Author Archives: Malvika Malhotra

#ELTHeroes interview: Geetha Durairajan

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

Geetha_2

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

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

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

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

 This would be: 

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

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

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

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

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

 The three top tips would be:

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

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

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

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

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

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#ELTHeroes interview: Silvana Richardson

Silvana

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

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

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

My advice would be to:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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#ELTHeroes interview: Alison Barrett

Welcome to the first in our series of interviews with our #ELTHeroes! This week we are featuring Alison Barrett – global Head of English for Education Systems at the British Council.

Alison Barret

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT
I always wanted to be a journalist, but after having taught English as a volunteer in Nepal before university, I decided to do a CELTA and teach English in Japan first to see a bit more of the world.  I really loved working with children as an English teacher and I enjoyed the challenge of learning new languages and about diverse cultures, so I decided to make a career of it.  I joined the British Council in India and soon after I completed my DELTA in the UK.  I continued teaching young learners, but also taught adults at all levels and in all subjects from general English to ESP. Later I moved into teacher training. I trained as a CELTA tutor and I designed and conducted training for teachers working at the British Council and for English teachers working in government and private schools across India. At that stage I decided to do a Masters in TESOL by distance.  That was incredibly challenging to do while still working full time and looking after two children, but the Institute of Education (UK) was extremely flexible and I was able to focus my papers on specific areas of interest to our English language development and continuing professional development (CPD) work in India and South Asia. I think it’s incredibly important to stay connected to the latest research evidence and thinking in ELT, but also to stay grounded in the reality of the context. Doing an MA while still working really helped me to develop a principled and pragmatic approach. Now I am responsible for our English for Education Systems programmes globally.

2. What’s your favourite type of activity to do for your own continuing professional development – and why?
There so much you can learn outside of formal training programmes – that’s what CPD is all about!  My absolute favourite activity is using Twitter.  I follow a range of really interesting people who tweet links to research papers and studies that have direct relevance to our work in English for Education Systems.  I enjoy reading those papers, sharing them with others and discussing the implications for our work with my colleagues.  I use twitter like a living bibliography – I retweet or like tweets that I think are important and then I scroll through them later, pulling out the ones I think I need at that time. It’s also a great way to network and meet like-minded people, or to search for studies that relate to specific research questions you may have, or to follow conferences virtually. You can find me on Twitter at albarrett09.  As well as being an avid twitterer and taking formal courses, I have also joined a number of free MOOCs over the last year or so.  Have a look at the FutureLearn website for details of a range of courses on ELT, as well as courses on general education.

3. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘planning lessons and courses’?
If you don’t know where you are going you will never get there.  The lesson plan helps you to identify what your destination is, and then map out the different pathways to that destination. You shouldn’t worry if you get lost on the way, it’s important to teach the students and not the plan. If you got lost in real life you wouldn’t just keep going, but you would stop, try and work out where you took a wrong turn and then map out a new route to the same destination. The same goes for teaching. Use your plan as a prop for you in the classroom, but also to stimulate reflection afterwards, and to help you come up with a new plan. Make sure your plan is in a format that works for you.

4. What do you think is the most important quality for an English language teacher to have in order to help learners to achieve learning outcomes in the classroom?
It’s very easy to obsess about your own teaching style or to worry about whether you used a particular technique well or not.  That is important of course but not if that’s the only thing you worry about! As teachers we need to focus on the learning and ask ourselves what kind of reaction our teaching is having on the students. You can try a number of things to help you focus on them: keep a record of their progress in classroom assessments; identify one or two students and ask a colleague to observe them as you teach and see if they could grasp the key learning points of the lesson; ask the students themselves what kind of techniques they find the most useful, for example. There is some evidence to indicate that teachers who believe in their own ability or efficacy as teachers, but also believe in their students and give them an appropriate level of challenge in the classroom are more likely to help their students achieve more for themselves. Never stop learning yourself either: CPD is for life!

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#ELTHeroes interview: Amol Padwad

This week in our #ELTHeroes series we’ve been speaking to Amol Padwad. Amol teaches English in J. M. Patel College, Bhandara, Maharashtra. He is the Convener for AINET – the All India Network of English Teachers, and an ELT consultant with a special interest in teacher development.

