Category Archives: English

MBA Students to Actors: How Everyone Is Benefiting From a Change in Tech and Education

[As appeared on The Better India, October 2017]

Using live online classrooms and guided online activities, these teachers are changing the traditional model and bringing the classroom to their students across India.

myEnglish teachers at the British Council, India are guiding adult learners to achieve success through interactive online English courses. Unlike most teachers however, their job comes with a twist – their classroom exists in the virtual world!

Read responses from some of our myEnglish teachers to questions about their work and their students.

Picture1

How did you get into this very 21st century way of working?

Purbani: “I was given an opportunity to be a part of an online teacher-training programme. The course opened new avenues for me and I realised that online teaching might just be the future of education”.

Avinash: “I’ve always been interested in the use of technology in making learning engaging and more accessible. I’d had some experience as a student and was interested in the implications it had for a teacher. I felt there were several possibilities to be explored with online teaching.”

Huma: “The excitement of doing something so new and the fear of the unknown meant it would expand my teaching skills as well as give the flexibility and convenience of working at my own pace in my own space – something I had been long wishing for.”

Ellora: “I love teaching online. It allows me to work from home which saves time and allows flexibility”.

Rajul: “I can see all my students; I connect with them online and deliver classes prepared for them in a relaxed, fun manner without feeling the need to travel and rush into class from home. I am teaching from home! Even the students don’t have to go to class; the class comes to them wherever they are”.

What’s a typical week on a course like for your students?

Huma: “Interactive, practical, exciting, and demanding nevertheless! Everything that happens in a face-to-face class is possible here. The only thing different – the location, of course”.

Purbani: “A student spends around five hours of study on online activities per week and meets the trainer and the classmates for two hours over a live online session. The study time can be spread across the week or can be spent on two consecutive days – the flexibility is key”.

Avinash: “Students complete their online activities in order to prepare for the forum discussions and online classes as they’re linked and build on each other. They respond to forum posts and add their own. This gives them a chance to practise the language they’ve learned and this gives me an opportunity to respond to their opinions and ideas and give individual feedback”.

Rajul: “They also review videos to recap their learning, increase their vocabulary and access the website to explore and learn more. Unknowingly they learn to manage their time and study independently, overcome their fear of writing and gain confidence in their speaking. They communicate with others without hesitation in real life situations”.

What are the benefits of teaching and learning in an online format? Have you faced and overcome any challenges?  

Huma: “I’m neither a technophobe nor am I tech-savvy. Like some of my students, I’ve had to work my way through handling technology but it’s been fun. I tell myself that I’ve been developing some 21st Century skills!”

Purbani: “In a face-to-face classroom, we often see that the learning stops once the learner leaves the classroom. On an online course, the possibilities of learning are limitless”.

Avinash: “One of the main challenges both learners and I have faced as a teacher is time management. In my experience, setting realistic weekly targets and working frequently and for shorter durations has helped most students and me have an enjoyable and enriching experience on the course”.

Can you share any success stories?

Rajul: There’s a student who was not even ready to write or talk to anyone because he didn’t feel confident. He’s currently enrolled in an MBA class! Another student was unwilling to speak in class. He would just say ‘I can’t’. After the course, he got selected to appear for a TV interview”.

Huma: “One of my students has special needs and passed the course! This also goes to show that we are truly inclusive and the courses are meant for everybody”.

Avinash: “I taught an award-winning actor. She wanted to develop her fluency and accuracy as she had upcoming projects in international films. Over 3 courses she has developed her accuracy to a great degree, especially in pronunciation, and is now so much more confident with intonation and emotion in the English language.”

Purbani: “At the formal launch of myEnglish courses in August a former student of mine spoke to the gathered press in an eloquent manner about his wonderful experience on our online courses”.

Ellora: “A student from my class wanted to speak better English so he could study International Law. When he joined my class he had scored a 5 in IELTS. He completed the whole level and took his IELTS again, he scored a 7.5. He’s going to Canada in 2018 for his studies”.

The clock is ticking. What's your

Pave your path to success by being a part of the British Council’s online courses. Click here to learn more about our online English resources to help you improve your fluency, accuracy and confidence.

Share via email

What makes an online course click?

