Category Archives: English

Teachers’ Day messages from some of our students

‘Teachers are the gurus who give you light when you are stuck in darkness.’
My above quote applies to every teacher that guides every student like me.
Beginning with that, I wish a blissful Teachers’ Day to everyone at the British Council!

I joined the Upper-Intermediate Course at the British Council to improve my written and verbal skills in English. The course was amazing and I look forward to many such courses.

The teachers that helped me in my journey were Mrre Mr. Rahim sir and Mrs. Ellora ma’am. They were amazing at their job and guided me very well throughout the course.

Rahim sir inducted me to the course and explained everything in a great manner. The classes I had with him were fun-filled and educational at the same time. He gave us awesome activities to do and assured me that I can reach out to him if ever I need some help. Thank you, sir for your hard work and support!

Coming to Ellora ma’am, she was the second teacher during my course. Only one word comes to my mind when I think about Ellora ma’am, and that is ‘FUN.’ She is the teacher who makes every class a joy to attend. I can remember so many fun things we did when the class was in session. I learned a lot from her and cherished her feedback and her way of speaking English!

There are many more teachers at the British Council I don’t know about, but I know for sure that everyone works hard to fulfil the goals of the students

A happy Teachers’ Day to everyone at the British Council!

Kabir Jain
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Dear Sheekha,

Just a quick email to convey my special thanks to you for my progress in the myEnglish Course.

I am glad to inform you that the course is going great and I’m enjoying every bit of it. I can’t stress enough how vital this course is for me. I was a little nervous before joining it as I thought it would be difficult to understand and participate. But it’s your able guidance and mentorship because of which today I’m feeling confident about speaking in English.

You always conduct the class in an open, friendly and informative way. Your way of explaining any concept is simply great. You always give apt examples which help us understand any concept better and remember it for a long time. You have given us every possible support in learning this course.
In the end, I’d just like to reiterate that you are an excellent mentor and I’m sure with your guidance, we’ll be able to achieve fluency in our English language skills.

Regards,
Amit Mukund
————————————————————————————————————————————–Dear Avinash sir and Ellora ma’am,

I’d like to thank both of you for your patience and all the important learnings that you gave us during the duration of our course. One thing that I’m taking forward from both of you is how to be a synergist.

I wish to join you again for another course. With lots of love.

Isha Shreya
————————————————————————————————————————————–I want to share my feelings for Rajul.

Two-three months before, I had completed an online English course at the intermediate level, where I interacted with Rajul as my course teacher.

I would like to empasise the knowledge she has of her subject and her command over the language. Every moment I learned a thing or two from her. I always tried to match her language skills and accent. I always look up to her to correct my mistakes. She was always like a friend to the students, and very dedicated, calm and polite.

She always made me excited to attend the classes. I would be lucky if she could be my guide throughout my career.

Thanks Rajul for your immense support and guidance.

Ritu
————————————————————————————————————————————–Dear Teacher,

We’ve been always in a comfortable mode in the live sessions since day one and the reason behind that is you.

Getting your feedback in the forum was as regular as getting the daily paper at my doorstep.

Thanks for sharing your skills and for your patience.

I wish a long tenure for you as you have set the bar to platinum standards.

Thank you

Your student
Arunkumar Sengodan
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Dear Teacher,

Thanks a lot for teaching me so well. I would always be obliged to you for your guidance, and I have decided to become a trainer like you. You are my inspiration.

Happy Teacher’s day to you.

Thank you
Jaya
————————————————————————————————————————————–Dear Teacher,

Thank you for continually inspiring me to do my best. You helped me strive towards my goals. I found guidance, friendship, discipline and love- all in one person. And that person is you. Happy Teachers’ Day!

Yours
Deepak Aheer
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Dear Teacher,

I thank you for all you have taught me. You are the reason for what I am today

HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY
Karthik
————————————————————————————————————————————–Dear Teacher,

Not every teacher carries the dedication and enthusiasm you do. You are a truly an inspiring individual who has taught us so much more than simply what was in the curriculum. You took much extra effort to help me with IELTS preparation. Thank you for everything.

Happy Teachers’ Day. 

Arun
————————————————————————————————————————————-Happy Teachers’ Day Rajul ma’am

You are awesome. Thank you for being my mentor

Vasundhara
————————————————————————————————————————————–To Savites and Rajul,

Thank you for inspiring and igniting my dreams- to be always learning.

