curricular linkages. While taking up P.B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind in class for instance, the teacher could compare the use of imagery and symbolism with John Keats’ Ode to Autumn. The phenomenon of the westerly from geography and the process of water cycle from natural sciences may be referred to for integrated and reflective learning. Turning every lesson into an experience of its own, rather than merely reading and interpreting it, goes a long way in helping students connect with the subject in particular and with life outside the classroom in general.

A few other resources that teachers may find useful are:

  1. British Council online teaching resources
  2. New methods of teaching on Pratham blog
  3. ELT section of OUP website

I shall be happy to hear from you at neenajha@outlook.com

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#ELTHeroes interview: Nicky Hockly

Nicky HocklyThis week in our #ELTHeroes series, we are talking to Nicky Hockly. Nicky is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. She has written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching, many of them with co-author Gavin Dudeney. The latest of these books are Focus on Learning Technologies (2016), and ETpedia Technology (forthcoming 2017). Nicky lives in Barcelona, and is a technophobe turned technophile. You can find out more about Nicky on The Consultants-E website here, including a complete list of her publications.

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
I started teaching English to adults and young learners in a language school in Spain in 1987, and got involved in teacher training a few years later after doing my DELTA. I started teaching online ten years later in 1997, when I joined a consortium of Spanish and Latin American universities offering one of the first fully online MA in ELT degree programmes. I joined as the Academic Director of the MA programme, but also taught online, and mentored other online tutors. This year (2017) marks 20 years of teaching online for me!
In 2003 my colleague Gavin Dudeney and I set up our online training and development consultancy, The Consultants-E. I’m the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, and we specialise in consultancy work with educational institutions who would like to work with online and blended learning, and educational technologies. We also provide f2f and online training to help teachers integrate technology into their language teaching. And that’s where I am now.
I also do quite a lot of writing. So far, I’ve authored or co-authored 8 methodology books for English language teachers about how to integrate a range of technologies into the classroom. I also write regular columns about integrating technologies into ELT for English Teaching Professional, and for the English Language Teaching Journal (ELTJ).

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Promoting 21stcentury skills’? 
As I’m sure readers are aware, there are plenty of excellent free opportunities for professional development available on the Internet. There are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), webinars, and professional communities that teachers can join in order to explore 21st century skills in more detail. Some online professional communities that I especially recommend are the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (LTSIG), the Webheads in Action group, and of course the British Council’s Teach English in India Facebook page. Probably the most important piece of advice I can give to teachers is this: once you feel you understand the topic better, and have some ideas about how to work with 21st-century skills in your classroom, try out some teaching ideas with learners. You can then can share your experiences – both triumphs and challenges – with an online professional development group to get feedback, suggestions, and further ideas. Developing professional practice in 21st century skills means not just knowing more about it, but integrating it into practice, reflecting on the experience, and then refining your practice based on those reflections and feedback.

3. Do you think promoting 21st century skills is a real movement or just the latest educational fad? What makes you say that?
There is no doubt that our increasingly digital society requires new skills, and these skills tend to be lacking in traditional educational curricula. Ministries of Education in most countries in the world now include some element of 21st century skills in educational curricula for primary, secondary and even tertiary education – at least on paper. This responds to the need of countries to support the development of fully functioning digital citizens, and the very future of those countries depends on this. So, although the term ‘21st century skills’ does sound rather fad-like, once these fundamental educational needs are integrated into curricula at all levels of education, the term itself should hopefully become redundant. At the moment, it’s a useful term to help raise teachers’, students’, and even parents’ awareness of the importance of these skills in education.

4. Why is it important for teachers to understand and develop 21st century skills among learners? How likely will it affect learners in the future, if they don’t have these skills?
21st century skills are increasingly a feature of the modern workplace. If schools do not support the development of these skills for learners, where else are they going to acquire them? The skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and so on are obviously desirable in the workplace. Also, in our increasingly technologically driven world, literacy is not just being able to read and write in the traditional sense, but knowing how to understand and manipulate a range of digital media. Hence the importance too of digital literacies. Students who don’t have these skills are clearly at a disadvantage, not only when it comes to employment prospects, but also when it comes to being a responsible and fully empowered digital citizen.