The article has been authored by Beth Caldwell, Head Blended Learning, British Council India.            [As appeared on Hindustan Times, 20 September 2017]

The education system in India, and across the globe, has undergone many transformations. It has evolved from community sessions in open spaces to classrooms with blackboards, to being truly online and on-demand. Today, technology is at the heart of everything that we do, including education and learning. The proliferation of gadgets and access to the Internet has democratised education and given a level playing field to anyone who wants to improve or enhance their level of proficiency in any subject. As per a recent Google-KPMG report, the Indian online education sector is expected to grow eight-fold to a USD 1.96 billion industry by 2021, owing to increased smartphone penetration and increasing data speed. 99811

These statistics and estimates are impressive and promising, and there is no doubt that millions of individuals are inclined towards online courses given their multiple benefits such as ease of access, flexibility, personalisation etc. The demand has given rise to a multitude of online course providers and the development of MOOCs designed by faculty members from prestigious universities the world over. Hence online course seekers today, especially working professionals, have multiple courses and provider options to choose from depending on their schedule, the current level of subject knowledge, additional skill requirements at the workplace and course content and budget, among other considerations.

Given the complexities of modern-day lifestyles and growing workplace skill demands, the popularity of such courses in the long-run seems very promising. The only question now is if learners benefit from such courses and if these online courses are delivering the promised value. It is time to assess all online courses on one key parameter – effectiveness! Are the learners who have enrolled for such courses getting the maximum value and learning what they expected to or were promised? Are these courses simply cashing in on the need or are they actually delivering results? Or, at least, ensuring progress? Yes, technology has enabled access and provided more tools – e-classrooms, e-books, video tutorials – and facilitated greater collaboration through connected workplaces, remote working, virtual presence and annotation capabilities. But there is a need to utilise this all-powerful platform in the right manner. There is a need to ensure that the AR/VR headsets, e-classrooms, etc. act as tools that truly foster and catalyse learning rather than going down in the history books as ‘disruptive ideas that had immense potential’.

97494Hence, the real success of online courses should be measured by learning outcomes rather than just access. On how many students learnt vis-à-vis how many students enrolled. How much the students remembered and applied vis-à-vis how many modules they attended. Effectiveness and end result must be the parameter for both course providers as well as the customers. For instance, there are many online courses for improving one’s English proficiency, but do these courses ensure effective learning? Are these courses designed and structured in a way to ensure the desired learning outcomes for the learners? At the core of this discussion lie the basics of teaching. All our experience and research in the area of English language teaching proves that student-centered learning is catalysed through techniques using a communicative approach, such as classroom discussions and guided discovery, so that learners develop their independent learning capabilities and learn from and interact with each other, rather than passively receive information. Guidance and regular feedback ensure that learners progress and achieve their learning goals, and meaningful tasks based on real-life situations help consolidate what has been taught. Just as in our physical classrooms, this ethos is also behind the design of our online English course myEnglish.

Given that the platform, the experience, the environment and the tools are all relatively new, especially to the majority of the learners taking up such courses, the real magic of technology lies in creating a user-friendly and interactive environment that learners can relate to and are comfortable with. The onus also lies on the course developers to include effective teaching and evaluation techniques in the delivery structure and ensure that technology is effectively utilized to ensure success. Looking at the example of an effective online English course – yes, it must be available on demand and across devices – but should also offer an environment conducive to learning and a methodology that replicates effective classroom pedagogy, using techniques that enable progress. Hence, an online course is only successful once the learners effectively recollect, not when they simply connect (to the Internet)!

Find out more about our English courses and resources to help you improve your fluency, accuracy, and confidence: www.britishcouncil.in/English

The clock is ticking. What's your

Share via email

Learning from innovation – a digital approach to developing creativity in schools

Written by Andrew Foster – Senior Academic Manager, British Council, South India

It’s well known that teachers are busy people with many demands on their time, from administrative matters to participating in projects alongside their day-to-day work with students in the classroom, so it’s not surprising that finding time to attend face-to-face training workshops can be a challenge. Technology can offer an alternative to bringing teachers to learn and share their classroom experiences in the same physical space, although we need more information on teachers’ ability to access and use digital resources to understand what can work for them.

