Author Archives: British Council India

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The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. The British Council creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide.

#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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#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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#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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Challenges of talking science online

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini talks about the challenges of talking science online.

FameLab International winner Padraic Flood presenting his research at the competition

FameLab International winner Padraic Flood presenting his research at the competition

For full-time scientists and researchers, retaining the quality and freshness of blogs is a challenge. So is it for full time science reporters. It is one more job to do in the day. Writing a meaningful science blog consistently demands as much time and energy as any of the other important tasks of the day. A periodic blog – say daily or weekly – also needs ample planning to remain useful and interesting. Many blogs, science or otherwise, begin with a bang, posting daily content and then petering down to weeklies and suddenly writing their own epitaph one fine day. The primary reasons: lack of interest, incentive, time or topics to write on.

For scientist bloggers, the thin ethical line to tread on is whether a blog or tweet on their own work takes the shape of blatant self-promotion or not. Many scientists I know blog anonymously just to avoid getting into trouble. The issue has been debated at many workshops and conferences globally and my contention is that there is nothing unethical to talk about one’s own work as long as the scientist is adhering to embargo or legal guidelines set out for his/her research by a laboratory or a journal. After all, scientists are human and would love their work to be appreciated, commented and debated about!

Indians are vocal and opinionated or, as Amartya Sen would have us believe, ‘argumentative’. So as soon as a blog piece or tweet is up in India, you can expect comments of various hues – some objective and rational, some angry, some offensive and some totally off the mark. Many blog pieces run the risk of being sabotaged into parallel discussions on absolutely unrelated issues. It is frustrating for a blog owner to press the ‘moderate’ button more often than the ‘approve comment’ button.

Another nightmare for serious bloggers is spam. ‘Fake passports and driving licenses’, ‘excellent quality branded shoes’ and ‘cheapest honeymoon packages’. Spammers and trolls are relentless. You might block them regularly, but there is a spammer lurking somewhere around to pop right in. A good spam-blocker is as much a pre-requisite to start using social media as an anti-virus used to be when we all started using laptop computers.

Science bloggers in India are a nascent tribe. Recently, a list compiling science bloggers from India on Twitter found a handful of serious ones, mostly scientists, some journalists, mostly outside India and just a few in the country: https://twitter.com/NeuroWhoa/india-science. Since the space is by and large unexplored, the scope is enormous. Anyone with good science writing skills has a chance of standing up and getting noticed.

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit the blog format.

Want to build your skills in science communication and get a chance to represent India at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK? Apply for #FameLabIndia.

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Why are scientists taking to the blogosphere?

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini shares her thoughts on scientists becoming science journalists.

FameLab: The world's biggest science communication competition

FameLab: The world’s biggest science communication competition

The number of science journalists using a blog to replace or supplement their print avatars has grown phenomenally. They might chose to be objective, sticking to the traditional mandate of journalism, or to be opinionated trying to justify a point of view.

However, an eye-catching trend is that of scientists blogging on science and scientific issues. The growth in this tribe of online busybees is instantly apparent at international conferences on science communication where journalist bloggers are a minority!

The reason more and more scientists are debuting in the blogosphere is apparent – it gives them and their research a lot more exposure, helps them find grants or new collaborators and enhances career opportunities. It is also an intimate social-networking tool where feedback is instant, candid and ever-flowing. A newspaper story is like a movie that you might adore or abhor, but the maker might not know how you felt about it instantly. A blog piece is like live theatre, where the adulation or booing by the audience is instant. Also, a blog is an online resource that continues to receive comments years after it is posted. By contrast, comments on online news stories taper out within a couple of days.

Blogging, however, cannot and must not replace science publishing or reporting on science. A blog is a personal viewpoint, very often informal and not bound by the classic writing structure that science or journalism schools teach us. It could be as free-flowing or structured as its author chooses it to be. The best science blogs, however, retain the classical structure – answering all questions the reader might have, explaining the scientific concept in layman’s language while adopting a conversational approach and looking at the implication of the research/study at hand.