Happy Teachers’ Day

Regards,
M. Pradeepa
————————————————————————————————————————————–Getting the proverbial ‘ray of light’ of knowledge was the main motivation for me to join this course. I wanted to improve my speaking, vocabulary and basic grammar skills. Our course facilitator was VM Reshmi.

She made sure all the students participated and interacted during the sessions. Also, she shared the self-study links with all individuals who were facing challenges with certain topics. This was a sign that the facilitator was giving personal attention to every individual.

Mid-week progress reports for each student were prepared very carefully, taking their progress into consideration, which was very helpful along the rest of the modules. Also, the content was very well suited to the syllabus.

Along with what was covered in the syllabus, Reshmi gave special help to us which encouraged us more. This was one of the key reasons that our batch had 95% attendance, and all credit goes to her involvement and feedback process.

With respect to the daily exercises, she provided us assistance if we were stuck anywhere via email.

Reshmi was also very passionate about why English is so important and gave real life examples during sessions which kept us motivated throughout the sessions. She always maintained a friendly environment with everyone so one would not feel hesitant in asking questions, which I think increased the participation of everyone, and all sessions were flowing along cohesively. She also used to remind us of the importance of completing the modules along with attending live sessions. She made sure to double check on the progress of each candidate, which imbibed a sense of responsibility among everyone, and we completed all modules before our last session.

Personally, this was the first ever live online English course for me, and I had a fear how it would go. But Reshmi did a great job in guiding and facilitating the learning for the entire class very smoothly. I would like to take this moment and give a shout out to Reshmi for being the ‘ray of light’ for me and helping me get ahead in my career with confidence by using the tips and tricks she shared. I would never ever miss an opportunity to take another course in future.

Very well driven course!

Thanks,

Ashutosh Mohanty

 

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Our winning Teachers’ Day message!

Dear Miss Reshmi,K. Santhanakrishnan

I am writing to you today to thank you for teaching a great online course.  You made this dry subject and serious knowledge interesting and fun, and I really loved taking your class and learning so much on this course.  I want you to know that you have been my favourite teacher since the course began. You not only taught in a different way to make us interested in learning, but you also understood our problems and helped us find the best ways to solve them.

I will surely miss you and things you taught us.

Thanks and regards

K. Santhanakrishnan

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The Anatomy of a Training Session

Author - Beth Caldwell, Head Blended Learning, English, India

A great training session doesn’t just start on the day of delivery. Planning is equally important and impacts greatly on effectiveness. Just as important is the consideration given to the ‘takeaway’, thinking about what you want to change or happen as a result of the training – what participants will be taking with them to apply in the real world. For example, if you were conducting a training session on the importance of communication skills in business, some of the key takeaways could be: 

  • Understanding the importance of good communication in business
  • Key business communication skills
  • Presentation skills and strategies 
  • Tips for good business writing

Training

Planning

  • Consider what the participants already know. Make sure the session is pitched for their level, needs and interests. You could share a pre-session questionnaire which will help you plan for this.
  • Decide what you want the participants to know beforehand. Share details of the session to build interest. Having clear objectives, pre-session tasks (if you are leveraging a flipped classroom model), a list of equipment needed and a brief biography of the trainer can all help prepare participants and whet their appetite.

Delivery

A good training session has clear stages that go from learning to application. One possible way to label these is Define-Inform-Connect-Resolve.

  • Define the issues, skills or development areas being covered.
  • Inform participants by introducing strategies, techniques, theories or models that can be applied to the above areas.
  • Connect participants to the strategies through practical activities such as role plays and discussions.
  • Resolve the learning through considering future and alternative applications of the strategies.

Takeaway

Training is a success when the participants can immediately go out and apply what they have learned.

  • Ensure you provide opportunities to participants to reflect on what they have learned as it applies to their own contexts. Make sure they always have something practical to ‘take away’ and apply.
  • Always ask for feedback after the training. It’s a great way to gauge how well participants processed the information and to find out what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. Use this when you are planning next time to create an even better training experience!

Sign up for our webinar on the ‘Anatomy of an effective training session’ by clicking here.