Core Skills* (also known as 21st century skills) are a focus of the Pudumai Palli Project: Developing Innovative Schools in Chennai (P3DISC) in which the British Council, teachers, students and head teachers of 70 of the city’s high schools have been working together over three years. One of the Core Skills we’ve focused on is digital literacy. Early in the project we discovered that it was rare to find computers that teachers or students could access in schools, with the internet usually only available to the school secretary or head. Quite a few teachers needed basic IT and email skills (which we added training for) while for some, access to the internet is via mobile only. WhatsApp became a key channel for communication between, to and from teachers, and one that we could use to learn about their digital habits and preferences.

We also identified the need to develop teachers’ ability to build their learners’ creativity and imagination skills. We wanted to trial how technology could be used to provide this training, via a simple digital learning resource which was in line with the teachers’ developing digital literacy skills.

User preferences

To explore what kind of an app teachers would be able to use and would find interesting, we initially asked them about which websites, apps and games they used. Their responses provided clues about what might be both engaging and navigable for them. An animated story with alternative choices for the teachers was decided on, and the concept developers mapped out the optional story paths in a cobweb of arrows and textboxes.

Conceptualising design

This story design then went to animators at Flow Creative, based in Manchester, who depicted a class with their teacher trying to enliven a cross-curricular theme of encouraging tourism in the students’ locality. The user follows the story and is presented with three choices of action, one of which will best encourage students’ creativity and imagination. Upon choosing one, the user receives feedback (spoken and in text) after which the teacher can return to the other options or carry on with the storyline. Sharing pictures from the animation with the teachers’ WhatsApp group got their opinions on the look of the classroom, the students and the teacher and their feedback was used to revise how these appear.

Piloting

The main test came when teachers used the pilot app – an opportunity for us to evaluate how easy and interesting or not they found it to use, and what they would learn. This evaluation was designed by The Research Base who were the third-party evaluators for the wider P3DISC project.

Many of the teachers were unfamiliar with aspects of the interface and needed assistance to find how to turn on optional subtitles that accompanied the spoken English narrative, and to select one of the boxed short texts which would give them feedback on their choice (see the photo below). It was clear that messages or illustrations could be added to guide the teachers, and subtitles made ‘always on’. The app was in English, and teachers’ comprehension abilities vary widely, so some appreciated the way that the app illustrated what was being described. One commented, ‘It was very helpful because even when we could not understand all the words the animation helped us.’

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Teachers from Corporation of Chennai schools pilot the creativity and imagination app

Once the teachers got used to the format they were interested to follow the story and make the choices that followed each of its stages. To find out what teachers had learned, we asked them to do a quick ‘pre’ and ‘post’ test on ways to encourage creativity to see if their responses changed after using the app.

The test results showed some positive changes in teachers’ thinking and knowledge. After using the app more teachers saw the advantage in letting students take the lead in stages of the lesson, more thought that defining ‘right and wrong answers’ can be unhelpful in the process of encouraging creativity, and more were convinced that creativity has a place in a wide range of school subjects. Most teachers found the app ‘useful’ (46 per cent) or ‘very useful’ (41 per cent) for their classroom teaching. Almost all the teachers involved said that they would recommend the content to others, citing how it helps to develop teaching techniques, using new, creative ideas that are key in teaching 21st century skills. Of 26 teachers interviewed between one and three weeks later, 25 reported they were finding the training useful for their classrooms.

Learning in motion

Using an animated, story-based app was a first for these 76 teachers, who were used to receiving input on what to do in the classroom via print media, face-to-face training or the occasional use of websites, and they enjoyed having something more engaging and dynamic than a text or a video with no built-in interaction. They found that the information came a bit too fast for them and suggested that the ability to watch and listen to sections again would help.

This experience has helped us to think about how we can better engage teachers to learn and reflect about the choices they can make in the classroom. It has also underlined the need for us to try out and evaluate digital routes to learning so that we are supporting teachers and learners effectively and not making assumptions about what is accessible or intuitive.

P3DISC_2

* The six Core Skills that the British Council works in partnership to develop in young people are creativity and imagination, citizenship, collaboration and cooperation, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving, and digital literacy.

Share via email

Technology for teachers: from awareness to integration

By Adi Rajan, Project Coordinator, British Council, India

How do you feel about using technology for teaching and your professional development? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Does it depend what day, which learners, what technology it is?