They exceed the remit of a science article or news piece by becoming invaluable online resources, pooling in supplementary data on the topic by way of hyperlinks, pictures, diagrams and references. Most times, space constraint and format do not allow everything to be tucked into a science or news article. A blog is an ideal place to accommodate such interesting asides. In that sense, blogging is not strictly science publishing or journalism but supplements serious and consistent science or reportage.

Next up: Part III: Challenges of talking science online

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit our blog format.

Want to build your skills in science communication and get a chance to represent India at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK? Apply for #FameLabIndia.

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Is social media the place for science?

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini shares her thoughts on talking science on social media.

FameLab: The world's biggest science communication competition

FameLab: The world’s biggest science communication competition

Years back, when I made the switch from reporting science for the mainstream media (newspapers, magazines, news agencies) to an online medium Nature India, I was inundated with questions from well-meaning peers. Must I renounce the glamour of the printed word to embrace the vastness and click-or-miss anonymity of the cyber world? Doesn’t a story in black and white with the morning cuppa have a more lasting impact than one on an android phone or tablet on the go? Concerned colleagues advised helpfully: online is the future, yes, but the romance of print will never fade. And one science journalist of repute gave me a clear disapproval: ‘You are going to blog and tweet too? That’s not journalism!’

Having swum in online waters and having passionately peeped into the crevices, I am happy to report I have survived. And blogged and tweeted my head-off too. Which is one of the points of this blog series – what has the journey been like, should scientists and science journalists blog and use social media to communicate science, and where is this enormous information explosion in science communication headed for?

Before I get into these mind-boggling details, I have to admit: If there were no science bloggers and tweeps, science would not be as glamorous and widespread as it has become in the last few years. Hats off to this informed, funny, adorable and quirky brood which has made life on the internet worth living.

So why blog? The evidence is clear: science sections in newspapers are shrinking. Television wakes up to science only during a nuclear disaster, a satellite lift-off or a Higgs boson. There are very few widely read science magazines simply because they do not make great commerce. Science coverage in mainstream Indian media, like many other issues of merit, has traditionally been minimal, primarily because of advertorial pressures and the space crunch.

The obvious SOS route: go online. Report, comment, give opinion, analyse or put all that together and just blog. Or if you are the cryptic type: use the 140-character route to tweetdom.

Next up: Part II: Why are scientists taking to the blogosphere?

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit the blog format.

Want to build your skills in science communication and get a chance to represent India at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK? Apply for #FameLabIndia.

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#MeetTheTeacher – Premila Lowe

For your Monday of #MeetTheTeacher, Priyanka Chandan, Marketing Manager, Chennai caught up with the oldest, yet the youngest Teacher of English at our Chennai English language centre.

Premila Lowe, Teacher of English at British Council, Chennai

Premila Lowe

Here are five questions with Premila to get to know her better!

Priyanka Chandan (PC): Let’s start with an anecdote! Can you tell us an interesting anecdote that you recall from your days as a student?

Premila Lowe (PL): Something that I would always remember was the way I learnt to speak  English in school. It was long, long ago, when English was the sole medium of instruction and communication in Chennai schools. It was compulsory for us to speak in English on the campus. We actually had teachers going around the premises during breaks to ensure that we spoke only in English. God forbid if we didn’t, as we got knocked on our knuckles with their rulers. As they said, “Practice makes perfect” – it sure did!

PC: Why did you become a Teacher of English?

PL: I’ve always loved teaching and have been a teacher / trainer in all the professions I have been in. Added to that, a passion for teaching English overtook the challenge of being part of the Corporate World. Hence, the move to teaching English.

PC: What are students at the British Council like?

PL: Students at British Council are a lovely, mixed bunch – some eager to learn, some forced to be there, some just to be there with their peers. All of them ultimately benefit from the courses here, simply because of the way we teachers interact with them, encourage and support them. We become their best friends by the end of the course.

PC: We have a lot of students asking us how they can improve their speaking skills. What is your advice to them?

PL: One of many would be to speak to people in  English, irrespective of errors in grammar and vocabulary. This will help them gain confidence, as a lot of students don’t speak because they are afraid of being laughed at. Once they have a conversation with someone else, they should ask the other person to correct any errors they find.