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Digital invasion and safety

Author: Pushpa Gopal

Inextricably linked

I love technology! 25 years ago, as instructional leader for an Information Technology (IT) organisation, I felt empowered to initiate an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum in schools. We started with basic computer languages and got the students excited with the capabilities of a machine. I was just as excited as them! Today, I’m amazed at how far we have come. Technology and our lives are inextricably linked. Most of our communications are via social media and electronically. In fact, technology has invaded our lives.

Airports and other locations known for long waiting periods are my favourite places to observe people. As I wait at the airport, I notice a young child captivated by the electronic device he’s using. His parents seem lost in their own. This is a common sight, isn’t it? What is in this gadget that can retain the attention of this young child and adult alike for hours on end? I continue observing as the child clicks on one video, a list appears on the right panel suggesting more. Innocently, the child clicks on the next and the next oblivious to the fact of the dangers lurking in that small screen. The parents are oblivious too and I can almost read their thoughts – My child is engaged. My child is busy. My child is safe. He is right in front of my eyes. Yet the repercussions and the impact on this young mind could be serious. What if he lands on a wrong page? What if he is drawn towards inappropriate content?

My attention turns towards a group of teenagers lost in their phones. They don’t seem to want to interact with each other. They prefer their screens. I can see them interact with their devices as if interacting with a person! Suddenly one boy positions his camera, readies himself and pounces on his friend. A scuffle ensues resulting in an embarrassing moment for one and a triumphal moment for the other who has managed to overpower and subdue his friend and uploads the image to social media. He laughs as comments start pouring in. I think about their future selves and wonder if they will ever have to explain this photograph to a prospective employer. Was it really worth it?

Surviving the digital invasion

This digital invasion has impacted our lives from all sides. Every day, whether we want to or not, most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online – a portrait that is probably more public than most of us assume. It is essentially for this reason that we become aware of what kind of trail are we leaving and what are the possible effects of this on our lives.

Staying smart and alert is a skill. Critical thinking and decision making are also important in the digital world, as decisions are made at every point. It’s about making the right choices- clicking the right button, keying the right words and opting to read the right text and choosing to ignore/delete the unwanted text. It’s important to understand unethical behavior and its impact for all of us. After all, we’re all digital citizens and becoming aware of and teaching good digital citizenship skills to children helps them connect their everyday actions with their choices in a digital society.

Some general tips to be safe are:

  • start with creating complex and unique passwords rather than using the same one for multiple accounts
  • develop and boost network safety and invest on safety software
  • always use a firewall to block unauthorised access. Consciously stay away from careless clicking and entering unknown sites and web spaces.
  • share only validated information
  • be well informed and keep ourselves updated on the latest scams
  • set parental controls and develop monitoring mechanisms to keep an eye on children’s browsing. More importantly, have a conversation with your child about ‘screen-time’ and issues around randomly accessing information.

Additional resources:

Worried about your own or your children’s online safety? Here are some useful tips to stay safe online:

https://www.britishcouncil.in/worried-about-your-online-safety

https://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/top-tips/stay-safe-online

https://usa.kaspersky.com/resource-center/preemptive-safety/top-10-internet-safety-rules-and-what-not-to-do-online

https://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/uk-now/video-uk/online-safety-tips

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-help-teenagers-stay-safe-online

Pushpa blog

 

 

 

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Collaboration in the classroom: a learner’s road to success

Blog banner_Collaboration in the Classroom

Author: Ashlesha Rodrigues Dsouza

‘I speak, you listen!  I order, you obey!’ Teaching has come a long way from this doctrine, and teaching styles have changed immensely. All for good reason. We speak now of collaboration and interactive learning. We speak of 21st century skills and preparing learners for the future—building social skills, developing effective communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. It is all very exciting, but what does this really mean for our students in the Indian context? How do we hone these skills in our language classrooms?

A good start is ‘Collaboration’. Empowering our learners with the skills essential to work together. In the words of Henry Ford above ‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’

Collaboration involves deciding goals together with others, sharing responsibilities, and working together to achieve more than could be achieved by an individual on their own. (Barfield, 2016)

Where do we start?

There are a variety of strategies to introduce collaborative learning experiences in the classroom. The simplest of these being whole-class discussions, group work and pair work. Students work together, share different perspectives, and listen to the thoughts and opinions of their peers. All of these processes ‘discussion, clarification, and evaluation of other’s ideas’ facilitate learning.

