“A teacher who is not reflective can be transformed…”

(Killen, 2013, p. 127)

10078740256_1c286d3710_oFlickr: Liz West, “Frog pond”

When I did my CELTA four years ago there was some focus on reflective teaching and the numerous workshops I attended with TESOL France reiterated its importance. Essentially teachers need to figure out what went well and why, so that they can improve on different points in future lessons. Admittedly, although I would reflect throughout my CELTA course and after lessons that had been observed, writing a reflective journal after each lesson hasn’t been one of my priorities in my teaching career up to now.

Being a social creature, (as all the teachers I know are), it is always a real pleasure for me to have a chat with my colleagues about how my lessons are going. I think this is quite helpful for me, but there are definitely a couple of problems with this being the only kind of real reflection going on. Firstly, I’m not sure if this provides the kind of deep and systematic reflection that is necessary to change my teaching in any radical way. Secondly, the fact that I haven’t been putting my thoughts on paper makes it impossible to track my progress from week to week and compare lessons over time. Both making changes and keeping track will be really important to polish everything up before my teaching pracs this year.

Beginning this week, I’m going to make a point of finding five to ten minutes at the end of each day to squeeze in some meaningful, written reflection. Hopefully this way I might just pick up on a few things that need fine-tuning, (as well as the ones I already know about).  I think a journal will be the way to go, (some things I might not yet be ready to share with the big wide web), but I’m also committed to reviving my blog and consolidating some of my thoughts this way. I’ve seen the error of my ways and am on the road to being the deeply reflective teacher that I aspire to be!

 

 

Teaching for Retention

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Unlike the 17 year-old me who started university eight years ago, this time around I have a lot more motivation, as well as some pretty effective study and time management techniques. In my spare time over the last few weeks I’ve had my head stuck in one of the the course textbooks, (Killen, 2013, Effective Teaching Strategies: Lessons from Research and Practice), for the professional practice paper starting late next month. It led me onto another surprisingly interesting book by Willis (2006) which focuses on how teaching can be made more effective in order to help students retain information and explains in basic terms how brains operate.

Essentially, learners need to be ready to learn, (have had enough sleep, aren’t stressed and have their interest piqued), before teachers even try to teach them anything. Then it’s essential to present information in a variety of ways to engage as many of their senses as possible. Ideally students will also be able to interact with new information on personal and meaningful level so that they are more likely to retain it in their long-term memories. Willis also emphasizes the importance of repetition and the importance of taking syn-naps, (or brain breaks), to allow information to sink in.

This week I’m going to make sure that my students are engaged at the beginning of each lesson, through a 5-minute game, a picture or a new seating arrangement. It’s also going to be important to keep my students’ concentration at a maximum by breaking up activities with short breaks, followed by some kind of consolidation activity. Although I am usually quite good at giving information both verbally and in written form, it’s going to be a challenge for me to use more images/symbols in my teaching and to encourage my students to do the same thing in their learning.

It’s only Saturday, but I’m already looking forward to getting back to work on Monday to put some of these concepts into practice and see my (sometimes forgetful) students through a new lens. In the meantime I’ll get my head back into that book!

 

 

New Year – New Projects

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Although I don’t have any new year’s resolutions involving diet and exercise, (although perhaps I should), the last heavenly three weeks that I spent with my little boy Hugo, swimming at the beach and walking the dog, have given me the clarity to figure out some plans for the year. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and enroll at Curtin University to do a Graduate Diploma in Education (secondary) and hopefully get into a different kind of teaching.

We’ve bought a block in our dream destination, Margaret River, and should have a slab very soon. The beaches there all look like postcards, the vineyards are fabulous and every person we have ever met down there are really friendly. In some ways it has a really European feel about it and makes us feel like we’re back in France. It’s a great place to raise kids and there’s even a new primary school that is going to be built within walking distance of our place.

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Flickr: Robert Young, Vineyard

Unfortunately, from what I can see, there isn’t much of an ESL scene, which means I won’t be able to do exactly the same kind of work I’ve been doing for the last four years. After toying with some radical career changes involving a whole new three or four year degree, I’ve decided that I would love to be a secondary school teacher. Hopefully with some patience and perseverance I will be able to find some work in the region, and enjoy it as much as I do teaching adults.