For those of us who are digital immigrants, integrating information and communication technology (ICT) into our teaching practice and using technology for our own professional development can seem either an impossible challenge or perhaps a distraction from ‘real teaching’. This is especially true when we are confronted with the skills our students, who are often digital natives, demonstrate with new technology, along with what might seem to be an unhealthy obsession with screens. On the other hand, using technology offers exciting opportunities to improve our teaching and new routes to professional development.

The digital landscape we find ourselves in is vast. Where do we start and what path should we follow to make the process of developing ourselves with technology manageable and meaningful within our teaching contexts? The professional practice of ‘Integrating ICT’ on the British Council’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Framework for teachers gives us a handy map for exploring this digital world across four different stages of development.

1.       Awareness

Setting off on a digital journey requires us to develop an awareness of what’s out there. The Internet is full of resources for professional development and classroom teaching. From blogs to e-books and webinars to online courses, you should be able to find something that meets your specific needs.

2.       Understanding

Before launching into active participation, it’s a good idea to observe interactions and gradually develop an understanding of how communication takes place in these forums. Another way of building your digital confidence is through participation in online conferences. These are hosted regularly by the British Council and teaching associations including IATEFL, OLLReN and the Virtual Round Table.

You can also sign up for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – for example on the FutureLearn platform – and join thousands who are learning online in a flexible but collaborative way. If you’re looking for a more personal experience, enroll in an e-moderated course. These are like MOOCs but tend to be on a smaller scale with more opportunities for completing assignments and getting feedback from a tutor. Examples include the British Council’s tutored courses on special educational needs and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

3.       Engagement

Now it’s time to start producing your own digital content. For instance, if you’ve been reading and becoming inspired by blogs written by other teachers, why not start your own teaching blog? My own experience with writing an ELT blog  has been extremely enriching. Blogging has made me a more reflective teacher and given me opportunities to build deep connections with teachers from around the world.

You can also use online tools to design a presentation or document on a topic that interests you or explores some insights from the classroom. To make this a richer experience, you could work with peers using an online collaborative tool. The next step is sharing this work with colleagues on social media which will enable you to contribute productively to online communities of practice.

4.       Integration

Finally, you are ready to showcase your digital experiences and help other teachers complete their development journey. Identify opportunities for giving a webinar presentation or try to organise your own. This will help you consolidate a range of technology-enabled skills and provide valuable insights to others. You can also become more actively involved by coordinating and organising events such as hosting a Twitter chat or a webinar.

The digital world that perhaps seemed so unfamiliar at first is that one that you will hopefully come to see as a source of comfort and strength, as you draw on the global connections you build to overcome challenges and achieve your professional development goals. In time, you may even begin to recognise that this technology-driven world that you initially felt you didn’t belong to, was in fact yours all along!

********************************************************************************

Try our new Technology for Teachers series which includes easy-to-use two-page guides some tools that explored in this blog. We’ll be sharing new guides every week over the next couple of months.


********************************************************************************

Want more information?

 

Share via email

Improve your speaking skills for the workplace

Written by Neenaz Ichaporia, Academic Manager, Blended Learning  

Do you want to speak more confidently at work? Many of our students feel the same:

  • “I have good knowledge of my field. But because of my weak communication skills, I am not able to convince my customers. I can do better if I improve my skills in public speaking.”
  • “I have obtained a higher position at work, but my English is too simple. Sometimes I find it difficult to explain some situations.”
  • “I always have this feeling that my English is not good enough. Improving it will help me in my career by boosting my confidence.”

As English is the international language of business communication, professionals are looking to improve their speaking skills. There are three main areas to consider:

  • Fluency
  • Business communication skills
  • Pronunciation

People lack confidence in speaking English when they don’t have enough chances to practice. If that’s you, don’t worry! You can improve your speaking by using online resources.

Improve your fluency

CaptureThis is the ability to express ideas quickly and clearly. This does not mean talking quickly – that can be very confusing for your listener!

  • Use the ‘You’re Hired’ series from the British Council Learn English website. It helps you learn skills for finding a job. Watch the videos and then practice the dialogue.
  • To improve anything, you need practice. So, practise speaking out loud, even if you are alone.
  • You can use the BBC’s Get that Job series. The activities and quizzes build your knowledge of job-related vocabulary.