Project-based learning is another interesting way to engage students in collaborative learning. Besides being a welcome break from the usual classroom routine, project work also promotes autonomous learning. It provides students’ with the opportunity to think out of the box and devise solutions to real-world problems.

With the dawn of the digital age, several apps and websites have surfaced to help students collaborate on digital platforms inside and outside the classroom. Padlet is great for collaborative brainstorming; Edmodo is a good learning management platform where students can continue classroom discussions, download handouts, and submit assignments. Google Drive lets you edit and share documents and spreadsheets online and is a useful tool for student collaboration.

Easier said than done!

Although collaboration is effective for student learning, we cannot simply put students into groups and pairs and expect them to work productively.  Students will only be able to work together if they have learned how to do so. They also need the relevant oracy skills to express themselves during the activity. (Littleton and Mercer, 2013)

More often than not, stronger learners take the lead during collaborative tasks and steer the discussion as they deem fit. Weaker learners may shy away from sharing or simply nod in agreement, defeating the purpose of a collaborative activity.

How do we work our way around these challenges? It all boils down to effective set up.

Get it right

Setting up the task appropriately is key to the success of collaborative work.

  1. Discuss objectives: We need to tell students why they are being asked to work together and convince them of the value and benefits of collaborative work for learning.
  2. Set ground rules: Get the students to put together a set of rules that they need to follow during collaborative activities, e.g. Everyone must share, listening is key, respect everyone’s opinions, agree/disagree politely.
  3. Establish goals: State a clear aim for each collaborative task and let students know what they need to achieve together within a given time frame.
  4. Create moderately sized groups: A group of 4-5 students is ideal for active participation.
  5. Introduce talking points: Give students specific points for discussion and encourage exploratory talk around these points.
  6. Monitor carefully: Monitoring is key to ensure students are on-task and engaged. It is essential to check that there is a positive learning environment.

Moreover, we as teachers must model what we expect in a collaborative classroom—listening patiently, paraphrasing appropriately, questioning politely, and artfully negotiating. The way we talk to our students has a strong influence on their attitude and conduct during group work.

Encourage exploratory talk in class where students critically but constructively discuss ideas. Value diversity, build trust, promote open communication, and watch these trickle down to your students during collaborative tasks. More importantly, praise and appreciate students’ efforts at every step of the way to bolster this positive learning environment.

Don’t take our word for it

Lev Vygotsky (1978) stated that cognitive development stems from social interactions within the zone of proximal development (See figure below). In simple terms, two heads are better than one! According to Vygotsky, the Zone of Proximal Development is the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should be given. This will allow the child to develop higher order thinking skills that they can then use on their own. Interaction with peers is said to be an effective way of developing skills and strategies, and Vygotsky recommends that teachers use cooperative learning exercises in order that less competent children develop with help from more skilful peers.

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Figure: Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

There is a marked difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner. Students are said to learn better through guided learning as they co-construct knowledge with their peers in pairs or groups.

Why not try it out and see the difference in your classroom? Empower your students to collaborate and simultaneously hone their life skills—critical thinking, questioning, negotiating, problem-solving, compromising, and decision making. Get them up and ready to face the world!

Useful links:

Core skills – how they apply to real life and why they are essential for students.

https://connecting-classrooms.britishcouncil.org/develop-skills/online-courses/introduction-core-skills

Exploring Creativity and Imagination in the classroom – learning app

www.britishcouncil.in/teach/resources-for-teachers/exploring-creativity-imagination-game

Grouping techniques

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/grouping-students

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/group-work-v-whole-class-activities

Project-based learning techniques

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-approaches

Bibliography:

Barfield, Andy (2016) Collaboration, ELT Journal, 70 (2), 222–224

Littleton, Karen and Mercer, Neil (2013). Interthinking: Putting Talk to Work. London: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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5 Tips to Become a Better Speaker at Work

Author – Neenaz Ichaporia (Academic Manager, Blended Learning)

How can you become a better, more confident speaker at work? Read the tips below for a range of useful ideas on how to do this. You’ll learn about websites, links and other resources that you can use. You’ll also learn how the British Council’s online language improvement course, myEnglish Workplace, makes you a better, more confident speaker.

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B2B Blog May 2019

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Assessment for learning in action in the classroom

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Author: Michelle Bambawale

Formative assessment or assessment for learning is a familiar term in education. Most teachers know the theory but struggle with the practice. I felt the same, till I took this Assessment for Learning Masters’ class, and experienced it firsthand.