Another project that has me fascinated at the moment is the Country Teaching Program and the Remote Teaching Service. Essentially, teachers are encouraged to work in country towns all over the states for one year or more and incentives depend on the remoteness of the school. I think it would be a great adventure for my family and it would be really satisfying for me to put my ESL teaching experience to use in an Aboriginal community. I am also sure that some materials-light teaching in a small school will give me some really valuable experience that will make me a better teacher.

Flickr: Georgie Sharp, "Horseshoe Range"

Flickr: Georgie Sharp, “Horseshoe Range”

For the moment I’ll keep my head in the course textbook and enjoy being a student some of the time, rather than just having a teaching role. I’m expecting some really good things from 2016 and hope that the things I learn will get me ready for adventures in years to come!

 

 

Activity for IELTS listening: Labelling a floor plan

My class recently did a practice IELTS listening test and although some students were quite strong in other areas, they all seemed to have a real hard time with the map/diagram labelling task. The exercise was quite similar to this one on the ielts.org website, where students need to label the correct rooms in the library.

After going through the answers to the test, we looked in more detail about some of the vocabulary that is important for this task: firstly prepositions of place, (next to, at the back, in the corner etc.) and secondly language for giving directions, (e.g. go straight on, to your left). Then I set up an information gap activity where each student did a quick sketch of a plan of their house and then described it to a partner without showing him/her. When the new plan was complete, they then compared the two to see how similar they were. My students really enjoyed the activity and I think it really helped them to become more familiar with the vocabulary they need for this task. I would love to hear if anyone else has some other activities to help with IELTS listening that they would like to share.

Living and teaching in Perth, Australia – An update

After spending an amazing three and a half years in France, my husband and I have come back to Australia to make the most of the beach, the sunshine and the family. As I wasn’t initially doing any teaching work, (I took some time off and then tried some call centre work for a few weeks), my blogging and Linkedin activities were on hold for a few months. I missed teaching and having the opportunity to get to know students and see them develop from day to day and week to week., but was delighted to get a phone call from the PIBT at the beginning of the month inviting me to come and teach. So I can happily say that I am back in action and looking forward to being able to share my new teaching and learning experiences with you.

My new position at the Perth Institute of Technology (PIBT) at Edith Cowan university

Let me begin by telling you how much I love my new job! The staff are all lovely and we even have morning tea on Fridays. The Mt Lawley campus is really beautiful at this time of year and I can have my lunch outside at a picnic table underneath the blossom trees. My class is also a real pleasure to teach and because I see them for 14 hours a week, I really have the opportunity to get to know them. This means that my classes can be adapted to what they need and what they respond best to. The other great thing that has struck me, as compared to my students at the business school in France who only had a few hours contact time per week, is the progress that I see from week to week. These students are preparing for an IELTS exam which they need in order to be able to take various courses at Edith Cowan university. One of the most important skills that they will need for both the test and their tertiary study, and the fact that they have sufficient time to write in class means that I can give them the feedback they need.

Another great thing about teaching English to international students in Australia is that, rather than having a monolingual class like I did in France, I’ve got a real mix of nationalities and backgrounds, (Indian, Vietnamese, Saudi and Chinese). Although students do sometimes speak their L1 during class in small groups, most of the time they have no choice but to communicate English during the class. The mix does bring with it a new set of challenges though. Having taught exclusively native French speakers who tended to make all the same kinds of mistakes, this is a whole new ball game. There are different aspects of pronunciation to work on for each group and the majority of students who don’t use the same alphabet in their first language, which can mean that handwriting, capital letters and spelling aren’t always a strong point. My project this weekend is to dive into Michael Swan’s Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interfererence and Other Problems and try to get a better idea of what I’m dealing with.