Improve your business communication skills

At work, you may need to do different tasks e.g. making a presentation, attending a meeting, or answering a telephone call. It’s helpful to learn useful language and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of business communication.

  • Listen to the free Professionals podcasts from the British Council to improve English for your career. These are useful for intermediate to advanced levels.
  • Use the pause button and repeat whole phrases after listening. This will help you say them right and remember them.
  • Note down new phrases you hear and use them in conversations at work.
  • Are you a job seeker or a young professional? You can do the free short course English for the Workplace. This will help you with language to find and start a job.

Improve your pronunciation

ChartHaving good, clear pronunciation can help you communicate clearly and sound more professional. Here’s how you can learn the features of good pronunciation.

  • Start with individual sounds. Practise these out loud to better say them.
  • You will find phonemic script very useful. It’s used to describe the sounds of language (not the spelling). The British Council has a free phonemic chart to download as an app.
  • Understanding phonemic script is useful when you’re looking up words in the dictionary. Most good dictionaries use this to show the pronunciation of words.
  • Do you know which sounds you find more difficult? Listen to and practise these sounds out loud.

We hope you have found these tips useful and are motivated to go online and practice. This will help improve your speaking skills and confidence.

Sign up for a myEnglish Workplace course to boost your career prospects. This online course is delivered by expert British Council teachers. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn live from the experts! Register now.

Achieve success with myEnglish (1)

Share via email

Why you need to develop assessment literacy

Written by Neenaz Ichaporia, Academic Manager, Blended Learning  

Assessment of learning or assessment for learning?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘testing’? Do you imagine a large exam hall with rows of students, bending over their desks and furiously scribbling away, under a teacher’s vigilant gaze? Or you may think of a large-scale standardised test, like IELTS.

There is a tendency to consider assessment as big, standardised tests or summative, achievement tests. This traditional view is known as ‘assessment of learning’ and is used to evaluate learners, comparing them against established criteria, scales, or one another. Even the lexis we use reinforces this idea of assessment as something that is done to learners; a teacher ‘administers’ a test, while a learner ‘takes’ or ‘sits’ it.

Yet there is another increasingly popular position where assessment is learning orientated, known as ‘assessment for learning’. Rather than simply measuring a learner’s performance, assessment is used to gain valuable insights into the learning process. Both teachers and learners use feedback to improve learning and performance.

Educators increasingly acknowledge that ‘assessment of learning’ can weaken classroom practice, while using ‘assessment for learning’ can promote learner progress. Although the latter, more contemporary, view of assessment has gained popularity in pedagogy, it is unclear if it permeates our classroom practice. The fact remains that ‘assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning has preoccupied the minds of the profession for many years’.[1]

Therefore, it is increasingly important for teachers to recognise the role assessment plays in learning and teaching. In other words, we need ‘assessment literacy’, defined as ‘the knowledge about, and a comprehensive understanding of, students’ skills and ability, interpreting the collected data from the assessments, and using these interpretations to improve students’ learning and development by making appropriate decisions.’[2]

Perhaps without realising it, teachers assess learners all the time and in a variety of ways. In fact, many activities in regular classroom practice can be called assessment. For instance, this takes place each time a teacher sets a task, when learners perform that task or respond to questions, and the teacher uses their responses to make decisions about the learners’ skills.

Seen from this perspective, most teachers would benefit from training in how to use the information gained from assessment more meaningfully, provide constructive feedback to learners, and to help learners to use this feedback to build on their performance.

Assessment literacy is not only for professional examiners and teachers, but also for school leaders.  By aligning the objectives of the course with formal and informal assessment, teaching/learning practices may be made more effective. There is a further argument that learners too can benefit from assessment literacy. Such ‘sustainable assessment’ should ‘move from the exclusive domain of assessors into the hands of learners’.[3] It is argued that assessment can be used to build learners’ skills for continuing or lifelong learning, thereby building a learning society.

How can you develop your own assessment literacy?

When I started out in my career, I thought of testing in more narrow terms as ‘assessment of learning’. Gaining a better understanding of the purposes of assessment, and the principles on which good assessment is based, has been a journey of discovery. Some of this learning happened during my own professional practice, through trial and error. At other points, my understanding of assessment was sharpened by formal training.

