Monthly Archives: December 2016

Saba Moosa’s inspiring story and e-learning journey- #HumansOfBritishCouncil

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Language is my centred and focused attention. My primary interest is in the English Language since I’ve graduated in English and I’ve also done a post graduate degree in English Literature. It’s where I developed interest in it. Literature is all about knowing fiction and stories. I understand there is a lot beyond stories and beyond poems; that is how you communicate. Therefore I developed an interest in learning language.

After I completed my post graduate degree, I joined the British Council myEnglish course which gave me another brilliant opportunity to develop my language skills and learn a lot about communication, writing and varied styles of language. It helped me in terms of improving my vocabulary, speaking patterns and everything else.

Once I was done with literature, I tried my hands in doing some other things. I tried to explore myself, but what kept me intrigued is that the mode of reaching someone is just communication. That’s where I realised that you need to know your language perfectly; you need to have proper language skills and that is where I started searching for courses that could help me.

Obviously, the first and the best option was British Council and that’s the moment when I realised and it was really a good boon. In fact I can say that wherever I apply for interviews nowadays, like for content writing, as a subject matter expert, or content editing the interviewer sees my CV and the first question would be about “Oh! Have you done the British Council myEnglish course?” So, it adds a lot of weightage to my Bio-data.

How I started:
Initially I would like to share that I was very hesitant to join the myEnglish course when I came to know that it’s online learning. We are from a Literature background and we’re not much acquainted with technology, computers and stuff like that. Obviously, the whole fun is about taking up challenges, rather than just quitting and sitting back. I talked to many people from British Council and they were like “it’s easy, you can do it”. There was a lot of support and back up.

I took up this course and it was a different learning experience overall. Firstly, I got handy with the tools and technology. That is one of the major things which is very much needed in whatever areas you want to apply them, in terms of your job or maybe even in your everyday life.

What really attracted me were the different types of units, different types of topics and knowledge taught to us via the language. I learned a bit about Crime and Law, Health, Sports, and Media. This was something unique. Obviously when you learn a language there could have been simple topics that they could have given us to learn. But here everything was under one umbrella; the topics are unique, the way it was taught was unique.

The best thing was the ‘Coffee Shop’ area where you can discuss with your teammates. Without any WhatsApp, or any other way you’re still in contact with your teammates, with your tutor. So that was really an amazing and a different level experience altogether.

Before joining the course I was very scared. I had no ideas, really very clueless! I never thought that this course and the topics they will be teaching would comprise of various things. So, I got into the myEnglish course. Then I learned about e-learning.

What I learnt:
We had these Thursday classes, Virtual Online classes, they were the most fun thing to do ever!

You know in this world, where there’s too much of WhatsApp talk, and there’s this Snapchat and Instagram. I discovered that there is communication beyond this. There is informal communication beyond this. You can build a kind of a friendly relationship where there is exchange of knowledge, infused with lot of fun. So virtual online classes helped me a lot.

There was a guideline given to us. How we should behave, or follow a structure when you have an online class. Mannerisms also came into it with language, which is definitely a thing a person can associate with learning a language. We could have discussions. The whole format of this Virtual Online Class was one of the best things that happened in the online classroom. You learn to take turns, talk, have a discussion. I never knew how to hold a discussion, how to start a conversation, or how to give your view points when there’s a topic given.

We used to have a breakout time; in Virtual Online classes for 5- 10 minutes and that was very helpful. Now, wherever I go for interviews, maybe I’m sitting in a team, discussing anything in a cafeteria, or in a coffee shop. So it helps me with the pattern that should be followed. This is not just about formal conversations; it is also about informal chats and everything else.

There is a lot of structure. The crux of a British Council myEnglish course is the structure; the structure that they build; the platform that they give us to develop and imbibe those things. Perhaps, I can say that before this, my conversation had lot of gaps, but after the British Council course, the gaps are almost filled, and it helped me in all aspects of my life.

What changed after the course:
Now, if I go for an interview, I’m quite confident. Firstly there’s a CV which states a British Council course, so one part of that is sorted; that I’m approved in terms of knowing good language, Secondly I can have a good conversation which is all thanks to British Council. Thirdly, it gave me knowledge about various things. We had to write assignments on Sports, there were varied assignments like formal letters, and everything else. So in a way, apart from speaking, writing has improved a lot.

All of that I never came across before. It was a complete unique experience overall!

- Saba Moosa, myEnglish Student

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#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.

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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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