More happy news – A new Australian on the way

In other news, I’m delighted to announce that my husband and I have our first baby on the way! Baby will be coming late February, in the heat of the Australian summer. With a Kiwi mum and a French dad, this little Aussie is going to have a lot of travelling and language learning to do! I’ve been reading quite a bit about bilingualism in children and I suppose that this will be something that I’ll be researching more and blogging about in the future. With everything I read, I become more and more amazed at how clever kids are and how well they can take on information to adapt to new situations. I’m almost inclined to organize a Chinese au pair who will speak only Chinese to baby so he doesn’t need to work anywhere near as hard as I do to learn the language as an adult. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

 

The resuscitation of the Irish language: observations of a tourist

Back in France after my amazing UK trip, I’m in my teaching/translating routine for just a little while longer before the big move back to Australia. I loved every place we visited, but Ireland was definitely my favourite. The people were friendly, the landscapes were breathtaking, (if you haven’t been yet, you must see the Ring of Kerry), and the traditional music was timeless, probably not having changed much since my ancestors left a few hundred years ago.

On a walking tour in Galway, I got talking to the guide about the Irish language. Although there is Irish language television and radio, only about 5% of the population can actually speak it fluently. Before the guide gave us a demonstration, we had never actually heard anyone speak it! In his view, the teaching of Irish in schools is pretty token: kids only learn it in primary school and even then, the teachers teaching it don’t necessarily master it themselves. He then told me about this ad for beer that came out in the early 2000s, which apparently sums up all the Irish vocabulary that kids learn at school.

It got me thinking about some of the parallels the Irish language has with the Maori language in New Zealand. We also have to learn Maori at primary school in New Zealand, but like the Irish language, it seemed to be quite symbolic when I was at school. We had a poster up in the classroom and sang some songs, as well as learning colours, numbers and basic instructions (stand up, sit down etc). It never went beyond that. Like many other learners of Maori I was not particularly motivated by the teaching, which didn’t really make the language live, and it became a drag quite quickly. As opposed to other languages like French, Arabic or Mandarin, there is no inherent motivation that comes from needing the language later in life. Maybe if kids could be taught more of the heritage that comes along with the language they might find it easier to see the point?

I recently finished reading a great book on raising bilingual children which emphasised the importance of ‘exposure time’ when learning a second language. Basically, if you don’t have the opportunity to interact in a language on a daily basis, or at least regularly, it becomes much more difficult to master that language. It seems like common sense really, but it comes as no surprise that one-hour-a-week language programs don’t have amazing results. Perhaps it could be a good idea to make schools completely bilingual, as is becoming more common with English/French here and apparently Mandarin/English in Australia.

So, I wish the Irish all my luck with in their efforts to keep their language alive, and hope that the challenges of teaching a heritage language won’t stop them from trying harder.

Adh mor ort!

The England trip – from Coronation street to Shakespeare

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I’m proud to announce that I’m no longer an English teacher who has never been to England! We arrived in London on Monday and visited the usual tourist traps: the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, Buckingham palace and a river cruise on the Thames. One of my highlights was the commentary on the river cruise, not given by a tour guide, but rather one of the ‘watermen’ who’s job was to captain the boat. It was really fascinating to hear his thick London accent and the effort he was made to speak slowly to the boat full of non-native English speakers.

As I’m writing, I’m in Stratford-On-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. It’s a real pleasure to be here after studying at least one of his works every year of my secondary curriculum. This morning I did a walking tour to see all of the old Elizabethan houses, (the kind you see in ‘Shakespeare in Love’. The tour guide was great, dressed in a suit with a black hat with a black umbrella- a real British stereotype!

We actually got talking about the inclusion of Shakespeare in the New Zealand and Australian curriculum, and whether or not it was a good idea. In my personal experience, the poetry was really interesting but the plays were too much. I can understand that for those with no British heritage whatsoever that it could be hard to see the point of the exercise. Also, given the amount of time it takes to study a Shakespearean play, perhaps that time could be better spent learning something practical. That said, it’s unlikely that students will be exposed to this kind of work later in their lives and it could be important for their culture.

Not all the folk here express themselves with the elegance of Shakespeare’s characters. I was lucky enough this morning to witness a Coronation Street-style domestic dispute in a pub, where a woman yelled at and threw a beer over her husband. It was actually about as comprehensible to me as a Shakespearean play. That just goes to show how differently our versions of English have developed.

I’m looking forward to heading North and getting to hear even more of the wonderful accents England has to offer, before we hit Scotland and Ireland.