There are several avenues available for educators looking to boost their assessment literacy and here are some relevant ones:

Free British Council resources:

  1. Start by watching the free short, animated assessment videos from the British Council. These give you an insight into some of the main topics in language assessment. Use the accompanying worksheets and answer keys for deeper knowledge.
  2. Refer to the British Council’s free comprehensive assessment glossary, which consists of hundreds of definitions of terms to do with language assessment written by practitioners with language teachers in mind.

Books and publications: 

  1. Two practical guides are: Arthur Hughes’ ‘Testing for Language Teachers’, and Marge Scherer’s ‘On Formative Assessment: Readings from Educational Leadership’.
  2. Browse the British Council’s Assessment Research Publications. Other reports that detail the main issues include these  two from the Learning and Skills Development Agency and the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

Paid association membership:  

  1. Become a member of TEASIG (the Testing, Evaluation and Assessment Special Interest Group) of IATEFL and connect with fellow professionals worldwide.

[1] Jones, C. (2005 p. 1). Assessment for Learning. London, UK: Learning and Skills Development Agency: accessed at http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7800/1/AssessmentforLearning.pdf

[2] Coombe, C. (2018 p. 10). An A to Z of Second Language Assessment: How Language Teachers Understand Assessment Concepts. London, UK: British Council.

[3] David Boud (2010 p. 151). Sustainable Assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22:2, 151-167, DOI: 10.1080/713695728

Share via email

EDGE – empowering girls to change their world

Written by Ruchi Jain, Academic Manager East India and Deepali Dharmaraj, Senior Academic Manager – Training Consultant Network and Resources.

‘I will talk to my Ma about giving me the same food as my bhai (brother)’, said Rani. ‘We will protest against the daily harassment that we face on our way to the centre’, chorused the girls but not before I heard a small voice, ‘I will eat more vegetable and fruits for better health’.  These are the small but significant desires to bring about change from participants in Baladbandh and Kumrogodi, on the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) pilot project with Rasik Bhita, an organisation working with women in West Bengal’s Hoogly district.

The change agent
EDGE aims to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically marginalised communities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal where digital and gender divides are significant, and opportunities are limited. The programme focuses on providing participants with training and resources to develop their English proficiency, digital skills, 21st century skills and awareness of social issues in peer-led after-school clubs. The programme also aims to build trust within the communities to change and develop the perception of the value of girls within those communities. To date the programme has reached over 17,000 girls in 750 clubs across the region.

In a pilot project with Rasik Bhita, a group of adolescent girls recently met over a two-week period to trial the materials and Peer Group Leader model. The girls supported each other’s learning in these informal yet structured input sessions on English, digital and social skills. Eight British Council trained PGLs facilitated sessions and the participants benefited from a relaxed and enjoyable approach in the centre. ‘I did not know that learning was fun!’ said a PGL, a thought echoed by the participants after a round of a memory game aiming to practice greetings and small talk in English.

The context
Girls in South Asia continue to face innumerable challenges in their lives, many of which are due to unequal perceptions of gender equality. According to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, as many as 19 per cent of women experience violence at home. Although instances are reducing, early marriage is a common obstacle in the education and employment of women. Poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and poor nutrition are also daily concerns. Women also work as much as three times more than men in domestic chores which can prohibit or delay their educational and professional development.

A UNESCO report from 2013 (UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013) shows that educated rural women can bring about a host of changes in their lives and in the lives of people around them. For example, educated women are less likely to marry early and consequently early child-bearing risks can be reduced, leading to lower infant mortality rates. Educated women value hygiene and health which leads to better nutrition of their children. Also, an educated woman is more likely to find work and gain financial stability.

In 2018, the British Council is undertaking a detailed study to explore livelihood opportunities for women in South Asia, ensuring that the EDGE programme develops the most appropriate skills for these young people.

A way forward
Everyone can work closely to empower girls and support their education. We can strengthen learning, boost confidence and celebrate role models. Here are some of the practical ways that we seek to address these issues through the EDGE programme and our wider work relating to gender:

  • Holding open dialogues with learners about challenges and involving boys as well in looking for solutions
  • Inviting working women professionals to counsel learners on career choices
  • Introducing vocational skills
  • Making learners aware of successful women and their achievements
  • Celebrating International Women’s Day, sharing the success of our learners
  • Creating student council bodies which include both boys and girls
  • Organising competitions and programmes to showcase the talents of our learners
  • Teaching more than the typical syllabus – addressing real-life issues such as early marriage or the importance of a balanced diet
  • Fostering 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

For more information, read about the British Council’s approach to promoting gender equality and the EDGE project.

