Category Archives: Teaching methodology

What is a digital world?

Deviant art,

It’s now my second and final semester of my Graduate Diploma of Secondary Education at Curtin University and I’ve been given the opportunity to blog as part of my online paper entitled ‘Technologies to Engage Learners’. This is great news for my blog, as it is guaranteed to have updates throughout the semester. It’s also exactly the motivation that I need to put some regularity into reflection on my learning and teaching through my blog, and hopefully I will get some momentum to make this regular throughout my secondary teaching career. In this way, I hope to become a reflective teacher, (as discussed in a previous post on that topic).

The series of blog posts that I will be writing are as follows:

  1. What is a digital world? (This one)
  2. Participation and the digital divide
  3. Lifelong learning in the digital age
  4. Evaluating technologies and online resources
  5. Digital issues and the nature of schooling in the digital age


So, without further ado, what is a digital world and what does that mean for education now and throughout the rest of my career? The first point here is that technology has become an integral part of many aspects of our lives and the lives of younger generations to an even greater extent. Admittedly, as I’m writing this, my toddler is in front of me dancing to the music of the Wiggles that he is watching on the Ipad, which seems to have become his own. Howell (2012) highlights the way in which the digital world has penetrated young people’s private, social and work lives, (the issue of the ‘digital divide’ meaning that this digital access is not universal will be examined in my next post).  She refers to today’s learners as digital natives (Prensky as cited in Howell 2012) having been exposed to technology from a very young age, explaining that such upbringings leave young people digitally expectant. When it is no longer unusual for two-year-olds to use basic functions of touch screens, it becomes evident that we have a generation who will not remember having learnt how to use this technology. It will, therefore, be as natural for them to use such technology as it is to use a spoon. In their tweens and teens, this generation is constantly online: browsing, chatting and social networking, downloading and streaming music and movies (ABS, 2011). With increased accessibility to internet via mobile phones, apps for anything you can think of and the increased sophistication of augmented reality facilitating games such as Pokemon Go, technology will undoubtedly be increasingly coming into classrooms rather than going away.

The implications of these technologies on teaching will be examined in more detail in future posts, but the bottom line is that teachers are the ones that will need to adapt to the digital expectancy of their students if they have any hope of engaging them. Considering that the average age of Australian secondary teachers is 43.7 (ABS, 2011), the majority fall under Prensky’s definition of digital immigrants (as cited in Killen, 2013, p. 35), and may struggle with learning technologies without specific and ongoing training, as well as easily accessible tech support. Although some of these issues will eventually resolve themselves as younger digitally native teachers are trained and older generations retire, the issue of teachers’ digital illiteracy urgently needs to be dealt with in the interests of current secondary students to keep older teachers’ classes relevant.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011, June 11). 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, Jun 2011 . Retrieved from Australian Bureau of Statistics:

Howell, J. (2012). Teaching with ICT: Digital Pedagogies for Collaboration and Creativity. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Killen, R. (2013). Effective Teaching Strategies: Lessons from Research and Practice (6th ed.). Melbourne: Cengage Learning Australia.


Musings on Issues in Secondary English Classrooms

For one part of my secondary English teaching course I decided to create my first prezi to bring together the ideas from the course readings.

Learning by doing: Reflections on teaching for standardized tests


Following my first post on the ‘learning by doing’ philosophy, I’ve been searching for more ways that I can implement it in my classes. I don’t think that there would be many teachers these days that believe in teaching by rote without giving students the opportunity to use target language in some kind of context, but somehow the number of teachers giving classes straight out of a textbook without any meaningful language practice is much higher. There are many reasons why we deviate from practising what we preach; in many language schools teaching load is high and planning time is consequently cut down to a minimum. Beginning teachers (or more experienced teachers moving into a newer or more specialized field) may feel that the less-targeted activities offered by a textbook are of a higher quality than what they can produce themselves.

The majority of my classes are business English classes which take place in companies. These lend themselves to a real hands-on approach. Learners can present their products, give tours of their workplace in English and use materials that they access on a daily basis. As a teacher this is equally advantageous as it gives me a very good idea about the situations in which they use English and lets me plan my classes accordingly.