PC: Have you learnt a new word recently? Tell us about it.

PL: Oh yes! I came across quite a few new words that were added to the dictionary to celebrate the author Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. One of them is “Dahlesque” which means something that resembles or is characteristic of Dahl’s works.

PC: If you got a chance to go #BacktoSchool as a student, what is the one thing that you would like to learn and unlearn?

PL: If I had a chance to go back to school as a student, one thing that I would like to learn is to pursue my interest in theatre, as opportunities those days were few. There is nothing that I would like to unlearn, as life in school and the learning gained were the greatest experiences ever.

By Priyanka Chandan

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Happy teachers’ day!

Teachers are some of the most impactful people in our lives. Some say, and I agree, that teachers hold the future in their hands!

Today we celebrate teachers; remember our favourites and even the ones we always got in trouble with. Today is Teachers’ day!

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Teachers are at the front of the transformational work we do in teaching English and teacher training; I am in constant admiration of their work.

Here are excerpts from an interview with two teachers I have worked very closely with this past year.

Neenaz Ichaporia is an Academic Manager with the British Council. She started her journey with the British Council as a Teacher of English with the English Language Centres and now manages the teaching team for myEnglish, our innovative blended learning course.

Avinash Govindarajan is Teacher of English and has taught at the English Language Centres and now teaches myEnglish.

Why did you become a Teacher of English?

Neenaz Ichaporia (NI): This may sound like a cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, as long as I can remember. I tried out other things but in my heart I knew teaching was what I wanted to do. So one day, I took some leave from my job and tried out the CELTA course. I loved it… and the rest is history.

Avinash Govindarajan (AG): I chose to teach English because I love the language and the possibilities it holds. It helps in expressing yourself and also builds better relationships if used well. I like sharing this interest with other learners and celebrate them when we’re rewarded with progress.

What is the one thing you like the most about your job?

NI: I love the feeling of satisfaction when students write to you saying that what they learned in class has been helpful to them in some way in their lives. For instance, a student from one of my speaking skills classes wrote to me saying how thrilled he was because he felt much more confident dealing with an interview and group discussion he had after the course. He also got extra credits for showing them the British Council certificate from his course and he was offered the job! This made me really happy, knowing that I helped change someone’s life for the better, even if it was in a small way.

AG: Things I like most about doing my job are the language feedback sessions with the learners in my class. Dealing with questions about English is immensely challenging and extremely rewarding (provided you know the answer!).

What are students at the British Council like?

NI: It’s been a wonderful experience teaching learners from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. I’ve taught learners from India, Burkina Faso, France, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Spain – the list is endless! I’ve taught adults both younger and older than I am. I’ve taught children as young as eight years old and I’ve taught teenagers as well. The one common thread between all these learners is their desire to learn English because they feel it will help them in some way or the other.

AG: They’re probably the most motivated learners I’ve encountered in my life. They are positive, open to feedback, and realistic in their expectations. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve listened to or read our learners’ work and have had a broad smile on my face. Pride in others’ achievements is a wonderful feeling to experience.

If there was one study tip that you could give to your students, what would it be?

NI: Stay positive and develop some independent learning skills. Independent learners try to find opportunities for study outside the classroom. They plan their time well and take every opportunity they get to speak the language they are trying to learn. Most importantly, they do some research to find answers to their language questions themselves, rather than always relying on someone else for support. For instance, an independent learner may use the British Council’s weekly Facebook Language Clinic to ask questions or may check the LearnEnglish website for answers.

AG: Experiment and seek feedback! One shouldn’t be afraid to try new things out while learning English. The more you try, the easier it is to recall the next time. Feedback is an essential part of this; so make sure you get feedback from a trusted source (like a teacher or a friend), otherwise you always have the internet!

Complete the sentence, “If I wasn’t a teacher, I’d be…”

NI: …a journalist (I’ve already done that) or a lawyer.

AG: …picking at a guitar string somewhere, trying to make some music.

What were your teachers like? Tell us about your favourite teacher on our English Facebook page by using the hashtag #TeachersDay.

Submitted by Shivangi Gupta
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