Share via email

“Teaching hardly matters, learning does”

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

I’ve shamelessly stolen the title of this blog from Jim Scrivener, whose presentation I attended at the recent IATEFL* conference in Brighton. I’m not sure I entirely agree – good teaching clearly supports effective learning – but the sentiment interests me, not least because it seems to sum up one of the emerging themes of the conference this year: English language teachers need to remember what is truly important about the work that we do and not let ourselves get distracted by all the various trappings of the multi-million dollar industry that has grown up around ELT**.

In my experience, most conferences can be boiled down into a few key messages for participants to take away. I don’t think these are always planned or intentional – although the existence of a conference theme can help give them some direction – but instead the current collective consciousness of the profession often seems to emerge during the course of the event. Of course, these are subjective to a large extent, but conversations with others suggest at least some commonality. These themes aren’t shaped only by fads or trends within the profession, but also by the way the world is changing around us. Technology is an obvious example – many recent conferences have reflected on (and usually championed) the integration of technology into our teaching. But this year at IATEFL it was interesting to note people questioning the its role. As its use gathers pace, do we need to consider going back to basics and ensure that we are controlling the use of digital tools, rather than the other way round?

Similarly, there were questions raised around the publishing industry and whether it has lost sight of its true purpose. According to the hugely popular plenary speaker Dorothy Zemach, many publishers are focusing too much on making money and retaining their market share rather than ensuring the quality of their products and capitalising on the creativity of experienced ELT writers. She called upon teachers to be more discerning in their choice of course book and to question the motives when offered multiple wraparound elements for free which might actually just distract from effective classroom teaching and learning. Dorothy also questioned whether a one size fits all global approach to product development was really helpful, beyond the reduction in costs this provides for publishers. This was highlighted again in Barry O’Sullivan’s entertaining plenary, where he called for assessments to be made more localised and personalised to individual needs and context.

Brita Fernandez Schmidt from Women for Women International had a strong message for delegates about the purpose and power of English and education more generally: women supported by this organisation in countries including Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan have escaped poverty, violence and damaging ingrained social norms as a result of educational interventions. English has considerable power to enable positive change by generating hope and opportunity for a better life and as English language teachers we have the capacity to be agents of that change. To paraphrase Spider-Man, we mustn’t forget the great responsibility that comes with that power.

To return to Jim Scrivener’s statement, it is true that learning matters most of all, not only for our students but also for teachers. Attending conferences supports teacher learning – and hopefully as a result of that, their learners – not just because of the content and ideas shared in each session but also the learning that takes place on the sidelines. Networking with colleagues and meeting new ones is key, as is critically reflecting on the messages and themes that bubble under the surface, taking shape only as the conference develops.

What conferences are you attending this year? Our new conference calendar might help you to decide. If you know of others we should include, please let us know.

A selection of the best sessions from IATEFL 2018 are available to view online here.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

Representatives from British Council India’s delegation to IATEFL (L-R): Amy Lightfoot; Nagesh Lohare; Urvi Shah; Radhika Gholkar; Ashok Chavan; Nisar Shaikh.

*IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

**ELT: English language teaching

Share via email

Improve your speaking skills with online resources

Improve your speaking skills with online resources

What do you think is involved in speaking English well?

There are three main areas to consider:

  • Fluency
  • Pronunciation
  • Communication skills

Which of these do you find most difficult?

People may lack confidence in speaking English because they don’t have enough opportunities to practice. If that’s you, don’t worry: There are things you can do to improve your speaking on your own, using online resources.

Improve your fluency

This is the ability to put your ideas into speech quickly and clearly. This does not mean talking quickly – that can be very confusing for your listener!

Hired

  • Improving anything needs practice so you have to practice speaking out loud, even if you are alone.
  • Read aloud every day. This exercises your vocal muscles. Just like any other muscle, they need a regular workout.
  • It’s a good idea to listen first to what you are going to read aloud so you have a good model to copy.
  • You’re Hired’ series from the British Council Learn English website looks at skills for finding a job. You could watch the videos and then practice the dialogue.