A class that I find especially difficult to teach in the spirit of ‘learning by doing’ is the exam preparation, TOEIC in particular. Although the test is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to communicate in a business setting, the focus of these classes is specific techniques of overcoming the ‘traps’ of this particular test. Perhaps we could argue that learning by doing in the context of a test is simply to do practice tests? The problem with this is that the student can do the practice test out of class and teacher contact time can be spent on other things such as vocabulary work and test strategy. Is it that standardized testing is incompatible with ‘learning by doing’, or is there some real practical use in test preparation? I’d love to hear your ideas on this!

My skype trial lesson: a student’s perspective

I saw an advertisement for a free trial lesson in Chinese by Skype and I just couldn’t help myself. I booked it straight away for Sunday morning and then completely forgot about it. I woke up to my ipad ringing and introduced myself to my new teacher. The conversation went a little something like this:

S: Good morning Kirstin. My name’s Sally.

K: Nice to meet you Sally. Is that your real name, or do you have a Chinese name?

S: Yes I do, but it’s too complicated.

I was a little surprised that they would have this system of replacing Chinese names with western ones, when people are signing up for their lessons to have some authentic Chinese contact. I thought it would make business sense to use the teachers authentic name. If I started calling myself Camille I think it would make students suspicious of my English expertise!

Anyway, ‘Sally’ went on to tell me how beautiful I was (in spite of the fact that I was straight out of bed and had pillow-creases on my face). Throughout the class, she always told me that I was doing a great job and that I was a natural. Whether all of this is Chinese culture or the dynamic of any trial lesson I cannot say. But coming from New Zealand’s  ‘everyone-wins’  school system, this teaching style really resonated with me. But am I the exception? I know that many of the French students I teach would have taken this praise as mockery.

Pedagogically the class was sound; we covered basic introductions and talked about my job and family. I listened and repeated, then we did some rolepalys and ‘Sally’ gave me some feedback on my pronunciation. Sally is completely bilingual and so a large part of the class was in English. It would have been interesting to see a CELTA-style introductory lesson exclusively in Chinese, but perhaps that would be more complicated by Skype than face to face?

For the moment I won’t be continuing my online Chinese lessons: the time difference makes the timing a little complicated and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be up early every Sunday morning. I do, however, encourage you to take a free trial lesson and share your impressions. You can find the information here.

CELTA reflections

After having a fairly heavy teaching load for the last few months, things have calmed down this week, so I’ve taken the opportunity to read through my CELTA notes (which I hadn’t really looked through since my course finished ten months ago). During the course I was experimenting with the Evernote application, so I managed to capture screenshots of everything that was written on the board as well as some audio recordings of some of the demo classes. I’ve also been paying close attention to two blogs following a CELTA course currently running at International House in London, one by a teacher trainer Chia Suan Chong (which you can find here) and the other by one of her trainees, Guven Gagdas Gundogdu (whose blog can be found here).

Chia and Guven both discuss the foreign language lesson that is part of the CELTA course. Chia teaches this on the first day of the course, whereas my trainer Mo Killip reserved this for the second week. Mo gave us a class in Russian, where we learnt how to introduce ourselves and say where we were from. I remember that the thirty minutes seemed like an eternity and that I felt exhausted by the end of the class. This made me reflect as to the effort it takes for my elementary students to spend one hour and a half with me. I also noticed that I had forgotten everything I had learnt in the lesson within a couple of hours of leaving the classroom. This made me brutally aware of the importance of repetition and drilling; if we don’t repeat it, we lose it.


Another thing I’ve been paying attention is my use of concept checking and instruction checking questions. This seemed to me to be a very important part of the CELTA course and something that my colleagues and I were repeatedly reminded of. I have found a copy of Graham Workman’s ‘Concept Checking Questions and Timelines’, so I will definitely be flicking through it and noting down and writing some good CCQs for the key vocabulary in my business English classes.

So thank you Chia and Guven for your excellent blog posts! I look forward to continuing to follow your updates during the remainder of the course and refreshing some of the concepts and techniques that I learnt not too long ago.