For the first class, we had to read an article (Black, 2009) on formative assessment and were encouraged to posit our own theory. I did my homework, thought I had understood the concept and was ready for the teacher to explain it to us in class. Much to my surprise, she put us in groups and told us to discuss our ideas with each other, compare notes and see if we agreed or disagreed. I did not want to listen to what my peers thought! I just wanted to listen to what the teacher had to say. I wasn’t ready for either autonomy or peer learning.

Activating students as instructional resources for one another and activating students as owners of their own learning

I tried to ask the teacher questions directly, she guided me through the process of taking control of my own learning and peer learning, she asked questions like: ’What does your group think?’, ’Have you asked your peers?’ ’What do you think?’ I was required to redirect my attention to the group and construct my own learning based on the reading and the discussion. I felt very frustrated after this first class and hoped things would change, and we would be back to a lecture format. They did not.

For the next class, the reading was quite challenging, hence I really hoped the teacher would explain, it was on the power of feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). She used a jigsaw reading in the classroom for us to discuss and understand the article. Left with no option and no teacher teaching, I decided to focus and slowly realised that I was learning from my peers.

Eliciting evidence of learners’ achievement

After about four classes, we were given an assignment to write a short paper on what we thought assessment for learning was and how we could use it. I had to push myself to reflect on the class and analyse the ideas and strategies used and how they had been effective. I was beginning to develop my own ideas, beliefs and theory on assessment for learning. I was learning from my peers and through self-reflection.

Providing feedback that moves learning forward

Over the course we worked on goal setting using the following steps:

  1. Setting personal goals: this was an individual activity as everyone was at a different place in their learning and also had different goals for themselves.
  2. Finding strategies to reach our goals: for me, these included reading related research papers, watching videos and discussing with my peers.
  3. Providing support: the teacher used several techniques like wait time, pair and share, and exit slips.
  4. Providing feedback which was timely, focused and precise and deepening learning by asking probing questions and suggesting readings.
  5. Reflecting on progress to develop self-assessment skills.

On reflection, I realised our teacher had used all the strategies for formative assessment in action in the classroom and I had learnt them through experience. I encourage you to do the same: reflect on your own teaching practice and try these strategies in your classroom. Empowering learners to take control of their own learning will enable them to do better and feel better about their own learning, just like I did!

Useful links:

Some ideas for self and peer assessment in the language classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/jvl-narasimha-rao/self-assessment-peer-assessment

Easy assessment for learning ideas you can use

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning-activities-0

More ideas on Assessment for Learning

www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/assessment-learning

Read how to run a jigsaw reading in your English classroom www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/jigsaw-reading

Watch Dylan Wiliam elaborate on the five strategies discussed here in this blog, from his book Embedded Formative Assessment

www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HRvFsZHoo

Read Black and Wiliam’s original research paper ’Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment‘ to understand how assessment for learning can work in the classroom.

www.rdc.udel.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Bibliography:

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.

Black, P. a. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education).

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Conferences for professional development

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Authors: Amy Lightfoot, Adi Rajan and Deepali Dharmaraj

Conferences are a great way to collaborate, learn from peers and meet colleagues from across the globe. It is also an opportunity to present your own research and learning thus sharing with others. IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference, held annually, is one such example that brings teachers from across the globe together. It’s a key event in the professional development calendars of many teaching professionals and an opportunity to attend or present at the IATEFL conference can be a significant career milestone.

This year’s conference was held in Liverpool in the first week of April and had over 500 talks, workshops and sessions over a four-day period. Around 3000 delegates from over 100 countries met and shared ideas through these scheduled sessions as well as social events such as quizzes and pecha kucha presentations organised in the evenings. A popular exhibition takes place alongside the conference, giving delegates an opportunity to engage with ELT publications and institutions. The exhibition is also the venue for the IATEFL Careers Fair and a series of pop-up presentations on topics ranging from becoming a freelancer to presenting at IATEFL for the first time.

There has been a clear evolution in the IATEFL conference in the last decade, becoming more diverse and inclusive. This is evidenced by the election of the association’s first president from Africa – Dr Harry Kuchah Kuchah from Cameroon. As he recently posted on Twitter, ‘IATEFL is increasingly inclusive to teachers working in the global south [and this] is something to celebrate. I’m definitely interested in pushing this on because it’s been long overdue and very few thought it was a problem’.