5. Which do you think is the best way to teach the 21st century skills, within a school subject OR separately? Why do you think so?
I think integrating 21st century skills is far more effective than trying to teach them as some sort of stand-alone or separate subject. 21st century skills cut across curricular content – they are not related to only one subject in school. Trying to teach 21st century skills as a separate subject immediately divorces it from everything else, and makes it feel less applicable to daily life. Integrating these skills across the curriculum gives students plenty of exposure to and practice with developing the skills.
For example, an effective way to integrate a range of 21st century skills into school subjects, is to have learners work together in small groups of 3 or 4 to produce a digital artefact such as a podcast or a blog post, explaining the key points they have learnt about a certain subject: they could recount a historical event as part of a history lesson, or explain a process like photosynthesis as part of a science lesson, or share information about a country for a geography lesson.  Working together in small groups on a digital project like this integrates a number of key 21st century skills, namely creativity, critical thinking, leadership and management skills, communication and collaboration, and of course digital literacy.
The key to integrating 21st century skills successfully is that teachers receive the necessary training and support from their institutions. It’s simply not feasible to just tell teachers to ‘teach 21st century skills’, when they may be unsure exactly what these are, why they’re important, or how to integrate them into their existing classroom practice.

6. In what ways can teachers integrate 21st century skills when teaching English?
Because of my background in educational technology, I’m most interested in the digital literacies component of 21st century skills.
As described above, having students work together on digital projects is an excellent way to integrate a range of 21st century skills into one main activity. In case of the English language classroom, students can create digital projects on any number of topics. For example, if you are working on the topic of food with your students, how about getting them to produce a multimedia online poster of their favourite meal, with images and text? Multimedia poster tools like Glogster enable learners to embed images and video, so they could find videos on YouTube to embed, or even film their own videos if they own a simple mobile phone. Working in small groups requires students to communicate and collaborate together. It also requires good time management skills, and knowing how to work effectively with others (a key leadership skill). They also get the chance to be very creative in their creation of a visual poster, and critical thinking is required in deciding what information to include in their poster, as well as what information to leave out. Finally, the creation of a digital online poster students need to work with a range of media (images, text, video), and integrate these into an effective overall presentation, so digital literacy is developed at the same time.
I wrote a book called Digital Literacies with my colleagues Gavin Dudeney and Mark Pegrum (Routledge, 2013), in which we look specifically at how digital literacies can be operationalised in the classroom. This seems to be the biggest challenge for teachers – although everyone talks about the importance of 21st century skills and digital literacies, there is very little practical information out there to help teachers actually work on these skills with their students in the classroom. The book has plenty of activities focused on developing students’ (and by extension teachers’!) digital literacies, and you can also find some ideas in a series of blog posts about digital literacies on my professional blog, E-moderation Station (see also the links at the end of the blog post). I’d encourage teachers reading this to try out some of the ideas with their students!

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#ELTHeroes interview: Dr Anand Mahanand

Dr Anand Mahanand has been a Professor at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad working in the field of materials development for learners and teachers in English and multi-lingual contexts and has authored and edited books and articles in related areas. At present he is Dean, Publication and All India Coordinator, District Centre Scheme, an outreach programme of EFLU. Find out more about him on www.anandmahanand.blogspot.in

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

I have been in the Department of Materials Development at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad for nearly twenty years.  I have been teaching courses for teachers and teacher educators.  I have also developed materials for the teachers and learners of English.  My research interests include English in Multilingual Contexts, English for Specific Purposes and Language through Literature.  I have guided research projects, published books and articles in these areas.  Some of my important publications  in ELT include English through Folktales, English for Academic and Professional Skills,  Learning to Learn: Study Skills in English, Diversity: Tales for the Multilingual Classroom and  Multilingual  Education in India: The Case for English. I believe that English is a powerful tool and it has potential to empower learners. At the same time, learners’ languages and forms of culture are as important as English so these should be integrated with English language education. That’s the reason why my research and publications focus on the use of learners’ languages and forms of culture