Language drills – why I love them

drilling means listening to a model, provided by the teacher, or a tape or another student, and repeating what is heard

Drilling is something that I first encountered during my teacher training, which is quite surprising in retrospect, as I have been learning languages since I was a kid. Since then, I have become an enthustiastic language-driller, finding the most useful language that a student needs on a particular topic, and having them learn and retain the correct intonation and pronunciation of the utterance.

A lesson that I recently taught centred on exchanging contact details. This was for business English students, at a pre-intermediate level.

Stage 1 – Email symbols, alphabet

  • Ensure student(s) are familiar with @, . , – and _ , and that they don’t have any problems with the alphabet (often French students have problems with ‘i’ and ‘e’, and ‘j’ and ‘g’).

If you find that students are having real difficulties understanding/saying letters, it can be a good idea to teach them the spelling alphabet.

Stage 2 – Elicit vocabulary

  • Tell students that they would like the email address of a colleague, that you are that colleague and that they will need to ask you some questions in order to get this information.
  • Elicit ‘Can I please have your email address?’
  • Now give them an example email address (without spelling any words)
  • Elicit ‘Can you please repeat that?’
  • Now, ask them how you could help them to understand.
  • Elicit ‘Can you please spell that?’
  • Spell the address to the student(s) very quickly.
  • Elicit ‘Can you please say that again more slowly?’
  • Repeat more slowly.
  • Now tell the students that they will have to check the information, as the email address is incorrect the email won’t go through.
  • Elicit ‘So, that’s……’

Stage 3 – Drill the questions that you’ve elicited

Stage 4 – Put the students in pairs, and have them exchange email addresses using the above questions (or if you have one student, give them another email address and then have them give you theirs).


So why is drilling great for skills like exchanging details?

  1. Drilling focusses on accuracy, which is very important for the exchange of specific information.
  2. This drilling will get the students used to hearing these particular phrases, which are routinely used in this particular context.
  3. Students are given ample opportunity to practise their pronunciation and intonation of the utterances, to prepare themselves for the following activity and the real-life situation.
  4. It gives the teacher the opportunity to correct any errors before they can be learned.
  5. Students seem to remember things better when they have been drilled.
  6. My students (especially lower level learners) love drilling. When they are speaking spontaneously, they often have to search for their vocabulary, and are unsure about their grammar and pronunciation. Drilling gives them an opportunity to follow a speaking model and develop their confidence speaking.


Bribe ’em once – and it might not work the second time.

Larry Ferlazzo has blogged on a study, which found that people were unlikely to donate to a charity for a second time if the said charity threw in a sweetener for their first donation. The post can be found here.

I think that this behavior is definitely reflected in the classroom. Once last year I gave away a tote-bag as a prize, and during my CELTA, I tested a little bit of bribery with a chocolate fish. Both of these lessons worked just fine, and the students were very motivated. Although the tote-bag lesson was a one-off, I had the interesting experience of sitting in on some lessons with the class that had been competing for the chocolate fish. They were disappointed with other teachers that weren’t offering prizes, and were even more disappointed when I arrived the next day to teach them empty-handed.

So, in my experience, bringing one chocolate fish to class means setting a precedent, and making a commitment to bringing one every lesson from then on. It would be interesting to hear if any other teachers have had any different experiences.

Total Language Immersion – What does that mean?

I spent my weekend in the beautiful Burgundian village called ‘Pommard’ where my husband is from, and where his family lives. This weekend it was a time for a family reunion, celebrating a new addition to the family and a milestone birthday. Needless to say, there was excellent wine, a lot of delicious food and – the inspiration for my post today – endless amounts of conversation. Relatives and friends, people who are very close and care about one another, get together and speak as much and for as long as they can. Topics can range from the weather, to politics, to the latest tractor breakdown – always with a lot of humour mixed in. And admittedly, I didn’t understand everything.

But this is what I would call ‘complete immersion’. I would like to mention that just because you live in a country, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be immersed in its language sufficiently for you to learn it. Unfortunately for my language skills, my new living arrangements mean that I don’t have to speak French all the time. I no longer have to speak only French at home, as my husband understands if I speak to him in English. Also, being an English teacher rather than working in a restaurant with French colleagues and customers, I speak a lot of English at work. And being in Dijon, a city, I’ve been able to find English-speaking friends who I spend more time with than the French.