This inclusivity has two key effects: first, it enables teachers from diverse contexts to benefit from the professional development on offer at the conference and through its Special Interest Groups. Second, it provides opportunities for teachers to network with peers from around the world, potentially establishing collaboration between their students as well.

We’d like to recommend some talks from the conference if you weren’t able to attend:

Teacher empowerment: leaving the twilight zone by Paula Rebolledo

This insightful plenary drew on research from general education literature to demonstrate a link between empowered teachers, effective teaching and learning outcomes. Rebolledo explored six dimensions that play a role in empowerment: impact, professional growth, autonomy, self-efficacy, status and decision making. Within this framework, she reiterated the importance of teachers making their own decisions about their professional development and encouraged institutions and associations to go beyond talking about empowerment, to practising it in meaningful ways.

British Council: Is English teaching inclusive? Do we practise what we preach?

Inclusion was one of the recurring themes at the conference this year and the British Council’s signature event explored an integrated approach to inclusive practices through policy, educational culture and classroom practice. The speakers at this event included Maha Khochen-Bagshaw, Varinder Unlu, Fiona Robertson and David Crabtree who presented best practices from different contexts and prompted an engaging participatory discussion with the audience on the possibilities and challenges of adopting inclusive practices.

Developing teachers and enabling reform and internationalisation in higher education

ocus on teacher development has always been an important part of the IATEFL conference and this year was no different. Of interest to professionals who work in teacher education was a talk by Zhanna Sevastianova from the British Council in Ukraine and Simon Borg who explored findings from a five-year teacher development programme at 32 Ukrainian universities. They identified practical ways of enhancing the teaching of English as a Medium Instruction (EMI) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at the tertiary level.

Future directions in ELT: where are we headed?

Finally, the concluding plenary featured an Indian speaker, Amol Padwad. This talk was by a panel of speakers from different contexts and areas of expertise and Dr Padwad was joined by Mercedes Viola who specialises in inclusive practices, Katherine Bilsborough who is a materials writer and Evan Frendo who is one of the joint coordinators of the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group. These four speakers looked at the future of ELT from very different perspectives. Dr Padwad spoke about the English teacher of the future, suggesting he or she would still be a human being and probably a non-native speaker who is multi-skilled and navigates technology effectively.

Useful links

 

Plantation Primary photo (002)Photo: The South Asia IATEFL delegation visits Plantation Primary

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The criticality of critical thinking in the classroom

written by Girish Mulani and Soumen Das Choudhury, Freelance Training Consultants, British Council 

Why do we have brakes in a car? Take a moment and try to answer the question before you read further.

Here are some answers from a class of teenagers:
To stop the car.
To slow it down.
To prevent accidents.

Were these some of your answers? All of them are correct but one may surprise you: So that you can drive fast!

When explored further, this unusual answer responds to another question: What is the real purpose of a car: to drive it or to stop it? And that’s how critical thinking works.

Identified as a 21st century skill, critical thinking can be defined as the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you. [1] In other words, it is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. [2]

Often closely associated with problem solving, these skills promote self-directed thinking that produces new and innovative ideas and that solves problems. They are also about reflecting critically on learning experiences and processes, and about making effective decisions. [2]

The process of critical thinking

Critical thinking can be divided into seven stages:
1. Formulate the question clearly and precisely.
2. Identify the purpose, reasons, goals and objectives of what needs doing or answering.
3. Gather information, facts, data, evidence, experiences about the problem from various sources.
4. It’s also a good idea to get different points of view.
5. Distinguish between facts and assumptions / opinions.
6. Analyse and try to find similarities between similar incidents in the past.
7. Conclude and decide on the actions to be taken or opinion to be formed

Critical thinking in the classroom

Very often as teachers, we feel the pressure to know all the answers and to have all the solutions. However, in our experience of being teachers and teacher educators, this has been the most liberating aspect of our practice. When we focus on developing the curiosity of learners to explore and question, it’s not up to us to have all the answers – it’s up to them! We delivered a workshop at the recent ELTAI conference where we demonstrated just how this could be done. Using ‘fake news’ as our topic, we showed teachers how simple learner training can help young people today discern the reliability of all the information that is thrown at them on a daily basis.

