Monthly Archives: January 2013

Fundamentals of Online teaching: Planning and Application

2013 has arrived with an excellent variety of new Coursera courses to be followed. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to investigate this site you really must! You’ll find free online courses, provided by top universities. One of the courses that caught my eye was the one that I will be blogging about for the next six weeks, ‘The Fundamentals of Online Teaching: Planning and Application’. In the ESL sphere online teaching is becoming more and more common, in response for demand for more convenience and lower-cost courses. Converting traditional teaching practices and materials, however, to an online application is no easy feat. At this year’s TESOL France conference, I had the pleasure of attending English360 founder Jeremy Day’s talk on ‘blended learning’ programmes. What I took away from it was that although e-learning isn’t necessarily ideal for teaching all receptive and productive skills, that when learners are ready to invest their time outside of class, teacher contact time can really be optimized. Perhaps by the end of the course I may be convinced that a well-designed online course can substitute face-to-face language learning?

This week I look forward to revisiting some educational theories (this time in the context of online education). I will keep you posted as to my discoveries and thoughts.

UPDATE:

For the course we will be working in groups of 21. Firstly we tried to organize the groups by having each person enter their name in a spot on an Google spreadsheet. Somehow this was deleted and chaos ensued. Now we’re just figuring it out through forums. I think this provides an excellent example of something to think about when you’re designing an online course (especially of this size!).

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Reviewing the tenses

Here’s a link to Claire Hart’s latest post on tense review lessons; what to do when your students ask you to review all the tenses with them. Although I would avoid this kind of teaching with any student below a higher pre-intermediate, I think this could be a very useful exercise for refreshing students’ memories. I find this post (along with much of what Business English Lesson Plans has to offer) very refreshing. As a business English teacher I am very familiar with the skills-based and practical way in which we design our courses and so have always hesitated before spending valuable teacher contact time on less targeted grammar topics.

I think Claire hits the nail on the head when she talks about balance of function and form:

  • Striking a balance between pure grammar rules and language use.

  • Making sure that the learners have actually understood the input you´ve given them and they could actually use it themselves.

  • Distilling the grammar rules down to the most important points and the ones which will actually help them.

  • Raising learners´awareness of the mistakes they make and/or are most often made when using the tenses.

I agree that choosing your tenses carefully (and perhaps taking a careful look at Concept Checking Questions and Timelines by Graham Workman) beforehand is a must.

You can find Claire Hart’s summary of ‘the big four tenses’ here.

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I really cringe when I see a spelling mistake in an email that I’ve sent to one of my students; I feel that as a language teacher I should be a role-model for written communication. But at least there’s only one or a few people who might see it.

I had a look at Emily Sukhova from Plagtracker’s blog  piece on proofreading in the media here and there are some real nuggets. But as far as mistakes go, I think you’ll agree though that this one tops the lot:

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English afternoon tea: An opportunity for English conversation practice

afternoon-tea

I really do believe that the best way to learn a language is to use it. In Dijon we have numerous groups where people can meet to speak English: the English table at the Café Polyglotte, SpeakEnglish at Caf and Co and numerous onvasortir ‘sorties’. In October I started organizing my own onvasortir English Afternoon Teas, which have been a real success. Every fortnight or so a group of about ten of us meets in a different Dijon café and speaks English for a couple of hours. We have many regulars, as well as new faces each time and a range of levels. Everyone who comes is always ready to speak English and even though some members struggle to find vocabulary, I have been extremely impressed at their determination not to resort to French!

Admittedly before I started the afternoon teas, I did have some reservations. Firstly, would I feel as if I was teaching? I didn’t want to feel as if I had to constantly correct people or have the onus on me to keep conversation going. Secondly, would the more advanced English-speakers in the group resent having to speak to those with a lower level? Advanced English speakers are great, and I wouldn’t want them to decide not to come back. Finally, would it get boring after a couple of meet-ups with the same people? We might run out of things to talk about.

I am delighted to say that none of these fears have come to bear. For the first, I think that being married to a bilingual Frenchman, I am more than capable of having a conversation in English without feeling the need to correct mistakes. I can still relax, drink tea and eat cakes without worrying about grammar and vocabulary problems. If people want English lessons they will take them. For the second, the advanced members of the group keep coming back, so they must be happy! I suppose they come to have the opportunity to put their English to use, so don’t really mind if the response is a little slow from the other party. And lastly, it doesn’t get boring. The people who come back every time have become friends and there are always new faces to keep things fresh.

And so, if you are an ESL teacher and you’d like to give a little back to the community that you’re living in (and network at the same time), this is a great way to do it. I would also love to hear from anyone who organizes meetings like this already!