Improve your pronunciation

ChartThere are several different features of good pronunciation; from being able to say individual sounds to saying whole chunks of speech.

  • A good place to start is with individual sounds. Practising these out loud will help you to better say them.
  • You will find phonemic script very useful. It’s used to describe the sounds of language (not the spelling). The British Council has a free interactive phonemic chart to download as an app.
  • Understanding phonemic script is useful when you’re looking up words in the dictionary, as good dictionaries use this to show the pronunciation of words.
  • Do you know which sounds you find more difficult? Perhaps saying ‘th’? By listening to and practising these sounds out loud, you can make improvements to your speech.

Improve your communication skills

Strategies for opening, keeping the conversation going and responding help you communicate more easily. Learning useful phrases to use in conversation is more useful than learning lots of individual words.

  • Note down new expressions and use them often. If you don’t have a chance to say to them, why not use them in informal text chats on social media? Text chatting (e.g. WhatsApp) and spoken conversations have similar features.
  • You’ll find lots of useful everyday expressions and other vocabularies in the British Council podcasts for learners. You can download the podcasts so you can listen and practice anywhere
  • Use the pause button and repeat whole phrases when you are listening. This will help you to get used to saying them right and remember them.
  • The British Council also has a soap opera ‘Big City, Small World’ which will help you to learn and use everyday expressions in your conversations.
  • We hope you have found these tips useful and they have motivated you to go online and practice to improve your speaking skills and confidence.
Share via email

Defining and measuring quality teaching: is it getting the attention it deserves?

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had? What made him or her ‘the best’? Was it because he or was funny, or kind? Or because she was generous with her praise … or selfish, so you felt you’d really earned it when it came? Or was it because he just really knew his stuff and how to make a class of 30 kids want to find out more? What are the qualities that make a good teacher … or the best teacher?

On a personal level, we can define our favourite teachers and easily discuss why we liked them so much. But do these personal judgements really tell us whether or not a teacher is good at his or her job? How can we best determine whether a teacher is really providing quality in the classroom? How can we best evaluate teacher performance, in a way that is supportive and helps the teacher to further develop her skills? These are some of the questions that have formed the basis of a recent project of inquiry led by the British Council.

We set out to answer these questions using a two pronged approach. First, we have commissioned a review of the global literature to try to better understand the different ways that teachers – specifically English language teachers – are evaluated around the world. Together with Dr Simon Borg, we have been exploring the varied terminology and strategies employed by different education systems to measure teacher and teaching quality. A clear outcome of this work has been the realisation that there is relatively little research conducted specifically around how English language teachers are evaluated or assessed. The full review will be published at the beginning of next year.

Secondly, we’re developing national-level case studies of practices, tools and processes used in teacher evaluation. The first of these will come from India. The purpose of these case studies is to shine a brighter light on specific contexts, setting out the current state of play and considering the contextual differences which may impact on the adoption of one approach or another when it comes to teacher evaluation.

To try and ensure as detailed a picture as possible of the varied India context, we convened a group of representatives from 23 different organisations and government agencies, along with several independent consultant experts, to share their knowledge and experience gained while working across the teacher education sector in India. Over the course of two meetings the group has wrestled with definitions, lamented the many challenges and shared inspiring stories of positive interventions and programmes taking place across the country.

Collectively, the group has identified what they believe to be the key features of an effective approach to teacher evaluation and considered the practical application of this at different levels of the system. This input is complemented by data from a series of focus groups with teachers, conducted across the country. These features and findings will be shared in detail in the case study report.

Several high quality tools exist, but consistent and standardised implementation at scale remains a challenge. An important message from the many of the participants has been the need for changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour at all levels of the system in order for teaching quality to be adequately assessed in a meaningful way. As one participant in the group said, ‘evaluation tools are useful but you have to create the culture, the organisation and the climate for them to work’.

Improving learning outcomes has become a key priority in India, as elsewhere, in recent years. Within this, it is clear that a focus on defining quality teaching and how this is assessed is extremely important. This project aims to continue the conversation about how to address this issue and offer some practical recommendations for moving forward at the school, state and national levels.

Both the global literature review and the India case study will be published in early 2018.

Share via email