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1) Tell us a little bit about your career in English language teaching (ELT).
I worked as a primary teacher for two years and a secondary teacher for another two years before becoming a college teacher (for over 28 years now!). I became a teacher without any teaching qualifications; it was temporary employment to support myself during my higher studies. But I quickly realized that I loved teaching and decided to make it a career. Then I went on to do my Masters in English, MPhil, PhD, PGDTE and MEd TESOL, all the while working as a teacher. I am sure that the first four years in primary and secondary schools provided me with a solid foundation in ELT and in education in general. I am fortunate that over the years I could also go through richly diverse learning as a trainer, course designer, consultant, researcher, project manager and teacher association leader.

2) What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘understanding learners’?
Understanding our learners is a way to understand ourselves too as teachers and learners. In teacher education there is a notion called ‘apprenticeship of learning,’ which implies that when we become teachers we constantly rely on our memories of our own teachers to get ideas for our teaching. I would strongly recommend recalling not only what and how our teachers did, but also recalling what we did as learners, how we felt, what we wanted and what we got. There are many insights to be gained from our own experience as learners. (However, these insights need to be weighed against the radically changed circumstances of learning and profiles of learners now!) The process of developing skills and knowledge in ‘understanding learners’ should not ignore the simple fact that our learners are human beings and treating them as ‘whole persons’ should be the bottom line of all skills and knowledge in this area.

3) By what simple techniques can I make my colleagues and learners more active in using spoken English?
Unfortunately, there are no ‘simple’ techniques which can ensure quick output. A lot of complications – emotional, linguistic, contextual and situational – are involved when we find people hesitant to speak in English. I think, apart from insufficient language, fear of speaking in English is a key reason behind such hesitation. Developing language competence is a long and laborious process. Neither the teacher, nor the learner, should waste their time running after non-existent ‘Fluent English in xx Days’ kind of solutions. Language learning takes time. But what we can and should surely do is to promote a safe and encouraging atmosphere in staff rooms and classrooms, where people will not be afraid of speaking (and making mistakes). In this connection, one specific behavioural precaution we English teachers can take is not to ‘show off’ our English, tolerate mistakes made by others and concentrate more on what they say than how they say it. Whatever may be our actual English competence, others generally tend to view us as ‘experts’ and already feel extra pressure using English in our presence. But once they see that they could communicate in their ‘poor’ English (which may not be actually poor) and nobody bothered about the wrong grammar, a lot of fear is gone!

4) In today’s dynamic work environment, how can a teacher keep herself/himself motivated for their own continuing professional development (CPD)?
There are two opposite ways this question can be approached. We may begin by assuming that teachers are originally (‘by default’) unmotivated and hence they need to be motivated. Or we may assume that teachers are by default motivated, but there are ‘dampeners’ or obstacles which work against that motivation, which need to be removed. I think the second approach is more productive and does not take a ‘deficit view’ of teacher motivation. Because, in John Holt style, I wonder ‘do teachers have any vested interest in not growing?’ And I can’t yet find any.
So, if one wants to keep oneself motivated for CPD, I would suggest exploring what those ‘dampeners’ or obstacles are which work against our original interest in professional development. Some usual suspects are apathetic environment, unsupportive administration, lack of resources, heavy workload, lack of freedom and absence of incentives or rewards for CPD. Many of these are beyond the control of an individual – we probably can’t do much about them. It will take a long time and huge efforts to change the system, which may not happen until we retire. So the options are clear – we surrender to circumstances and confess that nothing can be done, or we accept them as reality and try to find hundreds of small ways in which we can do something for our own CPD. If you look around you will find a surprisingly large number of teachers doing wonderful little things in their small individual spaces and refusing to turn into ‘educational daily-wage labourers’. Let’s look up to them for motivation!

5)  Some authorities and some teachers are very active in education. How can we make this process more inclusive and have active participation from all stakeholders?
I assume the word ‘active’ means making constructive and productive contribution to education. (Because there are authorities and teachers ‘active’ in education in many different ways!) Before we think of how to make this ‘activeness’ inclusive of other stakeholders, let’s first wonder why it does not include all (or most) authorities and teachers. Why only some authorities and teachers? Plausibly, these ‘some’ authorities and teachers are active of their own accord, active because they have some personal commitment and interest. The real challenge is how to develop an educational culture in which every teacher and authority shows such commitment and involvement. (And if authorities and teachers come, can other stakeholders be far behind?) This is a hugely complex challenge and I can’t think of any ready suggestions on how to tackle it. My hunch is that this issue of educational culture is related to the fundamental confusion our education system seems to suffer from – whether we want to run education as charity or business.

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