These questions can help teachers be more purposeful in promoting critical thinking with their learners:

  • How am I directing learners in the classrooms to think beyond the obvious?
  • What should I do to hone their skills to think beyond the textbook?
  • How can I adapt the syllabus to promote critical thinking?
  • And am I, in fact, asking questions to make them think at all? If yes, what are those questions?

 Resources

  • Improve your own critical thinking skills by doing free Sudoku puzzles. You can pause, print, clear, modify difficulty level and ask, ‘How am I doing?’ in the middle of the puzzle.
  • Encourage your learners to create their own stories based on current events or topics using StoryboardThat.
  • The Critical Thinking Workbook, available as a free download, helps you and your students develop mindful communication and problem-solving skills with exciting games and activities. As a paid support, there is also a teacher’s workbook.
  • For teachers, watch this sample lesson on encouraging critical thinking with the help of the map of the world.
  • For a paid course, Business Result, published by Oxford University Press, comes with interesting case studies at the end of each unit. Except for beginners, there is  one for each level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
  • Preparing charts on a given topic, using song lyrics for subjective interpretation, giving project work, analysing simple situations and showcasing practical aspects of them, brainstorming ideas, reflecting at the end of a lesson on what was learnt and more importantly how it was learnt are some of the ways to promote critical thinking in the classroom.  
  • Watch this creative lesson, Learning to be a superhero, which develops critical thinking.  

 Additional references:

[1] dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/critical-thinking

[2] The Foundation for Critical Thinking at www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766. Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

[2] schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org/international-learning/core-skills Last accessed on 21 November 2018.

 

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Make meetings matter – Expert tips to improve your meetings  

Meetings that run on endlessly or where everyone is preoccupied with their gadgets can be a frustrating part of work for most of us. Don’t jump on the ‘boring meetings’ bandwagon. Here are 4 tips to hold effective meetings that energise your team and leave clear objectives.

1The endgame   

Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve through this meeting. Clearly define to the group what will happen because of this time spent together so they will better focus in the meeting.  Share clear action items, like ‘by the end of this meeting we will have created a marketing action plan with timelines and decided on leads for each activity.’

The medium   

A face-to-face meeting may not be the best medium to achieve your outcome. A shared, collaborative document such as Google Docs provides, or an online meeting platform such as Zoom or Skype for Business can help your team review a proposal in real time. Project updates could be shared effectively through a project management tool or communication platform such as Basecamp, Asana, Slack, or Microsoft SharePoint. Our ‘myEnglish Workplace’ courses delivered online with a teacher to facilitate is a great starting point to practice and build confidence using online collaboration tools for meetings and more.

The invite 

2Meetings are more productive if you engage your invitees even before the physical meeting happens. The meeting actually starts as soon as the invite is sent out. Set a clear, specific agenda so people know exactly what to expect. For instance, ‘identify three business opportunities’ sounds more specific and organised than ‘discuss business development’. Include all the details so that people know the venue and what to bring. Perhaps you could set a task for attendees like ‘think of one key opportunity to share with the group’ so that everyone comes prepared. Effective communication like this helps build long-lasting and effective work relationships. For more tips on relationship building, read this interesting article with language tasks.

The preparation 

3Use the pre-meeting time to carefully plan your approach. Have discussions with key players attending the meeting to uncover any important or sensitive topics. Understand the team dynamics if you want people to collaborate in the meeting and don’t want any surprises. Get a preview of the participants’ thoughts before the meeting. This helps you anticipate concerns, questions or challenges so you can prepare clear solutions.

What are your top tips to make meetings more interactive? We’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave your comments below.

If you know someone who spends a lot of their time in meetings, share this article with them. You could also enquire about our ‘Managing Meetings’ workshop for organisations which focuses on preparation, planning and timing in meetings, and skills needed for chairing a meeting.   

Each year, the British Council reaches over 20 million people face-to-face and more than 500 million people online, via broadcasts and publications. The British Council works with top companies across sectors to design customised business communication-related solutions targeting specific needs.  Our Business English Training programmes are highly relevant, practical and customised to the requirements of the company. Our interactive, communicative methodology helps us create a unique and engaging learning experience for every participant in our courses.   

To set up a consultation with one of our experts, contact us on 0120-4569000 or visit our website for more information.

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