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

My advice would be to integrate learners’ languages and forms of culture with English language teaching.  Teachers should have a liking for learners’ first language/s and learners should be allowed to use their languages in the classroom. Learners’ first languages are usually considered inferior to standard languages. This attitude needs to go. Teachers could use learners’ first languages as inputs before the actual tasks. For instance, before giving them tasks on writing, learners can be engaged in discussion on the topic of the writing task. This will help them to translate their knowledge into English. Learners’ languages can also be used for giving instructions, suggestions and encouragement. While it is not expected from teachers to know all languages spoken by their learners, they should not prevent learners from using them.

3. What are some of the benefits of using multilingual approaches while teaching ?

There are many benefits of using multilingual approaches. Firstly, learners feel accepted in the class and they can relate to things they are being taught. Learners come to the class with a lot of resources in the forms of stories, songs, ideas about plants, flowers, festivals and so on in their first languages.  These resources should be exploited by teachers for teaching and learning as this will make learning easier. Secondly, learners’ languages and forms of culture are sustained.  It is important as some opine that with the emergence of English our local languages are threatened. Thirdly, such integrating approaches help learners in learning peaceful co-existence maintaining one’s heritage and respecting others.

4. How can teachers deal with a class of learners who speak different first languages?

As said earlier, it is not expected of a teacher to know and use all languages spoken by their learners, but it is possible for a teacher to allow the learners to use them in class in a judicious manner. I have taught such learners.  I used to make groups according to different language users. They would discuss in their own languages first. Then translate that into English and present it before the class. Learners had fun as well as learning. They also took interest in learning one another’s languages. Some did pick up certain words while they also had an opportunity to practise the target language.

5. What are some of the challenges teachers might face while using multilingual approaches to teach English in their classroom? How can they overcome these challenges?

One of the challenges could be a tendency to use too much of mother tongue, which might defeat the purpose. Judicious use is advocated. Also many teachers translate from English to mother tongue. Actually, the process should be from mother tongue to English. If it is done in a reverse way, it will not serve the purpose. Learners will learn mother tongue at the cost of English. Another challenge is that administrators and parents may not like the idea of using other languages in an English class as they think that learning local languages means going backward and it will affect the learning of English. They have to be convinced by showing good results in English as well as in the first languages. Also having a class of learners who speak different mother tongues could be challenging too, but as stated in 2 and 3 above, this should be treated more as a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block in the process of learning as they bring with them rich linguistic and cultural resources that teachers can exploit meaningfully.

6. Can you share some assessment techniques or ideas that would help including learners’ linguistic backgrounds or the languages they speak at the time of assessment?

Have a progressive view of assessment.  Understand where and why a learner has used mother tongue in certain places. For instance, learners may use their first language if they do not know a particular word or a grammar structure. Instead of arbitrarily terming it wrong, a teacher should try to understand the problem so that it can be mended. Since the teaching is multilingual, assessment should also be following multilingual approaches. For example, in case of young learners, rubrics/instructions could be given in their first language/s and the main task could be in the target language. This helps learners understand instructions easily and they know what exactly is expected of them. Translation of texts could be one of the criteria for older learners. Using multilingual dictionary and assessing them on their use could be another.

7. What three tips would you like to give teachers who wish to begin using multilingual approaches to teach English in their classrooms?

These tips would be -

  • have a liking for the learners’ first language and forms of culture. This will help you build rapport with your learners
  • have more of group activities. These will allow learners to share ideas in their own language/s freely before they do the same in English. This will help them understand/explain complex concepts and also make them more sensitive towards each other’s culture and languages and build rapport
  • encourage translation. Include translated versions of the same texts
  • and one more – encourage learners to bring their resources to the classroom as mentioned earlier and make use of them through allied skills like art, craft, songs, story and so on.

 

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