Admittedly, if I really wanted to ‘integrate’ more into French society I could. But I believe that human beings are linguistically lazy, and will (consciously and subconsciously) try to speak their mother tongue whenever I could. I first noticed this with the French community in Wellington, New Zealand. Many of them would share a flat with a group of other French people, work in a French restaurant with French managers and colleagues and only go out with other French speakers. As a result, some of those who had been there the longest didn’t necessarily have very high levels of English.

Another eye-opener was teaching some of the elementary-level students in Wellington, at the Campbell Institute during my CELTA course. The majority came either from Chile or from China, and had been in New Zealand for different lengths of time (from 6 months to 10 years) and were aged from 23 to 72. I was initially surprised that some of the students had such a basic knowledge of English, but when I got to know particularly two Chilean students, I had a much clearer picture of why they had effectively avoided learning English. Similarly to the French ex-patriates that I spoke about, these Chilean students were very established in the Wellington Latino community. Neither had yet found work, so they spent all of their time with their Chilean flatmates and socializing with other Spanish speakers.

So how can we maximise these opportunities for total language immersion, such as my social family weekend? I think it’s important to make friends who speak the language, and who ideally won’t speak your mother tongue. And the more the better – don’t just make one friend, but make lots of friends and have them speak to each other at a natural pace while you try to follow. This is the principle. But my English-speaking bubble is very comfortable, so it will take some motivation to put the plan into action.

Communicating without grammar – possible?

Last week, I blogged about the importance of networking, sharing ideas and developing professionally. Today, I’d like to share with you a few of my trains of thought that have followed some of the ideas that others have given me in the last few weeks.

I had the pleasure of attending Sonia Pritchard’s presentation in Lyon, where she described her ‘Eureka moment’, when she changed her thinking about which parts of language learning were the most important to learn and therefore to teach. She gave the  example (as I have shown above) of two sentences – one with the vocabulary missing, and one with the grammar missing. If you look at both of them, it is obvious that the meaning of the second one is much easier to understand. Okay, it’s not a ‘correct’ sentence, but the message is conveyed and this basic communication is successful.

So in light of this ‘discovery’ of the importance of the importance of such a basic level, it seems that resisting this grammar-drive (which seems to be very prominent in France) seems to be the way to go. For lower-level learners anyway, the emphasis really needs to change from accuracy to fluency.

What about advanced learners though? Do they really need accurate grammar? An afternoon Orangina-drinking session with a couple of teachers led me to believe otherwise. I, admittedly, am a stickler for the present perfect. This is the tense that the French seem to find impossible to grasp, and often use inappropriately or not at all. I seem to jump at any opportunity to give my students a little lesson, with CELTA standard diagrams and a bunch of questions about when the activity started or if it finished in the past/present . But my new Franco-American teaching guru Catrina told me that in the States, they frequently use the past simple in place of the present perfect (using phrases such as “I wanted to see this movie for weeks”), and generally reserve the present perfect to negative and question forms. And yes, all of the English speakers of the world understand them, so should I really be so fussy when an English learner gives me a sentence like that?

I have witnessed that it is perfectly possible to speak fluent, operational English without having mastered the grammar (notably the present perfect). Before I began teaching, I worked in a hotel restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand where the majority of the employees were French (as well as the maitre d’ and the chef), as well as some other international workers from countries such as Argentina. While the managers had some problems producing a ‘correct’ menu, or an email without grammar/spelling mistakes, they spoke excellently, managed their non French-speaking staff and understand every detail of what was going on in the restaurant.

Another more personal example of (almost) perfect communication without perfect English and French is my marriage. My husband, being French and having learnt English on the job, never mastered the present perfect. I (although I have studied French to a fairly high level, and continue to work on it) have not 100% mastered the French articles (le, la, les), and I probably have some grammar problems that I’m not told about. And from experience, the real problems come when the vocabulary is missing/incorrect (for example, I often misinterpret how I should be cooking and what I should be using, as I am especially lacking in kitchen vocabulary).

But I know that especially professionally, grammar, and therefore the present perfect, has its place. We need it for emails, more formal correspondance and for presentations. So I will keep my grammar teaching strategies up my sleeve, but try to keep ‘first things first’.